Monday, May 25, 2009

Gardening implements are so interesting, don't you think? (No? Well, too bad. ) For example, it's a little-known fact that the world's first rotary tiller was invented in the early Paleolithic. However, being made of stone it was a bit unwieldly. Plus the internal combustion engine hadn't been invented yet, so it just kind of sat there and didn't actually dig up any dirt.

Our resourceful (but not too bright) ancestors continued to tinker with the rototiller concept for a few millennia, but it was no use. Finally, they gave up on their crazy dreams of agriculture and went back to hunting and gathering for another 2,995,000 years. Everybody got sick of mammoth was super hungry for bread, popcorn and baby carrots... but what can you do?

Fortunately, the Neolithic eventually arrived and they decided to give growing plants another try. But they had learned their lesson and used oxen and/or slaves to pull plows, just as nature intended.

Unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia, will try and tell you that the first rototiller machines were invented at the beginning of the 20th century, but this is clearly wrong, because this weekend I used one of the Stone Age models to try to make myself a 4 by 6 meter vegetable garden. The hours it took were some of the most unpleasant I have ever experienced, and that includes the hours I spent giving birth to a 9lb baby at home with no pain relief.

I spent early spring busily canvassing every friend I had in the Valley. I'd begin with the deceptively casual question: "Are you putting in a vegetable garden this year?" Anyone who answered in the affirmative would then get asked if they used a rototiller and if so, could I please borrow it for a day?

It turned out that nearly every single person that I asked borrowed a machine from a neighbor. And it always turned out to be a neighbor I didn't know. And I wasn't yet quite desperate enough to knock on the door of strangers and ask if they'd help me out with my garden dilemma
If I could find just a plow plus some oxen and/or slaves...

But last week, someone I know finally admitted to owning one of these mechanized gardening marvels! It was the father of one of the twins' friends from school. He's a kindly man and even offered to deliver the machine to my house. Is that nice, or what?! Of course, being from Nebraska (State Motto: " I Don't Want to be a Bother"), I felt that I was already imposing on him greatly and told him that I'd pick it up myself whenever it suited him.

When I showed up at his house on Saturday morning, he already had the machine sitting out in the yard. It was very large and there seemed to be no discernable way to steer the thing. And while it wasn't actually carved out of stone, it did have a decidedly primitive look about it.
He walked up to me and announced proudly "I found it at the dump!"
And I said "??????!"
"Yes! I found it and fixed it up in my workshop here. Runs great now!"
Then I remembered Mallory telling me how one of her friends has a TV that their dad found at the junkyard and then coaxed back into working order. Apparently, the guy is quite the wizard and can repair just about anything.

The thing looked really old and nothing at all like the one we rented eleven years ago when we last put in a garden. But that rental place was long out of business now and there seemed to be nowhere else to rent or borrow machines. So, trusting that it would all work out, I let him heave the monster into the back of my Scenic and I headed back home.

Once I got home, I performed my first miracle of strength by getting the thing out of the car all by myself. (It weighed about as much as a blue whale after an all-you-can-eat krill buffet.)
Somehow, I even got it running with only a minimum of cursing and sweating.

But then it came time to actually get the soil turned over. The thing pulled and bucked mercilessly. It was impossible to steer and the whole machine had a tendency to collapse backwards over the rear axle. This would make the handle descend to about knee level, which made things really interesting.
JP came out to have a look, shook his head and pronounced: "That thing belongs in a museum. You're going to kill yourself trying to dig up a garden with it. Just forget it. We'll find another way."
But I had I in my head that it had to be done that day. Sadly, what I lack in smarts, I make up for in stubborn.

After the first half hour I'd only done two lines and my strength was fading fast. So, I called out my children. (Who needs slaves? I've got four kids!) Valentine put on some work gloves and bravely came to my aid. She helped me hold the machine in place while it tilled and then dragged it on to the next point. The twins had little hoes and chopped up the many clumps that the machine missed.
Meanwhile, Severin mowed the lawn.

All in all, I thought we looked like quite an industrious little group.
What we actually looked was, apparently, completely pathetic.
Quite soon JP came back out to join us, spade in hand.
"You look like sad, oppressed serfs in some 1930's propaganda movie" he said.
Frankly, we probably looked more like something out of a Monty Python film:

And so it was that JP, who had previously announced that he had neither the time nor energy to mess about with a garden this year, ended up slaving away all afternoon and into the evening.

My beloved spouse is the subject of lots of kidding in my blog, but he's actually The Best Husband Ever, and this incident proves it.

In the end, we got the garden all dug up and Saturday. There was no time to plant anything, though. We didn't finish until the evening. And Sunday we spent all day In Lausanne with some friends, having a lovely picnic near the lake. We didn't get home until 8:30 last night!

Nobody wanted to go back to school today. But somehow both Valentine and Severin managed to get their tired and somewhat sunburned selves onto the bus. The twins were in slightly better shape, as they are easier to catch and slather with sunblock.

Today is Monday, so that means teaching the English lesson at the primary school this afternoon. It's also the day I prepare the week's menu and shopping list, so I'd better get on it all !


oreneta said...

JP is the best if he came out and dug like that for hours....I have never used a rotoriller of any epoch, and hope to never after that post.

Glad you're still walking.

I also have days when I make up for stupidity with stubbornness, I am not sure whether that is a good thing or not.

Kelly said...

Ouch! A 9 lb. baby birth at home with no pain meds!

Beth said...

Kelly- "Ouch" is right. That's exactly what I said at the time. Sort of. (Mostly I said "$&£#!")

Rocky- He's a champ and stayed with it a few hours. He's got stamina! (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

Me too.

And finally: I'm thinking "bad", here. But that's just me.

Joy said...

I would rather birth babies, med free, than use an antiquated rototiller whose blades were probably as dull as a butter knife to dig up a garden. (I haven't had to make that choice, you know, either birth or dig, but I have done both, and childbirth is much less frustrating.) ;p Digging up the garden by hand is tiring, but satisfying.

I am glad your garden was dug up, and your husband is wonderful to have dug it all by hand for you. :)

P.S. And I'm still laughing and snorting over the Monty Python visuals... "Bring out your dead garden implements!!"

Heidi said...

Your graphics are cracking me up - and I agree. Nature intended that we have slaves to do all the *hard* gardening (I'm ever so grateful for a pot/container-based deck garden ;) )

Thank you for the kind words about my grandfather. He will be missed.