Tom and I have been spending lots of time helping Farmer John with his garden. Farmer John is, of course, our son John Hartley, aka Ron Fartley of Fartley Farms Hot Sauce. John and Jackie moved into a new house the week before we moved into our new home. So, in the heat of August, we quickly helped him prepare a garden so he could transplant about 40 of his pepper plants from his home in Columbus. This year we were able to work a little more seasonably.
Farmer John started his peppers inside in late March, carefully labeling each cup with the kind of pepper and the type of soil he used. He grew the peppers in the basement under a planting light and divided them when they got too big for the cups. Then he hardened them by setting them out in the sun and heat for a while each day.
We started our work outside by preparing the garden area and ridding it of tons of garlic. Tom and John worked with mattocks to chop out the garlic below the bulbs. Then we loaded it up in the Gorilla Cart and hauled it up the hill to John and Jackie’s driveway. There was so much garlic that John and Jackie rented a small dumpster which we filled with garlic and other yard waste.
Next, we hauled 6 cubic yards of soil and compost and put it on the garden. Fortunately Price Organics sells such a mix and we didn’t have to mix it ourselves. But it still took four long hours of filling up the wagon, dumping it on the garden, and raking it into place. Tom did the shoveling and hauled the wagon up and down the hill in the back yard. My job, the raking, was much easier, and I sat in the shade in between loads. I felt a little guilty about it, but Tom is the muscle and I am – well – not the muscle.
A couple days after moving all the dirt, Tom got John’s pick-up truck and drove it to Home Depot to rent a roto-tiller. Then he worked to prepare and mix the soil for planting. Tom used the tiller to break up the clay underneath the new dirt and get it mixed in good with the soil and compost. The result was a soft, rich perfect for planting.
Only one thing remained before Farmer John could plant all his peppers: he needed a fence to keep the critters out. Originally, John had intended to put up a nice, solid wood fence, but the price of lumber has soared in the last few months. Instead, he and Tom bought some metal fence stakes and some wire to put around them. As soon as they started to pound in the first stake, they encountered a problem. The stake went in about a foot and then hit something solid. So they moved the stake around and tried again. Still hitting something about a foot down. After several attempts, they moved on to a different corner. They were able to get two of the corner stakes in and most of the posts in between, but they still couldn’t get any stakes in deep enough on one side of the garden.
Finally, Farmer John dug down to see what was blocking all the stakes. He dug, and then dug some more, enlarging the hole as he went. Meanwhile, Tom continued to look for someplace where the stakes could be set deeper. Turns out there is a concrete slab underneath about half of the garden and a good portion of the back yard. We are talking a huge slab of concrete with a foot of soil on top of it. The foundation of a barn? The bottom of a swimming pool? A catchment for drainage? We have no idea, but it explains why the previous owners had shallow mounds of concrete around the stakes on that side of the garden.
We finally decided shallowly set stakes would suffice and strung the fencing around the posts. The fence shape is a little odd, but it should serve the purpose.
Last week Farmer John put the finishing touches on the garden by planting 100 pepper plants in neat rows inside the protective fencing. He will water and weed the plants and, hopefully, have a good harvest later in the summer.
Tom and I enjoy helping out, especially when we get to do something constructive outside. John and Jackie are very appreciative and make sure we stay fed and watered while we work. It is fun to see John as a pepper farmer and hot sauce entrepreneur.