amish co-gardening

tomatoesSeveral years ago we employed two young Amish couples on our dairy farm. One year the Hubs came up with the brilliant idea to collaborate on a vegetable garden. It sounded quite perfect to me.

I hated the idea of gardening because I despise snakes. Seriously. It doesn’t matter if they are harmless or small. A snake is a snake is a snake. (You may appreciate some of my dramatic snake experiences.)

The Hubs loved the idea of gardening but it seldom played out well. True to his “go big or go home” nature, he over-engineered. When reality hit in the form of acres to plant, mow, bale, or chop, the garden got short shrift. It was neglected to the point of joint embarrassment by early July. Even then, I refused to enter!

So one day in the dead of winter, the Hubs approached Ammon and Fannie about co-gardening. We thought it was a win-win proposition. They agreed. We’d provide the land, work it over with harrows, and purchase seeds. They’d gain a jump start. We needed only a small amount of fresh produce for the table. The bulk was theirs to consume, put up, or sell.

We invited them for dinner to seal the deal. Pizza from a local eatery was an appreciated treat but Fannie struggled with the chewy crust in a mouthful of false teeth. She was not yet 20 and had been subjected to preventive dentistry. Ice cream for dessert went down much easier.

Fannie was clearly leading on garden planning. She had meticulously combed through a mail order catalog — the likes of which I’d never seen. She brought two copies. It was of an old-school format with much cheaper products. Fannie had prepared a two-page, single spaced, handwritten list of varieties to consider. She insisted we talk through every item.

“What kind of squash do you like? Squash start on page 60.” (We turned to that page. There were dozens of squash varieties. Mercy!) “We like butternut and … What would you like? … Okay, sure. We’ll try that.”  “What kind of watermelon do you like? (We’ve never attempted watermelon. We dutifully turn to that page.) We like …” And so on.

They were not interested in selling strawberries: too much work. “A lot of bending,” Fannie observed. She would purchase strawberry runners from her mother. She assured us they’d plant enough for both tables. Strawberries were an unanticipated benefit as far as we were concerned!

Our progress slowed as conversation ensued about how to successfully grow each item on the list. Radishes, for instance, require a bed of sawdust and salt. (Huh.) They were relieved to learn we have fields of sweet corn planted by machinery. “That will save a lot of work,” they sighed. They’d plant some of an early variety for additional profit.

Fannie kept a running total of our order. Her accounting was impressive as she had only fourth-grade education. She was very concerned with the bottom line. She and Ammon conversed in their dialect to make sure it was correct to the penny.

Finally, we moved on to a second catalog with gardening tools. “There is just one more thing,” Fannie was hesitant. “We know there’s a lot to order. We can get by without it this year.” she hedged. “It would be nice but really, it is okay.”

“Well,” Pete said, “What is it?” They pointed to a rotary seeder. This device distributes and plants seeds evenly as you wheel it along. Pete said, “I have one of those, practically brand new. It’s yours.” You would have thought he gave them the moon. “That saves a lot of bending!” Fannie exclaimed with delight. She was a couple months shy of delivering their first child, a continual reminder of hardships of back-breaking labor. They were so pleased that they were still talking about that rotary seeder days later.

It occurred to me that I’ve been privileged to say, “I don’t garden because I hate snakes.” I buy my way out of my distress. Fannie also despises snakes but had no choice. Her lifestyle dictated she garden. I felt like a spoiled brat with this realization and noted as much. Ammon was gracious to quickly assert, “You probably have a job? You don’t want to get home from work and go out and garden, I think.” He’s quite right about that. “I don’t know what time you get home,” he continued, “maybe 2 o’clock?” Ammon should have quit while he was ahead!

There’s no doubt our gardening prospects improved dramatically that night. Our co-gardeners were worth their salt — and then some! I only wish I’d taken better notes as we worked through the catalog. Do you have gardening wisdom to share? Great resources for seeds and seedlings? Tell me more!

René Morley

This post originally published on my alternate site, NorthCountrySolutions.US.

2 thoughts on “amish co-gardening”

  1. I love this and I could hear your voice telling this story! I, too, despise snakes and because of that, I will not garden. My parents had a garden when I was growing up and my big ‘help’ to it was to watch the pumpkins grow then sell them by the road. We always knew if there was a snake found in or near the garden because my mom would put a bucket over the snake then weigh down the bucket with a rock waiting for my dad to take care of it when he got home from work 🙂 What nice memories this story brought back for me; thank you for sharing yours!! God Bless Fannie and Ammon!

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