Some call it Bermuda grass, I call it my undoing. Bermuda is the “straw” that broke this camel’s back. I can’t carry anymore. I have been accused of being over dramatic and giving up too easily, so I will try to condense the story in a few paragraphs so you can understand my reality.
It’s just a garden, but it’s been the center of my energies for eighteen months. (Black hole is more like it). I was enchanted with the Back to Eden method and wanted to apply all the natural farming knowledge I gleaned over the last three years working in community development with YWAM, so we spent months loading woodchips and shoveling them over our new garden space. We have 10 rows, 120-160 feet long and 3 feet wide. Along with the fencing we mulched and planted, that’s 2000 sf of growing space (not counting all the walking areas). 2000 sf with cardboard and 18 inches of mulch- probably 50 truckloads total. Hand shoveled and then wheelbarrowed down the rows and unloaded and spread. Each truckload is about 20 wheelbarrows. This spring I unloaded another 18 truckloads of compost, manure and mulch. That’s hundreds of wheelbarrows, much of it done in 90+ degree heat and heavy clothing and boots due to the fire ant attacks I continually suffer. (This probably explains why the site of a wheelbarrow makes me nauseated.)
Soil samples, hours of research, cover cropping, amendments, a new pond, 300-foot trench for the irrigation and thousands of feet of drip tape, new fencing, hundreds of dollars of seed, many more for the baby fruit trees and bushes. This was our first year’s investment and it was all burned away by drought. The “Hundred Year Drought” they later called it. Pond dried up, irrigation broke, grasshoppers multiplied in the drought and cleaned up everything we tried to save by hauling heavy five gallon buckets of water hundreds of feet. That was last year.
Thankfully the trees survived, the pond filled up when the drought broke and we started again this spring with new hope and stupid determination. This year the rain has been so regular we haven’t needed to irrigate once. The endless mulching and soil amending has paid off and the garden is colorful and thriving. Our guests often express amazement at the beauty.
This all sounds so good! But the problem lurks underneath. For two seasons I have determinedly weeded on average eight to ten hours a week, assuming that with time the weeds would die back and the labor investment would pay off. That has been true for all the weeds except the Bermuda grass. I didn’t know its name, I just decided to post pictures and my scenario on a professional natural farming page and get some help. I received ridiculous advice for the most part- people saying that chickens or ducks or geese would eat all the bad grass, or that I just needed to spend my life rotating sheep or pigs in the rows, ect. But the farmers who actually knew Bermuda grass were much soberer. They were kind and gentle as they told me their stories and then gave it to me straight; I won’t win this war. Even if I wanted to use nasty poison, it would take several rounds of it and I would still be always battling Bermuda.
On top of last year’s losses, I’ve just spent three months breaking my back in 95+ degree heat and humidity weeding like a madman, only to learn that it’s in vain. For a week now I have been going through the motions of life- going to work, making dinner, hanging laundry- barely breathing as I try to recover from the blow. Maybe I went down too easily- a few quick kicks to the head and my time in the ring was over.
A story has to be put into context to be fully understood. I’ve just told you about 2000 sf of dirt, of course there is much to my life then that! And it’s all getting squeezed right now. The two weeks before my Bermuda grass reality check have been full of little losses. The freezer full of local grass feed beef and garden produce died and melted into a messy blob in our garage (it’s only 13 months old, just old enough to not have a warranty). The next day someone hit our mailbox. The next day my truck died (again), so Grace pulled all the seats from the van to carry garage to the dump and the muffler fell off on the way there. Both of my mowers are dead and I can’t get the weed eater head to work- therefore the jungle is growing and I can’t even see the seedlings in my tree nursery. Everyday feels so frustrating as I try to fix stuff in this stifling heat (and I don’t have the skill set) and can’t get basic jobs done which means the work just piles up higher. And the Bermuda grass keeps growing.
But all this is minor compared to the heart trials. My husband has been away for 14 months working a remote job in Alaska (it began as a five-month commitment, so much more strain on our lives then we had planned) and the project is done in two more months, but that feels like forever right now. I ran out of grace for carrying all this alone a long time ago. Three of my five children are facing really hard trials right now; heart break, health issues, high stress situations. We are blessed to be together in this though, and for that I am grateful. We are struggling to get a mortgage (we volunteered for 3 years in YWAM so don’t have 2 current years of W-2s and can’t get a bank or broker to work with us) and we need to pay off the private loan we used to build the house soon. The pressure is intense right now. It feels as if every time I pick myself back up from the ground I get kicked in the head again!
So there you have the not so sunny version of Thirsty Goose Farm. I’m not ashamed to share the struggles, they are a reality for everyone still breathing- I just don’t want honesty to turn into whiny writing. Many of my friends have said “well, at least you learned something through this”, so I will stop here and share
- If you aren’t a mechanic or married to one (and they actually live with you and don’t run away to Alaska), then don’t farm.
- If you have Bermuda grass, don’t farm
- If you don’t like blisters, sweat, heat stroke, fire ants up your pants, or snakes, don’t farm here.
- If you want to save money, don’t farm
- If you ever want to read a book or take a vacation, don’t farm
- If you like to sleep past sunrise, don’t farm
- If you can’t handle loss, frustration and sadness, don’t farm.
- If you don’t like to build fences, don’t farm
- If you don’t like to wake up and go to bed hurting all over, don’t farm
In short- appreciate your local farmers and cheerfully give them any amount of money they ask for that tomato and know that you just saved yourself thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of back breaking work. I’m sure someone advised me the same way, but I of course didn’t listen.
Lessons I’m still wrestling out
- When to keep fishing and when to cut bait. This is a hard one, especially for stubborn people. I can’t keep spending 10 hours a week weeding- I end up neglecting the other important parts of gardening like staking, spraying nutrients, harvesting, pruning, ect. Plus, I have a job and kids and house and community and lots of company! Investments can turn into black holes if not managed wisely. (I could buy the whole farmers market with that time if I just went to work for those hours – in air conditioning too!!)
- How to cultivate a thankful heart in the midst of being squeezed. I’ve experienced the power of this, I just forget and fall out of alignment too easily.
- How to rest and Sabbath well. Once again- a powerful truth when applied, but hard to hold onto. Instead, I foolishly push past this God given wisdom and end up rehabilitating instead of recreating. That’s where I am now, again. So burnt out I’m angry and not much fruit to show for all the labor. I could have played and rested along the way and probably have the same amount of Bermuda grass growing in the garden.
I’m planning a partial surrender to Bermuda. This fall we will cover crop the orchard rows and let nature take it’s course- no more weeding there. The other half of the garden we will spend the fall and winter smothering the walkways with feed sacks and mulch so there is no Bermuda to sneak into the growing spaces, then I’ll just have the perimeter to weed. In the meantime, I’m trying to take a day off each week to breath and maybe someday even laugh and play, and we are going to spend a few minutes at dinner each evening to share what we are thankful for. More than growing a great garden, I want to glorify God with how I live my life. If it takes Bermuda grass to get me to my knees, so be it.