Now where is that grass?
If we were going to raise alpacas, we would need something for them to eat.Fortunately, Mother Nature has provided a natural food source for alpacas called grass – all Roxanne and I had to do was get this green stuff to grow on our ten acres of open land.Now in Ohio if vacant land is left alone for any length of time it will usually start growing grass without any help.Unfortunately, the previous owners of our land had tried to grow a cash crop called corn; so we were stuck with fields filled with broken corn stalks and nary a blade of grass in sight.
To give you an idea of the job we faced, when our local agricultural agent had visited our farm some months earlier she had taken one look at our fields and the blood had drained from her face.But having no idea what we were getting into, we started our real “farmer” work on a warm spring morning in April.Our grass growing project consisted of a carefully planned process: remove the corn stalks; cultivate the resulting cleared soil; and finally sow some super high-tech grass seed.(In truth we didn’t have a clue
what we were doing; we just sort of made things up as we went along.)
Since the only piece of farm machinery we owned when we got into this fiasco was a hand shovel, we borrowed a tractor from a friend. Neither Roxanne nor I had ever driven anything bigger than a riding lawn mower in our lives, but after five minutes of instruction we were off! Using the loader installed on the front of the tractor our goal was to uproot the nasty corn stalks and pile them along the edge of our fields.However, we quickly learned what looks easy from a distance requires a lot of skill in
real life.Our friend had made using the front end loader look easy; now all Roxanne and I managed to do was dig deep
holes in our fields as we tried the same tricky maneuvers. To further complicate things, the fields were still muddy from the recent
spring rains.If not for big tires and four-wheel drive, we would have buried the tractor many times in this muck.
But slowly we learned the basics of operating large machinery and Roxanne and I painstakingly pushed most of the corn stalks into big piles.(Let me give credit where credit is due: Roxanne did most of the clearing, as she seems to have a natural affinity for this monotonous work. My rocket-science brain, on the other hand, requires constant stimulation – at least this is what I told Roxanne as I watched from my lawn chair at the edge of the field.)Then one exciting day we looked around and realized we were the proud owners of ten acres of mud – at least that’s what it looked like to the casual observer. But we “real” farmers knew it for what it truly was: fallow land; just waiting for the hand of man to turn it into a productive enterprise. Civilization had begun eons earlier when our ancestors gave up their hunting and gathering lifestyle for farming; and now we were ready to repeat the process.
After consulting with various experts (read that as friends, casual acquaintances and any stranger willing to offer an opinion),
we decided our next step would be to harrow this open land; which is a fancy way of saying we would break the big clumps of dirt into little clumps.However, we had one slight problem: we did not own a harrow and tightwad that I was/am, I wasn’t about to let go of the money necessary to purchase one.Then yet another friend again came to our rescue and offered to loan us one.There was just one little problem – this machine was a little old. Except “old”didn’t really do it justice. Looking at this rusty, worn-out harrow, I realized it was probably the same piece of farm equipment Cincinnatus was using when the good citizens of Rome came and begged him to take over the job of running their empire. It fit well the old description of “being rode hard and put away wet.”But
to employ yet another tired adage, “beggars can’t be choosers,” so we dutifully hitched it up to our tractor.
As we now moved into phase two of our planting project, I next learned the dirty little secret of farming: namely farmers are really full-time mechanics who farm a little in their spare time.This was driven home one day as I was enjoying a well-deserved rest while Roxanne took her turn pulling the harrow over our fields. Suddenly I realized I could no longer hear the low growl of the tractor engine; never a good sign. Walking slowly out to where the silent tractor awaited me, I tried to avoid Roxanne’s eyes, but she still
said those terrible words: “I think it’s broken.” She went on to explain that the tractor’s temperature gauge had suddenly
shot through the roof, which is when she had wisely shut the engine off.Here I congratulated myself on our simple, yet effective training regimen: “never let the temperature go above the ½ mark or the fuel below ¼.”(We had been warned repeatedly that if a diesel engine ever ran out of fuel, it would require at least three expert mechanics and a smart dog to get it running again.)
I first checked the water level in the radiator – hoping it was just low.But all was fine, so holding my breath I slowly peeked into the dark engine compartment.Here I saw the awful truth as I observed the fan blade cocked at an angle at which it was never intended to operate.Now I am a mechanical engineer, so theoretically I should be able to repair a broken water pump/fan assembly.But a few minutes of research on the internet later that night convinced me this was not a repair I was up to – regardless of the fancy degree hanging on my wall. But God was watching over us ignorant farmers and He had found us a farm located only a few healthy golf strokes away from a tractor repair shop.So in the coolness of the next morning I fired our tractor up sans fan/water pump and keeping one eye on the temperature gauge, I drove it the short distance to this shop.Here a mechanic with missing
front teeth (shades of Deliverance?) said he just might be able to look at it in a week or so. When I asked him for a cost estimate he just laughed.
With the calendar telling us to plant soon or miss the spring rains, we had some tough decisions to make.Short of hitching me to the harrow, we had no choice but to find another tractor and promptly.So Roxanne went to Craig’s List and found a 1956 Ford model 640 tractor at a price I was willing to pay.Now this tractor and its brothers had made America the breadbasket of the world in the middle of the last century; and because it was built when quality was more than an advertising slogan, it was still ready for more hard work in this the fifth decade of its life.But it was not pretty.Like an old plow horse it may still have had hidden strength deep in its loins, but its skin was faded, bent and worn. Roxanne was not impressed with this fine piece of American craftsmanship, but it was exactly what I was looking for. First, it would be simple to work on, having been built in an age when electronics were
reserved for NASA rockets, not farm tractors.Second, after it had done its work for us, it could become a project for me to restore to its former glory in my spare time. When Roxanne heard this, she laughed and asked it this would be before or after I restored my Austin-Healey.(This was hitting below the belt: just because I have owned this particular fine automobile for over thirty years and have yet to restore it, doesn’t mean that someday I won’t.)
Despite Roxanne’s sarcasm, I paid the seller his money and we hauled our “new” tractor back to our farm. Here it proved to be every bit as reliable as I had expected and we spent the next few days harrowing like crazy people.All was going well until I was watching Roxanne drive the tractor one day (since I am the supervisor, I have to do a lot of watching) and noticed a shiny metal object lying on the ground behind her.Wondering if the harrow had turned up some long-lost treasure I walked over to inspect it. As
I scratched my head I suddenly realized I was looking at part of our borrowed harrow! I ran after Roxanne (notice how she is the one who is always driving when things break) and told her to stop before she lost any more precious parts. Once again I replaced my farmer cap with my mechanics hat, but the damage was done.There were several small parts missing which, as I surveyed the acres of dirt surrounding me, would be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack! As I stood in that dusty field knowing we had only a few more days to get our seed planted, I asked whether God was testing my faith or perhaps, more ominously, He
was sending me a message like “Forget this stupid farm!” Choosing to believe the former, I jumped into my truck and drove off to find some replacement parts.At my second stop, I found what I was looking for and was able to repair the harrow with several
hours of precious daylight left!
Two days later the tractor repair guy called and said I could pick up our other tractor; just be sure to bring lots of money.Actually, it
turned out to not be that expensive – there is an advantage to expecting the worst – and Roxanne and I soon had two tractors working in our fields. These were happy times: Roxanne and I would wave and smile as we passed each other on our respective machines. Since we had only one harrow, I hooked up a home-made contraption to pull behind my tractor.This device, a piece
of fencing, strung between two fence posts and piled high with concrete blocks, served well for leveling and finishing our fields.The
only downside was the abuse it took dragging along behind my tractor.I quickly learned the meaning of “holding something together with baling wire.”
Finally, at the end of one long and dusty day Roxanne and I gathered at the edge of our fields and looked proudly out at our dirt; the same way new parents might watch the first steps of their child. Despite numerous equipment problems and our basic clueless-ness as farmers, we had prevailed! In fact, we both had to admit our fields looked pretty good.
Now we just had to spread the seed, sit back with our mint juleps and watch all the lovely green grass grow.However, a few words need to be said at this point about the subject of growing grass and yours truly .In the course of my life I had previously sown three suburban yards with grass seed. Then I had watched in dismay as my neighbors’ similar bare dirt patches had quickly filled in with lush waves of bluegrass, while my own yard looked like the Sahara desert with a few lonely patches of grass sprouting here and there.Based upon this experience, I was more than a little reluctant to take on our ten acres.Add to this that we were late into the growing season, and I secretly did not hold out much hope for seeing any grass this year.
But the Bible tells us we are to trust in God and prepare for rain. So Roxanne and I dutifully hooked up our seed spreader (yet another borrowed implement – we are blessed with generous friends!) and began spreading expensive, carefully mixed
seed over our bare ground.Now all we could do was wait, as we anxiously watched the skies and prayed. And, like so often in our lives, God answered our prayers. The rains came and continued late into what should have been the dry season.Why, oh why, do we spend so much of our lives worrying?
I carefully checked our fields every day, waiting for the grass to sprout.And, like the watched pot that refuses to boil, our grass stubbornly would not sprout.Then one day I ran excitedly to Roxanne, yelling for her to come and see our grass! By putting your head close to the ground and if the sun was just at the right angle, we could see tiny little green hairs emerging from the soil. We
had grass! Within a couple of weeks our fields would rival any horse farm in Kentucky– or so I believed. We had done it! Actually, God had done it – we had just sort of stumbled along for the ride.