Obstacle Gardening


We got the garden plotted out, got fence posts up, started more seeds (for the second time, after the dogs played salad toss with the first batch), and borrowed my cousin’s tiller.

Only….. The tiller stopped working. And wouldn’t start again. No matter what we tried.

Big, big garden, and sacks and sacks of top soil, and no tiller.

It’s been who-knows-how-long-if-ever since anyone worked this ground, and the top soil was scraped off when the house site was cleared, leaving….clay. It needs amendments, bad. It needs help. And we have no equipment to do it right.

So, change of plans–just work the top soil in down the rows and hope for a miracle next year. Like, we’ll have a tiller. For now, it’s obstacle gardening, and probably not a promise of a very good garden this summer. Yet, we perservere with what we have and what we can do.

52 showed up with all this top soil in his truck.

I was totally going to help him unload since, you know, he brought it. I climbed up on the back of his truck and reached for a bag. Eeeek!! Do you have any idea how heavy dirt is?! I think I managed to get like three bags off the truck while he tossed off 20. I don’t know what he would do without me!

Then somebody had to start working that top soil in. You know, by hand. Too bad I was busy getting my seeds potted from my starter pots.

They are so handy–just push the pots straight into the dirt or they peel off easily if you prefer.

I got all my herbs into pots, and did several pots of flowers, too. I’ll save the rest of the flowers for the garden.

Oh, yeah, the garden……

It’s amazing how I can hoe and take pictures of hoeing at the same time, isn’t it?

Or could it be that I am not hoeing?

I am documenting the hoeing. The traditional, earthy, spring ritualistic activity of the fervent gardener. It needs glorified. Photographed. Admired. Revered, even. From afar. Not everyone should hoe. There are the hoers, and there are the hoe-watchers.

Hoeing is not to be taken lightly or indulged in without proper knowledge, skill, time, and talent. To hoe is to know the soil, to be one with it. It requires, indeed, a deep spiritual connection with the soil and its holy partner, the hoe. Those without that proper spiritual connection should not blaspheme the hoe by touching it. Hoeing is for those few enlightened, perfected souls who understand the hoe in all its beauty. Hoeing is–

WHAT IS THIS? I can’t hoe. Didn’t I just explain that I am not good enough to hoe? I am not worthy of the hoe!



  1. Kim A. says:

    Hoe by hand? Forget it. Doesn’t anyone around have a work horse?

    If you add a horse or a sturdy pony to your menagerie, plus a harness and the plow, etc., you won’t need the tiller. And think of all the extra manure for fertilizer.

    Right now I’m feeling a bit sorry for 52…. 😆 That man does *a lot* of work for you! Okay, I admit I’m a bit jealous, since my ex was a lazy-a$$ed putz (IMO) and there isn’t anyone here who can give me a hand with all that needs to be done.


  2. Remudamom says:

    I’m obstacle gardening this year too, around all the bulbs in my flower bed. No room to till, but plenty of room for weeds. Our tiller doesn’t work either.

    Our neighbor down the road uses his team of Belgians to work up his vegtable garden. Fun to watch them. My little ponycart pony told me not to get any ideas.

  3. Heidi says:

    :wall: When I have trouble with my tiller, I always check the gas first – go ahead and laugh – I had filled mine up once and ran if for a while. Then it quit on me. I tried to start it, no luck. Then I checked the oil, the throttle, the air cleaner, the tines to make sure nothing was stuck and lastly when I was completly fired up cuz I was getting NOTHING done…hubby came home – lucky him. 🙂 He looked in the gas tank right away, empty… *gulp* so we put gas in and it started. Now in my defense, I am a bit smarter than a post in the ground, but I did’nt realize I had been working out there that long. But, if there is gas in yours – check the air cleaner, then the plugs. If it sat over winter the plugs may be fouled. 🙂 I need to get me a 52 – 40 doesnt seem to want to help out much around here lately.. :wall:

  4. Annie says:

    Have you considered raised beds? I highly recommend them, no tiller required. I also use lasagna gardening, https://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/1999-04-01/Lasagna-Gardening.aspx, it doesn’t get much easier. Also square foot gardening https://www.squarefootgardening.com/. In other words, square foot lasagna raised beds.

  5. sc says:

    Wow! 52 what an awesome job. I think you will be surprised at how well your obstacle method will work. I bet the veggies will taste so much better too. The colour and texture of your soil looks so interesting. Our soils are glacial till-sands and gravel, and a little less interesting than clay. Your low-till method may also keep weeds at a minimum, since weed seeds won’t be exposed through the tilling. I can’t wait to see how it works out.

  6. Momanna98 says:

    You can always get manure and/or worm compost and sprinkle it with your seeds and plants. That will help the soil. This year we are adding a lot of manure because the “top soil” we bought is not quite the “tops”. :-/

  7. Maryann says:

    Yes and don’t forget about all that lovely black gold in the forest that Mother Nature has already created for you. I second the raised bed concept, it will take a few yrs but that clay will be amended.

  8. Howdy says:

    I saw a really interesting gardening program that says you can grow high yeild gardens in any soil… and not all the working of the soil and weeding issues. Looks really interesting – something I’m checking out for when we get moved later in June. I’ll probably only get zucks and tomatoes planted this year… but next year… yeah that will be fun.

    Here’s the blog post that shows pictures and it has links to the Jacob Mittleider method.


    Looking forward to seeing ‘how your garden grows’… just no being contrary – even if you have to hoe… LOL

  9. becki says:

    Quick note to catslady and yesterday’s post…

    I saw Pay It Forward on a flight from London to Houston. By the final scene, there was an entire section of tourist class passengers wiping eyes as they headed for those precious airplane bathrooms.

  10. Becky says:

    Sorry about the tiller. If I didn’t have a tiller I wouldn’t have a garden. The Captain doesn’t have time to help, he would if asked, I just hate to ask, cause he has so much else to do.
    Yeah, for 52! Isn’t it great that they are there when needed?
    Can’t wait to see how your garden turns out!

  11. sunshine says:

    Hey Suzanne
    My husband would love to do that kind of stuff you want me to loan him to you and he works on the machines too just get him to you would be the problem
    you can use him for free

  12. Maria says:

    Got Top Soil?

    That’s all I could think when I saw ALL that top soil!!!

  13. Kacey says:

    It’s a basic law of tillers that they don’t work when you need them. Honest.

  14. Linda in San Diego says:

    I hope you have started your compost pile and or worm bin. Search for both of those at Mother Earth News or just google. I get great soil that way that does not come in bags too heavy to lift! Have fun with the garden :flying:

  15. Jyl says:

    Uggg, that looks like way too much work.

  16. robin says:

    raised beds are a great idea but if you don’t go that route it might be a good idea to at least terrace it around the perimeter so that this amended topsoil does not disappear off the side of the mountain when it rains…along with the seedlings.

  17. M says:

    We have clay here in NC also (piedmont area). I live in the city, but our country garden gets amended with grass clippings (and mulched to keep the weeds down) and fall leaves when the neighbors bag them.

    It has taken a few years (and using a proper tractor) but we have some real dirt on top of the clay. You may also be able to go out in the woods and find usable top soil. Don’t take too much off in a single area. We did that for years to get the yard in the city able to grow shrubs,bulbs and veggies too.

    Some beans do well in rows, but you can put your squash/zuchinni/cucumbers in hills at the end of rows.

    Use that hoe to space your rows. I use the length of the hoe to mark the width. It may look too wide with all the baby plantings, but once they mature, you need to be able to walk between the rows.

    Have fun with it this year. Get serious next year!

    another Mary Ann

  18. Amy Addison says:

    LOL! I love the way you do yardwork. “We” do a lot of yardword that way, too.

    I am not a nature girl.

  19. Farmlady says:

    “…not worthy of the hoe.” Your’re good! ” ‘to be one with it(the soil); “…there are hoers and hoe watchers”. This is very funny. This is why you on my list of great farm blogs. :chicken:
    P.S. I left a comment in your Jan 13th “This post is stunning” piece. I wasn’t reading blogs back in Jan. and went back to look at your gingerbread cookie post. I saw the post on what is stunning in our lives and had to comment.(even 4 months late). Please take a look.

  20. Susan says:

    52 is super human! :thumbsup: I don’t blame you for not liking to hoe. You can’t afford to get blisters when your a writer! 😮

  21. Estella says:

    Suzanne, are you trying to say you are the supervisor?
    I love being the supervisor.

  22. Donna says:

    Wow…that’s work..I so love gardens and don’t have one. I should do a little Potager garden, as the French do…but even then I would need help and my husband is not the gardening type. LOL

  23. Dori says:

    Hoe, hoe, hoe 52 must be Santa! Keep up the good work and you will reap what you sow…. Love reading your posts

  24. Lori-Lyn says:

    It might be to late this year- but maybe this would work for you next year.
    Check out this gardening method…REALLY COOL


  25. Shimmy Mom says:

    I love working in the garden. Sorry about your difficulties. Here’s hoping that everything sprouts gorgeous, yummy produce! Good luck!!

  26. Granny Sue says:

    Hey crazy lady! You always give me a good laugh. Anyway you know the old saw about the teacher showing kids farm tools and she says “this is a hoe.” and the little boy says my sister is a ho and she don’t look nothin’ like that.”

    Two things to offer that may or may not help:
    1. put a new spark plug in the tiller, clean out ALL the gas, put in new and maybe some additive. Gas turns to lacquer if it’s in the tiller all winter and can really clog things up.

    2. Mulch your garden with old hay if you can get it. It will keep your soil moist (well, not a problem YET this summer), enrich it, and keep the weeds down so you don’t have to hoe–and the weeds will pull out very easily.

    One other idea-sidedress your plants with Miracle Grow soil. It’s great stuff and will give you a boost this first year.

    Gotta love that man. I love mine–he’s planting and tilling while I was out storytelling this evening. What a guy.

  27. Maryann says:

    Also when you start to compost make sure its near the garden (hubby put ours at the way back about 250′ from the house and garden)I am creating one soon right into the back corner of the garden this year using farm fencing. I do wish I could have a near by source of chicken manure to use. For that I am jealous of all that free nitrogen you will soon have.

  28. Sue Keeley says:

    I would love any advice on what plants chickens DO NOT like that can be planted in Northern California. MIne are eating everything. Thanks.

  29. rmsrosedawson says:

    You could have positioned the bags in the plot, slit them open and planted your seedlings in the bag. I’m trying this now and it’s working quite well….so far. The fall, I’ll dump out the bags on the garden plot along with composts and mulch for next year’s garden.

  30. Elaine Harrison says:

    :clover: Have you ever read the Ruth Stout method? Marvelous! Amend your soil without a tiller and plant your goodies too. It’s called the Ruth Stout No Work Garden Book and you can get it at Amazon. She was a marvelous old lady who gardened, I suppose, til the end. Just saying. :clover:

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