Gene Logsdon and Friends

Crazy Ideas For Crazy Garden Farmers

In Gene Logsdon Blog on June 30, 2010 at 8:37 am

From GENE LOGSDON

I wonder if a book titled A Guide To Insane Farming would sell, especially when, upon opening the book, the reader would encounter descriptions of how farming is actually done today. But what I’m talking about at the moment are ideas that really are off the grid, outside the box, beyond normalcy, agronomic lunacy. Or to assume a more positive attitude, ideas like maybe the earth moves around the sun which by golly turned out to be true.

For years I have watched agronomic lunacy take place in our yard but, blinded by my cultural attitudes, I did not pay much attention to it. When I perform the yearly ritual of The Shelling of the Pole Beans at planting time, I sit out under a shade tree and shell out last year’s Kentucky Wonders, still in pods in a paper sack where they spent the winter. Cracking and stripping open the dry pods means that a few beans pop out into the lawn round about me. Never mind, I’ve got plenty and am in too big a hurry to retrieve these fugitives.

Usually within the next week or so, rain falls, and then I am quite surprised to find that the fugitive seeds have taken root and are merrily growing right in the lawn grass. (I hope you can see them in the photo accompanying this essay.) I am way too busy sweating my life away hoeing in the garden to think twice about what the yard beans are telling me. Maybe beans don’t need planting and hoeing. Just throw them out on the lawn, like Jack’s beanstalk. If in my sweaty work of churning up soil I do think about the yard beans, I shrug and remind myself that they won’t do well growing in the shade and that the grass will overtake them anyway.

But what if I threw them on grass out in a sunny part of the lawn? What if I strung them out in a row on top of the grass rather than just scattering them hither and yon? If it didn’t rain enough to sprout them, I could always sprinkle the grass. Everybody’s always watering their lawns anyway. Then, when the beans came up, what if I erected some kind of trellis for them to climb on?  They would outpace the grass for sure. And why wouldn’t they grow just fine in the sod? A hundred thousand weeds will surely grow there tall and healthy if allowed to.

The idea is not without precedent in the lunatic world of real farming. Soybeans are sometimes planted by dropping them from airplanes. Usually a crop so planted does not make a stand good enough for the crucial demands of commercial profit farming, so the practice is not as popular as it once was. But it always amused me that when beans were flown on, usually in wheat stubble, some of them landed in the roadside ditches around the field, and if rain fell, they came up almost as well as the ones in the field. Of course they were not allowed to grow in the ditches because roadside grasses, like lawn grasses, have only one purpose in life, to be mowed.

I will have to wait until next year to do a serious test of lawn beans. I invite you to spend the intervening time, contemplating with me the idea that, just as the earth continues to go around the sun, not vice versa, perhaps pole beans, and who knows what else, can be grown without seed bed preparation and hoeing. I will put up something for this year’s yard beans to climb on and let you know what happens if I can talk Carol into allowing a bit of wild helter-skelter vine growth right in the middle of our front yard.

In the meantime, think about how ironical it is that I have spent years preaching about the advantages of pasture farming, about grazing livestock and chickens and forgetting about doing so much soil tillage. All the time, right before my eyes, nature was trying to tell me that just maybe we don’t always have to till gardens either.
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  1. I know that last year I planted what was supposed to turn into a lush pole bean teepee in a sunny part of my yard. I barely broke the sod and moved aside a very narrow 2 inch strip from pole to pole and added nothing else but brown seeds. These beans did very poorly competing with the grass and weeds in their barely fertile topsoil. For me, it didn’t work out.

  2. We have a cedar tree that must be trying to teach me the same lesson. So far this year I have found the seedlings in every potted plant I own; the bed of the pickup where there was some dirt collected in one corner; all the flower beds (of course!); any crevice in any downed firewood log; the compost heap; the bucket on the backhoe; and last but not least, growing out of an old robin’s nest in the nearby oak tree. Nature will not be denied!

  3. It’s a good thing you have Carol around to put a stop to some of your crazier notions.(I bet she says- “NO WAY JOSE”).If she allowed you to grow those beans in the front yard it might mean the beginning of the end of Western Civilization! I like the idea however-and since I live in Texas where Western Civilization has always been kind of a nebulous concept,I am going to plant some green beans on my front lawn in your honor,unless of course, my wife decides it ain’t gonna happen here either!

  4. The only negative that *I* can think of, Gene, is that keeping the grass down around the beans would be more difficult. Of course, I have that problem with Bermuda Grass in my regular garden as well… My Blue Lakes are producing like crazy with less-than-optimal, let’s say, weeding, though, so if you can stand the bush-iness in your yard, I’d say go for it!

  5. I am the queen of non conventional gardening.Especially because I don’t want to buy monsanto seed so I let everything reseed and I get prolific random seedlings.Right now my garden looks like a forest of all the winter greens reseeding,chard,lettuce,spinach,broccoli,kale,arugula,parsley,
    parsnips.These will mostly come up where I want them but rogue plants are in all the edges and crevices.I tried hard to appease my husbands desire for straight rows, but those cute random baby’s have had their way again!

  6. Our Great Pyrenees pup unknowingly planted some no-till pumpkins in our backyard last fall when he took off with one that was part of our fall display and tore it to shreds. I spotted a cluster of plants last spring and mowed around them. They are now ranging far and wide and look as nice and green as any I’ve ever grown in the garden, and are now setting fruit. You may be on to something here.

  7. I think your book would be well received. By the way, Joel Salatin has something along those lines in the works… “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer”

  8. Being a little bit on the lazy side, I plant giant sunflowers maybe 18″ apart, then when they are six inches tall, I plant the Kentucky Wonders in between the sunflowers. The beans use the sunflower stalks; in the summer I get pretty good beans, in the fall I cut off the sunflower heads and bag them in burlap bags to dry. I made a wire “basket” that I hang from a piece of an old well pipe I drove into the ground, and I put the whole sunflower head in the wire “basket”, and in the winter the birds (cardinals, nuthatches, and red bellies) harvest their own sunflower seeds. A large funnel four feet up the pipe discourages unwanted varmints, and I’m going to make a cover from some old metal roofing, so I can hang other feeders and keep them dry.

  9. I don’t know, doesn’t being a gardener imply somehow preparing soil to receive seed? The best volunteers I have are in the raised beds I worked or in the soft loam of the compost pile. No use doing things the hard way, but we are dealing with very unnatural plants for the most part(wild pole beans?)and I hope my efforts add to the results.

  10. Are you still going to do this experiment? I have had great sucess letting volunteer tomato and watermellon vines grow where they are at. The watermellons always seem to come true to type while the tomatoes come as prolific cherry tomatoes.

  11. David, my tomatoes come back as prolific cherry tomatoes too. Watermelons are difficult for me for some reason. I get some every year and plant only open pollenated kinds and they come up true to seed but rarely taste sweet enough to suit me. Gene

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