Field Notes Fall Garden Work (on the Lily Farm)

MoponA friend sent this text the other day,  “can I be honest u need to write more about gardening n less about strolling w old guys.”

Just like that; he didn’t wait for me to answer the can i be honest part…..

But here goes.  What I do in the dirt is a friggin’ lot of work, sometimes boring and I find it tough to integrate dirty, engaging work with clean, keyboard time.  I’d rather stay out and garden.  But I know there’s lots to share, lots of whats normal, dirty work to me that guys who garden as a hobby want to learn about.  So what follows is one typical fall morning work on an organically manged lily farm.   I’ve added some notes about how our farm work applies to home garden work.

1. We divided, separated and lined out two of the most awesome crinum.  We dug big clumps, made slits in the ground with spades, slid the little bulbs in, pressed the dirt back together and watered in with Super thrive.  No compost, no fertilizer added. And, I took notes that went into a database about what went where.

Note: If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, this is a fantastic time to divide or plant new crinum, or just about any plant.  Just dig up the main clump and with a sharp hook blade, cut it into parts and put them back in the ground.  One plant becomes ten.  Sales Pitch: Mo’ Pon’ (above)  and ‘Pink Flamingo’ (below) — two are spectacular for urban gardens or containers and they are available almost nowhere else.  The only place selling similar size Flamingo charges $65 plus shipping.

2. We found our newly germinating parsley rows and weeded out the winter weeds by hand.  Then mulched around the parsley seedlings with a little hay.  The goal of the mulch is to keep too many weeds from coming up and competing with the seedlings.

Note: It’s not to late to start parsley from seed and it’s easy and provides tons of winter salads then sweet green flowers attract bees and the flowers turn into seed and if you leave them, they’ll drop in the garden and start growing next fall.   After seed, we chop the entire plants, right where they are and use it as mulch.  (We call it chop and drop mulching and there’s a lovely picture of parsley treated this way in my coming Deep Rooted Wisdom;Stories and Skills from Generations of Gardeners book.)

3. We dug up perennial weeds of nutgrass and Bermuda grass.  ‘How do you get rid of nutgrass?’ people always ask me.   Simple, you dig it. I won’t go into old farmers too much, but they dug it too.

Note: You can use this very expensive Monsanto produced herbicide, which I call Nut-Slammer because its no better than a punch in the groin; it hurts but the nuts are still there and will come back strong soon enough.   In other words, it’s not effective.  So just get out there like old farmers did and fork the stuff, sift it and burn it.

4. We mulched with Bermuda hay.  Put it down heavily, snuggling up a fluffy roll of hay right up to your tender plants.  It’s insulation.   We also laid out the floating row cover that will keep some of our crinum warm all winter.

Note: You can mulch with Bermuda hay.  It’s cheaper than wheat straw and it doesn’t drop wheat seeds which will take over your garden this winter.  Mulch heavily to smoother any Bermuda seeds. You can floating row cover, a light fabric thrown over plants that allows water & light in, on home veggies and flowers too, but its kind of pain as it wants to blow away.

And that was that.  It was totally satisfying, keeps us in shape and connected to the earth.  That’s about 12 man-hours and it’s all basically preventive care and getting crops started and organized for next year.   This time of year is all about making next spring better.  Afterward, it took me a full hour to update all the changes in the Filemaker database we used to manage the nursery.

Oh, then we went to our friend Joel’s new house to layout & plant their front yard — 50 3 gallon plants in his hard clay, a ton of pinestraw, beers and pizza and it was way beyond dark.

So buddy, thanks for your text.  Nobody over 50 was involved; no strolling or stories of the old ways. On this particular morning Tom and I were living the old ways — doing things that help us make a living from the earth.  On this day, Tom and I were the old guys; we worked with two teenagers who talked about their trucks and whether or not you’d die if you hit a deer on a motorcycle.  (You will, 4 people in SC have this year.)   Tom jumps right in with this sort of car/truck/motor talk.  I focus on plants and try to ignore the chatter — which explains why its better I write about old people.Pink Flamingo

Picture shows how the compact leaves of Pink Flamingo (right) make the tall, strong flowers seem even bigger.  Proportion is everything.


  1. Will on October 23, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Two things – first, I really love your pieces passing on the wisdom of those who have come along before – and especially being introduced to the older gardeners themselves. And, second, this detailed and abbreviated glance at part of a day’s work for a gardener is wonderfully illuminating and richly instructive.

    Oh! And, third, why do you need to protect some crinums over winter, and which ones do you do this for?

  2. Jenks Farmer on October 23, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Thanks William. Don’t worry, I spent all day with an amazing older guy who had tons of great advice for me; gardening and book promotions.

    We don’t sell any crinum that need to be protected. They are all totally cold hard, some much more so than ever considered. But for a production field nursery, which we are, we need to extend our growing season in order to compete with Florida growers. One way we do this is by mulching or using floating fabric covers.

  3. Linda Reece on October 24, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. I can’t imagine how much work it is to keep your place up. It is so warm and inviting. I like to see you sharing with our more mature gardeners as well as our youngest gardeners. The important thing is educating and engaging more converts to your love of outdoors, gardening and healthy lifestyle you are blessed with.

  4. Jenks Farmer on October 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Linda, It’s all about balance between the old and new!

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