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Plow and Harrow

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April is high time to get the land ready for planting. St. Patrick's Day in March is often like a hallmark where the weather gods show some signs of benevolence. Alas, that first spring when we moved to Ireland was particularly inclement, cold and wet, so that the plowing for our vegetable patch remained in the planning stages for a while. It was particularly late in the year to get early potatoes in the ground.

My Ex (he has a name, but let's call him Mac), designed the layout of the vegetable garden with great care according to John Seymour's suggestions regarding which vegetables go well together, e.g. , carrots and onions. This is important to know for crop rotation and minimizing bug infestations. We bought seed potatoes that had sprouted already at the creamery (i.e. farmers' supply & feed store where small farmers also take their milk each day. Big farmers have their milk picked up by a dairy truck). Normally you can save money and make potatoes sprout yourself by leaving them in a warm place in the house.

For convenience sake and in order to guarantee a big enough yield, he opted to plant in rows of 50 m in a corner of a sun facing wide open field adjacent to the garden below the house. It had a gate already for easy access from the road. At the moment, the field was grassland and needed to be plowed before we could seed or plant anything. He had bought a plow and harrow during earlier visits which he wanted to use with one of the two tractors we had schlepped over.

I kept myself busy with unpacking the truckload full of moving boxes and setting up the house. Eventually the big day came where he would try to plow, the Saturday before Easter which happened to be his 40th birthday. My idea of a big birthday bash in Germany had been thwarted by his deliberate choice of moving day. Instead he spent the day huddled on an ancient tractor in a rainproof wax jacket and a green woolly Aran cap.

First the tractor didn't start. We hauled it into the village for the local garage to have a look at it. I had never towed anything, never mind a tractor on narrow country roads. When that was fixed, several attempts to turn the naturally heavy, fertile soil failed because the land was still too sodden for the old plow. The afternoon had well progressed when the enterprise was aborted because the light snow flakes —unusual for this time of year- came down thick. Mac stood next to the tractor, smoking a f*g, cursing, when a car on the road stopped. Out stepped Phil, the local builder, currently making big bucks in the UK. He was on his way to Mass in his fineries when he saw Mac's predicament. Maybe stopped out of curiosity. We knew him, because he had fixed our chimney earlier in the year, not totally satisfactorily and there had been a dispute about it.

Nevertheless, he climbed over the gate and walked on the wet furrows in his Sunday shoes. Having grown up on a farm, he must have known something that Mac didn't because he managed to turn the remaining rows within an hour, just before dark. We invited him in for whiskey as a thank you and warm up. He took the glass standing in the doorway, soaked, on account of his shoes being clogged with earth and then preceded to church.
I had hoped to follow a German tradition later that evening, the Easter bonfire, to say farewell to winter, but the wood I had gathered was too wet to ignite or burn. Instead I invited the neighbors and their four children to come over for a drink. They sat on our sofas like organ pipes, uncomfortable at small talk, but we toasted the birthday boy. So much for a 40th birthday party which our family and friends in Germany had anticipated. Our adventure was about to begin.


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Ursula Siebert, originally a German teacher & lecturer turned businesswoman, lived in different European countries before coming to the USA. She is now a free-lance writer. Often tongue-in-cheek, she sees life and politics in the USA from the (more...)
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