It’s planting time…and other farm chores – Empty Nest, by Curt Swarm


We had put this off for as long as possible. The hen house needed cleaned out bad. The hens were staging daily walkouts carrying signs: “Dirty straw, dirty eggs!” “How would u like to live here?!”
When the asparagus pokes its head up, it’s time to plant the garden! Alright already! I took down the mesh-wire electric fence, backed the Silverado up to the back of the hen house, and began pitching. Ewww. The wind was fierce and blew stuff back in my face. (Where were Bro and Bo, our neighbor boys when I needed them?) I dispatched Ginnie to town to the farm-supply store to buy an aluminum scoop shovel so I could scoop up the fine stuff. She asked me what an aluminum scoop shovel looked like. (Poor city girl.) I told her to tell the clerk what she wanted. Ginnie returned with the right shovel (thank you, God), and I scooped up the last of the manure. The Silverado didn’t know it could haul animal waste, and looked strangely humiliated, with the clash of chrome and manure. What the heck? It’s a farm truck!
I didn’t even have to spread out the new bales of straw. I just pulled the strings off and let the hens go to work on the fresh straw. They dropped their protest signs and began scratching the fresh bedding to all four corners of the hen house, and then some.
I put a match to the weeds in the garden, stood by with a garden hose, and watched as the flames cleared off the garden, like an orange tongue of fire. I told myself the ash would do the soil good.
I shoveled the chicken manure onto the garden, hooked up the tiller to the tractor (always a chore), and tilled it all in. There’s nothing quite like chicken manure to jump start a garden.
The sky was crystal blue with cotton-ball clouds, when Ginnie and I went to work with hoes on a God’s-gift Saturday. The asparagus was tiny nubbins, barely peeking their pointy heads through the golden straw. Spring barometer: when the asparagus pokes its head through, it’s time to plant the garden.
We laid in three kinds of corn: peaches-and-cream, incredible, and Indian corn; Howden punkins to run in the corn; bush beans; sugar-snap peas; butter-crunch lettuce; pink-celebration radishes; market-more slicer cukes; delicious golden “mush melon” and black-diamond watermelon. The only things left were the tomato and pepper plants, onion sets and, oh yes, zucchini squash. We drew a map of all this so we would know what was where.
We checked the asparagus when we were done planting. Lord-o-mercy, it had grown an inch in the short time we had been planting! Now all we needed was rain.
I watered everything down real good as Ginnie cut some fresh rhubarb and went into the house to fix a, yes, Rhubarb/strawberry pie! My-oh-my. What a reward for a great day of working in the soil. Dirt under my fingernails never felt so good, but the top of my sunburned head was a different story. Oh, well. Break out the aloe vera.
Farmers were busy as bees working in the fields with monster equipment as Ginnie and I headed to town. We picked up sweet and white onions; better boy, early girl, celebrity, and sweet baby girl cherry tomatoes; and one super fantastic hybrid tomato. For peppers Ginnie chose sweet banana, red beauty, and California wonder. Also for good measure, we grabbed some more Indian corn, a few extra asparagus starts, and the dark zucchini squash. I’ve always been a man of excess. (The problem is it spreads to the people around me.)
The following Saturday, to our delight, the radishes and lettuce were spotting the black Iowa soil with tiny green leaves. (I keep the pellet gun handy for rabbits.)

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read a 106.3 FM in Farmington.

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