My Farmden

– Posted in: Garden Design

!cid_015D3DB5-BBFF-469D-9815-AE9651CB283C@hvc_rrNan writes: We welcome a new Guest Contributor this month: Lee Reich, PhD. Lee has long been a presence in the garden-writing world and has a number of books to his credit, among them my personal favorite, Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, and the new Landscaping with Fruit. You can find out more about Lee and his garden by visiting his web site and blog.

I’d like to introduce the words farmden and farmdener into the English language. I wonder if there are any other farmdeners out there. And just what is a farmden? It’s more than a garden, less than a farm. That’s my definition, but it also could be described as a site with more plants and/or land than one person can care for sanely. A gardener and garden gone wild, out of control.

You might sense that I speak from personal experience. I am. My garden started innocently enough: A 30 by 40 foot patch of vegetables, a few apple trees, some flowers, and lawn. That was 25 years ago, and in the intervening period, the lawn has grown smaller, the vegetable garden has doubled in size, and the fruit plantings have gone over the top.

Originally, I had less than acreage – 72 hundredths of an acre to be exact. But over the course of 15 years, I did manage to put my fingers onto almost every square foot of that non-acre. Squeezed into that area were 40 varieties of gooseberries, a dozen varieties of apples, a half dozen varieties of grapes, red currants, white currants, black currants, raspberries, mulberries: you get the picture. All that, in addition to my vegetables, flowers, and some shrubbery. But I was still not a farmdener, and my property was not a farmden.

!cid_29DBFBED-C888-4743-BC69-6D532DCE9D78@hvc_rrThat transition occurred with the purchase of a fertile acre-and-a-half field bordering the south boundary of my property. With that purchase, I expanded my plantings, rationalizing that because I write about gardening for magazines, for Associated Press, and on my blog , I should test and grow a lot of what I write about. So instead of 2 hardy kiwifruit vines such as any normal gardener might grow, I planted 20 vines of varying hardy kiwifruit vines of a few species and varieties. Instead of 2 pawpaw trees, à la normal gardener, I planted 20 pawpaw trees of varying species and varieties. And how about another dozen apple trees? And chestnuts, filberts, pine nuts (Pinus koreansis is hardy here in New York’s Hudson Valley). Again, you get the picture.

!cid_F44B9AB8-BFA5-4C93-A45C-AFBBFC778334@hvc_rrBut no, I wasn’t finished. There was always one more plant needing a home, one more piece of ground hungry for a plant. Why not create another vegetable garden; after all, I had just gotten married, that made another mouth to feed, and why buy vegetables when you have enough land to grow them? And what about winter? A greenhouse full of salad and cooking greens solved that problem, and provided figs in summer and early and late season cucumbers. I like crown imperial flowers and learned the quirks of propagating them – pack pieces of bulb scales in moist potting soil and subject them to a few months of warm temperatures, then a few weeks of cool temperatures, pot up, plant out. Soon I had not a crown imperial or two such as you might find in most gardens, but well over a dozen of them, and more still coming on.

You might imagine that, despite my plantings, my lawn still grew bigger with that increased acreage. Not so. Most of the acre and a half, except what was devoted to new plantings, became a hayfield that I mowed and helped feed my compost pile. A bit of rationality prompted me to graduate from scything to a small farm tractor for brush hogging that field. (Tennis elbow, the result of excessive scything, also helped with that decision.)

!cid_FD30B51B-F5A4-4849-826A-FDB358CBAB96@hvc_rrWhat I now had – and have – is a farmden. And I am a farmdener. A farmden is not something from which you can earn a living, although I have sold some excess pawpaws, Szukis American persimmons, and hardy kiwifruits, mostly for test marketing in my efforts to see whether these fruits are worth promoting for small farms. And my farmden is a great venue for workshops, as long as I point out that participants should pay attention to my plants, not the number of them, because my property is obviously the handiwork of a crazed gardener (or a sane farmdener?). “Don’t try this at home,” I tell participants right off the bat.

I do occasionally still garden. Right next to my terrace is a bed with tree peonies, potentiillas, clove currants, and Signet marigolds, all well-contained by the bricks of the terrace on one side and a low, moss-covered hypertufa wall on the other side. The bed is close to the house and the bed is small. Yesterday I noticed weeds starting to overstep their limit in the bed. I crouched down, started at one side of the bed, and gave it a thorough weeding, literally getting my hands on every square inch of soil. It was fun and it was quick.

!cid_08D61184-7FF0-42A3-92C7-807280DBDAD4@hvc_rrMost of my time, though, is spent farmdening. It’s very satisfying, even if it does get crazy sometimes, and it yields a cornucopia of very tasty and healthful fruits and vegetables, much of them planted with an eye to beauty as well as function. I have vowed not to plant anything more in the hayfield, in large part because it’s so pretty, the soft violet hue from midsummer’s monarda flowers grading over into a golden glow from late summer’s goldenrods. I also promised my daughter, when she was young and enthralled with Laura Ingalls Wilder, that we would leave most of the field as “prairie.” (At 21, my daughter no longer yearns for prairies, but I’m keeping my promise.)

I have taken some of the edge off the transition from gardening to farmdening with some help here on the farmden from an occasional volunteer and hired neighbor. Still, I am planning to keep the “den” in farmden.

Lee Reich

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Carol August 19, 2009, 9:24 am

Great word! From what I can see in your photos your gardens do not look out of control at all… more orderly and prolific … not wild… a word that fits my farm/gardens or ‘farmden’ well. Perhaps you have gone a bit wild with it all to maintain… I can sure understand that. Looking forward to visiting your blog.

the inadvertent farmer August 19, 2009, 12:37 pm

What a fun post! I have graduated from farmden to farm with the addition of chickens, llamas, goats, and a camel! You have a simply lovely place there, thanks for sharing with us, Kim

Dave August 19, 2009, 2:42 pm

Interesting new word! I think that’s where things are heading here over time. We’ll see! I like that rustic gate.

Jeannie August 19, 2009, 3:19 pm

thanks for the great pictures and tales of your adventure…you’ve gone where many of us yearn to go…now, maybe we’re glad we didn’t! just kidding.

healingmagichands August 20, 2009, 1:24 pm

Oh, thank heavens for the word that finally describes what Jim and I are doing at the Havens. I knew it was more than just a garden. . . The moment when we went over the top was when we put in the vineyard, I think. The new Stroll Garden is just proof that we are more than simply gardeners.

By the way, we have your book “Uncommon Fruits” and have found it to be interesting and informative.

Sue August 22, 2009, 4:23 pm

I enjoyed reading this post. How ambitious! It was the dream of mine when I was in my 20s to live off the land, but it never came to be.

From the article: “There was always one more plant needing a home, one more piece of ground hungry for a plant.” I love it! That’s what happens here on a much smaller scale.

Sylvana August 23, 2009, 11:24 am

So how are the pawpaws?
If I had that much space, I would have to live off the land because I would have to quit my job just to take care of it all!

But I’d love it!

Blackswampgirl Kim August 23, 2009, 6:01 pm

Hmm… can I call myself if I have just .11 acres? Maybe if I tell you that I have 3 cherry trees, an apple tree, 2 grape arbors, 2 currants, 3 blueberries, a raspberry, a blackberry, a peach tree, countless veggies and herbs, and a bunch of perennials mixed in to boot? (And it’s definitely too much for one person to take care of! lol.)

Seriously, outside of that, my favorite line from this posting is that you had to get a small tractor due to tennis elbow… from “excessive scything.” I have to confess that I love the idea that there can still be “excessive scything” somewhere in the world. :)

Lee Reich August 24, 2009, 4:58 am

Thanks to everyone for such a warm welcome to GGW. Just some quick responses to the great comments: I didn’t have to quit my job to do farmdening because my job is writing about gardening so every time I go outside I doing “writing research.” Sort of.

As far as “how are the pawpaws?” — we’ll be swimming in them in a few weeks. Perhaps more on that later. I’m building a walk-in cooler or a root cellar.

My tennis elbow “from excessive scything” is totally cured. I now enjoy my less than excessive scything to mow where my tractor cannot go. The mowing provide plenty of food for my compost piles.

Gotta get back to work/play. Gardening. Writing. And planning for an Uncommon Fruits workshop at my farmden next month.