Nelson: Business model for home garden needs work

Farm Forum

Of all the farming projects I’ve undertaken, our home garden has been the least profitable.

I’ve never had any sort of plan, financial or otherwise, going into the gardening season. Each spring when I walk out to the garden and its soil is as fragrant and warm as recently-used coffee grounds, I am seized by gardening fever. The main symptom of this malady is a sudden flurry of activity.

My first task is to awaken my 1949 “A” John Deere from its long winter’s nap. This often involves going to the farm supply store to buy a new battery for the “A” since I was too lazy last fall to remove the battery and properly store it. Next on the list is an oil change for the tractor, which means another trip to the store because I was too scatterbrained to remember to buy oil and a filter when I was there for the new battery.

Its oil changed, the “A” is idling eagerly, warming up, getting ready for its big mission – until its engine abruptly dies. I forgot to buy gas! Another trip to town, this time to the local convenience store where I soothe my nerves by indulging in a Snickers bar. It could be a long day, so I purchase a few extra.

The “A” is soon running again and I hitch it to my ancient disc harrow. Prudence demands that I first grease the harrow, but the grease gun is empty and there are no more grease tubes in the shop, which means another trip to you-know-where. Good thing I bought those extra Snickers bars.

It only takes most of the day, but the “A” is running, the harrow is hitched up and everything is properly lubricated. By now, no number of Snickers could lower my hackles. I am going to harrow the snot out of that garden!

Several passes over the garden with the harrow turns its soil into ebony talcum powder. I chuckle with satisfaction. No weed on earth could withstand such an onslaught of tillage!

It’s finally time to plant – that is, had I remembered to buy seed. My last Snickers bar is chewed up during another hasty jaunt to the farm supply store.

The radio informs me that rain is imminent; time has suddenly become a major motivator. I jog through the store’s seed section, haphazardly grabbing seed packets and tossing them into my shopping basket.

Standing beside the garden – its fragrant loam fertile and alluring – I am stymied by what to plant where. Thunder rumbles and I’m jolted into a frenzy, wildly sowing rows of corn here and planting hills of cucurbits there. Just as I finish, the sky opens and rain baptizes my handiwork.

A week or so passes and nothing is germinating. Despite the blessings of rain, the only green things in the garden are the weeds. I burst into a full-blown panic and rush back to the farm supply store where I grab more seeds and some random started plants. I think it’s cheating to use started plants, but I’m desperate.

Back at the garden, I replant here, there, everywhere. As with most areas of my life, there is no system.

Despite being pulverized by the harrow, the weeds are sprouting thicker than hair on a hedgehog. I hoe them with a maniacal vengeance, wondering why none of the plants that I want to grow are growing.

I decide to ignore the garden, but I can’t not look for very long. I decide to check on things and find a tiny sprout. And another! And another! I resume my war on weeds with the fervor of a man who’s being chased by wolves.

Seemingly overnight, the garden transforms into an impenetrable tangle of vines. I have no idea of what’s growing where.

When the time for fall harvest arrives, I hack my way through the jungle, stumbling upon one discovery after another. Where did these warty pumpkins come from? I don’t recall buying seeds for these ghastly gourds. Whose idea was it to plant all these vining things?

I stub my toe on a massive striped object. A watermelon? Oh, yeah! I dimly recall buying a watermelon plant. It had been covered by the canopy of competing vines, yet somehow managed to produce a respectable fruit.

My business model totally collapses at harvest. My wife uses some of our garden’s produce to decorate our house and we give away the rest to family and friends.

One way to look at my garden project is that it had a net negative return. The other way to see things is that it produced one extremely expensive but very satisfying watermelon.

If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His new book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.