Jerry Nelson: Working hard to avoid labor

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

It’s been said that the frugal man spends the most and that the laziest man works the hardest. I am the embodiment of both of those concepts.

There are many reasons for having a garden. Chief among them, I tell myself, is the tremendous amount of money that we will save on food purchases. There’s also the pleasure of indulging in the fantasy that a guy could live without a supermarket if he had to.

Our garden is rather large. I once tried rototilling the entire thing, an experience that left me exhausted and with arms that had been stretched by several inches. There has to be a better way, so I decided to go “old school.”

This involved purchasing an ancient two-bottom moldboard plow for $50. Each fall, I plow the garden to get a jumpstart on the following spring. I opted to perform secondary tillage each spring with an old single disc harrow that I had bought for a mere $75.

My investment in tillage equipment was minimal. I don’t want to talk about the part where I bought a John Deere “3010” tractor to pull the plow and the disc.

While the disc did a wonderful job of tilling the garden, it had one glaring flaw, namely, that it was single. This didn’t mean it needed a mate; it meant that its single gang of blades threw the dirt just one way. The result was a hard, shallow trench down the middle of the garden and big fluffy windrows of dirt at the garden’s edges.

The only way to rectify that situation was to manually rake the soil back to the center of the garden. I ended up doing a lot of hard work to avoid a little physical labor.

The solution to this problem would be to obtain a tandem disc. Such a machine has two front gangs that throw the dirt outwards and two rear gangs that throw the dirt inwards. The result, in theory, should be a smooth, trench-free garden.

Buying a new tandem disc that would mount on my “3010” would cost approximately as much as a King Charles’s coronation, so I began to scout about for a preowned unit. I found one in a used machinery lot located half an hour from our farm. Being a thrifty person, I strove to get the best deal possible. Negotiations went something like this:

“How much do you want for it?”

The machinery guy threw out a number.

"Will you take a check?”

It wasn’t long before the tandem disc was delivered and mounted on the “3010”. Everything was going exactly as planned. But when I drove out to the garden and dropped the disc into the ground, my ears were assaulted by a cacophony of squeaks and squeals.

Since dirt seldom protests when it’s being tilled, I gathered that the noise was coming from the disc. Another hint was that one of the rear gangs wasn’t turning.

In addition to disc having sat outside for a very long time, it appeared that its bearings hadn’t been greased since the Clinton Administration. No problem! I grabbed my grease gun and set to remedying the situation.

But there was another issue. Several of the grease fittings refused to take grease, not unlike a stubborn toddler who refused to open his mouth and eat his broccoli.

No problem! I drove to town and purchased a gizmo that’s supposed to unclog grease fittings. The doohickey is powered by hammer strikes; it created one of those rare situations where my favorite statement, “I’m gonna need a bigger hammer!” was true. So that was a bonus.

Some of the grease fittings wouldn’t listen to forceful persuasion, so I decided to disassemble their associated bearings. I needed a special socket wrench for that, so back to town I went.

Two of the fittings still wouldn’t take grease, so I opted to apply some heat. Back to town to purchase a propane torch.

Finally, after all that time, effort and expense, the disc was fully lubricated and ready to go. I fired up the “3010”, drove out to the garden and dropped the disc into the ground. It worked beautifully. Tilling the garden took perhaps five minutes. I had obviously saved a bunch of time, money, and labor.

Working on the disc involved a lot of bending and contorting. I don’t know what yoga classes might cost, but I bet it would be enough to cancel out much of my repair expenses.

I’m eagerly looking forward to sinking my teeth into fresh sweet corn from our garden. I estimate that it will cost us about $50 per ear.

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 book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.