By Alicia Beach
“You’re what?” I look at my Dad in disbelief.
“I’m buying a tractor.”
Yeesh. First a goat, then an entire cow, and now a tractor? I know my Dad’s always been dreaming of having a tractor but why now? “And what are we going to do with it?”
Dad pulls on his sweater and takes his keys off the hook. “Cool stuff,” he says and winks at me. I shrug. Little did I know how handy this tractor was going to be.
I didn’t think my life could get any busier. In fact, with church, piano lessons, and most other activities canceled, I thought it would start to drag…
Silly me, eh?
I should mention that my name is Ali Beach. I’m sixteen years old, the second youngest in my family, and the oldest girl. Of ten kids, by the way. The youngest is two, the oldest twenty-two – I think. It’s actually really hard to keep track of all those birthdays.
My parents have been married for twenty-three years this May. We live on an eighty-acre farm by Lake Erie. Part of it is deep, snaking ravines perfect for exploring, and the other half is fields that we rent out to local farmers. My dad is a mechanic and a volunteer firefighter, my mom home-schools us all, and my one older brother is married and is a pastor. He’s living with us right now, and sometimes I’ll hear him talking in the next room and I’ll check, “Did you say something to me?”
But, no, he’s just trying out a bit of his latest sermon.
It’s a rusty old thing, this tractor of ours. Dad bought it used and it takes him most of a day to get it going. We walk every square inch of the five-acre pasture to make sure there’s nothing sticking up that could wreck the mower attachment before he cuts down the brush with it.
I look out the window the next day, rubbing lotion on my sunburn, and smile – the field looks lovely and green with all those weeds finally gone, and our cow, Lily is munching down on the grass. She won’t have to pick her way around all those weeds and thorns today.
My parents have decided to double our garden and the amount of food we grow. Our original garden is about the area of two school buses parked beside each other, and last year we had a lot of flowers filling it up. This year it will be packed with rows of vegetables. No nonsense. The price of fresh produce is rapidly rising – and food in general. Locally, we are seeing farmers unable to bring in workers from other countries.
Even if they do manage this, with the COVID regulations they are only able to house a quarter of the men they would normally fit in a dormitory. Because extra expenses are not in the budget during this pandemic, they can’t just simply build more housing for these men. So the farmers resort to hiring locals who typically work only half as well as an experienced farm laborer would, because they aren’t as strong or used to that kind of work. My sister-in-law and I are picking asparagus at a friend’s farm… and it’s pretty exhausting. Especially in the heat of the afternoon.
Anyways, vegetables are getting more expensive, and the price will likely continue to rise as this goes on. Considering the amount of food we buy – we’re three times the size of an average family – it will affect us quite a bit.
Dad borrowed a tiller – a small plow to pull behind the tractor – and he plowed another garden across from the first in less than two hours. Normally he would have worked for a couple days with a hand held rototiller and come in aching and exhausted.
I give the tractor a little pat on its cracked wheel every time I walk by it.
The seeds start piling up. Every time Mom goes in to town she comes back with a new find. Different varieties of carrots, lettuce, squash, melons, sweet corn, rutabagas, peas, beans… anything that’ll grow in southern Ontario. We have an old ice-cream container sitting in our side entrance, and it’s overflowing with the small packages, waiting to be planted, promises of full bellies.
Two tables, end to end, are needed for my whole family to eat a meal together, and the dining room is rearranged this spring to accommodate a third. We planted the seedlings in trays on this table in the sunniest nook of our house. Tomatoes, watermelons, peppers, ground cherries, and herbs, all sprouting in their own compartments. They fill the house with a fresh green smell. We will plant them outside when they are tall and strong.
The dirt between my toes is soft and earthy, freshly tilled, and perfect for planting. Unfortunately there are a couple more steps before we can start to fill the space with green.
It’s rather unpleasant, actually, and involves manure. Manure, the tractor bucket, and a borrowed trailer – I wonder if the guy knew what we were using it for…
Dad fills up the trailer with the straw and manure from the pile behind the barn, drives it across the lawn to the garden area, and then we rake the “fertilizer” – it’s a little too fresh for my taste – off the trailer into the dirt. As the afternoon goes on, it gets hotter… and the hotter it is, the smellier.
The trailer and car gets stuck in the damp earth, and a dozen pairs of dirty hands of all sizes speckle the white paint of the back hatch.
“Put your shoulders into it, kids! Three, two, one, push!”
Dad gently toes the gas pedal. The wheels spin out… slow…get a grip, and he’s off.
Cheers and laughs and high fives fill the humid air – and I pass around the iced tea. No, we are not a perfect family, but the times like these, the small joys in the moment, us working together effortlessly, are picturesque.
I’ve never been so thankful for perfumed soap and a shower.
And for a tractor (bless that rust bucket on wheels), because, among other things, we would have had to cart all that cow and goat and chicken poo with shovels and wheelbarrows if it wasn’t for that tractor. And…
I’m thankful for my six brothers, because while I’m halfheartedly tiptoeing around the smelly stuff and gingerly poking it with the rake, they’re practically rolling in it – and getting the job done as fast as possible.
So there you have it! Our spring planting preparations, in between the rainy days, barn chores, and the chaos of nine siblings!