Stan's World - Down on the farm

John Zeltmann |

November 15, 2022

While my life may not be as varied as others, I’ve still been fortunate to have enjoyed a lot of interesting experiences. But even during my college fraternity days – when my judgment may have been occasionally impaired due to weekend merriment – I never recall thinking that I should try farming.

Perhaps the reason for this career deficit is rooted in my childhood; we just didn’t have a lot of farms where I grew up in Flushing, Queens. (The apartment complex where I lived was actually built on landfill, so that’s as close as I got to farmland.) Nor do I recall stories of farming on the street where I was born in The Bronx.

Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself on my hands and knees on a windswept field in Connecticut, engaged in planting peonies. If you know me, this is about the time when you’re allowed to squint your eyes and say, “WHHHHHAT?”

My involvement is family-related. After a few years of research and study, my oldest daughter, Jennifer, decided to fulfill a dream and start a flower farm. (Her day job is as a teacher.) Being the ever-supportive parents, Pearl and I loaded up the car with our best planting gear (e.g., our oldest shoes, jeans, sweatshirt, not to mention Advil, heating pads, and Celebrex) and joined in the planting festivities.

You may wonder why Jennifer selected peonies, and why did she buy 4,800 roots? (Yes, you read that correctly.) The answer lies in the research that Jennifer undertook when planning her flower farm. On the plus side, peonies are a popular flower to sell. The downside is it takes 2-3 years after planting before the stems are ready to cut and go to market. They make perfect sense if you look at peonies as a long-term investment. 

To prepare for my first farm experience, I, of course, watched a YouTube video on how to plant a peony root. It looked easy enough, and I concluded I could do about four a minute. Of course, you get to plant four a minute when the root is six inches long, and the ever-important eye of the root is on the horizontal surface. Not much digging involved for that; scrape the ground, lay the root down, turn the eye up, and cover with two inches of soil.

To my dismay, I later learned that perhaps one of the 4,800 peonies that were unloaded from the FedEx truck looked like the peony root on the YouTube video. In reality, they were almost all massive in size, with each requiring quite a deep hole.

During our first day in the fields, we planted about 125 roots. Since peony roots require planting within about two weeks of receipt, we knew we had to adapt our planting strategy.

On our second day, with the aid of a power augur to drill the holes (handled by my still-vibrating son-in-law, Izzy, who’s also a teacher), we were able to put about 850 roots into the ground. By the end of the second day, I looked, and felt, like a farmer. (Upon hearing that I was going to take part in a farm experience, a friend sent me a John Deere cap. I faithfully wore it each day, even when I moseyed to town – an expression we farmers use – to pick up grub. I mean lunch.) 

Helping my daughter and her husband fulfill a dream has been a joy, and I share the story with far too many people in far too much detail. Lest you be surprised, I believe there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from this experience.

The fragility of life becomes more and more apparent the older we get. If you, or a family member, have a dream, let’s sit down and talk about it. Maybe it won’t make you (or them) rich, but if it will be fulfilling, (potentially) pay the bills, and bring joy, isn’t it worth pursuing?

I have to go. As I write this, I’m preparing for another weekend of planting, and I have to remember to apply two critical lessons I learned from my first planting adventure: take pain meds preemptively and don’t forget to bring the ice packs.





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