Steel in the Field

That, my friend, is the title of a book that focuses on heavy-duty farm implements.  Harrows, plows, discs -heavy stuff that is pulled by powerful tractors and that reduces acres and acres of wild, weedy, lumpy earth to soft, neatly leveled, furrowed planting media.  Since I garden on a rooftop, whose surface area is approximately one twentieth of an acre, I don’t think I’ll ever have use for a disc or a plow, but I have my appropriately-sized steel tool, and I’m proud of it. Have a look:

Where is it, you ask?  It’s that flat, rectangular thing.  Yes, it’s just a flat piece of steel: 1/8″ thick, 2′ long, 5″ wide.  Yet that no-moving-parts, simplest-of-tools has become almost indispensable to me.  I use it just as any farmer uses his or her steel – to make plantable furrows in my soil.  By just touching the thing (for want of an appropriate agricultural term) to the soil and wiggling (another technical term) it back and forth, I can generate the lovely parallel furrows you see in the photo.  Into these I hand sprinkle the seeds of whatever I am planting, and if I do about 11 or 12 furrows across a 3′ wide bed, I get dense plantings of whatever greens I desire, with no room for weeds once the canopy closes.  Depending on how much I wiggle the steel determines how deep the furrow is, and I can adjust the depth to the size seeds I am planting.  The intelligence stays in the farmer and not in the device.
My old farm mentor Trauger Groh (who brought the CSA concept to the US) used to say that the farmer had to be able to “feel” the soil through the steel end of the hoe.  Although the rooftop doesn’t give me much occasion for hoeing, I still have steel, and I still feel the soil through my rectangular steel thingamajig.  And because of it, perhaps functioning like an antenna, something gets transmitted between me and the soil, and carpets of greens grow up wherever the steel has touched.