Fertilizing - Garden Clippings for June 23, 2012
Fertilizing the grass ranks at the bottom of my favorite things to do list. The very bottom. We have about 5 acres of lawn, give or take, and I find little joy in pacing back and forth pushing a fertilizer spreader over my bumpy grass.
The first spreader I owned could only fit two bags of fertilizer in its hopper and with 25 bags of fertilizer in the garage waiting to be spread, that adds up to 13 loads. A few years ago I tried turning the dial opening nice and wide, but too much fertilizer came out too quickly and the lawn looked like a zebra.
The problem with most fertilizer spreaders is that the product does not spread evenly. Most of it drops on either the right or left side. The other problem is that the spreader claims to broadcast the fertilizer 10 or 12 feet wide, but in reality most of it drops about 4 or 5 feet wide, with a good bunch of it landing in my shoes.
A few years ago I splurged and bought a commercial fertilizer spreader, one like the pros used. It has big tires, a big hopper, a big dial, big handles and came with a big price. Good for a man with a big lawn, I thought.
My pro style fertilizer spreader was a fail. The big hopper could indeed handle four bags of fertilizer but the load was too heavy for me to push. Once, when it was fully loaded I hit a bump and the inevitable happened. I scooped up the major spillage as best I could but the grass burned up on that spot. The grass remained burned for a year or so, a constant reminder of my job poorly done.
My love affair with the pro spreader was short lived. I resorted to loading the hopper half empty and cursed the job once again. The pro spreader cursed me back by spreading the fertilizer mostly in one direction, broadcasting the stuff 4 or 5 feet rather than my hopeful 10 feet plus.
So imagine my delight when I spotted a bright green tow- behind fertilizer spreader at a box home improvement warehouse. It was monstrous, a John Deere, no less. The tires were even bigger and the hopper was big enough to hide a kid in.
“Can I buy myself a fertilizer spreader for Father’s Day?” I asked Cheryl. “I won’t have to push this one, and I am sure Terry across the road will lend me his ATV to pull it.”
For a brief moment I imagined that it might actually be fun to fertilize the grass. That night I had dreams of me sailing into the sunset with my new spreader, spreading fertilizer evenly for a change, and broadcasting it 10 or 20 or even 30 feet wide. This was, after all, a fertilizer spreader built as a farm implement.
I went to the other big box home improvement warehouse and found the same John Deere tow-behind spreader for $1.00 less. I went home happy.
The box remained unopened in the garage for a few weeks. I am not sure whether I left it untouched so I could savour the moment, or if I was afraid that once opened, I would have to actually use it.
Ben and I opened the box one Friday night. We laid out all the parts neatly over the garage floor. There were about a million parts and the installation instructions looked like a big city phone book.
Following instructions on mechanical things is not my forte, so I insisted that Ben stick with me while assembling the rig. I don’t have a temper, and I reckoned that as long as Ben was at my side, he might safely prevent me from developing one.
We toiled for well over two hours. The main benefit was a shiny green spreader, fully assembled. The side benefit was an evening of father- son bonding.
Terry was fine with letting me borrow his ATV, but when I went to pick it up, I discovered it did not have a hitch. He figured it would be easy to rig up a hitch of sorts for the thing, but I told him not to bother, because I would have a small tractor at work that would certainly have a hitch.
The Kubota tractor was perfect for the job. The little tractor is much smaller than a real tractor, but bigger than a riding lawn mower tractor. I trailered the tractor home last week Saturday afternoon and quickly got the job started so that I’d be done and showered in time to help with barbequing.
I put only two bags of fertilizer in the hopper, set the dial carefully, and I was away to the races, or so I thought. But the fan was not spinning, so the fertilizer went right from the hopper on to the driveway. Problem number two is that while seated on the tractor I could not reach the control arm, making it impossible to shut the control gate at the bottom of the hopper.
I reluctantly emptied the contents of the spreader and dumped it into the old pro spreader. Next I found a couple of carpenter nails to fasten the wheels on to the axle so the turning wheels would cause the spinning fan to do its work.
My next challenge was to find a way to add length to my arm or the control arm. I wondered for a moment why John Deere would design a tow-behind spreader that a grown man could not control unless he had a 5 feet arm, but instead I found a broken hockey stick and a roll of duct tape to do the trick.
Two new bags of fertilizer went into the hopper and my tractor and spreader were given a second chance. The fan problem was solved as was the control arm. The spreader was actually working! Never mind the fact that most of the fertilizer went off to the right hand side. Never mind that the spreader broadcasted the stuff 4 or 5 feet wide rather than the 10 or 20 or even 30 feet that I was hoping for.
My next problem was that I would drive half way up the lawn and no more fertilizer was coming out of the hopper. Was the hopper already empty? I wasn’t sure, because I couldn’t see if it was full or empty. (I concluded that whoever designs for John Deere must be the same guy who designs for Tupperware, because you can’t see what’s inside unless you open the lid.) Turns out the control gate shut itself automatically, so I pulled the hockey stick towards me to reopen the gate. I moved ahead again and alas, the control gate closed once again.
Now I wondered why John Deere would design a fertilizer spreader that forces the operator to drive with one hand, operate the controls with a second hand, and with yet another hand, stretch back pulling a hockey stick.
Sunday’s rain was God’s gift to farmers everywhere. And Sunday’s rain was perfectly timed after my Saturday fertilizing job. With luck, the lawn won’t be striped like a zebra. We’ll see.
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