Seed Swaps

Garden Expansion (and I tried nettle pasta)

25 May 2012
Storms 28°C / 82°F

I’ve been working at getting the expanded vegetable garden ready for planting. I wrote about 10 days ago about how last year’s efforts with buckwheat were less than successfull.

Since planting the raspberries at the north end of the to-be garden, I started working my way south.

Cardboard & Landscape Fabric
My 2012 planting plan called for ‘Waltham Butternut’ squash and ‘Small Sugar’ pumpkins in a 4’ row between the raspberries and the strawberries. As it was pretty clear that I wouldn’t be able to dig and remove all the weeds from the area, I covered it with cardboard and then with landscape fabric. Ideally I’d get some compost and plant then squash/pumpkins in hills.

Sheet Mulching
Thinking that the garden expansion would be fairly straightforward, and not realizing how much ground I would lose to the weeds over the winter, I ordered 150 strawberry plants. After planting 25 in the front I knew I’d need to make a somewhat weed free spot for them in the vegetable garden. So started a sheet mulch bed this weekend. I planted about half the strawberries in the pouring rain on Tuesday and did more sheet mulching on Wednesday.

Then I figured that I would give the tiller another shot since the soil seemed to be at about the perfect moisture level and I had mowed the weeds down over the weekend. I hauled the beast out of the garage on Wednesday afternoon. When I got it out to the garden (which must be about 300’ from the garage!) I noticed that the left hand tines were not engaging. I tried to till with only one side engaging and broke two shear bolts. Replacing the bolts is super awkward and I bought a ratcheting wrench to try and make things simpler this year. For whatever reason it seems to have started to ratchet backwards at times and starts to undo the lock nut rather than screwing it on! Arg. (I’ve never used a ratcheting wrench before… if you know something I’m missing, please let me know.)

This is the third spring I’ve tried to use this tiller to break ground and prepare garden soil and I am not happy. It’s from Sears, who supposedly guarantee satisfaction. I’ve never had a product like this from them before: it just doesn’t perform as advertised. I told the sales person where and how I was going to be using this product clearly indicating that I was going to be tilling old pasture, weedy perennial areas, and I live in Glengarry, which means rocks. This tiller does not deal well with my soil. If it hits a rock (which I do my darnedest to remove prior to tilling, but are still really common) the shear bolt breaks. The shear bolt is in such an award spot it takes like 5 minutes to replace. It also doesn’t really break the soil up that well even after multiple passes. The gear shift is trash and it is really difficult to shift and get it in gear. Plus the handle, which is supposed to be adjustable doesn’t stay up and slips down which means that I wind up tilling hunched over (and I’m not that tall!) I have a service plan with this machine and last year the technician said that it is basically supposed to be a sub-par piece of equipment. My issue is that this wasn’t specified when I purchased it. I thought I was getting a tough tool capable of easily breaking ground and decently user-friendly.

The technician made some adjustments last spring and I tried to persevere but I didn’t get much use out of the tiller. It seems that I spend more time fussing with it than I do tilling.

Again this spring I’ve tried on at least three occasions and three times I’ve had to do the work by hand. On Wednesday I phoned Sears and asked if there was anything they could do based on the tiller not performing as advertised, and my history as a good Sears customer. Turns out not so much. To top it all off, they don’t have a service technician in this area until next Wednesday. Making the tiller pretty much a bust for this year! In the past Sears has always made it right when I had a problem with a major purchase. I finally got the number for Craftsman out of the Sears rep (“Well you could try contacting the manufacturer.”) so I will try calling them when I get the chance, but I am beyond disappointed with Sears. To me Craftsman = Sears and they ought to make sure that what they sell is decent and that the consumer is informed that it is a product which apparently designed to not be very good despite costing a pretty penny.

Anyone have sandy soil and want to buy a rear-tine tiller?

[Okay, enough ranting about trashy tiller.]


Thursday I got up at 5 am to beat the heat and dig by hand. I worked at turning the soil, breaking up the chunks with a hoe, and raking weeds out. By about noon I only had enough energy to just turn the soil and I called it a day for the heavy work as my thermometer indicated we’d hit 30 (86F). Plus it was humid which makes it feel even hotter. It is only May and it is super hot. Apparently we don’t really get to have spring anymore.

I couldn’t bear to work outdoors today so I’m taking some time to catch up on indoor tasks and thinking about how to fit everything I need to plant for the CSA into a smaller garden space. So far I haven’t found a magic solution.


  1. The expanded garden as of mid-morning yesterday (I didn’t make much more progress before stopping around noon.)
  2. The space I’m working on digging. (Not the small tiller “turned” area on the left.)
  3. The raspberries (far right), cardboard/landscape fabric, and sheet mulch with strawberries.
  4. Nettle pasta. I finally tried cooking with nettles & I made pasta! It was pretty tasty. I wrote more about it in my farm newsletter. The short story is that it was pretty tasty.
  5. The Cold Hardy Yankee lettuce mix that was in the cold frame (until the last few weeks of hot weather). I harvested a few for salad and it was pretty tasty. It’s a pretty mix too.




Love the look of the Yankee Salad Mix Lettuce … would make a pretty border somewhere!
Rocks, rocks and more rocks … and none of them big enough with which to build a wall! I’m with you on those darn things … and every year the frost brings more up. Next year I want DH to build me one of those sifters that sits on the wheelbarrow. With the wood-framed beds we’ve been building, I’m hoping that our tiny Sthil (spelling?) rototiller will be plenty as it will mostly be used for mixing in soil amendments. Weeding has been pretty easy this year in last year’s beds which were mulched with grass. I think your cardboard, landscape fabric and sheet mulching will be so very helpful. I’m a little surprised at how poorly Sears is handling your complaint. I haven’t bought anything from them in years but they used to be so very accommodating. One would think that with Walmart already here and Target coming in, they’d be a bit more concerned about keeping their customers happy.

Posted on 25 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

@HollyBee I’m seriously reconsidering how I feel about Sears in light of this, like you I’ve found them to be great in the past. From what I know I think pretty much any tiller will do a good job once the soil is prepared, and I think from the reviews I found online that mine does well in soil that is lighter and less rocky.

I do have rocks big enough to build a wall, so if you ever want any they’re yours for the taking! I leave any smaller than a softball in the ground. Where the grass clippings didn’t completely decompose the weeding is much easier. I think if I were not expanding and getting chickens I’d be right on track. It’s supposed to be much cooler and less humid tomorrow so I’m hoping to get lots done this weekend. (Provided the tornado warnings I’m watching on the news stay to the north of us.)

Posted on 25 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

We’re having those tornado warnings too … I’ve tried to be prepared but since the weatherman is wrong so often, I’m really not expecting anything. I just don’t want the hail after planting out so many things today.

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

How frustrating about the tiller and the lack of quality customer service on Sears’ part!
Your lettuce mix is beautiful, and I’m impressed by the nettle pasta. :)

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

I watched some funnel clouds form for the first time. It was pretty wispy and broke up before hitting the ground fortunately. We also had lightening & thunder really close by and about 1/4" hail, I don’t think it will have done too much damage as it didn’t last too long but it was pretty severe for about 10 minutes.

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

hmmm, I’m thinking the only tiller to be of use in your situation would be a full size tractor tiller. Maybe a local farmer would be able to help you out. Maybe you could arrange every spring and fall. Save on your back! Imagine hands without blisters? Love your lettuce mix!

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

@redloon Thanks – the nettle pasta is worth trying and I think I’d make it again, though it will likely only be a once a year activity as it was a bit of production to harvest and wash the nettles without getting stung and then go on to make the pasta. The lettuce mix is from High Mowing Seeds. I planted some of the ‘Gourmet Lettuce Mix’ recently for the summer months.

@Hedge I have had the farmer work the soil in my garden but it is problematic: no farmer will do custom work before getting their own fields done, and the tractor is altogether too heavy to work the soil until late spring. Plus the soil has to be at the perfect moisture level. Last year I had the farmer come as soon as possible in the spring (which was actually late May) and the soil was a tad too wet and then it rained for a while followed by weeks of drought. I had clods of soil which were rock solid. Eventually I may acquire my own tractor, but I’m also cautious about relying on technology that requires the use of expensive fossil fuels so I’m trying to think about ways of creating garden space (on a large scale) which are less tiller/tractor dependent. Perhaps I can get a goat to pull a plow and also keep a milking doe for company!

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

Okay, what about an army of healthy young men? I know … the local high school football team! Hold a BBQ after the work out! And for goodness sakes, post pics 0.0

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

Very frustrating to have to deal with not only a faulty piece of equipment, but people who don’t really seem to care. That is a lot of work to do by hand, especially in the heat and humidity.
Take it easy in the heat and I do hope that you find a simpathetic and helpful person when you make the call to the manufacturer.
pretty lettuce.

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

Wow, that’s a lot of work there for you to do and sorry your machine is not up for doing it’s job.
Nettles are my favorite Spring harvest; I think I have one more picking. Your pasta sounds yumm.
I really hope you can get some help with that garden prep work.

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

Nice newsletter! I admire your hard work. You should send a copy of this post to Sears to inspire them to work harder!

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

I’ve come to believe Sears = crap. I’ve had trouble with three very expensive steamers from Sears that kept breaking (the same part). We finally just ripped out all our carpeting rather than deal with them again. It was also a nightmare trying to get our dishwasher serviced by them, especially when we had to try to explain the problem to someone in India that’s never had a dishwasher. They sent toe plates three times instead of the computerized brain panel, and like you, a service man only comes on Wednesdays. We finally gave up. After a year of sitting idle the thing started working again! Good luck in your battle. Your garden is looking awesome!

Posted on 26 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

Thanks everyone. I finished digging about half the area over the weekend so I should be able to plant my tomatoes today. I have some more photos to post when I’m on my computer again. I’m planning to test the tiller on the remaining area with the repairman on Wednesday and insisting that he stay until it can till that ground.

@flowerweaver it’s odd that in the southern US they route your calls to India. My calls go to the southern US! Either that or they are teaching the call centre staff a very convincing accent.

Posted on 28 May 12 (almost 4 years ago)

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