"A Man's Got to Know
His Limitations"

Dateline: 2 February 2014

Many years ago, every little rural community had at least one blacksmith. He was the go-to person when a farm tool broke or someone needed something custom-made out of metal. The village blacksmith was a valuable part of the local economy.

The rural community I live in does not have a blacksmith but we have the modern equivalent...a husband and wife who are machinists. Their shop is on a rural road a few miles out of town. It is next to their horse barn and their home. They are the go-to people for many local farmers when something breaks. In many instances, they can fabricate a part, or make a fix, faster and cheaper, and better than it would be otherwise. 

This local machine shop has done a lot of work for me in recent years. They help me fabricate some of the chicken plucker parts and wheel hoe parts that I sell. I am persuaded that there is nothing they can't do, and do very well. 

Last summer I was picking up some chicken plucker flanged shafts and was talking to my friend, the very capable machinist, and I told him I regretted not pursuing an early desire of mine to be a blacksmith. His reply surprised me….

"Well, you can't do everything!"

I thought about that a second and said, "I suppose you're right."

He then told me that there is a famous quote from Clint Eastwood that was in one of his Dirty Harry movies... "A man's got to know his limitations."

I had never heard of the quote before and decided to look it up on YouTube. Sure enough, it's there and you can see it At This Link.

So it was that my machinist friend, a guy who I look at as someone who can do just about anything, advised me that a man can't do everything and that I need to know my limitations. I've been thinking about that ever since.

Perhaps this is now in the forefront of my thinking because I went through a bout with the flu a couple weeks ago and it really took the wind out of my sails. Instead of waking up in the morning, raring to go, with a list of things I wanted to get done, I woke up and felt like going back to bed. My get up and go had got up and went. I was in something of a mental fog for for a couple of weeks. And I had a cough that refused to go away (still got it). It was kind of depressing.

All of this has led me to make some decisions that are, to some degree, making me feel better. For one thing, I have decided to stop making and selling Whizbang cider press parts. The HDPE plastic components I've sold for the past five years are among the most time consuming to make and  least profitable products I sell. I'm getting the last of these parts that I have materials for all made now. Once they're sold, I won't have to worry about making them again.

I am thinking about no longer selling Planet Whizbang wheel hoe kits. I have enough in stock to last this year but if the Classic American clothespins continue to sell, and I work on developing that aspect of my business, I will stop selling the wheel hoe kits. 

I have purchased a high-quality (expensive) counting scale for the purpose of counting out the poultry shrink bags we sell. Marlene and I have been counting the bags in increments of 25 and it is very tedious work. After buying a lesser quality counting scale online that didn't do the job, we contacted a company that sent a salesperson with an appropriate scale right to our house and we were able to see that it did the job. The new scale will save us a LOT of time and effort.

I have decided to have a smaller garden this year. The fact is, in recent years, I've planted large gardens that I've not had enough time to properly care for, and it has really bothered me. So, for the first time in a long time, this deliberate agrarian will have a deliberately smaller garden. With the time I save having a smaller garden, I hope to be able to develop some permaculture guild plantings among the apple trees I planted last year.

I have one more new Planet Whizbang product to introduce this year. It is a simple and fun product that will not require a lot of my time to produce and sell. After that, there will be no more new products for this year.

I have no plans to write any more books. There was a time when I figured I would write and publish at least one new book a year…. for the rest of my life. But after twelve books, I have no plans to write and publish any more. That will probably change in time. I would like to put together another garden idea book, but it will be years from now if I do.

I have come to accept that I will never become a blacksmith. Nor will I learn to be a leathercrafter (something I was focused on a lot this past winter). And I will never make a braided wool rug. I will never have a milk cow or a team of horses. I will never get a portable saw mill. I will never pursue so many crafts and ideas that have crossed my mind in the past. But I'm still holding on to the idea of building a stone wall—something I've dreamed of doing most of my life (and I now have enough field stones to do it).

This isn't to say that I've given up on my dreams. Not hardly. I'm just looking at the reality of my age (56), all the things I have to do, and my decreasing capacity for productive work— and I'm prioritizing. After all, a man can't do everything, and he has to know his limitations.


Sunnybrook Farm said...

We are the same age and I have come to some of the same ways of looking at things. I have an old blacksmith forge and would still like to at least learn how to work it so I can make some simple art related things of some sort. There are highly skilled black smiths around here. I have cut back on the garden that I had grown to sell vegetable to people. I have become tired of the crying about how much I was charging and I wasn't even charging the going rate, as far as I am concerned people can grow their own food. The excess garden is going into grain production for our own needs. I can't do everything.

Gorges Smythe said...

I have you both by a couple years and have come to the same conclusion. Too many of my dreams were pipe dreams that I would NEVER have had time to do in the years allotted to the average guy. Priorities are, indeed, the key.

Granny Miller said...

Herrick -
I think what you are feeling is one of the natural and predictable milestones of middle age. It is the defining moment of late middle age when we realize and accept that we won't live forever and must let go of our youth.
Even if you could find the time and energy to do all those things that you've dreamed of, the time would come when you must eventually let go of them.

Anonymous said...

I turned 55 recently and have been having many of these same thoughts. I used to try to grow enough vegetables to sell a few and also keep enough goats in milk to help a friend or two....the amount of time, and energy required to produce a little "extra" wasn't worth the few dollars generated.

Now, my extra veggies are fed back to some of my livestock. And I only plan to breed 2 goats each year.

The Midland Agrarian said...

You have accomplished an awful lot over the years. Limits and limitations are really at the heart of agrarianism.

After decades, I still look around our place at too many undone jobs and too many un-started projects
Sometimes we have to accept these limits, and be content that one day all we might do is to sit on the porch in our overalls and wave at passing cars.

Sheila said...

I really got a kick out of this one. LOL
You see, I'm older than dirt, so I have been where you are. For me, the greatest lesson I learned in all of it was,

To get off my own back.

It's really nice to finally get to say no, even to myself.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hmmm… So I guess this is all part of growing up, eh?

I didn't expect much in the way of comments to this blog post, and it has been a pleasant surprise. I even got a couple of nice e-mails. Thank you S.F., Gorges, Granny, Anon, Richard, and Sheila for the words of wisdom.

I am going to remember that "Limits and limitations are really at the heart of agrarianism." That's profound.

And being "older than dirt" is an agrarian colloquialism that has captured my imagination. That's really old!

Thanks again everyone.

Anonymous said...

I am 10 years older than you and the one thing I am not doing (yet) is downsizing my garden. My husband is working yet full time as a maintenance director at a nursing home after a lifetime of being a remodeling contractor. I raise layers and broilers and hope to continue that too. Always need food we say. We have no retirement savings so this is rather our retirement security. We should have our house paid off by next year. Very happy about that.

Herrick Kimball said...


After working 25 years as a home remodeler (15 of them self employed) I can relate to your husband. It's a very hard way to make a living and keep the bills paid. And putting money aside for retirement is even harder.

I saved in the good years and had to cash in retirement plans in the lean years. It's feast or famine with such work. That's why I ended up going to work for the NY Prison system, which, thankfully, I'm now out of.

I wouldn't downsize my garden if I didn't have the mail order business. In my case, it is helping to make up for the years of lack. If the mail order business stops making me money (and that's a definite possibility), I'll have more time to expand my garden, and won't hesitate to do so. There are few things I enjoy more than gardening.

Congratulations on getting the house paid off. That'll be a great accomplishment. Best wishes.

Survival Gardener, AKA David the Good said...

I posted a few days ago on why I got rid of my chickens.


Same line of thinking... you really can't do everything, though sometimes I've wasted a lot of effort trying.

A friend once told me that every bit of time I spent working on a secondary skill was time away from my primary skill... and that my primary skill was writing. He had a point - that's where my success has been made thus far, and pursuing that skill with abandon is what has made my garden writing and teaching so well-received and profitable over the last year and a half.

Of course... right now I'm obsessed with painting again. It's hard to resist some of these things.

Herrick Kimball said...



I think people who thrive on creativity and productivity, and who see so many opportunities to be creative, are a little bit tortured by the limitations of time, and money, and age.

It has occurred to me that working within one's limitations is something of a life art that is not easily mastered.

Matt B said...

Proverbs 20:29
The glory of young men is their strength, And the splendor of old men is their gray head.

...I would consider "glory" and "splendor" words of equal value.

Matt B said...


But, perhaps you are moving from "glorious" to being more "splendid" :)

Herrick Kimball said...

Matt B.—
Thanks for the verse, and the encouraging words.

tauna powell said...

creative and productive people being tormented - well said. I have so many ideas for someone else to pursue, but then again, most are in agriculture and won't make much money - just a lot of work. what is it with consumers who don't bat an eye at paying beaucoup bucks for technology, but bellyache over a $1 for a home raise healthy green pepper.

Providence Acres Farm said...

lol - I remember that quote from Dirty Harry. It's a good one for everyone to remember at some point...hopefully before frustration sets in.