Smells like mud

By the middle of March around here it is already spring. At the equinox the daffodils are waning and the hyacinths are in full bloom. The spring crops are coming on strong; we have already had a salad or two. The dogs, oblivious to the flowers and to any vegetables they can’t reach to nibble on, are taking advantage of the warmer days to sleep in the sun.

I was going to subtitle this page "waiting for rain," but then it rained all week. Nothing says spring like a noseful of good clean mud.

First planting

In the Chinese Calendar, the New Year, which arrives four to eight weeks after the winter solstice, marks the beginning of spring. (That’s late January to mid Feburary for you Westerners.) That makes sense to us, because in North Carolina, it’s time to plant potatoes, lettuce, greens, onions, peas, and cabbages and their kin. We planted lettuce, turnip greens, red and white onions, sugar snaps, broccoil, cabbage, radishes, and carrots in raised beds. The potatoes go in "bins," chickenwire cages lined with newspaper and filled with topsoil and compost. As the plants grow taller they can be covered with more dirt.

November at the market

November at the market is cold and gray, much like November in any other setting. Dead leaves crunch underfoot and the harvest is playing its coda; another month and only the produce of cold frames and greenhouses will remain. The throngs of July have dwindled to bands of hardy stragglers, serious growers and cooks who know how to make the best of a difficult season and whose temperaments incline them to ignoring the hardships of weather. The early morning air is barely above freezing and the sky is bleak, the sun a pale smudge behind the deeper smudges of clouds. It is a good day to build a fire in the fireplace and go back to bed, but a few dozen farmers and craftspeople and a few hundred customers have come to brave the cold and do some business. Strong coffee helps.


Central Market on a busy day bustles, a word we don’t use much anymore but which seems to describe an ideal city scene, crowds smoothly mingling in purposeful activity, not frenetic or restless but businesslike in a friendly way. That feeling is what I love about the market, and what I always notice first: the city of my childhood imagination, busy and purposeful and bustling. I have that feeling even when it is not particularly crowded, late on Tuesday mornings and mid-afternoons, times when no conventionally employed person should be out shopping. Even then it feels to me as if, perhaps, it is only waiting to bustle.

wheel bug

The wheel bug of life

wheel bug

Photograph by Ronald F. Billings of the Texas Forest Service, USDA Forestry Service Archives, image 226085.

Since we began gardening several years ago—when we moved into our first house—we have grown our vegetables in raised beds. This has always been primarily a practical decision. Had we topsoil to till, I would gladly till it, amend it, and leave it where it lies. But in our present home we had to cart in, wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful, two pickup truckloads of soil and compost just to get started. There was no point digging it into solid clay; far better for our backs and our crops simply to dump it on top and build a box around it to keep it in place.

the author mowing the yard

Mowing down my troubles

When my wife and I moved into our first house, my biggest concern was not that it needed paint, or that the driveway was rutting out, or that the carport was infested with spiders — though all of that was true. No, my biggest concern was the yard. It’s a fairly small yard, only about a quarter-acre; most of the lot is wooded. But however small the yard, however shady and littered with rocks and stumps, I was still going to have to buy a lawn mower. And I really, really didn’t want to buy a lawn mower.