Discover more from Fox Holler Almanac
Some thoughts while transplanting
All those precious little seedlings bear hope and renewal, if only you care for them
I am a now a much richer person since the last time we talked. Not financially, of course, but rich in fairly successful garden and orchard transplants, which is as good as money, provided you only need money food, and not to pay the many superfluous and arbitrary bills so generously provided by landlords, utility corporations, media and resource services, tithing, and all those other anomalous invoices offered to us by all those good folks out there, just doing their jobs. Ultimately, it is a wash, but nothing tastes better than homegrown heirloom tomatoes, so I’m in.
There are many ironies in farming. I’m sick of them. One of the ones I am sickest of is how little it pays to provide the literal stuff of life to others. As a farmer, I make enough not-money to qualify for food assistance, which is really saying something in this state. Of course, McCarthy and Biden are now having a pissing match about food stamps and work requirements, which is awesome. There is as much irony in having these two fossils who’ve never gone without their entire lives compete over the literal nutrition and well-being of millions of people, as there is in the fact that I somehow cannot prove to the government that I work at all, in order to gain access to a supplemental nutrition program that can basically provide me the calories that I am already providing but cannot prove that I am providing, as far as the Free State of Missouri is concerned.
But this is a newsletter about agriculture, and not politics. Never the twain shall meet I suppose. I’m doing this work purely out of a desire for good, clean living, not to change the world for the better or anything. And outside of politics, economics or other factors that some of us are more or less insulated against than others, transplanting has been going pretty well. It has been uncommonly dry for this time of year, as things seem to be in Northeast Missouri in the spring of 2023. Still, with enough hoses, buckets, driplines, time, dedication and consideration, we’ve managed to keep a good amount of our transplants alive if not, dare I say, happy to exist.
The world surrounding me is full of seedlings taking root. Radicles and sideshoots of peppers, eggplants, beans, corn and squash are all questing through the dirt. Nodules and rootlets, unseen to myself, have begun to form and creep through the soil. As a grower I do my best to hold the balance between over-watering and under-watering. Too much water, or nutrition for that matter, and the roots will not spread out and down, leaving them shallow and vulnerable in drought or heavy wind. Untended and unwatered, they will die. How much is enough? Basically, as much as I can provide at the moment, with four or five garden plots, three orchards, three groups of pigs, four groups of poultry, two groups of goats, a group of cows, and probably something else. Oh yeah, we humans need water too, and clean water to boot. If you choose not to overextend your agricultural activities, you may overwater your plants, which is why I choose to over-extend myself. It makes perfect sense.
Our current forecast shows little more than a moderate dew for the next seven days, but now is not the time to skimp on irrigation. In fact, before this week is over I plan on establishing about 20 more nut trees (pecan and hickory), a few long rows of sweet potato, melon, and maybe even cucumber, if my heart can bear the pest damage, and many amorphous plots of cowpeas and buckwheat. We have started the year by obtaining and organizing the fertility of livestock, spent the late winter and early spring churning and working the quarry of our labor into soil and planning our plots, occupied our waking hours with ceaseless paddock movements, cultivation, dissemination and incocculation, and come round to the time of tending, watering, and protecting our crops. The bountiful pitcher of our fertile offering, the hourly sacrament bestowed to us by the cattle in graze, has been plopped forth and scooped into heaps, and after a few more trays (big trays) of transplants tucked comfortably into the embrace of receptive earth, the time of care, growth, and stewardship will begin in earnest. Maintenance season.
I am looking forward to taking care of what we’ve planted, as opposed to figuring out where to plant what we’ve been taking care of. If I stopped now, the people I care for would all likely have enough vegetables to make it the year. That is more a testament to how few people I actually care for as opposed to my skill as a gardener. Given a lot of variables I have less control over, the yield could be significantly more, or less. I am not growing potatoes this year. I do not see the point in planting a plain and cheap starch somewhere that a perfectly fine stalk of okra could stand. And regardless of what Biden and McCarthy work out, I can still afford a sack of taters now and then, in 2023, I think.
While I will sell excess vegetable produce when I’m feeling more poor than hungry, I generally do not grow for market. Vegetables, raised with integrity, are labor intensive. As labor intensive as any livestock crop, by my reckoning. It makes a person think about all that out-of-season yet somehow readily available commercial produce at the grocery store. If it takes this much hustle to yield our meager provisions, how does the whole (US) food system exist in the way that it does? I offer, it has to do with exploitation; of human labor and lives, soil, habitat, and high-energy resources. Actually, that’s definitely it.
I have tried to extricate politics from farming, and to no avail. Perhaps at one time, the two could be disentangled, but for now, and it seems, for most of human history, the two have been as intertwined as the bindweed and the corn, at least in the little patch I care for. Like many first generation farmers (back to the land, again), a part of my motivation in moving toward an agrarian existence had to do with a deep need for escape. Escape from an economic and political system doomed to collapse and take a sizeable chunk of the most vulnerable individuals with it. I could have hustled enough to earn myself some economic and material insulation, banishing myself to the meaningless struggle of careers, consumption and car ownership. though that probably wouldn’t have actually worked out. Instead, I chose evasion, and all these years later, I don’t feel like running away as much. I want the system to change, and I want to be changing the system myself… how about you?
One day, I may die before I reap what I’ve sown, but it wouldn’t stop me from getting those seeds off to a good start. Not too many generations ago, a person my age would have already inherited the family farm or obtained suitable land for agriculture, begun the work, and continued a legacy of stewardship and care. This is barely an option for most folks now… and instead of demanding the real change in our political and economic systems that could make land available to those who would gratefully steward it, we fantasize about that independent homestead lifestyle, disengaged and uprooted from reality, an island in a sea of youtube videos, signifying nothing but resignation, nostalgia, stagnation and cowardice. I look around at my generation, which I sheepishly admit is the elder millennial generation, and I see a vast lost cause. A sea of fish, dead in the water. Seeds that didn’t sprout, because we were never properly cared for. Millennials are as dead as disco and dodos, without adequate health care, social stability, or economic opportunity.
But it’s a new planting season, right? With new upstarts. A fresher, younger crop of humans does exist, with brighter dreams and deeper understanding than my generation, I’m sure of it. We cannot afford to let the next generation of human farmers down, or we’ll end up with AI-operated Amazon truck farms from sea to rising sea. (I know there’s some people out there who think that’d be pretty efficient.) It’s probably in the best interest of humans at this time to invest in the little seedlings. Give ‘em soil, give ‘em water, don’t deplete ‘em or match their economic productivity against each others’ in pursuit of our table scraps. Do what any good farmer does, and nourish your crop.
I have a neighbor who I appreciate dearly, and I won’t besmirch her much here. She has always been kind and generous and knowledgeable. She once made a little joke that has stuck with me, pertaining to watering a garden. She said watering is like welfare… if you overdo it, the roots don’t reach deep enough and the plant cannot support itself. Maybe it’s not a joke, but I did laugh an awkward laugh when she said it. Maybe it’s just a way to justify neglect, which is understandable, as far as gardening is concerned. As a person who has overwatered his corn and had it blow over, I understand the metaphor, sort of, but I don’t really think it works when you get down to it.
I prefer to think that if you don’t water and care for your garden, it will die, and if you blame the garden for your lack of care, you will have neither learned nor taught anything. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go drag some hose lengths down to my pepper plants.
Fox Holler Almanac is a reader-supported publication. Thanks for supporting my efforts by subscribing!