Don’t Do It

I have to keep telling myself–just because you can grow it, that doesn’t mean you should.

This winter has been almost unbelievably mild. The fruit trees are already blooming and budding. Cherie picked a big asparagus spear a few days ago (!). And all this warm sunny weather has me itching to start planting.

I’ve got the spring garden prepped and ready to go. I intend to beginning planting tomorrow, unless rained out. It’s the earliest possible date in my mind and it’s very rare to hit it.

But I keep looking at those big garden plots, in which I’ve invested so much time over the years, that we’ve decided to leave fallow this year. I find myself thinking maybe I should plant something in them. It’s been a bit of a struggle to stay disciplined.


All the way to the woods is being retired this year


The ground is whispering, “Seeds. Give me seeds.”

This morning as I was pondering the notion of planting them after all, I started thinking about hot peppers, because there’s a lesson in them.

I love hot peppers. They’re fairly easy to grow and the deer leave them alone. I used to grow them every year. Lots of them. But over time I learned my lesson. It’s foolish to grow more than you need.

Hot peppers are very prolific. One plant produces an abundance of peppers and they keep coming right up till the first frost.

But I’ve got enough hot sauce and dried pepper flakes put away now to last me the rest of my life. When the peppers are coming in you can hardly give them away at the market. Pigs and chickens won’t eat them. And taking a big sack of cayenne peppers to the food bank doesn’t do anything to relieve food insecurity. The reality is that just because I can grow hot peppers, doesn’t mean I should.

So as look out at those empty fields, I remind myself that this farm’s labor force consists of me alone,  that sometimes less is more, and that I am determined to run this place more more sensibly and pragmatically.

But, dang those gardens look inviting.


Here’s an interesting piece reviewing a book that addresses how China “escaped the poverty trap.”

What has happened in China over the last few decades is truly extraordinary. In 1981 almost 90% of China’s population lived in poverty, making less than $2/day. By 2012 that number had plummeted to less than 7%. From 1990 to 2000 per capita income in China increased by 500%. From 2000 to 2010 it increased another 500%. In only 20 years China went from being extremely impoverished, to being a “middle income” nation, fast approaching “First World” status. This may be the most amazing economic turnaround in world history (even as it has come with a lot of growing pains).

I found it interesting that this analyst attributes China’s success in part to “a highly decentralized system where local government officials have a fair degree of autonomy to choose their strategies.”

The main argument for decentralized governance is that it creates opportunities for competent individuals to pursue political leadership, for societal groups to invest in building political parties, or for existing subnational governments to adopt innovative policy solutions.

This won’t come as a surprise to the economists who have long argued that organic economies are too complex to be centrally managed and that economic plans are best made by the many, not by the few.

What I Think About Before Chores

Listening to an interview of a physicist recently, I was struck by his remark that 99% of scientists believe there is no human free will–that what we perceive as free will is just an illusion or mind-trick. Everything, including everything that happens inside the human brain, necessarily obeys the laws of physics. So, being the nerd that I am, I’ve been researching this, and it seems that among physicists and neuroscientists at least, he’s right.

But because the implications of this are so potentially disruptive to society, it’s not talked about much. As one piece I read put it, “there is no free will, but we’re better off believing in it anyway.”

So the philosopher Saul Smilansky:

advocates a view he calls illusionism—the belief that free will is indeed an illusion, but one that society must defend. The idea of determinism, and the facts supporting it, must be kept confined within the ivory tower. Only the initiated, behind those walls, should dare to, as he put it to me, “look the dark truth in the face.” Smilansky says he realizes that there is something drastic, even terrible, about this idea—but if the choice is between the true and the good, then for the sake of society, the true must go.

Think about that: “If the choice is between the true and the good, then for the sake of society, the true must go.”

About a hundred or so years ago, I took a course on free will and determinism. And I’ve studied philosophy on and off in the years since then. So I’ve long known about hard determinists–I just didn’t realize how completely they seem to have carried the day. As the physicist put it, to believe in human free will you have to believe in miracles–that is, that the laws of physics are sometimes violated or suspended. Scientists don’t believe in miracles, ergo they don’t believe in human free will.

Which brings me to something I read this morning to the effect that stereotypically the right concerns itself with freedom and the left concerns itself with equality. And I imagine the world’s scientists watching as the two camps argue, shaking their heads with the knowledge that both are building their claims on premises that are nothing more than illusions.


Stand On

A song I’ve been noodling around with.

Capo 2
strum pattern: dduudu

There are things that I have
That I never earned
There are things that I know
That I never learned
There is ground that I’ve plowed
That I’ve never turned
There are fires I’ve desired
That have never burned


Freed from the illusion
of pretending to own
the things I possess
that are only on loan
Cleansed by dirty hands
I have been shown
That what I stand for
Is what I stand on


(After typing this I chuckled when I realized the last bit will only rhyme in our particular variety of  southern accent, where “on” rhymes with “shown”)



Laura Grace Weldon Tending.jpg

I like the feeling of dropping the needle onto a new album. Some of the tracks will be familiar already, thanks to radio, and others will be new, like unexpected gifts.

Laura Grace Weldon’s volume Tending is like that. The words are chosen and arranged beautifully–the images uniformly delightful. Some are songs I recognize and others are fresh and unfamiliar, their authenticity validated by the truth of those familiar.

I’ve never been a teenage girl with an imaginary boyfriend, but I have stretched to reach a distant blackberry (the best ones are always the farthest away), briers grabbing my clothes and tearing my face. And I’ve learned from experience, as she has, how to hold the bowl when you stumble.

I never learned tea party manners, but I have baled hay deep into the night, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from a long hard day sweating in a field with one’s children. Those days are in my past now, but I nod in agreement when I read: “even swallowing this day/I couldn’t feel more whole.”

I’ve never seen a window washer reading poetry while dangling from a skyscraper, but I have been moved to prayer at the sight of a CAFO.

And I think it’s like prayer
to farm, mindful
that plants and animals
need to be exactly where they are,
seeing as nature is God drawing circles
for us to learn the shape of things.

And, increasingly these days, I too am

weary of those who talk
in slogans stamped and packed
by someone else, like
long distance truckers paid to drive
without knowing the weight
hauled onto that dark highway.

Yes, well said, I think, smiling at the reminder of a tractor in a hay field “circling ever inward,” and journeys that “trace all the way back to blessed dirt.” And likewise at the image of some future archaeologist discovering the truth of the aluminum salesman’s pitch.

This is a record whose grooves deserve to be well worn.

Winter Spinach


While our lettuce has grown best, the best-tasting thing we’ve grown this winter is spinach. Whether because of the weather, the hoop house conditions, or some other factor(s), it’s the tastiest spinach we’ve ever grown.


We’ll definitely grow it again next winter.

Lettuce Be Thankful for Lettuce

We’ve grown lots of different types of lettuce over the years, in the spring and in the fall. Most of the varieties we’ve planted in the past have, for a variety of reasons, fallen by the wayside. Now we only grow lettuce in the spring and we only grow green romaine (from transplants) and a salad mix (from seed).

But it looks like that is going to change.

We installed our hoop house in mid-October, a couple of months earlier than anticipated. The site we picked out for it happened to be where we grew sweet potatoes this year–the last crop we harvest. It also happens to be some of our most difficult soil to work–red clay.

So there was no time to do much soil prep (not much that could be done, in any event) before the hoop house went up.

It’s new to us and I had no idea what to plant in it. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I  broke up the crusty clay with a shuffle hoe, shoveled in a thin layer of leaf compost, and broadcast some extra seed we had left over from earlier in the year. On October 29. If nothing grew I figured we wouldn’t have lost anything–spring was when we expected to begin using the house anyway.

Our favorite lettuce mix is called All Star, from Johnny’s. It’s a mix of lettuces, green and red, intended to be planted thick and cut while little. We had some of that seed left, so I tossed it onto one of the improvised beds and waited to see what would happen.

And guess what? Shut my mouth if we didn’t get ourselves a fine crop of baby lettuce.



We’ve been eating it and sharing it with our farmer’s market customers for months now. It grows slowly this time of year, and so far (despite a crazy warm/hot winter) it hasn’t bolted.

I’m still not sure what all we’ll be doing in the hoop house next winter, but I’d say the odds are very good that overwintering lettuce will be one of them.