Sunday, June 1, 2008

Garden Muse Day: Putting in the Seed

Putting in the Seed

You come to fetch me from my work tonight
When supper's on the table, and we'll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinked pea);
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a Springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

--Robert Frost

My first ever Garden Muse Day post, and I am late. Late because we have had so many rainy days. Some days it is a soft, gentle rain welcomed by the flowers and the seeds just planted. Other days it comes down in torrents, rushing through gullies and filling up the ditches and waterways. As gardeners, we may become impatient when the rain confounds our plans to weed or when the tomato plants have to sit on the patio for days before being planted in the vegetable garden. But imagine if your livelihood depended on the whims of the weather. That is exactly the plight of the farmer.

I live in the heartland of agriculture, and I have been trying all week to get a picture for this post of a tractor and planter planting soybeans in the fields. But there have been no tractors in the fields this week, and farmers have begun to get worried. Normally by this time of year the fields would be green with foot-tall corn and small soybean plants in perfectly straight rows stretching toward the horizon. Instead, the corn is just a few inches high, and the bean fields look as they did in December.

According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, only 75% of the corn and 15% of the soybeans in the state have been planted. A late planting can create problems with pollination and yield, and it also means a late harvest, which can mean more problems with the weather. Ironically, this comes in a year when farmers are receiving high prices for their crops because of increased demand.

While my garden dries out fairly quickly from the rain, it takes much longer for a field like this one to dry out enough for the heavy equipment needed to till it. You'll notice in the picture the remaining corn stalks from the previous year's crop. This is an example of a conservation practice used for at least the past 20 years, called no-till planting. Gone are the days, for the most part, when farmers plowed their fields in the fall, leaving the rich black soil exposed to the elements. On windy days in the fall the plowing would create a mini-dust storm, causing a driving hazard on the country roads. I can remember my father often saying as we drove through such clouds of dust, "There goes some of the richest soil in the country just blowing away." Instead, farmers leave their fields alone after picking the corn, and in the spring they may run some kind of cultivating implement over the fields to break up the debris or simply plant soybeans directly into the untilled field. Over the growing season, the corn residue breaks down, much like compost in the garden. Obviously, this practice helps to prevent wind and water erosion; it also helps to reduce fuel consumption and soil compaction. Today's farmer practices many conservation techniques to preserve the integrity of the land.

Although I was raised on a farm, I am certainly no expert on farming. But if you live in this part of the country you can't help being aware of the concerns of farmers. Today is the third straight day of sunshine. I can only hope that the fields dry out soon so that this week we will see once again the tractors going through the fields putting in the seed.

Garden Muse Day is brought to you by Carolyn Gail at Sweet Home and Garden in Chicago.


  1. I loved the quote from Frost. He was always one of my favorite poets. His line, "I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep" has been a sort of mantra for my life.

    You explained so well the predicament of the farmers. We who grew up around here are well aware of the problems weather can cause, but those from other areas of the world may not understand what it takes to get food to the table. Great post!

  2. Beckie, that line has always been my mantra as well (we do think alike, don't we?).
    I planted my tomatoes in between days of rain, but I just keep looking at the forecast and wondering when the crops will all get planted.

  3. Beautiful poetry.....I to live amongst farmers. I understand your concern, such a worrying time for them. The weather now is so unpredictable and causing problems worldwide I fear.
    When we had the foot and mouth here, I could have wept for the farmers. Four generations of farming lost when cattle had to be culled.

    I do hope the sun shines for you all soon....

  4. I am also concerned about the farmers in this area. I know several and they are definitely concerned. It has been a brutal spring for them.

    I love the Poem too. Robert Frost is one of my favorites. I listened to a cd of him reading his poetry once. Don't do it. It was awful. I hate to say it he writes better than he reads it. Ha. I was so disappointed.

  5. Rose,

    I have been up and back to St Louis about six times this past 2 months and have seen Southern Illinois fields flooded most of the time...I have been wondering what that will mean for the individual farmers...more small farms having to be sold to agro-business. breaks my heart.

    I do like the poem...and you very thoughtful muse day essay.


  6. I've always loved Robert Frost and this one's a new one for me - thank you!

    A good follow up post on the plight of your local farmers. I hope they're out planting this week.

  7. Wonderful Frost poem. I greatly appreciated your thoughts on the farmers in your area.

  8. I can't imagine how hard it must be, to be a farmer, so dependent on the weather. Around here it's hay fields for livestock that can make or break people. We have some of the last really big ranches around. In spring and summer the cattle roam the grasslands (and often stand in the middle of the back roads, unfased by a car horn!) but in winter they need to be fed and if there isn't any hay, the ranchers have to buy it from someone else at great expense.

  9. Thanks to everybody for stopping by. Robert Frost is one of my very favorite poets (but I don't listen to his reading, Lisa:) ), but this poem was one I'd never read before either.
    Sorry I'm not responding to each of you individually: we had a downpour yesterday and now I have a basement with water to clean up (sigh). The farmers won't be planting here anytime soon.

  10. Rose .. I'm so sorry about the flooding .. I hope it lets up and you can clear all that out soon !
    I haven't seen that Frost poem either .. thank you !
    I feel more of a connection to what farmers must go through since I have really concentrated on my garden .. simple problems for me must be terrible for them .. and we all depend on how well farmers do .. a circle not to be underestimated !
    Fingers crossed it all improves for the better soon !

  11. It's interesting how farming has changed in the last 30 years. I grew up in a town surrounded by farms & I used to go to the Lake County Fair, which had lots of exhibitors. Now, there are only 2 dairy farms left in Lake County. While the number of farms has gone down, the amount of acreage per farm has gone up. It's no longer family farms in Northern Illinois, but corporations. I'd hate to see that happen to the farms of central Illinois too. It's a hard way of life that just keeps getting harder.

  12. Rose, I'm sorry you're having such a stressful time. I hope your cleanup is not too expensive. As for the farmers, I do pity the small family-run businesses, but as someone said, there aren't many of them left in America. The big operations really don't have to worry about weather conditions anymore. They have taxpayer-funded subsidies to bail them out anytime business isn't booming. Not too many businesses have a cushion like that to fall back on.

  13. Hi Rose,

    Sorry to be late in thanking you for honoring us with your muse for Garden Bloggers' Muse Day.

    I certainly know what a challenging life on a farm is, having grown up on one in Northern Alabama. We were fortunate to have good weather most of the time, but I certainly know what it's like to rely on the weather for your livelihood.


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