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Heart & Sole Food

Heirloom Corn, The Criminal's Choice

I was robbed. Under cover of darkness, the gang attacked. Masked bandits carelessly rifled through my belongings, pillaging and breaking, leaving little untouched in their destructive wake. To make matters worse, I think they enjoyed the assault. Judging by evidence left at the crime scene, they probably danced as they carelessly plundered what I worked so hard to produce. Daylight revealed the devastation, but by then, the bandits were long gone.

corn destroyed

Davis corn, decimated

Adding insult to injury, the crop I grew was a special corn, produced from seed shared with me by a fifth-generation seed saver. The Davis family corn, multicolored and delicious, grows in the northwestern corner of Caldwell County, North Carolina, the same geographical location where this crop thrived for more than 100 years. My planting was well on the way to maturing when a pack of marauding raccoons attacked, leaving the heavy ears stripped of tender kernels and the tall stalks bent at the waist.

raccoon

Barely visible in right bottom corner, a telling tail of a robber

This tale began with a gathering of gardeners, seed savers, agricultural extension agents, and public library personnel. We met and exchanged ideas and plans for establishing a lending seed library for our community. Similar entities exist throughout the United States, but Caldwell County, with five, six, and seven generation seed savers, presents a unique opportunity to continue a tradition of passing along special food and flower crops to future generations. As one of the lucky ones to inherit seeds from my grandparents, passed to me through several generations, I accept the obligation to preserve these special life forms and do all in my power to ensure their health for future generations. When I received the Davis Corn seed, I pledged to grow a crop and return seeds to the Caldwell County Seed Library to allow others to grow this special corn. Little did I know, when I tucked the small envelope of seeds into my bag, the fate that awaited the heirlooms.

Outwitting, combating, and confusing predators is the organic farmer’s plight. Successful rewards are delicious, chemical-free produce. Farming failures include withered plants, decimated crops, and low yield. Year to year, it’s a crap shoot. Roll the dice and predators overlook a crop, resulting in a bountiful harvest. Another season, every eating machine known to man (and plant) shows up, leaving nothing behind but compost. Such is the farming life.

Fortunately, my crops include several of my grandparents’ seeds, passed to me by many generations of Caldwell County growers. I will share those special seeds with our newly established seed library, in hopes other gardeners will continue growing these geographically acclimated, hardy crops. Mountain White Half-Runner beans, pumpkins, summer squash, white cucumbers, peanuts, local tomatoes, and other vibrant plants will thrive in community gardens, thanks to my grandparents and ancestors who saved and shared those special seeds. While I lament the loss of Davis corn seed, I celebrate heirloom seed varieties I harvest and pass along to future growers.

seeds

Granny's Heirloom Seeds

Remember that story about Jack? The boy who traded his family’s precious cow for a handful of bean seeds? Those beans grew into vining stalks that led Jack to treasures and adventure. Heirloom seeds are like Jack’s beans. They connect us to history, to imagination and to sustenance, both physical and spiritual. Plan to include heirloom seeds in your next garden planting and reap the rewards of continuing tradition and imagination, along with palate pleasing flavor.

Meanwhile, I continue to mourn the loss of Davis corn, but accept my place in the food chain and remain grateful for the opportunity to trial this special seed, repeating the gardener’s optimistic mantra: “There’s always next year!”

Saving Miss Lucy

She’s quite the lady.  Strong and productive, even when adversity strikes.  Also, she has one of the biggest hearts around.  Miss Lucy is her name.  Well, it’s not her real name, but since the man who introduced her to me calls her Miss Lucy, I do the same.  Although she is a relative newcomer to my garden, Miss Lucy, a tall vining heirloom tomato, produces abundant, beautiful fruit and she seems to thrive when her neighbors wither in drought or drown in heavy rains. 

Miss Lucy pounder

Through the patchwork quilt serendipity that connects heirloom seed savers, I exchanged emails with Arty Schronce, an agricultural specialist in Georgia, who saw a story I wrote about growing black peanuts.  Arty’s father, Gordon Schronce, who lives in Iron Station, NC, grows black peanuts and supplies seed to companies, including the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  Mr. Schronce and I corresponded and I was thrilled when he sent some special heirloom seeds to me.  Along with white cucumbers, seed for a pink oxheart tomato was tucked in the package.  Mr. Schronce said he received the seed from an elderly woman, Miss Lucy, who grew these lovely tomatoes for many years.  In honor of her, Mr. Schronce called the tomato the “Miss Lucy.” 

A tall plant, Miss Lucy usually outgrows six-foot cages.  Abundant fruit sets on her strong limbs and ripe tomatoes often weigh more than a pound.  Smooth pink skin and richly colored, juicy flesh are trademarks of Miss Lucy.  With few seeds for the size of her fruit, Miss Lucy is an excellent slicing tomato and a sandwich made from her fruit is the ultimate summer treat.  Because she consistently produces in a variety of growing conditions and because she is delicious, I select a few of Miss Lucy’s most perfect specimens and harvest seeds to save for future planting.

Although there are many methods for saving tomato seed, I find the following to be most successful for me.  If you have a favorite heirloom tomato in your summer garden, harvest some seeds to grow next year.  With that first taste of next-generation fruit, you will happily welcome back a friend. 

 Miss Lucy seeding

Saving Heirloom Tomato Seeds

1. Select perfectly ripe, even overripe, heirloom tomatoes. (Hybrids, such as Sungold, will not produce the same fruit, so they are not desirable for seed saving.)  Choose fruit with best-specimen characteristics and avoid any with large cracks, signs of blight or blossom end rot or other undesirable traits.
2. Use a sharp knife to make an incision in the fruit or tear it apart with your fingers, to avoid damaging seeds.
3. Squeeze the flesh surrounding seed pockets and allow seeds to fall into a glass container.
4. Add enough water to cover the seeds by about an inch.
5. Agitate the contents with a spoon or your finger

Miss Lucy seeds in glass

6. Place the seeds, in the glass with water, out of direct sunlight for a day or two, agitating the contents a few times. (Note: sunlight triggers germination, so it is always best to keep seeds out of bright light until you are ready to plant.)
7. Pour water and seeds into the bowl of a fine mesh sieve. Rinse seeds completely, removing any particles of fruit.

Miss Lucy seeds in sieve

8. Place seeds on a glass plate with a small amount of water.
9. Allow seeds to completely dry and store in a paper envelope, small plastic bag or recycled medicine bottle.
10. Be sure to label the seed variety!

Miss Lucy seeds on plate

Easy Garlic

People often ask, What is the easiest plant to grow?  Although every plant brings unique challenges and joys, for my garden, the answer to this question is “garlic.” 

Of course, the garlic at Heart & Sole Gardens is not like garlic one buys from a supermarket bin or grows as an annual crop.  This garlic is special, growing from heirloom parent plants established well over one hundred years ago.  While it probably originated with an immigrant pioneer, I call it “Laura’s garlic,” in honor of the woman who grew it on property adjoining our farm and probably used its bounty to create delicious food.  When the property was offered for sale, Richard and I purchased it, both for future farm expansion and to save the garlic!

scapes 2 kinds

Laura's garlic has large scapes; the smaller ones are another variety

A hardy plant, Laura’s garlic thrives, even in cold winter months, when green leaves push above ground.  Scapes emerge from plants in late spring and open to reveal beautiful purple “blossoms,” which are not actually flowers, but a cluster of bulbils, tiny components that, when planted in fall, will produce garlic the following spring.  Laura’s garlic is a hardneck variety, which produces scapes, unlike softneck types that do not.  Several years ago, we transplanted mature garlic in rows, where it multiplies each year, producing a crop that is as versatile as it is delicious.

scape arrangement

Garlic scapes are beautiful in flower arrangements

Peacefully coexisting with most weeds, we clear garlic rows with an occasional whack from a weed eater or lopping shears.  Bothered by few pests, Laura’s garlic requires no soil additives and we harvest it every month of the year.  Even when bulbs are somewhat pithy, green stalks make excellent roasting racks for meat or other vegetable dishes, imparting their pungent sweet scent and flavor to any dish.  Before they open, scapes are delightful to grill, chop and add to vegetable medleys or pickle.  Mature scapes add beautiful color to vinegar infusions, along with mild garlic flavor.  Recently, at Heirloom Restaurant, Chef Clark Barlowe deep-fried mature scapes, for his take on a blooming onion dish. 

Garlic blossom fried

Deep-fried garlic scape at Heirloom Restaurant

With abundant garlic scapes this year, I decided to pickle some to use in another recipe I hope to develop this summer.  Since they need to retain crunch, I did not can them, but just stuck them in the refrigerator, where they should be perfectly pickled by August. 

scape jar side

For easier packing, place jar on its side

If you would like to make refrigerator scape pickles, look for these seasonal treats at local farmer’s markets or plan to grow your own garlic for next year.  Rich in antioxidants, garlic has been revered as a medicinal plant for thousands of years.  Touted by some as aphrodisiac and recommended by others as vampire repellent, for a useful, easy plant to grow, it’s hard to beat heirloom garlic!

scapes in pickle fridge

           

Refrigerator Scape Pickles

*This brine is an adaptation of Vestal Coffey Anderson’s recipe.  I make it by the gallon and store in the refrigerator so it is handy for year-round pickling. 

• 2 cups white vinegar
•1-3/4 cups water
• 4 tablespoons Kosher salt

1. Simmer in a large pot until salt dissolves completely. 

2. Wash scapes and trim stems, if necessary to fit in jar.  For pretty presentation, place the jar on its side, pack scapes until the jar is filled enough to pack from the top.  After packing, fill the jar with brine, completely covering all scapes.  Store in refrigerator.  After a few weeks, scapes will be pickled enough to use and will keep, refrigerated, for months.

Tater Tales

Tater Tunnel: Two words that struck fear in the hearts of my brother, Dale, and me when we were children.  When Dale was six and I was ten years old, my father bought an old home place in the northwest corner of our county, a stone’s throw from Blue Ridge Mountain peaks.  Fruit trees, berries and a spring house that protected the fresh water supply were remnants of the former sustainable, biodynamic farmstead, as was the six room home, rustically comfortable, even though there was no electricity or running water.  My mother cooked meals on a camp stove while Dale and I spent hours vainly attempting to reassemble scattered parts of a Model T car.  Our family planted a vegetable garden the spring after the property became Daddy’s and when Mama sent me to pull onions for an evening meal, a nearby mountain lion screamed, a blood-curdling sound that sent me running back to the safety of the house, onions scattering in my wake.  Even that experience did not compare to the absolute terror of The Tater Tunnel. 

Nestled in a tall bank of red clay soil, The Tater Tunnel door yawned inward, beckoning like a horror movie scene that causes viewers to cringe as unsuspecting characters advance, the stuff of which nightmares are made.  When, spurred by each other’s “double dog” dares, to poke our heads inside the cavernous interior, walls became alive with movement, cave crickets with powerful jumping legs that sent us, screaming in terror, for the safety of the front porch. 

red thumb bowl fresh

Red Thumb Container Harvest

Recently, I harvested potatoes from two large containers in my backyard.  The seed for this crop, Red Thumb fingerlings, came from last year’s leftover potatoes, stored in a laundry room/pantry, which, for some reason, is the best environment in my home for long-term root vegetable storage.  After placing large cardboard boxes in windowless basement cabinets, stacking boxes and sacks on pallets (for air circulation) on the main basement floor and the garage, I discovered potatoes sprout fewer eyes and maintain firm texture longer when stored on pantry shelves in newspaper-lined cardboard boxes with lids.  Although I know no one who still uses a tater tunnel, I wonder how that storage compares to the pantry. 

Red Thumbs in pot

Red Thumbs ready for harvest

Red Thumb fingerlings are the earliest maturing potato varieties at Heart & Sole Gardens.  After planting on March 19, 2017, the containers holding Red Thumbs produced a little over two pounds of mature tubers, while the farm’s row crop, planted a weed later, is just beginning to yield potatoes.  Although other potato varieties typically bloom, indicating underground tubers are maturing, Red Thumbs do not always sport blossoms, but curling, yellow leaves and withering vines are a good indication for harvest time.  After removing spent plants, I added a good dose of compost to the containers and placed more seed.  Who knows, with a little luck, I may pull three harvests from the same containers before winter! 

red thumb salad additions

Fresh spring ingredients make delicious potato salad

If you have never tasted fingerling potatoes, freshly harvested, shop for them at your local farmer’s market.  The flavor difference is as striking as comparing a home grown tomato to one purchased from the supermarket.  With potatoes as fresh as these, simple preparations are best to showcase delicious flavor.  Slice fingerlings lengthwise, season with salt and pepper, drizzle olive oil over and briefly roast in the oven until they are fork tender or try this salad recipe, perfect for a main vegetarian course or side dish. 

And if you happen to know the location of a tater tunnel with a yawning door and leaping crickets, I double dog dare you to walk inside!

 red thumb salad with dusty

Fresh Fingerling Potato Salad

Scrub about one pound of freshly dug fingerling potatoes.  Place potatoes, unpeeled, in a pot of water, seasoned with salt and pepper, and simmer until fork tender.  Do not overcook.

While potatoes cook, place about 4 cups mixed salad greens in a large bowl.  Add 1/2 cup sliced radishes, 1/3 cup thinly sliced spring onion tops and 1 cup fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces. 

For the vinaigrette, combine 1/3 cup olive oil, juice from ½ fresh lemon, 1 teaspoon spicy mustard, (We prefer Lusty Monk, produced in Asheville, N.C.) several dashes of your favorite hot sauce, (Dusty Foothills, produced in Durham, N.C., is perfect) and salt and pepper to taste. 

Drain potatoes, slice into bite-size pieces and add to salad green mixture.

Pour vinaigrette over salad and toss to combine.

*Serves about 4 as a side and 2 for a main course.  

The Year of Missing Martins

Canadian poet, novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood said, “Gardening is not a rational act.”    Few tasks are as humbling as gardening.  After that leap-of-faith act, when a Human drops seed in soil, then cultivates growing plants and anticipates a successful harvest, many factors may disrupt expected outcomes.  Fortunately, when gardeners plan to celebrate plant diversity, even in the face of disaster, rarely is effort totally unrewarded.

Farm Harvest Aug 14

Abundant, diverse harvest, 2014

Our first major crop loss was in 2009, when cool, rainy days encouraged early blight that wiped out tomato gardens along the entire east coast.  Fifty plants, held upright in wire cages, towered overhead and strained with the effort of supporting heavy green fruit.  One day, they were beautiful and the following evening, it looked as if scalding water were poured on them.  Leaves withered and browned, sporting dark spots.  Lesions appeared on stems and fruit and hopes to fill pantry shelves with homegrown canned tomatoes were dashed.

Tomato Blight

Tomato Blight

Although 2009 proved to be a dismal tomato year, beans thrived at Heart & Sole Gardens.  My grandmother’s heirloom Mountain White Half-Runners produced bushels of tender snap beans and it was that vegetable we enjoyed eating fresh from the garden, pickling with garlic and dill and canning for winter consumption.  The tomato crop of 2010 was a good one, but beets, with low germination from the start, were a no-show.  Also, in 2010, a passerby pulled off the nearby highway, pulling a large trailer behind his pickup truck, and drove over the entire row of eggplant seedlings, smashing plants underneath the tires.

Tomatoes Corn Flood

      2013 flooded tomatoes, but corn thrived    

Hopi blue corn, heirloom seed I received at the Ashe County Seed Swap, was a bumper crop in 2013, thriving in warm summer rains, while groundhogs ate every seedling germinated from beautiful blue beans.  Groundhogs, also known as my arch-nemeses, destroyed last year’s pumpkin crop and deer frequently eat more sugar snap peas than we do, but after tasting those heirloom treats, Richard says he can’t blame the deer!

Enduring floods, droughts and insect and four-legged pest attacks, Heart & Sole Gardens continues to provide us with delicious fruits and vegetables, although few crops we plant are successful every year.  Already, warm temperatures caused asparagus spears to bolt and harvest is over, at least four weeks earlier than any previous year.  While each year brings disappointment and joy, 2017 may be our saddest gardening year, even if every crop delivers abundant harvest. 

For the past several years, Purple Martins, migratory birds with incredible aerodynamic skills, chose to nest in birdhouse gourds we provide for them and they swoop close to arriving vehicles to welcome visitors.  Social creatures, Martins entertain with chatter and song and we delight in watching them catch flying insects, chase predator hawks and teach fledglings to fly.  After a winter sojourn in South America, Purple Martins usually arrive at our farm in March and, by mid-July, they leave to begin the return trip.  After spotting scouts, birds that arrive before most of the flock to select housing, our gourds remained empty until April 14th, Good Friday.

A traditional planting day for many gardeners, Good Friday is when I plant my grandmother’s beans and a few other seeds.  Often, late frost will necessitate replanting Good Friday crops, but this year, beans, lettuce and other greens and even some okra is doing well.  A special Good Friday treat was watching Purple Martins peak from gourds, swoop over my head and join forces with a crow to chase a hawk.  Three males and two females perched on the pole support for their homes and serenaded me with song and lively chatter.  I rejoiced at the Martins’ return, but after being away for a few days, when I returned to Heart & Sole, the Martins were gone.

Martin Gourds Empty

Usually filled with birds, Martin homes are empty on May 4, 2017

By May 4th, I accepted the absence of Martins for this year, but sorely missed their company while I cut the last spears of asparagus.  Suddenly, I heard a loud screech and turned to see a crow in another field.  Within a couple of feet from the bird was a black shape.  When the crow saw me head his way, he lifted his wings and screeched in my direction, then pecked at the object on the ground. 

crow and snake

A crow alerts me to danger?

At first, I thought it could be an injured fledgling, but as I drew nearer, it was apparent this was a snake.  The crow, as if satisfied I could handle the situation, hopped into a nearby tree and the snake, coiled into a figure eight, eyed my approach.  Since black snakes are beneficial to gardens, eating pests that consume fruits and vegetables, and do not contain poisonous venom, I decided to leave it where it lay.  When I walked away to gather garlic scapes, the snake slithered into deep grass

.Black Snake

2017 will be the Year of Missing Martins for Heart & Sole, but we fervently hope those birds return next year.  While Purple Martins skipped us, it appears crow voices may replace their chatter and, unnerving as he is, is it possible the snake is this year’s welcoming committee?  Already, he has twice moved to a grassy hiding place when we arrived at the farm.  While his pest control efforts may be appreciated, the snake is certainly no Purple Martin and I hope he keeps his distance from my workspace.

Potato Portal

Eyes opened the portal.  Potato eyes, tuberous knots protruding from brown skin.  I gripped the sharp knife blade, slicing it into potato flesh, carving around eyes and I could hear his voice, a sound long buried in deep memory recesses.  “Be careful not to cut through the eyes,” my paternal grandfather said, as he instructed me to correctly cut a seed potato, leaving enough flesh to sustain a growing plant.  I watched his blade as he deftly cut the seed, leaving three pieces which would each form a potato plant that would produce numerous underground tubers.

 

Purple Majesty Seed Potatoes, prepped

I was about eight years old when my family allowed me to wield my own sharp knife and join them in my grandparents’ kitchen where baskets of seed potatoes waited to be processed into hundreds of individual seed pieces, each sporting at least one or two eyes.  My grandfather, Lawrence Hamby, was usually a man of few words, but as he watched me work, he tipped back his ladder back chair, painted green, and told me a story. 

I was not much older than you, he began, pointing his knife in my direction, when my daddy sent me to take something to the barn.  It was just about suppertime and I closed that gate and started back to the house.  Must have heard something in the grass behind me and when I looked over my shoulder, I saw the biggest snake I had ever seen in my life.  Well, I started to run and looked back to see if he was still there.  Oh, boy, he was and he was chasing me!  Scared to death, I ran faster.  It was a black racer, fast and not poisonous, but looked like he wanted to eat me up!  I looked back and that snake was still coming after me and getting closer!  I ran ‘til I couldn’t run no more.  With the last breath I had in my body, I turned around, threw my arms up over my head and screamed at that snake for all I was worth.  Well, don’t you know?  That ole snake stopped dead and looked at me and then turned around and took off in the other direction!

Lawrence Hamby, 1926, carves with the knife he used to prep seed potatoes

Paw Hamby died when I was twelve years old and although he is featured prominently in many family home movies, there is no soundtrack of his voice, no audio reminder of his laugh.  Potato eyes opened a time portal and when I remembered the story, I could hear that distinctive inflection, see the twinkle in his eyes and the belly laugh that punctuated the end of his tale as he rocked forward and landed the chair legs flat.  In my mind’s eye, I could see dappled afternoon light filtering through my grandmother’s kitchen window curtains, smell the earthy fragrance of potatoes and recall that feeling of acceptance as I helped with a grown-up task.  As an adult, I appreciate his story for the life lesson it is. 

 Kate cuts potatoes for planting in 2016.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2009, when my daughter helped with Heart & Sole Gardens’ potato harvest.  With no plow, we shoveled tubers from soil rendered rock hard from near drought conditions.  Attempting to fulfill a restaurant order for purple fingerlings, we worked to extract tiny tubers from dirt that was close to the same color as the potatoes, both of us crawling on our knees to search for the camouflaged crop.  Afternoon temperatures soared into the nineties, zapping our strength and dehydrating our bodies before we ceased work, driving miles toward home while vehicle air conditioning cooled boot soles.  After days of potato digging, our hands blistered and our harvest was short of the requested number of pounds, but we called it quits with what we had.

When I delivered the potatoes to Sam Ratchford, chef and owner of Vidalia Restaurant in Boone, NC, I knew he would appreciate the ingredient and create delicious dishes, but his face registered surprise when I handed over boxes and said, “As God is my witness, I will never grow Purple Peruvian Fingerlings again!” 

Seed potato "eyes"

Despite the back-breaking work, heat and disappointing harvest, my daughter, Kate, and I bonded over potatoes.  Although she now works in a bustling big city office, she returns to help plant and harvest potatoes.  Paw Hamby’s instructions passed through me to her and she understands the importance of eyes, as I accept my role as information conduit, a tangible connector for two potato planters who never met. 

Tractor implements made last week’s planting of 200 seed pounds easier, but potatoes still require physical work and, I like to think, contain portals that encourage memory making.  Perhaps, at some future time, Kate will pass along potato lessons to another generation.

Since 2009, Heart & Sole potato crops have included over thirty varieties, but as for Purple Peruvians?  Nevermore . . .

Fields on Fire

Looking over our Across-the-Creek field at Heart & Sole Gardens, it was obvious there was much work to be done before seed potatoes could thrive there.  Johnson grass, my arch nemesis weed, took advantage of the space, fallow for two years, and grew with abandon, leaving tall dried stalks and a jungle of underground tuberous roots.  Other weeds joined the party when our backs were turned, making it difficult to find the defining edges where we planted a few years ago.  After the Ford 3000 tractor protested, straining to churn the mass of weeds, Richard turned to me and said, “There is only one thing to do.” 

field burn start

Beginning a prescribed burn

I saw the sparkle in his eyes when he drove away, returning a short time later with an official document.  He retrieved two rakes and a handheld lighter from the truck.  Handing one rake to me, he gave me instructions. 

“We need to work slowly,” he began. “The breeze is light, but wind can change quickly.  We need to establish a perimeter and a first burn, then work to send the fire toward areas that are burned.  Fire needs fuel and when it reaches the burned areas, it will die.  Your job is to keep it contained on one side, while I do the same on the other.”  Field Burn edge

Burning edges

With a degree in Forest Management, Richard’s first employment was with the US Forest Service and part of his job duties included fighting wildfires, both in North Carolina and Western states.  For our farm task, I was thankful for his training.

field burn dragging fire

Richard drags a line of fire

When Richard touched the lighter’s flame to dry grass, bright orange flames consumed clumps, racing along the ground.  To move the fire across the field, a distance of about sixty feet, Richard dipped his rake into the flames, spearing burning grass and dragging it along the ground, creating a line of fire that appeared almost liquid as it spread.  With a fire line established, we worked both sides, stamping out flames that threatened to engulf green grass beyond the planting area.  Working with the light breeze, we guided the fire toward blackened ground and when the wind changed abruptly, my face felt intense heat and I worked faster to prevent the fire from jumping our boundaries and racing, unchecked, toward fruit trees and pasture that bordered a state highway.  Apparently, we provided entertainment for passersby, who honked horns, shouted to us and waved arms from open windows.  Intent on work, we ignored them.  field burn fires to meet

Two fires rush to meet

When most of the field was burned, Richard moved to the far edge, approximately two hundred and twenty-five feet from the initial line, and set a second fire.  With both sides contained, we watched as the fires converged, sparks flying as flames met, but quickly dying, just as Richard predicted.  Gentle rain began to fall, settling ashes that will provide soil nutrients for our potato crop. field burn after

After burning, the field is easier to manage for planting

Prescribed, or controlled burning is a practice used by Native American and other agrarian societies for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.  In addition to enriching soil, a prescribed burn reduces weed seeds, insect pests and efficiently clears weeds, allowing sunlight to reach and warm soil for earlier planting.  Faster and less expensive than other field-clearing methods, prescribed burning requires planning and should only be used by people who are experienced.  Before beginning a prescribed burn, be sure to check with local authorities to obtain a permit.