The Signs and Rituals of Spring on Woody’s Farm

By: Woody Woodruff

There is a fundamental cycle to life and the seasons form part of that cycle, creating a rhythm to which we orient ourselves naturally. Spring is the annual rebirth. The longer days seem to be one of the things that move us into action. It’s a time of opportunity. But as a farmer, it can also be a time of uncertainty. It’s the time that we orchestrate our planting season, and that season is riddled with questions. Is it time to start planting? Will it frost again? Can I get everything planted in time? Will extra seeds be needed in case of a replant?

I had a neighbor named Melvin that I always use to watch, and when he started planting, I started. Though Melvin has passed into eternal winter, I will always remember when I first asked him what it was on which he based the decision to start planting his corn. He was the type of farmer who was educated at a one-room school house and who never got off the farm much. What he learned about farming he learned from family. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that his crops were always the best in the area. So one day I asked him when he knew it was time to plant. I can still see him asking his wife to bring us some ice tea and him having me sit down on his shaded park bench located by his wife’s garden. He was never one to tell long stories; in fact most of the time he just seemed to always smile and enjoyed listening more that talking. But we were neighbors and I knew if he was sitting me down I had better just sit and listen. He said that his dad had told him at about my age that the trick to planting corn was never try to outguess Mother Nature. There are signs and rituals to planting most all crops and with corn, that was never plant corn till you have found sponge morel mushrooms growing in the timber. Over my years as a farmer, I have learned that there is a lot of validity in what rituals have been tested and passed down from season after season of experiences.

morel mushroom

I know a lot of folks that put stock in going by the phases of the moon for doing different chores around the farm.  I have to admit that the Farmers Almanac is a gift that I get for Christmas from my wife every year. Unfortunately, working a full time job and farming on the side, it is usually when I have had a crop failure on the farm that I reference the Farmer’s Almanac to see if I had chosen poorly on a planting date. I have, if given enough time and if I can hold onto some form of patience, felt that the instinct or gut feeling to do something at a certain time in farming, hunting, or fishing is not only related to the weather of the day, but an attraction, similar to polar opposites, moving me in a certain direction. I have never been one to just pick a day on the calendar and plan for that day. That might be a goal but it is just not something a good farmer can afford to do. It’s the many different signs of spring that one observes that help to dictate when and what is done at a given time on the farm. Sometimes farming is like witching for water; sometimes you just have to believe wholeheartedly that the gut feelings that you are getting are leading you in the right direction.

At this point in growing older I am experiencing a feeling that seems to be affecting my ability to see these signs with the utmost clarity. I am thinking that I am not alone in this feeling. Our culture seems to not be in tune with reading the signs in nature. Because of my fast-paced lifestyle I seem to have sacrificed a very important ritual that I once used to observe at least once a week: the ritual of Sabbath. Sunday used to be set aside as a day of doing absolutely nothing in the form of work. It was to be a day of reflection. But this day in age it seems that something is always going on in life seven days a week and I am one of those people that is not good at saying no. The whole weekend has become my catch-up days. This year I found myself planting corn only on Saturdays and Sundays because it was the weekend and I didn’t want to miss any time at work in the office. I didn’t pay as much heed to the signs of nature, and unfortunately, at this point it looks like I may be doing some replanting. Luckily, I purchased some late-season seed varieties in case they were needed, but I should have had my morel mushrooms for breakfast with some eggs before I started planting this year.

As a reminder to myself to slow down and pay attention to the natural rhythm of life, next weekend I will be sleeping in, maybe past 6:30, and going fishing in the afternoon, and building a fire in the evening. This is a ritual that I have strayed from but which I see more value in with each passing season.  Come to think of it, there was one thing my neighbor Melvin never did, that was to work on a Sunday. That Melvin was a wise man.