Planting, with a Helping Hen

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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle


Six degrees colder and the dew would have been frost. Had it been, the next few mornings would likely be frosty too, and today would not have been a good day to begin planting 1,400 heirloom tomato plants. Tomatoes, as you know, like heat, not ice.

But the beads of moisture glowing in the cool dawn light were mere footnotes to the rain, a true gift of the gods that had anointed the soil last week. The beds, enriched by compost and fertilizer, and protected by straw mulch, became mellow...and ready.

It was Tootie J. Tootums' duty to be "spot-on" if we discovered a cut worm or a stem-chewing June bug larva and to eat it.

Everything was in place for the almost holy ritual of tucking in the infant tomato plants. I worked with the cowboys, Steven and John, and Don Lupe, our chief planter, in unison and alone. We pulled back the straw, dug receptacle holes in the moist soil, and inserted the investment plants. The plants that by early June, if all goes well, will yield a payoff in, yes, money, but most importantly in rich, juice-dripping flavor and over-the-top nutrition that will suit the finickiest of tomato aficionados.

Tootie J. Tootums, head hen of the Hen House, accompanied us in the patch of straw-covered raised beds. It was her duty to be "spot-on" if we discovered a cut worm or a June bug larva and to eat it. It was my duty to supervise her, to keep her strong toes from dislodging the sacred plants. Oh, of course she found earthworms too, but because they are so plentiful in such a nourishing environment, we didn't restrict her to just the stem-chewing worms. And, soon, satisfied, she retreated to the dry dust of the barn for her morning bath.

And we continued on, for we have just begun.

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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