NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 18, 2014

Putting in the peas

Boys learn how to plant spring's first crop

Outdoorsing the North Shore
Justin Chase

---- — When soil comes out from behind the tiller looking like freshly cut chocolate cake, it’s time to plant the peas.

My father had watched for it the past couple of weeks, but with spring so late this year, it just hadn’t happened. Then, I got the call and headed to the farm to help plant the season’s first crop. Under clear, bright skies and atop a sunny, southwest-facing slope, Jamie, the boys, Gauge and I kicked off the season by setting rows, putting in the seeds and talking of days ahead.

With small fistfuls of wrinkled peas, Derek and Bradley loaded the planter while my dad laid out furrows with a spring-tooth harrow behind the old John Deere 2355. Atop fluffy and moist soil, they took turns pushing the squeaky-wheeled planter down the first long row. To my delight, they took to it naturally and ran straight lines at a steady pace, leaving behind them a perfect trail of tiny peas.

The field was alive with commotion and celebration of spring. Gauge and his friend April Tuna ran through the rows and chased each other until both chubby dogs were worn out. My boys pushed the planter with more intensity than I’ve seen in a long while as my dad idled back and forth with the tractor ahead of them. The sweet scent of freshly turned soil mixed pleasantly with the smell of diesel that I’ve come to associate with working outdoors in New England. Crows circled down low as they do when yummy plump seeds are set out, while songbirds called from the hedge line along Maudslay. Killdeer hopped over tire tracks and among last year’s overturned rye.

Taking care to cover their first row, my boys gently pulled soil over the furrow with their hands and the sides of their feet. They took time to consider what they did and talked of the coming year and how their tiny seeds might fare. I assured them that the seeds will take comfort in cool soil and chilly nights, and rugged shoots will soon break through the ground with the season’s first weeds.

With bright smiles and filthy hands and jeans, they continued on — filling and pushing the planter, covering the rows, and exploring firsthand what it means to plant the year’s first crop after a long, cold winter. Of course, they goofed off a little, too, which is also the appropriate thing to do after a long and cold winter.

By the end of the afternoon, we had planted 110 pounds of seeds on a little quarter-acre field. As we walked back to the truck, I recalled the days of putting in seeds as a boy. I don’t know how the time has passed so quickly, but suddenly it seems, I am the dad watching boys of my own plant the spring crops. We had a wicked fun time on the farm, doing something a little different and learning more about where our food comes from.

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Justin Chase is an avid naturalist who lives in Amesbury and grew up in Newburyport. He is the author of the blog Outdoors, By Cracky! Visit his website at www.outdoorsbycracky.com, or contact him via email at justin@outdoorsbycracky.com.

‘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 wrinkled 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, 1920