Spring Tillage

Oliver, five years old, our grandson, Miriam and I are kneeling in freshly turned soil in the Studio Garden about 10 o’clock in the morning, sunny blue sky, 60 degrees, mid-March, brightness sounds around us. I put my hand down about 8 inches into the furrow and pull up a cool moist sticky clod of soil. We break it apart, an earthworm squiggles free, Oliver is after it, lots of root hairs stick out.  I hand Miriam and Oliver a piece of the soil to feel and seeking comments from what is perceived. It is moist and cooler than the air, has a silky feel, breaks about when rolled about, lots of stick togetherness texture. Miriam says it is perfect for planting, Oliver is wondering where the worm got off to. Kneeling in the soil we start to warm, the sun’s rays make us feel like it is in the 80’s. Oliver and I take off a layer of shirts, he shows me that he has learned how to unbutton buttons, a monumental accomplishment of which he is duly proud.

This morning we are trying to determine if the soil is ready for planting. I am looking at a few scattered clods full of winter wheat roots still not broken down, clumps of soil of tiny almost invisible root hairs, a silky colloidal feel, moisture, temperature. Each spring we are anxious, waiting till just the right soil and weather conditions, eager to get going yet knowing acting too early when all is not right has consequences that could diminish soil quality for the rest of the year or even years. Farming like so many things of our life is made up of a lot of small actions along the way, and each matter in often surprising ways.  

What to do now so we may plant? There is no set law, just lots of theories. The Law is if you dig and dig or till and till the soil structure will disintegrate and the soil will eventually not be able to support plant life, or any life.  Therefor lots of theories, lots of ‘why this happens and explanations of how to avoid soil degradation and at the same time get that bit of earth ready to grow what we want it to grow and not what just would desire to grow there at this time of year. There are principles to guide us;  from 10,000 year of attempting a few - do this and that will happen precepts have arisen. Why does it happen? This is where the theories start arriving. Like watching Wallace Steven’s blackbirds:

I was of three minds,

Like a tree

In which there are three blackbirds.

In the past one hundred years the approaches that have been developed for growing and harvesting food from people asking how and then why seem to have been multiplying at the rate of Moore’s law. The issues are manyfold; How to get the soil to grow just the plant that we want grown and not the millions of other plants in the shortest amount of time producing a vibrant healthy plant and thereby crop or food to be eaten and at the same time reinvigorating the soil and increasing the fertility so after this plant is harvested the next one is ready to be planted and the cycle continues and improves and becomes easier faster cheaper and better results(like Moore’s law again) for as long as we humans are planting. Oh, and not wear and grind the farmer into the ground so that at the end of the process they have some energy left to eat the food.

Our approach at the moment is spread several tons of compost and dig 12 inch deep furrows into the soil with a chisel plow and let the air and warmth into the cool to cold spring soil which at the same time starts pulling out plants that have grown as a cover crop all winter. This process, so this theory goes kills off millions of microbes which thereby wakes up another host of soil organisms to eat the ones dying off and they spit out all sorts of nutrients which tell the soil to tell the seeds that it is time to sprout and grow because the nutrients are waiting. The trick or art or science is; if it doesn't rain again and soil moisture is low enough, to come again with the chisel plow to rip up more plants and roots and create more furrows and right when the seeds want to sprout disturb them and tear them out. I do this process a few times until the soil is screaming out to grow a crop. Then we put the crop we want to grow in the ground like potatoes, onion sets and plants, peas, beets, carrots, radishes, arugula and other plants that like to grow in the cool season.

The issues we face of raising food and working with the soil are many and complex seen and unseen, obvious and occult, earthly and cosmic.  All of nature and the cosmos can seem to be against us or for us - we feel like Child Roland at his Dark Tower facing this ringed emensity of giants against us. Moisture, temperature, the moon, the sun, day length,  the stars, warmth, longitude and latitude, millions of competing seeds, soil structure, microbes, fungi, bacteria, biology, mineralgy, microbiology, astrology, cosmology, and the biggest being banking and bills to pay are all part of the decision process.

Like the education of a child all the work we do, all the soil we work with, all the seeds we plant develop and ripen at a later time. The work we do to assist the sprouting, growing yields beneficial or not so beneficial or even disastrous results and fruit as the plant or person progresses further along in this earthly soil filled life. This whole formative process must be continually within view in order to develop a genuine farming (or teaching) method, based on real life perception.

Today it is sunny in the low 60’s.  No matter what we are going to get those potatoes (pontiac reds and Kennebec)  onions, peas, carrots, beets in the ground. Next the summer garden rises into focus.

Farming like so much of our life is something that I hope we can all agree on and that is that the long run is made up of a bunch of short runs.That seems obvious. The surprising thing is that we live our short runs as if that isn’t true.

 Not see? Because of night perhaps?- why, day

    Came back again for that! Before it left,

    The dying sunset kindled through a cleft;

The hills, like giants at a hunting , lay,

Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay, -

    “”Now stab and end the creature - to the


Not hear? When noise was everywhere! It tolled

   Increasing like a bell.  Names in my ears,

   Of all the lost adventurers my peers, -

How such a one was strong, and such was bold,

And such was fortunate, yet each of old

   Lost, lost ! one moment knelled the woe of



There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met

     To view the last of me, a living frame

      For one more picture! In a sheet of flame

I saw them and I knew them all. And yet

Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,

     And blew. ‘“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.”

Ramen eggs

Ramen Eggs Makes 6 eggs This is the soft boiled egg in ramen and other Japanese noodle soups. 6 eggs To cook the eggs, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Pierce the end of each egg with a thumbtack to make a tiny hole to prevent the eggs from cracking. Using a slotted spoon, lower the eggs into the water. Reduce the low and cook for 6 minutes. Drain and transfer eggs in ice cold water and let them cool for 3 minutes. Peel the eggs. Slice in half, and serve right away. Keeps in the fridge for 3 days

soba dipping sauce

Soba Dipping Sauce (Men-tsuyu) Makes 4 servings To make the Soba Dipping Sauce, first prepare the Soba Sauce Base. (See recipe below). I use about 25% Soba Sauce Base to 100% Dashi for making the Soba Dipping Sauce. If you wish to make a soba soup, simply use less Soba Sauce Base. Reduce it to 10% Soba Sauce Base to 100% Dashi. 1000 ml water 3 dried shiitake mushrooms 4-in Kombu seaweed 30g dried bonito flakes (Katsuo-bushi) 250 ml Soba Sauce Base (see recipe below) To make the dashi, combine the water and shiitake mushrooms in a medium size pot and let stand for 30 minutes to overnight. Add the kombu and bring it to a boil over high heat. Just before the water turns to a boil, lower heat and remove the shiitake mushrooms and the kombu seaweed. Add the dried bonito flakes to the dashi. Lower heat and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and let the bonito flakes steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain the dashi liquid in a fine mesh strainer. The kombu, shiitake and bonito flakes can be used to make a secondary dashi stock, which is good for diluting the soup. Add the Soba Sauce Base to the dashi. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. Turn off heat. Let cool. The dipping sauce will keep fresh in a refrigerator for 4-5 days. For the Soba Sauce Base (enough for 30-35 servings) 500 ml dark or light color soy sauce soy sauce 100 ml mirin (Hon-mirin,not mirin type) 2 tablespoons (30 g) cane sugar Combine mirin and sugar in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the so

Ramen recipe

Ramen Ramen broth Makes 5 quarts of ramen broth 6 quarts [5.7 L] water 2 lbs trotters [910 g] cut lengthwise 3 lb pork bones [1.4kg] (preferably leg bone, cut in half) 2 lb [910 g] chicken backs 2 leeks, peeled and cut lengthwise in half, and then into thirds 1 onion, peeled 1 small apple (optional) 1 carrot 4 oz [115 g] fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 5 garlic cloves 1 five-inch konbu seaweed 6 Dried Shitake mushrooms, hydrated To remove the odor and blood from the bones, combine the pork trotters and pork leg bone in water and cook over medium low heat for 30 minutes. Don’t worry, the essence will not escape from the bones for cooking this long. Repeat with the chicken bones, using the same water. Transfer the pork and chicken bones to a bowl. Discard the blanching water and wash the pot. Scrub and clean the bones with a brush, removing any blood. Fill the pot with the bones and 5 quarts of fresh water. Bring to a boil. Then turn heat down to a simmer. Add the ginger, garlic, onion, apple, if using, carrot, ginger, garlic, kombu and shiitake and simmer for 10 -15 hours. Reduce broth by a half. Strain and season: Remove the bones and cooked vegetables. Strain the stock through a nottoo-fine strainer and then return it to the pan. Let cool. Let stand in the fridge overnight. Degrease the broth the next day. This ramen broth will be very concentrated. Dilute with ramen broth concentrate and water before adding the Kakuni Pork Tare. Yakibuta Pork Serves 4 1.5 lbs pork belly, tied with a string 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 scallion, cut into 2-inch pieces 1 small knob of Ginger, peeled and sliced 1 garlic, peeled and sliced 2 Japanese dried red chili peppers, seeded 3/4 cup sake ¼ cup Kurosu, Brown rice black vinegar (optional) 1/2 cup soy sauce or more to taste 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar 1 Tablespoons honey Make slits into the fat of the pork belly with a knife. Also, poke the meat with a fork. Heat oil in a frying pan and sear the pork belly until brown on all sides. Remove all fat. Transfer pork belly to a pot and the scallion, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, dashi, sake, soy sauce, brown rice black vinegar, brown sugar and honey and bring to a boil over medium heat. Skim surface scum. Lower heat and simmer for an hour. Turn meat every 10 minutes. Cook until half the sauce is evaporated. Turn off heat and let the meat rest in the sauce. Let the pork rest until it’s room temperature.

Slice into 1/4-inch pieces and serve with ramen. Use the sauce for Tare - ramen sauce. To serve the Ramen Noodles You will need everything in place: Heated Ramen Broth Tare (from Yakibuta) Yakibuta Pork, sliced in ¼ inch pieces crosswise 1 cup Chopped Scallions 4 Soft boiled egg, peeled Roasted sesame seeds 1 Nori Seaweed, cut into six rectangles Shichimi pepper Dilute the concentrated ramen broth with water to make a thinner ramen broth and heat in a saucepan. Season with the Tare and salt. Optional: Add 1 Tbsp of tahini sauce for each serving of broth, if you want sesame flavor in the broth. Boil the noodles in a separate pot of unsalted water and drain them well. Divide the noodles among four separates bowls. Pour 3 cups of seasoned hot ramen broth over the noodles. Serve with toppings. Eat immediately. sesame seeds, nori seaweed, pickled ginger, Yuzu, Yuzu kosho. Serve immediately. Fresh Ramen Noodles Makes 4 portions 300 g bread flour 40 g rye flour 160 g cake flour or all-purpose flour 1 cup + 2 Tbsp water 1.5 tsp salt 2 tsp Baked baking soda* Toast the rye flour over low heat, until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Combine the rye flour, bread flour and cake flour in a medium bowl. In a separate small bowl, stir the baked baking soda, salt and cool water and mix until dissolved. Add the baking soda solution to the blended flour in three additions. This step will take about 2 minutes of mixing. Once combined into a shaggy ball, transfer it into a plastic bag and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Leave the ball in the plastic bag and step on it 50 times, being careful not to tear the bag. Fold the flattened ball into three like an envelope and step on it again. Repeat 3-4 times. You can let the dough rest in the fridge over night or keep going. Cut the dough into four and roll it through the pasta machine, two times per setting, starting with 0 and ending at 4. The sheet may feel dry and break apart in the beginning but don’t get discouraged. Simply fold it and start again. Cut each sheet of dough into 1-foot length of dough, about 1/16 inch thick. Lightly dust the surface with cornstarch. Cover the sheets with a kitchen towel. Now run each dough through the thinnest pasta cutter. Gently sprinkle cornstarch and place the noodles on a baking sheet. You should have 4 portions all together. To cook the Noodles - boil one portion of noodles unsalted water until al dente, about 1 minute. Drain the noodles and add to the ramen bowl. Serve with ramen with the seasoned broth the toppings. If you have a large p

West of the river

West of the River?

Why Now is the Right Time to Get Connected:

Please join your friends

From the Sequatchie Valley and the Southern Cumberland Plateau for presentations, discussion, and a farm dinner at Sequatchie Cove Farm


Saturday, October 13th from 2pm to 6pm(ish) CT



-questions:email or call 423-710-0140

Hey, Chattanoogans, if you have ever wondered about the connection between urban and rural life - and even if you haven't - then please join us for an opportunity to learn, connect, contribute and collaborate with your friends “West of the River”.

Great and small changes are to be heard, seen and felt in the Sequatchie Valley and the Southern Cumberland Plateau, just west of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River.


Our region is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth; the greatest living biologist of our time, E.O. Wilson, said that the ecosystems of this region are irreplaceable....

’A society is defined not just by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.’


Change is in the air:  In our region’s rural and urban communities, the land, culture, and economy are shifting in palpable and often dynamic ways.

In Nature change is not just growth - a budding, blooming, fruiting - it is also a fading, decaying, dying and composting making way for and fertilizing the next step. The tension is in the balance and the navigation of these two ways: change & preservation.


How do we find the balance between change and preservation of our region?

At workshop and dinner we’ll discuss:

--  What the Sequatchie Valley and the Southern Cumberland Plateau have to do with Chattanooga and the wider region.

-  - What rural and urban collaboration looks like and why it is important.

--   Why now is the right time to connect.

-- What change looks like for the future of our region.

--  How and by whom change is being navigated.

--  What can’t be navigated and what can.

--    Who is doing amazing work.

Must RSVP by:9th (Now is a good time to do that )

More details to be sent once you RSVP or connect

Questions- thoughts - RSVP




Make new friends and increase your awareness of the interdependence of the rural and urban economies.


See you there- If you plan to attend please fill out the google doc below.