“Agriculture isn’t like other skills, where the pupil has to spend an exhausting amount of time at his lessons before his work is of a high enough quality to earn him a living. No, agriculture isn’t awkward to learn like that: all you need is to watch people working at some aspects of it, and listen to people explaining other aspects…”

Xenophon, The Estate Manager


This morning Xenophon’s words bring to mind radishes, and that it is a good time for most of us to plant them, whether we ever have before or not.

Agriculture today is probably more complicated than that of which Xenophon’s Ischomachus speaks. Nonetheless, there is an enduring truth in these words. The tilling of the earth is indeed a unique art: it really is something everyone can learn and do, even while no lifetime could exhaust its riches.

For years I have noticed in spring that radishes fairly leap out of the ground in comparison to the greens planted alongside them. The radish calls to the inexperienced, the timid hand. “Plant me! Let me show you what I, and you, can do!”

Gardening is an incomparable exercise in discovering the potential and energy intrinsic to the natural world, as well as our ability to work along with it. The carpenter’s project, in a sense, will only be what the carpenter himself makes it to be. The gardener, on the other hand, finds his work constantly blessed with fruits that are at once proportionate to yet also far exceed the power of human hands.

Radishes: they germinate quickly; they grow to fruition in just a handful of weeks; and they are an aesthetic masterpiece. They thrive in the cool, they don’t mind a frost, and they’re delicious in a salad, or with cottage cheese.

The time has come to plant. It requires very little time or space, and the seeds are available at stores all around us. Stir up the earth, give it a little attention. Little hands, grown hands, and aging hands—they’re all the same to the radish seeds. Partners in the life-giving wonders of the garden.

Note: in today’s video, I give a very brief tutorial in planting radishes.

Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues are Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which he shares insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household, and also Memorabilia, in which he shares recollections of the life of Socrates.

Photo: one of last year’s radishes on the kitchen counter ( by Juliana Cuddeback)

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