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When local clocks read 10:34 this morning, the sun will slip across the plane of the Earth’s equator and begin carving its daily arc through the southern end of our sky. So, despite temperatures that remain stubbornly in the upper 80s, Fall is well and truly here. It’s time to plant the winter garden.

We’re stumbling out of bed at sunup this week, turning the soil in each plot by turn, emptying our compost bin of the crumbly black goodness that has cooked there all summer long. (Atticus has discovered that a freshly vacated compost bin makes an excellent midmorning napping spot.) The cabbage crop — 50 tender transplants of three varieties — are tucked into their big bed now. The curly leaf kale seeds have been broadcast in their own sliver of real estate, so that we can thin them out at finger size for a vitamin-rich addition to the salad bowl. The lettuces will be next, and then our broccoli and cauliflower sets. Collard greens, that hardy southern delicacy, will go at the far end of our garden property next to their New Year’s Day menu partner: field peas.  And good old butternut squash, blessedly resistant to the squash vine borers that are the scourge of our subtropical climate zone, will round out our cool-weather garden list. Mmmmm.

We’re in the final countdown before the 2008 Eat Local Challenge. Tonight, The Perfect Man is experimenting with homemade feta cheese. At midweek, I’ll start working on some preparatory bread baking… and on Thursday, we’ll check on a weekly farmers’ market we’ve heard about. By this time next week, I hope to have a basic inventory of locally grown edibles to get the month started. I’ll be posting a daily log as the Challenge rolls along.

I have discovered during planting times that the meditative rhythm of turning the soil under my shovel occasionally unearths old memories along with a lot of earthworms. This week, musing over the miraculous transformation of our kitchen garbage into heavy wheelbarrow loads of compost, I remembered how my three daughters first grasped the basics of organic gardening as preschoolers.  By the time each was three or four years old, the concept of “compost is good, commercial fertilizer is bad” was defended with the zeal only a bossy little girl can deliver. 

One weekend, while I showed handmade tiles at a local art festival, all three girls bought wooden stick horses from a toymaker in a neighboring booth. “Help me think of a name for my horse,” my youngest daughter said. “He’s a wild stallion.”

I explained that wild stallions in books sometimes have names that make them sound powerful and dangerous: Wildfire, or Cyclone, or Widowmaker. She thought for a moment or two, then looked up with a smile. “Thanks,” she said, and galloped off to join her sisters.

A little later, when I overheard her as she pranced by on her newly named steed, I realized that she had named her horse for the most hazardous thing a four-year-old organic gardener could think of: