Appalachia Through My Eyes COVID-19 Gardening

Appalachia Through My Eyes – The Smell of Fresh Turned Soil

fresh turned soil

Is there a better smell than fresh turned soil?

At the end of a long work day I sat in the grass just beyond Granny’s garden and watched The Deer Hunter till as I inhaled the rich aroma of fresh turned dirt. I studied on the scent.

Do I enjoy the smell so much because it ties me to the land and harkens back to every childhood summer I ever lived? Or does the fresh perfume entice me because it holds the promise of a bountiful garden? I decided a resounding YES is the answer to both my questions.

The yearly turning of the soil and planting of the garden has been an integral part of my entire life. As a child running around playing I thought of the time as a special day of fun where all of us were out in the fresh spring air together. As an adult I understand clearly the need, pleasure, and satisfaction of growing the food you eat.

I planned to talk Granny out of a garden this year. She seems more feeble every day and recently took another fall—thankfully no broken bones this time. But it seems if there was ever a time that folks need to plant a garden this is the year.


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 5, 2020 at 5:24 pm

    I too missed commentng on Ethelene’s post yesterday but it sure brought back memories, we too made gallons of molasses. This was the only time I was allowed to miss school as all hands were needed, I also was a commencement speaker at our eighth grade graduation which shows growing up on a farm assured you still had to work hard but were required to keep up your school work. I still have our old two roller mill which was pulled by a horse with a sweep pole. This was a hard life growing most of what Mom canned, Hickory Smoked pork and stone ground corn for meal with acres of yellow corn for livestock and acres of hay stacked to supplement the corn. A neighbor had a hammer mill where we ground bushels of un- shelled corn we mixed with the skimings from the molasses to make our own sweet feed. This feed generated gallons of milk which we sold much of and patties of fresh butter for sale also. This was a hard but rewarding life.

  • Reply
    Jeff Loflin
    May 5, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    Oh the memories

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    May 5, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    Grandpa had two mules, Kate & Jack. I remember Daddy plowing the garden with them & also plowing in the very long bottom down the road from where we lived. I love the smell of new plowed ground!

    We worked clearing a patch of new ground (the kind that had never been worked) in that same bottom and I remember the smell of the sassafras roots we pulled up to burn. Also the smell of cotton plants picking cotton down there–took all day to pick one row!

    My very favorite may be the smell of rain coming in a dry season. I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever get dry enough here to enjoy that.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    May 5, 2020 at 11:34 am

    I remember an old man who lived across from us when I was a boy. He was slow, stooped, and walked with a stick he had cut in the woods. Every year he piddled around with a barely half-acre of tobacco. I remember once someone saying to him, “Why are you fooling around with that little tobacco?”
    He replied, “The year I can’t put a crop in I reckon I’ll die.
    He was 97 when he passed. It was the first year he didn’t put in his tobacco.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 5, 2020 at 10:39 am

    When I was young I plowed a horse. I noticed a peculiar smell then and blamed it on the horse. Now that I am older and plowing with a tiller I’ve been thinking it was because my tiller is burning oil. So now I discover it is the smell of freshly turned soil. Who wudda thunk it!
    Speaking of tilling and turning soil tomorrow is a good day to plant if I understand your calendar correctly. I’ve have already plowed once but the recent rains have brought forth billions of weeds. I need to get some sweet corn and green beans in the ground.

  • Reply
    May 5, 2020 at 9:32 am

    We used to live on a street out in the country where everybody raised a garden. The family down the road had a huge garden and a very strange habit. Every time the husband would plow, his wife had an uncontrollable urge to go eat some of the dirt. She confessed to her bizarre appetite for eating dirt anytime she smelled it, not just during gardening season. Her grown kids talked her into going to the doctor to check for any vitamin deficiencies she might have. I don’t remember the outcome of the test, but she soon died from cancer that ravished her entire body.
    My co-workers used to ask me why I didn’t move closer to work and stop driving so far to work. I used to tell them the smell of country living was worth the drive.

  • Reply
    Liz Hart
    May 5, 2020 at 9:15 am

    This article brings back many memories . Walking behind my dad as he plowed with a mule and a single turning plow. Today’s tractors can do in a half hour what took my dad a whole day as he turned one row at a time. He certainly didn’t have an ounce of fat!!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 5, 2020 at 8:42 am

    I wonder if city folks can even smell fresh-turned dirt or – if they do – know what it is? And do they know the feel of it that tells a story to those who know? You all remember the spell of corn bloom at night? ?

    I am not sure what it is about the smell of cool, moist dirt. As you say, part of it is the promise and anticipation of good things to come. And part of it is the satisfaction of doing for yourself, only relying on the good Lord and His good earth. I think part of it also is the partnership with nature; choosing what to plant where, keeping it healthy and giving back to the earth what it needs. As we know, the best way to have a good garden is to work in it every day or two. Doing that keeps us ‘tuned’ to nature like nothing else. And there are a lot of life lessons that grow in a garden, right alongside of character and memories.

    I remember reading many years ago a little story in “Life in these United States” in Reader’s Digest. Seems a family had applied for a bank loan and were visited at home by two people from the bank. As they were looking around, the older man saw full canning jars lined up in the kitchen. He stopped, sat down, pointed at the canning jars and said, “Anybody that will do that will pay their debts.” They got the loan.

    • Reply
      Rose Marie
      May 5, 2020 at 4:46 pm

      If you see it in Reader’s Digest, it’s true said my MIL.
      Wonderful story & can’t wait for the dirt to warm up here – we used to turn it over every spring with my grandfather’s spading fork. Stomp, lift, turn over, & smack!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 5, 2020 at 8:19 am

    Tipper–I think the smell is so appealing because it represents a sensory bond to the good earth. If you could bottle it as perfume or an air freshener I do believe I’d be smelling freshly plowed ground all the time.

    Another smell of a similar nature I dearly love is the first moment of a cooling rain on parched earth in late summer. It’s refreshing beyond description.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 5, 2020 at 8:16 am

    Tomorrow is my youngest daughter’s birthday. When Jennifer was born, I had my cap and gown on at Saint Joseph’s in Asheville. The Nurse helping me get ready for her first Bottle and was telling me to hold the Bottle close so she could reach it. Jennifer had them black eyes just a shinin’ and reached and nearly tore it out of my arms. I was feeding my little girl her first Bottle, while her Mother recovered. She will be 44 this time and she has been a real blessing this year, due to the Plaig that hit. This Corona Virus will Pass, just as others have before.

    She now has 4 girls of her own, the last two being twins, almost as old as Chitter and Chatter, and Keva is expecting another boy soon. Jennifer has boys and girls in her Family and I feel as old as the Hills. …Ken

  • Reply
    gayle larson
    May 5, 2020 at 8:05 am

    This brought back memories of another smell I will never forget.When my parents moved from the farm to town they This story brought back another smell I will never forget.when my parents moved to town they brought with them lots of farm methods of doing things. We went back to the farm almost every week end for planting, harvesting and canning,
    Dad decided our grass was sparse and looked a little peaked as he put it. Back to the farm he went and brought a truckload of manure to perk it up a bit.
    Needless to say we were not the most popular family in the neighborhood. Of course, every time it rained it refreshed the smell.
    I think it was a week before my mother would set foot out of the house. I will admit we had the best lawn in town.

  • Reply
    May 5, 2020 at 7:58 am

    Oh, I so agree with you on this. I have always loved that fresh smell, and I am not certain I even think ahead to the bounty of food. It is just another wonderful part pf Spring for me. If there is anything better it has to be the feel of the fresh soil on my bare feet, although I no longer am brave enough to try that.
    My parents always enjoyed so much their garden every year. I hope Granny can have her garden even if she needs help with most of it. One of my most treasured memories is taking my vacation to help my Dad harvest his half runners the last Summer of his life. They did not need a garden, but life had somehow taught them to plant huge gardens if one could possibly manage. He had three large bean patches, and I spent days picking and stringing beans while he kept the pressure canner going. Time spent with my parents those days was so enjoyable. Exhausted at end of day, Dad would fix me a huge mug of invigorating coffee. I was able to give him what was needed most, and that was help with a garden that Summer. That is the way of many Appalachians, as that garden must be planted regardless. When my family fusses at me for the hard work, I just remind them if I should leave this world in in my garden I will be where I am the happiest.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    May 5, 2020 at 7:11 am

    I lost my chance to write yesterday about Ethelene Dyer Jones’ story. She is one of my favorite writers that I’ve never met but feel assured I will someday.

    Tipper, many times you bring to mind things I’ve haven’t thought about. I do enjoy the smell of fresh turned earth. That took me back to when I was a boy and a cousin was plowing with a mule on our farm. I believe I’ve always loved that smell. The old farm was first owned by my Great Grandparents. Them being born in the 1860’s I’ve only seen them in pictures. I thought of all the hard work they had done and all the large rock piles on the flats of a steep hill they cleaned up to raise crops. The flats are grown up with large trees now and the last time I walked through there the rock piles had yellow root (Goldenseal) growing in them.

  • Leave a Reply