Appalachian Dialect Gardening

The Lay-by Time of Summer

tomato growing on vine

Letter from Almond, NC published in the Bryson City Times (July 31, 1896).

“Most of our farmers are done laying by corn, those that are not done, the rain will lay it by for them and some will be glad of it, as the weather is getting most too hot to work know [sic] anyway, the rain and storms have destroyed several fine crops of oats in this section in the last few days. . . .”

Lay by verb phrase To leave a crop to mature after hoeing it for a final time late in the summer. When a farmer has the crop “laid by,” the labors of plowing, planting, and cultivating are over, and he can sit back until the crop is ripe. 1834 Crockett Narrative 154 Having laid by my crap, I went home, which was a distance of about a hundred and fifty miles. 1905 Cole Letters 80 Soon as crops is laid by if I live expecting to here from you soon I remain your son. 1953 Hall Coll. Bryson City NC The spring of the year come, why [Jake Welch, a neighbor] went to plowing and planting his corn, and beans, and potatoes, and things-cultivating that stuff at home. He’d take care of that ontil he got through and got his crop laid by. He’d generally get it done laying by corn in the latter part of July. (Granville Calhoun) 1955 Dykeman French Broad 322 The third or fourth week in August, when crops were “laid by” and “garden truck” was at its most plentiful, families within a radius of many miles put finishing touches on their arrangement to attend camp meetings. 1976 Carter Little Tree 90 “Laying -by” time was usually in August. That was the time of the year when farmers were done with plowing and hoeing weeds out of their crops four or five times, and the crops was big enough now that they “laid by,” that is, no hoeing or plowing while the crops ripened and they waited to do the gathering. 1979 Smith White Rock 47 All cornfields were hoed at least three times; the last time was called “laying it by.” 1995 Weber Rugged Hills 67 “Well,” someone will say, “the corn is ‘laid-by’ for this year.” What they mean is that there will be no more hoeing or cultivation. Crops are now tall enough so that they won’t be crowded out by weeds. Any weeds growing in the rows will be left where they are.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

Having a summer garden is a lot of work. Every year as the days began to warm in early spring I can’t believe how busy we become. Most every weekend the weather cooperates we’re out from early morning till late evening trying to get everything ready for planting and then actually planting it. After the seeds spring forth there’s tomatoes to tie and stake, mulch to spread, and more. To say its a busy couple of months is an understatement.

Then suddenly one Saturday we realize there really isn’t much to do in the garden. The plants are all growing the mulch is holding down the weeds and things are beginning to produce. One of the two of us will look around slightly bewildered at the lack of work and say “Well I reckon it’s lay-by time.”

All the work of the garden is by no means totally over, but lay-by time gives the gardener a chance to breath before the putting up stars in earnest.


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

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Jenny De Armond
    July 16, 2021 at 10:02 am

    I hope it didn’t somehow escape me, but I’m looking forward to another video tour of your wonderful garden.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 14, 2021 at 12:46 pm

    On a sad note the farms and farmers of Almond, about which the article was written, have long since been permanently been “laid by”. In the rugged mountainous terrain of Swain County good farm land was scarce. The area the article covers is at the confluence of the Little Tennessee and the Nantahala River. Floods stretching back eons had deposited silt to form rich “river bottoms” along the rivers’ banks. This rich soil had built so much that only rarely did the rivers rise enough to do damage. Topsoil tens of feet deep. And flat. A veritable paradise compared to the steep rocky hillsides in the rest of the county.
    Then came the Flood of 1945. Not a natural disaster but one created by men. That’s the year Fontana Lake reached full pool. What once was the breadbasket of the county had become a water storage facility for the TVA and a playground for the rich.

    Almond High School where my mother graduated was torn down and never replaced. The Elementary school was rebuilt at Lauada where I attended. The Post Office and Railroad Depot were moved to higher ground.

    Laid by! Perhaps forever!

  • Reply
    July 14, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Like some have already said lay by time was a time for families to have reunions and I would think the country churches might have special services during this time. I live in SC too and I have heard my parents talk about having school during lay by time and also about closing school in the fall during harvest time and maybe in the spring during planting time. In SC this meant time for picking cotton when it was still picked by hand.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2021 at 10:14 am

    So many things to love about our way of life, but one of my all time favorite was always when the garden was laid by. It seemed there were two brief lulls in the hard work, and one was right after you got the last seed or plant in the ground. I was surprised how many of my friends and coworkers would say these exact words. “I had enough of that growing up.” Even though my Mom grew up in a farming family very few carried on the tradition of garden planting. I was always puzzled by their tendency to hold the extended family reunion right when everything, including half runners, was ready for harvesting. Many is the time I would leave for the reunion with huge bags of produce in the fridge to be canned when I could get time, and that was sometimes late at night. At least they always had a few pots of fresh green beans cooked for the occasion. Life in our family revolved around planting and harvesting time, and I actually did not attend a reunion once and put in for a vacation. My Dad had over planted and had an abundance of beans and tomatoes. I spent three days just picking beans and helping can. It was my Dad’s last Summer on this earth, and so glad I had that time with him.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    July 14, 2021 at 9:25 am

    I guess canning is “putting up the stars” and what showy and bright, shiny jars of colorful bounty you always have!!! They are a star in any pantry for sure!!!! My cucumbers require a daily watering and I’m getting 6 to 8 a day. They’re delicious and I’m eating many cucumber half sandwiches. My tomatoes are nice and plentiful, but not a one has come in ripe and every week I swear this is the week. Lol. My peppers are coming but after a big rain and wind that blew the stalks over, THEYRE looking ragged literally. I even propped them up and they look exhausted. I’m thinking about covering them with a collapsible table in the intense sun of the day. I have prayed over my garden every day practically and the Lord has watched over it. It’s a learning process for sure! God bless you all with health and the peace of God which surpasses any understanding of man.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2021 at 8:40 am

    My garden is so wet from the heavy rain that has lasted nearly a week. I am more stressed about not being able to get to the vegetables that are ready than laying by the garden.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 14, 2021 at 8:40 am

    I know it is a slip of the fingers but I love that last phrase “putting up stars”. I’ll have to ponder on that.

    I know what you mean about the laying by. There is not so much to do in my garden now except pick what is ready. As you say, there for a long while I had to keep after it every day or fall far behind. It’s a relief to get to where it will take care of itself more. There probably is an allegory for life in there somewhere. o

    On a totally different subject, Appalachian English; I expect you are familiar with the fad there was at one time that Appalachian folks spoke ‘pure Elizabethon English’. I had the thought yesterday that probably the major part of that was simply continuing to use the English of the 1611 King James version bible which would have been – I think – the most common one around in the mid and late 1700’s when the pioneering folks came over the Appalachian crest onto ‘the western waters’. Wonder if that connection is addressed in the Appalachian literature?

  • Reply
    Jane D. O'Dell
    July 14, 2021 at 8:07 am

    In SC, the were also some “Lay By” Schools so that not only children could be taught to read, but also adults who wanted to learn could come and learn during that lay by time. What a great time of rest, renewal and growth before the next work of harvesting and putting up started! Thanks for this!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    July 14, 2021 at 7:54 am

    When lay-by time came i remember we had our family reunions. First was my Mother’s family and then my Fathers.
    Everyone sat around relaxed , reminisced and ate lots of great homemade food. Wonderful memories.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 14, 2021 at 7:40 am

    It’s only a brief rest…then comes harvesting and canning, which is more labor, for sure! There is great reward at the end of the process with all that wonderful clean, chemical free food for the winter.
    I love the picture that shows up every now and then of all your home canned garden food. It’s beautiful with all the rich colors and it seems to me to promise hope!

  • Reply
    July 14, 2021 at 7:27 am

    I reckon I’ve heard laid by all my life. With so little energy left at the end of day I’ve laid my garden by too early.
    You got me to thinkin about stringing beans with Mom and Dad. Dad was the fastest stringer and breaker I ever seen,Mom was the slowest. Mom always kept a knife handy to cut out ever brown spot and bug bite and would quarrel at Dad for not being as careful as her. She picked up many of his broken beans and cut out the bad spots. When she got ready to cook a mess of beans they were really clean.

  • Leave a Reply