"It's the first of May and there's snow on the ground." Old Joe had talked to himself all of his life. Now with his wife gone he was living alone in a house accustomed to keeping two or three and—on rare, brief occasions—four generations of Jenkins at the same time, so he talked to himself a lot.
He really should have taken in boarders but he didn't want strangers going through things. Besides, he only thought of it when he went to town which was mostly on Sundays and there was no call for talkin' business on Sunday. Come Monday there was always something that needed doing around the place, so he just never got around to finding boarders.
"And it ain't a late snow that fell in the night and will be gone by noon. It's still here from February. I oughta be plantin' the corn shortly. If I don't get it in the ground in the next two or three weeks it won't make, and if I don't get the tomato sets in the ground pretty soon, I might as well put them in pots and leave 'em." It was a repeat of a conversation he had with his wife the first spring after the Ring of Fire.
That first spring he ended up starting his corn in the greenhouse on the southern backside of the barn where the livestock and the sun helped keep it warm. "Mabel, I'm goin' to put some tomato plants and squash plants and some of everything else I started from seed back in January in five gallon buckets or whatever, to leave 'em as potted plants. It looks like it's the only way to guarantee something to can this year."
The big problem was the size of the greenhouse. It had been cobbled together out of castoff windows to get a jump on the garden, because a man like Old Joe wasn't about to buy sets in town. You couldn't fit a whole garden's worth of pails inside that greenhouse. He would set plants out when he could. But he knew if you wait too long, sets wouldn't transplant well. The corn plants were set out in June just as early as he was sure the freeze was over and the ground was warm enough. Some nights he still had to cover them because he was worried about frost.
"If it weren't for the wheat, I could just up and starve with this here 'Little Ice Age.'" He had heard that mentioned after church one Sunday and tried to look it up in the encyclopedia. He couldn't find it under 'little' or 'ice age.' As for starving, he could eat out of his cellar for well over a year. The habits of growing what you ate, minding your own business and getting by with what was on hand ran deep.
The Ring of Fire cut off his driveway. One of the highest limestone faces in the circle fell away not twenty feet out his front door. Almost all of his woods and nearly three of the six-, four- or five-acre patches his grandfather used to keep in row crops went missing too. The five-acre plot that he had kept in field corn or soy beans for years was now three and a half acres of wheat and rye and oats sown in a mix. It was mostly animal feed for the milk cows and chickens. He ground some of it by hand to make bread. The only corn he planted any more was for canning. What he planted for seed he grew in the green house for fear of losing it to a freeze. The other three pockets of semi-flat land were in pasture, hay and straw. They were too poor, too steep, or too rocky to be worth row cropping.