Chapter 70 - Growing Vegetables

Yu Hai’s eyes lit up and was the first to understand, “Do you really know a way to grow vegetables at this time?”

Yu Xiaocao patted her chest and vouched for herself, “I can guarantee that there’s absolutely no problem! Father, Mother, you can rest assured!”

On the next day, Xiaocao spent twenty copper coins to buy two ox carts of straw from a villager who came from a village with more farmlands. She personally taught Yu Hai and Madam Liu how to weave a straw thatch. Although Little Divine Stone had promised that the vegetable seeds that were soaked in the mystic-stone water would definitely be able to overcome the severe cold of early spring, Yu Xiaocao was still worried. Straw thatches were widely used in greenhouse farming in her previous life to keep the vegetables warm. It was better to be prepared than to feel sorry later!

With the help of the skeptical Madam Liu, Xiaocao scattered the seeds that she had soaked last night in the plowed field. In the half an acre of land in the front yard, they planted vegetables with relatively shorter growth periods, such as bok choy, spinach, and mustard greens. They strived to earn their first bucket of gold by taking advantage of the fact that other people hadn’t planted their vegetables yet.

After sowing the seeds, Madam Liu took Xiaolian to loosen the land in the backyard. Madam Mao, who was tending the ducks by the pond, saw them and reminded them, “You’re turning up the soil so early? It’s not suitable to grow crops beside the pond. The water level will rise during the rainy season of late spring, so they will drown in the flood.”

Madam Mao had a sharp tongue, but she didn’t have bad intentions. Madam Liu smiled at her and said, “We’re preparing to grow some bok choy and mustard greens, and then harvest them before the water level rises.”

Madam Mao nodded and said, “Then you should enclose the field with a fence. We usually breed our ducks in the pond, so if they ate your vegetables, I’m not going to compensate you!”

As expected, Madam Mao spoke in an unlikeable manner. She was obviously reminding them out of kindness, but why did she have to say it in such an annoying manner?

Madam Liu smiled good-naturedly and said, “Thank you for reminding us, Madam Mao. I’ll set up the fence tomorrow.”

By evening, Xiaocao and her father had complied more than ten straw thatches after working for the entire afternoon. Yu Hai had woven mats before. A straw thatch was easier to weave than a summer sleeping mat since he didn’t need to be too meticulous. He learned very quickly and had even woven two more thatches than Xiaocao.

Xiaocao and Madam Liu spread the straw thatches over the vegetable fields, as if they were covering the field with a blanket. Little Shitou, who had also helped a lot, asked with slight concern, “Second Sister, can we keep the vegetables warm like this?”

Xiaocao caressed his little head and laughed, “Don’t you feel warmer when you cover yourself with a blanket in the winter? It’s the same logic. The ground absorbs the heat from the sun at noon, so when we cover it with the thatches, the heat won’t dissipate during the evening. Thus, the vegetables won’t be afraid of the cold now.”

The little fellow nodded in realization and exclaimed, “So we’re covering the vegetable fields with blankets! But, won’t the areas without the straw thatches be freezing?”

“It’s okay. The seeds were just scattered and haven’t sprouted yet, so it won’t be cold. We’ll make more straw thatches tomorrow, and then cover all the fields with blankets so that the veggie will swiftly sprout and grow up!”

Xiaocao vaguely remembered her younger brother of her previous life when she looked at the six year old Little Shitou. When her younger brother was the same age as Little Shitou, he wasn’t as obedient and clever. Her parents were still alive at that time, so as the only son in the family, he would act like a spoiled child in their mother’s arms…

It took them three days to cultivate all the lands in the front and back yards. When the water level increased, a lot of black mud would accumulate on the land beside the pond. After cultivating the soil, it would be a good fertile field. Unfortunately, there was a lot of rainfall every year at the end of June. The water in the pond would also rise, so they couldn’t grow crops that had a long growth period.

With four months to go before the rise of the water level, Xiaocao planted crops with around two or three months of growth period on the land beside the pond, which had about one acre of land. So, winter melon, string beans, eggplant, and kidney beans were planted beside the pond. In the backyard, she planted chives, cucumbers, garlic, and chili pepper. There were also sponge gourds and pumpkins on the edge of the fence.

The whole family worked overtime for exactly three days before they finished making all the straw thatches that they needed for the vegetable garden. Little Shitou had also woven several smaller thatches. Although the density and thickness weren’t as good, they were still useable.

During these past few days, the meals at home were just coarse grain pancakes and bean paste soup. For vegetable, they only had cabbage, radishes, and pickled vegetables. They had to carefully chew the coarse grain pancakes because the pancakes might scrape their throats when swallowing. The bean paste soup also had a strong bean smell. If they weren’t hungry, they seriously wouldn’t be able to eat them at all. Boiled vegetables that lacked oil and seasonings really gave Xiaocao a headache during mealtime.

With the current living conditions of Xiaocao’s family, even with such meals, they still needed to carefully ration their meals for fear of using too much food. If their current food supply wasn’t enough to support them until they could harvest the vegetables, their whole family might have to starve.

Apart from washing clothes every three days, Madam Liu also got sewing jobs from an embroidery shop. So, she burned the midnight oil every day to work on her needlework. Yu Hai asked Hunter Zhao, who lived at the foot of the West Mountains, to help him cut down some bamboo and bring them back for him. He made bamboo baskets and hampers, and then put them up for sale in the general store in town.

Xiaocao become idle after she finished planting the vegetables in early spring. Xiaolian had took on all the housework at home and didn’t let her interfere. Little Shitou followed the youngest son of the Qian Family from next door, going up mountains and exploring the river. However, he wasn’t just purely playing and would bring back some eggs at times. He would also tactfully bring back two bundles of firewood every day.

Qian Wu, who was the youngest son of the Qian Family’s Madam Mao, was eight years old. His personality was very different from his older brother, Qian Wen, who was interested in studying. He was very active and usually wouldn’t go home until mealtime every day. The shouts of his mother, Madam Mao, calling him to come home to eat could be frequently heard, “Little Wuzi, where are you horsing around again? Come home to eat…”

Madam Mao’s two sons were quite different in character. One was quiet, while the other was active. The older son, Qian Wen, was a bookworm who carried a book wherever he went. Sometimes he would be so focused on reading that he would walk into a tree without even knowing. Xiaocao had once seen him reading while walking, and then accidentally falling into a ditch. Fortunately, there wasn’t any water in the ditch at that time. Otherwise, that idiot would have been freezing.

On this day, Xiaocao carried a basket and took a shovel to see if there were any wild herbs to dig up nearby. Based on her knowledge, wild shepherd’s purse should be out during this time of the year. In her previous life, she really liked to dig shepherd’s purse and make soup or steamed stuffed buns, which tasted very delicious.

Along the path in front of the door and all the way to the West Mountains, Little Shitou cheerfully skipped behind her. He was very delighted inwardly: ‘Second Sister said she was going to make shepherd’s purse stuffed buns for me. Everything Second Sister made was of high quality and bound to be delicious. Although it wasn’t the season for digging wild herbs, it was good for Second Sister’s health to come out for a walk.’

Little Shitou had refused Qian Wu’s tempting invitation to go dig out bird’s eggs in the mountains and volunteered to serve as his second sister’s bodyguard. As long as they didn’t go deep into the West Mountains, it wouldn’t be dangerous. He was just afraid that his second sister, who rarely left home, wouldn’t be able to find the way home.

Qian Wen, who was staying at home during his break from school, leisurely walked out of his house with a book in hand. Little Shitou warmly greeted him, “Brother Xiaowen, are you going to read in the mountains again?”

The Qian Family raised over a hundred ducks and they were very noisy all the time. Whenever Qian Wen came back during a break, he liked to go up in the mountains with a book and pick a quiet place to read. They hadn’t expected to meet him when going out today.  

The eleven year old Qian Wen had a fair complexion and elegant features. He had refined manner and was a clean, handsome youth. Even though it was her second time seeing him, Xiaocao still felt that he was pleasing to the eyes.

Hearing his voice, Qian Wen raised his head and looked at Xiaocao and her younger brother. He greeted them with a smile, “Yes, I want to find a quiet place to read. What are you siblings doing?”

Little Shitou said, “Second Sister wanted to see if there’s any wild herbs. She wants to dig some up and make soup.”

Qian Wen glanced at Xiaocao, who he initially thought was Xiaolian. He had long heard that Uncle Dahai’s second daughter had a weak constitution and often ill. The doctor had said she wouldn’t live a long life ever since she was born. He had originally thought that she was a sick and listless little girl who wouldn’t even be able to get up from bed. However, seeing her today, she didn’t appear like a sick person at all. Although she was a little thin, she had rosy cheeks and walked energetically.

“You probably have to wait until March in order to gather wild herbs. At this time, the ice in the river hasn’t melted yet, so it’s not the time to pick wild herbs.” Qian Wen kindly reminded them.

Yu Xiaocao had a faint smile as she said, “It’s okay. I’m just looking for a chance to go out for a walk. You should get back to what you were doing. We don’t want to delay your reading.”

Qian Wen had heard from his gossipy mother about Uncle Dahai’s family splitting from the main family. If it hadn’t been for the help from his in-laws and the villagers, their house would probably still be rundown and filled with cracks! For them to come out to find wild vegetables at this time, there must be a lack of food at home.

Qian Wen touched the dry food that his mother gave him in case he got hungry while reading. It was a steamed bun that was made of wheat flour mixed with some millet flour. He began to speak, but ended up not saying anything.

After all, it was only his second time meeting the young girl. If he suddenly gave her a steamed bun for no reason, she would probably feel that he ‘gave her the food out of pity and contempt’. Forget it, he should just find opportunities to help her out in the future when they became more acquainted.  

The weather was still quite cold during February. Yu Xiaocao couldn’t help but shiver when a gust of northeast wind blew. Her jacket was already old and worn-out. The old cotton inside were taken from her older brother’s old clothing, and then stuffed into his younger siblings’ jackets. Hence, the cotton was so stiff that they were almost packed together. It not only felt stiff and uncomfortable when worn, but it wasn’t very warm either. Why didn’t she think of buying some new cotton to stuff into their jackets when she had money?

Xiaocao blew on her hands, which felt painful due to the cold, with her warm breath. She carefully searched for the familiar plant along the edge of the roadside ditch. Little Shitou was full of energy as he skipped and ran the whole way. He saw his older sister shrink her neck as if she was very cold, so he held her hand with his warm little hand and said with a grin, “Second Sister, I’m filled with heat, so let me warm your hands!”

Xiaocao was so moved that she took him into her embrace and kissed him on his tender face. The little fellow’s face immediately turned red. Ancient people usually expressed their love in a more subtle way, so even his own parents hadn’t kissed him before.

Little Shitou shyly shook off his second sister’s hand and ran away quickly. Xiaocao ran behind him, but still couldn’t catch up to him even when she was panting for breath. However, her body had finally warmed up now.

“Wait a moment! Youngest Brother, I found the shepherd’s purse!” On the dry riverbank, there were small grayish-brown plants growing on the ground. The jagged leaves were exactly the wild shepherd’s purse that she knew of.

Little Shitou turned around, went to take a look, and said, “Second Sister, shepherd’s purse doesn’t look like that. Its leaf is green and long. It also has a white flower in the center.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Myst's Thoughts

Translator: Myst