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August 27, 2011 by wcobserver

We were lucky to have a lower field of fine sandy loam, hardly a rock to be found. I’ve heard an old yarn about settlers who gave up ridding their Ozark fields of rocks and just pried them apart with an iron pole and used a rifle to fire seed corn down between them. In theory a person could work diligently at removing the rocks and end up with a really big hole.

The first year, we had someone come in with a turning plow and cut through the thick clumps of fescue. The disc broke it up some, but it still took hours of wrestling a tiller over the big chunks of dirt and knotted fescue roots before we could make any progress with a hoe. Then the best method was to just sit on the ground and work by hand to pull out the grass, roots and all.

I had seed from my grandmother with a sense of duty to keep her strains going. Small crumpled paper bags included her penciled description: crowder peas, cream peas, blackeyed peas, purple hull peas, Kentucky wonders, bush beans, pinto bean, white bean. Our best success was her field corn, which we planted four to a square and buried some little sun perch from our pond in each square. That corn grew ten feet tall with three big ears on each stalk. I saved the seed and replanted the next year on everything that made it.

We put in long rows of sweet corn without as much success, but still plenty of ears full of delicious tender kernels to harvest and freeze for the winter. The Kennebec potato starts came on strong, big dark green plants that finally passed their prime in the heat of mid-summer and gave way to the potato fork, which tumbled out smooth tan potatoes. We stored about two bushels in dirt covered, hay lined pits, an amazingly successful method that sheltered its meaty treasures deep into the winter.

There were cucumber vines for crisp pickles, sweet and syrupy or dill with heads of fresh dill and whole cloves of pungent garlic. Yellow squash tender and young cooked up best with just a bit of water, butter and salt, but the zucchini we liked better sauteed with fresh tomatoes and banana peppers.

I was fortunate in that my parents had grown up on the land, and so there had always been a garden in which I had been recruited to work whether I liked it or not. There were incidents of life-long lessons during those early years, like when an unbelievably large bag of corn seed was placed in my young hands as I was pointed to a depressingly vast acreage of unplanted rows. Somewhere early in the last half of the bag, it occurred to me that I could dig a shallow grave in the soft, freshly turned earth for a lot of those withered kernels and thereby significantly shorten my task. I didn’t think ahead to the day when they would all sprout in one spot, giving away my lazy secret and leading to an even more onerous task of transplanting baby corn plants. (To be continued)



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