Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

A city fellow once said, “Sue, farmers su...

A city fellow once said, “Sue, farmers sure have it easy; they just plant and sit in a bar swapping stories ’til it’s time to harvest.” He’d seen a farmer in the air conditioned cab of a picker/sheller, “listening to country music as he drove.”

Not so! He was probably racing to get his corn picked before the storm and checking market prices so he could direct his haulers to the elevator with the best offer that day.

Today’s harvest is certainly not like the traditional image of a sweaty fellow in overalls and a straw hat, swinging a long, heavy knife while collecting a big load of corn in his free arm. He stacks it and then props it up into a teepee-shaped shock -- stalks, leaves, grain, tassels and all. In that position, the ears of corn have shucks for “raincoats” and will be picked and shucked, one ear at a time, on winter days. Alas, methods have changed!

Here’s how Dad produced corn for his cows when I was a child. He saved a basket full of the best ears from each year’s crop to get seed for the next. On a cold winter day he’d sit with that basket at his side and a container in his lap. He’d shell off the irregular end grains from each ear and save them for the chickens. Then he’d shell the best kernels into the container and toss the cobs in a gunny sack to use for kindling fires. He’d inspect the saved kernels and cast out anything that wasn’t seed quality. This was routine in days when the word “hybrid” related to mules but not to seed corn. Dad put the dry seed in an open weave cloth bag and hung it from rafters in a way that thwarted the attempts of rodents who might try to get it.

The next year’s crop also started with plowing in the fall. Dad hitched Jack and Kate to the walking plow, turned to its side and dragged it to the field. The leather driving lines were tied together and around his body.

First, he’d lay off a land. He drove the mules by voice and by an occasional slap or tug on the lines. Both hands were busily guiding the plow to cut straight furrows, the proper depth and width. The fresh soil tumbled over exposing old roots, fishing worms and an occasional black snake or bumble bee nest. Working back and forth across the field for hours at a time, for several days, he prepared 30 or 40 acres to lay fallow all winter. Freezing and thawing would mellow the ground.

In the spring, when the soil was ready, he’d ride the disk to break up the plowed ground. He’d harrow the fields to further pulverize the soil. Some men used rollers, heavy metal things, somewhat like a disk, that broke up clods when necessary.

In early summer, Dad poured his precious seed into the planter hoppers. He drove a metal post at each end of the row to stretch a tight guide wire. The wire had knots at regular intervals which triggered the planter to discharge three grains in a regular pattern, in hills 3 feet apart. Special plates in hopper bottoms dispensed the corn, which went through a spout and into the ground. At about that same moment, the wide, concave planter wheel pressed soft earth against the seeds.

Mr. City Fellow, Dad didn’t have time for country music. He often whistled a happy tune as he worked.


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