THROUGH THE WOODS: Old time planting

An Acme rotary antique corn planter. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

IT’S SPRING! We may get a little more snow and stormy weather, but it is time to think about gardens and planting. Snow is called poor man’s fertilizer for contributing nitrogen to the soil, so it isn’t a bad thing. This is a good year to consider growing some vegetables as well as the flowers we enjoy in the yard.

Growing up on our family dairy farm in the early 1950s there was a plan for spring that was passed down from many generations. We had a variety of animals and each spring the hen house attached to the barn had to be cleaned out from the winter buildup of manure and straw. My father Donald Kern hand shoveled it into a wagon and used our team of horses to take it to the vegetable gardens. Some manure was wheelbarrowed to the flower beds before the new shoots emerged. It really provided beautiful peony blossoms each year.

Our Town of Austerlitz farm had heavy clay soil, which needed all the organic enhancement it could get. Chicken manure is potent stuff and can burn plants, so after it was on the gardens it was worked into the ground either by hand or by horse and plow. The vegetable garden fences had been taken down at the ends, so the horses had room to turn around and plow back and forth, then harrowed it smooth. The fences weren’t high but kept out most stray livestock when completed. Spring rain helped soak the soil and distribute the added nutrients until it was time to plant. April for peas and the rest after Memorial Day when the possibility of frost was gone. Stakes were installed at the garden ends with a string attached between them to serve as a guide for a garden row. A shallow trench was hoed beneath it, and the seed was placed in it and covered. We young children watched and learned and got to remove stones from the rocky soil.

My father used a nifty tool to plant sweet corn. It was a circa 1900s Acme Rotary Antique Corn Planter made by the Acmeline Mfg. Co., Traverse City, MI. You filled the hopper with about a quart of dried corn kernels, held the handle, and shoved the metal point into the ground. Then you pushed the handle forward which turned a plate at the bottom of the can and dispensed the corn down the tube into the hole. You used your foot to cover the hole with earth. Easier than hand digging, planting and covering but still labor-intensive.

If we didn’t get rain, we hand-carried water to the gardens. Children got to remove bugs and worms from the plants, weeded and helped to harvest. We never said we were bored, or you might get a pan of peas to shell. We rarely bought much from the grocery store and our produce tasted so fresh and good. Well worth the effort and something to consider.

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