The love affair goes way
I’ve always loved digging in the dirt. Maybe it’s the
agrarian roots on my mother’s side. Her daddy and his daddy and his daddy
walked a thousand miles behind mules. Little wonder I had to have a mule or two
or three in my barnyard.
If ink hadn’t been injected into my veins, I might have
been a farmer, too. And I came close one time. When Pam and I married in
college, her father made a pitch, “How about y’all move to the farm, and we’ll
open a dairy?” For about 60 seconds, I tossed around the idea. Since cows must be
milked twice a day for 365 days a year, I said, “Thanks, but I’m thinking of
But I wasn’t going to be happy until I bought my first tractor and started plowing some soil. The tired Ford 600 sits under a shelter. The mid-1950s machine is dwarfed by the diesel Kubota sitting next to it. One day, I may trade the orange tractor, but the gray and red one will stay put, for sentimental reasons.
Back in the 1990s, I wanted to grow a small patch of
cotton. Georgia Ag Commissioner Tommy Irvin had to sign off. I got an education
on boll-weevil prevention. Another time, I tried my hand at peanuts. Pam grew
up on a peanut farm, so she was my adviser. Then we discovered raised beds for
vegetables, and that led to a small fruit orchard, including blueberries, thornless
blackberries, raspberries, grapes and kiwi.
All that was fun, but it took more time than my day job
would allow. When I was making annual 50,000-mile jaunts over four states, we
settled for a simpler crop—sunflowers. That’s when I learned there were dozens
of varieties. And, yep, we planted every kind that I could find. One year, it
was about 50.
Along the way, I discovered that we weren’t the only ones
who loved sunflowers. I think deer hide in the woods and watch. When I break
out the sunflower seeds, they start salivating.
This season, we’ve planted sunflowers three times. The
third crop was our best-ever, and I have decided why. We didn’t plant in rows. Instead,
we broadcast the seeds. My friend and helper, Adam, asked, “How many are we
going to plant in this plot?” I said, “Every seed in that bag.” And then—with
the rotary tiller on the tractor—we lightly worked in the seeds, with the
19-19-19 fertilizer, and prayed for a gentle, soaking rain.
After we experimented with a “thick-as-the-hair-on-a-dog’s-back”
trial, the sunflowers sprouted and choked out competing weeds. When the plants
were knee-high, I mowed around the edges—sacrificing a few sunflowers—to whack
down the cussed Amaranthus or pigweed that had benefited from the sunlight.
Last week, I noticed a truck by the side of the road. A
couple was taking pictures of our sunflowers. I stopped and introduced myself
to Mike and Karen Duhlstine of Florida. The retirees were effusive in their
praise, so I climbed the fence and clipped them a bouquet.
As the three of us chatted, a lady slowed her SUV to
yell, “They’re beautiful!”
Sunflowers put smiles on faces. That’s why we grow them.
And besides, Mark Twain once said, “I could live two
months on a good compliment.”
I can, too.
How about you?