A welcome freeze ends the latest growing season and spurs the memories of those gone by
Mychal Wilmes reflects on the end of the latest growing season, other difficult harvest years and the difficulties of poultry in the late fall.
A strong wind, showers and a hard freeze brought an end to the growing season, which was welcomed by soybean growers who waited for stalks to die.
A big bucket of green tomatoes and small peppers made it seem that the killing frost came much too soon. Unripe tomatoes are lined up in single-file rows in the garage in hopes that they will ripen. Tradition holds that if wrapped in newspaper the tomatoes will turn red.
The weather has been about perfect for the corn and soybean harvest in these parts. Last year when October neared its end, 8 inches of snow fell with lots of crop still in the field.
Old-timers recall those times when two tractors pulled silage choppers and boxes through the mire, and a neighbor tore his combine’s underpinnings apart taking it from the mud. A farmer, who shared a sloppy joe meal with me, smiled as he talks about how the next generation hears him talks about a combine without a cab and how slow it was to harvest corn with a two-row picker.
We chopped corn once in the first week of December, which made for poor-quality silage and low milk production. The Massey Ferguson combined its last bean field later the same year beneath a sky filled with stars and temperatures that dropped below zero.
I was more observer than participant, given that there was much else to do. Mother left the new flock of laying hens roam about the farmstead until what seemed the coldest night in October. The birds roosted in trees, in machine shed rafters and less easily found places.
Why did we wait so long to corral the hens?
The old birds were still laying a little, and replacing the old sawdust with new had been delayed by other demands. Waterers and feeders needed cleaning before the new flock arrived. Old hen meat, along with homemade egg noodles, celery and carrots, made ideal winter soups and hot dishes, popular at church events.
Mink, fox and fishers (blood-sucking killers capable of slipping through the tiniest hole) took a few, but not many. Dogs, too, could cause trouble and were treated harshly when they did.
Mother attempted cures with little success. The cure for a farm dog that killed chickens involved tying a dead bird around the offender’s neck. An egg-eating dog was given hot-pepper seasoned eggs in hopes it would lose its appetite for the treat.
My uncle — who regularly came to get eggs from Mother — teased us by saying he would eat and entire raw egg if we dared him, which we were eager to do. He used a jackknife to puncture the shell, and we cringed while he sucked the yolk and all into his mouth.
Although she conceded he was a colorful character, others said he only did the egg trick when he had one too many at the liquor store. In any case, she said that her brother had only started to drink after falling from a barn roof. The pain was such, she said, that he needed self-medication.
Two other uncles were also customers. The bachelor brothers lived next door and were well known for their tightness with money and determined to rid their fields of all weeds. However, they looked out for their sister by helping construct a state-of-the-art chicken coop for her.
I hid behind Mother’s apron strings when they visited because they talked rough with Dad about his own farming practices. After fishing coins from their pockets, they often motioned for me to come. To lure me, they held out two pennies for my piggybank. They assured me that if I saved the coins that someday I might be rich.
Being rich involves much more than money. Memories are as precious as diamonds as the years pass.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.