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Out On The Mudline

Corn Was Important On Early Farm

By W. P. Sissell


When my dad (Mr. Reuel) traded with any hand one of the questions he asked the man was, “How many acres of corn do you want?” This would be followed by “How many hogs do you kill and do you have a cow or cows?”  Although many of them did not have cows some did and they would be pastured with our dairy herd.

Actually Dad was asking the man if he had bread, meat and drink for his family.  Almost always, if they did not have it when the came, they did when they left.  One, dear old fellow that he was, always had the key to the smokehouse in his pocket and only he used that key.

As I go and come from Batesville I am reminded, each time that I pass my neighbors cornfield, of my father.  We lived and farmed on the Mudline when the growing of corn was almost totally different.  My neighbor, Dick Monteith, a former student, would gasp or gag or something else at the thought of having a plant population like we wound up with in those early days.  We planted on 38 inch rows, dropping a seed every 18 inches, then thinned to 36 inches.  Until the hybrids and other corns especially for our country were introduced, we did little fertilization on corn.  With the introduction of hybrids and some even before, higher fertilization began.  Today corn fertilization equals cotton fertilization.  I think it works well in a soybean rotation.

Mr. Monteith’s and most other farmer’s fertilization program would amaze most people. My Dad would love it.  Listen to Dick’s planting schedule,  26,000 seeds per acre with the expectation of getting a stalk population of 26,270 plants.  That’s 26,270 ears.

Storing the Crop

On our farm the corn storage was three large cribs.  One, the largest of the three, was in the barn proper.  In necessity cases there were two horse stables that could be used. Corn stored in these was usually used for the work stock, and some for hogs in the pen near the barn.  Two of the large cribs were at the north end of the machine shed.  Near the doors of these cribs was the location for a hammer mill which meant many rainy days were not times of relaxation.  Those days were often taken up by several of us “hands” operating that hammer mill to grind a pickup load of bags of corn for mixing with oil meal, oyster shell flour and salt – in the feed mixing room—also the storage place for sacks of oil meal and barrels of the other ingredients mentioned (I’ve been looking for some tow sacks—burlap bags –can’t find them so my wife is going to let me use old towels to make a fly rub for my calves).  

I know these two cribs alone would hold a 30-foot trailer load of ear corn.  One year we had a short corn crop and had to buy a load to finish the hog crop out.  At the other end of that machine shed, next to the farm shop, there was a stall that was sometimes pressed into service as a crib.  Most of the time it was the place where my brother, Reuel, Jr., worked on his cars—first the Model T then a Star (the one I learned to drive on) that Granddad gave him, and later an Oldsmobile Coupe.  He and Russell Wright used to tear a motor down on Saturday, just to have something to do Sunday afternoon.

 All this corn I’ve been talking about wasn’t picked with a machine.  In later years we had a corn combine which, in high yielding corn could gather a thousand bushels a day (that’s shelled). In those early days all ours was gathered after fully maturing. Ever hear of a “bang-board?” If you turn at Terza Road north off Highway 6 you can see Mr. Monteith’s modern facility for handling shelled corn—drying and storage—just past the Highway 35 intersection.

Dad Loved To Hear Corn Grow

My Dad loved to show his crops to visitors— Sunday afternoon was for riding the “turn-rows.”  I started writing this today with one of those Sunday afternoon walks on my mind.  As I came from Batesville a little while ago I saw Dick’s cornfield.  It has grown this week—as you pass it today the entire field blends into a solid green blanket only about four  inches high.

Soon it will  be like that field on the north bank of Otuckalofa.  God has drawn little green lines on every row.

When father said, “Come on son let’s go see how the corn crop is doing,”  I went with him, eagerly.  As we walked through the corn—even higher than his better than six feet—he suddenly stopped and grasped a developed ear—as he asked, “Listen son, can you hear it growing?”  

I stopped and listened intently.  When I turned toward where he had been a few minutes ago, he was gone and I was scared but I soon found him again—that corn was much taller than me.  Today, as I write, I can remember him in another stance as he shouldered that bushel cotton basket of corn to feed his hogs.  He fed and cared for me too.

Our wish for all of you out there is a wonderful week.  

As I answered the phone yesterday afternoon, long time friend Bob Samuels said “Would you believe that I just finished reading your column.”  My long time friend is having troubles and I want to personally ask your prayers for him in these days of trial.  We talked for a few minutes and signed off.  Bob and I were on Camp Ground School’s great eighth grade baseball team many, many years ago.

I do think that we’re having April showers in May but you can still reach me most of the time at 23541 Highway 6, Batesville, MS 38606 or 662-563-9879.

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