It only takes a couple of warm days in February to rouse the sleeping farmer in ol' moi. Get all itchy to get the Farm-All out (it used to be Uncle Carney's mule) and get out there and turn me some earth, get some seed in the ground, wait for the annual miracle, and husband me some truck. I try to raise enough each year to keep the Mrs. canning and freezing and preserving right through to Christmas, instead of all the time wanting to run uptown and spend our hard-earned money on frills.
Arkansas is a great state for us agriculturally inclined types, and I have a wealth of experience at what the poet Virgil called the georgic art. I'd share more of it in this space except, well … at the root level, making a crop is a private, idiosyncratic matter that good manners and a modest nature won't let you do a lot of gabbing about. It's like sex and religion in that respect. That's why your really first-rate farmers are always taciturn around the pot-bellied stove, only saying "yep" or "nope," and never talking about their prospects in the field.
Our three main crops in Arkansas are cotton, soybeans and rice, of course, and each of them presents special challenges. Cotton especially has several strikes against it. It's hard on the digestion, it's not particularly nutritious, it isn't filling, and it's not at all tasty. But it has a lot of that all-important fiber, even more than brown bread, and that's the best safeguard there is against colon cancer, so don't exclude cotton from your diet altogether. If nothing else, go on down to the carnival and load up on the candy form of it. And just for the fun of it, ask the vendor if he knows where the pink of cotton candy comes from.
There are many ways to enjoy soybeans. Cook up a big pot and have them with onion and cornbread. Mash them up and fry them and refry them for a primo Mexican side. Their diversity is such that you can take them fresh-picked from the field and sprinkle them on ice cream or glom them into patties that taste exactly like hamburger when you grill them up for your loved ones. They're much better for you than hamburger, too, and the "good" cholesterol in those soybean sprinkles cancels out the "bad" cholesterol in the ice cream.
And rice - well, it's one of the handiest of the traditional Arkansas garden favorites: you can go out and gather a mess of it just about any time of year. Just a small cautionary note, you might want to limit your rice-gathering trips to the daytime because of the mosquitoes and the likelihood (no, it's more than a likelihood; make that an inevitability) that you'll be stepping on several good-sized water moccasins before you get back to the house.
I don't do corn because I just never learned how to keep the crows out of it. Brazen thieves didn't care how vigilant I was or how realistic my scarecrows. One time I made a scarecrow that looked just like Noel Coward, and the crows never gave it a second look. One of them unloaded on it passing over and poor Noel looked so distressed and humiliated that I took him down. It seemed to me a yahoo form of heckling that was just plain uncalled-for. Bastards even came at night, wearing little bandolero masks. Not worth the trouble. If it was tomatoes maybe, or purple-hull peas…
I do have to have put in an acre or two of those peas. Did you know purple-hull peas were conjured into being by a monk named Gregor Mendel, who if he hadn't been a monk probably would've been killing time some other way and would've missed the purple-hull opportunity? In his pea work Mendel also invented what is called genetic engineering, which is caused by something called a double helix getting into the bloodstream somehow. I'm not exactly sure how this works, but I know it's important and it made a vital difference in the fate of the pea. Without it, you wouldn't be able to tell any difference between the purple-hull and its uncle the black-eyed pea. They'd look and taste the same. I guess black-eyed peas taste all right; a whole lot like dirt, in my opinion, but admittedly a high grade of dirt. They're about as good as eating dirt gets. But their nephew peas the purple-hulls are just boocoos better. Just the pot liquor of purple hulls, with some good cornbread soaking in it, is enough to make you take the whole pot of black-eyes and throw them out to the chickens or the hogs … or to those thieving crows.
Another crop I always plant several rows of is grapes. Most of my neighbors grow the popular Wee Dicker grape, which produces a wine that's excellent for washing down turnips and killing the athlete's-foot fungus, but the grape I like is the one Pap and them called the Musky Dime.
Frozen Musky Dime grapes are good for munching and brewing and they make just the perfect ammunition for the slingshot squirrel hunter in the family. Just one will take out a squirrel with the same power as a No. 6 shotgun. And if it's your intention only to stun the squirrels - for the purpose of taking them home, taming them, and keeping them as pets - then a frozen Musky Dime semi-thawed is your ideal ammo. A body shot from one of them will knock the wind out of the squirrel, paralyzing him until you can get him into a training leash, or, if you hit him in the head, it'll have the same effect as a two-by-four or tranquilizer dart. Squirrels are mighty hyper, and hard to make groggy, but these babies, sort of like the beanbags fired by riot police, will do the trick.
Out of room again, so the other cropfield favorites will have to wait till next time.