Columns » Bob Lancaster

Spring planting

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It’s that time of year again when I take questions from those of you who might not have my vast farm and garden experience. Get those hoes and weasels ready.

Q. I’ve been wanting to get me one of them rotary tillers with the Hemi engine. I hear they’ll really get up and go.

A. They will indeed. I tilled my entire 40-acre spread here the other day with one of them, and got done inside of 45 minutes. Thing was whipping me around like hung wash. The good old days had nothing like that. A mule couldn’t have done the job in twice the time even if he’d been on fire.

Q. My in-laws live up North and they just won’t admit that purple-hull peas are approximately ten thousand times better than black-eyed peas. They won’t even admit that there is such a thing as purple-hull peas. They think I’m talking about something like Chinaberries. How can I convince them?

A. You might as well not try to convince anybody north of the Mason and Dix of any sane proposition having to do with farm and garden matters. They consult their own body of georgic lore, and all I can figure is that it came originally out of an insane asylum — either the one at Oak Park, Illinois, or the one at Dearborne, Michigan. Northern people especially don’t have any sense on the subject of any kind of peas. A chick pea, a crowder pea and one of those giant New Zealand peas that look like the head of Khrushchev are one and the same to them. I went round and round about this one time with Hillary Clinton, a native Illinoisian, and she doesn’t have a pea clue to this day.

Q. I’m a big ice tea fan and I’ve got a question for you. I first thought I’d ask this Weak Tea lame-o over at the Democrat but he’s come to remind me a whole lot of a jackass I owned one time that didn’t have much going for him, either. What it is, I want to grow my own tea. I already grow my own corn to make my cornbread with, and muskydimes to make my wine with, and I figure that fresh, home-grown tea will just have to be a lot better. I’m talking regular pekoe, of course, not some of this effete herb tea foolishness.

A. You can’t grow tea around here, so just forget it. Oldtimers here used to make what they called tea by boiling sassafras roots, but they could’ve boiled rocks, toadfrogs, or pine cones in the same pot without knowing the difference. There are several wild plants in Arkansas from which our Native American ancestors are said to have brewed therapeutic tea, but most of these will flat out kill you and the rest will ream you out with such violence that you’ll wish you were dead. I had some turnip wine recently and that was bad enough.

Q. The romance of the “love apple” has captivated me to such an extent that I’m giving over my entire garden this year to tomatoes. Which variety should I plant? I want a tomato that’s firm-fleshed, tender-skinned, extra large, tasty and not too ruddy. My neighbor is touting something called the Asquith-Askew. You think I’d be happy with that?

A. No, forget tomatoes too. We used to grow some pretty good ones in Arkansas, but no more. You have about the same chance of finding one that’s distinguishable in taste and texture and aesthetic intangibles from a polystyrene plastic peanut as you do of being deloused extemporaneously out johnboating by an ivory-billed woodpecker. My last crop, what the bluejays didn’t get, the hail slashed to catsup, and the truth is, the sons-a-bitches would’ve tasted like a cellophane-wrapped puree of boiled okra and pickled beet anyhow.

Q. What I hear is that you can’t beat chicken fertilize in the garden. I understand they’ve got more of it than they know what to do with up in north Arkansas, and I’d like to take a load or two off their hands.

A. Most of our chicken doo is committed for use in Arkansas’s rivers and streams, where it serves a couple of important purposes.

One is to piss off Oklahoma, and the other is to fill our waterways with that nice algal scum that is hard to obtain otherwise. That stuff is unexcelled for killing off unwanted aquatic life, and if it’s also unexcelled at killing off wanted aquatic life, well, as someone once said, that’s six of one and a half dozen of the other.

Q. Is there any sort of raiment or accessorizing that makes a scarecrow more effective?

A. I had a scarecrow one time that bore a remarkable resemblance both in wardrobe and physiognomy to Noel Coward. The crows thought he was a hoot, but weren’t any more afraid of him than they were of my usual pieplate men, which they laughed at for a time and thereafter airily ignored. Crows are undaunted by any cropfield human lookalike, in my experience, but it’s told that a cruciform jankey will unnerve them, if you can find a licensed shaman who’ll raise you one and not charge you an arm and a leg.


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