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Changing weather means more work for gardeners

The Harrodsburg Herald of Harrodsburg, Kentucky

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Good Gardening & Muck More

When the seasons change today about the only concern we have is to switch the heating/cooling system with a flip of the wrist. For gardeners, it's quite a bit of work to go from fall to winter. And then there are the leaves. But that's about the most work that concerns most of us today.

But for our ancestors it was another story. When I was a child, lo these 70 years ago, the change to winter was a shock. My father's farm was mostly Cumberland River bottomland and farmers knew the real danger of flooding before the dams were built on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Our farm was about one fourth mile from the Cumberland River. In fact, the river flooded lowlands about one of every seven years.

I can remember when the flooded fields would cover the little road from our house to the main road. In fact, at times the only way we could get to the main road from our house was in a rowboat.

The harvesting time for a corn farmer with fields near the river was of short duration. The farmer had to wait until the corn was ready to pick but then he ran the risk of losing all of his crop to flooding.

Farmers along the river also had to contend with backwater, which was the water left in a low spot after the flood was over. I remember when my father lost eighteen fine Duroc pigs because they drowned in the backwater, which had frozen and the pigs broke through the ice and drowned.

Small farmers really had a rough time in winter. Ma milked her old red cow in the lot beside the stable. I remember how cold it was for her to milk out in the open lot. Today's farmers have a milking barn, which is warm and comfortable. There doesn't seem to be a lot of difference in the small farmer who raises a few chickens. Our chicken house had to be small enough that the chickens could huddle on the roost poles to keep from freezing.

Until the REA program brought electricity to homes in our area, heating country homes was primitive with open fireplaces or space heaters. I am old enough to remember waking up to a room so cold that you could see the vapor from your breath and I also remember the ice on the water bucket. That was only in my very early childhood.

Now, there were some good things about the season change from fall to winter. The biggest advantage as I understood from listening to Ma and Pa was that the venomous snakes hibernated and we could walk freely in the woods to cut our Christmas trees or walk along the edge of the road on the way to a neighbor's from Ma and Pa's.

For me the great advantage was that I no longer feared to reach up over my head to the hens' nests to gather eggs. I can't think of anything as horrifying as putting your hands in a nest overhead and feeling that cold soft skin that you immediately recognized. There just isn't any way to describe that experience. There is one other and that is the experience of stepping out onto the one step to the yard. There is the one fleeting second when you haven't actually stepped and you see the copperhead lying on that step. My father swore he took a couple of steps in the air.

Another advantage to the really cold weather was that there were few, if any, dogs with rabies as opposed to summer when there would be several each summer during the hottest months. I remember the dreaded call over the local telephone line when you would hear only the words, "Mad dog coming". If you were the spotter, you had to call all the neighbors anywhere near to warn them.

That call regarding the mad dog would mean the folks in each home would call the dogs into the house and rush to the stable to fasten up the cow, mules and horses. The man of the house always grabbed his ever-present shotgun as he ran to protect his animals.

I still, after all these years, get cold chills just remembering the danger of mad dogs. When your mama said, "Get in the house!" you didn't argue. Daddy's house and barn were off the main road so we didn't have the dogs passing our house but any rabid dog went by Ma's.

Hydrophobia has almost been wiped out but you have to have lived back then to realize how horrible the disease was.

One blessing that I remember from cold winters at both my parents' and my grandparents' homes was the time to devote to their special pleasures. I can just see my dear grandmother sitting beside the Aladdin lamp piecing on her beautiful quilts and Pa reading his Western and detective books. At our house, Mama and Daddy were both avid readers and that was their winter joy.

All in all, I look back to a different time of long ago with special memories of all the seasons, some good memories and some not so good.

Please feel free to call me with questions about gardening. Call at 270522-3632.



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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015



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