It feels like a whole new world on the farm when spring comes around.
When we visited the Back 40 in March, I promised that—after ordering the seed and fertilizer—we would get to the field this time. We had to be patient because, as Dad said in last month’s installment, he’d started in the fields as early as March only twice in his farming career.
When I was preparing to begin this blog entry, Mom asked if I was going to write about how we seemed to be among the first folks in the fields each year and how we sometimes nearly froze during those earliest days of ground preparation. (One of our neighbors even said he knew when spring had arrived because that was when the Frankenhoffs would be in the fields.)
I remember at least one or two springs during my high-school days when I was still wearing a heavy coat while hauling manure from one of the sheds to fertilize a field. Since the weather was still cold, I didn’t think about the sun shining brightly on what little exposed skin I had. The result: I sunburned my wrists and the backs of my hands, much to my classmates’ amusement.
Before we could get to the field, we had to prepare the equipment we’d be using. Dad said he’d usually start with the plow—putting air in the tires and greasing the bearings. Then, he’d put a new share on each bottom, which helped to turn over the soil in the furrow better.
At roughly the same time, we’d get our disc ready in much the same manner. The disc was used to break up cornstalks, so they would go into the ground and break down the large clumps of dirt the plow had already generated. That meant we needed to check the blades to find any broken ones and the scrapers for anything that might be bent that could bind when working the ground.
Our cultimulcher (or roller harrow) was another groundbreaking tool; it turned those smaller clumps of dirt into even smaller clumps and smoothed the ground for planting. Like the plow, it needed air in its tires and grease on its bearings as well as adjustment (or replacement) of its scrapers.
As we prepared the ground and as planting days neared, we would also ready the grain drill and corn planter. We followed the lubrication and tire inflation by an inspection to be sure that no mouse nests had been built during the winter. Then, when the conditions and ground were just right, Dad would set the flow rate on each device for the seed being planted at that time. I was always amazed at the expert job he did in estimating exactly how much seed he would need to do the job. There was rarely a year when we’d have an entire bag left over, and I only remember once or twice having to purchase additional seed. (That could happen when Dad saw that a field he hadn’t intended to plant needed to be turned into a cornfield.) Our usual crop rotation was two years in corn, then a year in oats or barley, then several years in alfalfa until that alfalfa turned too grassy and had to be returned to corn again.
Of course, the tillage equipment wasn’t the only machinery to get springtime attention. Each tractor had its oil changed with a heavier weight oil added for summer use. When we performed our regular lubrication and other periodic service, we also made sure our diesel fuel and gasoline barrels were filled, since each tractor used plenty of fuel every day that we were in the field, and we didn’t want to be stalled by not having fuel on hand.
If we’d had a dry spring, we might have to make another pass over the cornfield after it was planted to loosen the soil to help the plants emerge. But all those mighty long days in the field were worth it, when the first green shoots came forth and we could see the rows of green stretching out. (I wore glasses for school beginning in the spring of fifth grade, and I’d learned by the spring of eighth grade that I had to wear them full-time, since I couldn’t otherwise see the emerging corn plants from the seat of the tractor and was in danger of running them over and crushing them.)
What thoughts sprout in your mind, when spring comes around?