Dirt is Our Friend

Letters from our readers about growing watermelon, stories from the farm, maypops, watermelon, harvesting honey and more.

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Adobe Stock/Angela Hänicke

I was inspired to write after reading “Dirty Beginnings” (Our View) in the May/June 2019 issue. Like editor Rebecca Martin, I grew up on a farm. I played on a plywood floor as a baby. When I was 6 months old, Dad decided I needed a dog. So, my first playmate became a licking, germy, dirt-covered Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

My dad was from Germany and had a different attitude toward dirt and germs. My mom didn’t worry about germs either; she was more concerned with what type of snake wriggled in my pants pocket. Our farm was on the Wisconsin River and many summers were spent on it. Despite Mom telling me not to drink river water, I did anyway. The farm grew all kinds of weeds and grasses: pigweed, plantain, sumac, white pine, clover, dandelions, and so on. I grazed like the critters (and still do). The land is a living buffet.

Our property ran a gamut of animals, including bats, cats, cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits, sheep, and rodents. Later, as an adult, I had horses as well. I often joke that I’ve been splashed in the face with every species of manure. I’ve walked in it, worn it, and inhaled it, along with grain dust, hay, grass, and various weed pollens.

I’m now 69 years old. My health is excellent; I’ve never had an allergy and haven’t seen a doctor for more than 30 years.

My last visit was because I passed a dead parasitic worm. I fished it out, put it in a bottle with alcohol, and took it along to the doctor. I told the medical assistant that I needed worm medicine for a parasitic worm. When she asked how I knew, I sighed and said, “I’m a farmer. How do you think I know?” She checked my belly and said she’d get the doctor. When they returned, the doctor said, “This is a great learning experience you normally don’t get in America. Go round up the rest of the team!” The entire staff ended up in the room, hunkered over a book of parasites, until the doctor confirmed it was a horse worm. I must’ve gotten it from contaminated soil, somehow brushing the larvae or eggs from my hand to my mouth.

I left the doctor’s office with a prescription and directions because I’d probably need to treat my husband for it too. The local pharmacy didn’t have the medication, and directed me to the hometown pharmacy — Wilz Drugs, a father-and-son business that’d been in town since I was born. The father waited on me and filled the prescription. “How is it that you have this drug on hand?” I asked. He said, “I keep it around. Don’t get much call for it, but once in a while a farmer comes in needing it.”

Once home, I dosed both my husband and myself. I sniffed the liquid and realized it had a familiar scent. I went and grabbed our box of dog wormer. Sure as get-out, it was the same caramel smell because it was the same drug. I told my husband that the next time I wormed the dogs, I might as well do us too.

Growing up on a farm filled my body with bacteria that’ve helped me, unlike car fumes, disinfectant chemicals, processed foods, plastic, and pollution. Farm livin’ is the life for me.

M. Warner
Portage, Wisconsin

Success Takes Grit

One of my first business experiences was selling Grit around 1936, when it was a large family newspaper. I think it came out monthly back then. I must’ve been about 9 years old.

I’d receive my supply by mail, and I’d bicycle three blocks from my home to Emory Village (near Emory University) to sell them to stores and passersby at 10 cents each. The barbershop was my dependable regular.

I’ve since pursued a work ethic to my current age of 91, now celebrating 30 years as president of a nonprofit civic service, the Buckhead Coalition, in the northern quadrant of Atlanta. Not so incidentally, I also served as mayor of Atlanta from 1970 to 1974.

I enjoy my present subscription, and thought your most loyal readers — and even your publisher — might be proud of this historical anecdote.

Sam Massell
Atlanta, Georgia

Closeup of growing small green striped watermelon in farmer's hand

Watermelon Wisdom

My family has subscribed to Grit magazine for several years. I thought this advice might help other readers who garden. It took me five years to figure out the best way to raise watermelon: Dig a hole, put a handful of sand in the bottom, add a handful of cow manure, and then four or five seeds, and cover it all with a hill of mounded soil.

This works so well for me that I now plant my entire garden this way. For tomato plants, I dig a hole, drop in handfuls of sand and cow manure, and then set in the plant and cover up the roots. I set ‘Big Boy’ tomatoes 3 feet apart.

Gene Pontious
Girard, Kansas

Electrifying Tip

We have an electric fence for our horses. Unfortunately, it runs through the woods where a big pine tree, a couple of fallen apple trees, and some on-the-fence posts pose a shorting-out problem.

Our solution is to run the fence wire through a vinyl hose (the type used for siphoning wine) or, lacking that, a small, sturdy, plastic bottle or even a plastic container, cut to fit the tree trunk. The vinyl hose also works well when using metal fence posts to which you can’t affix plastic insulation. These plastic fixtures may look weird, but they work.

Randy and Mary Ellen Minnier
Dushore, Pennsylvania

A Glance Through Time

I’ve enclosed a photo of the G.W. Lewis Mill in Sylvatus, Virginia (above). I’ve been told that it was taken sometime before 1921. The mill was purchased by Mr. Lewis from my uncle, Ellis Worvell, and is still standing today.

Notice the words “Read Grit” below the left window.

Raymond Worrell
Ennice, North Carolina

Beekeeper extracting fresh honey from a honeycomb with a knife t

Harvesting Honey

Thanks to Carol Herbert for her article, “Build a Honey Extractor” (March/April 2019). My dad kept bees back in the 1930s. We had about 20 hives in our backyard. Our honey extractor was a 50-gallon barrel with a spout at the bottom. It could hold two frames. Dad had a long, wide knife with a tube soldered onto it to run steam through. He’d slice off the caps, and then put the frames in the extractor. I ran the extractor. You had to start slow, and then increase the speed; too much too quickly would break the combs. We sold 3 pounds of honey for 50 cents, and little square comb honey for 15 cents. Nowadays, many folks have never eaten honeycomb. We had to spit out the beeswax. Dad melted it down and sent it out to be made into sheets of foundation.

These days sure are a far cry from my life in 1936! Grit has gotten real shiny these days.

Jane Rigsbee
Springfield, Illinois

Maypop Memories

I read “Spring Showers Bring Maypop Flowers” (March/April 2019) and agree with author Andrew Moore; the flowers are the most exquisite that exist. I think they’re a true testament to the fairies’ floral design creativity!

Maypops were known by my grandmother, who was from the rural northwest corner of Georgia, as country kids’ soda pop. When she worked in the cornfield, it was the only liquid available — on the vine and conveniently climbing up the stalks. When I was just 3 years old, she taught me to enjoy the wild growing fruits. I love the tart-sour tropical flavor, and I also find passionflowers and the leaves important in sleepy-time tea blends.

Susan Lobo
Spring Hill, Tennessee