Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Peanut Boil

Many of you have no doubt heard of, or even partaken of, the South's favorite snack...the boiled peanut.  If you got yours at a service station or out of a can, let me offer my apologies.  Don't judge all boiled peanuts by your bad experience.  Boiled peanuts are extremely easy to prepare properly, but so many mess it up.  If you'd like some fresh off the farm, with a little fun and fellowship thrown in, then maybe you should come to our peanut boil.  You can't come this year though, because we had it today.

Every year for as long as I can remember, we have had "The Peanut Boil."  That's what everyone calls it.  Its roots go way back, somewhere before I was born.  When I was a kid one of my cousins hosted it, but for the last 15 years or so it has been at my parent's house.  To the uninitiated, I am going to try to sum up what a peanut boil is by explaining how we go about hosting ours.

Our peanut boil is a community/church event.  My mom invites everyone she can think of and tells them to bring someone with them.  We have bluegrass gospel singing, kiddie train rides, inflatable slides, volleyball and cornhole tournaments, grilled hot dogs, and all the boiled peanuts you can eat.  In other words, it's just good, clean fun.  Guests begin arriving after lunch and stay as late as they want.  It's a time of swapping stories, telling tales, and playing tag with your friends.

Our day as hosts begins early.  Over the years as the number of attendees has grown, we've evolved from picking the peanuts off by hand to using our farm equipment.  First we dig the peanuts up with an inverter.

No, peanuts do not grow on trees.

Next, we run them through a combine, which separates the peanut from the vine.

Then we put the peanuts on a trailer, and wash them several times.  If there are rocks or stems still attached, we remove as many of them as possible.

After that we begin boiling the peanuts in a large kettle, using an outdoor gas burner.  We cook two 60 gallon cookings of peanuts.  Each cooking takes two hours.  By the time the first cooking is ready, a few guests have begun arriving, and the peanut consumption begins!  Around 6PM, the crowd really begins to grow.  The picking and grinning begins, and usually lasts late into the night.

The crowd has arrived!

To sum it all up, a peanut boil is just another excuse to have an old fashioned get-together.  It's a throwback to a simpler time, before cell phones and social media, when people had similar events on a regular basis.  Its purpose is just as great now as then, however.  It serves to bring a community closer together, to let kids be kids, to allow harried adults a little time to slow down and catch up with their friends.  I hope you get to attend a peanut boil, or a barn-raising, or a shivaree, or whatever they call it in your neck of the woods.  These events are a part of our heritage that we need to keep alive.

Have you attended one of our peanut boils?  What kind of similar events do you have in your area?  I'd love to have your comments!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Labor Shortage

All of the recent talk of curbing illegal immigration and deportation of illegal immigrants has led to a labor shortage on many produce farms.  Even legal immigrant workers are reluctant to take jobs in certain states for fear of harassment by local law enforcement.  Last year, many produce farmers lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of produce that rotted in the field, simply because they couldn't get enough laborers to gather their crops.  This year, some farmers have scaled back on their acreage due to fears of another labor shortage.  Whatever your thoughts on immigration and guest worker programs, the fact is that Hispanics are willing workers in fields that many other members of our society are unwilling to labor in.  A man that is willing to work should be allowed to find a legal means to take a job.

As pressing as this problem is, there is a much more significant issue - a shortage of help in the harvest for souls.  But, you say, there's a church on every corner!  There are preachers all over the radio and TV!  True, but look at all the souls that you encounter every day that do not attend church, or listen to radio and TV preachers. We have the infrastructure in place, but we need more workers.  How many people will die without God today because they have not had an encounter with the true gospel of Jesus Christ?  Just like the rotten produce, there are countless souls being lost due to a lack of manpower.

As Jesus said in Matthew 9:37-38, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest."  The key word here is laborers.  We don't need people that only sit in the shade and wait on payday, we already have plenty of those.  No, what we need are laborers, individuals that are willing to work in the harvest.  Real workers, who will toil and sweat and get dirty and exert all the ability that they possess for however long it takes, are a rare commodity indeed.

In John 4:35-36, Jesus says, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.  And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal."  Let us lift up our eyes from our own selfish enterprises, and look out at the fields.  Do you realize that there are over 7,000,000,000 people in the world?  Of these, less than 1/3 are self-proclaimed Christians.  Somewhere around 5 billion souls are out there that do not proclaim the name of Christ!  Bring it on down to your country, your city, your community.  I'm sure you will agree that truly, the fields are white unto harvest.

I'd like to leave you with the lyrics to the old song by Lanny Wolfe, My House is Full, But My Field Is Empty.

There is peace and contentment in the Father's house today,
Lots of food on His table, and no one is turned away.
There is singing and laughter as the hours pass by,
But a hush calms the singing as the Father sadly cries,

"My house is full, but my field is empty,
Who will go and work for me today?
It seems my children all want to stay around my table,
But no one wants to work in my field,
No one wants to work in my field."

Push away from the table.  Look out through the windowpane.
Just beyond the house of plenty lies a field of golden grain.
And it's ripe unto harvest; but the reapers, where are they?
In the house!  Oh, can't the children hear the Father sadly say,

"My house is full, but my field is empty,
Who will go and work for me today?
It seems my children all want to stay around my table,
But no one wants to work in my field,
No one wants to work in my field."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Planting Winding Down

Peanut and cotton planting is beginning to wind down here on our farm.  I finished planting peanuts on Thursday.  All things considered, planting has gone rather smoothly with only a couple of significant break-downs.  About 60 acres of our peanuts are probably going to have to be replanted, however, due to poor germination during a cool snap in late April.  As far as cotton goes, Jon expects to get through early next week.  All of our cotton has come up with good stands thus far.

Cotton leaning to catch morning sun

Daddy and Jeffrey, a cousin and most-of-the-time worker for us, are continuing to spray herbicides this week on the peanuts and cotton.  Roundup resistant pigweed is our main nemesis, and we wage a constant battle to keep it under control.  This is our second year of planting cotton on which we can spray Ignite herbicide, which really helps with the pigweeds.

It's also time to begin applying landplaster, or gypsum, to our peanut fields.  This is a form of calcium.  After a peanut blooms, the pollinated bloom forms a peg, which enters the soil to form the peanut underground.  The calcium is necessary to ensure that a nut forms inside the hull.  If the peg doesn't move through calcium in the "pegging zone," then it will make a "pop" - a hull with nothing inside.
Peanuts looking good!

We planted our last watermelons on Monday and Tuesday.  These will be ready mid-late July.  Our early melons are beginning to get ripe.  Harvesting will likely begin next week.  Christy and Jennifer, Jon's wife, have been working on getting our watermelon shed all spic and span.  We're also purchasing a utility building to place at the shed that we will convert into an office.
What a full shed of melons looks like!

The weather has really warmed up this week, with highs of 96 today.  This will make the melons ripen faster.  Cotton also loves hot weather, as long as there is sufficient moisture.  Although it hasn't rained any this week, a tropical system is predicted to move in early next week.  Our sandy soils require lots of rain.  As the oldtimers say around here, we're always only 10 days removed from a drought!  Hopefully we will get some more much needed rain.

Happy Memorial Day, and may God continue to bless America!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Watermelon Fever

We will begin loading watermelons here at Smith Quality Produce in a few days, and watermelon fever is beginning to break out around here.  This is a condition that exhibits itself in daily excursions to the field to bring home the ripest watermelon you can find, then cutting it only to find that it's still green.  The only way to cure watermelon fever is to cut a ripe watermelon of course.

10 more days!

While we're in the clutches of this ailment, I thought that I would share how we got to this point.  It all begins with bedding the ground and laying plastic mulch.  The plastic serves two purposes.  The first is to warm the soil so the plants will get a fast start.  The second is to serve as a barrier to sunlight to inhibit weed germination under the plastic.  Most of our fields are watered with an overhead irrigation system.  If not, we lay drip tape underneath the plastic at this time.
Me riding the plastic machine

Next comes the transplanting of the actual plants.  Workers ride a waterwheel transplanter, which punches a hole in the plastic and puts water in the hole.  The worker manually puts the plant in the ground and firms the soil around it.

The next several weeks bring an increasing amount of activity.  The fields are plowed twice before the vines get long enough to prohibit further plowing.  The plants must be watered often, because we all know it takes lots of water to make a watermelon.  Weekly fungicide applications must be made to prevent various diseases that thrive in the same hot wet conditions that cause watermelons to flourish.  As the vines grow, they must be turned back weekly from access roads throughout the field that will be used at harvesting.


...grown!  Healthy vines make...
...lots of watermelons!
Christy with an outbreak of watermelon fever
All this work is happening during one of our busiest times of the year, spring planting.  Besides the 175 acres of watermelons we grow, our farm also has 1100 acres of peanuts and 1200 acres of cotton this year.  Both these crops are planted simultaneously, and it takes all that Jon, Daddy, and I can do to get them planted.  Luckily, we have an outstanding farm manager for our watermelon crop...and I'm married to her!  Christy grew up on a watermelon farm and knows all the ins and outs of the business.  She does most of the day to day work herself, and oversees the rest of it. If you know her, you know she is truly the watermelon queen!

And all that work combines to bring on an outset of watermelon fever.  It usually lasts for about 10 days, then it begins to subside as enough melons get ripe enough to harvest.  I hope the next time you are enjoying a cold, delicious slice of watermelon, you will think about all the work that goes into growing it.  Then again, if we've done our job, you won't be able to think of anything other than how delicious it is!
Alyssa & Logan enjoying the fruits of our labors!