Archive for the ‘farm love’ Category

Our Farm Was a Steamboat Stop!

We found a very neat historical account that mentions our farm!  Frederick McCoy wrote about his childhood memories aboard the steamboat lines that went from Washington, DC then down the Potomac River and up the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore in the 1930s.  His account was featured in The Chesapeake and is online here.   

Susquehanna steamboat

His article mentions Cobrum’s Wharf (where we live) and confirms our farm grew a lot of tobacco.  His memories of every little stop along the way remind us of how thrilling life’s simple pleasures can be.   The memories of the food alone sound so wonderful: 

“In the diner room were long tables with white cloths and silver. The meal was served family style. Bowls of new potatoes, lima beans, and sliced tomatoes, ears of sweet corn and platters of fried chicken were in front of us.  The food was fresh, directly from the farm and it was cooked to perfection.

            …

We crossed the mouth of the Wicomico River to St. Mary’s County and put in at the Chaptico Wharf. It was time for breakfast and again we dined well.  There were pitchers of milk with pieces of ice floating in them. There as hot oatmeal and cream of wheat. There were fried and scrambled eggs, fried country ham and country fried potatoes and biscuits. We all ate heartily.  At Bushwood Wharf, we were in a good seafood area. The cook went out on the pier to see what several boys had caught that morning. He bought some strings of Norfolk Spot fish and some soft crabs. […] The children of the farms would bring vegetables from their gardens. The cook would look them over on the wharfs and only purchase the freshest and best. We would be eating the bounty of the tidewater from both the land and the sea at our next meal; all caught or picked that very morning.”

Wow, if only we could all dine that well when we travel today!  At the Cobrum’s Wharf stop, the steamboat offloaded cases of canning jars (for tomato canning or moonshine?) and brought on board some hogsheads of tobacco:

“We crossed to St. Clements, stopped at Coburn’s Wharf and off-loaded more jars and took on some hogsheads of tobacco. These hogsheads averaged  about 750 pounds but could be easily rolled up the gangplank. The cask was made of native wood; several wires were wrapped around the outside and holding the head in, was a large wild grapevine nailed through the top of the sides. This held the pressed tobacco securely in the cask.”

tobacco hogshead

A hogshead was a standard container that was usually homemade for shipping dried and pressed tobacco.  These hogsheads probably made it up to Baltimore, and then who knows where they went from there?   

Tobacco farming can be hard on the land because the whole tobacco plant is usually taken off the soil.  At least with corn and soybeans, plant material like leaves and stalks usually get left on the field and eventually get incorporated back into the soil.  This returns some nutrients to the soil and helps make organic matter.  With tobacco, the leaves are the cash crop.  They’re taken to barns and dried over the winter and sold off the farm.  Out of curiosity, we’d love to know how long our land has been farmed.  It could go way back – our farm is close to the water, St. Clement’s Bay specifically, and St. Clement’s island is about 3 miles away.  St. Clement’s island is “Maryland’s first landing,” where Europeans landed in the 1630s.  We’d love to find more info that will give clues to our soil’s history, so we’ll keep looking. 

Take a moment to read Frederick McCoy’s heartwarming article about his steamboat memories.  I don’t think anyone needed a Disney World back then!

Part of Health Home Economist’s Monday Mania.

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Behold! Our Drainage Ditch

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the wise saying goes.  Last weekend, I struck out from the house toward our drainage ditch with pruning shears in hand, aiming to take down some weeds that were threatening to spread into the pastures.  I reached the edge of the ditch and started cutting down the Beggarticks, a beautiful plant actually, with a striking yellow flower.  It was a shame to cut it down, but it seeds like crazy. 

I started edging towards the center of the ditch, keeping an eye out for snakes, when suddenly the entire width of the ditch came into view.  It was gorgeous!  Okay, so the atmosphere had a lot to do with it.  It was a beautiful early September evening with temperatures in the 70s, no biting bugs, and with the setting sun, it was a photographer’s true golden hour.  But the plants growing in the ditch were a sight to behold.  In addition to the Beggartick’s bright yellows, I saw maroons/purples in the leaves and seed heads of the tall airy Virginia switchgrass.  Many plants I haven’t identified yet offered beautiful textures and shades of greens, browns, pinks and even blues.  Even the poison ivy was beautiful (never thought I’d say that) as it was beginning to turn its early fall orangey shades.  But the focal point in this ditch was a single huge millet (or bulrush?).  Wow.  Its drapey seed head was over 5 feet off the ground, and it looked like the seeds were just spilling out of the top, poising for a good drop.  The seed head’s color was what really caught my eye.  It matched the sunset—a gorgeous salmon-orange.

It’s times like these when you’re outside, in nature, all alone, that something can really strike you and hold you there for a moment.  After about 30 seconds had passed, I even said softly out loud, “you’re so pretty!” to the millet.  It was overwhelming to me that nature would combine this majesty of plants in a big utilitarian man-made drainage ditch.  I was without a doubt in the right place at the right time.  

Walking back towards the house, I thought about many of Gene Logsdon’s writings on finding supreme peace and beauty in your own back yard.  I love this passage, at the end of his All Flesh is Grass book: 

“To name all the myriad lives, botanical and biological, that find home in the meadow would bore the reader, I fear.  And most of these lives I do not even know yet.  I walk my pastures enveloped by them all, finding on every walk something new or something reassuringly old.  I sit at the top point of the pasture hill, look over my little domain, and wonder why I have been so blessed to be here and blessed even more by knowing for certain that I do not want to be anywhere else…”