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Hartselle Enquirer

First to the field

The first workers to hit the Clay County fields where I grew up were cotton choppers.  

They appeared in droves, working with sharpened hoes – some bareheaded, some with heads covered with caps and bonnets – and wearing handeddown, long-sleeved white shirts. They covered the hillsides and hollows like drifting sand, slowly edging toward their goal of getting from one end to the other.  

The work was hard but critical to the crop’s success. Every missed lick of the hoe affected the value of the harvest. Clean rows of skip-free cotton resulted in the highest price at market.  

Weather conditions were crucial to getting a cotton crop off to a good start. Warm, dry weather was needed for a good seedbed, and over-seeding was a common practice at planting time.  

The first implement used to prepare the seed bed for hoeing was a fowler.  

It cleaned everything out of the row except the cotton seedlings and grass and weeds within a 4-inch path.  

This is where hoe hands enter the picture. They remove unneeded plants as well as weeds and grass.  

Thereafter, the function of maintaining a clean cotton crop was in the hands of a mule, Georgia plow stock and a plow hand.   

Cotton chopping was strictly a family function in bygone years, just as cotton picking was. Dads, moms and siblings all participated. A good hoe hand could find work at $2 per day. 

My prior experience working on a family farm has taught me how important it is to plan, use only high-quality seeds and plants and plant when the time is right.  

I can’t say I always stick to the best regimen.  

For example, I planted squash seed earlier than usual following several days of warm weather in March. The seed failed to germinate after a heavy rain, and they’ll have to be replanted when the weather will permit.  

I was able to get seed potatoes and a few tomato plants in the ground with a favorable outlook. 

I’m still trying to find better ways of controlling grass and weed growth in the garden without having to rely on digging them out with a hoe. This past year, I lost part of my early garden when weeds took over after I was hospitalized for surgery. 

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