Archive for May, 2022

A Painting of Grandpa Johnny’s Mill

I was five years old when I learned to shell corn. It was in the fall. Grandpa Henry had harvested his corn crop and the crib was stuffed to bursting with corn in the shuck. Grandpa retrieved a fair number of ears from the crib, shucked them, and put them in a sack which he carried up the hill to the house. We had a long bench made of wood slats under a poplar tree in the front yard, and there we parked our sack of corn. Grandpa went to fetch a bucket and when he returned I watched in amazement as he very skillfully removed the dried corn from the cob. The white grains dropped into the bucket like a summer rain. Right away I knew it was an art I was destined to master, and begged him to show me how.

Grandpa Henry was a patient man, and he consented. He taught me to single out one grain at the very tip and to use the force of my tiny thumb to dislodge that one grain. After that it was easier to dislodge the next. I found that after I shelled all the uneven grains at the tip it was smooth sailing to shell one row at a time in the straight body of the ear. My little five year old hands had not much strength. I was not able to shell more than one grain at a time. But I had inherited Grandpa’s patience, and besides that he had promised when I got the bucket full we would take it to Grandpa Johnny’s mill and grind it into corn meal. I had watched Grandma make corn bread from meal and I very much wanted to see the process of changing hard grains of corn into soft powdery meal.

The dogwood tree in the foreground replaced the poplar tree.

For three days whenever Grandma would let me I’d be hard at work under the poplar tree, dropping corn into the bucket. By the third day I was wondering if I would ever get to go to Grandpa Johnny’s mill. Hard as I had worked, the bucket was just not getting full. And to make matters worse I had developed a blister on my right thumb which forced me to work left handed, which was not so bad except that my left thumb was also getting pretty sore. Looking back, I realize what was happening to my corn. Grandpa Henry was taking a daily ration of it to feed his chickens!

Not to worry. All ended well. On the morning of the fourth day Grandpa helped me and we shelled lots of corn. That is Grandpa shelled lots of corn. I was not able to shell much with two ruined thumbs. Grandpa poured corn from the bucket into the sack until he had sacked up fifteen or twenty pounds of shelled corn. Then he slung the sack over his shoulder and we walked all the way to the mill. It seemed like a very long way, but it was actually about a quarter of a mile, more or less. It was the first time I had ever been there, at least the first time I remember being there.

Newspaper photo of the mill from the rear. A flying rock from road construction put a hole in the roof.

The mill house stood to the west of the narrow road, at the foot of the waterfall. It was a small building, made of stout notched poles and clad with milled lumber. There was a tall little room downstairs with a fireplace to the right. It was cold that morning and I was glad Grandpa built a fire. On the left side of the room was a chute where the freshly ground meal dropped down into a box. A stairway led up to the hopper where the corn was fed to the grindstones. There were windows upstairs, open to the creek, to let in some light to the one who was working at the hopper. Above the mill house, at the top of the falls was a little dam that could be opened and shut with a pole, operated from the mill house. When the dam was opened the creek could flow unhindered, but when the dam was shut part of the creek waters were diverted into a shallow trough or ‘race’ where they ran downhill and turned the wheel. The wheel attached to a shaft that rotated one stone against another and ground the corn. Grandpa Johnny’s mill was a ‘tub’ mill, or turbine mill. The mill wheel turned horizontally, and did look like a round tub, with spokes radiating from the center to the rim.

Grandpa Henry busied himself filling the hopper with corn and getting all things in readiness. Then, with a loud ‘CLACK’ the dam at the top of the falls shut; and the mill race opened. Suddenly it seemed like nearly all the water in Flat Creek was rushing down the mill race toward the waterwheel. I will never forget when that great wheel began to turn. That little mill house began to growl. It shook and rumbled like a great cat purring; and then — a miracle! White and beautiful, fluffy as snow, the ground corn began at first to sift and then to pour. Grandpa held a cloth bag under the chute, gathering up the fine meal as it fell. When all the corn was ground, Grandpa closed the mill race. The purring and rumbling died away as the mill wheel slowly ground to a halt.

Who could forget so great an adventure! It was one I was fortunate to repeat a few more times before Grandma began to buy meal at the grocery. But that ‘bought’ meal was never the same as Grandpa Henry’s. Now that I am old, I am privileged again to have fresh ground meal, and wonderful memories of an earlier time.

For genealogy buffs, Grandpa Johnny was John McCall, Jr. and Grandpa Henry his grandson.

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Here is a republication of an article I wrote some years ago. I no longer have guineas, but I still recommend them. Read on to learn about this unique and beneficial domestic bird.

Guineafowl, or guineas, as they are known in the South, are low maintenance domesticated fowl. A free ranging guinea’s diet consists mostly of insects; hence the guinea’s growing popularity on farms and in rural areas. Like other fowl, guineas can be eaten, and their eggs are delicious. Guineas are about the size of chickens, but easier to care for; their benefits far outweigh their requirements. Guineas come in many colors, from white all the way to black, but most are some variation of gray. They resemble turkeys somewhat, but their necks are longer and slimmer, and topped off with funny looking little heads. As a bird they are not very attractive, but once you get to know them you forget all about that. If you live in a rural area and have a little land where they can roam you might consider keeping guineas. Here is your basic information.

You are better off starting with young guineas as older ones will sometimes try to go back to their previous residence. Young guineas are called keets. You can buy them from a breeder or purchase the eggs and hatch them in an incubator. It is impossible to tell the sex of a young guinea so you will just have to trust your luck. Get several to be assured of a mix of males and females. If you are using an incubator you will have to wait a week longer than usual for the eggs to hatch. Guinea eggs hatch in four weeks, whereas chickens hatch in three.

Newly Hatched Guineas

When the little ones hatch you must place them in a brooder, or a box or cage with a light in it. They will need to stay warm for a few weeks. They are very tiny; two of them can be held in the palm of a woman’s hand. For the first few days they need a textured surface such as a rough sawn board or a towel in the bottom of the cage. If you use a slick surface such as paper they will not be able to grasp it with their toes. Their feet will tend to slip out from under them, and they will be at risk of developing splayed or spraddled legs. This condition can sometimes be corrected if caught early. It is better to prevent the problem in the first place. Your baby keets will begin to eat in a day or so. Feed them a poultry starter and warm water.

As they grow they will need a wire bottomed cage. When they are between four and six weeks old and feathered out they can go into some sort of enclosure outdoors. If the weather is cold cover them at night and continue to keep a light on for them.  You will need to keep them separate from older foul until they are nearly grown, as bigger birds will pick on little ones that have no mother bird to defend them. Continue to feed them as you would chickens.

It is possible for guineas to hatch their own, in the wild. After all, that is how they did it for thousands of years. However, I have never known guineas in my area to accomplish this. There are too many predators. The easiest way to hatch guineas is to set the eggs under a chicken that is ready to begin the natural process of incubating their own eggs. Just take hers away and replace them with the guinea eggs. She will continue to set until the eggs hatch. We did this once and that hen was just as proud of her adopted children as she would have been of her own. She continued to mother the young keets and roamed with them foraging for bugs and the like even after they reached maturity.

After guineas have achieved some growth and learn they have a voice they will begin calling, or “poteracking” as the old timers say. Then you can begin to separate the males from the females. The sound of a guinea’s call is the only foolproof method of identifying them by sex. The males make a one syllable sound. The female call has two syllables. The other method of determining sex is by inspecting the wattles of mature birds. Those having larger wattles are usually males.

Free Ranging Guineas

If allowed to range freely guineas will congregate in groups and forage together most of the time. If you have different age groups of guineas you will notice those from one hatching will form a group separate from those of another hatching. While they are roaming out there in the wild the females will lay eggs in well hidden communal nests. Like chickens, guineas usually lay one egg every day in season. If you find a guineas’ nest outdoors, there might be two or three gallons of eggs in it, depending on how many females are in the group. Most people do not realize that an egg can stay fresh for a long time without refrigeration provided the shell is not cracked. Guineas and other fowl do not begin incubation until they have finished laying their eggs. Until then the eggs simply accumulate. A setting bird will defend her nest if she can, but eggs left unattended are often gobbled up by dogs, foxes, coyotes and other predators. Those same predators kill free ranging fowl from time to time, but for some reason guineas are more adept at evading them than are chickens.

Guineas are wonderful for pest control. Any creepy crawly that dares to cross a guinea’s path is as good as gone. I’ve seen guineas in the vegetable garden going up and down the rows, snapping up bugs. They eat practically all day long, consuming insects of every kind, spiders, even small lizards and mice. Though mainly carnivorous, guineas will also eat certain seeds, including millet and cracked corn.

Guineas kept fenced or housed with chickens will lay eggs in the chickens’ nests. You can tell the eggs apart by their size and shape. Guinea eggs are smaller and more pointed than chicken eggs. Here is a short video comparing guinea eggs with chicken eggs. https://youtube.com/watch?v+VbPdvGLbRQo The shell is also harder, a fact you will notice if you use them for cooking. The taste of guinea eggs is about the same as other free range eggs, wonderful! Some people eat guineas; the meat is reputedly very good, similar to chicken. I can not give a personal opinion. I never had the heart to kill one.

Guineas are aloof. They keep their distance more than chickens. Further, they tend to panic when you are blocking their exit door. I have never understood this. It would seem they’d learn after a while that I am merely coming in to get the eggs, not them! In that same vein, chickens seem to instinctively know the safest place at night is inside. At dusk nobody has to ask them to go into the chicken house and get on their roosts. Some guineas will go in at night, but they will usually be the last ones. Most of our guineas prefer roosting outdoors in nearby trees. Perhaps that is because as a species they are only a few centuries removed from the wilds of Africa where they originated. Our chickens seem to trust us, but the guineas are still not sure.

Some people would keep guineas but for the noise. If guineas are disturbed they will set up a loud ruckus which will continue until they are satisfied the danger has passed. When a strange dog, a fox, or even a person they do not recognize enters their domain they try to eject him by loud calling and cackling. Guineas are nervous and sometimes the slightest rustle of the leaves can set them off.  If you have several guineas that can amount to quite a din and a racket, which can be very disturbing to people who are not accustomed to such carryings on. And that, of course, is exactly what the guineas intended to start with!

As people have become more knowledgeable of the value of this unique barnyard fowl, we have seen an increased demand for them. Buyers pay high prices for baby guineas at local animal sales and then ask for more. Folks are finding that the virtues of guineas far outweigh their one noisome fault, if indeed that loud “poteracking” can be considered a fault. To us guinea lovers, it is just music to our ears!

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All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, Twas God that made them all.  (From a song by Cecil Frances Alexander)

Here is an interesting article for flower lovers. For those who will notice, this article is not written in my usual tone. That is because it is a republication of a story written long ago specifically for Yahoo Voices, of which complete rights were returned to me when that platform was taken down.

Beautiful Bi-colored Dahlia.
note the stakes

Dahlias are stunning, and they almost seem to know it. Tall and imposing, clad in bright colors, they dominate the landscape wherever you put them. In the categories of big, bold, bright, and beautiful they are rarely outdone. If your desire is for a steady supply of cut flowers, or if you need a tall specimen against a fence or wall, or if you just want a nice splash of color in your garden, let me tell you about dahlias.

I grew up with dahlias. My grandmother always planted a long row of them along the fence enclosing her vegetable garden. She traded dahlia bulbs (tubers) with her aunts, cousins, and neighbors. I think everyone in my world at that time grew dahlias. We were so enamored of dahlias that we photographed them, and framed the best shots to hang on the wall. I still love dahlias.

There are 30-some species of dahlias, and innumerable variations. They range in size from the tree dahlia, which can reach a height of 20 feet, to the dwarfs, small enough to grow in a terra cotta pot.  Dahlia colors can be quite striking. They go from white, through yellow, orange, and pink, to very dark red. Many dahlias are a mix of colors.  There are no blue dahlias, but some beautiful pinky lavender shades are available. There’s even a choice of petal types, Some are spoon shaped; others are pointed. The cactus dahlia is very attractive with its spiky looking petals.

Pompon Dahlia
Dwergenpaartje Wikimedia Commons

For plants with real pizazz, I recommend those that grow three to four feet tall and a little higher. At the upper end of this size range are the dinnerplate dahlias, between five and eight feet in height, with blossoms up to 12 inches in diameter. The smallest I can honestly recommend are the pompons. They stand at about three feet; their blooms are two to three inches across. Whether short or tall, dahlias come in a plethora of sizes and colors.

Dahlias of this mid-size range are somewhat labor intensive, but well worth the effort required to grow them. You do have to stake them, and in winter you must dig up the tubers and save them. Besides that, their main requirements are water and sunshine. They start blooming in early summer and keep on producing large colorful blossoms until frost. They will keep you in gorgeous cut flowers for weeks on end, for free.

If you’re going to grow them, set the tubers after the last killing frost is expected. They will sprout quickly. Dig a shallow hole with a hoe or shovel, break up the clods of dirt, and put a tuber in with its eye up. The plant will sprout from the eye. You will see the eyes; they are the same as potato eyes. Cover the tuber with the crumbled dirt from the hole. That’s all you need to do at first. When they are about two feet high you will need to stake them. You can use tomato stakes for the pompons, but you will need something more substantial if you are growing dinnerplate dahlias. Old broom handles are great, and so are small saplings cut from the woods, trimmed, and sharpened on one end. Drive them into the ground with a heavy hammer. They need to go in far enough not to be wobbly. Use strips of old cloth or hemp twine to tie the plant loosely to the stake. As they grow they will need to be tied again.

When the flowers begin to bloom you can start using them for arrangements. Do not try to pick a dahlia. They are succulents; the stem will simply crush in your fingers and the flower will flop over and hang there. Cut them with scissors or hand pruners. Dahlias are really spectacular in bouquets and arrangements, but they are not particularly long lasting. If you are using them for a special occasion it is best to cut them the same day, certainly no earlier than the day before. Another thing you will need to do is change the water daily. This is important. Not only will your flowers last longer, but they will smell better. Dahlias do not have a noticeable fragrance but the stems develop an unpleasant odor very quickly in water. You can mitigate this problem by changing the water every day.

If you have more than enough dahlias you can sell your excess. My cousin sold dahlias. She grew them in rows, just like a vegetable garden. She had about twelve 20-foot rows. She said that once the word got out, she had all the customers she wanted. People bought them for weddings, funerals, parties, and just because they were beautiful. If you have only a few bunches of dahlias to sell you can take them to a local tailgate market where farmers sell their own produce. It is very common to find flowers, bulbs, and other non-food items for sale at these markets.

When the petals drop from your unused dahlias, snip off the spent blooms and let them fall to the ground. This is called deadheading. Not only does deadheading improve the looks of your garden, it encourages your plants to produce more blossoms. Keep the weeds from around your dahlias, and you will have a steady supply of attractive blooms until cold weather. A little fertilizer will not hurt them, but you won’t need much.

Newly Harvested Dahlia Tubers
attached to the old stem
F.D. Richards/Wikimedia Commons

After the plants have died in the fall, and before the ground freezes, you should dig your tubers. When you do you will be happy to see they have multiplied. There will be one or more new tubers attached to the old. At this point you will need to tag them unless you are growing all the same kind. If you don’t, come next spring, you will not be able to tell them apart, and you will not know what to plant where. You can make tags of string and cardboard. Use a permanent marker so your writing will not fade. Or, you can buy metal tags from your garden supplier. Do not separate the new tubers from the old stem at this time. Come spring, when the eyes have swollen, you can separate them, discarding any tubers that do not have an eye. Save your dahlia tubers as you would potatoes, covered, in a cool, dry place where they won’t freeze.

That’s it! Next spring, plant more dahlias, or share your extra tubers. Repeat.

. . . . .

As I was creating this post I found myself asking: “Why are you talking about flowers, when all around is so much distress, unease and uncertainty?” The answer was quick: “Because, we walk by faith.” We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, but we look for tomorrow to come. We need to be prepared — food for the body, and flowers for the soul. We do what we can; the rest is in the Lord’s hand.


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