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The Last Windrow: The question

This time in late April or early May the question would come. The question was one that I waited on through my high school years.

The snow has departed the northern climes, the loons are back on our lakes and rivers, the sand hill cranes are croaking across the countryside and I find myself standing at the edge of my fall-plowed garden plot, thinking of the planting season to come.

My wife has her miniature greenhouse set up in our basement and young green plants are beginning to reach for the fluorescent lights hanging down from the ceiling. Cabbage, cauliflower, peppers and broccoli are all sprouted and hopefully will make it to adulthood.

Last year our local deer herd divested the garden of these plants long before their time. This year two strings of electric fencer wire will be strung before the whitetails sashay in between the rows.

Farmers are waiting at the gates of fields that will soon see planting machines move across the landscape. Returning from our recent trip to Louisiana we noticed that the fieldwork had begun as far north as central Missouri and it was headed north.

It is a busy time that will carry through harvest.

It was no different on the little Iowa farm where I grew up. This was the time of year when the oat seeder and the two row corn planter were readied. Chains were repaired, axles were greased and planter seed boxes were cleaned.

The fields were being plowed and leveled and the sweet smell of Mother Earth greeted everyone who ventured out in the early morning. It was a heady time.

This was the time of year the question I mentioned above was asked. Dad would quietly ask me if I was up to date with my schoolwork. I knew what the question meant. If I answered in the affirmative, the next phrase that came from him was, “I could use some help with planting and if you can stand to take a few days off, I could use you.”

He didn’t have to ask twice.

Oats were the first seeds planted. We seeded the ground with a high-wheeled “end-gate” seeder pulled by our WD Allis Chalmers tractor. The flare-box style wagon was filled with oat seed that we had purchased from a neighbor.

I stood with shovel in hand, filling the hopper with oats and keeping the alfalfa or clover hopper filled with the fine seeds. We clanked and bumped across the landscape watching pheasants and rabbits scurry out of the way all to the rhythmic tune of the seeder.

Corn was planted in early to mid-May and the contoured rows wound around the gentle Iowa hills like the pattern of a woven basket. I always appreciated the way Dad laid out the rows so they all met at a place that made sense when picking time came in the fall. It was land art at its best.

Standing on the edge of our not-yet-planted garden brings back those memories of meadowlarks singing on fence posts, geese heading north, rooster pheasants sparring in the plow furrows and the sound of that end-gate seeder humming as it tossed oats out across the black and waiting earth.

The question Dad asked me didn’t have to be asked twice. My schoolwork was up to snuff and I was ready. It’s that time of year.

See you next time. Okay?