Peanut Harvest in the Wiregrass Area
Alabama’s Landmark Park keeps peanut harvest tradition alive with vintage equipment
An early 1940s Lilliston stationary peanut picker. Peanut stacks were hauled to a picker run off a tractor belt pulley. Often, farmers within a community would share the expense of the stationery picker and share the labor.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of farmers yesterday and today, peanuts changed the agricultural face of the Wiregrass area. The Wiregrass region is an area marked by high humidity and mild winters, consisting of southern Georgia, southeastern Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. “Wiregrass” is the common name for Aristida stricta, a warm season grass native to this area of the South.
While the peanut harvest usually happens in October, the process of planting and cultivating begins much earlier. Decades ago, land was broken for peanuts with a mule-drawn steel moldboard plow in late winter to early spring. Farmers planted peanut seeds in mid- to late April, using the moon to gauge the best time for planting.
Celebrating traditional practices
At Landmark Park, Alabama’s official museum of agriculture, the peanut harvest is demonstrated from start to finish every year. Located in Dothan, the self-proclaimed peanut capital of the world, the museum’s peanut harvest is a signature event for the park.
“Usually the second or third week of April was ideal for planting peanuts in the Wiregrass area,” says Landmark Park farm manager Sid Brannon. “That time was generally referred to as the Dark Nights of April because the moon is in its darkest phase then.”
Because herbicides were not readily available, farmers in the 1940s and earlier depended on mechanical cultivation to keep their crops clean. With normal rainfall, farmers started cultivating as soon as the grass sprouted. “A farmer would first bring in a mule-drawn cultivator and if that didn’t work,” Sid explains, “cultivation would have to be done with a hoe or by hand.”
A Fowler plow — a small, mule-drawn cultivation tool — was commonly used to cultivate peanuts as well as corn and cotton. For peanut growers, the Fowler was the cultivator of choice because it could get close to the crop, moving dirt in and out to kill weeds and grasses. In an era predating chemical herbicides, the Fowler was often used weekly.
Before 1910, fertilizer was not commonly used. But by 1915, farmers were using guano (bat droppings) to fertilize farm crops. Fertilizer was purchased in 100-pound burlap bags and applied by hand.
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