Digging Peanuts in the 1930s

Bob Harrell remembers harvesting peanuts with horse-drawn implements.

| October 2006

For many people today, farming with horse-drawn equipment is a quaint practice from the past. For Robert S. "Bob" Harrell, it's a way of life that should be preserved for future generations.

"The need to remember our history is always there, whether it's in farming, textiles or whatever," Bob says. "I don't think anybody can adequately understand and appreciate the present without some understanding of the past. We just really need to have some level of understanding of how it used to be if for no other reason (than to appreciate) how hard people used to work." 

Born in 1925 in Edenton, N.C., Bob spent his youth on the farm, lending a hand to the peanut operation run by his grandfather (Joseph M. Harrell) and his father (Rodney T. Harrell). Horses and mules provided much of the power on the 40-acre farm. It is a world that exists today only in memories, but they are clear and vivid in Bob's mind. 

Cultivating peanuts

The first piece of equipment Bob recalls his grandfather using was an offset two-in-one plow used to cultivate peanut vines. "As a boy, before I was old enough to handle a horse or mule myself, I would just - barefooted - fall in behind my granddaddy when he was plowing that old two-in-one," Bob says. "I would walk up and down, up and down the rows.

"The animal walked in the middle to the left of the peanut row," he continues, "and the farmer walked in the middle to the right of the row. It was offset so the cultivator was centered on top of the row of peanuts, but the handles were offset so that was possible. This was before the days of herbicides, so you had to cultivate peanuts at least once a week, depending on the weather, to keep the grass and weeds down. In spite of all that cultivating, usually in late summer you still had some weeds and grass in the peanuts. Then you had to go in with a weeding hoe and chop out weeds and grass by hand."

A lime and plaster spreader also came into play. The hopper, attached with handles and wheels, was pulled by a horse or mule. The spreader applied landplaster or lime to the peanut vines when they were about one-third to one-half matured. Landplaster delivered much-needed calcium and sulfur, reducing pod-rot disease and brightening hulls, the mark of a quality product.