Few will argue the most important of all the processes used in producing a harvest is the planting of seed. Seed planted at the proper depth and spaced the proper distance apart assures the farmer of a good start towards a profitable harvest.
Native Americans and early settlers often used pointed sticks pushed into the soil to provide entry. Seeds were then dropped into the hole, a foot pushed dirt over the seed and pressed the covering soil downward before moving to the next location.
This process was primitive, slow and tiresome, limiting the area that could be planted in a day. Eventually, horse-drawn planters and seeders were invented, allowing larger areas to be planted in a shorter time with less labor.
However, plowing, planting and cultivation equipment of the time was crude, and often did not operate as intended. Add human error or inattention to the process, as well as weather variables, and the resulting stand of new plants often had blank spaces and skips down the rows. Total replanting was not required, but a need arose for a single, hand-operated planting device.
Inventors immediately responded with new tools variously called hand planters, garden planters or skip-row planters. Farmers made the original models, using wood. By the mid-1870s, hundreds of patents for such planters had been issued and many were being manufactured and sold.
Each of the models was designed with an end to be pushed into loose soil to provide a hole. A mechanism was then actuated to drop seeds into the depression. Finally, the operator merely stepped on the spot on the way to the next skipped space.
Using hand planters, skips in rows of field crops could be easily and economically replanted. Some model of planters added planter-plate-mechanisms to fit seeds in other sizes and were designed to plant gardens. Field-raised garden-type crops like watermelon were easily planted in any conformation with the ever-handy skip-row planter. Even the ladies could plant at will and without strain.
Collectors love these unique farm tools, as they can still be found at farm auctions and requires little space for display. This writer’s hand planter collection of some 30 pieces can be viewed at the McLean/Alanreed Area Museum, McLean, Texas. FC
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; email: trewblue@centra media.net