Dr. John Rheney

Dr. John Rheney

As the doldrums of summer approach us, many South Carolinians look forward to Saturdays on the lake, picnics and maybe a little fishing. With the recent shift of turkey season into May and the resulting midday heat, I try to get my hunting out of the way by mid-April and then be very selective waiting for cool mornings should they appear. If the temperature dips into the 50s at night, the gnats don’t trouble you much until well after light, even though the mosquitoes come out with a vengeance.

The end of turkey season brings on the time when I do most of the heavy work that I prefer not to do during deer and turkey seasons. I had gotten about 75 percent of the cleanup from Hurricane Matthew done when a new challenge arrived. This year I have the added burden of digging out from the recent tornado that struck my home and that of my closest neighbors.

As I have heard before from acquaintances that have dealt with similar circumstances, my insurance company did not pay enough after deductions and depreciations (even though I had enough coverage) for me to hire the rebuilding of my property, so I have to do most of it myself. That will take time with the heat of midday and its searing effect on sheets of tin.

The first day of May also marks the time when it is imperative to start prepping my dove field. It actually takes more time to prepare the field for planting than it takes for the process itself. The field needs to be mowed, sprayed twice, disked, planted and fertilized in a timely manner. It all has to do with predicting rain, which The Weather Channel and I have about the same success in doing. I just watch my neighbors, who have farmed for years, and time what I do with their activity.

When the dog days come in and the Bahia grass, dog fennel and sand spurs begin their rapid growth, I spend a lot of time in front of a bush hog mower trying to stay ahead of the seed so that prepping for the fall planting won’t be such a chore. I marvel at the men around me who have marked their lives by the changing of the seasons and the annual routine of growing their crops. Fifty years seems like a long time until you consider the constant march of years one after another involved in farming. You learn that it passes quickly. The celebration of a good crop or the tragedy of a poor one has to be forgotten as you ready for the next.

With the spiraling prices of fertilizer and the impossibility of getting the local agricultural companies to deliver and spread lime on small acreages, I am trying to farm a little more holistically. I plant winter cover crops that will retain the nitrogen like legumes and try to plow under the green foliage rather than spray and kill the plants with herbicide. I do not poison insects. If you kill worms, you also kill bees. You can use liquid nitrogen to burn down weeds between rows rather than Roundup or Cadre. I walk the rows and pull and hoe weeds and then carry those with seeds out of the field. Obviously, a farmer can’t do these things over hundreds of acres, but I can do it over 20 or 30.

With the help of a friend, I have developed a way to irrigate a small field using a 1,000-gallon nurse tank and a Big Gun spray head. I think my neighbors think I am crazy, but it does put enough water in the ground in late afternoons to at least germinate seed when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

No my friends, hunting season is for resting. The rest of the year is for preparing to hunt. I will miss it when the dog days arrive in May, but I look forward to the benefits and good times the work yields in the fall.

Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.

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