Blue is the nickname for “Cowboy George” Perocchi’s 1964 Ford tractor, now retired and in the barn of the Bliss farm in Plant City. Blue was mainly used for disking the fields.
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of “Life on the Farm – Planting Season” and concludes the first of a four-part series, “Life on the Farm – a Memory.” Dale Bliss grew up on a farm in Plant City, in Hillsborough County, and is sharing her memory of the seasons of farm life there.
Dad (George Perocchi) had a dream: to become his own boss and work for himself. He had to leave school at age 13 to work – sometimes out of town and sometimes, if the job paid well, out of state. He worked many jobs as a laborer and would go just about anywhere to get work and to make his dream a reality.
There were setbacks. He was out of state working and sending money home to his father to buy land for him. The land had to be put in his father’s name, because, at the time, Dad was too young. When he came of age, however, his father would not transfer the deed into his own son’s name.
But George’s determination and his dream were bigger than his sadness and disappointment. He did not let this betrayal stop him: In fact, it only fueled his determination to make his mark in what he now felt as a lonely world.
In the early 1940s, he managed to purchase 35 acres of farmland for $1,250, in the same area in Florida, from a retired farmer whom he had admired as a boy. That was a lot of money in those days; especially for a young man who was put out on his own when he was only 13.
Cowboy George starts a family
In 1945, just a few years later, he met and eventually married Caroline Alderman. She was from a neighboring farming family.
Their small but proud 50-acre farm was kept meticulously. George planted 20 to 25 acres in crops, with the rest left in pasture and hay for his cattle. This was a “stepping-stone” to what was to become an annex to the 300 acres, known as the “River Pasture,” that he would eventually secure and thus complete his dream.
George called it the River Pasture because the Hillsborough River runs through what was his splendid, serene, luscious, grass-filled island of cattle land in Pasco County. It was once filled with not only some of the best beef cattle in Florida, but also with baseball groups, scouting troops, and friends who wanted to go camping for the weekend.
There were four main crops planted during two seasons: spring and fall. In spring, George planted yellow crookneck squash and his signature zucchini squash. In fall, he would plant eggplants and bell peppers.
Also, Daddy would plant a little half-acre garden for my two sisters, Kay, the oldest; Martha; our brother, Ronnie; and me to take care of. That was our after-school extracurricular activity program. No grading – just pass or fail. You either did it right, and ate heartily all summer and winter; or you failed. In that case, it was grits and biscuits, with a little meat, for supper.
Cowboy George on Spring Planting
He would plant the spring crop of yellow crooknecks and zucchini squash during late February or early March. This he could do mostly by himself during the day, and with some help from our brother when he got home from school.
Oh, let’s not forget his faithful friend: Blue, the 1964 Ford tractor now retired and resting peacefully in the barn to this day. He also had a bright-red Farmall tractor that he used for plowing. Blue was mainly used for disking the fields.
Once the ground had been plowed several times, the rows were all intricately sized in width and length, then watered down to settle the dust and to pack the soil tight. Then the seeds were planted.
The seeds are a farmer’s “jewels” – the jewels of the field. I remember going to the fertilizer plant in town. It was a treat to get to ride uptown with Daddy. I’d almost always get a Coke from the machine and a bag of peanuts to put in my Coke. What a treat it was.
Jack Bender, the owner of the local fertilizer and seed company, always had a smile and a kind word for everyone. He later would become the buyer of my first steer that I showed in Future Farmers of America (FFA). Mr. Bender is now deceased, and the building that once stood as one of the major trading places in Plant City for farmers is gone – but most assuredly not forgotten.
As I pass by the now-vacant lot, I can still see Mr. Bender standing at the long counter that also housed neat and clinical-looking bins of seeds. I see his ever-present smile and hear his friendly, yet to-the-point, voice say “How can I help you, George?”
Waste not, want not …
During planting season, Daddy was up early (as he was during all phases of farming), getting the tractor ready for planting. After hooking up the implements, he would hop up on his trusted “steed” – either the Farmall or Blue – and start planting the squash seeds, making sure that each one was deposited securely in its blanket of soil. (He did not believe in wasting even one seed, nor could he afford to. One wasted seed meant lost profit.)
After planting was complete, then came watering. The water came from a huge pit that daddy had dug. The above-ground, stationary sprinklers stood tall and straight, as if protecting their wards as a mother would her children.
These “soldiers” spewed out just the right amount of water to the baby seeds as they lay nestled in their dirt beds. The sprinklers were attached to 4-inch pipes connected to a pump that, itself, was connected to an even larger pipe firmly planted in the depths of the water pit.
Next came the fertilizing. It had to be done so that the seeds had nutrition, and extra watering had to be given so that the soil could soak up the nutrients for the seeds to absorb.
Soaking in the sun, nutrients, and water, the seeds did their best to sprout. One day, they burst through the soil.
This went on for about seven weeks. Then – Oh, boy! – the big day finally came: the next phase, harvesting.
Watch for the next installment: “Life on the Farm – the Harvest.”
Dale Bliss feels blessed to be able to live on the same Plant City farm where she was born and raised. Her father, “Cowboy George” Perocchi, called Dale his “little crate-maker” because she made wooden boxes for their vegetables.