Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of the final installment of Dale Bliss’ four-part series, “Life on the Farm – a Memory.” She grew up in Plant City, in Hillsborough County, and has shared her memory of the seasons of farm life. Martha Grigsby, Dale’s sister, also contributed to this final installment. The second half will run Tuesday, Nov 1.
While it is true that Plant City is called the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World,” there was a time that the famous red berry shared the spotlight, and its crown, with a delicious green jewel called the zucchini. The “zuch,” as our father commonly referred to it, is a summer squash that was introduced to the United States around the mid-1900s.
It was developed in Northern Italy and brought to America by the Italians. It is fitting that it was introduced to the farmers of Plant City by another Italian. Yes, if you guessed “Cowboy George” Perocchi, our dad, you would be spot-on.
George was an American farmer of Italian descent. He was also a proud, hard-working, second-generation farmer. Like his father, Antonio Vincent Procchi, who came to the Americas to start a new life, he loved agriculture; and farming was in George’s blood – it was his calling, his birthright.
Cowboy George kept correct spelling: Perocchi
George’s – and his father’s – last names differ in spelling due to a mistake made at the Ellis Island Immigration Station upon Antonio’s arrival.
George was the only one of the family members who kept the correct family-name spelling. George would not let a misspelling of his name define him. This was not just a small error that could be overlooked. He wanted his legacy properly remembered.
It was not in Cowboy George’s nature to “go with the flow” just to get along. Our father was not a hanger-on. He did not follow the local farming trend and plant acres of the “safe” strawberry plant; he was a trend-setter.
He marched out of his safety zone and bravely planted the relatively unknown zucchini squash. It was a risky investment, but George did not shrink from it. He didn’t just plant a few rows as a test plot, either; he planted an entire field. It was sink or swim, and George was a skilled swimmer.
Early planting seasons were accomplished by using Cowboy George’s cattle horses for plowing (Dad had to “multipurpose” these tireless animals). They were also used for his other trade – he worked as a hired cattle hand – which helped to finance the farm.
We (Martha and I) would ride on “Old Dan,” the mule, while Daddy used him to plow the fields. Later, Daddy improved the process with his purchase of a new 1964 Ford tractor that he called “Blue.”
Zucchini not easy to grow
Daddy would begin planting the “zuch” seeds in early spring; he wanted to make sure the ground temperature was warm enough and that there was no danger of a late frost. He would make sure the plants had plenty of water; for lack of water could cause a malformed squash. Blossom end rot could result if the soil was not evenly watered; the ground needed to be damp but not soggy.
He also would add fertilizer to the soil, since these squash are heavy feeders, and proper nutrition is vital to production. The crop was also monitored for any beetles or bugs that would try to dine on this costly meal. Daddy’s only choice was to apply a pesticide to rid the squash patch of these unwanted dinner guests.
He was pleased with this newcomer, zucchini, because it was an abundant producer. The flowers or blooms on the squash were important for pollination. Without this pollination, there would be no fruit – just lots of blooms.
Read more about Cowboy George.
(Next week: “Cowboy George” Perocchi ensures good pollination and, thus, high production, by partnering with beekeepers.)
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.