What do the Fourth of July and potato bugs have in commonIn my work capturing the German Russian food culture, holidays were part of farm life, but in a very different way than today. With the pandemic of 2020, many activities have been altered or canceled completely, so I thought it would be nice to remind you all of the way the Fourth used to be celebrated.
Nearly all the elders I interviewed said the same thing about the Fourth of July holiday.
“We had to hoe the potatoes before we could go anywhere. Some families celebrated the Fourth at home. To top it off, those same little hands had to eliminate the potato beetles by picking them off the plants by hand.
One person said their mom used to deal with bugs on potatoes and worms on cabbage by sprinkling flour over them. What they didn’t know was it was more than likely laced with Paris green.
The Colorado potato beetle was successful eradicated around the 1860s with Paris green, an innovation in insecticide application, it was used with the first hand-operated compression sprayers, first wheel-drawn sprayers, first traction-operated dusters, first engine-operated sprayer and first air-blast sprayer (Gauthier et al., 1981). Potatoes were also one of the first crops to be treated by airplane.
Many of those Depression farmers did not have the means or large enough fields to invest in air spraying, but they did have children.
Delphine and Benjamin Vetter of Linton remember picking bugs off garden vegetable plants. Benjamin said, “We would use kerosene. Put it in a little pail and pick them and put them in there or else they would crawl out. You had to kill them somehow.”
Hoeing those rows was done around the first two days or three days of the month or no body was allowed to go to Fourth of July Celebration. The Vetter’s had a celebration on their farm and as far as Benjamin could remember, it has been going on more than 75 years and draws up wards of 400 relatives to go horseback riding, cook outdoors, visit the cemetery and catch up.
Ellen Tuttle who was close to 100 years old in 2013 recalls the excitement of getting up early on those holidays and to milk and get everything ready before hopping into the wagon hitched to the team of horses and traveling to Linton to celebrate. Of course, they had to be sure to head for home early enough to get the cows milked again.
By the Fourth they chickens were big enough to have fried chicken for the celebration, she said.
Donna Eszlinger recalls her aunt and uncle and her cousin lived a little way from their farm. They had a nice shelter belt and would invite her parents and another uncle for a picnic in the space amongst the trees. They would build a fire and roast hot dogs. Everyone would join in the baseball game, even the moms and dads. It was a nice time as she remembered with watermelon and ice cream.
Her dad would chop out the ice from a big wooden cow tank filled with winter’s ice and kept insulated under straw in the coolest place in the yard. He would put the ice in a gunny sack and crush it so they could take turns with the hand cranked ice cream machine.
After the potatoes were hoed ad the garden was weeded, Rose Voller Glas’ family would go to Strasburg for a parade of a few new cars. The kids would walk around and join in some races. For lunch, the family had ham sandwiches and cookies.
“Molasses cookies at that time,” she said. “When times were really poor, we would get molasses to feed the cattle and to put on the calves feed from the government. It was kind of a commodity and so then that’s what they got when we went to the Fourth of July.”
Rose’s sister said there were some fireworks. Just the small firecrackers on a string that you took off one at a time. They weren’t dangerous, well unless we threw them at each other. They did make noise.
Today, most children wouldn’t be too involved in hoeing before going to the fourth of July parade, but potato bugs still should be deterred before they destroy your crop. A couple of things help prevent infestation (potato bugs can reproduce three times in a season):
Good luck with your potatoes and have a safe Fourth of July.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.