The pioneers were adventuresome and inventive when it came to raising things. They grew, cleaned, cured, chewed and sold just about every crop under the sun!
Up at the Hemp Farm northwest of Gowers Corner, near Fivay Junction, they grew the plant for which the farm was named. Hemp, known today as marijuana, was raised under the sponsorship of the Navy during World War I to make rope for the war effort. Unsuspecting woods-roamers occasionally come across it growing wild today in that part of Pasco County and blame today's generation. After the war ended, there was no need for hemp. It was cleared out and replaced with citrus trees.
The Hemp Farm had a house on it that was unique. A "dog trot" went straight down its middle. A porch ran all around the house.
From cotton to cactus
The Frizzell family, who moved to Lutz in 1893 and lived on the south side of Lake Brant, grew rice, peanuts and chufas. Chattie Frizzell Grantham told me her father, Marcus Frizzell, devised a unique way to clean the rice.
He hollowed out a big place in a stump and put the rice in it. He used a wheel with a little handle that took the hulls from the rice. The wind then would blow the hulls away. He sold his chufas and peanuts for seed to the Crenshaw seed store on N Tampa Street.
A few old-timers recall tales of an early pioneer who tried his hand raising cotton (Dr. Hood, we believe). There is a picture of Dr. Hood, Guy Sparlin and an unidentified man standing in the middle of the cotton patch. Cotton just didn't catch on here, although there was another patch planted north of Robbins Lumber Co. when it became illegal to grow cotton because the pink boll weevil had come to Florida.
For years, those passing by the old Holmes Nursery on U.S. 41 could see a cactus field across from it. The bright yellow fruit from these large pad opuntia cacti were sold in West Tampa and Ybor City. The plants themselves were extremely thorny. Anybody picking the fruit had to wear gloves or face the painful consequences. It is not known to whom the field belonged.
A man on Hopson Road planted lots of Beacon grapes. When they failed, he switched to muscadines and successfully grew them for about 10 years. Few think of grapes as being a viable crop in Florida, but the industry has recently been revitalized, although not as much in this area as in other parts of the state.
Some enterprising local farmers tried to grow oats, wheat, barley, sorghum, millet and rye but this proved to be more difficult than they imagined _ and unprofitable. What little they did manage to grow usually went to make feed for their livestock or bread for their tables or to entice game for hunting.
Florida castor oil
During World War I, the country was short of a better grade of oil than petroleum. It was needed to run the machinery churning out tanks, planes, and other equipment.
Some local farmer planted a crop of castor beans between Deer Lake and the railroad tracks at the county line. From these beans, machine-usable oil superior to petroleum oil was extracted. Not only was the oil used in manufacturing planes, tanks, trucks, etc., but also for medicine. A few old-timers have fond memories of that home remedy!
Then, as now, ornamentals were a popular crop. The Thomas and Goldie Wilson family raised amaryllis bulbs on Lutz-Lake Fern Road, across from Lake Allen. Today the giant grasshoppers would have a picnic there since lilies are their favorite food.
The bulbs were picked in the fall, then packed in sawdust or newspapers and shipped all over the world. Cut flowers were sold from roadside stands. The family strategically located these stands near cemeteries to make it easy for visitors to leave something beautiful on a loved one's grave.
Jake Porton raised maiden-hair ferns in slat greenhouses on his six-acre fernery located on the east side of Lake Hobbs. Large quantities were destined for the florist market in Washington, D.C. The ferns were packed in ice and shipped by bus to Jacksonville. There, they were frozen again, then bused north.
Jack LeHecka said he began working in the fernery for 50 cents a week. As the business flourished, he got a raise to $1 per week and later to $12 per week. After working there for four years, Jack asked for yet another raise, but Porton let him go.
Porton constantly smoked his pipe and threw his used matches on the greenhouse floor, while sitting and watching his workers. Jack said that when he raked the fern aisles each week, there were enough match sticks to build a bonfire!
Frog leg business
One man, with property south of the Apex and on the west side of Florida Avenue, decided he would raise frogs and sell their legs, which were considered a real delicacy.
He imported giant frogs from Mississippi.
Vernon Lastinger's father (of Lastinger and Gray Furniture Co.), who lived on Lake Cooper also had a pen of frogs. One bullfrog weighed 8 pounds!
The frog leg business (like the chinchilla business) turned out to be a scam _ a pyramid operation. People raised frogs to sell to other people to raise to sell to other people _ for a while, things were really hopping! Those not in the business would often "raise" their own to eat by shining lights into frog eyes at night, and then gigging them.
Emma Vosburgh, now deceased, but quite a character while alive, raised everything from birds and peacocks to monkeys.
Another family on Lake Saxon raised pigeons to help support themselves. When sales weren't going so well, they would eat the pigeons! And you could always get a beautiful soft song from them: "coo . . . coo . . . coo."
George Riegler tried raising tobacco plants for growers in North Florida and Georgia. The seeds were so fine (like dust) you could sow the acre he grew with just five ounces of seeds. George never learned to make or roll his own, although plenty of young men did. Others just chewed. Tobacco never really caught on here like it did in North Florida.
Old adage of the week: "You never know until you try it."
If you have old artifacts, pictures or stories to share with Elizabeth MacManus, a longtime central Pasco resident, she can be reached at 949-4352. Send letters c/o Central Times, P.O. Box 1439, Land O'Lakes, FL 34639.