Books Bygone: The Miracle Vine

By Marica Bernstein

 

“Channing Cope is a farmer, farm radio commentator, speaker, and a newspaper columnist who writes about farming and rural life.”

So begins “About the Author” on the inside flap of the dust jacket for “Front Porch Farmer” (1949), a book about how to achieve “permanent year-round weatherproof farming.” More about the author: “It is doubtful if any one man connected with agriculture in the South has done more to interest individual farmers in the possibilities of year-round grazing and in turning from cotton to grass and cattle.” Sounds like quite the personality!

I know next to nothing about permanent year-round farming other than that rutabagas do well in my winter garden. But this I do know. More often than not, “About the Author” is written by the author who, in this case, “organized the Kudzu Club of Georgia, which now has more than 20,000 members.” But enough about the author, let’s talk about kudzu, the Miracle Vine.

Both Cope and I appreciate that this can be a difficult topic as “the miracle vine will run up on trees and telephone poles and will take over yards and empty lots,” so let me echo Cope’s plea to “lay aside all prejudices against kudzu and approach a consideration of the plant with an open mind.” The problem is worthless land, land well worn out due to erosion and over-planting. “Kudzu is our number one aid” in reclaiming this land. “We would be idiotic to refuse its help.”

To successfully grow kudzu, remember it needs phosphorus, potash, nitrogen, and “if the land is too acidic, and much of our red clay is, the kudzu root needs lime.” Don’t be fooled into thinking you can grow a lush patch of kudzu without fertilizer, especially at planting time. A 6-8-6 general-purpose fertilizer is recommended.

You may wonder if there are advantages to growing kudzu in addition to reclamation and erosion control. Yes! Kudzu is a legume and therefore adds nitrogen to the soil in preparation for other crops. “Kudzu duff may be considered a form of manure and handled accordingly.” Kudzu is also an excellent feed or grazing crop as it is higher in protein than alfalfa. All livestock, including chickens, love it.

With all of these uses, it’s a wonder farmers don’t grow more Miracle Vine.

The Miracle Vine chapter of “Front Porch Farmer” closes with a poem, “Song of the Kudzu Vine” by Georgia Poet Laureate, Ollie Reeves.

The Kudzu vine is a hardy plant

And it grows where other good vines can’t;

Where the land is poor and the clay banks stand

And the gullies run through the tortured land.

Here, it spreads its leaves on the wasting loam

As it sends its roots and clusters home,

And it saves the farmer hours of toil

As it spreads its roots to hold the soil.

It ends:

Happy the farmer, happy the day

Gathering the Kudzu, tossing the hay,

Come join the chorus, help us to sing,

Down with erosion, “Kudzu is king!”

Kudzu does rule along Mississippi roadsides! To be fair, “Front Porch Farmer” offers more than kudzu as a solution to a real problem farmers faced. Many of the other practices sound quite reasonable. What Cope’s, and the 20,000 Club members who planted kudzu everywhere they went, over-the-top enthusiasm illustrate is how quick we are to jump on bandwagons — especially if they are driven by personalities like Cope. This book bygone reminds to approach those who claim to have discovered “miracles” with a healthy dose of skepticism. For that unintentional reminder, I thank my friend, the “Front Porch Farmer.”

[“Front Porch Farmer.” Channing Cope. Turner E. Smith & Co., Atlanta. 1949.

Available at MSU Mitchell Memorial Library and online booksellers.]

Marica Bernstein lives outside of Walthall. She may be contacted at bernstmc@gmail.com.