Fields of Gold

Story Shannon Bardwell | Photographs Luisa Porter

Jacky Triplett and his wife, Margaret, saddle up the Chevy 4×4 and head down Bugg’s Ferry Road in rural Noxubee County.

“This is the area that we recreational farm,” says Jacky.

At that the Chevy leaves the road, bounces through a dried-up ditch and skirts along a tree line. In every direction for as far as you can see there are row crops.

Jacky continues, “You see, this major drainage ditch cuts off 20 acres in the southwest corner of our property, making it hard to access. Most of the land we lease out to farmers who raise soybeans, corn and cotton. But here, my brother-in-law Robert and I grow corn and sunflowers for the wildlife. The sunflowers are grown for the dove hunts in the fall and the corn to feed the deer.”

The farm has been in the Triplett family since 1950, when Jacky’s father, John Q. Triplett, bought the land to raise beef cattle. Some years prior to the Triplett purchase, county convicts farmed the land raising vegetables and hogs for food.

“In the ’30s and ’40s convicts did road work and built and repaired bridges. While Mr. Runt Lindley was the overseer they built three deep wells on the farm property,” says Jacky.

Nowadays Jacky gets the adjacent farmer, using a 12-row planter with GPS guidance, to plant the sunflowers in arrow-straight rows.

“We plant the ‘Perodovik’ variety or Black Oil Seeds for birdseed and to attract doves for dove season. Like any crop, growing sunflowers requires seeds and chemicals, tilling and fertilizing. To have the sunflower field ready by Labor Day weekend, we try to plant by April 15th, no later than May 15th. After the fields are tilled and fertilized we plant on 30-inch rows using about four to six pounds of seed per acre. Sometimes we cultivate to control the broadleaf weeds and morning glory. Sixty days after planting, the fields are full of sunflowers. That’s when Margaret likes to get involved.”

The pickup slows to a stop and Margaret jumps out clutching her sun hat, garden gloves and shears, “Jacky, can you get the buckets out for me?”

Jacky gets the water-filled buckets from the back of the pickup while Margaret, cutting and clipping like “Edward Scissorhands,” gathers the cheerful flowers.

“Margaret becomes my farming partner during the flower phase,” says Jacky. “She cuts sunflowers for table arrangements, for friends, sometimes for the church and for other special occasions.”

When asked if the sunflowers really follow the sun Jacky says, “99.9-percent of the time they face the rising sun. When the flowers first bloom they appear upright but as heavy seeds develop the face turns downward.” 

After 90 days, when the sunflowers have matured, the leaves are defoliated and during the next two weeks the seeds are harvested. A few rows are skipped, leaving seed for the doves.

Some of the seeds are sold to a local seed company and some are kept for personal use. But by and large Jacky says, “The most pleasure comes from dove hunts with family and friends.”