In 1997 my husband and I purchased a 72 acre old dairy farm in the glaciated plains of Northern Missouri.A collection of rotting outbuildings and fences, a falling down farmhouse, some land leased out in row crops and the rest a forest. I had spent most of my life in the south. The daughter of a farmer I had gardened in one form or another most of my life. Just never north of zone 8. I had never experienced a northern winter or snow. I had never driven in snow much less gardened with the seasons. So for me it was learning to garden all over again. My husband had been born and raised here but had never had an interest in gardening until now. We named our farm Hickery Holler and we were off on a new adventure. Hickery Holler Farm now has 3 working vegetable gardens. An array of fruit and nut trees including peach, apple, plum, pecan, walnut, mulberry, wild cherry, hickory and persimmon. We have two ongoing large asparagus beds. A raised strawberry and rhubarb bed. You can also find grape arbors and even thornless blackberry vines. There are also lots of herbs tucked in the ornamental beds as well as the vegetable gardens. Although we do not supply all of our food we do supply probably about 80% of it. At least 2 out of 3 of our daily meals consist of what has been grown and preserved from these gardens. All organically grown, fertilized from the manures of the animals we raise here. Mostly chickens and rabbits. Very rarely do we use any pesticides or herbicides here on the farm nor do we choose to plant any genetically modified crops. Choosing instead to plant heirloom open pollinated varieties and save our own seeds in an effort to grow as healthy and frugally as possible.
The West Garden sits beside one of our hay fields and therefore gets heavily grazed by deer. We usually plant a small amount of field corn there and dried beans. The field corn that has performed the best for us is Reid's Yellow Dent and we use it to help feed our chickens through the winter. Since we only keep about a dozen chickens during the winter we really don't require much. The Dried Beans usually include a horticulture bean for our own consumption, a pinto bean and sometimes field peas or black eyed peas which we pick enough for our own consumption and maybe can a small amount. The rest are disked into the soil as a green manure.
Our gardens are not no till. We do work our soil with The Little Green Tractor. An older model tractor we bought second hand when we first moved here. It is used for mowing and disking the soil around the farm. We also own an old tiller that we use to till but try to do that as little as possible. We are thinking of going to no till for as we get older we like the idea of having to work the soil less. But for now we do own a tractor and tiller. We also own several vintage push cultivator, harrows and hoes that we continue to use when we can.
This is what we call The Old Garden. It lies North of the house and beside the chicken yard. It is bordered on the north side by an old fence line of trees including a giant mulberry tree, wild cherry trees and an elm tree. It is bordered on the south side by a giant Hackberry tree. You can see the apple and plum trees just to the east of this garden. Just west of this garden is one of the asparagus beds and the chicken yard and house. This is very convenient for throwing those fresh pulled weeds to the chickens or tossing those over ripe veggies over the fence to the chickens.
The Old Garden being worked up in the fall
The Old Garden 2010. Cabbage, broccoli, peas and onions
The Asparagus Bed just west of The Old Garden. The fencing is to keep the deer out.
2011 Early Spring GardenThis garden has been in constant production for 14 years. It was the original garden that we first prepared right after we bought the farm. As you can see in the picture above it is still going strong. As the years progress it has gotten smaller because we have had to pull it back away from the ever growing shade of the nearby trees. To keep a piece of land in production this long without wearing the soil out requires the constant addition of organic matter. Lots of cover crops are planted and tilled under. Especially buck wheat and cow peas. We like lots of wheat straw mulch with newspaper underneath. You can see the apple, plum and peach trees beyond the garden and beyond that forest. This is the garden that we always plant our early spring crops in. Closest to the house, water and cold frames.
There are always lots of compost piles going all over the farm. We tend to tuck them here and there where most convenient. All of these will be added to the gardens in one form or another. Above you see rotted compost in the middle and cornstalks in the far pile and straw in the pile nearest you. We compost everything from yard waste, grass clippings, straw, manure, paper,coffee grinds and eggs shells as well as anything that doesn't go to the chickens or pigs.
Another compost pile by the cold frames.
Peas, potatoes and lettuce in early spring in the Old Garden.
Broccoli, lettuce and peas
Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce and White Lisbon Bunching Onions
Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage
Sweet Green Garden Peas
Australian Brown Onions
Beyond the garden another hayfield.
OUR FELLOW FARMERS
Or a revenue from their sale.
Never is my farm without a dozen chickens or so. They eat the bugs and help loosen the soil in my garden during the off season. Devour the small green weeds pulled during the growing season and all the chicken scraps from my kitchen too. Allowed to free range some of the time when the garden is not in full production. In return they give me meat and eggs just about year round. For the last 14 years I have kept Buff Orphingtons and love that they are so docile yet dependably give me large brown eggs even in the winter while still being a good meat bird and also hatching their own chicks. Versatile and easy to care for they are the right breed for me. They also contribute lots of bedding straw and manure for my compost piles and egg sales give me a small income from them.
Starting Our Early Crops
All of our early spring seedlings are started early inside on the homemade light stand made by my husband. We have a small greenhouse but find that most everything that we want to start early can be started right here on this stand and then moved directly to cold frames to harden off.
Some are started in flats that have been recycled through the years. I bleach them in a mild bleach solution and store from year to year. If kept from direct sunlight they will last for many years.
Once larger I transplant to recycled pots sometimes made from plastic drinking cups disinfected and saved from year to year
Sometimes planted to recycled homemade newspaper pots
seeds drying in pie plates and awaiting storage over the winter.
We find that over the years the garden has not only helped us to get exercise but also helped to nourish us both in body and spirit. By planting heirlooms and saving our own seeds, making our own light racks and cold frames and using as many recycled materials as possible and making our own compost. That we can garden with very little expense, without the cost of seeds and sprays and fertilizers makes a huge difference.
We do continue to buy seeds occasionally but prefer to save our own.
By rotating between these three gardens we manage to pretty well keep our pantry as well as two freezers full a large majority of the year.
The Orchards and BedsFruit and nut trees, grape vines, berry brambles and perennial vegetables such as asparagus are some of the greatest things you can invest in. Purchased once their harvest only increases over the years. I purchased one rhubarb plant almost 10 years ago and now I have a huge bed of rhubarb after dividing that original plant many times. The initial cost of many of our fruit trees has been far exceeded in what it would have cost for that much fruit many times over. A tip is always buy quality stock and put a little effort into soil amendment up front.
Rhubarb Bed started in 2011
Strawberries and Rhubarb in a raised bed. Grape arbors in background
plum tree in bloom
Peach Trees in bloom.
Doyle Thornless Blackberry
July Alberta Peach
Heirloom Indian Bleed Red Peaches
The walnut tree is the first tree we planted on this farm in 1997. Grafted by a cousin it has been bearing since 2010.
rhubarb and strawberries a traditional combination
Nothing better than fresh strawberries to go with that rhubarb. We replant strawberries every three years to keep our plants young and vigorous.
This is the newest of our asparagus beds. It is 35 feet long and was planted in 2005
Our Daily Haul
The Grape arbors are constructed of simple T posts and hog panels.
Pruned every January and mulched with grass clippings and rabbit manure
These become canned Grape juice, jelly and grape wine
The Blackberries grow on the same kind of arbor
These are on their way to becoming Blackberry jam, pie filling and even blackberry cordial
Blessings from The Holler
The Canned Quilter