Vegetable Garden

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.    

This is The West Garden facing the gravel road fronting our property and the newest garden. In production for 2 years this year we will plant cover crops and allow this garden to lie fallow for the 2012 gardening year.

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 Garden
This 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

Kandy Korn
Brandywine Tomatoes
Sweet Green Garden Peas

Australian Brown Onions

The newest of the gardens this has been dubbed The New Garden. Original right! This garden was just first prepared last year (2011) due to the shrinking size of the Old Garden. It is just North of the Old Garden and the other side of the treeline of the old fence row. This is the largest of all our gardens and will now be the garden for our summer main crops. Sweet corn, tomatoes, beans and peppers, squash and melons. Rich black prairie soil well drained at the top of the hill. Just the other side of the chicken yard so we can still be close to throw things over the fence to the chickens and close to the rabbit pens. The view looking north from here is breathtaking. You can see for miles.   This is near the northern border of our property and looks out over the neighboring farms.  

Beyond the garden another hayfield. 


 We try to always keep at the least a buck and two does of a large breed of domestic rabbit. Rabbit manure is the greatest for putting on gardens. It will not burn plants and does not even necessarily need to be composted although it makes the absolute best manure tea you can imagine. We feed them many of the left over apples and vegetables and in exchange get lots of wonderful fertilizer and meat too.
 Pigs are the garbage disposals of the garden. They love everything from corn cobs to pea shells. In return they make wonderful rototillers, Just put an electric fence around the garden and turn them loose. They can clean up a garden in no time. At the end of the garden season you have bacon and pork chops.
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

Once the weather stabilizes they are transferred to cold frames to harden off before going in the garden.

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 Beds
Fruit 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

 Apple Blossoms

 July Alberta Peach

 Green Apples

Green Plums 
 Heirloom Indian Bleed Red Peaches


Walnut Tree

 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

 This is the original asparagus bed that was planted in 1998. As you can see still producing spears the size of your thumb. These crowns were wild growing in an old fence row and we dug them up and planted them in this bed. The bed is 20 feet long and 10 feet wide. This bed gets topped with a fresh topping of rabbit manure every fall and other than that it pretty well maintains itself. Every winter we cut the plants down and burn them to prevent disease. The trick to asparagus is not to overcut it.

  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


  1. Your garden is so awesome! If mine could look like that ,I would be happy, thanks for sharing.

  2. Your gardens inspire me so much! Where did you find the indian bleed red peach trees, and what are the chill hours for them? I would love to find some. Thank you for showing your gardens and telling how you keep those weeds down. Very beautiful! Your commitment and hard work shows.


  3. oh BOY.

    This was a feast for my winterweary soul!

    My husband and I, with four children in tow, just bought a very delapidated homestead that has been in my husbands family for five generations. It sounds very similar to what you got yourself into in the beginning. How nice to see that at some point it WILL be nice! We named our place Hopestead...because right now, it being a homestead is more of a HOPE than a reality! hehehe :-)

    You have given me a good case of garden envy though! We have to start from scratch this year and the first year is always the hardest. How nice it would be to have the grapes and asparagus and the peaches already producing?!?! ;-)

    Rebecca from

    1. Hang in there we all have to start somewhere. Now I can laugh about walking in that old house on the first day and just sitting down and crying. It was mine...Lord help me. But the years have passed and now we look back and remember the work so as not to take anything on this farm for granted. It was all paid for in blood, sweat and indeed many tears. But now I watch my grandchildren pick fruit from the orchard and catch fish in the pond and it was so worth it.

  4. I have so much enjoyed browsing through your gardens. They are simply beautiful. I can only grow a very few things. I don't have the land to do much, but love going to the farmers markets and I love canning with my grandchildren. Thank you so much for the inspiration. Kat

  5. This is simply marvelous! My husband and I have recently caught the gardening bug. And we have it bad let me tell you. We both have to blog about it in order to get through the day. haha. Its like having more children. One day I would love to live in a place where we could have what you do. I want chickens, pigs, and bunnies (oh my) as well as fruits and veggies. You obviously know what you are doing, and are great at it. I look forward to seeing how everything grows with you.


  6. You are Master Gardeners. Thank you for sharing your world. We live on a half acre in dry Southern California (on a slope as well) - so we can't do what you do - but do keep up with our fruit trees and vegetables. Thanks so much for the photos and recipes! We've enjoyed your efforts!!

  7. hey have you ever though of WWOOFing, i would love to come and help out.


  9. I came to visit from an invitation by Peggy at Hidden Haven Homestead. Not only is she a blog neighbor but lives only 6 miles from me. I have always fancied animal raising and gardening but, never really indulged too much. Your gardens are amazing and one day, perhaps in my twilight years I mean to get me something going. I look forward to your next posts.

  10. I have really enjoyed reading your blog and getting to see the amazing growing,processing canning you do!! WOWOW! How do you grow the sweet potatoes?? It would be great to have some of my own, I am up in the Portland Oregon area, I think we are zone 8 here, tho we rarely get much snow..

  11. This is wonderful.I live in KY now,but I am from Columbus, Ga..I love when I hear people are from my home state.I started gardening 3 years ago, but this year I did not plant anything. Reading your blog has me excited about planting again.

  12. Wow! I'm loving your blog. This beginner gardener can learns lots of tips & techniques here. Your tomatoes are huge, and they look great. What type of lights are you using for grow lights & how long are they?

    1. Regular shop lights, fluorescent, 4 bulb. Probably about 5 foot long attached to a wooden rack.

  13. I you are getting older and do no wish to labor in your garden, then you should consider a no-till garden. I have started and love it. Please watch the and you will be amazed how well the works. It is just awesome in so many ways that your grandchildren will benefit from it!!!

  14. I just love looking at your vegetable gardens - they are absolutely beautiful! Here in Indiana we are just starting to get stuff in the ground because of our crazy weather. Looking forward to digging in some dirt this weekend! Take care.

  15. Hi I just was looking at your garden pictures, which are awesome, when i saw you garden pots out of newspaper.I would love to know how you do that. A wonderful idea you can then put the plant in the ground pot and all. Would you mind sharing how it is done . Thanks for all the other things you have shared. Bonnie

  16. What great gardens you have. I'm in NW AZ where the soil is all rock and to garden you must build raised beds. Wish my crops looked half as good as yours.

  17. WOW. Is it just you and your husband who take care of all this garden? It is beautiful. I love how working with nature is so much more satisfying and good for the soul--I'd take it any day over getting dressed up and going to work for someone else. Wow, what a blessing.

  18. Your tomato sauce looks wonderful! Would you share your recipe?

  19. Just tomatoes peeled and cut up and cooked down slowly to a thick consistency. Then I add a Tbsp of lemon juice and half a tsp of salt per quart. Then I water bath can.

  20. Great blog & good post. Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!
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