Sunday, January 21, 2018

Origins of Hickory Hurst Farm's Name

History fascinates me. I'm always eager to share the origins of the farm's name. It's one of the most frequently asked questions of the farm.  

Surely you've heard of other farm names, e.g., Elmhurst Dairy, Maplehurst Farm. I bet you've also heard of town or street names such as Pinehurst or Lindenhurst. Looking at the etymology of hurst, its origins trace back to hyrst, in Old English, which means hillock, grove, eminence, or wooded sandbank. Aptly put, since my great-grandparents encountered numerous shagbark hickory trees--a grove--surrounding the farmhouse when they moved to the farm in 1908. A photo from 1920 shows at least two hickory trees shading the farmhouse in mid-summer (photo below). This photo looks northwest from the southeast corner of the farm. 

Hickory trees shading Hickory Hurst Farm, 1920
Hickory Hurst Farm, 1920

Another photo taken the same day, yet father away, includes the main barn and the shagbark hickories towering over the farmhouse in the right side of the photo. One family story handed down to me was that lightning struck and decimated the hickory tree in the right foreground (of the same photo). As a child, I vaguely remember playing in the pasture around the remnants of that stump. Numerous volunteer seedlings over the years would supplant the void left by that tree. 

Shagbark Hickory trees pasture, 1920, Hickory Hurst Farm
Hickory Hurst Farm pasture, 1920

Shagbark hickory trees are native to western New York State and to the eastern half of the United States. They tend to develop a deep tap root, grow slowly, and have a long life. A relative of the black walnut, they produce a substance called juglone, which inhibits the growth of other plants within their vicinity. Shagbark hickories tend to produce juglone at lower concentrations than their cousin; nevertheless, the juglone still impedes the growth of certain plants. Shagbark hickories do produce edible nuts that add delicious flavor to quick breads, cakes, and cookies. Squirrels and chipmunks hoard the nuts for winter fodder, too.

Speaking of longevity, the shagbark hickory that currently looms in front of the farmhouse is approximately 200 years old. The position of the current tree in respect to the house is most surely the same tree as seen in this 1875 photo when Norman Newbury owned the farm (photo below). Another photo taken more than a century later gives another perspective from a different vantage point.

Shagbark hickory, 1875, Hickory Hurst Farm
Norman Newbury residence, 1875 (forerunner of Hickory Hurst Farm)

Shagbark Hickory at Hickory Hurst Farm, 1979
Hickory Hurst Farm, 1979

The next time you have an "AHA hurst" moment, think about a grove of trees. And remember, too, Hickory Hurst Farm does have a name after all, one that is secondary with its other name, "Go back. You forgot the flowers."

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Go back. You forgot the flowers.

Flower Stand 2003
Is all started as a joke.

My calculated attempts at drawing customers into the flower stand seemed to be an exercise in futility. Customers whizzed by at 55 miles an hour and I was trying to devise a scheme that would make the flower stand more noticeable AND entice people to stop. Reflecting back to the early days of the flower stand in 2003 leaves me with humbling memories. Cut flowers sat in quart-sized canning jars atop an aluminum folding table that rattled and toppled in the wind. A netted, domed camping tent provided temporary shelter from the rain and sun, however constant exposure to the elements had left the netting in tatters and a few broken jars. I'd just upgraded to a taller and wider tent for the flower stand (photo above). This one was tethered to cinder blocks and didn't hurl into the wind like its former cousin. A new thought plowed through my mind one day while I was mowing lawn.  

The sign works.

Mowing lawn for me is a rather mundane task, whether it's using the push mower or the riding mower. I can think of many other ways I'd rather be spending my time. However, I prefer to view that "down time" when mowing to think creatively about solving some of my nagging woes. I'd been rattling my mind for quite some time before the new idea bloomed. What also prompted the new gimmick was customers stopping to purchase bouquets of flowers as a gesture in forgiveness (to their significant others). They had hoped the gesture would release them from the proverbial dog house. Later that week I elbowed a friend and revealed my jingle to her, "Go back. You forgot the flowers". She cheered. Others loved it. A friend volunteered to paint the original sign and the jingle has followed us ever since. (We upgraded the sign in 2016, as pictured above.)

Throughout the years we've participated in area farmers' markets during the summer to sell our cut flowers, herbs, and produce. At one area farmers' market customers would constantly ask where Hickory Hurst Farm was located. After a while it was easier to tell them to look for our sign, "Go back. You forgot the flowers". Nine times out of ten, people knew the sign and that saved us repeating directions to the farm. Hundreds of farmers' market days later, customers still know us more by name as the jingle on the sign--Go back. You forgot the flowers--than as Hickory Hurst Farm.

This year marks 110 years of Hickory Hurst Farm. As we celebrate our farm's birthday and its four generations of ownership by the Ploss family, I invite you to stop by and wish us, "Happy Birthday!" This year I intend  to share our family's history from the horse-drawn days of 1908 to the tractor-wielding days of 2018. Keep your cup of coffee close and stay tuned as we unfurl in 2018. After all, that sign really serves as a subtle cue for people to stop and buy flowers.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Chin Up and Cheer Up!

Winter is a great time for reflection.  We can track where we've been and plot where we want to go.  It blesses us with new opportunities for the forthcoming year.  On icy winter evenings we can curl up with a cup of hot chocolate, sift through our gardening journals, and debate whether to heave the lamb's ears or the spearmint crowding the coneflowers.  Winter allows us to catch the spirit of children running amok in the candy store as we rummage through the new seed catalogs and drool over mouth-watering varieties of tomatoes. Life in the shadows brings a new outlook; there is gardening beyond Hosta and Impatiens.

Join me--Adrienne Ploss--as I teach a series of classes next month at Jamestown Community College (JCC) in Jamestown, NY.  The Wednesday evening classes meet 6:30-8:30 PM in the Carnahan Center and run for four consecutive weeks.  On 12 February 2014, I'll explore Succession of Bloom for the Shade Garden with tips on growing veggies, annuals, and perennials in shady areas and how to chart succession of bloom.  The following week I'll share secrets and recipes for growing tasty culinary herbs and maintaining them in Versatile Herbs.  On 26 February 2014, I'll reveal Great Groundcovers--annuals, perennials, vines, and shrubs--that are low-maintenance for the landscape.  Small Flowering Trees for the 21st Century wraps up the final week with a look at pest-resistant trees for the small property.  Register for these classes through JCC's Continuing Education program.

So don a gardening cap and march forward.  Pull out the gardening journal and flood the dining room table with seed catalogs.  (Some of my mail-order catalogs for organic or untreated seed include: Seed Savers' Exchange, Johnny's Selected Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Hudson Valley Seed Library.)  Fill your cup to the brim with hot chocolate, count your blessings, and place that seed order.  It's time to count down the days to spring.  See you in class!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ode to the Roadkill Wheelbarrow

Peter pulled into the driveway, ambled out of the rusty Chevy and propped open the trunk, all without uttering a word.  From the kitchen window I could not see what he had in store for me.  I stepped outside expecting to be giddy as a school girl, but was startled by the sight of a tar-covered, gritty wheelbarrow.  Remnants of caked concrete also covered the battered forest-green wheelbarrow, but everything was intact and the tire was full of air.  My brother, Peter, spied the overturned wheelbarrow along the interstate en route home one evening.  He corralled the wheelbarrow with reckless abandon, and tossed it into his trunk. (He swore that a wheelbarrow was on his sister's wish list.)  Peter fondly introduced the wheelbarrow to me as "your Roadkill Wheelbarrow"; roadkill, in this tale, had no association with the dead, but referred to its past life. 

Roadkill Wheelbarrow has endured three, possibly four, lives. Its second life emerged with its initiation into landscaping: its first duty was to haul hefty weights of Jamestown city bricks for a brick walkway.  With the city bricks averaging 10 pounds each, the wheelbarrow plied through the mud and rain, carrying 200 pounds of brick for numerous trips, surviving its new role.  It also hauled lots of flagstone for patios and acquired more dings from being used for rock-picking fields.  As the years passed, we relegated it to lighter duty such as hauling straw, soil, and mulch.   

In its current life, the wheelbarrow resides on the farm and faithfully plods along, carting cinder blocks to the farm stand, weeds to the compost, or flowers from the greenhouse.  Scars from its blacktopping days remain; we never did paint it or hammer out the nicks and dents.  The wheelbarrow graces its stall in the Squash House, along with two others.  It guards numerous other garden tools and remains ready for duty.  The Roadkill Wheelbarrow also serves as a constant reminder of my late brother's generosity and spirit. 

Marcy the cat and the Roadkill Wheelbarrow

I'll save writing the traditional ode, perhaps for a future post.  Right now I am reminded of how often people take life (and each other) for granted.  Each day is a blessing.  We welcome our customers like family.  Visit us and see the passion in Hickory Hurst Farm that has been growing for four generations. 


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Oh, My! It's May!

Spinach from the high tunnel greenhouse has bolted, the weeds have been ousted, and the drip lines have reappeared.  The transplants are moving in while bullfrogs croak their song.  Oh my, it's May.

Other hints of May surround us.  Garlic pokes through the straw, asparagus spears through the sawdust, and the gooseberries reveal their flowers.  Radish and lettuce seedlings peer atop the raised beds.  Honey bees dash in and out of the shad bush flowers while barn swallows dive bomb cats basking in the morning sun.  We mulch the Squash House cutting garden and herb beds with shredded bark to gain a foothold on the weeds.  Weed barrier fabric drapes the drip lines of the greenhouse and awaits its new occupants: flower, vegetable, and herb seedlings.  It's planting time. 

Radish seedlings in the hoophouse
The springtime planting frenzy begins.  We plant the black, red, and yellow raspberry canes behind the tool barn.  We sow the Elegance mix of greens, sprinkle kohlrabi seeds into the tiny furrows, cast dill seed onto the raised bed, and litter Rainbow chard seed in the back garden.  Other greens such as Mizuna, arugula, turnips, and Russian kale begin their march into the planting parade.  Snap peas and lettuce get tossed into the mix.  The cut flower and herb seedlings sit in the little greenhouse while sweet corn seed drop into the fields.  Squash, heirloom tomatoes, and beans wait for warmer soil to soak their roots.  Ah, it's May.

Amish Cockscomb seedlings in the little greenhouse

Visit our farm stand as we bring spring to you.  Gather some daffodils and Viburnum branches, pick up some asparagus, or take home some honey fresh from the farm.  Happy Planting!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Squash House and the Chicken Coop

When we arrived at the farm during Christmas, 2009, we inherited 96 acres that included a farmhouse, workshop, four outbuildings, and miscellaneous farm machinery.  We waded chest-high in horse-drawn equipment from the 1930s, rusty milk cans, and sundry (hay) baler parts scattered throughout two barns.  We trudged knee-deep in manure, too, literally.  Pig and chicken manure had piled up in the chicken coop along with horse manure in the main barn.  We had our work planned for us.  It would take three years to completely plow through all of the outbuildings, sort equipment, salvage scrap metal, clean out manure, and breathe new life into the farm buildings.  We tackled the chicken coop first.  

Built in 1908, the chicken coop housed chickens full time until the latter 1960s when my parents switched to growing squash and pumpkins.  They installed a kerosene heater on the lower story, providing warmth needed to cure and thicken rinds of the winter squash.  The extended shelf life of the winter squash and pumpkins enabled my parents to sell the produce to area grocery stores during the winter.  I vaguely remember area school children peering into the chicken coop (during the fall farm tours) and inquiring about a squash house.  My British mother had dubbed the chicken coop, the Squash House.  The name stuck. 

Chicken Coop at Hickory Hurst Farm 1922
Feeding Time...
My great grandmother, Jessie Lathrop Ploss, at Hickory Hurst Farm, summer, 1922
(chicken coop, background)
After a 15 year hiatus, the Squash House reverted to chickens and hogs when my older brother asserted the farm reins.  The poultry-pig stint continued intermittently for 10 years, with layers of chicken manure accumulating and pigs inching their way to the ceiling.  Manure was never completely mucked out; there was always some residual foundation on which to build future layers of animal waste.  Twenty-year-old manure greeted us when we tackled the Squash House during the spring of 2010.

We donned our manure-cleaning gear, including dust masks, straw hats, barn boots, and shovels; and scurried to open windows so we could heave the dusty black gold onto the black raspberry patch below.  Dust radiated from our hair and soot flew from our nostrils when we finished mucking out the manure.  Needless to say, the raspberries grew twice in size and the surrounding grass grew quite lush.  Eventually, we transplanted the raspberries to an adjacent field, then created the Squash House cutting garden a year ago.   

Squash House Cutting Garden, Summer, 2012

Squash House (former chicken coop), 2012
The cutting garden at the Squash House serves many purposes.  It provides eye-popping color and doubles as a convenient source for cut flowers at the farm stand.  It also showcases samples of cut flowers grown at Hickory Hurst Farm.  Within the display garden we try to arrange plants to show what color combinations are trendy, too.  Anchor plants in the garden, such as ornamental grasses, play an additional role of providing "filler" for cut flower bouquets.   Perennials such as Delphiniums and lamb's ears provide blooms for early-summer tussy-mussies.

This year finds a larger cutting garden at the Squash House packed with more flowers than ever.  By the grace of Mother Nature, we hope to be picking cut flowers for our scheduled opening next Saturday, 27 April 2013.  Gather some posies from our farm stand and make your own bouquet.  Or, have us make the floral arrangements for your special event.  In that case, heed the farm sign.  Go Back, You Forgot the Flowers!  See you next weekend at the farm stand

Friday, April 12, 2013

Go Back, You Forgot the Flowers!

Go back, you forgot the flowers. 

It all started as a whimsy in an attempt to lure more customers to the flower stand in its early days of 2003.  We wish that we'd had a dollar for every smile and chuckle that tag line has brought us throughout the past decade.  Forget GPS.  Our signature farm sign (with the tag line--Go Back, You Forgot the Flowers--) directs more people to our farm than does technology.  That sign also creates lots of banter among customers.  Some people will say that the sign actually convinced them to turn around and backtrack to the farm stand.  On the flip side, there are the "regulars", e.g., male customers, looking for a bouquet to earn their way out of the proverbial dog house. 

Cut flowers and mums
Flower Stand, 2004
The former flower stand--now farm stand--has some humble beginnings.  A mosquito net shrouded a picnic table displaying flowers in canning jars.  Melinda, a neighbor, quipped that we should be selling posies from the perennial patch (gardens).  Through the years the flower stand graduated from a slanted wooden table complete with a vinyl canopy and mulched floor to the buckets of flowers at the roadside farm stand. 

Today we still harvest our cut flowers from the perennial borders, but we grow a wider array of annuals.  We also grow edible flowers such as Nasturtiums and Calendula.  Filler such as ferns, Amaranth, and Artemisia complement the bouquets.  May usually signals the start of picking flowers from our gardens, the cutting garden at the Squash House (behind the farm stand), or the high tunnel greenhouse.  Stop by the farm stand to make your own bouquet or have us make the floral arrangements for your special event. 

The next time you pass our farm stand, look for the sign.  You may just turn around because you forgot the flowers

Hickory Hurst Farm Stand, 2012