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

Friday, April 5, 2013

Crunching a Cucumber and Other Farm News

Have you ever gnawed on a homegrown cucumber?  What did it sound like?  Did it crunch when you first bit into it?  A homegrown cucumber tastes divine, compared to a store-bought cuke.  The same applies to homegrown herbs.

I walked into the hoophouse behind the barn this morning; an overpowering waft of rosemary filled my sinuses.  The rosemary endured a Chautauqua County winter in an unheated greenhouse.  The sun warms the greenhouse to a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit on a blustery 20 degree day.  And so another experiment comes to fruition; we'll overwinter rosemary year in the hoophouse.  We'll be harvesting some of the rosemary for our booth at Farm Bureau's Pride of Chautauqua event this Sunday.

(Rosemary in the hoophouse)

Here's a great recipe for using fresh rosemary.  The recipe is quick and a low-fat alternative to french fries.

Rosemary Oven-Roasted Potatoes
9"x13" baking pan
6 medium-sized potatoes (preferably red-skinned)
1 garlic clove
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3-4 springs fresh rosemary
pepper to taste
sea salt (if desired, to taste)
Prep time: 8 minuates
Cooking time: Approx. 30 minutes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wash potatoes.  Cut potatoes in half lengthwise (do NOT peel); place cut side of potato face down on cutting board, then slice vertically, making potato wedges.  Place potato wedges into baking pan.  Mince the garlic clove and mix with potato wedges.  Drizzle olive oil atop potatoes and garlic; dust wedges with pepper, then toss wedge mixture.  Dice rosemary and sprinkle atop wedges.  Place baking pan into oven for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown.  Serve warm.
Speaking of herbs, have you ever had the urge to pinch cilantro growing outdoors or inside in a container?  I'm getting impatient to pick some cilantro we have growing as seedlings--photo below--indoors (awaiting their transfer to the little greenhouse).  I use fresh cilantro as a topping with freshly sliced tomatoes, a smidgen of olive oil, and the juice of a freshly-squeezed lime. 
(Some of our cilantro seedlings)

The little greenhouse is now ready to receive its guests.  Numerous flats of flower (annuals and perennials) and vegetable seedlings await their transfer to the little greenhouse before final placement in the field, garden (s), or high tunnel greenhouse.  We finished replacing the plastic on the little greenhouse last night, with Pia (cat) supervising.  Warmer, calmer weather enabled us to complete the project. 
(Little greenhouse for seedlings)
Note the hitching post in the foreground (post is original to the farmhouse)
Visit our updated web site, either the full version, or our new mobile version.   Or, use your smart phone to scan the following QR code to take you directly to our mobile site.
Bring the kids with you Sunday to the Pride of Chautauqua this Sunday, 7 April, 1:00-4:00 PM, at the Chautauqua Suites, Mayville, NY.  The event is free and open to the public and a great opportunity to meet real live local growers and farmers.  Stop by our booth.  We'll have honey; fresh rosemary, thyme, and spinach.  We may even have some posies.  Pick up your herbs and get cookin'.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Springing Forward with New Offerings

(Hickory Hurst Farm, summer, 1920)
Spring has arrived, but Old Man Winter still graces us with his snowy mantle.  Signs of spring are subtle.  Robins peck at the divots on the exposed slope of the Squash House this morning.  By the size and quantity of divots, I'm guessing skunks or opossums foraged for insects last night.  Tulip and daffodil leaves crest above the soil while the lilacs' leaf buds begin to swell.  The sun's higher position in the sky warms the greenhouses more quickly and sends the rosemary (in the hoophouse) into a growing frenzy. 

Spinach and lettuce nears harvest in the high tunnel greenhouse.  Grayon the cat and I trek to the greenhouse to water the greens as the ducks and Canada geese accompany us with their honking.  Flats of cut flower, herb, and vegetable seedlings outgrow the quarters in the house and await their transfer to the little greenhouse within the next couple of weeks.  Yesterday my dentist inquired why I had not made the snow disappear; I replied that I'd had poor communication with Old Man Winter. 

The past two winters pale in comparison to this year.  Ice fishermen grumble over thin ice and neighbors shudder at the mention of snow.  We start the premise of an early spring when we begin sowing seeds indoors in mid-January.  A sagey aroma fills the house from the herb seedlings and grow lights cast their shadows.  The sowing-transplant saga continues until early May when we harden off the seedlings for planting in the gardens, field, or greenhouse.  In the mean time, we're itching to get outdoors and get things planted. 

This year brings some new and expanded offerings at our farm.  We'll have a wider selection of greens, including collards, Mizuna, and Asian greens, as well as more kale, lettuce, Swiss Chard, and spinach.  We'll continue the heirloom tomatoes, growing different cultivars and varieties this year such as Chalk's Early Jewel, Black Sea Man, Green Zebra, and Bean's Yellow Pear.  Due to popular demand, we'll have more banana peppers and more lavender will be available in late summer for drying.  The cutting garden at the Squash House (behind the farm stand) returns this year with a wider variety of cut flowers for make-your-own bouquets.  We'll also be posting more recipes on this site, at our farm stand, and at the Chautauqua Farmers' Market as time permits. 

By the way, visit our farm's new mobile web site at  We welcome your comments and questions.  Happy Easter!

Marcy, Guardian of the Woodpile