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

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