Grit Blogs > Cultivating a Dream

A Farm is Born

Pauline HyltonThe farm bug hit us kind of like the flu. Fast and furious.

One day, we were happy and content living in sunny Florida, running our own charter fishing business. The next minute found us purchasing plastic farm animals to set alongside the Monopoly houses on a life-sized satellite map of our property.

The trouble was the size-scale. Our plastic chickens towered above our red Monopoly hotel like a bad scene from an old Japanese Horror Show. Plus, my dog ate most of them.

Our first inquiry about farming began with the Surry County Cooperative Extension. After hanging around their lobby for over an hour like groupies, collecting pamphlets about everything from what kind of blueberries to grow, to how to keep your children safe (ours are grown), a kind agricultural agent ushered us into his office.

“We want to be farmers!” Tom and I chimed in unison, smiles plastered on our faces.

Terry pushed back his chair and smiled. “What do you want to grow?”

The question took us by surprise. I broke the silence. “Dunno. What do YOU think we should grow?”

His face registered the faintest surprise, but he recovered quickly. Giving us papers and containers, he suggested we take soil samples.

We traveled to the local tractor supply store to buy a shovel. After arriving home, Tom trekked out to our hardened red soil to scoop some for the containers. Almost an hour later, he returned.

“It took all my strength to get any dirt from the ground! I stood on the shovel and finally got about a cup of it. How are we ever going to be able to grow anything in this?”

We had no clue, but it didn’t deter us from our farm dream.

We packaged and labeled our soil samples and drove to the post office. Carefully handing over our samples like newborn babies to a babysitter, we sent them off to some government place that tells us how to grow something in soil that is so hard my very strong husband can’t hardly dig it up.

Then, we waited, kind of like a gestation period. But we both knew that a farm was born.

In the meantime, Terry had suggested attending the Sustainable Agricultural Conference in Winston-Salem. That’s a whole other story for next week.

Here’s my question:

How would you prepare your red-clay-rock-hard-soil if you were starting out? Don’t forget, we’re going natural.

cindy murphy
11/22/2012 3:10:31 PM

Hi, Pauline. My suggestion would be Tillage Radishes - check them out on the Internet. The tap root grows very large, drilling through compacted soil. We use them as a cover-crop at the nursery where I work, and I've seen them grow as big as my leg. They're a warm-weather crop, so they start to rot when temperatures drop below freezing, adding nutrients to the soil as they decompose. I'm not sure if it gets cold enough for that where you live, (I'm in Michigan, so here it gets well below freezing), but they're an excellent choice for a cover-crop, and it might be worth you checking into. Good luck in your endeavor!


pauline hylton
11/21/2012 5:50:02 PM

Thanks for that, Dave. I'm forwarding all of this advice to my husband. Happy Thanksgiving to you!


nebraska dave
11/21/2012 2:34:09 PM

Pauline, how big is your farm. From mentioning Surry County, I surmise your farm is located in North Carolina. The extension office Websites are a terrific place to get information about organic growing. Check out some of the other states extension Websites as well. Steven has some great ideas on how to loosen up the soil and grow organic material to mix into the soil. My suggestion is to start on a small scale or you will be too overwhelmed. Farming is a lot of work, so expect to wake up early and go to bed tired. Do you want animals? Remember animals need care every day so unless you have reliable neighbors that can care for your animals there will not be days to get away. Farming can be a lonely venture especially since you are coming from a people oriented business. In my humble opinion, it's all worth it. The people that are involved with farming are the greatest people to know. Of course farming crawled into my DNA at birth and stayed dormant for 40 years of career life only to reemerge at retirement. My outlet now is gardening. Good luck with your venture and keep us in the loop. Have a great Thanksgiving.


pauline hylton
11/21/2012 1:13:55 AM

Thanks for all that help, Steven. I appreciate your help!


steven gregersen
11/20/2012 10:45:16 PM

Congratulations! If were my place I'd plant some heavy cover crops and plow them under in the fall to get as much organic material in the soil as you could as fast as you can. If you need to make money too you might start with wheat, oats or some other type of grass crop. The reason being is that after the harvest you'll still have a lot of organic material left to plow under. Alfalfa will give you lots of organic material if you don't cut it for hay but just let it grow and plow it under in the fall. I'm sure there are other crops. It's going to take a few years to get it in the shape you'll want. Just be patient. For your actual garden area get as much compostable material as you can. Horse manure is my favorite because most people who have horses seem to have an abundance of horse manure too and are usually happy to part with it. It will need to compost a bit before you use it so try to get stuff that's already a year or more old or, if it's fresh, spread it in the fall and plow it under and it'll be safe to plant in the spring. It's better to compost it first though. You'll have fewer weed problems then. Good luck and I hope it;s everything you dreamed about.