Debbie's Blog

Van Till Family Farm Winery

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Reminded me of the fictional antagonist in the movie The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West…

Tackling the thorny trees that were growing in a neglected fence line along the pasture at the winery, made me think of the Wicked Witch of the West from the movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” We have had some warm days for winter, in the 50’s these last few weeks, so I spent some time enjoying the outdoors with my battery powered chainsaw and I cut them down.

As you can see in this picture, they are most wicked with 2-3″ thorns that cut through even insulated pants, but not

through the welding gloves I wear!

The fence row is clean now, but the thorny trees lay in the pasture waiting for me

to send them through the chipper on the tractor, which is in the first picture, and it does a fine job of turning these wicked branches into harmless wood!

So, as I chipped and the pile spread out on the ground and the pile of branches got smaller, it was then that I imagined the similarity between the small wet pile of clothes that was left of the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy threw the water on her, and my

sprawling pile of chipped thorny branches near the fence. Such a great sense of satisfaction! Unlike Dorothy, I didn’t regret turning the stack of branches into a harmless pile. I intentionally aimed to make the pile near the fence, because I don’t use these for making compost

for the garden and vineyard. Let them turn into organic matter for the pasture.

Here is a pile of good woody chips made from a diverse collection of trees and saplings that we have been collecting from the farm this fall and winter.

These will be left here to age over the winter and early spring and when we start

making compost, we will add green material and nitrogen so the piles will go through a

thermophilic process and produce a lot of heat and become BioComplete Compost with lots of microbes!

Here is some compost made last summer. It has a nice deep chocolate brown color and is full of microbes.

This will be used to make compost extract for the vineyard and gardens.

Harvesting the grapes, the fruit of the vine!

The wine, from the fruit of the vine, and the active microbes! Cheers!


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The Pawpaws are ready to pick!

Though we are really busy in the middle of grape harvest and have tanks of wine, at different stages of production, that have to be monitored and grapes ripening in the vineyard, we make time to keep an eye on the fruit trees in our gardens.

The pears are ripening and will soon be turned into Pear Dessert Wine (port).  But, there is one kind of fruit tree that I think I will use for cooking and not for wine.

There are two Pawpaw trees in our Wine Barn Garden and the fruit is ready to pick!

Pawpaw Tree in Wine Barn Garden

Pawpaw Tree in the Wine Barn Garden. This tree is 10 years old and about 12 feet tall.


The race is on to get the fruit when it just ripens, but,  before the raccoons or the opossum.

More Pawpaw Fruit Ready to Pick

Pawpaws ready to Pick.


Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) are native to North America, growing wild in much of the eastern and Midwest portions of the United States.

The fruit tastes similar to a banana, and can be used in recipes similar to how one would

use a banana.

This month Chef Matthew is making a special dessert with the ripe pawpaws.  He’s

made a wonderful Pawpaw Cake and Pawpaw pudding topping to accompany the cake.

This will be on the menu and served in the Wine Garden this weekend. Should be very tasty.

Now, which wine will we pair with that?



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Beauty and the Beast in the pasture.

With a very wet spring and pleasant temperatures, everything has been growing wonderfully, even the weeds.

Thistles in pasutre

Thistles in the pasture

As I was trying to eradicate the thistles from the farm, I came across this patch of

Austrian Peas blooming.

Austrian Peas in Pasture

Austrian Peas in pasture at winery.

We had planted them last fall in a cover crop.  The seeds germinated in

the cool weather then waited until the warmer weather of spring to grow.

Planting Covers in Pasture 2018

Cliff planting cover crops in our pasture at winery.

They have such delicate and pretty flowers, that

provide good nutrition for the livestock, but also have deep roots that allow lots of

water to penetrate and enrich the soil.

We will let the blooms turn into seeds so they fall onto the soil and they will

be ready to germinate in the fall.

Though there is plenty to see in the walking trails at the Wine Garden, looking over

the wall and past the trees gives our guests the peaceful scenery of the pasture and

hay field.


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Bringing a Tractor to “Touch-A-Truck”

When the Excelsior Springs Park and Recreation Department invited us to bring one of our farm tractors to the Touch A Truck event at the Excelsior Springs High School parking lot on a Saturday morning in September, Jason, our

son and Director of Operations quickly and gladly said, “Yes!” We are very interested in

education and this seemed a great opportunity.

The great adventure began at early dawn with moving the tractor and putting the brush

forks on the front and the sprayer on the back.

Touch a truck getting ready 3

Early morning bringing the Tractor to the trailer.

After getting the tractor, truck and trailer sprayed clean with the pressure washer, since no one really wants to see a dirty tractor, though, that is a part of farm life, Jason took the tractor to town.

Loading up

Cliff had to stay at the farm so he could finish planting with the “no-till” drill

in some poor sections of our pasture.  We are planting a diverse seed mix of radishes, turnips and also some grass.  Yes, cattle will eat these and the plants do wonders for

Planting Covers in Pasture 2018

Cliff planting cover crops in our pasture at winery.

helping poor soil.

Along with the tractor, we brought a hand sprayer and some potted plants to show the children how a tractor and sprayer work together.

The child would pump the sprayer, pretending he or she was a tractor, and then

take the spray hose and squirt water on the plants.

Teaching children about sprayers

Jason letting children spray the plants just like a tractor!

The children had great fun

and we could explain to the parents where the spray nozzles were on the

sprayer so they could get the idea of what we were showing.  It was a very hot day, close to 90 degrees and many times I wished the children had sprayed me instead of the plants!

Granddaughter Norah enjoyed showing the children how to pretend they were tractors

and pump and spray!  At the end of their turn, we pretended that we took them to the barn and turned off their engines.  It’s fun pretending!

After sitting on the tractor the children wanted to spray the plants!

Norah helping. Lots of water on the ground!

The Excelsior Springs Chamber of Commerce had their trolley there also,

as you can see in this picture.  The trolley has a Wine Tour approximately

twice a month and brings guests who are looking for a unique way to

enjoy themselves.

There were many different kinds of trucks and service vehicles.

There were sirens and horns and bells going off throughout the


Fire Engine at Touch a truck

Fire Engine at Touch A Truck

Overall it was a lot of fun.  Every once in a while, we need to

do things that are just fun and support the community.




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Yes, Fresh Figs in Missouri



If you have lived in the south or have been to California,

you may have fond memories of tasting fresh figs at the farmers market or

picking them from a tree.


Moving to the Midwest, where the weather doesn’t just dip below freezing

for a few hours but stays there for days on end, which isn’t good growing conditions for figs, doesn’t mean that one needs to give up eating fresh figs.


Figs do grow in Missouri.  The first time I saw them growing outdoors was at Powell Gardens.

There was a row of plants next to a building and they were more like shrubs

than the large tree in our yard as a youth in Southern California.   But, to my amazement,

these shrubs did produce figs.  And if they could grow them, I figured, I could too.

After planting a rooted cutting, in our Courtyard here at the winery, I anxiously

waited for the plant to get big enough to produce figs.

I can laugh about it now, but I was a little discouraged during the first summer, since the plant got cut to the ground twice

by the well meaning gardeners whose weed eaters didn’t recognize an edible plant!

These young men hadn’t ever seen a fig tree or bush.

It would have helped if I had put a wire fence around it the first time, but

nonetheless, I planted another rooted cutting and this time I did protect it!  This year was the 3nd summer and it was loaded with figs!

Figs Fall 2017use also

See the brown figs just ripening this September. They were sweet and so good!

Figs ripen from the bottom to the top of the branch, so I would regularly check the bush throughout the fall for ripe figs.  They continued to ripen up to the first frost.

Figs Fall 2017 use

Here’s another shot.

Chef Marc featured a pizza special this fall topped with figs and paired it with our Missouri Chambourcin Wine.  He also included figs in a topping for his Pumpkin Soup that he was serving as an appetizer in the Wine Garden.  He and Wine Club Manager, Stephen, had paired this with Missouri Chardonel Wine.  To use figs in a savory dish was new for me, since our figs were always eaten up fresh.  That just gives me a reason to plant more next year.

In the years to come, guests can be on the lookout for the figs growing in our farmscape.  Maybe, some will be inspired to grow their own. Or, maybe seeing the fig leaves or fruit will just bring back memories of a time when figs were  enjoyed fresh.

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In spite of the freeze last week, the farmscape still had enough life left to harvest …

….for the up coming wine pairings for our Open House this Friday and Saturday.

Look at this sage!  The freeze didn’t bother it.

Sage with willows

It is beautiful and the succulent leaves will give great flavor for
the cornbread dressing.  You can see the willow hedge behind this sage.

This willow turns bright orange during the winter, which gives

a lot of color.

Cutting Celery is a great plant to have in the garden. It is easy to start from
seed and very hard to kill. I tend to be very successful with neglect, and this
one endures and survives.

cutting celery ready

The first time I had experienced growing celery was in California, when my oldest
sister, Kathy, spent  a summer working in a celery packing shed near Nipomo while she and I

attended California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo,

The fog would roll into the coastal hills
in the evening and roll out late morning and the weather was mild and gentle. Great
for celery. Well, Missouri weather has no such gentleness, but this celery does well
here. And, in spite of the freeze, it looks great!

Even the  grasshoppers are  hiding in here hoping to stay warm.

cutting celery ready

Onions are another plant that survived the freeze.

onions in veg bed

These are green onions that propagate themselves in the garden. They emerge first thing in the spring, slow down and just
sit there during the heat of the summer, and then start growing again during the cool
of the fall.  We use these to garnish salads that are served in The Wine Garden.


Now, I need to take the harvest and cook and sample.  Friday is our Open House

when we will be offering guests, who are tasting wines in the Wine Shop,

the opportunity to pair wines with samples of dishes that we serve for Thanksgiving

and during the holiday season.  We will be showing how red

wine can be paired with turkey.   The harvest from the farm will be an integral part of that

experience.  Stay tuned!

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From Wine to Wall

The grapes have been picked, stemmed and crushed.  The winery is filled with the wonderful smell of fermentation!   There is something very rewarding about the concept of vineyard to vat, grapes to goblet, farm to table, farm to fork, onions to oven, pesto to pizza and squash to salad.   We are always coming up with a  fun way to describe our motto here at Van Till Family Farm & Winery.  We are farmers and love to value add to what we grow so our guests can have an enjoyable experience here at the farm & winery.

But there was another harvest this fall at the winery, though along the lines of farm to table,  this one is more like weeds to wall!

Clay for the Wall

Yes, we took our own soil (where weeds come from), added a few stabilizers and built an Earthen  Wall on the east side of the Patio Pavillion gardens.  It is quite a piece of craftsmanship.  We thoroughly enjoyed watching Floyd and Linda build it last month. The wall  has been made with Compressed Earth Blocks , also called CEB, which are bricks that are made from mostly clay, and a little sand and cement.    This mix is loaded, somewhat dry,  into a hopper, and with hydraulics it is pressed into  large bricks.

Under  1200 psi, these   bricks are durable!

Bricks from Clay for the Wall       Earthen Plaster is applied to the bricks giving a  smooth  finish to the wall.  With a water repellent finish,  it will be water proof and ready for the weather.   The wall will be the backdrop for a

East Wall

The finished wall waiting for the water feature.











The water feature will certainly add to the  peaceful and relaxing atmosphere that is here at the winery. Even though the weather has cooled down, the garden path is still extending an invitation to explore the fall garden.  Follow the path and come  see the wall!


A Tribute to Our Mothers and Fathers

Early this month , I enjoyed pruning and transplanting in the greenhouse Patio Pavilion.  It was so rewarding

to be able to dig in the soil, and work with plants that have blooms ( geraniums),  foliage ( boston ivy),  and fruit ( naval orange

and Meyers lemon trees) when most of the ground all around was  just beginning to defrost!

Frozen ground and 7 inches of snow didn’t stop me though,  from harvesting in the farmscape.   I collected cuttings of  pussy willows ( Salix Chaenomeloides, Giant Pussy Willow),  curly willow ( Salix Matsudana Golden Curls) and a bright orange one (Saliz alba  Britzensis,  Coral Bark Willow).   I made these  ‘ornamental woodies’  into  dry arrangement decorations for the Patio Pavillion and the Tasting Room.  And compared to a  snowy day  like yesterday,  the Patio Pavilion temperature stayed near 62 degrees most of the day, such a taste of spring!

I had gotten behind in my maintenance this winter and spent the last few weeks trying to  catching up.  As I was working with the plants in the sun, I reflected on why I hadn’t done this earlier, because it should have been done a long time ago.  We like our patio and farmscape to look relaxing and  inviting and we aim to set a stage for our guests to enjoy the plants and atmosphere while they visit here at the winery.  We certainly don’t want them to  feel like they  must jump up and clean out dead plant material from the flower beds!

We are a farm family, though,  and when my Dad passed away early December, all of the load shifted to Cliff and the staff as Brian and I went to California for a few weeks.

Deb's Parents: Ted and Louise Scott

As expected, shifting back into gear takes time and I couldn’t get to these plants.

But as I stopped and reflected on the events over the last few months, I realized how much both Cliff and my parents had contributed to who we are.

My mother loved to garden, and I think I inherited the love of plants from her.  I had seen her successfully start plants from cuttings that had been discarded on the ground.  Is that a green thumb?   And what did I do today?  Why I picked up a broken branch from a geranium plant growing in a container near the patio door, got a mason jar filled with water and stuck that green branch in the water. Did I think twice about it, no!  I just knew, that was what needed to be done and I am quite confident that it will grow.  That must be an “inherited green thumb”!

My father kept very good records and loved history.  He would keep records of phone conversations for years and actually refer back to them to verify some facts.

I remember my brother telling me he had talked to  Dad regarding some business transaction and had told him the details.  Months later, my brother couldn’t remember the details, but he called  Dad, and Dad found the yellow legal pad which he had taken notes on and gave the facts to my brother.

I keep  a lot of records and have a lot of pictures of plants on the farm.  I must admit though, I don’t have them organized well and they get lost in a pile on my desk!

So, where do I get the ability to take care of the plants on the farm and keep records and enjoy writing?  I probably caught it from my Mom and Dad.

They devoted a great deal of time to us seven children and I am grateful for their dedication to us.

Cliff's Parents: Jim and Verna Van Till

Cliff’s parents enjoyed people  and were always having someone over to their house for dinner or coffee.  His Mom had a real gift of hospitality, even keeping  notes on what you were served so she wouldn’t serve the same thing the next time you came to dinner!  Cliff thinks of the farm as an extension of our home and we try to make our guests feel

welcome and comfortable  as if the Patio Pavilion were our home.   Cliff’s Dad was an honest man and a man of  integrity and  Cliff  shares those same values too.  Cliff’s parents devoted a great deal of time to raising their six children too, and for that we are also very grateful.

So, it is our hope, as you read this blog and if you can visit the farm and winery, that you will enjoy your time spent here and  that you will enjoy your  visit to the farm and winery.

Though my husband and I have some  God given talents and abilities, it was our parents that helped guide us and never told us we couldn’t achieve our dreams.

Thanks Mom and Dad.