Debbie's Blog

Van Till Family Farm Winery

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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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The Team Goes to Show Me Zip Lines!

Last month, the team here at the winery had an opportunity to go to Show Me Zip Lines located at our neighbor’s farm 2 miles north on the highway.  We had the grandest time!

Gary Marmoy, Linda Haskell and I really did do the Zip Line.  We were the "older ones"!

Gary Marmoy, Linda Haskell and I really did do the Zip Line. We were the “older ones”!

Cliff and I wanted our team to be able to speak from experience when guests ask about the Zip Line which was opened this spring on the Swafford Family Ranch.  From my experience, it was awesome.  Not only was riding, hooked to a cable 10 to 200 feet up in the air a blast, but the tour guides shared their story as well as the story of the farm, which always makes the experience more meaningful.

Unique view of the trip up the hill through the farm with Torie Gillam and Brodie Daly.  Both of these are hard working high school students that are on our team!

Unique view of the trip up the hill through the farm with Torie Gillam and Brody Daly. Both of these are hard working high school students that are on our team!

As we rode to the top of the hill and our tour guide explained some of the history of the farm as well as what we were seeing, I could imagine what it must have been like to have lived there on the farm years ago.  That just added a dimension to the tour that was cool!

Rylie White, one of our new servers, coming in for a landing.

Rylie White, one of our new servers, coming in for a landing.

To also see the rocks in the canyon, up close, was an experience you just don’t get from driving around in the country.

Brody Daly on the beginner run.

Brody Daly on the beginner run.

After our tour, we hosted the Zip Line Staff for a pizza dinner and tour of our property.


Show Me zip Line Staff and families relaxing after enjoying a pizza dinner at our winery.  Look how relaxed they look!  They did a great job on our tour!

Show Me Zip Line Staff and families relaxing after enjoying a pizza dinner at our winery. Look how relaxed they look! They did a great job on our tour!

We enjoyed showing them around and explaining the Farm to Table aspect of our grounds and we sampled the alpine strawberries growing in The Courtyard.  It was very rewarding to hear the “wow” when the guests sampled those little strawberries that have such a robust flavor.  This helped me to realize that what I sometimes take for granted, can be really interesting to other farmers.


Now our staff can speak from experience when guests ask us about the Zip Line or if they ask if there is anything else to do nearby since we are a destination winery in a very rural setting.  Each of our staff can speak for themselves, but as for me, I had a grand time and enjoyed getting to know our neighbors.  Thanks for a great time!

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January on the Patio

Early in January  we had  some seriously cold weather, where the night temperature was nearly -6 degree with a wind chill factor of -17.  That’s cold!

Some of the plants in the patio didn’t survive.  We had moved the citrus and avocado to be under the big heater, so, they and many other plants did quite nicely.

Blooming geraniums during the winter.

Blooming geraniums during the winter.

This geranium is still blooming, 2 weeks later.

dead geraniums

This geranium, which stayed near the wall where there were large air leaks,  is toast.

Cuttings, taken from the plants on the patio, ready for the heat mat. This will give them the warmth they need to root and grow.

Cuttings, taken from the plants on the patio, ready for the heat mat.
This will give them the warmth they need to root and grow.

But, at least I was able to get some cuttings, and now they are sitting in a plastic tent indoors near a window, on a heat mat,  and in a few weeks these cuttings will root and I will be on my way to getting replacement plants for the ones that died.

The rose bush survived, being right next to the wall, but the blooms didn’t.

Roses that wilted during the freezing weather this month.

Roses that wilted during the freezing weather this month.

Here you can see the wilted blooms and  the little buds pushing new growth.

Regrowth where blooms had died due to freezing weather.

Regrowth where blooms had died
due to freezing weather.

When I cut off the wilted part, underneath is really healthy plant material, which has been recharging for the last 2 weeks.  In another week or so, we should have blooms.  In fact, here are a few that are ready to open.

Roses ready to bloom weeks after hard freeze.

Roses ready to bloom weeks after hard freeze.

It amazes me how quickly these plants can recover from a freeze or sometimes, when we forget to water, a drought!  Here on the patio, winter is a season where the roses don’t go dormant, they do slow down, and the geraniums bloom profusely.  But this year, I have a lot of plants that are in recovery because of the extreme cold.


This is what I do when it is 12 degrees outside!  This is good "inside" work!

This is what I do when it is 12 degrees outside! This is
good “inside” work!

Today, I have been having a grand time, working here in the patio.  Outside, the sun is shining and it is 12 degrees.  Inside, it is  55 degrees and no heater.   The Thompson Seedless grapevine and petunias  needed pruning and the ivy needs to be trained.

We have been busy in the winery this month and it is time to take care of the plants.  But, we always take time to test wine!

Here I am, testing the not yet released Sangria with the Southwest Gourmet Pizza.  It’s a great match!

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The grapes are in and the wine is in the tank,

…and it’s 78 degrees and it sure  feels like California weather!  And with the cucumbers that I planted at the end of August looking so green and loaded with blooms,

the strawberry towers loaded with big berries, the carrots looking good and the raspberries loaded with ripe fruit, I am having too much fun walking around the farm, harvesting and enjoying the fruit of our summer labor. It is quite rewarding to have a long mild fall, because the farm really does seem to have one last burst of energy

as the plants produce in abundance before the really cold weather sets in.

Strawberry Towers in the Fall

Strawberry Towers in the Fall with big berries

Fall cucmbers growing in the hoophouse.

Fall cucmbers growing in the hoophouse.

Short round carrots, grown in the hoophouse

Short round carrots, grown in the hoophouse

  1. Ready to be cleaned and served in an appetizer tray
    for a wedding reception today.
    These are fun to eat!

Starting cucumbers in late summer works really well if they begin growing in the heat of summer and produce in the cooling weather of fall.

Here is a picture of a variety of cucumbers that we grow here that are fabulous!  They don’t get bitter, even when grown during the heat

of summer, the skin is smooth and thin, which means we don’t have to peel, and they taste great!  We use them in our garden salads that we serve in the wine garden.

Next post, I will explain how we  get them ready to produce even when the weather gets cold.

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Farm to Table or is it: Tower to Table!

The mild weather of the fall season  creates ideal conditions for the lettuce, arugula, mizuna and other

greens that are growing in the “Towers” in the greenhouse for the Garden Salad that we serve here at the winery.

Here are a few pictures to show you how this humble, but very necessary and nutritious part of our diet

has a very cool place here on the farm.

Pots ready to be filled with great compost made right on the farm.
See the mizuna growing on the edge of the grass. It is a volunteer,but we could pick it and eat it too!

Here , we start filling the pots that make up the grow towers, with potting mix that is decomposed strawberry roots, leaves and stems that were taken out of the towers in August.  Here, in the compost pile, the warm air, sunshine and the rains have created an idea condition for decomposition of this plant material, and now, in just a few short months,

it is ready to be recycled back into the pots to grow the greens.

After these pots are filled, we stack them in the greenhouse.

These lettuce plants are about 3 weeks old and are ready to be transplanted into the


Here is a tower, with just planted lettuce. In a few weeks these will be ready to start harvesting. They love this cool weather.

  Here the towers are filled with new seedlings that will be happy in the greenhouse, away from the

wind and enjoying the sun.

Lettuce, arugula, mizuna are ready to harvest for the farmstead salad served on The Patio Pavilion.

Here are the two towers with plants ready to harvest.  These greens are very young and just the outer leaves

are picked off, thus leaving the small leaves to get a little larger for the next pick.  In fact, these towers

were just picked 4 days ago and they have so much growth that they are ready to harvest again.

And here we are on a very comfortable  Patio Pavilion, in October, with our  farmstead salad, ready to eat, with

a glass of award winning Strawberry Festival Wine.

Farm to Table, or was that, Tower to Table!

Those chairs are empty, come join us!

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The Storm That Took Out the Strawberry Towers

Last month, my brother Lonnie Scott,  Bobcat Properties Farm,  wrote about his experience in an unexpected storm that came through the Farmer’s Market in the parking lot of Gen Ivy Hot Springs Spa in Joseph Canyon,  California.   He sells honey from the farm and has a “mascot bee”, Hanna.  This blog is a response to his story with a similar story of our own about a storm coming through Rayville, where our winery is, just 2 days before his storm!  I am just having some fun as  our mascot, Strawberry Shortcake is being re-introduced!  Life has been so full this summer with wine, pizza and the experience at the winery, that we are  just have a little fun here!

Hi Lonnie, this is Strawberry Shortcake.  I live at the Van Till Family Farm & Winery.  I am the Senior strawberry plant.  Since Farm to Table is the theme around here, the community of strawberry plants in the towers are responsible for producing the strawberries for the Strawberry Salad and Strawberry Shortcake for the Patio Dining and strawberries for the Farmstead Strawberry Spread that is sold at Christmas in the Wine Shop.  Though we can’t produce all the strawberries for the Strawberry Festival Wine that is made here also, we do play an important role around here in the greenhouse.  We help out during the tours, showing the guests how happy we are growing in the towers in the greenhouse!

All the plants are pulled at the end of the season, which is around this time of the year, but I always hide and overwinter somewhere and then get back into the strawberry towers  (we don’t have ‘runners’ for nothing!) just in time for the beginning of the next growing season in February. I live a secret life here!  It is amazing what you can do with phones these days, as I have secretly posted on The Van Till Farms and Winery  Facebook page  as far back as 2010.  I kept a bit of a journal from a plant’s point of view and posted on Facebook.  I made a lot of friends.  I have since retired from strawberry production, but I am still

around and keep an eye on things.

Hanna, the Honey Bee, probably has made a lot of friends at the farmers market too, and who knows, maybe she has a blog somewhere or she is on Facebook,  or both!

It sounds like you had an experience just like we had out here.  The Wednesday night, before your Saturday morning experience, Cliff and Brian  were coming back from Ladoga Ridge Winery, which is a winery in our Great Northwest Missouri Wine Trail Association and it is located about 45 minutes west of us. They had been helping at the winery and were on their way home in the evening.  As they were heading back, a storm with near straight line winds and rain  was moving fast, right toward Rayville.  They called Debbie and told her to get ready!  She took down the farmers market umbrella that was over the pool, so  the wind wouldn’t pick it up and sail it over the house.  Even though that did  happen quite a few years ago and it was found, undamaged,  in the front yard upside down the morning after a wild storm,   she didn’t want to  risk it this time.

Then, Debbie ran to the shop to close the big roll up door so the bags of cement that were being used to finish The Secret Garden wouldn’t get wet, as the winds now were blowing like mad.

Me, I was in the greenhouse when the winds kicked up.  Cliff forgot to tell her to roll up the sides  of the greenhouse, so the wind just blew right through, and took out the 2 rows of strawberry towers!

I wasn’t hurt, I could see it coming. Just like you I tried to warn the others, but all I could do was get to safety.  I had remembered the  “stop, drop and roll” in the literature for training when Cliff was a Wood Heights Fire Department Volunteer.  I needed something to read during those lonely winter nights that I was in hiding!  Yes, Cliff had great foresight when he built the greenhouse, it has lights!

Strawberry Towers on the ground after the storm!

As you can see in the before and after picture, the greenhouse isn’t the same!

But, as I mentioned in the beginning, the strawberries were just about finished.  Last week the boys took the soil and plants to the compost pile and refilled the towers and got everything swept up.

You wouldn’t have even known that this was home to 500 strawberry plants!

Well, it is time to go.  We have another tour coming through this Friday and I need to supervise the changing of the guard in the greenhouse.  The cucumbers, though they have been sharing space this summer,  are acquiring more space and the strawberry towers are now being converted to Tomato Towers, so the grape tomatoes can garnish the salads served on the Patio. These guys, the cucumber and tomaotes,  do a good job in showing people how their food comes from a farm, but I act in an advisory capacity to them, helping them do a great job!.

The winery is busy today too!  The grape harvest is on and there is juice running through a stemmer crusher, 2 pumps and a big bladdar press. Cliff is having a grand time!  He loves the stainless steel tanks and valves.  Last year, when the tanks were full and harvest was finished, he had so much fun, that he wanted to get more grapes and tanks so he could keep working with his equipment!

He is a happy man these days!

I would like to meet Hanna the Honey Bee someday, she sounds like she is a great asset to your farmers market experience!  Maybe I could learn some people skills from her, since she hangs out at a spa and  goes to the farmers market every week.   I have tasted your honey and used your lip balm, they are both good.

Well, good-bye from Van Till Family Farm & Winery, where you will find

Wine, Pizza and The Experience.


Strawberry Shortcake

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Drip Irrigation Project

Cliff Hooking up drip hose in Kitchen Hoop House

A frog on a lettuce leaf in the shade on a 95 degree summer day.

Shade cloth and regular watering with drip tape means sweet lettuce!

Today, Cliff is hooking up the drip irrigation for the Kitchen Hoop House where we have been growing lettuce for the salads and basil for the pesto sauce for the wood-fired oven pizza.  We have shade cloth stretched over the hoops that block 45 % of the sun.  The real test has been this last month, with daytime temps  in the 95-102 range and we have been growing lettuce the whole time!  We pick the outer leaves as they get to the size we want and leave the rest of the plant to grow.  This allows us to harvest the same lettuce plant over 4-6 weeks.  I have planted small lettuce plugs in between the lettuce plants that we are harvesting so that they can get established.  When we pull the older plants, then the smaller ones take off, keeping bare dirt to a minimum.  Growing lettuce during the middle of the summer has been quite challenging because it can get bitter rather fast.  But we are finding that growing under this shade cloth, with regular watering, we are harvesting sweet, succulent lettuce.

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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!

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Dynamic Accoumulators

Comfrey plant before leaves are cut off for compost around this young espalier tree.

Comfrey as a Dynamic Accumulator

In this second picture, I have chopped down this comfrey plant, (Russian Comfrey),  for the 3rd time this year and laid the leaves down around the small fruit trees that we have started in the Secret Garden.  This plant was put into the garden as a Dynamic Accumulator, to bring nutrients, especially calcium,  (which is vital for good, sweet fruit),  from deep in the soil into the leaves.  The plant had grown  very lush  with leaves and flowers, and then I cut it back  to the ground, as you can see in the picture, and spread the leaves around the root zone of these small fruit trees.  This doesn’t hurt the plant at all, in fact,  I will be cutting it back again a few more times this summer and into the fall.  The best way to tell if it is really  accumulating calcium is to take a soil test.  I will wait until next year or the year after to do that.  Building the soil without purchasing ” off-farm” inputs does take patience,  and is an ideal way to build soil in a urban garden, too.

Since there is always something exciting happening in the garden, I am willing to wait a year or so to tell if my soil building on these trees is effective.  In the meantime, I am training the fruit trees in the Secret Garden using two techniques developed in Europe called Espalier and The Lorette System.   These trees will be trained and  pruned during the summer months using methods that allow for lots of fruit in a small space.   Building a wall for the garden is in the August plans just before grape harvest  so, when we begin construction, I will post on that progress.  Too much to do outside to spend too much time on the computer.  Enjoying the season, Deb

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Never underestimate the power of green onions!

Last winter about this time, in preparation for Friday Night Pizza, I was gathering up the green vegetables in the Farm Kitchen  that Chef  Josh had discarded to go into  the compost   when I noticed on the top,  a bunch of green onions (scallions)  that we had purchased from the store.  He had used what he needed and cut off the root ends which were

still bound together with the rubber band.  I could see that they were still alive!  I took those out, set them aside and took the  onion peels, outer leaves of the lettuce, carrot ends and cilantro roots to the compost bin.  How could I discard something that was still alive!

Green Onions in February on the Patio

The next day, I found a 1 gallon nursery pot, filled it with potting soil mixed with compost, took off the rubber band and planted and watered  those

scalllions in the pot.  The next week  I could see they were growing, and soon we were harvesting the tops of  these green onions for our Southwestern Pizza.

It was pretty simple and didn’t take much effort.  In fact, they even survived with  very little water in the summer,  winter in an unheated greenhouse  and are now growing on the patio, ready to be harvested again this week.  And we thought the onion was only an ordinary  vegetable crop.

Oranges and Lemons on the Patio Pavilion in February


Order the Southwestern Pizza and you will be enjoying local fresh grown greens, in winter, in Missouri!  And did you notice the bright orange and yellow in the picture?

Yes, those are oranges and lemons growing on trees in our Patio Pavilion!  Stop by and see them,  but please don’t pick the oranges!