Ellis Bush takes pride in ‘county’ farm

Published 5:53 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

When Ellis and Becky Bush tired of the corporate world, they left Pennsylvania for the red clay fields of home.

Both had lived most of their lives in large cities and in the fast lane of life. Neither can point to any specific moment in their lives when they felt a tugging toward a simpler life. But together, they came to the realization that enough’s enough so they followed Ellis Bush Jr.’s roots to rural Pike County and began putting down feeler roots of their own.

Ellis Bush’s grandparents, the late Roy and Irene Holmes, had been prominent and contributing Pike County citizens. Both were strong supporters of education and the arts, but they never forgot that their roots were deeply embedded in the red clay fields of Pike County.

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And, somewhere, somehow that love of the land had seeped its way into the blood of Ellis Bush Jr.

When he and his wife moved “home’ to Pike County, Mother Nature took hold of him and shook the IBM right out of him, and farm living became the life for him.

Bush laughs at the thought of his being a farmer. But a quick glance around his “place” just off Connell Road, and it’s very evident that Bush is more than a backyard gardener.

On his produce farm, he raises sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, purple hull peas, lima beans, snap beans, broccoli, spinach, cantaloupes, cucumbers, squash and lettuce. And, for his mom, Juanita Bush, he plants turnips, collards and mustard.

“I probably wouldn’t plant those traditionally Southern foods except my mom has to have them,” he said laughing. “I enjoy vegetable gardening. It’s a lot of work but just look what you get in return.”

When Bush first tried gardening, he did so in the traditional way – disking the dirt in a large field. It didn’t take many rows to hoe before he decided there must be a better way.

“I was real interested in raised vegetable beds,” he said. “There was a lot of preparation to get the beds ready, but then keeping them didn’t require as much labor. And, too, I had almost everything that I needed to build and maintain the beds right here on the farm.”

The boxes for the beds had to be built out of wood that was rot resistant, wood like cedar, which was available on the family property. A portable sawmill was brought on site and the cedar logs cut into boards.

The outer “slices” were no good for building, but they made ideal walls for the bed boxes.

“You can’t use treated lumber for raised garden boxes because it’s treated with chemicals,” Bush said. “The chemicals will seep into the soil and then into your produce. You don’t want that.”

Bush used some of the smaller cedar limbs as posts and some of the scarred boards for the top framing for the boxes.

“Once the boxes were built, sand was put in the bottom, covered with mulch and top soil.

“Then the raised beds were ready for planting,” he said. “In the beginning, there was a good bit of weeding and watering to be done. But I have an ample supply of pine straw in the beds and it holds in the moisture and keeps down the weeds. That cut down on the weeding and watering.

Bush has two sections of raised beds. One he calls the kitchen garden and the other is for the row crops.

The kitchen garden is where Bush has planted just enough to feed the family and the ‘row crops’ will feed a crowd.

“I planted on Good Friday, like you are supposed to do down here,” Bush said, with a smile. “So far, the raised gardens are looking good and producing.”

Bush has six raised beds and plans to add six more to his farming operation.

“When one crop has quit producing, I’ll have another coming on,” he said. “When I pull up one crop, I’ll toss the plants into a bed, cover them with sand, mulch and top soil and they will be ready to plant the next crop.”

Bush has learned some of the tricks of the trade from trial and error, but he has also been willing to try new and innovative ideas.

“I want the gardens to be as organic as possible,” he said. “So, instead of using commercial insecticides, I’m mixing garlic, jalapeno peppers, onions and water and spraying the plants with it. I have all the ingredients here on the farm so the insecticide doesn’t cost me anything extra. And, it’s working.”

Also “working” for Bush is a concoction that keeps the deer and rabbits away. Dried blood, garlic and rotten eggs.

“When you first put it on, it will almost gag you but, in about a half day, you can’t smell it, but the animals can,” Bush said.

“We see deer all the time but they haven’t bothered the gardens.”

Bush has constructed a green house out of old windows and it’s a perfect place for seeds and seedlings to flourish.

When he’s not farming his raised beds, Bush is making swings from cedar “as a hobby” and he has used his handy-man skills to help construct a cabin by the lake.

“I’m making use of any tree that has fallen or needs to come down,” he said. “I’ve got a stack of logs that are ready to be sawed into boards. I’ll store the boards in the barn and, when I find a use for them, I’ll use them.”

Bush has used boards from trees on the farm for the cabin flooring, to build cabinets and counter tops throughout the cabin and to build decks and docks at the ponds.

“There’s a use for everything,” he said.

“You just have to find it. I’ve got some boards from a 100-year-old pecan tree dried and ready to be used. I’ve just got to find a use for them.”

When Bush’s crops are laid by for the summer, he’ll begin to look seriously for a use for those boards. Until then, he’ll do what he came home to do – farm.