Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Patch Farming

My life in appalachia Patch Farming

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English offers the following definition for patch farming:

1972 Graham County 50 With the first stages of early clearing, the farmer did “patch” farming near the cabin. Many farmers today still speak of a “patch” of corn or other crops. The farmer gradually and systematically extended the patches into wider fields by each year extending his farming into a new area known as a “new ground.”

Back in the day when I first started gardening I read all sorts of books and magazines on the subject. I was fascinated by the articles which showed how much food could be produced in small raised beds. Typically the gardens profiled were in urban settings-where of course there is less square footage to go around for gardening purposes.

In those days, we had even less flat land around our house than we do now-so I thought my narrow little bank tops would be perfect for raised beds. I remember telling Pap about what I had been reading and he got this smile on his face. I said “What?” He said “Why Tip people around here have been growing gardens like that since I was a boy, only nobody called them raised beds. But every wife would have her a little garden patch right close to the house where it’d be handy for her to tend it and for them to eat from it too.”

Then Pap showed me, you don’t have to break the bank to build those little garden patches aka raised beds.

We found some 2-to 3 foot length tree branches The Deer Hunter had cut and thrown in the woods-we formed the sides from them. Pap showed me how to fill the bottom portion of the new patch with leaves-then dig a few buckets full of dark loamy soil from the edge of the woods to put on top.

In the years since Pap first showed me how to form little garden patches-I’ve made them all over the yard-one here and one there-gradually increasing their size and building up the soil all at the same time.

I’ve used all sorts of logs, branches, and rocks to form the sides-basically anything I could find that was handy. And I’ve discovered: if you’re able to fill the patch with 12 inches of good lose dark rich soil like the gardening books tell you to-GREAT. But if you’re like me and you’re really doing good to end up with 3 or 4 inches of so so soil-it still works better than trying to grow vegetables on top of hard packed dirt. And if you’re short on gardening space-those little patches here and there and can boost your vegetable production in an amazing way.


*Source Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English and Pap.

Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.



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  • Reply
    April 4, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Dirt Road Girl- Follow 64 till you reach the intersection at Clays Corner in downtown Brasstown. Turn left onto Brasstown Road just as you reach Clays Corner. Follow Brasstown Road for approximately 4 miles until it ends at a stop sign. Then turn left onto Martins Creek Road, the community center is on the left about 100-150 yards after you turn. The Mountain Youth Center School is within sight of the stop sign where you turn onto Martins Creek Road-and the community center is just behind it in a small metal building. (heres the exact address:(Martins Creek Community Center, 4605 Martins Creek Road, Murphy, NC 28906)I hope to see you there-please introduce yourself to
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    April 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    (Quote from one of my books about Corn Shucking.)
    When I was growing up in the mountains of Western North Carolina I never missed the chance for a party or a Square Dance. My brother and sisters never attended these events.
    My family grew up in a small Baptist church and iwe were told that if we predicated in any of these things that it was wrong and that the Devil would get us..
    Question? Are the children today better citizens’ than the ones I grew up with?
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    April 3, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Never thought of it, but I guess our gardens are patch gardens too. My herbs are close to the house – some in pots, some in the earth, while the rest of the vegetables are grown out back as soon as the farmer behinds us plants his field. We have to wait until he plants because he sprays with defoliator before he plows, rakes and plants, and if we plant before he does, defoliator ends up in our garden too, and kills all of our hard work right along with whatever we’ve planted.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    PS…another one….What I wanted to say in my first post was….
    You don’t have to live in the flat land or have a lot of it to have a garden. Patches often have the most petted and cared for gardens with the best of soil and moisture. Savvy folks followed the suns favorite growing blessing for their plants and made sure most got at least 6 hours of sun.
    I’m outta here, love to hear peoples ideas about gardening and space saving ideas…
    When one gets old, it is hard to till, hoe, rake, bend to plant garden in a large space. So, pots and raised beds make it easier on ones back, pluse lifting is made easier.
    Like my Granddaddy said,” ‘Tis easier to plant melons on the back hill, and roll them down to the kitchen door, when they get ripe!”

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 3, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    When I was a girl, I was amazed at all the cheesecloth covered beds in NC near my Grannies. These “baccer seed patches, were usually on the side of the hill. Of course most little patches were on the side of the hill, vertical patch planted horizonal so’s it wouldn’t wash down hill.
    I think back then just about everybody had a tobacco allotment.
    Just as you see cow trails go around and around the hills so you see these little garden patches near the house. Back filled with the natural rocks or pieces of timber. Some places were so small, you wondered how they needed that many little patches…I love seeing the white wore out wringer wash tub, filled with dirt for a little mess of lettuce. Or the Fall before, a planting of pansies, lifted the next spring and planted in the little rock raised patch behind the house. Grannies in the hills made use of every little can, broken pot for containers for their porch gardens. If you were lucky enough to have an enclosed porch with a window one could start tomatoes, peppers and later cucumbers and melons..Sometimes my husbands grandmother kept her African violets out there. The stove from the kitchen kept it warm enough to keep the plants above freezing. If it was to go down too cold for days, the plants were sliped into the kitchen shelf or side table. These rooms were usally not on the South side. Receiving mostly
    morning and midday sun. As the days got longer more light stayed in the rooms…
    I could go on but I better stop, like yesterday I wrote a book.
    I started my little (now called raised beds) from copying patches that my grandmother and aunts made with anything to hold in the soil and condition it. My Granmother had a place where she threw egg shells and coffe grounds..Just a pile of stuff she didn’t burn in her burn paper pile…Then occasionally she would toss in a bit of those ashes before she burnt more papers…As bad as I hate to say it, most metals and glass bottles were tossed in the outhouse or over a little bank where later dirt was moved over it to bury it making more ground..
    Thanks Tipper, I could write on this forever…Oh yeah, if a zinc tub or milk bucket got a rust hole and couldn’t be repaired, it became another starter bed on a stump out side..or a place to put the summer flowering catcus or a bed of hen and chickens….

  • Reply
    April 3, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Those little extra garden spots
    can be very useful. One time I
    used several 5 gallon buckets,
    filled ’em with dirt, planted
    different kinds of tomatoes in
    each, and had great success. Only
    problem is I had to water them
    daily. In my garden I never have
    to water anything…Ken

  • Reply
    Dirt Road Girl
    April 3, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    What are the directions to the community center, as if I’m coming from Georgia on on 64? The jamboree sounds like a fun thing and a good cause.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 3, 2013 at 10:46 am

    One of my first contributions to your blog was “The Baccer Patch.” My concept of “patch farming” has to do with the suitability of certain crops to certain areas. The amount of sunshine and the availability of water is a consideration when deciding what to put where. The kind of soil and the rotation of crops is also considered. Some patches needed to lie fallow for a year or two. Sometimes these patches come together like a quilt, sometimes not.
    Down in the flatlands the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. In the highlands the sun comes up over one mountain and sets over another. The length of time the sunshine actually hits the ground varies depending on the direction the mountain lies, the height the ridge above the plot and the time of year it is. In the flatlands, if you walk 100 feet in any direction the land is pretty much the same as where you started. In the uplands that 100 feet might put you in an entirely different climate. In the flatlands it matters little where you plant what. In the mountains that 100 feet could be the distance between you and starvation.
    Our mountain ancestors understood their environment and did pretty well at providing for themselves and their families. A few still do. Seems like Pap and Granny among those few and they are teaching you and their grandchildren how it is done.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 3, 2013 at 8:36 am

    yes, we had a kitchen garden when I was a kid, I have a small ‘patch’ of herbs now growing by my kitchen window.

  • Reply
    April 3, 2013 at 8:34 am

    I remember those patches close to the kitchen door were so common in my childhood. They were not raised, and I can recall they threw their dishwater onto the garden. The dishwater was from a dishpan which was used before double sinks were the norm. This would rid the patch of pests, and these little gardens seemed to thrive. It was like having a little pantry nearby, as many times children would go fetch a couple of green onions and a ripe tomato.
    My Dad had patches everywhere, and I remember a particularly fertile one where an old barn once stood. I had once used manure tea on a cucumber patch and couldn’t seem to pick those cucumbers fast enough. When this house was bought I reached down to get a handful of soil and remarked that it was good soil. We just knew by the look and feel of the soil if it would make a good patch.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 3, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Tipper, my grandmother had some small beds. They were kind of between the house and the garden. She used it for spring stuff like onions and lettuce. There was always cheese cloth stretched over the bed till the chance of frost was gone.
    She also started some seeds there to transplant later when it was warmer.
    Folks found all kinds of ways to accommodate weather conditions.

  • Reply
    April 3, 2013 at 8:04 am

    That was very interesting. I had not heard the term ‘patch farming’ before, but it makes sense to do that type of system for raising crops.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 3, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Our “patches” on Choestoe were more like quarter-acres, half-acres, or acres. First, a “new ground,” where we’d cleared trees, stumps and roots, and enriched the soil with mulch. Our “bean patch” was a whole acre, and from it we got several pickings of green beans which we “sold on the market”–those beyond what the family needed to eat and can. And yes, we had some much-smaller “patches” (or raised beds) near the house where we grew tomatoes and other vegetables. Happy gardening!

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    April 3, 2013 at 7:25 am

    In her stories of growing up in Kentucky and Ohio, my mother often mentioned areas of the family farm, some perched on a mountainside, as the “new ground.” I have developed several raised beds around the house here in Maryland where I wanted to set apart an area for herbs, greens and seasonal vegetables and edible flowers that I can grab while I’m cooking. I also use pots. Still too cool to plant anything tender here.

  • Reply
    Carol Stuart
    April 3, 2013 at 7:18 am

    These small garden patches were sometimes called “kitchen gardens” as they were located close by the house.

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