We are an established U-Pick patch in Northern Butler County. Highway 77, running North from El Dorado, Kansas runs adjacent to our seventy three acres of agritourism property which is apart of my husband’s family farm. We host approximately 20,000+ visitors during our six weeks of operation during September and October. With this new project, Extreme Makeover, not only will we be adding another attraction for our pumpkin season, but we will also have new products and an added attraction to market to the public in the spring and summer.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
My goal is to continue developing the wildflower walk with the focal point being our pond and water attraction with the windmill. The majority of people don’t even know how a windmill works or how cold the water is coming up from deep inside the Flinthills. Our signage at the windmill tells visitors how the windmill works and allows them to “feel” the coolness of the water. The pond is home to our multitude of “croakers” with their bugged green eyes sticking up above the water. I’m not certain where all the little fellas came from this spring, but they certainly brought the entire family. Our native fish came from the creek that flows through our property. Our grandsons fished the low-water bridge all summer and brought everything they caught up to “grandma and grandpa’s pond”. Now that’s native fish! After learning that the expensive and famous koi fish are related to the Kansas carp, I’d love to put up signs saying “Kansas Koi”!
We started with a leaking pond which collected the runoff from the construction work on the new Highway 77. we had an eyesore of a dried up “low spot” with the neck being a natural habitat for some old junk trees and a great stand of poison ivy. But, when it rained, the water would trickle over the native Flinthills rocks like a miniature water fall and flow into the pond. It was certainly worth seeing and certainly worth trying to duplicate the water flow even when it wasn’t raining for our visitors to experience. Adding a self guided walking tour of native Kansas wildflowers and having their seeds and new plants for sale would help to sustain the wildflower walk. Using the dried wildflowers in wreaths and floral bouquets to sell during our pumpkin season would also bring additional review to our facility. Great ideas…but difficult to take from dream to reality.
First of all, we could not get the “pond” to hold water. The windmill was pumping water over the rocks continually, and the leakage below was continual also. Carroll had worked bentonite into the dried up pond in 2006 and eventually got Hogobooms (oil well company) to blow 40,000 gallons of oil well mud into the pond area to try to seal the leaks in the summer of 2007. Though we had high hopes, it still leaked. We were advised that a pond liner wouldn’t help because of the high volume of water created during a rainstorm. The liner would be washed away in no time at all. We even tried bringing in loads of red clay mud from our other ponds by Gary Harder to seal these leaks. None of these things worked. So, Carroll finally purchased a pump and hoses which he could run from the creek to the pond, and kept the pond full during pumpkin season. Our visitors just loved pedaling across the water and seeing the frogs and fish…no snake sightings that we know of! As for the trickling water: Harder bulldozed out a trench for the pipe to run from the windmill to the rock ledge area above the pond. Before we could get the liner laid, rocks set, and fish in, my husband had to have hand surgery. So our progress came to a halt. Then after pumpkin season, Carroll went back to the surgeon to see why his hand was hurting once again. He had a hairline fracture of the wrist! So much for finishing up the water attraction, which really isn’t going to be much work at all. And now with the pump, if the pond does get low, we can easily fill it back up to save the fish, plus we will have the pump for watering the wildflower plantings.
There were many resource people involved with our Makeover project.
Kristie Wilson, owner of Hudson Gardens, set us up with a landscape designer. She had many good ideas for developing our wildflower areas and I did really like the idea of using a kiosk to set out information for our visitors. I have purchased dirt for starting wildflowers form Kristie and she has simply given me her 1 gallon pots that she no longer has a use for. Plus, I can purchase flowers to dry for our arrangements when I need something more than which I have already grown.
Kim Mathews, who now works at Botanica in Wichita, designed and installed water gardens for many years. Though she is no longer working or doing water gardens, she was so very helpful in telling us how to install our holding pond and liner and even what kind of liner to purchase.
Debbie Lucas helped with some arrangements of our dried flowers and Cathy Crane and Robin Nixon both helped collect the flowers, the seeds, and do some of the arrangements.
We did attend an extension lecture by the Dyck Arboretum that Larry Crouse (Butler County extension agent) set up last winter. The wildflower talk was very informative and the arboretum will be a great source of native wildflower plants when they sell their excess plants in May.
I will measure our results next spring when we open for the first time to promote our wildflower walk on the farm (agritourism), and offer native wildflowers and seeds for sale. We will also have spring bouquets as well. We had an amazing 226,886 “hits” on our website this summer through fall and of those, we received 1300 email addresses that we have added to our newsletter base of 700. All of those folks will receive the newsletter about our early opening and our wildflower offerings.
Having done the Wichita Lawn & Garden Show last spring also brought a lot of new customers to us too. And then with having the brochures at the State Fair and distributed during that area parades, a lot more people are learning who and where we are.
As far as what we would do differently, I don’t think anything. This has been a work in progress and it will get us where we want to be (though slower than we planned) with the latest attraction and the wildflower offerings. I do wish we hadn’t had to spend so very much time trying different approaches with the pond and its leak. We probably should’ve just bought the pump in the first place.
There is nothing exciting than seeing a group of school kids watching a crawdad crawl along the edge of the pond, or seeing their excitement when a turtle pops his head up out in the middle of the pond. Even searching for raccoon prints along with edge of the water can be apart of a great scavenger game. These things, we in the Flinthills all take for granted, but seeing a kid from the city find the amazement in the country, is truly something that we should all do.
If I had this to do over again, would I do it? Most certainly. Would I recommend this kind of fun to others? You bet I would. Our website will be our greatest communication medium to get the word out to the public about what we are offering with our wildflower area. Hopefully the newspapers will pick up our press releases this spring which will bring visitors out to see what we are offering. Then with the sales of pots of wildflowers and seeds, and some dried flower wreaths…. Perhaps this will become sustainable and an additional agritourism attraction that will bring more visitors to our rural area.
We are very pleased with what we have accomplished in making our eyesore into an added attraction here at the Pumpkin Patch. That we are educating our visitors to the beauty of the Flinthills, the wildflowers that are grown here, how the water is pumped up from the ground, even how to spot poison ivy… it’s all a learning experience for our visitors and for us.
While visiting the Symphony in the Flinthills this summer, we even learned that lead plant (something we have an abundance of) can be brewed for tea. We have served it to everyone this summer and will try to harvest the leaves for retail sales next year. And as we learn more too about our new attraction, we will pass it on along to others. Once again, we thank you for believing in our project, Extreme Makeover, and helping us to make our dream a reality for us. We certainly hope that his final report fulfills our part of this grant to the SARE organization.