Generations of growing Local mother and son produce big, healthy harvests in their own gardens, in their own ways

Brad is pictured with his goose peas to his left and ox heart tomato plants, well over 6 feet tall, to his right.

Brad’s cow peas are also growing extremely well this year.

Canning. Carrie is learning to can what they grow. They only planted 18 tomato plants, but with all the building up of the soil, they have produced a bumper crop this year.

Blooming beauty. Carrie Tilley enjoys tending her flowers, assisted by her daughter Allie. Carrie says her interest in flowers was passed on to her from her mom and dad who always had an immaculate yard.

Deer deterrent. Plastic 2-liter bottles of water set around the outer perimeter of Marilyn’s garden work really well for keeping the deer out, she says.

Gainesville resident Marilyn Tilley enjoys gardening almost as much as she does canning. She puts up cattle panels for her vining plants and weeds while she picks the vegetables. She’s passed on her green thumb to her son, Brad. She said she has a good garden, herself, but she beams with pride when talking about her son’s garden in West Plains. “Mine is good, but Brad’s is better,” she told the Times.

Barefoot hand-plowing. Marilyn Tilley prefers to use her hand-plow to harvest potatoes instead of digging them with a shovel.

Brad Tilley is raising ox heart tomatoes from seeds his grandmother saved from her tomatoes over the years.


Marilyn Luna Tilley, born and raised in Gainesville and Brad (Marilyn’s son) and wife Carrie Tilley, West Plains


Describe your garden: 

Marilyn: My garden is 30 feet by 40 feet. I have potatoes, tomatoes, onions, peppers, squash, green beans, cucumbers and okra. I plant several different kinds of tomatoes and cucumbers, so they will be ready at different times for picking. Both red potatoes and white ones. And I prefer the bush green beans. 


Brad and Carrie: Our garden is approximately 40 feet by 50 feet. Then we have a watermelon patch, strawberry patch and several types of berries and fruit trees. We have squash, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, green beans and corn. We enjoy trying various kinds of seeds. We have ox heart tomatoes from family seeds. Brad’s grandma has always saved the seed from hers and raised plants for years for the family. 

We started with a spot that was just really sorry. It sloped a little, so I thought I would have good drainage. 

We put on two loads of mulch from Timberland, two loads of “barnyard dirt,” a load of turkey litter from Luna Turkey Farm and a load of horse manure. Then we used two big round bales of old hay for mulch.

We put in seeds and plants and when we were ready to mulch, we first put down newspaper, then put the old hay on top of the papers. We used all natural fertilizer, and it has sure paid off.


How long have you been gardening? Are you influenced by anyone?

Marilyn: I have always raised a garden. My grandparents and parents always had a big garden and canned. Nothing looks better than a kitchen full of fresh produce and jars and jars of preserved food from the garden. Mine is not a pretty or fancy kitchen. It’s a working kitchen. At times, I pick the produce and put it in the wheelbarrow and just push the whole thing into my kitchen. Then I can work out of it instead of loading and unloading two or three times. 


Brad: When I was young, Mom had to make me work in the yard and garden. She always raised a big garden, and we always had our own produce to eat. I have never forgotten that. Now Carrie and I work together on it. I spend most of my time in the garden. Carrie prefers tending to her flowers, but we help each other. We also give away a lot of the produce. 


What is your favorite thing to grow?

Marilyn: Green beans and tomatoes. I really like to can, and tomatoes and green beans are my favorite things to can. We also use more of tomatoes and beans than some of the other stuff. 


Brad: I have never grown watermelon before, and we have a bumper crop this year. I planted Sugar Babies, and they are delicious!


Tips and tricks?

Marilyn: When I plant my garden, I immediately fill 2-liter plastic bottles and set them around the outside of it. I have a lot of deer around my house, and the bottles keep them out of my garden. I have never had any of it eaten by deer. They stand nearby and snort when I’m in there, but they don’t bother it.


Brad: I found loading the poorest of soils with natural fertilizers can produce a much better crop.


Favorite part of gardening?

Marilyn: My favorite part? The whole thing. Breaking ground in the spring, planting, picking, canning the produce, watching it grow…


Brad: Eating that first ripe tomato sandwich! It tasted better than a ribeye steak.


Least favorite part of gardening?

Marilyn: Pulling weeds. I don’t mind letting grass and weeds grow in my flower beds, but I hate to have them in my garden. So, as I pick vegetables, I pull weeds. That way it’s no big major “got to pull weeds” type of thing. I’m just picking vegetables.


Brad: I have a row of bush beans and a row of pole beans. I found out those pole beans are so much easier to pick. You just walk down the row and pick. Those bush beans are a back-breaker. 


Stories from the garden?

Marilyn: My mother and I have raised a garden together for years. She has taught me a lot, including a lot of the old ways that really do work. Also, people ask me what I fertilize with to grow so many rocks. But mother says, “Leave them in there. They help to hold moisture.” I always wondered why she gardened in such rocky soil!

Ozark County Times

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