Randall farmers Red and Ronda Rickman are closely connected to the soil. They each grew up with a heritage of farming – Red in North Carolina as the son of a tobacco sharecropper and Ronda in Oregon as the daughter and granddaughter of women who picked fruits and vegetables wherever they could to put up for their families for winter.
“Growing things has always been a part of us,” they agree.
The couple met during college in Moscow, Idaho. Red was in the Navy; after marrying in 1970, their assignments took them and their four children across the country from one coast to the other and to Hawaii. Ronda held down the fort while Red was out to sea on submarines.
Every place they lived, they had a garden. Red did as much gardening as he could when he had shore duty. A tomato plant they grew in Hawaii had to be cut down with a hatchet, the growing season produced such a robust plant.
Anticipating Red’s retirement from the Navy, they looked for a place about halfway between their families. That turned out to be Randall. They bought their farm in 1976, moved in 1981 and they’ve been there ever since. Their kids live in California, Oregon and two in St. Cloud. They have 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The Rickmans’ farm is 80 acres of cropland, gardens and woods. Each spring, they tap about 88 maple trees and boil the sap to produce maple syrup.
“We could tap more than that, but we’re not ‘man enough’ to bring all that out of the woods,” Red said.
“Or have a place to put it in the house,” said Ronda.
Generally speaking, Ronda is in charge of the extensive flower beds while Red handles much of the large vegetable gardens. The largest garden is 160 feet deep and 48 feet wide, fenced to keep out critters. Behind that is a large patch of squash and pumpkins. Next to it is a smaller garden with dill, hot peppers and sweet peppers.
This year there are 80-100 tomato plants. The garden features 15 16-foot rows of grapes, with a rhubarb plant at each end because “it’s convenient.” Between many of the grape rows are melons.
Red and Ronda do all of the weeding by hand. Ronda pulls the weeds and Red hoes. When asked about pesticides, Red said he uses the “squish them between your fingers method” of pest control.
There are three different varieties of potatoes in the garden. The third crops of broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and cabbage are growing. The second crop of beets is just coming up.
Red’s kohlrabi are nothing to sneeze at. At the 2016 Morrison County Fair, he won many first place ribbons. His kohlrabi grow to five and a half pounds and are not at all woody.
“The judges bored holes in them to taste,” Red said.
The garden also produces carrots, peas, beets, beans, onions, cucumbers, basil and celery.
The first garden plants are started in the house early in the year. They are later moved to a 6-foot by 10-foot greenhouse until they can be transplanted into the ground. Some cool weather-tolerant vegetable seeds are planted directly into the ground in April, such as beets, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
The Rickmans’ yard contains four catalpa trees, grown from seed taken from a tree in Little Falls. Since they are still young, they have not flowered, but those blooms are eagerly-awaited.
“The flowers are so fragrant it’ll knock you out,” said Red.
“We were told catalpas don’t grow in Minnesota, so we had to prove them wrong,” Ronda said. “We have a little bit of everything.”
The Rickmans raise chickens, layers that are mostly Isa Brown and Tetra Brown. Ronda enjoys taking them on walks in the woods.
“I drop some mealworms on the ground and they follow me anywhere,” she said.
“I let them loose in the garden in the fall and they clean it up,” said Red. “I just fence off anywhere I don’t want them to go.”
Red and Ronda also keep bees.
“To make sure all of this (the gardens) works, we keep honeybees,” Red said. “Two of our hives collapsed last year and we don’t know why. But we went to the largest bee equipment manufacturer in the world in little Hackensack, and ordered more bees.”
The Russian bee colony made it through the winter last year. The new bees came from Italy. The Rickmans find that the bees are not aggressive at all.
“I mow around my bees and they don’t pay me any attention,” Red said. “Bees don’t attack people. When we boil maple sap we are very close to the hives and the bees are all over because they want the sap, but they never sting.”
They take care not to mow areas of their yard down to the ground.
“Don’t kill your bees,” Ronda said. “Don’t mow to the ground when there are bees in the clover or dandelions in the yard.”
The Rickmans mow only half of their orchard at a time, alternating between halves, so the bees always have clover.
As with most things in life, there are changes as time passes. For nearly 20 years, Red and Ronda had a you-pick/we-pick strawberry patch of about two acres, but it got to be too much. They do plan to continue with their gardening for many years to come.
“We will as long as we can do it,” Red said. “It’s in our blood.”
“People need to do something; we can’t just sit around,” said Ronda.
“I was born in the dirt and I’ll die in the dirt,” Red said.