Archives for the month of: May, 2009

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”  – Wendell Berry

meg in garden


For Memorial Day weekend I had the great pleasure of inviting one of my nearest and dearest friends into the experience of the garden. Meg made the trek north from Kansas City and we completely indulged in some quality time on the farm. It was incredible for me to get to share what is happening, and to watch it evolve with the love and care of two people as opposed to just myself. It floursihed! Saturday afternoon of the holiday weekend we planted potatoes: all blue, La Ratte fingerlings, yellow finns and mountain rose – in plots neighboring plots of bush beans and soy beans and marigolds and onions – this garden is more and more becoming a beautiful patchwork – I am so happy to have gone away from the traditional rows.seeds


We went back to the garden on Sunday (after Canning 101 in which we prepared a small batch of Clove-Peppercorn-Pear Sauce) to survey our accomplishments and with the explicit goal of getting the rest of the potatoes in. As Meg walked through the garden she noticed something quite disturbing… someone had been here! The potatoes were no longer nestled into the rich humus, but rather carelessly strewn about the top of the bed… and was what more curious… not a single bite mark or scratch to the seeds. Hurridly I got on my knees and tenderly placed each potato back in the divit it was removed from.  Tragically, also, I recognized this as the work of peskey raccoons – we also soon realized the seeds of soybeans and Japanese sweet corn had been pilfered as well. Immediately I changed tracks – an electric fence had to be built and functional before the day was out. I am ever so grateful for Meg’s presence and diligence in planting, because while I was building she single handedly accomplished our set goal for the day. Our great artistic feat came with the placement of my old rusted bicycle frame that I had salvaged from my friend, Matt’s, burn hole – the garden really is becoming a place representing my community. I also have flowers I have transplanted from my friend, Hayley’s home, as well as my grandmother’s, and I plan to add poppies from my brother’s.

We went to the market in Clear Lake Saturday morning. It was an incredibly fun venue. I took for tasting samples Honey Sweetened Fingerprint Cookies with Wild Violet Jelly (a wild harvest creation), and also homemade wheat crackers to top with cream cheese and Spicy Jalepeno Strawberry Jam (perhaps to be renamed Afterburner!) – people seemed to completely enjoy them, and I had many requests for the treats to be sold in addition. Hmmm… endless possibilities! dandelion


The look of the blog site is evolving, also. The recipes page will be the home to the recipes I use for my tasting samples at the markets – I’m not much of one to follow a recipe true and fast, rather it’s a jumping off point for creative liberties… but they will allow for the basic premise of reconstruction. The page entitled “Celebrity Farmers” is a place for those who come to participate on the farm to leave their stories and photos – it gives everyone a unique view through their perspective of Ame de la Terre. I, too, am excited to read those posts! Also coming soon will be a page dedicated to the items that will be featured at the coming week’s markets, as well as a link to Chasing Fireflies, which is my jewelry and recycled design elements endeavor that is in it’s infancy.

To close I wanted to share a photo that was just a quick snapshot. Meg and I witnessed three times in the period of 24 hours geese running down the road in front of us with their goslings… only to abandon their children for the safety of cover… an interesting observation in the different parenting styles and self preservation philosophies!run goslings

“A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has his mind precisely against what is wrong with us… What I am saying is that if we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, then we will have begun to make fundamental and necessary changes in our minds. We will begin to understand and to mistrust and to change our wasteful economy, which markets not just the produce of earth, but also the earth’s ability to produce.” — Wendell Berry


Well, what a fun filled few days it has been. It’s May in Iowa, so the wind has been relentless, making me less than ambitious in motivation, alas, now is not the time when the tomatoes are begging to wave under the glorious sunshine, and the truckload of perennials I was fortunate enough to have bestowed upon me (but not without a little shoveling, of course) from G’ma Jerry are desperate for a drink. So, slowly, but surely I plug away. On Sunday I went to my grandparents’ dairy farm, and with my grandmother diligently harvested phlox, sedum, monarda,  hostas, lillies of all kinds, columbine, wandering hollyhocks, coral bells… I think that pretty much covers it – she was tired of them, and I am not one to let any plant go unappreciated. That day while I was between digging stints I was home and ended up rescuing a little finch that had flown into the house – she was being harrassed terribly by the cats, Alice and Polly – fortunately they had her so tuckered out that I could just pick her up with my hands – the light of day sparked a liberated freedom for her as soon as I walked into the garage – Mom has since decided that leaving the door open in the hopes that the cats will go play outside is nonsense and only lends to inviting the wild ones in (birds and flies to be specific). I started my transplanting endeavor by placing hostas and columbine under the maple tree out front, and continued on with phlox in the northwest corner of the property, by my transplanted lilacs, and the rest of the hostas are finding their way into shady spots that for the longest time have only hosted thistles and burdock.backhoe and hostas

I finally put up a batch of maraschino cherries, and to my chegrin have discovered that maraschino liqeuer is not something to be found in north Iowa – Brandy seems to have made a fine substitute, however. In my quest for wild harvested treats I decided to look for some interesting jelly recipes… and came upon wild violet and dandelion… and diligently set about picking flowers, and then petals from said objects. to be jelly


I had great success with the wild violets, but my dandelion jelly (which has the most wonderful honey and lemon fragrance) didn’t set up properly – tomorrow I will try to boil it down a bit, as I refuse to let the handful of hours I spent pulling petals from sepals go unwaranted! 🙂

I also went morel hunting at Eagle Lake on Monday, but wasn’t successful in bounty. I was so spoiled, however, just being out in the woods with the birds singing to me and the swell swoosh of the leaves soothing from above. The smells of earthy dampness took me back to my forest hikes in Alaska, and to thinking about how fortunate I was to walk the same trails every week and witness the seasonal progression of the flora – something I hope to repeat here this year after that reminder. I need to get my hands on a field guide, though, because although I was quite knowledgable in the flora of SE Alaska, where I spent two summers, here in Iowa I feel ignorantly clueless… so much for, oh say 27 summers of experience in this locale, eh?

walk in the woods


…and now we finally reach the section of the blog relating to the title… I had a good, and apparently necessary reminder to just take life as it comes. For the past couple of days I have been quite seriously engaged in my work and in what I have deemed necessary to accomplish every day (lending to 14 hour work days). Well, this afternoon I took to helping our neighbor, Chuck, who happens to be 90 years old – just a month away from 91. I was to be his gopher to the seed house to pick up oats and alfalfa and brome grass. It was a nice day for a drive, and I didn’t mind the excuse to get out of the wind for a while. My father and Chuck both had me convinced that taking Chuck’s early 70s model Ford pickup all the way to Albert Lea made sense – that way I wouldn’t have to transfer all 24 bags of seed once I got back to our neighborhood from my truck. Well, you see, this truck is rarely driven. And my mechanical abilities are what one would call non-existant… to the point that perhaps I am always in the wrong place at the wrong time… in other words, vehicles break when I drive them. Go figure… on the way back from Albert Lea, one mile south of Emmons, she just died. I couldn’t start the damn thing to save my life… so it was Dad to the rescue – breaking in the middle of planting millet. And wouldn’t you know it, but he gets in and manages to get the thing running; said I wasn’t holding my mouth right – I had tried about four times while waiting patiently along the side of the road. This is where the “whimsey” part applies – because, really, life is what you interpret it to be. I had all the opportunity in the world to be mad and frustrated because I had other items on my agenda for the day, but in the long run that wouldn’t get me anything but grief. It was warm, and it was sunny, and it was a good excuse to close my eyes under the beautiful blue sky and soak it in… why not? So, Dad takes to driving the truck back, and we stopped off once we got to town to look things over. Dad concluded that it was just a gas issue, however he inquired with me about when I had realized that the brakes were out… um, as soon as I left the driveway, I said. He just shook his head with a goofy grin saying, “That’s when you should have turned this thing around… I’m adventurous in my travel, and even I wouldn’t have driven this truck to Albert Lea.” Who knew I had such a wild hair, eh?ford

dahliaIsn’t she lovely? I planted four dahlias that I found at the greenhouse in Lake Mills yesterday, and didn’t even realize they were so fittingly named “Hello Gorgeous” – I love that thought when I walk out into the garden. Not a lot in the way of garden growth has occurred with the exception of a major transplanting endeavor. Katie invited me to come with her to harvest a truckload of plants from her sister in law’s place, and of course, being the devotee to all things green like I am it did not take much to encourage my engagement. We spent about two and a half hours digging all over the yard  – sedum, hostas, peonies, various lillies, hen and chicks – a venerable jackpot. We were hungry when it was all said and done… perhaps these photos will explain:

katieYesterday, with the ground soft from the rains, I was able to transplant the majority of my “half” a truck load. I put lillies in the ditch bank because I have an aversion to string trimming, and given my anti-monocropping nature, I interplanted some oregano transplants from my herb garden – I feel like they are hearty and sprawling, so they will help with erosion control as well. In the herb garden on the west side I planted peonies and sedum. Around the pear trees I dug up the grass and dandelions and planted hostas which I hope to interplant with lillies of the valley that I abscond with from my brother’s place… he doesn’t yet know I have designs on them, but I was doting over his healthy crop when I harvested rhubarb!me with plants He has quite a bumper crop of that as well, and this morning I took advantage of less than ideal weather to experiment with a batch of jam – the flavor was great, but it didn’t gel up as I had hoped – instead it’s a fabulous consistency for shortcake topping. Ah, another go I suppose!

I have been busily transplanting healthy huckleberries, peppers and marigolds – giving them slightly larger pots to thrive from. The tomatoes are SO content, and I swear that I can see them getting bigger. I have quite a few plant starts of rhubarb, horseradish and oregano for the market, too. By the way, the North Iowa Farmer’s Market begins Friday at 3pm, and Clear Lake’s opens on Saturday at 9am – I will not be a vendor this week, as I am recon, but with any luck you can look for me next week! 🙂

Dad and I decided to take the day off on Tuesday to go bullhead fishing at West Twin Lake. We were incredibly successful, and for the first time in my life I caught multiple fish. It was about my sixth that I finally took my own fish off the hook. I must say that I was a bit surprised by my empathy for the creatures involved, however. dadI felt bad for the worm, and was really surprised by the strength of the creature in it’s recalcitrance to be impaled by the hook. And then I was completely taken back by how soft the bullhead was when I wrapped my hand around him to remove the hook. That was it, I was done. My heart was aching for them. I know it’s all part of the way of things, but it didn’t make me any less sentimental. I sat on the dock with Dad and Mike while they would catch all the little ones and thrown them back tirelessly. I also got to go morel hunting for the first time that afternoon. It might be a bit cool yet it our supposition – we found one between the three of us, and it was Mike who spotted it. Perhaps next week I will try it again.

Today was a day of minor activity. I little repotting in the morning. A little fence set up work this afternoon, as I am soon moving my composting operation to a more convenient location – both for tillage and for access. Still configuring the fence a bit, as some creatures have been digging in the hay and getting to the good food scraps even thought I have it hot wired. I’m not sure who’s to blame, but right now I’ve got my money on both the stray cat (who I love, because I think he is keeping the bunny population in check) and the birds, who I have seen nosing around. I will know soon enough, because it will be much easier to construct a cat barrier than one for the birds.compost pileToday I also believe I properly installed the link to subscribe to my blog – either by email or by feed. Those of you who are more technologically savvy can figure out the latter more aptly than myself, I am sure – this has been a year of infinite learning! And it’s only May!! 🙂

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”  – Anais Nin

true leavesThe true leaves of change and growth are really thriving among the radishes. Aren’t the fuzzy trichomes fabulous?! The experience in the garden seems to be such a wonderful time for peace to settle into the bones, and the vast appreciation I have for the physical articulation of change permeates into other aspects of my life. To witness a daily metamorphosis is quite humbling, and it encourages me to reach out to it, to touch it, to absorb with my being, and to allow it to flourish in my aspect and attitude. I’m so proud to be a part of creating and honoring the process of growth, and this recognition and gratitude encourages my personal ability to do the same.

mothers day berryAs promised in the last posting I consulted my bible of companion planting (Great Garden Companions, Sally Jean Cunningham) to remind myself why I was resolute in intercropping borage and dill with the obviously contented strawberries (these plants have quite a story themselves, as they started from small transplants in my mother’s garden from her close friend, Claude, and now the runners from that grand patch are now a part of mine – what a connection we share!) Borage has beautiful purple flowers to attract the bees, an essential pollinator. The dill not only attracts bees, but wasps, spiders and hoverflies, as well, all beneficial to my thriving and diverse ecosystem. It is important to me to encourage a flourishing biodiversity, as I believe that the farther away I can get from monocropping, the better off I will be, as will be the fine folks I get to share my nutrient rich bounty with.

asparagusThis evening I cut a fine harvest of asparagus stalks – the Mary Washington heirloom variety from my parents’ patch planted at least 20 years ago – it’s incredible that it is still so productive. I’m really excited to create something delicious to share. If you have any recipes or ideas for asparagus that you are particularly fond of, I would love for you to share them here! Also, I recently learned from my mom that cutting in the evening means more tender stalks – I would assume it has to do with moisture content (correct me if I’m wrong!); also, once asparagus emerges, it’s the temperature that determines growth – the warmer it is, the faster it reaches for the sky.

hay haulerThat is my dad, and Max, the lovable, albeit oversized, Springer Spaniel. Dad’s been hauling a lot of hay lately to my grandparents’ place – they have a dairy operation just a couple miles northeast of Crystal Lake. I visited recently, as G’ma Jerry has lots of perennials for thinning – phlox, hostas, daylillies and more – I’m hoping for a warm, sunny, not windy day for that (slightly overcast would probably be ideal), but then I live in Iowa, so I’ll probably just have to accept the fact that this type of weather rarely occurs in the spring at this latitude! Thank you to all who have been encouraging of my recording, and I continue to look forward to your feedback.

“There was a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  – Anais Nin

pineapple sageOh, what a phenomenal day! A brief interlude of showers, but overall sunny – in aspects beyond weather, as well. We went to the NRCS office today to discuss and plot the implementation of the prairie and wetland reconstruction project, and then it was off to my favorite retail venue: the Albert Lea Seed House. There we visited with Tom, who always has an opinion on investments and politics… get the wheels turning! I happily lollygagged about the greenhouse and trees and found myself a little pineapple sage that I thought would find a happy home in my garden. Also get myself set up with some more onion sets, as I felt that only Walla Wallas were not enough… Bermuda Sweets and Vidalias would be a nice addition. I also learned today from a woman who was also perusing the onion sets that the white onions keep much better than the yellows. I fortuitously found the elusive blue jade sweet corn that was sold out through the Seed Savers Exchange website – completely unexpected and entirely gratifying! dwarf pak choy
Did a little walk through and weeding of the uprising seedlings – the French heirloom lettuce Rouge di Hiver Romaine (organic) is looking strong and so far well protected from the multiple rabbits that Max seems more entertained to watch than to pursue. A great surprise of the day was the emergence of the dwarf pak choy that I broadcast seeded – that made my day!
The multiple varieties of radishes are looking incredibly strong as well.
yellow snow pea
And the golden sweet peas have made it through the mulch and are upward bound for their trellis… ah, what a little patience in the garden will provide. 🙂

It was pretty muddy out there, so sowing seeds was a touch challenging, and therefore I did not entertain much of it. I did, however, interseed borage and dill with my strawberry patches, because I remember reading reference of them having a nice symbiosis, although the literature is out in my truck, and I’m too tuckered to dig it out… I will relay the details in the next article.

Another pointer I wanted to pass on that I have picked up this season: typically your seed should be sown to a depth 10 times the size of the seed – a good rule of thumb.

Gladfelter was entirely entertaining again today. There are three pairs of geese loitering in the wetlands; two of them have goslings. There is one pair that is extremely territorial and aggressive, and they even stooped so low as to harass the blue wing teal today… they have no shame. There were also a couple of deer skittishly lurking about the east side of the big hill. Even got the chance to see a kestrel perched on a power line today – love that wildlife!

deer at gladfelter
Domestic chores included a lovely batch of spiced sweet potato butter – if you are in need of some let me know and we can work out the details – in my opinion it’s hard to beat, and every batch is a little different, because I just throw in what I think would be good – a couple shakes here, a smidgen there… you know the routine.

main garden

main garden

Ah, finally, here we go! Welcome all to what I hope to maintain throughout the experiment of my market garden. I have named my garden Ame de la Terre, which is French for “soul of the earth” – as that is how I treasure the ground I work, the land I care for, the dirt under my fingernails. There has been much activity in the gardens over the course of the last three weeks. I made the decision to no-till my gardens based on the principle that Mother Nature does not have nutrient rich ecosystems and bare soil simultaneously. Because I’m coming into this gardening season without the benefit of having decided to do this last fall, I had no cover crops, hence no green manure, so I had to improvise.

pickup load

pickup load

This entailed seemingly endless hours of pitching hay in and out of the bed of my little ol’ Toyota… 7 round bales to be exact. Now I have crop residue, and it seems to be doing a good job of holding the little weeds in the cattle lot at bay. Plus, it was superb for checking on the crops after a substantial rain, as I had a firm bed to walk upon and didn’t leave the garden two inches taller! I have had planting success already with three different types of radishes and my French heirloom romaine lettuce, as they have already germinated. I fenced off the lettuce in hopes that it deters the bunnies. I’m patiently waiting on the red, orange and purple carrots to make their appearances, as well as yellow snow peas, winged peas (not actually a true pea) and my Oriental greens: pak choy, drawf pak choy and tatsoi. I have also planted gladiolus, butterfly weed and transplanted strawberries into the main garden. In the herb garden I have the luxury of established patches of sage, chives, oregano and horseradish. In addition I have added black cumin, sweet mace, red beard bunching onions, and decorated it with pansies, snapdragons and sweet alyssum.

popular flowers

popular flowers

The perennial patch see the asparagus poking through the hay mulch, and the transplanted rhubarb and strawberries seem to be settling into their new neighborhood nicely. They are happily surrounded by wild violets as well. The “work station” in Mom and Shane’s garage is full of seedlings happily basking in warm sunshine. Amongst them are my prized Brussel sprouts, 14 varieties of tomatoes, various peppers including ancho and paprika, Romanesco broccoli, tomatillos, huckleberries and marigolds. I’m anxiously trying to be patient for the middle of May, our last annual frost date to continue the transplanting.

I have been making it a habit to drive slowly through the Gladfelter area just a little north of the farm – has made for wonderful bird watching and it tends to take my breath away. I have seen species galore – blue wing teal, mallards, scoups, widgeons, canvasbacks, Canada geese, red winged blackbirds, various shore birds – they are a highlight of my day – including yesterday when I spotted the goslings.

first goslings

first goslings