Archives for category: Garden Update

“Because of all we have discovered about a leaf…it is still a leaf. Can we relate to a leaf, on a tree, in a park, a simple leaf: green, glistening, sun-bathed or wet, or turning white because the storm is coming. Like the savage, let us look at the leaf wet or shining with sun, or white with fear of the storm, or silvery in the fog, or listless in too great heat, or falling in autumn, dying, reborn each year anew. Learn from the leaf: simplicity.” – Anaïs Nin

The pictures have no relevance today to my writing – they are simply connected to one another because I took them and fussed with them and helped them become more true. I just don’t have the attention span to read a blog at length without the lovely visual distraction, so I don’t expect anyone else to either.

It is beautiful autumn that is upon us. I went for a run along a winding path near the Winnebago River last week and the sun crept through the trees with shadows playing on the ground beneath my happy feet. A little leaf flickered and danced on the light air revealing the magnificence of the way the season has its impact on the richness of colors and olfactory perception. What an amazing moment to be present. Sublime. That was just the most appropriate description.

This picture is strictly for tickling the funny bone. From our trip to Seattle this summer and taking a stroll through the botanical garden at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard – someone left a fruit cake in the parking lot (seems like an obvious choice) and this squirrel was not going to miss out. It really cracks me up.

The prairie is ablaze with purple and orange and red – especially in the presence of the burning sun falling to twilight. Without a doubt my most favorite time of year and my favorite plants of the prairie are in their full glory – the grasses that reach to the sky – I walk amongst them feeling the giddiness of being a kid – how they embrace my presence even as I clumsily trounce through the field to collect rosehips (which I have since learned was a trite bit premature as one is supposed to wait until after the first frost, but what the hell, everything else is two weeks ahead in maturing and I had the spirit for it) I have once again had to reconnoiter my list of favorite grasses – last year Indian grass had taken top billing, edging past the switch and big blue… this year it is once again the switch that bestills my heart and attention and I can’t help but let my fingers play in the luxury of the stately inflorescence (the spread of the seed head) that makes the plant so easy to identify. Turkey foot, or big blue stem, has regained the second spot (always Dad’s favorite of the native warm seasons) and Indian grass rounds out the top three for me. I do love them all, and no rightful prairie would be complete without the multitudinous diversity that is the benchmark of a healthy landscape, but my heart reserves a special little nook for these grasses of September.

The perfect picture to segway into garden regale. 🙂 Ok, not exactly, but so it goes when I can’t seem to remember my camera when I go out to my little sanctuary of plants both pampered and neglected amongst weeds as tall as my head – at least the broom corn, flint corn and bloody butcher all reach higher! I have had incredible success and a bountiful harvest with my black turtle beans this year. Last year I just stuck the beans willy nilly in little square plots and this year they have the organization of a straight row to keep them obvious. They very much seem to prefer this line up organization, as they have been prolific producers and continue to blossom. I dutifully gather the pods as they are dry enough to crunch a bit between my fingers and then I put them in a box on the porch to finish airing their moisture. I also had a few calypso, tiger’s eye and cattle beans that are my garden prize. I am looking forward to the cold, crisp day that beckons a pot of chili with tomatoes preserved and these most decadent beans enlivening just to look at – can you imagine the energy they will instill upon finding the gullet? This gets me so wound up with anticipation I can’t help but beam, and am so proud to have known and tended these plants that bring such abundant gratification on so many levels.

On another note in the garden… I planted lima beans up the poles that hold the support wires for the tomatoes thinking I was pretty clever in not having to install an additional apparatus to trellis these wandering souls. Well, next year I will do something else. Suffice it to say the tomatoes have had a rough go of it given the weather and my neglect (with good reason of saving myself from certain injustices inflicted by mosquitoes), but now, even though they have recovered significantly the beans are in the full throws of a hostile takeover. This is no slight exaggeration, either. Sometimes I wonder if there are tomato plants still even under those curtains of wild bean tendrils. Maybe I will let them climb the corn next year. Pumpkins are looking fabulous and vividly orange and have completely taken over at least a quarter of the garden. Aggressive in spite of rampant pigweed and lack of diligent space clearing. Sweet potatoes will be dug this week, as well as other potatoes – hopefully I will remember my camera for that!

It is that season for bird movement, too. Driving through Gladfelter the other day I saw two elegant swans looking most at peace and sharing tranquility with the entire landscape – reminding me of Chuck and Helen. For Chuck’s 90th birthday two years ago, two swans were released in honor of these two wonderful people and the tremendous effort and love they put into conservation and life. I said hello. Other days have been full of different birds – one day was egrets, another turkeys. I have no doubt they come to share with me little pieces of being still and thoughtfulness that gets neglected in the urgency of living and figuring it all out and staying the course. I am so thankful for these winged brethren. The constantly help me to see the beauty of the journey and if the importance of seeing it as such.

“Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter.

– LLan Shamir, Advice from a Tree”

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“Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” — Walt Whitman
 
“Farm to Market” reminds me of a road in Skagit County – people would come and dine on fresh kumomoto oysters from down the hill at the Taylor Shellfish Farm, and on the wonderful halibut beautifully presented and mingling with the flavors of plum chutney and honey balsamic to a lovely tree crowded view of the creek below the restaurant on their way to a beautiful day of touring the tulip fields near LaConner, and since they had likely stumbled upon us via the scenic route (Chuckanut Drive being the proverbial representation as car commercials are filmed there) would want to know how to get to where they were going – Chuckanut Drive through the foothills of the Cascades that reach to the salty water, and down to Edison (where they have the best pie) and then you hang a left on Farm to Market Road, which tours you through the prolific agrarian landscape of the Skagit Valley.
 
It is also what came to mind last Saturday morning as I was traveling eastbound into the sunrise on my wat to market, admiring the big blue stem (which, incidentally is high in protein and makes a good forage for horses and livestock) as the heavy air was gradually easing back.
farm to market
 
It really is such a fine way to start the day. The truck was laboring forth with preserves, Shane’s little wooden barn, freshly baked crackers, lemon cucumbers (yes! I actually took a little produce!), and enthusiasm for the day… with the addition of the randomly acquired roadside bouquet that has taken to adorning the table, and seems to make the coffee taste better and the day more light.
passenger seat
 
The wheels have been turning in my mind – the markets on Saturday are easily the most enjoyable for me, as people get to casually peruse and enjoy the social environment fostered by the venue.  The frustration lies in the flow – or the lack there of. I have a vision for creating a buzz, for generating interest, for instilling my excitement. Since it’s just a vision it’s best left to the brainstorming, but, if learning more about the local markets of North Iowa is in your spectrum of interest, please continue to check back – good things are to come, with the efforts and endeavors of a group of very committed people!
 
To the farm and garden! So, I have been harvesting a multitude of tomatoes daily now – it’s wonderfully exciting as I finally have enough so as some make it out of the garden – before it was of no use to think they could make it further than my hand, which directed them to my mouth. All in the name of quality control! I have also been harvesting my shell beans, and then got to thinking, I wonder what the proper technique is for harvesting and drying shell beans? Well, I did my after-the-fact research (although there are a few left on the vines), and discovered that one should wait until after the first frost to harvest the pods, as the beans will then be dry. Hmm. Good to know. 🙂 The beans are beautiful, though – Calypso, Tigers Eye, Jacob’s Cattle, and Rattlesnake. Black, white, gold and crimson, purple and maroon – stunning!
 
Progress continues to be the status quo on the farm, also, which elates me to no end. We picked up seed for rye, winter peas and vetch for winter cover over ten acres at the seed house about 3 weeks ago now… and it’s all planted! Really, it’s true, and I know there might be a few doubters out there given the pace at which things often progress, but we really did it!
 
color planter
 
We have been really fortunate to have my brother’s help lately – here he and Dad are loading the drill for the September planting. He has also been hauling loads of bales away from the canary grass hay field that will eventually be transforming into a quintet of prairie potholes. I look longingly across the dredge ditch when I can take my eyes of monitoring the cantankerous nature of the 4-bottom plow at that field with notions of turning it next. I will have to hope for a mild fall, or bundle up, however… but it’s all a matter of perspective since, after all, at one point I plowed ten acres on that side of the farm with the Massey-Ferguson and a 2-bottom plow in November.
 
Only two weeks remain to visit Tiffany, myself and the other fabulous vendors at the Downtown Mason City Market (8-11am) – hope to see you there!
 
“he saw that all the struggles of life were incessant, laborious, painful, that nothing was done quickly, without labor, that it had to undergo a thousand fondlings, revisings, moldings, addings, removings, graftings, tearings, correctings, smoothings, rebuildings, reconsiderings, nailings, tackings, chippings, hammerings, hoistings, connectings — all the poor fumbling uncertain incompletions of human endeavor. They went on forever and were forever incomplete, far from perfect, refined, or smooth, full of terrible memories of failure and fears of failure, yet, in the way of things, somehow noble, complete, and shining in the end.” — Jack Kerouac
“Nothing was ever in tune. People just blindly grabbed at whatever there was: communism, health foods, zen, surfing, ballet, hypnotism, group encounters, orgies, biking, herbs, Catholicism, weight-lifting, travel, withdrawal, vegetarianism, India, painting, writing, sculpting, composing, conducting, backpacking, yoga, copulating, gambling, drinking, hanging around, frozen yogurt, Beethoven, Back, Buddha, Christ, TM, H, carrot juice, suicide, handmade suits, jet travel, New York City, and then it all evaporated and fell apart. People had to find things to do while waiting to die. I guess it was nice to have a choice.”
Charles Bukowski (Women)
I can hardly believe how much I had forgotten that I am most thoroughly riveted with the wit, wisdom and sarcasm embraced by Mr. Bukowski. How true it is that we find distraction, and if so fortunate, an embedded passion that drives us, and carries on in spite of us. My friend, Lisa, recently reiterated a statement and philosophy fulfilled and thriving in the life of a good friend of hers: “if your life’s work can be completed in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”  Beautiful. True. Impellent.
This past week was not full of marketing ambition, but of sharing the bounty of garden and local foraging with a diverse crowd – which to me is far more rewarding – if I could give everything in my garden away to those who know the effort and toil required, the wealth of heart and soul that is poured into the land and the raising of plants from seed, who understand the full empowerment of knowing how cared for the land is and in turn how wonderful and reciprocating the plants are in appreciation with the explosive flavor of the fruit – that is satisfaction, that is remuneration.sweet corn
Out the kitchen window it appeared that sweet corn shucking was a bonding experience for the circle of folks involved. Activity was abound in the house for the duration of both Thursday and Friday. Thursday was filled with flour flinging and apples – Phyllis, Tiffany and I in team effort created a dozen beautiful apple pies that had the rustic beauty of giant galettes – I will never waste time trying to make a magazine worthy pie crust again, as these had so much more character, so much flare. I also learned the importance of chilling the pie crust before trying to roll it out, and that if you add a little vodka to the crust mix, say a tablespoon, it will encourage it to brown beautifully. We also boiled pots upon pots of potatoes – blue, red, yellow – on a questionable-at-best new gas stove… Phyllis was not a happy camper – so much so that she allowed them to come at 3:45p on Friday to replace it! In the midst of the cooking extravaganza with guests filtering in… unbelievable in phenomenal transitional cheffing  and hilarity.
culianry art

Thursday evening was epic in scope, and soul gratifying in affirmation. That evening I ventured out to the prairie with Paul, Sofia, Dick, Craig and Graham. Paul was giving a descriptive tour to Craig and Graham (both currently of NYC) who are filming for a documentary they are producing about meat in America – Sofia, Paul and Phyllis’ grand-daughter, stole the show with her broadknowledge of monarchs and how to identify their gender. I learned, also, that the monarchs have a favorite forbe on the prairie and that is the Meadow Blazing Star – of no relation whatsoever, I also learned that Patagonia, AZ is the hummingbird capital of the world, with 41 species embarking upon the locale. The evening was appropriately interrupted twice with intermissions in the meal and clean up for proper sunset appreciation – indeed it was spectacular, and as antiquated became more entrancing – we should all be so lucky!fashion sense

Friday morning arrived, and the harvest was on – squash blossoms, sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, pattipan squash, lemon cucumbers and edible flowers were among the measure. Phyllis eased us into the morning with a proper cup of coffee and fashion sense to be adorned by all – including Paul and Sarah. 🙂 The day was full of cutting, chopping, baking and frying; camera crews, random conversation, laughter and winks. I mixed a large pot of colorful and addicting potato salad by getting into it bare handed up to my elbows – I convinced that’s why it tasted so good! Jobs were delegated throughout the day – Daryl chopped cucumbers, the guys (Craig and Graham) got in on tomato chopping, as did Annie (in the squash blossom cooking photo) who kept us rolling with laughter – Annie and Tiffany were also responsible for the incredibly popular creations of fried squash blossoms – complimented as appetizers by the grilled Santa Fe peppers (fresh from Tiffany’s garden five miles as the crow flies) stuffed with cream cheese, sweet onions, olive oil, salt and pepper – grilled by me… who had no idea of what I was doing other than to just make them look good – lucky for me I have an eye for good looking food! 🙂 Presentation plus as a former customer reiterated. So much fun for us all, and the weather could not have been more cooperative.wine table

Not to be glossed over was the fact that we had wonderful company for the evening’s celebration of  Niman Ranch pig custodians/farmers, folks who value painstakingly the sustainability and humane causes and chefs who inspire and humble through the taste buds. Steve from Chipotle, Theo (raiser of pigeons) from Whole Foods, a star studded line-up for culinary folk including Rick Moonen, Andrew Hunter, Kent Rathbun, Harold Moore, Brian Wubbena – and so many others who I have grown to have such an affinity for over the course of this season. Thank you to the wonderful hosts, the Willis’, and the companionship and camaraderie of those I was fortunate enough to share space and energy with. A truly magnificent experience, and all rooted in the garden.

“the free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it – basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.”
Charles Bukowski (Tales of Ordinary Madness)
“You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.”  — Wendell Berry
Hmmm, yes, I do believe it is that time of the year most could easily be convinced that it’s just as easy to throw up ones arms in disgust, just walk on, simply toss in the towel and be content in the effort that has been put forth… alas, myself and those I feel closest akin to do not function this way – perhaps at times feeling a bit beleaguered and abused, sleep deprived and short of patience, but never without the passion to carry on in spite of what pressures may weigh. I am sure this is where that helpful notion of balance will eventually prevail… although I am quite convinced in the achievement of such an ideal being a lifelong quest and process.bicycle
With this in mind, I have been trying to live each day simply and in the profound acceptance that these moments are what catapult us from life to living, from functioning to thriving – with all the ups and downs and chaotic and unexpected twists, turns and dives that make this beautiful ride so engaging. Easing into the day with a peaceful and energetic paddle around Crystal Lake with my best friend by my side seems to be the perfect way in which to invite a sustainable tranquility to my pace of the day. We enjoyed the company of many green herons and kingfishers, as well as the disturbing thrashing of breaching minnows, many we found belly up in the melange of pond scum and lake weeds. There was also a large snapping turtle, dead, floating about that we had to investigate (as good scientists do!) and prod with our paddles. This disturbs me, as I think we both felt that these were indications of an ecosystem not in full health, and the concern about a lack of oxygenation of the water prevailed.
Following the indulgence of water was the indulgence of prairie. I decided to harvest prairie sage and red clover blossoms. I think I did a good job of pissing off the pollinators, as I chose only the prettiest and sweetest pink blooms of this waning summer season. Ethnobotany lesson for the blog entry today :

The flowering heads of red clover improve urine production, circulation of the blood and secretion of bile. They also act as detergent, sedative and tonic. Red clover has the ability to loosen phlegm and calm bronchial spasms. The fluid extract of red clover is used as an antispasmodic and alterative. Red clover is used in the treatment of skin complaints (especially eczema and psoriasis), cancers of the breast, ovaries and lymphatic system, chronic degenerative diseases, gout, whooping cough and dry coughs. Red clover is one of the richest sources of isoflavones. Isoflavones are effective in treating several conditions such as hot flashes, cardiovascular health and osteoporosis. Red clover also contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, chromium, potassium, and vitamins such as niacin, thiamine and vitamin C. Red clover ointments are used to treat skin problems such as psoriasis and eczema.
noodle beans

Even though I could easily waste hours upon days in my favorite place, I decided it would be in my best interest to make my way to the farm early afternoon. Lawn mowing and hay cutting were the afternoon’s agenda. Then, with dusk quickly approaching, it was time to play in the garden! These are the fabulous Chinese Red Noodle Beans that grow up to 24″ long and are absolutely phenomenal to both look at and eat in a little stir fry. They are liking the trellis, although I think in retrospect it could be taller, and they are especially happy that I pulled away the grasses and pigweed that were hogging up all the sunlight.nodding sunflower

The pollinators continue to deafen the wandering ear as they flit between the sunflowers and bean blossoms. They are fascinating to behold from the cover of crouching in the tall grasses and “weeds” – their delicate looking bodies taking up such feverish motion. The birds are on the move as well. Snowy egrets and Canadian geese have been filling the sky and the silence. Dad says to be on the lookout for Blue Wing Teal, as they usually start making their way through the last week in August.harvest

The harvest is getting more gratifying and delectable. I’m luck to have any tomatoes on my flat, as an equal amount, or perhaps more realistic ratio of 2 for me, 1 for the box, find their way over my tastebuds and into my belly. Complementing the reds and browns and yellows of my nightshades are the shell beans, noodle beans, lemon cucumbers and Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash that I am entirely excited to delight in… one of these nights that I’m not working until 10 or 11, however, seem more akin to savoring the sweet summer flavor. 🙂

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” — E.B. White

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

How all encompassing this quote embraces the multitudinous fashion of life – the growth in the graden, the growth of the soul, the endless sea of innocent facination with the world.  Reckless, these days, would be a wonderful and à propos description of the chaotic and wild nature of my garden. Biodiversity reigns, chaos ensues, and in the midst a beautiful and basic synergy intertwines. crystal lakeRegal and breath taking sunsets have in simple measure inspired something to look forward to and to be hoped for each day anew, reminding me with diligence the importance of taking time to appreciate the moment, to absorb the beauty. They are especially wonderful after long, cool, bug-free afternoons and evenings in the garden. I have learned a great deal in this vast experiment – some of the variables by choice, some by deferring to higher priorities… a few of which kept me from tending to my flock for three weeks. This past week I have gained valuable insight about who thrives on weed pressure, and who withers in recalcitrance at the competition. The tomatoes are beautiful… branches heavy and sprawling with fruits – I have had the wonderful fortune of plucking Nyagous (brown) and Royal Hillbilies (pink) – also a handful of cherry romas, snowberries almost ripe and pear tomatoes (my all time, melt me in my tracks, favorite… my neighbor, Chuck McLaughlin, would leave handfuls of these tomatoes on my tricycle seat when the family would take airplane excursions – a most delightful recollection!), but these small tomato varieties don’t stand a chance at making it out of the garden, as they go directly into my mouth for my tastebuds to enthrall in.  The huckleberries paid no mind to the weesd either, but I thought they were awful (they weren’t those delectable mountain types), so I ripped out all the plants I had pampered and turned them into green manure.

The onions, they had no time for this nonsense of competition – to hell with that, we are calling it a season… and in the process of my partial-green-manuring project (to some people this would seem like weeding, but in my opinion, it’s all just semantics) I mananged to locate most of them that my brother had not already absconded with, and they are waiting to be put into storage or to be transformed by an experimental recipe – much like the sweet Walla Wallas that complimented the green tomato chutney experiment of this evening. The potatoes seem to have their own interpretation of the weeds, as well, with the All Blues being the most sensitive, to the La Rattes in complete ignorance of the fact that most gardeners would keep these companions clear, thriving heartily in spite of the wild neighborhood.

rootsThese horseradish roots belong to plants that are in a patch nearly as old (ah-hem, young I mean!) as I. And, as long as I set up my operation outside with the breeze from the right direction, I can refrain from adorning my goggles from my chemistry lab class when I process it into spreadable goodness. It’s powerful stuff! Have also been doing a great deal of seed harvesting – cross pollinated Asian cabbages, hemp, dill, rat tailed radish, golden alexander, golden sweet peas just to name a few. There is an entire drying operation in full swing in my parents’ basement that also entails a variety of herbs and yarrow from the prairie. I think my mother and Shane might be a bit excited to have their space back soon, without the obstacle course of projects that seems to be inherent in my presence! 🙂

seed savingThe markets have continued to challenge and entertain me. I am completely enjoying the opportunity to network with folks I never would have met otherwise, but I still find an undercurrent of frustration tugging at me from time to time. Today, however, I indulged in not stressing, not doing much other than enjoying my day and showing up at market – I sang and played my guitar, I worked on some jewelry, I slept in, I made a wonderful breakfast and a blueberry sage sauce. I smiled constantly and really enjoyed this magnificently September-like day.

I also entertained notions of just driving. It’s like that little gypsy bug just sidled up next to me with wanderlust in the pocket, whispering in my ear “just drive. preferable west. ” Ah, I think this is a rascal that I may perhaps never fully find my thumb on, and while even though I am absolutely enamored and fascinated with my intense love for this place – this place in which my sense of community, my roots, and my passions mingle tirelessly – I expect my hunger for change and travel and adventure will always tease me away from time to time. I have learned at this point, however, that the coming home part of the journey is at times the most gratifying and rewarding – poignantly captured in the words of Nelson Mandela, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered, ‘A Long Walk to Freedom'”

quoteworthy

So, I was out of town all week the previous with my father to Zion, IL (between Milwaukee and Chicago) researching treatment options, and I couldn’t stop thinking about composting. I turned the ice bucket in my hotel room into a compost bucket because I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the banana peels from my free-with-room continental breakfast… and, yes, I dug my father’s out of his garbage to add. We ate at the dining facility and the thoughts continued to whir through my mind… just think about how little garbage actually has to be generated… if only they would compost the food scraps and napkins… I wonder how I could manage to carry mine around with me without grossing everyone out by the smell… and how could I avoid it squishing around and getting all over my things. And, of course this led to Dad and I having a brain storming session about the “composting purse” – I think we are on to something! Even if I’m the only one who ever uses it… the compulsion may be just too great… however, this could lead to habits such as going table to table asking for their food scraps… yikes! Hey, networking anyone? 🙂

orange

Needless to say, it was an energy intensive week for both Dad and I, and filled with great information. I was in dire need of a little plant fix, though, and since the garden was a good 8 hours away for me I finagled my way into getting Dad to join me at the botanical garden. It was a bit of an overcast and sprinkly afternoon when we got there, so we strolled a bit near one of the ponds watching a child harass the ducks – trying to pet them while this child’s parents joyfully chided him on – and through the English wall garden and Japanese bonsai display before a bit of a deluge chased us inside to the greenhouses – there we wandered about the tropical jungle plants (took me right back to Belize!) and also through the arid dessert experience (ah, Baja!) – there was a succulent plant from Madagascar that had medallion shaped leaves and I was mentioning how easy I thought it would be to take one to propagate, even though I know that’s not kosher – and low and behold I looked down and there was one of those very leaves on the ground… I snatched it up and stuck it in my bag, and now it’s in some potting soil amongst my bedroom jungle! Thank you Chicago Botanical Garden!

market table

This is an example of what the market display looks like – Tiffany’s candles on the left – beeswax, and they smell divine like honey – mulberries next to them, my jewelry on display and some baked delicious goodies – produce is on another table.

The garden is the epitome of chaos at this moment, which is why I’m not posting any photos of it’s current state… that would really be admitting my negligent lack of care! It has been nearly two weeks that I have let it all run wild… and you can tell! The mosquitoes have also contributed to my absence, as every time I attempt an appearance, they attempt to carry me off… I’m just going to break down and wear repellant tonight when I go out to harvest for tomorrow morning’s market. I believe this coming week I will tackle some of those weeds and liberate the tomatoes and beans – the 8 foot tall sunflowers seem to be holding their own – my friend, Megan, who’s contribution can be found on the celebrity farmer’s page, is the one responsible for planting those beautiful and thriving ardornments.

roadside bouquet

I can tell my energy is a bit chaotic and scattered as well, as I feel is depicted in the photos I’m sharing with this entry – while I like them, they are not typical of my style. Alas, carry on we do! This is a shot of one of my weekend roadside bouquets – I just can’t help myself but to stop, oh, about five times along the way to Mason City to hop out of my truck (which itself is a bit ordeal like since my parking brake is nonexistant and it’s a manual… turn of ipod, turn off truck, take keys out to avoid that awful buzzing, don’t forget scissors, traipse into the ditch and snip away… ignore gawking passers by…) It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite rituals, and they are delight on the table at market!

This week I managed to process a gallon and a pint of horseradish. Contrary to what some folks have tried to tell me, I have learned that if your horseradish patch is old/mature, you can harvest at all times of the year… mine/Dad’s qualifies… I believe 29 years it has been in existence. Also prepared another batch of strawberry jalapeno jam and harvested rhubarb for another marmalade later this weekend… I mean, is there ever enough time?! This morning’s baking experiments include vegan gluten free cookies made with sorghum, fresh ginger and ground pepper and of course, homemade crackers – this week’s version: hemp seed, flax seed, wheat. Hope to see some of you in Mason City this afternoon or tomorrow morning!

“As time went by, I realized that the particular place I’d chose was less important than the fact that I’d chosen a place and focused my life around it. Although the island has taken on great significance for me, it’s no more inherently beautiful or meaningful than any other place on earth. What makes a place special is the way it buries itself inside the heart, not whether it’s flat or rugged, rich or austere. wet or arid, gentle or harsh, warm or cold, wild or tame. Every place, like every person, is elevated by the love and respect shown toward it, and by the way in which its bounty is received.”
Richard Nelson (The Island Within)

“Let go of what has passed.
Let go of what may come.
Let go of what is happening now.
Don’t try to figure anything out.
Don’t try to make anything happen.
Relax, right now, and rest.” – the long version of the translation of Tilopa’s “Six Words of Advice”

Lots of sporadic rain has led to me spending only minimal time in the garden. I must first point out that I have strayed in permanence from my no-till operation – the expanse of weeds was enough to bring me to the verge of emotions – pulling the starter on the roto-tiller was the most immediate way to mitigate the consumption of being overwhelmed… so I tilled for a couple hours, diligently making multiple passes over weeds reaching for my waist, and it was empowering and gratifying – I haven’t regretted it for a second!

Black raspberries are coming on nicely in this area – I went to Pilot Knob both horseback riding and the for a purposeful berry hunt with Tiffany, made a lucrative haul – now what to do with them? I’m thinking something along the lines of a black raspberry and ginger glaze… let the creativity run wild!

tiffany touring

I had, last week, the good fortune of helping at my dear friend, Tiffany’s farm. We pulled giant ragweed and thistles and wild grape vines that were entangled in the apple trees. She has beautiful gardens, as is exemplified in my capturing of her giving the grand tour to Paul Willis on one of my trips to be artsy. We share a canopy at the Farmer’s Markets in Mason City on both Friday and Saturday, and have become completely enthusiastic and supportive of one another in our multiple endeavors and thought processes – it is just a blessing to have such beautiful people come into our lives, and I am so fortunate for having the opportunity to cultivate such a friendship.

blessed sunrise

Sunrise in my most treasured place in the world – the marsh directly north of my father’s farm. It inspires quiet contemplation and a tranquility that will just settle into your bones. Over the past couple of weeks I have been doing a lot of meditative introspection and have come to a couple of solid conclusions. First of all, that to fall back in love with the place you are from is a unique experience, and that there is freedom in the acceptance. And there is grounding in taking action to reitterate the notion… like finally getting my Iowa driver’s license – it was the last article I had been clinging to of my transient segment, and to finally allow that chapter to close and embrace the beginning of the next has been liberating. My other major acquisition in contemplation has been the absorbtion of understanding with the heart – that thinking too much is dangerous, analysis and worry are paralyzing and debilitating, that trying to understand the whys of how others work is only another illusion of control – that true balance comes from an open and trusting acceptance that we all have our reasons for doing and for being and in embracing others completely, one must have a blind faith in each other. I strive constantly for enlightenment, for the ability to love purely and honestly without contention, without control, and it seems that this is an ongoing cycle of progressions and regressions – with the elation of progress urging us on to a humble acceptance of the world around us and the regressions there to remind us of how far we have come.

and we plant

And as the internal transitions ameliorate, so, too, do the tangible and physical. Another truck load of plants, most with character and stories to be treasured, have found a settling in the yard of my father’s place. One day, the lawn mower will be obsolete! More fabulous and thriving lillies dug from behind the restaurant of a good friend, and a “weed” with a gorgeous purple flower pulled from the tree pot of another friend’s employer… then there are the miscellaneous plants and flowers that come with clearance sales and my addiction to perennials of all kinds. It’s almost a challenge to be patient for the coming years in the anticipation of the jungle running wild.

So, today is another market day – it is off to Mason City for the afternoon. Did some baking – homemade crackers, this time with the omega 3 and 6 boost of hemp seeds, and then some gluten free sweet potato muffins with nutmeg icing for an experiment in the kitchen. Somehow managed in the maelstrom of the activity of the week to put up a batch of each strawberry jalepeno jam and sweet potato butter, AND to get my special order jewelry fabricated – still working on mastering the 25 hour day however. Thanks to all for the continued interest, inquisition and support of my purposeful undertakings – regaling in all my endeavors is enjoyed exponentially more when shared with those of curious intrigue – I am blessed to have such company on this journey.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square hole. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” — Apple Computer Inc.

“I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”  Helen Keller

We have done it! We have taken that long and arduous stride of action towards our dream, our passion, our goal – that foot was caked in lead – and, fortunately our perseverance is prevailing, even if Mother Nature is getting her druthers from time to time.

prairie seed

This beginning I speak of is that of planting the prairie and establishing the conservation segment of the farm. Over the next few years an evolution will occur of regression in mimicry of her roots. It is a fruitful and diligent task to establish mesic prairie, potholes and wetlands in an area that was once topographically marshland now dredged and tiled for the ambitions of agrarians. One that we are up to, however. The “beginning” was a day last week – we mixed our expensive forbes and grasses in the old watering tubs we had for cattle and my horse, loaded the Brillion, and Dad set to planting as an impending storm approached – full of energy, color and movement – not so different than ourselves.

looming horizon

This system moved into the area a couple of hours early – this photo was taken around 2pm. I got the equipment put away and the shop and barn closed up, and when Dad came home we stood at the end of the driveway, in awe of the lightning, and swept by the cold wind rushing down from aloft – it was absolutely exhilarating. Since that day our project has been on hold, because the next portion to plant is in the peat ground east of the runway and it does not dry up with any expediency. Yesterday I was back on the Massey with the little tiller fluffing up a beautifully tilthy seed bed, so with any luck today the planting will resume. I also spent some time on the 2520 with my worktunes and NPR keeping me company while I drove in what felt like incessant circles mowing what will soon be worked up in an attempt to kill the existing sod so that more prairie may be seeded in the autumn.

The garden is growing so emphatically. She is in a constant shift of motion and energy – right now the cabbages are showing off striking yellow blossoms, while the golden snow peas and rat tail radishes are providing the abundance of fruits. The red romaine lettuce is enjoying a break in the heat and humidity, and continues to provide the contrast in color. The borage that I planted amongst the strawberries and dill is vigorous, and the purple blooms arrived recently to my enthusiasm. I finally broke down. I am no longer a weed-free gardener (as in expenditure of energy), and have gravitated to a more weedless version of my experiment. It will never be perfect, so to speak. but it gives me a goal to keep in mind – and I think the plants are ever so appreciative as they now are allowed to bask in the full glory of the sunshine. Once again, those weeds came in handy, and I am resolute in my interpretation of them as both cover crop and green manure. 🙂

I have finally gotten my jewelry shop up and running on the internet. This is a fantastic speed bump to have traversed, as I have been putting it off for quite some time. For those who are curious, the shop can be found at www.capriciouslyquixotic.etsy.com – the interpretation of the name being something along the lines of whimsically idealistic – which I feel I am a victim of with a far greater frequency than I care to admit, although to those who know me this comes as no surprise. A sample of my work lies below.vail

As if I needed another reason to have a preoccupation with the atlas, right? Torturous and inspiring to the gypsy soul. 🙂 Another fun sidenote is that I now have a grasp on the functioning of the acetylene torch which tickles me to no avail!

Looking forward to a minimal week of markets – both the Clear Lake and Mason City markets for Saturday, the 4th, are cancelled, so if you want any goodies for the weekend, the Friday market in Mason City will be the place to find myself and my wonderful and enthusiastic counterpart, Tiffany (she has been bringing beautiful and delicious kales and greens, and her fused glass jewelry is spectacular!!).

“By the choices and acts of our lives, we create the person that we are and the faces that we wear. By the choices and acts of our lives we give to the world wherein our lives are lived, hoping that our neighbors will find our contributions to be of worth, and hoping that the world will be a little more gracious for our time in it.”  -Kenneth Patton

Festive greetings from a weed friendly gardener! The garden is lush and green and the sweet clover, red clover and dwarf pack choy are adding their brilliant colors to the mix. The inflorescence of the grasses lends a nice artistry to the aspect when the wind gently tosses the grains about in the breeze. Lambs quarter, oxalis, Shepard’s purse, pigweed, smartweed, and the newly added purslane add a splendid biodiversity to the various vegetables, fruits and tubers patchworked around the garden. Not the picture of permaculture efficiency, but the artistic merit is entirely gratifying if one is not focused on economics. The sunsets have been breathtaking when not hidden behind storm clouds, and the brilliant yellow light that lays upon the landscape at dusk humbles one to stop in their tracks to absorb in appreciation.

neighborhood

Last night we had the great good fortune of experiencing the most wonderful in ambiance, camaraderie and flavor – satiating in an array of aspects. My father and I attended the Slow Food event at Paul Willis’ farm near Thornton, IA. Paul raises hogs for Niman Ranch and is entirely passionate and enthusiastic for the endeavors in which he invests his energy – consequently he attracts many of the same type of people. I was so fortunate to catch up with old friends and acquaint myself with new. Paul and Phyllis were great and gracious hosts, and the pot luck dinner provided by the energy of “local” efforts – both in measure of personal preparation and ingredients made for an entirely satisfying and gratifying experience.

 

paul

The evening wound up with a grand tour of the prairie and wetland on Paul’s property. Over 100 species of plants in one space is awe-striking and inspiring – the purples of Ohio Spiderwort and alfalfa to the yellow of the Golden Alexander and the white of the Yarrow, plus so many more that have already escape the grasp of my thought – ah, just instills a little peace in one’s bones that there are folks whose visions and actions are carrying us and pressing us on in the right direction.

Today, the market! The North Iowa Farmer’s Market to be exact. I continue to experiment with recipes and ingredients and presentation of my wares. You will find a variety of preserves abound on the table, as well as artisan homemade crackers and gluten-free treats that seemingly melt in your (well, mine, too, as I have deemed myself quality control!) mouth. For fresh produce I have wild greens (most commonly referred to as weeds, but I will post a couple recipes that will make you feel differently about these fabulous and nutritious alternative edibles!). I will finally have my jewelry for sale in addition to a hand crafted model-scale barn that was created by my stepfather. Always treats for tasting, and if you can’t join today, then perhaps tomorrow, as that will be the first of the Saturday markets in Mason City – you will find us downtown from 8-11am in the parking lot just west of City Hall; 10 1st St NW.

crackers

“We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”  — Aldo Leopold

Oh, I must start with expressing my deepest apologies for my lack of diligence in keeping everyone up with the growing of the garden. The past week has been on the verge of personally challenging, and that is what I am using as my excuse to ignore the computer. Trust me, though, I fuss about the garden and in the yard and am always brainstorming the latest and greatest blog entry – it just hasn’t hit the press until today is all. 🙂

the garden

 So, this is one of the most recent photos of the garden in all her glory. Notice how green it is? Well, I let the perfectionist in me go a little wild last week and she was a weeding fool (at least in the eastern third)! Yes, it’s still a major mental hurdle, allowing the biodiversity to flourish instead of keeping the grounds pristine and neat and tidy – even though I believe with all my heart in the beauty and functionality of the philosophy allowing weeds to enjoy a realm to thrive in as well. And, as luck would have it, weeds have been my best seller at the farmer’s market. These plant I embrace as a culinary delicacy, and a healthful addition, but it’s a bit challenging I have discovered to encourage others to see the rationality of that explanation. So, I resort to purporting the health benefits and describing flavors, and there have been a handful of takers. Last week I purveyed a wild greens blend of lamb’s quarter (spinach flavor), oxalis (horseradish flavor) and pineapple weed. I also tried to sell my gorgeous French heirloom romaine lettuce, Rouge d’Hiver, without much luck – my family is eating phenomenally well as a result! 🙂

rat tail radish blossom The rat-tail radishes are big and blossoming. They really steal the show. I’m so excited to try the unique radishes that grow like green beans. Because my garden is so eclectic I have been brainstorming ways to market it better. It seems that most of the markets in the area that I have attended demand the standard fare, and people tend to shy away from things they are unfamiliar with as a general rule. As a result I have come to the conclusion that I need to find the folks that are culinarily adventurous, embrace them completely and invite them to become a part of what I am dubbing the “Gourmet CSA” – if you are looking for the standard in spring greens, for your carrots to be orange and for your corn to be yellow, you can find unlimited resources – but if you want to sink your teeth into the sweetest cob of Japanese sweet corn, if you want to wow your friends with purple carrots in your salad, if you want to make a green tomato sauce from ripe tomatoes, well, Ame de la Terre is where you will find it! I also plan to include in CSA boxes the homemade and healthful delights I have been experimenting with in the kitchen – like the wheat and flax seed crackers, the gluten and dairy free Italian herb crackers, whole grain based treats, and recipes to play with for those interesting garden finds. So, if you are interested in participating in this type of CSA, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m hoping it is the kind of thing that can go year round with things like preserved tomatoes and root cellar items… as well as my push for a greenhouse for continued growing. It’s certainly a work in progress!

barrel lilly

… as is the entire yard. This is a photo of one of the beautiful tiger lillies given to me by a friend. I have lined the entire ditch between the driveway and the runway with the lillies acquired from Clear Lake and from my grandparents’ place north of Crystal Lake, plus I stuck in some phlox and other unknown-to-me-perennials in the hopes that mowing will soon become a thing of the past. If you see my father, please tell him what a good idea it would be to replace the lawn with short grass prairie… this is one of my big pushes of the moment! The hostas in the trees are flourishing and competing nicely with the abundant Canadian thistles and nettles – they can be such health hazards. 🙂

mirror

Nature continues to be my salvation. Gladfelter yet mesmerizes – the other day alone I watched a blue wing teal with her heard of ducklings scattering across the pond, saw this mirrored reflection (prior to being manipulated by my photo program!) at dusk and while I was out of the truck to snap this moment, was greeted by two muskrats swimming about in curiosity.  I have also started kayaking once again on Crystal Lake, and what a phenomenal outlet that is becoming – I am immediately reminded of the charm of that haven – yesterday morning on my paddle I saw two pairs of wood ducks, a pair of cardinals, a muskrat and a mink! The mink was the most adorable creature as he moved smoothly out onto the jetty and took up his lookout position peering out from behind a rock with only his head in view – he noticed that I had a beat on him, and he high tailed it back to the safety of the trees. Ah, nature, you are amazing!

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”
— Peter Marshall