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It has been a while, yes? A long while. I was contemplating starting another new blog… and then I asked myself if that is really what I want to do?… I like this one. I like the people I write to. I like writing to myself here. Why try to reinvent the wheel… reinventing myself is enough work as it is.

So, like me, this blog is evolving. I am gardening again, I am happy to report. But, this time it is a cooperative endeavor – Tom, the chickens and the bees are all a part of this co-creation. It is a lot more fun that way. We have buckwheat and wheat for the birds, but they mostly seem to like pecking around at everything else, respectful of our tidy rows. Hopefully they haven’t developed a taste for tomatoes between last season and this one.

But, on to where I really want to go today. I went for a run for the first time in a really long time. I got new sneakers – this was incentive. And I have committed myself to competing in a race that is 3 miles plus obstacles in July in Des Moines… added incentive. I was feeling frustrated this morning with where I am and where I imagine I want to be and in feeling the big disconnect between the two – this has to do with my work, primarily – my business and how it contributes to the fabric of the community and how it can begin to be its own community – I just felt overwhelmed. A run seemed like a good option, as it takes me into a silent space where the answers can just hit me, kind of like the random bug in the teeth – you don’t see them coming.

Since it has been a while since I last ran, my body was thinking this was a pretty major event – my mind, too, telling me things like, “3 Miles? Really? I don’t think so… either turn around or just stop, but either way you are out of your mind.” Again, the overwhelm. I was bound and determined not to be the victim of my thinking. How can I look at this another way? Focus on the step in front of you. Can you do that? Then, can you try take that step in a way that is enjoyable? WOW! What a shift. That change in perspective made the run doable – the uphills, the wind that was a little too cold for my ears, the distance… all proved surmountable. And dare I say enjoyable?! 🙂

All of my lamenting, questioning and berating took place along a specific point in my journey, as well… mainly the first mile. The first mile is always the hardest. Easily transferable to most any endeavor. Note to self.

The other piece that I realized is that it is very important to have a heading. This I have personal experience with after a handful of seasons aboard some sturdy vessels. The little steps you take along the way, they were meant to be enjoyed. We always had a general itinerary and a standard route plan, and I was generally blessed with a captain that understood the value of attention, intention and experience. Exploring the not-so-beaten-path was something we did really well. It kept us all very present. And all the while we were making progress, moving towards our destination.

Teachers come in all forms. All we really have to be is a willing student.

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“For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
— Baba Dioun

It is certainly the season for the admiration of aesthetic beauty – the prairies are in beautiful bloom, and reasserting my new found infatuation with spending time amongst their pleasant diversity.

compositeOn Iowa Public Radio this week there was a great program with Jim Peas devoted to the tall grass prairies of the midwest – did you know that Iowa is the only state in the nation that was once completely engulfed by the tall grasses of that ecosystem. And also, our great state was once flourishing with over 80% of our space delighting in the dancing colors – now we are reduced to less than one tenth of one percent of our natural landscape with all the little prairie segments patchworked about the land – we are indeed the most industrialized state in the nation when you think in terms of land developed for economic gain… interesting perspective even though everything is green – I always think of concrete being synonymous with industrialization. My summer love could easily become that of a lifetime, and I try to indulge multiple times a week in just resting in the tranquility of the grassland filled with bobolinks and blackbirds.

elderflowerThe elderflowers are beautifully fragrant, and as I wrestle my way through the overgrowth of the treeline in pursuit of ripe mulberries, the smell drifts to me and delights me to no end. I know that wine and jellies can be made from all flowers, so I added to my bounty yesterday afternoon with a handful of florets and an idea. The internet is such a plethora of information – there are beautiful concoctions including an elderflower-summer fruit-prosecco jelly that looks divine! So many great inspirations… and only seven days in a week!

handfulI can never harvest mulberries inconspicuously. There is still some residual purple lingering on my digits and elbows today. The berries are explosive in sweetness and flavor, and I have such a hard time fathoming the fact that I have never indulged in this exquisite fruit – the deliciousness has inspired notions of a rhubarb-mulberry jam that will be concocted as some point this week yet. Divine!

oaxacan green dentThe garden itself is looking green and happy. This photo is of the Oaxacan Green Dent corn that will make a beautiful green corn flour for my tamale making experiment. The colors and striations and varigations of the foliage continue to evolve and steal my breath and moments when I relax long enough to soak them in.

flowering onionThe flowers of the white onions playing gracious host to the pollinators the flit about the blooms. The colors in the garden are really coming on – we have white and yellow, purple and red, the pink of the smart weed, the multiple colors of the potato blossoms – ah, progress, even when slow, is so gratifying!

“At the end of the day, to sit in my garden is to finally awaken”
Nature Conservancy

Well, first and foremost, my first experience at the North Iowa Farmer’s Market in Mason City was phenomenal. I was dead on into the sunshine, which, minus the incessant need to squint, was wonderful – Vitamin D in full force. I had a lot of folks enjoying the samples for taste testing, and the surprise hit was the pineapple weed I had harvested that grows wild in the garden and various other spots around the farm. Pineapple weed is ubiquitous throughout the US, and I first learned of it’s medicinal properties when I was studying edible wild foods in Southeast Alaska. It  has been used for medicinal purposes, including for relief of gastrointestinal upset, infected sores, fevers, and postpartum anemia. The plant, when bruised, then rubbed on skin, provides a effective, yet temporary insect repellent. Quite a novelty! It can also be steeped to make a lovely tea.

Bird watching at Gladfelter has been so gratifying lately. To my surprise (as well as my father and brother’s) there have been a couple of speckle bellied geese hanging out – I literally stopped the truck just to gawk! Oh, anyone who knows me knows this is nothing new, however – on the way back home I did the same thing to watch Eastern Kingbirds – the only bird in this part of the country with a white terminal tail band. There have been mallards, blue wings and grebes also all enjoying the haven of the marsh.speckle bellies

I’m trying to get caught back up with my supply of preserves for the coming weeks’ markets, and also experimented with a recipe for dried drunken cherries. They are done; now they must sit a month or two before going into homemade ice cream. I made rhubarb-apple butter, jalepeno-strawberry jam and maple spiced sweet potato butter so far. I plan on having some homemade crackers this week as well, AND roasted garlic-oregano pasta. Mmm! 🙂 cherries

 

The garden itself is growing beautifully… both in flora and size! This week I expanded it by 30′ to the south to allow for plenty of room for squash and sweet potatoes – well, I’m having to contemplate the sweet potatoes and where they will take up residence, as that chunk is filling up quickly! I have planted Oaxacan green dent corn (for tamales), sesame seeds, brown soybeans, flowers, lots of squash and melons, purple string beans, gherkins, a couple beds of lettuce, and blue and Japanese sweet corn – all surrounded by a fabulous border of Dad’s special game blend (leftovers! millet, sorghum, buckwheat, field peas, soybeans) and a flowering mix of red clover, sunflowers, borage, coreopsis, cleome, coneflower and marigolds – the pollinators are going to LOVE it! Everything is mulched, and now it’s time to attend to the original portion and remulch and harvest the dwarf Pak Choy… maybe some radishes – I couldn’t help myself and ate one right out of the garden yesterday – delicious!seed mix

Last, but not least in the slightest – we have 13 new additions at Mom’s. And they are SO cute… let’s hope a bunch are hens so we will soon have our very own fabulous farm fresh eggs! There is just no going back. Mom has been diligently doting over them like a good mother hen.mom with chick

 

Since the weather forecasters aren’t particularly accurate this week so far, I am going to indulge in hanging out at my nephew’s first baseball game of the season that starts in a half hour… then it will be back the garden – I will post photos from there soon – ALSO, I am creating a website for the garden as well, and more info on that will follow in the near future.

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

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!
radishes
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.