Double Digging is for the Birds!

I dug potatoes the other day and right now, as I write (11:09pm,) I am boiling up some of the ones that got nicked by the spade.  I’m planning a bedtime snack of mashed potatoes to calm my heartburn from the homemade pizza sauce I had for supper!

Although most of the summer we’ve had a shortage of rain bordering on drought,  a recent welcomed shower plus the fact that we did double digging in the spring made digging the potatoes pretty easy.  You’ll also see straw at the back of this photo which we used to cover seed potatoes that we planted very shallowly.  The straw was wonderful for keeping the weeds down and the moisture in, but I’m not sure it did a lot for the size of the harvest.

Double digging is part of the method for John Jeavons’ Grow More Vegetables that inspired our garden.  In the lower right of the photo you see one of the digging boards that Steven made for us.  As you double dig, you stand on the board to spread your weight and keep from compacting the soil.  It was a lot of work, and when everyone else is planting and you are “still digging”, you can be tempted to give up, but the pay off later in the gardening season is worth it.

For several days in April  as we loosened the soil to a depth of about 12 inches, a robin kept us company, enjoying the worms and grubs we exposed.  So I guess double digging is not just for the garden, it’s for the birds too!

Ok, now I am off to soothe my stomach with some mashed potatoes.  🙂

Row cover, a gardener’s best friend

At the Ames  community gardening plots, there are lots of….well…challenges.  The plots are nestled in a pretty setting between two patches of woods behind the Iowa Department of Transportation.  I loved the way the woods provided shelter on some of the windy days this summer, but woods also provide nice habitat for deer and woodchucks! I’ve heard people complain about deer in Ames, but being an apartment dweller, I’ve never had to deal with their eating habits until now.  So, garden cover to the rescue!  People often ask me, “What is all that white fabric laying around your garden?”

My first garden in Ames was at the ISU Student Organic Farm when it was located on Mortenson Road.  One of the reasons I came to Iowa State was because it had a Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture and I eagerly went to Borders and bought several books on organic gardening.  Row cover was suggested for solving critter problems in the garden, including mammals, birds and insects.   It’s not something you can usually find at big box stores.  This year I found mine at Earl May over on 16th street.

The photo above shows what is also called “floating row cove”r over my little patch of sweet potatoes.  I was pretty sure deer were making a salad out of this after I saw the vines snipped off and hoof prints all around!

I also covered peas and beans (I pulled the row cover aside for these photos so you could see what is underneath.)  I wanted both of these to climb, however, and after inserting some bamboo stakes, it was hard to keep the cover in place.  I finally decided the tender plants were out of danger and removed the cover all together….and…..you guessed it…….SOMEONE snipped everything off!  It doesn’t pay to get careless as a gardener….shoulda kept my best friend right there in place!

Spinach, America

Spinach?  You say you wouldn’t be caught dead eating it?  Spinach has come a long way since our mothers tried to get us to eat the stuff out of the can!  Of course, their mothers probably got to eat it fresh out of the garden, and unless you’ve tasted it fresh out of the garden, well….you haven’t REALLY tasted spinach.

It all started with Larry Cleverley’s early spring pop up market in Des Moines.  He tweeted his location, and all of a sudden, I just had to drive down there.  You know, you’ve been counting the days until the farmers market opens, and all of a sudden you have the opportunity to get a taste of one a couple of weeks before you expected!

I bought a large bag of this spinach, which Larry says had overwintered from last year.  I stir-fried it in a little oil, just until it wilted, and then added salt.  Oh man, I couldn’t even get it on the plate before I had eaten it half gone!  And do you notice how this spinach looks different from the baby spinach leaves you see in the clam shell at the store?  It turns out the term for these “wrinkled” leaves is savoyed, as in deep green savoyed leaves.  For some reason, the texture of this spinach is so much more appealing to me than the flat clam shell leaves that stick together in a blob.  Now the key to eating greens, I’ve found, is not making yourself eat too much of this good thing.  Think of your greens almost as a garnish, two or three bite fulls.  The rest of my bag of green delight went into a quiche.

And all of this finally brings me to Seed Savers Exchange and my dream of fall spinach in my own garden.  As I was wandering around the Seed Savers demonstration gardens, I saw it…..dark green savoyed leaves!  Yes…spinach!  The variety is called America.

I bought a packet of seeds and dream every night of spinach omelets and wilted spinach with salt and maybe even some crumbled bacon.  My only question now is when I should sow it for a fall crop and should I start it under my grow lights or direct sow outdoors.  Any ideas fellow gardeners?

Seed Savers Exchange


My sister said let’s plan something exciting for my birthday.  For some people that might mean a hot air balloon ride or a trip to the windy city, but I have a passion for green, and one of the first things that popped into my mind was visiting a location on my Life List: Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa.  If you have ever had their catalog,  you’ve probably spent hours lusting over the vegetables and getting engrossed in the stories behind many of the heirloom seeds.  I wanted to see “where the magic happens”!

The first photo shows some of the demonstration gardens that are located near the visitor center and huge gift shop.  The second photo we accessed by driving back a ways into the property, where the real magic happens.  I assume this is a production field that is obviously not very far along in the first week of June.  We did not take time for the walking tour, which might have given us more information and a better idea of what really goes on, but my mission, besides just getting there, was to see what they use for trellising and to SHOP!

For Zanariah!

I got some nice comments a while back from  Zanariah in Kuala Lumpur.  She found me through my post about slough grass and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Last weekend I met my sister in northern Iowa and we got to visit one of the places Laura lived!  I thought of you, Zanariah, and took these pictures for you!

Between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura and her family lived in Burr Oak, Iowa.  It was a rough time in the Ingalls family and Laura did not write about it in her books, but there is a little museum there now in the hotel building where the family worked.  The above photo shows some twisted slough grass like they would have burned in the book, The Long Winter.

There is a book, Old Town in the Green Groves, by Cynthia Rylant, that imagines the time the Ingalls family spent in Burr Oak.

The small museum is located in what was the Masters Hotel. This is how it looks today.

There were a lot of photos of Laura and her family in the museum and the one hour tour was filled with great stories!  Now I want to go back and read the books again and read even more about Laura’s life as an adult.  Thanks you, Zanariah, for reminding me that these stories are loved the world over!

Salad from my (our) garden!

This is what I had for supper tonight!  It was the second salad from the….our…garden!  In the past, I’ve usually gardened alone.  I like to disappear into the garden for “me time”.  It’s my gift to myself.  After the ISU Student Organic Farm moved north of Ames, I thought I would never garden again, but this year, a friend of Steven’s asked me if  I wanted to join their garden.  He had gardened alone too, not been as successful as he had hoped, so this year, it’s going to be a community effort.  🙂  After working for several hours  at the garden today, I filled my McDonald’s iced tea cup with some mesclun mix, a few spinach leaves, some sweet basil and lemon basil, and 3 sprigs of parsley.  It didn’t look like much in the cup, but on my plate it was beautiful…and delicious!  I dressed it with olive oil, lime juice and garlic salt.

Biointensive Gardening

This year I am gardening with two other people who wanted to give John Jeavon’s Biointensive Gardening a try.  One of the main ideas is that you start EVERYTHING from seed in flats, even corn, beans and peas.  These are some marigolds I started quite a while ago.  It really has made gardening a brand new experience for me.  I’ve tried to start things from seed before and failed miserably.  It’s going better this year due in large part to the grow light Steven put together for me, but I also have a very different attitude about it.  In the past, I’ve always bonded with each little seed and plant, WANTING it to thrive, but you know, nature just isn’t like that.  And the spiritual lesson for me has been: maybe God isn’t like that either.  Most plants produce an abundance of seed and you wouldn’t want it all to survive.  I get upset at myself for each little failure, sometimes making it monumental.  But this week I’ve realized, I need to make lots of efforts, and only some of them will go on to grow and produce fruit, and that is just the way nature is.  And God, the Master Gardener, knows that and has planned it that way.