Beginning Again


Welcome home! Watch your head!

I’m back on the Coteau after the nine-week legislative session which at times felt unbearably long and now feels like, “wait, it’s over already?” After a brief stop down in Southeastern SoDak to pick up my entitled feline, I made it home just in time to come down hard with the Capitol crud I’d managed to avoid while I was in the thick of things.


Still, a hacking cold doesn’t excuse a gal from glorying in visions of spring, regardless of the snow mountains piled everywhere in my little town. Especially since I picked up three weeks’ worth of mail, and among the bills and shoppers and credit card offers were three packages of seed I’d ordered in a fit of desperation during my last long weekend in Pierre.

Of course I’d done a seed inventory in late December, and of course I left my garden journal here at home, but I figured I remembered most of what I really needed. Unguided figuring coupled with websites full of glossy veggie and flower images is more than a little dangerous, but I didn’t get too far out of line. I set a budget of $100, and I managed to stay under it even with those seductive buy-this-much-get-free-shipping offers. I was disciplined.

OK, well, I was disciplined in that I kept my trio of orders under $100. And, I did order pretty much everything I needed, which wasn’t much. And then, in superbly un-disciplined fashion I ordered a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t on my needs list because I was still under my $100 limit.

I’m still amazed at how little seed I need and how much weird and wonderful stuff I can get now that I’m pretty much just growing for myself. The small amount of money and discipline necessary for making a seed order as compared to my CSA and market gardening days still blows my mind–at the same time, it’s difficult to force myself to choose the smallest pack size rather than, say, a pouch of five thousand.

Civilization as we know it could collapse. What if I didn’t have enough turnip seed to isolate, grow out, pollinate, and make more turnip seed? What if some rogue grower up the block (I’m lookin’ at you, Kim!) was growing out Chinese cabbage for seed at the same time, and it crossed with the last of my turnips and formed some mutant Brassica that not even flea beetles found appetizing? Do you think the Svalbard seed vault would save us? It’s already sprung a leak from melting permafrost!

I think we’re on our own. The last defenders of the Family Brassicaceae.


onion harvest
Seed-grown storage onions

Actually, I didn’t order turnips this year. I still have two packs in my seed stash. What I did order was storage onion seed because I’m tired of getting crappy onions from the store that go moldy in less than a week or have soft, rotten layers undetectable from the outside. Onions are easy to grow from seed; it’s just that they take some time. I much prefer starting them myself (if I can) than buying plants or sets.


Onion sets are an absolute last resort because they have a much greater tendency to bolt–and an onion that sends up a seed stalk is an onion that won’t keep through the winter. I seed my onions in 4-packs with 4 plants per cell as Eliot Coleman suggests in The New Organic Grower (though he uses soil blocks), and I agree with him that this makes weed control much easier than with a single row of onions. It doesn’t adversely affect the size of the bulbs.

I started my onions today, as well as Blue Solaise leeks, a superb variety of flat-leaf parsley from Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Brilliant celery root, which I grow every few years because it’s hard to find in grocery stores, it stores well, and it’s really delicious. Also on the celery theme, I’m starting lovage from seed–a huge, deep-rooted herb whose young leaves taste like very strong celery, but that I don’t usually eat–I grow it because it’s cool-looking, pollinators love the big umbels of yellow flowers, and it’s a tough-as-nails perennial. And, you know, if a civilizational collapse causes a desperate celery situation, you’re covered.


lovage flowers
Pollinators love lovage!

I ordered other stuff for the pollinators, too–borage and anise hyssop from Pinetree and swamp milkweed and cup plant from Seed Savers Exchange. (Turned out I already had seed for anise hyssop and cup plant–that’s the danger of ordering away from home.)


I also ordered and started rue (Ruta graveolens) plants because I saw very few Black Swallowtail butterflies here last year–I think I glimpsed one or two all season. Elsewhere, when I’ve had rue growing in my gardens, they seem to prefer to lay their eggs on it even more than dill, carrots, fennel, and parsley (which I’ll also grow). Rue is also a tough perennial–even when eaten down to a nub by hungry caterpillars, it’ll make a comeback the next season.

cooler tomatoesOne thing I pledged not to order this year (and was nearly successful in avoiding) was tomatoes. While browsing Territorial’s site, I found a variety of sauce/slicing tomato I had great success with in the past but has fallen out of my collection in recent years. So, Cuore di Bue will be back in the garden, along with one or two other varieties that somehow slipped into my stash during the Deuel County Women Farmers seed swap.

After last year’s multiple marathons of tomato canning, I’m thinking I’ll cut back this year and give myself a break. Wish me luck…er, discipline!


A Little Post…and More to Come

Now that I am actually starting to work off-farm a little (and putting together a super-exciting project proposal I’ll blog about if it goes through), I thought it might be time to get some content flowing here again!

Here’s a small thing I’ve worked on in the past couple of days, since returning from the Spirit Camp north of Cannon Ball, ND very early Sunday:

photo 1(24)
[Most of] Whatever’s ripe goes in the pot…
Of course, when I returned from a few days on the road there was a crisis of deliciousness in the gardens begging to be harvested. Since I planted so late this spring (umm…summer), the warm-season crops (which were all that I attempted to plant) began to bear fruit a couple of weeks later than normal. That means the main canning season is also starting a couple of weeks late, and I’m scrambling to put up in jars what I’m able because freezer space is very limited.

Hence, this stew of skinned and cut-up tomatoes, red okra, roasted peppers and eggplant. With freshness like this, there isn’t much need for doctoring with spices, but I did add a little salt, a couple of cloves of garlic, and some chopped stems and leaves of a cute little celeriac that has been growing companionably in the pot with my bay tree ever since late 2015, when it suddenly germinated out of the batch of cell packs I’d given up on in spring (over a year ago!!!) and redistributed the seemingly barren potting soil among the houseplants.

Talk about a late bloomer (well, OK, it didn’t bloom):

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I only ended up with eight pints of the pressure-canned stew (plus a little left in the stockpot for supper), but eight shelf-stable pints is better than no pints, and it’s also better than using half my available freezer space for one small project.

Now, to consider options for the wave of beans, cukes, and tomatillos coming next…

The Gardenless Season?

I haven’t started a single thing under lights this year, nor have I planted a seed (or a potato tuber, or anything else) in the ground.

I haven’t ordered any new seed (though I have a plentiful supply on hand). Seed inventory took place just after the new year, and although I made notes about what to order, I never followed through.

In a typical year, I’d start leeks and onions mid-February–March 1st at the latest. Peppers and eggplant (and perennial herbs and flowers) would be next, followed by tomatoes a few weeks later, then cabbages, broccoli, lettuce, etc. By this time in a normal season, I’d be running low on seed-starting mix and castigating my worms at how slowly they were turning kitchen scraps into fertilizer for the next batch. I’d be poking around the pea patch daily, looking for signs of sprouting, and the spinach and arugula would be up under the row covers.

The fact that I haven’t sown a single radish might seem even stranger since I’m back at the farmstead where I ran a 20-family CSA and market garden business. My vermicompost bin is here, and my light shelf (though not in the house, nor assembled), and there’s a bale of peat and bags of PBH (parboiled rice hulls–for loft and drainage) in the storage unit. I’ve got flats and cell packs as well as soil block makers. My tools are here, too. So what the hell am I waiting for?

early spring garden
Spring 2008 Market Gardens
Another View Through the Mulberries
coat hanger
Fall Cleanup West Garden 2008

This morning on Facebook, I saw a “memory” from five years ago–a post from this day on a former blog wherein I reported building four raised beds for the backyard of a house I was renting in a little town in Minnesota. There was landscape rock to remove on a flower bed in front, and also another field garden of about 600 square feet to cultivate in back. In the post, I was relating how many gardens I’d built and then left behind (spoiler: I left that one, too, when the house burned while I was visiting family back East). I even said something about maybe getting too old to keep doing that.

And that, my friends? That was three built-then-left gardens ago.

And these were no mere 100-square-foot plots. The next one was composed of four raised beds (the same ones–friends helped me lift the frames and move them across town to my new place) plus two newly-developed 20×80′ field gardens. That’s nearly 3400 square feet of growing space. Then the farm, with 18 raised beds, a 40×40′ lower field garden, plus a 30×30′ upper field garden newly cultivated last year (and in which my fall-planted garlic crop presently resides).

One of the two 20×80′ plots, Clinton, MN 2012
photo 2(3)
June 2014 Raised Bed & Lower Field Garden at the Farm

I guess if I was getting too old for this five years ago, then I wouldn’t have gone on to do even more in subsequent years. I could say that this year is different because I was moving during most of February and much of March–except that I moved to the aforementioned rental house in mid-March of 2011 and it burned in early August, and I still had a full garden there. I simultaneously managed both the Clinton house gardens and developed the farm gardens, helped with house renovations, moved (and helped my husband move) in the spring of 2013. So, I know it’s entirely possible to start seeds and plan a garden even in the process of moving.

But maybe this year, instead of just getting older, I am getting (OK–trying to get) wiser about garden development. As in, not doing so much, so quickly, and then having so much ground to manage and food to process. So much stress when there’s a window of good weather to plant, but the equipment isn’t working or there’s a work project taking precedence or some damn other thing is getting in the way of what absolutely needs to be done in the gardens right this bloody second ARRRRRRGH!

And then, there’s this:


This is what the old market gardens look like now.

I hesitated a little to even show these images because I don’t want the people who grew here last year to feel bad about it (even though they’ve already told me they feel bad about it–don’t feel bad about it!). Life happens. In their case, a baby happened. And when a baby happens…well, this can happen, too.

And it’s totally, completely OK. Because it also happened to make me less inclined to make myself crazy about an acre or so of ground that might be better off planted into cover crop and maybe some fruit trees next year. And yeah, I will probably till some up and throw in some potatoes. And I may have pulled a couple of flats and some other seed starting supplies out of the storage unit last night. And a few boxes of seed out of my stash. And I might do a little, but I won’t do it all. And that is also totally, completely OK.

Because what I’ve decided about this place, and also about myself, is that it’s time to take a lot broader view than a perfectly cultivated garden on a little patch of ground. There’s a lot more that I could do–both on this 90 acres and in the world and my life, too. It’s just not worth making myself crazy about regaining “control” over a little patch of ground when I could be developing a plan that, over time, would improve the whole in ways that slowly, methodically, eventually, work to the benefit of everything that lives here (OK–except the brome and cedars–death to the brome and cedars).

Although it will be a season of less garden, it will not be altogether gardenless. And it will be full of beauty and appreciation nonetheless.

Now, then. Time to start some seeds.