Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A LOT of catching up to do!

When I was checking in on several other blogs that I like to follow I realized that I had not written in our own blog since early November.  Now, I'm not making any excuses because winter is when those of us in the garden related industries are supposed to have time to just sit, relax, drink warm beverages, read books and romanticize about next years gardens; right?  But honestly, we all know that the holidays are a busy time for everyone and the snow storms have kept us cooped up on the days we weren't busy.

In all reality, 2010 wasn't a stellar year for us so I'm looking forward rather than back at this point.  I am determined to make 2011 a better year for all of us.  I have attacked my reading pile like a rabbit in a carrot patch and am quickly gnawing away at the books I've been waiting all year to read.  I love to read - it's calming and since I read mostly non-fiction - educational as well.  I am determined to finish the tatted ornament that I started two years ago.  So far, I've taken apart what I did wrong last year and have spent several hours 'studying' how to fix it - progress huh? I did a little baking.  I actually successfully made the hubby's favorite holiday candy for the first time in 27 years.  You gotta cut me some slack on this one folks as the recipe includes combining vinegar and baking soda and you know what happens when you do that?  Usually, with me, what happens is either a large rock or a small explosion, but this year I mastered it and the end result was better than the store bought candy I have been substituting for the aforementioned 27 years.  I also made a couple pairs of mittens, both for gifts.  This is way shy of the 10 or 12 pairs I usually make but as I said, it hasn't been a stellar year.

The little dog has been able to feed her addiction for mint as candy canes and mint flavored dog breath drops entered the house early in the month.  The little one is a mint fanatic and nothing makes her happier.  She also got a new coat this winter as after I gave her a haircut she shivered so bad I felt guilty and quickly sewed together a fleece lined felted wool coat to keep her warm.  She's much happier now.

I got a gift card to the book store for the holidays so plan on spending even more time reading.  Once I finish "The Edible History of Humanity" it will be on to "Anastasia", first in the Ringing Cedars of Russia series of books and hopefully end the winter with "Truck, A Love Story" by Michael Perry.  I'll need a laugh or two by then!  If you haven't read any of these books, I highly recommend them. 

Now, it's back to work, waiting for more snow and training with the little dog for our next Rally Trial in April.  Hope all of you have a great New Years and move into 2011 with great hope for a good year.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Eating Locally

For the last six days our house has been abuzz with hunters.  Deer season, statewide holiday in North Dakota, is always family and friend reunion time at our house.  Its the time when our usually quiet home fills with the laughter and smiles of friends and relatives who come to hunt and spend time together in North Dakota.

For me, it means rising early to make the sandwiches for the lunch box and be sure that everyone has all they need for a day outdoors.  It also means large meals around a big table with hungry hunters.  After the group leaves in the pre-dawn hours, I usually crawl back into bed to do a little reading, my quiet time.  Currently, I'm reading a book about local food infrastructure and regulation.  I won't name the book as I'm not sure I totally agree with or even like the author, but I'm reading it anyway.  This morning it got me thinking about what I have been feeding my hungry crew and I was pleased to realize that every meal contained at least a portion of local foods.  For me, more than for your enjoyment, I want to list my menu here:
  • Thursday - steak from a local butcher.  Although I have no way of knowing where the beef originated, I feel better knowing I supported a small local business rather than a large chain store.
  • Friday - Venison french dip sandwiches and baked potatoes with pie for desert.  The venison, shot during last years hunt and still hanging around in the freezer needed to be eaten.  The French dip was prepared with local garlic and home made Au jus.  The potatoes were from our garden and the pie - well it was home made pecan pie with pecans one of the hunters brought with him from down south.  Not really local, but grown by a small farmer which makes me feel better about the whole thing.
  • Saturday - home made pizza on home made crust using ND flour, cheese we picked up at a farmers market in Wisconsin on a recent trip, onions from the Bottineau gardens and pepperoni that one of the hunters had made himself with venison from last year and pork sausage also purchased at the farmers market.
  • Sunday  - Chili made with venison - you guessed it -from last year - still trying to empty out that freezer! And more  pecan pie.
  • Monday - Walleye caught on Devils Lake this summer, grilled and served with wild rice purchased at the Town Square farmers market  in Grand Forks, carrot sticks from our garden carrots - and of course more pecan pie.
  • Today, Tuesday - I'll use the leftover venison from the french dip and turn it into venison barley soup with our home grown carrots, onions from Bottineau and some barley I picked up at a farmers market this summer.  Maybe for desert tonight I'll surprise the guys with an apple pie made in our own kitchen from apples on the trees outside.
So you see, even without breaking a sweat, its pretty easy to eat local, even in North Dakota, even in November.  All it takes is a little forethought and a freezer full of venison!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

gardendwellers FARM Fresh Herbs on the move!

Well the last couple weeks have been exciting.  Along with taking herbs to the WomanSong conference in Grand Rapids North Dakota, we've received some great, but somewhat unusual orders.  We received our once per year birthday order to be delivered to Fotis restaurant in Culpepper Virginia.  Frank Maragos, a Minot native runs this really nice restaurant there but misses home so his Mom orders him fresh gardendwellers FARM herbs each year on his birthday.  I hate to say it but she pays more in shipping then on herbs but Frank really appreciates the 'taste of home' and shares his birthday present with his staff family and friends.

We've also received an order from the Grand Forks public schools.  September 20-24th is Farm to School week and they will be doing their very best to put local vegetables and fruits on the Grand Forks Public School lunch menu.  gardendwellers FARM will be supplying herbs for a pasta meal - basil and parsley.  We'll deliver them bright and early Monday morning so their nice and fresh for the students.  Thank goodness we now have a high tunnel to get us through the predicted frost on Friday night!

The best and maybe most unusual order we have received is from the NOLA Brewing Company in New Orleans Louisiana.  They have a seasonal beer called 7th Street Wheat and for some reason the basil growers in the south have had some trouble with their lemon basil.  This unusual wheat beer contains lemon basil to give it a unique flavor.  These folks seem like the nicest people - although I did have a little trouble with their address.  Their company is on Tchoupitoulas Street - that's a mouthful and even harder to spell.  You can imagine how well spell check likes it!  NOLA Brewing Company would like 20 pounds of our lemon basil to help them finish off their season of this fabulous brew.  So guess what we're doing?  Picking and de-leafing a whole LOT of lemon basil.  Good timing again as the frost would take all we have anyway - had they called just one week later we could not have helped them out.  This will be an adventure in shipping for us as we've never shipped that large of an amount that far.  We're all hoping for the best and relying on overnight delivery.  Stay tuned for more photos and updates on our adventures with NOLA!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Animal Party!

It seems all the animals of the prairie wanted to party last night.  Barry and I were out in the wash/pack house - otherwise known as the shed - late last night getting orders ready for today's deliveries.  As we were out there we could hear noises and often went to check on them. Which could of course explain why it took until 11 PM to finish orders!  The fox, raccoons, hawks, deer, neighborhood cat and more were out and about last night and all very talkative!  I don't know if it was the weather or just that fall is in the air but everyone wanted to have one last party is seems. 

Then again, maybe they were out complaining because I hung a bunch of CD's and bags from the apple trees trying to keep the animals at bay until after the Produce Party this weekend.  The apples are ready, nice and tasty and colored up - and all the critters know it.  As we were harvesting I noticed lots of deer tracks leading to the trees and saw several squirrels making trips from home to tree to home.  That might be what has them all in a ruckus.  So, IF I can keep the animals out of the trees - come and get some yummy apples with caramel dip this Saturday at the Produce Party - only $2.50!  We'll let the critters have the leftovers!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The migration has begun!

It's official, the migration has begun.  The other day was awfully windy here and Barry was out harvesting with our hired hand Chris for our Minot orders.  He called me from the field on the cell phone and told me to bring the camera.  This is what I saw:
Monarch Butterflies travel between 1200 and 2800 miles between their starting and ending points, flying around 50 miles each day.  They stop along the way to feed on bright colored flowers and nectar from other goodies.  They like gardendwellers FARM because who could resist the rows and rows of Zinnia's?  It gives them a good meal to continue their journey.  It will take them two months to reach their destination in Central Mexico.  They use the sun's orbit as a guide and even without a compass or on cloudy days these amazing insects can find their way to a place they have never even been before.  Although each year the migration pattern varies slightly - most years we're lucky enough to have these beautiful creatures stop on their way to say hello. Those of you in the area should be on the lookout for them and if you do not have a food source, bright colored flowers, there is an easy way to create one below:
Place a small kitchen sponge in a sugar dish in a shallow bowl.  Use a brightly colored and shallow bowl or a bright sponge to attract them.  For nectar, mix 4 parts water with 1 part granulated sugar.  Boil this mix for five minutes until the sugar is dissolved.  Let it cool and then place it on the sponge.  Extra nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week but most likely within a week all the Monarchs will be past our area and further south. 

Be sure to have your camera handy during this exciting time and hopefully you can catch some great photos of the Monarchs as they pass through!
Now, back to work!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's Almost Produce Party Time!

The plans are underway for this year's Produce Party and I'm REALLY excited about this one.  We've got so much going on!  We'll have the 'Make Your Own Scarecrow' booth back again this year.  What fun that was last year and there were so many families and kids that took advantage of it.  I even saw one of our scarecrows still hanging out in Devils Lake in July!  The cost will stay the same as last year, $10 gets you a life-size scarecrow to take home.  We have everything you need, you just need to stuff him - or her.  We have a wide variety of outfits to choose from for your scarecrow and you get to draw on the face, so happy, sad, or scary - you choose.  Last year after Thanksgiving, I covered my scarecrow with a large sheet and made him into a snowman - double duty is the way to go - he made a great decoration all the way through to February.

New this year is going to be the caramel apple table.  We're so lucky to have a little extra help from my assistant, Stacy Baldus, from Bottineau to man the table.  We'll be picking fresh Cenntennial apples direct from the tree and serving them up with caramel sauce for dipping.  Only $2.50 - what a bargain!

I'm also really excited about Marte Holen Stensli and Bob Nelson coming with the  Norwiegen Dole Horses.  Marte will be tending their booth with all kinds of fresh veggies but Bob will have one of the horses here and he will be answering questions about the breed.  He'll also do a plowing demonstration in the afternoon.

At 11:00 AM I'll be working with my litttle dog Ida to do a Rally Obedience demonstration.  Ida has now completed all trials to have her AKC (American Kennel Club) Rally Advanced Title and next we'll be heading on to the Excellent level.  For more info on the sport - check out our demonstration or the following web site:  This is a great sport and with just a couple trips to Grand Forks to visit with their Kennel Club members and learn a few of the signs, anyone can enjoy this great opportunity to work with their dog.  Come and see what it's all about.

The Zion Lutheran Church of Churchs Ferry will be serving up great food for breakfast at a great price and The Prairie Bistro, a division of Sonja's from Mohall, ND will have concessions available after breakfast time to make sure everyone gets fed great food.

Billie's Soaps and Spa will be on hand in the afternoon to demonstrate some of their home made beauty products.  I really love their stuff - especially the waterless soaps - they make your hands so soft!

All in all, it's going to be a GREAT day - so bring the family and enjoy it with us.  Come Out and Play!
Check out our web site for a full schedule:

Monday, June 28, 2010

We have new neighbors!!!
Yes, there is a new family in Churchs Ferry.  We first noticed them a week ago, although they most likely moved in months ago.  The whole family has beautiful golden red hair.  Mom, Dad, and several little ones like to play tag in their front yard every evening around 6:30 until dark.  They love to wrestly in their nicely mowed lawn and Dad even gets in on the action with the kids.  They're a fun family to watch.  I sure would like to get to know them better.  They seem to like to watch us too!
Sorry for the bad photo, I'll post another better one as soon as I have it - but these new neighbors are 'foxy'!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Additions, New Changes to the FARM

Well, rhubarb harvest is complete, for this year and possibly for always.  After another disappointing harvest, only about 1000 pounds, we're considering giving up the rhubarb business.  It's really a lot of labor for very very little return and the weeds have become almost unmanageable.  We'd love to find someone who would like to take the rhubarb - dig it, divide it and take it away - so if you know of anyone, please help us spread the word.  We're putting together a short video highlighting all it takes to harvest 1000 pounds of rhubarb.  We'll post a link on the blog when it is complete.

As for new additions - we have yet again been the nursery for tons of baby birds. We have robins nesting and feeding babies in the lilacs, catbirds by the arbor, ducks in the labyrinth, yellow warblers raising a brood in the nanking cherries (right)
and a killdeer family in production lot #2 (left).  We're glad to be able to provide habitat for all of our feathered friends.  Of course we have our toad friends in the high tunnel helping to keep the insect population under control - we're thankful for them as well.

We're proud to say that at least for a while we once again have Chris Klier working for us. I don't know what we'd do without Chris.  He is an EXCELLENT worker and knows just what to do to harvest, weed, maintain and keep the place running with us.  Thanks Chris!

We're also happy to report that with thanks to our new high tunnel, we're about two weeks from our first harvest.  The Basil that was planted early looks great and should be ready to go by about June 28th.  This is about three weeks earlier than any harvest we've had. 

We're already seeing the return of geocachers to our cache and are awaiting the arrival of several education based vacation families this summer.  Watch for updates on our visitors!

As I worked on  updating our web site and other business matters this morning, I came across a poem I had always wanted to post to our site, I'll share it here as my parting words:

This is the field where grass joined hands,
Where no monument stands,
And the only heroic thing is the sky. 
by William Stafford.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good People, Great Conversations

We were really pleased to have a great conversation with Lisa Hamilton on Monday.  Lisa is a writer and photographer from California who was here writing a story about the water issues our area faces.  Lisa's writing focuses on agriculture and food issues.  Being from California, where water shortages are the norm, Lisa is finding the story of the Devils Lake Basin fascinating.

Lisa arrived on Monday, mid wind storm and with rain blowing her into town, with only a windbreaker to keep her warm.  She had been in the area since Saturday and had already seen her share of water.  Having arrived at a time when overland flooding, overflowing sloughs, gushing culverts and the threat of more to come were abundant, Lisa found as much story fodder as water. 

Lisa's focus with us was the story of the people that have been affected by the water and the story of our business.  We had a great conversation with her about the great community of Churchs Ferry, its previous residents and still loyal supporters.  Lisa is delightful and we'd love for her to come back to the region in warmer, sunnier times to see the beauty of this area as well as the rich history, present and future of agriculture that we all share.  If you get the chance, visit Lisa's web site at: where she features her photography and background.

Lisa was saving a few dollars (and some heartburn) by cooking for herself while she is here.  I was pleased that even in the cold spring of Churchs Ferry, I had some bright green fresh chives to share with her.  Here's hoping they seasoned her little meatloaf to perfection!

Lisa, thanks for telling our story and here's hoping you can arrange a trip back when we're all at peak production.  Count on gardendwellers FARM to feed you full of great organic herbs!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring comes early at gardendwellers!

Saturday Barry and I spent a good portion of the afternoon getting the high tunnel ready for planting.  Seems like fall flew by last year and we didn't make our goals for tilling and laying plastic.  As you can see in the photos, Barry started off with a winter jacket but it wasn't long before we were both in our shirt sleeves and sweating up a storm.  It was 40 degrees outside and you can see the snow piles on the outside of the tunnel but inside it was toasty!

It was great fun to play in the dirt again and see sunshine.  I think I even got a little bit of sunburn!  You can see we had to incorporate a little organic matter into one corner as there is a little more clay there.  We also used an organic certified product that helps to break down clay particles in hopes of bettering the soil in that corner.

The soil was warm and thanks to the watering we did a few days earlier, just moist enough to make a fine seed bed.  We put down the black plastic to warm the soil even further and deeper in anticipation of an early seeding of Basil.  Basil likes really warm soil - 55 degrees or more - to germinate and the warm soil bed will help to keep the air temperature warm during cold nights.  Now granted, we won't get the seeds in for another month (maybe) but we're still shooting for having our first crop in the grocery stores and restuarants by July 4th.  That's a two week advantage on other years.  If we're lucky and Mother Nature plays nice, we might even be in to our customers sooner!

Spring really is here - at gardendwellers at least!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunshine - YEAH!

Today is a lovely day in ND!  The sun is shining, the snow is melting and there's no wind to speak of.  This week is the beginning of preparation for spring (besides the seedlings that have already been planted).  We'll shovel a path to the cold frames and the high tunnel.  That will be a chore as the banks are 3 feet high in front of the frames and at least 5 feet high at street level in front of the high tunnel but it will be worth it if we can get access to a warm and cozy place to start our herbs early.

Speaking of the seedlings, so far so good on most of them.  The thyme, winter savory, marjoram, oregano and sage look good.  The rosemary has me worried however and thinking I need to make a call to our favorite seed seller tomorrow to order more - just in case.

We're still waging war with the deer who are voraciously routing around all areas of the farm trying to get the dry grass under the deep snow.  While it is pretty cool to see them pawing around out there and pretty serene to see them wandering about (anywhere from 8 to 20 at a time) - I am more than aware of the damage they will do if left unchecked.  We have sprinkled the smallest trees and shrubs with "Plantskyd" a deer and rabbit repellent and it seems to be working - where we sprinkle it - unfortunately we have too many things to sprinkle the whole farm so Ida, our little black dog, has been getting a work out.  It's pretty funny as she doesn't really scare the deer very far away, they are not afraid of a 12 inch dog that is colored like a skunk but she is enough of an annoyance to keep them moving on.

Soon we'll be planting the cold frames, readying the high tunnel for seeds and spring will really be with us.  Some people have told me they have seen robins, I haven't even heard one yet but I'm ever hopeful.  Enjoy these last days of monochromatic color schemed winter, walk, snowshoe, ski, make snowmen, and know that soon the white will give way to green.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring is here, REALLY!

With 12 inches of standing snow and 3 more already fallen today you might not believe it but spring is really here.  I know this because today I sat down and wrote out the planting plan for this summer and reviewed the seeding schedule.  I quickly realized that I'm already one month behind on my seeding.  Last year we planted our rosemary on January 21st.  Here is it almost Valentine's Day and I have yet to get anything in soil.  Tomorrow or Monday I'll have to go to town for potting mix and get the rosemary, savory, sage, thyme, oregano and other perennial herbs seeded to catch up.  I've written a two page to-do list for later this spring with items starting as soon as next week and running through almost July.  Guess we'll be busy soon enough!

With snow everywhere and frequent snow storms, February may seem like the longest month - even though it is the shortest, but with planning like ours it can fly by.  Add to the hectic planning schedule a few conferences and we're just run run run all month.  Last week I attended the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society conference in Watertown SD.  It was great fun and I came home with a lot of great ideas to implement this year but also the renewed energy to tackle the planning projects I started today.  I learned some ways to increase our soil fertility this year while maintaining our organic principles.  I can't wait to try them.  I also learned a few things about frost protection that I'm working on implementing this year.

Later this week (Thursday) I'll head to Jamestown so I can help with the ND Local Food Summit and ND Farmers Market and Growers Association annual conference on Friday and Saturday.  I should be great fun, lots of work and much learning.  On the 25th, my assistant in Bottineau will head to the MOSES conference in LaCrosse.  I have to miss it this year - I've been to the conference for two years running and this year I have a different speaking engagement booked and will miss the conference.  I really enjoy the MOSES conference and am sad that I can't go - but other duties call.  You can bet I'll be back again next year!

So keep smiling, enjoy the snow - becuase spring is coming, really it is.  My planning book says so!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fun in the North Dakota Winter

So who ever said that a North Dakota winter can be boring?  This is a picture of what Barry and I spent some of our Saturday doing.  The weather, even though the weather reporters were talking of another doozy of a blizzard, was actually perfect.  We had about 3 inches of very wet snow that came down slowly and silently blanketing everything in the most perfect white followed by a balmy 32 degrees, and no wind!  What a time to head outside and enjoy the wonder of snow.  There is no age limit on making snowmen right?

The other thing I was able to do was get a handle on my reading.  The stack of magazines and newspapers has slowly risen to mammoth proportions so I spent Saturday morning, while Barry was running mail and moving snow, catching up on the reading pile and wrangling it down to just three issues of Farmers Market Today. 

While reading through the mags I found an article about ordering seed.  The article, in Growing For Market magazine, talked about storing seed, inventorying seed, ordering seed and keeping records.  In it, the writer gave a list of common seeds and how long they can or should be stored.  The article cited Parsley as a use it one year and then toss the rest - not viable after the first year.  Since I knew that we had just completed our own seed inventory and our Parsley seed was several years old the writers opinion surprised and scared me.  We have successfully planted Parsley seed that was two and even three years old.  However, facing the possibility that this could be the last year for our 2006 seed, I did  put together a germination test.  Parsley takes a LONG time to germinate.  We direct seed into the field as early as we can each year with the Parsley being the first in the ground of our herbs.  We've also planted it in the fall just to avoid problems with wet springs where we can't get in early to seed.  To do a germination test you can wrap some of your seed in a moist paper towl and put them in a plastic bag in a location that is about the same as the ground or outdoor temperture will be.  Check them daily - not only to add water if they need it but also to get some air exchange in the bag.  Keep checking for small roots on the seeds or signs that they have sprouted.  If none sprout, get new seed.  If half sprout, you'll either have to overseed or get new seed.  If all or most of them sprout you are most likely OK to put them in the ground.  It's always a good idea to run a germination test on older seed.  It's so much better to know than to worry once spring arrives and then possibly have to send in an emergency order for more seed after you have lost valuable growing time. 

For now - I'm just watching my little babies and hoping they sprout.  If not, I'll just add Parsley to the seed order and things will all be on time come April.

Hope you are enjoying the snow the way Barry and I are - stay safe and be patient.  Spring is coming!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

When Earth and Water Don't Mix

I'm not big on astrology.  I believe that the horoscopes in the local newspaper are just a hotdish of obtuse phrases combined with a dash of generality that can be interpreted into anyone's dish of life.  However, that said; I do think that your astrological sign and related birth signs can be a general guide to your personality.  There's too many people that 'fit' the assigned personality traits of their astrological guides to call it coincidence.

Take our family for instance.  I am an Earth sign.  Makes sense with my love for the Earth and passion for gardening.  I also fit my astrological natal chart personality traits to a "T".  Like it or not, I can be materialistic and I am very business-like, planning and community oriented.  I know my downfalls and being too empathetic is not one of them.

My son, Boy as we call him, is a water sign, all ruled by emotion, intuitive, in it for the long haul, wanting to build, tear down, and rebuild to suit rather than going with a pre-determined plan for success.

My poor husband, the fire sign in the family is very externally motivated.  His goal is to fit in, make others happy and go with the flow.  You might now see where this leading...

The reason for this post began a couple days ago when Boy and I were emailing.  He's beginning the final leg of his college journey and will graduate this spring with his second degree.  He'll be entering the full time career workforce soon (again) and as a Mom and a "P" word person - planning that is - I of course wanted his landing spot to be within a reasonable driving distance from his beloved parents whom he can't live without (smile here folks) and of course in a place where he would be happily and gainfully employed with a quality of life far exceeding his parents. 

Well, taking into account that he IS a water sign, compared to my Earth sign and the fact that he is of generation Y, you can imagine his reaction to my suggestion he look into a job I recommended.  He had other more immediate things on his mind, like finishing his current schooling, working as much as he can at his current job so he can pay his bills, and how to communicate with a new friend in his life.  He did manage to tell me thank you for the thought - which was thoughtful.  Earth and Water make mud. 

So now comes the moral of the gardening story.  Mud isn't all bad.  Gardeners recognize that the mud is a sign that new life will soon spring into their gardens.  The moisture works with the Earth to bring nutrients and hydration to the roots of the plants causing new growth and blossoms.  Mud is a great place for butterflies and small birds to drink, toads and frogs to wallow and worms to bathe.  If you're a kid, mud is great for pies and moguls for toy cars and trucks.  Mud can be fun - mud wrestling, mud racing, and if you're a generation X or Y person MUD can be a multi-user-dungeon game.  (Boy - See how hip your Mom really can be?)

For now, I guess I'll learn to live with the mud in my life and just like in my garden, to be thankful for the water that rejuevenates me.  I'll try to remember what Earth would be like without water and rejoice in the fact that I have water in my life to keep me refreshed and growing, able to sustain the hard times.  And, to be ever grateful for the Fire in my life - who just wants to go with the flow and keep the Queen happy - afterall, he does have to live with this Earth!