Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back at Seed Savers Exchange for a close-up look, Part II October 19, 2018

A garden lab at Seed Savers Exchange, photographed in September.

 

I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT, as an adult, I would grow a big garden from which I would gather produce to eat fresh, can and freeze. But the reality is that, since leaving my childhood farm 44 years ago, I’ve never lived in a place with enough sunny space for a garden.

 

An easy-to-grow-from-seed flower, the sturdy zinnia, photographed at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

Sure, I’ve grown tomatoes in pots and seeded lettuce and spinach into the earth, but not with great success. I’ve had my most success with herbs. I began growing those only in recent years and wonder why I didn’t do so earlier. The taste of freshly-clipped rosemary, basil and oregano is superior to dried.

 

Cow art at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

While this sign warned of a bull at Seed Savers, I never saw one.

 

Dying morning glories drape the Seed Savers barn accented by a vintage lawn chair.

 

While lack of land and time kept me from gardening, I appreciate the art I learned long ago on a Minnesota farm. There I planted, weeded and harvested in the garden.

 

This signage explains the test garden at Seed Savers.

 

A sign at Seed Savers for cucumbers I tasted in Faribault.

 

Flowers and vegetables mix in Seed Savers gardens.

 

I appreciate those who continue the time-honored tradition of gardening. Like Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Like family members. Like those who sell fresh produce at farmers’ markets. Like my local library, which has a community garden. From that public garden I sampled this summer lemon cucumbers and chocolate peppers, originating from Seed Savers seeds. And when I entered Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, I passed by pollinator friendly flowers like the draping Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blooms, also from the Seed Savers collection.

 

About those morning glories on the barn…

 

 

There’s lots to learn at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

Seed Savers, even for a now non-gardener like me, proves an interesting place to visit. For the history. For the education shared in signage and plants. For the reminder that it’s important to save seeds, to grow the food we eat, to plant the flowers that bloom beauty into the landscape and into our souls.

 

So many seeds to choose from at Seed Savers…

 

…even milkweed seeds to plant for Monarch butterflies.

 

TELL ME: Are you or have you been a gardener? I’d like to hear your stories. Or, if you’ve been to Seed Savers, I’d like to hear your take on this place.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Feeling right at home at Seed Savers Exchange in rural Iowa, Part I October 18, 2018

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HAVE YOU EVER VISITED a place where you were so comfortably at home that you felt as if you’d been there before, but you hadn’t?

 

 

Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, feels that way to me. A nonprofit that preserves heirloom plants through planting and nurturing and seed saving, Seed Savers appeals to the farm girl in me. The peaceful setting. The red barn. The ruralness of it all. Iowa. So like my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

 

A tangle of plants, some towering, some not, drew me into a garden near the massive red barn where young women scooped seeds from ripe tomatoes during a mid-September visit. This is their work, this preservation of seeds. I thought of hippies and pioneers and how this tedious labor matters.

And I thought of biting into a sun-warm tomato plucked from the garden, juice trickling from the corners of my mouth. Memories from the farm.

 

 

 

 

I watch Monarchs and bees wend among towering stems of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blossoms, their flight like words of poetry in Diane’s Garden.

 

 

 

 

There’s so much to love about this place. Berries in the back of a pick-up truck. Chicks clustered, safe behind chicken wire. A path that leads away from the farm site to narrow streams. Quiet as only quiet can be in the countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

And then a second garden on the other side of the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center. Here my favorite flower—the simple zinnia and corn drying to harvest and sunflowers heavy with seed. And more, oh, so much more.

 

 

Inside the visitors center, the results of it all—rows and rows and rows of stocked seed packets. Bull’s Blood Beet. Rat-Tailed Radish. Hungarian Heart Tomato. What to choose from among all the alliterations, all the words that write of bounty and beauty. I choose Sea Shells Cosmos Mix for myself, Gold Medal Tomato for a niece with a passion for gardening.

 

 

I wish I could stay here, far from the stresses of life. I feel a peace in being here, sequestered from reality, from noise, from the world. There’s something about Seed Savers Exchange that feels comfortably familiar to me. Like I lived on this land once, walked below this blue sky, wandered among the waving blossoms of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate. Yet I’d not been here prior to this visit. Except perhaps in the poetry of words and of memories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Seed Savers Exchange.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Monarchs & milkweed October 8, 2018

Monarch attracting milkweed grows next to a southwestern Minnesota soybean field. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A TIME EXISTED WHEN I CONSIDERED milkweed a weed as noted in the second syllable of the word. My dad assured me that the plant needed eradication from farm fields. So out it went.

 

Milkweed, along the prairie path at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Decades later and more informed, I consider the milkweed valuable, a plant to be appreciated and not yanked from the earth. Through the years, we learn a thing or two or twenty.

 

It all begins with the milkweed, where adult female Monarchs lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. These plants grow in Stockholm, Wisconsin, outside a bookstore.

 

Eventually caterpillars emerge from the eggs and grow, here in Stockholm, Wisconsin.

 

Then the caterpillars spin into a chrysalis for the final transformation. This chrysalis is on the side of my house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Finally, a Monarch butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, this one photographed about a month ago in New Prague.

 

I’ve learned that the milkweed is necessary to the survival of the Monarch butterfly. Adult female Monarchs lay their eggs on one plant—milkweed. And the resulting caterpillars feed on milkweed leaves.

I remember a time when Monarchs were many. Through the years, as milkweed plants dwindled, so did the numbers of these beautiful orange and black butterflies.

 

Milkweed and other flowers rim the shoreline by the King Mill Dam in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But now people are beginning to care, to understand the importance of growing milkweed, me among them.

 

I photographed this sign in Russ’ shop when I first met him seven years ago. He had free swamp milkweed seed in a jar on the store counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

When I revisited Russ in September, I found him tending these milkweed plants outside his shop. His commitment to Monarchs remains as strong as ever.

 

In Stockholm, Wisconsin, Russ the bookseller continues as a strong advocate of milkweeds and Monarchs. I first met him during a 2011 visit and recently returned to find this shopkeeper still advocating for Monarchs. And growing milkweeds.

 

 

At Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, I spotted packets of milkweed seeds among the many seeds sold in the farm’s retail shop.

 

Packets of milkweed seed ready for the taking at the Valley Grove event. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

 

At the recent Valley Grove Country Social near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, a representative of the Northfield Prairie Partners Chapter of Wild Ones handed out envelopes of milkweed seeds and information on Monarchs and milkweeds.

 

An unripened milkweed pod. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Photographed at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Photographed 10 days ago at my brother’s rural Redwood County acreage.

 

Beyond all of that, I find milkweed pods beautiful in shape and, when fully-ripened, like art erupting. I am repeatedly drawn to photograph the wisps of fluff embedded with seeds. Seeds that will naturally fly on the wind, fall to the earth and grow new plants. Or, when harvested, shared by those who care about an orange and black butterfly. Like Russ in Stockholm.

TELL ME: Do you grow milkweed for Monarchs?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling