Pagodas in Iowa

The pagoda dogwood is a shrub with an exquisite form, if given the space to grow freely in the sunlight.

Its Latin name Cornus alternifolia describes its leaf patterns. Almost all dogwoods have opposite leaves. The pagoda dogwood has alternate leaves, though the leaf shape and texture maintains a strong resemblance to other dogwoods.

If you want to see some of the wide variety and beauty dogwoods can come in, visit: https://vovazinger.wordpress.com/2022/05/21/cherokee-brave-flowering-dogwood/

Just make sure the dogwood you are planting and encouraging is native to your area.

The Best Donut

The best donut is a mulch donut. Its the only kind that burns calories instead of making your waist line bigger.

The best filling for the best donut is something native, something edible, or something native and edible.

Aronia melanocarpa, the aronia berry, is perfect. This native shrub is great for native bees, has beautiful white flowers in the spring, attractive red leaves in the fall, and the berries…are edible.

They are incredibly nutritious, very low in sugar and exceptionally astringent. Which makes them a berry with a striking and flavorful first impression, but not necessarily a tasty one. If you can’t get over the mouth-pucker they cause, try baking them in a low sugar oatmeal cookie or throw them in a smoothie with kale and an apple.

April 2022: May 6 skunk cabbage walk

This should really be called “what’s happening up Bena Brook” because there is a lot of awesomeness in the woods right now. Some treasures were experienced but not captured digitally, including the four-leafed prairie trillium; the young equisetum; the violets, the iron bacteria in the brook; and, the gray catbird tending the skunk cabbage meadow.

April in the Bena Prairie (2022)

Over the past year, I have enjoyed this commitment. Showing up once a week, more or less, at the same place to take the same picture.

The prairie shifts. The wind sways the grasses in and out of frame. Green stubble emerges from the black and grows up tan. Clouds form, dissipate, and reform. I love the clouds.

It is a place I love, and will continue to visit regularly. There are a lot of other spaces vying for my attention, and it is time for this project to come to a close. I hope you enjoyed the journey with me.

April 2

April 7

April 10

April 23

What’s Going in the Ground at Sugar Grove

Your garden at home may be on a similar trajectory as The $64 Tomato, or it may be the sort of garden in which you watch in curious amazement to see what fruit is growing from the compost pile. You may have already purchased canning jars, visited the Ely Seed Lending Library, or you may still be thumbing through the catalogs to see what new varieties of pea sound tasty.

At Sugar Grove Farm, as at most businesses, there is another layer of questions we have to ask. Will we have the labor to successfully plant, weed, and harvest the crop? Are the seeds we are purchasing organic? Do we have buyers for the crops?

Even the cover crops are organic. This clover, planted last fall, will be tilled in to add nutrients to the soil before planting. We till shallow, and only where we will be planting. The rest of the field will stay in cover crop, to hold the soil and increase the organic material in the soil.

Every year, as we become more familiar with the site and the time involved in crop management, as the soil becomes richer through cover crops and certified organic amendments, and as we have improved infrastructure (such as driplines for irrigation), we should be able to expand our offerings. 

Stop by the Creekside Shop during harvest time if you want to experience these tasty and unique fruits and vegetables. All will be certified organic.

It can be challenging to find organic seeds of the varieties you want, and even more challenging the longer you delay placing your order. I really appreciate Wood Prairie Family Farm, Seed Savers Exchange, and High Mowing Organic Seeds for helping me out.

This year, we plan to grow: 

Keuka Gold potatoes (sourced from Wood Prairie Family Farm)

Parade cucumbers (sourced from Seed Savers Exchange)

Waltham butternut squash(sourced from Seed Savers Exchange)

Sweet Pea Currant tomato (sourced from Seed Savers Exchange)

Moon and Stars (Cherokee) watermelon (sourced from Seed Savers Exchange)

Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon (sourced from Seed Savers Exchange)

Chinese Miniature gourd (sourced from Seed Savers Exchange)

Miniature Yellow Bell pepper (sourced from Seed Savers Exchange)

Long Island Cheese Pumpkin (sourced from Seed Savers Exchange)

Red Carpet F1 onion (sourced from High Mowing Organic Seeds)

Cortland F1 onion (sourced from High Mowing Organic Seeds)

PMR Delicious 51 cantaloupe (sourced from High Mowing Organic Seeds)

True Love F1 cantaloupe (sourced from High Mowing Organic Seeds)

Sweet Gem Snap pea (sourced from High Mowing Organic Seeds)

Sugar Ann Snap pea (sourced from High Mowing Organic Seeds)

Spring 2022: April 5 Skunk Cabbage

Bena Brook has melted, creating open pools of clear, cold water. Photo credit goes to Gabe Anderson (thank you!).

The spring melt has also created isolated vernal pools where trees have uprooted.

The fungus are thriving in the newfound moisture and relative warmth.

The skunk cabbage are finely up! It looks like they may have come up several weeks ago, based on their nibbled appearance and the leaves that have appeared next to the purple flower.

What is A Community Supported Forest

A Community Supported Forest is a place in which the people actively and deliberately care for the light, the trees, the soil, and the plants to create a healthy system which provides sustenance in a myriad of ways.

Hazelnut

From wild strawberries and wild ramps (onions) in the summer, to linden blossoms and black raspberries in the summer, to hazelnuts and butternuts in the fall, the food from a well planted and cared for forest provides deliciously diverse and bountiful food.

There are other benefits as well. The wood can be made into walking sticks for hikes and charcoal for drawing. Firewood can be used to create the evening campfire, or boil sap down into maple syrup. Woodchips can be thrown in the smoker for succulent, flavorful meat dishes.

Sumac drupe

Maple syrup and honey can grace the breakfast table. Bluebirds can nest in the tree cavities and catch mosquitoes. It is a beautiful and intricate system, and what comes out of it is, like most things, proportional to what goes into it.

Humans have had a hand in Iowa’s woodlands for as long as Iowa has had woodlands. They have planted, gathered, cut, and burned. And how much of that we do today really determines how fruitful the forest will be for us. Dense stands of trees need to be thinned to improve sunlight. Honeysuckle bushes and other invasive species need to be grubbed out. Missing species need to be planted, fenced from deer, and watered the first few years. Every ten years or so, trees will need to be thinned. Community members support the forest.

Through that process, calories will be burned, muscles will be toned, and friendships will be formed. Knowledge will be learned and shared. Ultimately how productive the forest is for the community is a measure of how well the community cares for its Forest.

Early Spring 2022

As if aware of the equinox, the first snow trillium of the season has flowered. It is usually the second native woodland ephemeral to emerge, after the skunk cabbage.

The mullein has also emerged. While the plant won’t flower for months, its big fuzzy leaves have a great deal of medicinal value. It is not native, but grows readily in disturbed, barren ground, helping stabilize disturbed soil.

Beginning a Prairie

Prairie plantings are preferably done in the fall. Nature works the seeds into the soil; the frosting and thawing of the ground (have you been outside recently?) breaks up hard seed coatings, and the cold wet soil stratifies the seeds. Sometimes, schedules don’t allow for that. For this spring’s planting, we ordered in the fall and are now busy sorting, scarifying and stratifying. Some seeds need boiling water poured over them, others need sandpaper scraped over them. Some prefer to be refrigerated for 30 days; others prefer to be refrigerated, thawed, and then refrigerated again. Others are already sprouting in the sacks they came in.

Gabe and Syd are sorting out the seed order.

With more than 100 different species going in around the edge of the wetland, I hope to share a handful of species at a time, with my intention of having them all shared prior to the planting in April. Initially, I had planned to purchase a diverse mix from one of our regular vendors, such as Prairie Moon Nursery. If you are starting from scratch, that is a good plan. Because we already have well-established prairies from which to gather seed from, purchasing individual species enabled us to increase the diversity we could buy. There is no point in us buying things like Andropogon gerardi (big bluestem) or Pycnanthemum virginianum (mountain mint), for example, as we already have them in abundance and they are easy to hand-gather in the fall. Because the wetland has an overflow, we can plant species along its border that like medium wet to medium dry soils. It seldom truly floods, and when it does, the water usually doesn’t stay high for very long. We will be planting some water loving species in the wetland itself.

What’s going in the ground this spring for the prairie? To get us started:

Agalinis auriculata (ear-leaf false foxglove) – Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop) – Allium canadense (wild garlic) – Allium cernuum (nodding onion) – Allium stellatum (prairie onion) – Amorpha canescens (leadplant) – Anemone canadensis (Canada anemone) – Anemone cylindrica (thimbleweed) – Antennaria neglecta (prairie pussytoes) – Antennaria plantaginifolia (pussytoes) – Arnoglossum atriplicifolium (pale Indian plantain) – Arnoglossum plantagineum (prairie Indian plantain) – Arnoglossum reniforme (great Indian plantain).

Alliums are a good addition to any planting. They are edible by people, loved by pollinators, and well-adapted to a wide variety of sites. One might go so far as to say they are aggressive. A few of these have already started to sprout in the sack.

The site was prepped (with a bulldozer) last fall, and we put down an oat cover crop and straw to prevent erosion over the winter. Oats are good choice for a fall cover crop, if you don’t want them to start growing again in the spring. In this case, we don’t want them to compete with the new prairie grasses, so that was fine. The oat straw we will leave on-site. It will still prevent erosion, and gradually decay into the soil.

The site is ready for prairie seed. I wish there was more water in the wetland coming out of the winter, but the rain we are supposed to get this weekend, and subsequent spring rains in general, may yet change that.