Helen's 2004 Container Garden

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May 19, 2004

I decided I needed a few more plants. This time to Holub's nursery east of Ames for oregano, tarragon, dill, and three more patio tomato plants. My earlier outing to buy plants was to the Earl May Store in south Ames.

I am a bit apologetic about not being more frugal and a real gardener. If I were, I would have started more plants from seed.

I am pleased that most of the soil in my garden containers is a mix of home-brewed compost and recycled potting soil that I purchased  in recent years. But because I decided to expand my garden, I needed a few new pots and bags of commercial potting soil.

My friend, Matt Liebman, who is a professor in the sustainable agriculture program at Iowa State, gave me collard seed in a recycled package from Johnny's Seed in Maine and some kale seed in a film canister. The other seed came from stores in Ames.

If more conscientious, perhaps I would have gotten heirloom seed from places such as the Seed Savers. On the other hand, it's nice to have bush-like, patio tomato plants for container gardens, and both Holub's and Earl May had a good selection of them. The first tomato blossom of the season arrives.

The kale seems to be doing well. In the past few years, when I have tried to grow kale, the leaves have never grown very big. And while I waited for them to make progress, the cabbage butterflies came along and had a feast and left just the stalks like toothpicks in the soil.

Collards were new to my palette in the past few years. I always thought they were for southern people, but I really like them. Last fall, Joe Lynch and Lonna Nachtigal of Onion Creek Farms, northwest of Ames, let me harvest some collards at their place in November.

I felt smug, cooking collards fresh from the field, especially when I rescued a batch the day before a killing frost while Joe and Lonna were away on a trip.  I froze some of the collards, and one time this winter, a friend used used some to make vegetarian lasagna for a potluck dinner. The lasagna was a hit. I hate to admit that I have a couple of bags left over of the collards that I froze. It seems a little silly when I have fresh collards almost ready to harvest. Maybe it's time for another potluck dinner and vegetarian lasagna.

I like to slightly sauté collards in bacon drippings, add some raisins, and steam them. Then when they are on my plate, I add a dash of balsamic vinegar. I don't need bacon drippings, and I have healthier ways of cooking collards that taste almost as good. Most of us know that leafy, green vegetables are great for good health. So the trick for me will be to use the kale and collards in my food menu on a regular basis this summer. This is my first season to grow collards.

A few hours of work in the garden, and my latest  phase of getting my garden started  was complete. Also, the work seemed to restore my soul. However, the next day, I had very sore muscles, especially in my hip, and was hobbling around.

But the garden is taking shape. Each morning, I am eager to see what has emerged. I'll often putter there, still in my nightwear, savoring a bit of nature away from the computer desk where I spend too much of my time.

I realized the garden needed more color to add some zip to the scene. So after I got all the store-bought plants transferred to the containers, I sowed seed in many of the pots to grow miniature zinnia plants. The town of Gilbert, Iowa, where I live, has its 125th anniversary this year. I'm on the planning committee, and we're encouraging everyone in town to plant zinnias. The idea is to have a zillion zinnias in time for the celebration on July 30-31.

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