Garden Stories

If you’ve got a garden, you’ve got stories. The two go together like spinach and aphids. Browse our latest Field Notes below, and feel free to post your own. Then grab the RSS feed to follow along. Dig in, and let the dirt fly.

Everything seems possible in the spring, and nothing heightens the feeling like finding just the right seeds and starts.

I’m fortunate to live about an hour’s drive from the Seed Saver’s Exchange (SSE) in Decorah, Iowa, and a late April trip to the farm has become an annual tradition.

Favorites from the past few summers have included a cherry tomato treasure (Catalog #109) that produces hundreds of delicious marble-sized tomatoes.

A lettuce mix transplant pack is also a big hit. The lettuce is terrific in the spring and early summer, and if you let it go to seed it will return the following year as a vigorous volunteer.

This year we added La Ratte potatoes (#1363) and are excited to try the Spud-o-matic, a small space planting method for growing potatoes above ground in a wire mesh bin filled with compost. 

We’re also going to see if cumin (#462) will grow in Minnesota.

If you live too far away to make the trip to the farm, fear not. Visit www.seedsavers.org and download the catalog.

 

Every time I shovel the driveway this winter I think of the garlic that's planted by the garage. Last year I planted a couple dozen cloves. This year, nearly 100. I planted in late October and added a layer of leaves to protect the bed from temperature extremes. Right now, a hefty layer of snow adds even more insulation.

When will we see it come up? Tax day might be a little early, but in the spring of 2009 beautiful new garlic shoots were probably the first sign at our house that the green season was returning. I've included a shot from last year's test crop.

Note for Minnesota garlic lovers: The Minnesota Garlic Festival will be held Saturday, August 14, 2010, at the McLeod County Fairgrounds.

 

Forty-five minutes west of Haberman's Minneapolis headquarters, nestled in the lush flatlands of Delano, Minn., is a big piece of the brand public relations firm's soul: the Dude Ranch – its very own organic garden.

Named after the company's totemic storytelling icon, the Dude, and started in 2009, the Dude Ranch yielded impressive harvests, including more than 450 pounds of tomatoes, 300 pounds of green beans, 350 peppers in a variety of shapes and sizes, bags and bags of lettuce, and too many zucchini.

Approximately 80 percent of Haberman's 30 employees worked in the garden and received first dibs on veggies that were distributed to everyone at the company. Extra produce was donated to those in need throughout the Twin Cities or given to clients and new business prospects as gifts.

Part experiment, part education, part employee benefit, the Dude Ranch is a channel for Haberman's own passion for health and wellness, sustainable agriculture and increased accessibility to natural, organic foods. Haberman's vision is for employers across the nation to join them in the movement to transform their workplaces, health care and the planet for the better through employer-sponsored gardens.

Uncommon Ground operates a community-based restaurant and advocates the principles of local, sustainable and organically-produced food. Its Rooftop Farm, Chicago’s first certified organic roof top farm, is a long-term organic gardening program that they hope will be used as a model for other roof top gardens and farms in comparable environments. It is 2,500 square feet and rises 30 feet above Devon Avenue on the north side of Chicago.

The Rooftop Farm features 28 raised bed planter boxes that hold a total of 640 square feet of organic soil (nearly 6 tons), growing ingredients for the restaurant, including Nardello Peppers to Black Prince Tomatoes . The planter boxes rest on top of a deck that is made entirely out of a recycled plastic and wood composite material, making it durable to the daily duties of farming.

Not only do Uncommon Ground staff grow vegetables on the roof, they also employ five solar panels that heat up to 50 percent of the water for the restaurant, house four beehives that will eventually produce over 200 pounds of honey, and teach urban agriculture classes to local school groups of all ages, ranging from grade school to grad school.

 

In 2003, Avista Utilities, Spokane, Wash., transformed an acre of company property into a community garden. That year they donated more than a ton of food to the Second Harvest Food Bank. The garden has since yielded food for a local retirement community and the Women & Children’s Free Restaurant.

In 2008, the Ballard (Crown Hill) branch of HomeStreet Bank in Seattle, Wash., turned a landscaped bed next to the drive-through lane into an employee garden. During their off hours, employees work in the plot, which is about the size of two parking spaces.

This year HomeStreet expanded its garden to a planting strip that is
now full of squash and corn. Extra produce will be donated to the
Ballard Food Bank.

The White House started an organic kitchen garden in March 2009. The garden will provide food for the Obamas’ meals and formal dinners and help teach children and communities about the benefits of growing and eating locally grown fruit and vegetables.

According to the New York Times, the first lady said the idea for a garden came from her experiences as a working mother trying to feed her daughters a good diet. Eating out three times a week, ordering a pizza, having a sandwich for dinner all took their toll in added weight on the girls, whose pediatrician told Mrs. Obama that she needed to be thinking about nutrition.

Dan Barber, an owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an organic restaurant in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., that grows many of its own ingredients, said: “The power of Michelle Obama and the garden can create a very powerful message about eating healthy and more delicious food. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it could translate into real change.”

 

In 2008, more than 65 employees spent 360 volunteer hours tilling, fertilizing and planting a 1,600 square foot garden on Blue Cross Blue Shield’s property in Eagan, Minn., to provide 500 pounds of vegetables for Lewis House, a local shelter and safe place for women in abusive relationships.
 
Employees hope that their efforts will inspire other corporations to start their own giving gardens.

A garden may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hennepin County Medical Center, but the busy downtown Minneapolis Level One Trauma Center is home for a rooftop organic garden where fresh, locally and organically grown herb and peppers are grown to use in recipes for patients, visitors and staff.

In 2009 the medical center received funds from the City of Minneapolis Climate Change Grant to create its rooftop organic garden. According to Lisa Nadeau, Food Service Operations Manager, “The main purpose was to provide the freshest ingredients possible for our recipes. We also hope to set an example and encourage HCMC staff and even visitors to consider planting similar gardens at home."

Hennepin signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, showing its commitment to sustainable food purchasing and practices, an underlying principle of the Health Care Without Harm campaign.

Employees at Quantum Controls, Inc. in Chanhassen, Minn., started a vegetable garden outside their back door in 2009, carefully tending their 35 X 75 plot on breaks and after work.

“The garden is a huge hit,” said HR Manager Wendy Eggers. “Everyone pitches in with the watering and helps with the weeding. There is a lot of pride, sharing of information and garden tips, as a result of our garden. We even have vendors who ask to see the garden progress when they come here.”

The garden is a continuation of other steps Quantum has taken to eat healthy in the workplace. The winter prior to starting its garden, Quantum participated in a four-week Fruit and Veggie Challenge, coordinated by its county public health department. Employees tried new produce and increased their daily intake of raw fruits and vegetables. Out of 22 competing worksites, Quantum placed in the top three for highest average points earned among participating employees.