We live in an absolutely outstanding community in Northeast Iowa. Decorah is home to some pretty great programs, businesses, and ideas. The program we came to know and love this summer was their Community Garden Program! For $40 and a $20 clean-up deposit, we secured a 24 foot X 24 foot plot for the summer that the Parks and Recreation department kept supplied with water and mulch! To top it all off, this was the first year they added an 8 foot fence to keep deer out! We were very excited to have a satellite garden that would allow us to have a space to put all our plants while still listing our house for sale (more on our acreage search later!). It gave us a place to hang out while our house was being shown and the dogs loved to visit the big, open prairie right next door! It was so peaceful!
So I scoured the town and started buying up as many little green things and seed packets as I could get my hands on. Seriously, come spring time, I CANNOT leave a grocery or hardware store without adding just one (or five) more little green things to my collection of plants. There is ALWAYS room for one more tomato plant and I definitely NEED three varieties of basil! 😉
Gardening is always an experiment. I am still working to figure out which plants I like to start from seedlings and which I prefer to start from seed. Luckily for me, we have some great resources in Decorah to get any and all combinations! For seeds, no one compares to our lovely Seed Savers Exchange. For seedlings, I LOVE the Oneota Co-op, the Winneshiek Farmer’s Market, and River Root Farms! One sunny day in early Spring we got to work on starting seeds and re-potting seedlings. As my plant collection continued to grow in the one sunny window available, we kept visiting the new garden plot hoping the frost would end so we could FINALLY get some roots in the ground!
In May we did get those roots in the ground and the garden flourished! It was an awesome rain/sun alternating pattern for gardening all through out June and July. Even though water was supplied at our garden plot, we didn’t have to use it as much as we should have. It would rain every few days and then the sun would come out for a few days. The plants were loving it and everything was growing beautifully!
We did keep a few pepper and tomato plants at the house for easy access. As the season progressed, continued to visit the garden to check and see what new vegetables were ready to harvest. Having such a large garden plot really allowed us to grow a TON of nutritious veggies that we loved finding new ways to prepare.
It was so wonderful to be providing food for ourselves! Now that we had a bigger garden plot to grow more veggies than ever before, we felt we were ready to dive into the world of canning. We invested in a bunch of jars, a water bath canner, a pressure canner, and some fun new attachments for my Kitchenaid mixer. For things that are better frozen, we purchased a vacuum sealer saver system. We were ready to go! To get our feet wet, we got some peaches in July and canned some as slices and made some jam. It didn’t take much – we were hooked! Now we just needed the rest of our veggies to finish ripening and we were on our way to a pantry full of home grown goodies all year round!
And then this happened………..
In the early night hours of August 24, 2016 our area received over 8 inches of rain. The normally tame Upper Iowa River rose 10 feet, pouring over its banks into the surrounding low lying areas – which included the beautiful prairie and our garden. You can see the outline and the tips of the 8 foot tall fence peaking out above the water. The garden was almost totally gone. Many people lost their homes due to extensive flood damage and water pouring into their basement. One man even lost his life after his car got swept away in the raging water. Our little corner of Northeast Iowa was not very pretty for quite a few weeks as more rain and flooding continued to ravage our area for weeks after the first major flood! Here is a video that shows a better perspective of just how devastating the water damage was.
Thankfully, the flooded river has since pulled itself back to below its banks and flows much slower now. This past Wednesday I went to the garden to get it cleaned up for the season. The fence had been torn apart by the river and so I followed the deer tracks to find what once was a thriving, growing garden had turned into a graveyard of rotting, disfigured, and dead vegetable remains. But God has a beautiful way of ensuring that there is always hope for the future. As I walked up to the dark ghosts of the sunflower plants that had once bloomed over this magnificent garden space, I pulled one down to reveal a full head of seeds! I immediately retrieved a bag from my car and set to work harvesting the seeds to grow a whole sunflower patch next spring.
This summer my garden taught me a lot about love and loss, about preparing for the storms of the future, and believing in the hope of new life through God’s promises. I am so thankful that my family was safe and I am so proud of our little community and how once again we have banded together to help one another. Decorah truly is a wonderful place to live!
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