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Camp Frémont

Gardening, Photography, and Homeschool.

- by Sarah Fremont

  • Writer's pictureSarah Fremont

Do you want to know the easiest crop to grow? Potatoes! At this point, we can’t even stop growing them. Let me tell you our story.

One spring, we were cleaning out our pantry and found a small bag of forgotten potatoes. They were not rotten, but each potato had plenty of “eyes” (small dimples where sprouts form) and many had formed green buds. What did we have to lose? We decided to try and grow our own potatoes. We cut the potatoes into smaller sections, ensuring each section had a bud or eye, then designated two garden beds for potatoes and planted them throughout. We would water the beds whenever we watered the other garden sections, but otherwise left them alone. Within weeks, small leaves began to appear and eventually, both beds were full of robust potato plants. After they flowered and the foliage began to die back, we harvested our potatoes. So many potatoes! We had enough to eat for the season, plus an abundance to store away. In the next growing season, potato plants began to form in the garden from potatoes we had not unearthed, and even now, a few years later, we will find potatoes growing in the garden. They can’t be stopped!

We had a pretty good inkling that potatoes were an easy crop to grow. Our neighbor in Minnesota grew his potato crop in a barrel of dirt and he had so many potatoes.  Another friend grew potatoes in a bag. So whenever anyone asks which carbohydrate crop is the most fail-proof, I always suggest potatoes. Fun fact: A potato isn't a root but an underground storage stem called a tuber.

Although we did very little to grow our crop, I will suggest a few things to ensure success:

  1. Plant your seed potatoes 12 to 14 inches apart.

  2. Water regularly.

  3. As the potato grows, cover the green shoots with soil. This is called “earthing up.”

  4. Harvest after flowering and when the plants begin to yellow and die back.

  5. Move next year’s potatoes to a different garden location to prevent pests and disease.

We have continued this process from year to year and it feels like we have created a perpetual gardening machine. Please consider growing this very successful crop in your garden. Happy planting! xo

London in the nineteenth century was plagued with deplorable air conditions. The industrial revolution had led to an influx of city factories that left the air laden with soot, causing unhealthy breathing conditions and difficulty growing plants in city gardens. One particular person, Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, living in London in 1832, had a passion for ferns but was unable to grow them in his garden due to the heavy pollution. One day, he placed a moth pupa in a sealed glass jar to observe its metamorphosis. As he made notes on the daily changes, he noticed that water, from the leaf mold he’d used to cover the pupa, would evaporate during the day and condense on the jar’s sides. Interestingly, when the temperature dropped, the water would run back down to the leaf mold, creating a mini ecosystem. After a few more weeks of observation, he noticed a fern seed from within the jar begin to sprout. He eventually removed the moth and noted how the fern continued to thrive for months within the jar. This led him to thinking about how he could use jars to grow his own ferns, grow food for the pollutant plagued city, and for the commercial use of transporting exotic plants from far away lands for propagation and study in England.

Ward was convinced his sealed cases would allow plants to be stored for several months on a deck in the sunlight, without any attention or watering. To prove his point, in June 1833, he filled two sturdy cases with a mix of ferns and grasses and sent them on the exposed deck of a ship to Sydney where they arrived in perfect condition. The cases were refilled and returned with plants collected in November 1834.

The “Wardian Case,” as they began to be called, opened up the option of bringing varied foods and plants to the shores of England. Tea plants were smuggled out of China in these cases, ending China’s monopoly on this highly desirable export! 

Despite the popularity of the “Wardian Case,” Ward made little money from his invention and continued to practice as a doctor. However, his passion for ferns never left him. When he died in 1868, his backyard greenhouse was found to contain over 25,000 fern specimens! 

  • Writer's pictureSarah Fremont

We headed out to the Mill City Farmers Market in late winter in Minnesota. It’s essential to embrace the cold, snowy, dark season with realistic expectations and a hearty dose of enthusiasm. Trips to the farmers market, bundled-up nature walks, warm drinks, crackling fires, and twinkling lights help make the long season enjoyable. It was still several weeks before any spring blooms would make their appearance, but we noticed a market vendor selling a variety of budding branches offering a way to create your own flowers before spring arrived. We packaged up a few forsythia branches and arranged them in water when we got home. In a couple of weeks, the branches bloomed a cheerful yellow and we savored their hopeful presence as we enjoyed the last bit of winter.

Forcing spring blooms in the winter is super easy and adds a lovely atmosphere to your home. Here’s how you can create your own blooms:

  1.  Find a budding branch of a spring-blooming tree or bush. A few varieties to look for:  Forsythia, pussy willow, witch hazels, eastern redbud, and crabapples.

  2. Using a sharp pruning shear, cut a one to two-foot branch (at an angle) of a non-essential part of the tree or bush. Choose a branch with numerous buds.

  3. Place the branch in a vase with water. Keep the vase in a bright room.

  4. Change the water every few days.

  5. Flowers should appear in a few weeks.

Do some exploring to find a budding branch and enjoy your early spring blooms. Happy winter! xo

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