After days in Little Rock, where it was mild and the fall iris were blooming, the trip to Urbana was for-sure winter. I've been to Chuck Voigt's Univ. of Illinois Herb Day several times, and every one of them, it's been cold. Well, what can one expect, it's January and it's Illinois!
The drive was longer than I'd remembered. I was thinking 7 hours. It's 4 hours from our house to St. Louis. But with a tough headwind and blowing snow all the way, took a bit longer. All in all, it was 9 hours of driving to get to the hotel where Herb Day was being held. There were folks from Wisconsin that were happy as clams in the cold. I, however, can't fathom why anyone would live in a cold climate. It hurts! It's painful to be hit with blowing snow and sleet. But, after crossing the Mississippi River at St. Louis, the snow quit and it was just bitterly cold. It was great to see Chuck Voigt again, the first time since his surgery and mine. As always he had assembled a great collection of speakers and vendors. Even though I wasn't an official speaker (I went as back-up, just in case) the University took all of the speakers and me out to a great dinner.
I get to hang out with honest to goodness, "foodies" (people who take food and writing about it, serious). Lucinda Hutson was the headline speaker, along with Father Dominic. Lucinda is from Austin, TX and obsessed over the weather for days ahead of time. She dislikes the cold and snow, maybe even more than I do if that's possible. But, taking on the weather in high style, after an impressive dinner, she fell backwards into the snow out front and made a snow angel!
Hers is one of my favorite cookbooks on the shelf and after about 20 years, she's come out with a new edition. What a character she is and her famous purple house has been on the cover of numerous magazines including The Herb Companion, Southern Living (check out the Grumpy Gardener blog at Southern Living, too) and Austin Living.
Father Dominic and I have shared the stage at some event or other in the past but neither of us could remember which or where. For several years he's had a cooking show on St. Louis Public TV. He's quite an entertainer and a superb bread maker and did both for the audience of 200+ people. He very kindly brought samples of chocolate mint brownies and a couple of breads to me where I was tending my booth. You can find more about him and his bread baking books here. He is a genius at baking and shows his audiences how to make bread with virtually no effort. He is oficially Father Dominic Garramone from St. Bede Abbey in Peru, IL.
One of the vendors at the conference was Chris Hopp of Farmbrook Designs. He specializes in hypertufa garden ornaments and what he had was outstanding. The designs were great, lightweight, good priced. I was very tempted by a couple of things he had but I wanted to see how well I sold my books and wound up not getting anything. But these are lightweight enough to ship and strong like concrete! You can see more of his designs on his website. He had driven from Royal Oak, Michigan, another one of those cold climate folks!
So this week I got about 500 onions planted.
I order every year from Dixondale Farms in Texas and they ship to me about Jan. 1
I've had a dickens of a time getting seed potatoes this year. For almost 30 years I've ordered from David Ronniger at Ronnigers Potatoes in Moyie, Idaho. They've always shipped to me in January and I've written about them in the newspapers I write for, for the past 17 years. Well, a new owner who's had the business for 4 years, after I'd tried to place my order, called up and said I was a liar, had never ordered from them before and he would not ship to me before, "the proper planting time in your area" meaning, to him, March 1. I explained I have 17 years of newspaper columns listing the potatoes I've grown of theirs. He once again said I was lying (I have no idea what purpose I would have to lie about being a customer all this time). Then told me how bad the previous owner, David Ronniger's potatoes were, how scab infected and diseased, that he had gotten when he bought the company. No matter what I tried, he continued to call me a liar and said he would not ship to me and that I 'd never gotten potatoes from them. (I've bought for two years in a row from him after he bought the business). So, I finally just told him to cancel the order and I would find someone who wasn't a total jerk and who wanted his business to grow.
After putting out a plea on a couple of web sites, I found these really nice folks who are happy for my business and happy to ship whenever the customer wants instead of that magical, ridiculous "proper planting time for your area." If you're looking for people who care about your business and have high quality, organic seed potatoes, check out Wood Prairie Farms, Jim & Megan Gerritsen and family in FAR NORTH Maine! They like people, they don't seem to yell at their customers. I'm glad to make their acquaintance!
In the midst of the ongoing adventure in searching for seed potatoes, Rose Marie McGee, owner of Nichols Garden Seed in Oregon, sent me potato seed to try. I've never grown potatoes from seed before but she says she thinks they will produce as quickly as potatoes from, well, potatoes. So I planted 2 packets of potato seed in flats today indoors and they're going to race with the cut up seed potatoes when they arrive next week.
Barbara Young, Josh's mother, continues watching her Aerogarden and the lettuce, grow. It's amazingly efficient and we'll have salad soon. The lettuce crop will keep up for a couple of months or more as long as it's harvested.