Seed saver boosts many area gardens

Barrett woman likes to share her harvested seeds with others


When it’s harvest time for Judy Kuechle Olson, she puts her yield in an envelope.

Judy Kuechle Olson is a seed saver. She harvests the seeds from her flowers, and puts the yield in used envelopes, which she then files in a wooden box. She plants flowers in pots throughout her Barrett farmyard, grows a large garden of vegetables and fruits, and freezes or cans the bounty. Such actions were common as she grew up on the family’s Watkins dairy farm. Photo by Carol Stender

Judy is a seed saver. While she has a large garden, most of the seeds are from her flowers at the Barrett farm she and her husband, Marc, call home.

Some of the seeds are miniscule, she said. But the size makes no difference. Whatever she harvests is put in used envelopes, and filed in open wooden boxes where they wait until planting.

It might seem like a lot of work to collect the seeds, but it’s well worth it, she said.

“If you buy seed in a package, sometimes you only get 15,” Judy said. “You have to carefully start them and hope they germinate. But when I start them from the seed I save, I put many of the seeds in a large pan of soil. That way I can get a good number of plants.”

She might not transplant all of them, but she has a good base to start.

Some of the plants she uses for her own yard and garden, but many she puts in individual containers in preparation for “Plant Day.” On that day, family come to the farm to get the plants for their own homes. There are hundreds of containers, she said. And all of it starts from Judy’s seed collection.

Before anyone can pick up a container, Judy explains how she’s grouped them, including which peppers are hot and which are sweet, she said. Then the pick up begins.

This year, her own transplanting efforts took a hit when a storm caused a branch to fall on the plants. One branch even speared a pot, she said.

It’s unknown if it was a tornado or strong winds. The storm took off the tops of several trees and downed the couple’s barn. Their grape arbor was destroyed. But, in the midst of the clean up, Judy’s efforts brought color and hope to the yard. The perennials bloomed brightly, and pots filled with flowers were placed throughout the farm site.

She likes planting flowers throughout the yard, with most planted in large pots. There’s one grouping by the shed and another surrounding a large maple tree in the backyard. Wherever the flowers are, it creates a pop of color.

When she isn’t tending to the flowers, Judy is busy in the couple’s large garden.

There’s a wide variety of fruits and vegetables surrounded by fence to keep critters at bay. The Olsons have cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, beets, peas, corn, and onions, plus more than 30 tomato plants.

Then there are the fruit trees. Besides the plums, pear, cherry, red currants, honeyberries, and hazelnut trees, there are apple trees of almost every variety. There’s an apple for every need from baking to eating with Sweet 16, Haralson, Century Crab, Honeycrisp, Red Baron and Whitney Crabs varieties.

The grape vine’s arbor took a hit in the storm, but Judy is rebuilding it. She’s expecting the lumber soon, and hopes to sit in the patio under the arbor yet this summer.

It is quite a bounty, but what does she to with it all?

Plastic bags placed over the growing apple protects it from maggots, Judy Kuechle Olson said. While she doesn’t do it for every apple, she uses the method for as many apples as she and her husband, Marc, can use. Photo by Carol Stender

What they don’t eat fresh in season, Judy freezes or cans. When she harvests the apples, for example, she makes pie and cuts it in individual pieces before it goes into the freezer. This method allows them to take out as many slices as is needed.

They harvest around 15,000 apples, and either freeze it, can the applesauce or, store the apples.

“This is what will get us through to the next season,” she says.

Look closely at her apple trees and you will see some apples with a baggie around it. It’s an effort to protect the apples from maggots.

“All you need is a box of baggies,” she said of the pest control method. She places a bag over the apple once the buds form into an apple. It’s not possible to do it to every apple, it helps protect as many as the couple feels they need.

Her efforts are an example of the sustainable lifestyle she lives, and one she grew up with on her family’s Watkins area home.

Judy is number six of 14 children. She recalls her mother’s large garden, and helping to weed and harvest it. She doesn’t recall her mother being very obsessive about it. It was just a nice big garden. And her mother raised flowers.

“I raise things in my garden my parents didn’t,” she said. “But diets have changed so much since then.”

All of her efforts from saving seed, to growing flowers and produce, and the canning and preserving of food was something she grew up with and was common, she said.

Her interests are shared with her husband, Marc. He is the fourth generation to live on the farm, which was homesteaded in 1887.

Marc is turning it back to prairie grasses and flowers.

“He works tirelessly out there to make sure the invasive weeds aren’t there,” she said.

Together, when they moved on the farm, the couple tackled buckthorn, which was quite pervasive throughout their woods. What they didn’t cut, they pulled up from the roots, Judy said. Instead of putting all the mangly trunks in a pile, she began making paths, which have created walkways through the woods.

“I think the birds appreciate the efforts,” she said. “They fly freely through the trees now.”

The grape arbor at Marc and Judy Olson’s Barrett farm took a hit in a recent storm. The vine is fine, but the arbor was destroyed. She’s in the process of rebuilding it and hopes she can sit under it and enjoy the seating area she created during better times. Photo by Carol Stender

Once the weather turns wintry, she focuses her creative energy on fabrics, yarns, and threads. Judy is an avid quilter, and she has several embroidered pieces hanging in her sewing room.

Her interests were ones she developed on her family’s Watkins dairy farm, she said. And it’s carried her throughout her life, which she talks about in increments of 20. For her first 20 years, Judy grew up on the farm. The next 20 years were spent in Minneapolis and St. Paul, where she worked. Her next phase is actually longer than 20, she said. This phase is now, and is spent with busy days on the farm.

And you’ll know you’ve found the right place if you come to visit by the pops of color from Judy’s flowers she’s planted throughout the farmsite.

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