4 Genius Gardening Tips From The People Restoring Laura Ingalls Wilder's Vegetable Garden

The legendary Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds combines traditional farming techniques with modern sustainability.

November 17, 2017
donkey
Rebecca Kurson

Home gardeners thrive on tips and advice. Most of us collect farming folklore, and have an innate belief that the tried-and-true is probably better than simply turning to GMO seeds and Round Up. All of us can gain insight into the future of farming by learning about the past, so recently, I visited Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, located in Mansfield, MO. This popular farm—which is playing an important role in restoring and maintaining Laura Ingalls Wilders’ vegetable garden—combines traditional farming techniques with modern sustainability.

farm house
Rebecca Kurson

Advertisement
Advertisement

Restoring The Little Farm On The Prairie

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum sits on the site of the homestead where Laura and Almanzo lived for many years, and where the couple finally had success as farmers. Every year, thousands of Little House on the Prairie fans come to Mansfield to see where Laura and Almanzo settled and farmed. The Wilders grew corn, Kennedy hay, and their leghorn hens were legendary egg producers.

(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)

Laura wrote hundreds of articles about farming in The Farm Journalist, long before she began to turn her diaries into books. Now, the Museum is restoring Laura’s famous apple orchards with trees from a Missouri supplier called Stark Brothers, the very same company used by the Wilders more than a century ago. Within a few years, the farm will look like what the Wilders had, with a barn, a log house, and Laura’s own vegetable garden.

Related: This Family Has Been Farming Organic Rice In The U.S. For Over 60 Years

The garden has been planted and is maintained by volunteers from another Mansfield farm, the legendary Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. (The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Bank is one of 5 seed banks you can visit.)

The World’s Non-GMO Seed Library

Baker Creek is located just a few miles from the Wilder Museum, and run by Jere Gettle and his family, who all share a passion for collecting rare and unusual seeds. Baker Creek farmers travel all over the world collecting seeds; new offerings in 2017 included a red carrot from Japan, a ribbed eggplant from Thailand, a Polish strawberry, a striped peanut from Ecuador, and the original Seven-pot strain of hot pepper, which they located in Trinidad. (Follow these 14 tips to grow healthy seedlings of your own.)

 

The farmers who run Baker Creek have a passion for seed saving. This Midwest paradise carefully saves and tests all the seeds they collect in their trial garden. (Follow these 6 tips to store your own saved seeds.) All of their seeds are non-GMO and no pesticides are used, but “the process to become organic,” says Gettle, “is costly time consuming and often meaningless.” Over a tour of the beautiful farm, Gettle shared his best tips for the home gardener.

Related: 10 Crazy Things Pesticides Are Doing To Your Body

zinnias
Rebecca Kurson

Time your planting to avoid pests, and other natural pest control tricks

Japanese beetles on varieties of squash present a huge problem, and treating them with pesticides is a slippery slope. Instead, plant them late. Baker Creek plants them after July 1, so the squash blooms after the worst of the beetle season.

 

Both the Wilder Farm and Baker Creek have plenty of trees, and that means the occasional tent caterpillar. Both farms employ torches to rid the trees of the tents.

Related: 14 Insects You Actually Want To Have In Your Garden

Baker Creek employs natural pest control, all of which is readily available. Gettle recommends sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the base of a plant, which repels slimy pests like slugs and snails. Baker Creek also relies on spinosad, which is made from soil bacteria. Spinosad controls a huge variety of nibbling creatures, from thrips to fruit flies.

A final suggestion is natural pyrethum, a pesticide made from the flower heads of chrysanthemums. Pyrethum can be used on organic farms, and is available as a spray.

Meet some incredible veterans who are becoming organic farmers:

Mulch your region!

Give some thought to what’s available to you before you buy. Gettle was on a trip out east and was astonished to find the same bale of straw he pays $2 for in Missouri costs $12 in Connecticut. He recommends straw as the superior mulch as it has the fewest seeds and goes down quickly. But alfalfa hay could work too, although it may also be expensive in your region. For the cheapest alternative, use grass clippings and your own compost.

Related: 5 Surprising Things Gardeners Can Learn From Iceland's Greenhouses

Amend your soil

We’ve all come across the barren spot in a yard that resists even the most attractive plants. Gettle amends soil by digging down and adding a new, rich layer of compost to add nutrition. Farmers call this “lasagna layers.”

gourd tunnel
Rebecca Kurson

Accept some failure

Visitors are always welcome at Baker Creek, and there is a delicious vegan restaurant on-site where you pay what you can afford. One of the most popular features at the farm is a gourd tunnel featuring a large, unusual gourd from Bosnia called the Kikinda. Gettle noticed that one side of the tunnel wasn’t doing as well, with much fewer gourds. They left the tunnel as it was, and amended the soil in that area for better growth next year. It’s a great lesson for farming and for life.