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Gardening Here and There

Beth Preheim lives and breathes her work and avocations. “I learn from my garden and get the chance to help others be healthy,” Preheim said. She is the Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Freeman Regional Health Services. “Every hour I spend in gardening I get back in enhanced well being and less disability. I grow a mix of eggplants because it’s one of the top ten foods to lower cholesterol.”

Preheim and husband Michael Sprong also own and operate Emmaus House, a hospitality house for women and children as they visit inmates in the three prison facilities in the Yankton area. When Preheim and Sprong prepare home cooked meals, their kitchen has the aroma of vegetables from the garden and guests share experiences.

Last season Preheim had two plots at the Yankton Community Gardens. She has gardened here since the gardens opened four seasons ago. Today we begin at her full-garden beans-to-greens plots near the gardens’ entrance at midseason.

She points out the sense of community she gets from gardening here. “I like this location. Lots of people stop by,” she said. “The more we pick and give away, the more our garden is going to produce. Folks around us give us produce too.” Throughout the summer, community gardeners who have extra vegetables stack them at a location for all to share. Some take extra produce to the Contact Center, The Banquet, or other hospitality sources.

“It’s interesting to see what others are doing [in their gardens],” she said. “You can learn all the time. Whether it’s doing well or not, there’s no sense of failure for me.”

As elsewhere, gardeners at the community gardens have faced challenges these last years. “We got hailed out, had a flash flood foot of water go through one year, and the drought. We used all our gardening skills to get through,” she said.

Methods That Work For Her

Preheim has been gardening for twenty-five years and is a fan of low technology, small space, and container gardening. “I know exactly how much space is needed because I keep records year to year. I record how each plant did. When I first started gardening, I paid no attention to varieties and now I keep track of varieties.” It helps her decide what to plant next year.

Her garden is divided into eight sections and she rotates plants in the sections year to year. “Although we make use of extra vegetables, my goal is to not overproduce.” She limits plants by trading or sharing with others and by planting a diversity of varieties to account for conditions of the season, in case disease affects certain varieties.

One technique she uses is square foot gardening. “With beans, for example, I grow them about 3-4 inches apart with nine plants per square foot. Plants canopy into one mass block but they have enough room to produce great. The soil stays moist in the shade [of bean leaves].” She reads spacing information on the back of seed packets and adjusts how they grow year to year in garden notes. She said that tomatoes and peppers need dryer soil and more space around them. “For example, this season expected to be dry, I grow cucumbers in the shade of okra.”

“I use the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew,” she said. “That’s how I got my start. Yankton Community Library has the book. I use his spacing and have adapted it over the years if we are expecting dry weather, etc.”

Besides the original planting of beans, she succession plants new plants in place of the spent ones so that most of the garden is productive all the time. “I succession-plant five to twenty bean seeds each week along with radishes, etc. Preheim wants the freshest produce from the garden so she begins the season in early May and plants up to July 1st because the community garden closes in early fall.

Besides rotating plants year to year to discourage soil-borne disease, Preheim is attentive to suspected outbreak of plant disease that can be problem for plants growing close to each other. “Any yellow leaves are picked off and removed from the garden,” she said.

For mulch she uses grass clippings from the Yankton Transfer Station, pea vines, greens, and other disease-free plant matter. “It helps keep the soil cool and moist,” she said.  

“How good your soil is makes a difference. In nature, things are constantly breaking down and being added to the soil. I don’t use chemicals on the garden and I don’t turn over the soil much. I create permanent paths during the season so soil is only compacted there.”

Emmaus House Gardening

Preheim brings home the produce from her community garden plots for her family meals. She and her husband like to cook from scratch. “When we cook, [sometimes mothers and children that are guests here] naturally gather. When we cook in a leisurely way, it invites conversation. We join together around healthy food and connections. It’s not the raw produce; it’s the whole environment that make human relationships healthy in our setting.”

“Our guests mostly eat breakfast and are then off visiting. When you walk into our kitchen, produce is all around,” she said. “This morning our guest asked about tomatoes. It was a chance to talk about healthy eating.”

If a guest came to Emmaus House, she’d pass the Meyer lemon trees in containers by the front entrance. “They grow four to six feet tall,” Preheim said. “We have nice south facing windows to grow them indoors in winter.” The guest might notice the rhododendron receiving morning sun and planted in a protected spot near the entrance. Hens and chicks collection is nearby. “I give them to children. When people come here, the plants make them feel welcome. We keep plants and flowers here. It’s a sense of caring for the home. We take cuttings in fall and overwinter a few plants.”

Preheim’s theme of low technology, small space, and container gardening is all around her. Containers of herbs such as cilantro, basil, and dill for cooking and lettuce and spinach grow in her kitchen garden. She has refined this easy care idea over time. A collection of self-watering pots in a cart outdoors catches sunlight and then herbs may be moved close to the kitchen. “I get the containers at garage sales and compost at the Yankton Transfer Station Recycling Center,” she said. As for the herbs in winter, she overwinters some indoors.

In her backyard Preheim has fashioned a cold frame to harden transplants before putting them in the garden. A discarded skylight, placed on cinderblocks becomes the concave cover for plants adapting to outdoor conditions in spring. “I put up boards around the outside of the skylight so it makes a [wind protected] climate zone that gets full sun as plants harden off.”

Vegetables More Than Food

“I grew up in a family where we gardened and canned from an economic viewpoint,” Preheim said. “I can buy a can of beans for fifty cents, so gardening comes out a wash. But because I’m getting older, I can see I’m getting health benefits from good food. People around the world who live long and have less disability often eat beans, nuts, and leafy green vegetables.  A person who eats a healthy diet and lives to be 100 years old may have about five years of disability. In contrast, an American who eats processed food and is now sixty, may face fifteen to twenty years of disability from chronic diseases.  I’m not that far from sixty. It’s a change in my thinking.”

“Time in the garden is an investment. I get a lot of activity so I don’t need to spend in the gym,” she said. “Gardening creates structure for me. I enjoy gardening’s stress-relieving aspects. I grow more of my own food and spend more time moving outdoors. When I started gardening I didn’t know as much about cooking. But now that I’m pulling all these skills together, each one is more enjoyable. I recently attended one of the Chef Staci cooking classes. My husband worked at the library and we learned from new cookbooks. It makes everything more enjoyable when you have mastery. You can tell how much I enjoy telling about my garden. I’ve been gardening about twenty five years.”

Preheim and her husband shared a plot with their friends Mike and Lilah Gillis, the first year at the community gardens. “We got hooked on what a great deal the community garden is; the plot, the water, and the chance to interact with people. Total bargain. Next year, we plan to do even more gardening by converting our lawn to garden space at Emmaus House. We plan to do raised beds and xeriscaping. The yard work is a continuation of reclaiming this house and yard—putting it to good use.”

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