When she needed fertilizer, Donna Julseth bought three wee horses. All, as it turns out, pregnant. Now, the herd of six provides natural fertilizer for the farm that Julseth and her daughter, Maggie Howe own in Woodward.
"The entire farm is slightly less than two acres," Julseth says. "That includes our shop, buildings, residence and gardens. We have about half an acre in production." It’s a hard-working half acre, producing herbs, vegetables, fruits, blossoms and seed pods, native plants and grasses, honey and more. Crops are secured by the family goose and his dogs. Because they are on a well system, Prairieland crops are not watered or irrigated. "We rely on mulching and good organic nutrients in the soil," Howe says. A lasagna-style mulch enriches the soil, alternating layers of plant clippings, paper and organic matter. Spring harvest was good, and even with summer’s strange weather system, the annuals are doing quite well.
"Some of the early crops, lemon balm, catnip and comfrey, flourish when it is cooler," Howe says. "Eucalyptus, and lemon verbena are not as good as some years, but we’ll have a harvest. The things you generally can’t kill, like sage, lemon balm, mints and thyme, are having a harder time. "They’re scraggly because they didn’t recover from last year." On the other hand, many fruits are flourishing. "It’s a great year for fruits, elderberries and wild plums," Howe says. The early rain and stable conditions helped. But the impact of a dry summer is obvious. The peach tree is laden with ripe fruit. "It’s a lucky thing they’re so small," Howe says of the golf-ball size peaches. "Otherwise the branches would break." This year’s peach harvest will go mostly into butters, jams and preserves. First on the shelf are 20 sparkling jars of white peach butter with vanilla bean. "Instead of harvesting with a combine, we use sheers and a basket," Howe points out. The difference in scale results in a wide variety of crops, including some that are often known as weeds. "They form a natural pharmacopeia," she says. "Dandelion, plantain, elderberries, horsetail, chickweed, even nettle." The scratchy native nettle, for instance, is excellent for skin care and nails, and makes a nourishing tea.
Herbs are dried or distilled into hydrosol. "These are nice ways for small farms like us to preserve our crops," Howe says. The non-alcoholic extracts are used for skin care and medicinally as well as in the kitchen. One of the last crops of the season, rose hips will be harvested after frost. "We combine organic fair trade coconut oil and shea butter with dried herbs and hydrosol to make natural body products," Julseth says. Lip balm, body butters, bath salts and body scrubs are formulated on the farm. "Skin is the largest organ of your body, so what you put on it is fairly important as far as your health." Prairieland Herbs products, and those from surrounding artisan farms, are available on the web and at the shop on the farm located at 13505 S Ave. in Woodward. For shop hours and directions, contact Prairieland Herbs at 515/438-4268 or firstname.lastname@example.org; prairielandherbs.com.