HAZLETON-- A love for gardening, trying new varieties, and sharing what they grow at area farmers' markets, has become much more than a casual hobby for Mary Davis and her husband Harvey. Married 50 years this year, the couple's love for one another extends into what they grow in ever-expanding garden space at their home along Bryantsburg Boulevard in Hazleton.
"I enjoy digging in the dirt," says Mary, a Buchanan County Master Gardener. Fond of heirloom varieties of plants and vegetables, she buys seed from Seed Savers and Johnny's, and saves what she can from her own gardens each year.
Although she earned a teaching degree from Upper Iowa University and taught physical education at New Hampton and Oelwein, when she and Harvey started a family she stayed at home to raise their three children Letha, Kinsey, and Phil. Harvey worked at Donaldson's for more than forty years before retiring.
The Oelwein Market is Monday afternoons from 3-5:30 p.m. and Friday mornings from 8-11 a.m., north of Dr. Imoehl's dentist office, near the downtown. Saturdays, Harvey and Mary load their van with produce and baked goods, to take part in the market at "The Mill", in Independence, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
"Right now radishes, onions, spinach, lettuce, rhubarb and asparagus are the seasonal items we're taking," says Mary. Later on they'll have peas, beans, broccoli, and tomatoes. Mary also makes baked items such as breads, rhubarb crisp, and brownies. She has an offering of jams, including gooseberry, mulberry, and rhubarb.
The Davises enjoy growing both fingerling and blue potatoes, which they say are popular with their clientele shopping the farmers' markets. After June 1, the Davises accept WIC (Women, Infant & Children) and Senior Citizen coupons-- programs for which they have to complete periodic education to participate.
As if tending to their gardens and being regulars at the markets doesn't keep them busy enough, the Davises also plant and maintain and heirloom garden at Jakway Park near Aurora. Planting and selling garlic to benefit the Richardson Jakway Foundation, is Mary's annual Master Gardener project. Last year they grew at least 200 bulbs of garlic, with the proceeds from the sale of bulbs at the farmers' markets, going to benefit the foundation and the 1851 house on the grounds at the park.
The Davises also grow and provide fingerling and all blue potatoes served at a special fundraising dinner hosted by the foundation. Mary explains that the house built in 1851, has never been updated with electricity or plumbing. A maximum of twenty-six people can be seated at the dinner of locally grown foods.
Another community service project in which the Davises have just gotten involved is that of assisting a group of youth with planting a garden in a plot in Hazleton.
"They got to pick which plants they want," says Mary, and then she and two other Master Gardeners are providing instruction and assistance with planting.
For a number of years, Mary has exhibited her vegetables and herbs at the Iowa State Fair. She's presently up to about sixty entries, she says. Among her favorites are the Eva Purple Ball Tomato that originated in Germany, hot peppers, and Florida High Bush Eggplant.
So just how many plants and garden space does it take to meet the demand of these busy gardeners' activities? The Davises are nurturing about seventy peppers (half hot, half sweet varieties), 1,400 onions, ninty sweet potato, and seventy Brussels Sprouts plants this season. There's also space dedicated to cucumbers grown on trellises, potatoes (reds and Yukons), okra, and white Daikon radishes.
As a Master Gardener, Mary also has beds dedicated to flowers – both perennials and annuals. Bearded Irises provide most of the color throughout the front lawn, now that the crocuses are past their prime. She started Zinnia seed this year that will likely end up in fresh, floral bouquets for the market and possibly in cut flower displays for the Buchanan County and Iowa State Fairs.
With each growing season, there are challenges, and this summer's pests appear to be deer and a pesky ground hog.
But with the challenges, come rewards-- as Mary and Harvey spend hours each day tilling the soil, pulling weeds and picking insects from the leaves of plants. Before long, it will be time to harvest extra produce for preserving into jams and desserts.