The Czech and Slovak Heritage Garden at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library did very well in its first year. Many visitors were able to learn about and see the varieties growing in the garden, within sight of the Sleger Immigrant Home. The home is the museum’s largest artifact, and was built in the late 19th century in the New Bohemia/Czech Village area of Cedar Rapids. It has been a treasured part of the museum’s collection since the early 1990s when it was moved to the NCSML. The house was restored and furnished in the style of an early 20th century Czech-American home, and was the inspiration for the heritage garden project. Tours of the Sleger Immigrant Home have often included mention of the root cellar, which likely would have held produce from a backyard garden. Until 2016, the NCSML did not have a garden to assist with this narrative.
With the help of Marissa, the Heritage Garden Intern, the museum was able to get started growing and sharing heritage vegetables, and to begin telling the food stories that are such an important part of anyone’s family history and heritage. Research about local and international Czech and Slovak food history, including collecting memories of food traditions shared by NCSML oral history project interviewees, was compiled by Marissa to enhance next year’s garden-related programming. If you’re a fan of food (and it is suspected that you are), keep an eye on the NCSML’s events calendar in 2017!
It is now autumn, which means that the spring and summer gardening seasons are over. The garden has been harvested and is being prepared for winter. A special thank you to Marissa for her dedication and hard work!
An update from heritage garden intern Marissa:
“Happy fall, everyone! This will be my last garden blog post of the year. The month of September was full of harvesting and preparing the Czech and Slovak Heritage Garden for winter. I picked the remaining cabbages early on in the month and continued to harvest many Slava and Czech tomatoes. What is pretty incredible is that the Czech tomato variety can grow fruits that are larger than both my fists balled together (and also have a really pretty pink hue to them). At times, they were so big that the vine could barely support their weight. The Giant Czechoslovakian Kohlrabi definitely lived up to its name, too! It was a really rewarding experience for me to watch the garden that I worked hard on during these last months grow and thrive.
Due to the Cedar River flooding at the end of September, I ended up having to harvest a lot of the kohlrabi, peppers, and tomatoes prematurely, thinking that the flood would wipe out the whole garden. Fortunately, there was no damage to the garden due to the immense preparation efforts taken by the city of Cedar Rapids. As of right now, the garden will be cultivated in the same location next year.
The NCSML has been donating almost all of our harvest to the Catherine McAuley Center’s food pantry this year, and we hope to donate a large portion of the harvest in 2017 as well. Next year we’re also hoping to host even more fun garden events for visitors to be able to pick, eat, and learn about the things that we grow in the garden. Additionally, I am very excited to announce that I will be returning in 2017 to manage the Czech and Slovak Heritage Garden, and will be able pick up right where I left off this season. I’m hoping to grow some garlic and beets next year to see how they fare in our little plot!
Along with more interactive involvement with the garden for museum visitors, I’m planning on holding some educational workshops involving seed saving, canning, sauerkraut making, seed bomb making, the importance of pollinators, and making fairy gardens. I hope to see you in the garden next spring!”
Thank you to our Czech and Slovak Heritage Garden sponsors for making this year’s growing season, and planning for next year’s garden and programs, possible: Alliant Energy, Rockwell Collins, Lu & Katherine Svoboda, Carey & Terry Downs Gibson, Carol Vavra, Seed Savers Exchange, and Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area.