Friday, October 4, 2013

Iowa City Book Festival: featuring MINISTERS OF FIRE: A NOVEL by Mark Harril Saunders

There are just six days left until the Iowa City Book Festival. Don’t miss the opportunity to grab your copy of Ministers of Fire: A Novel, by Mark Harril Saunders, coming to us from the Ohio University Press! It is a Wall Street Journal named it one of the Top Ten Mysteries of 2012, the Washington Post listed it among the 50 Notable Works of Fiction, and Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review.

Praise for Ministers of Fire
“In Mark Harril Saunders's gripping first novel, Ministers of Fire, tensions and ambiguities induce moral guilt and mortal dread…. Mr. Saunders makes his large cast of international characters come to life with quick strokes. Ministers of Fire deserves a place next to the works of such masters as Charles McCarry and Robert Stone.”—The Wall Street Journal

Midwest Nature Quote of the Week

By definition, all Loess Hills grassland animals were once species of native prairies. Today some may find land altered by agriculture or roadside ditches an appealing substitute. Thus, Franklin’s ground squirrel still inhabits the taller grasslands of abandoned pastures, ungrazed prairies, and roadsides, but the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, a short-grass species, has benefited from cattle grazing. It has increased its numbers in recent years. Although native prairie is most appealing to the plains pocket mouse and western harvest mouse, the meadow vole is abundant in hay fields, and the northern grasshopper mouse seems to prefer cultivated fields.

Cornelia F. Mutel, Fragile Giants: A Natural History of the Loess Hills

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Iowa City Book Festival: featuring WHERE THE LINE BLEEDS by Jesmyn Ward

Is anyone else counting down the days until the Iowa City Book Festival? Don't forget to stop by our table on October 12 from 10:00 AM5:00 PM. We'll have plenty of books and conversation!

The UI Press is especially excited to be selling Where the Line Bleeds, the debut novel from National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. From Agate Publishing, Where the Line Bleeds tells the story of two twins who have just graduated from high school. The boys work to bring their broken family out of poverty, but in drastically different ways.

Praise for Where the Line Bleeds
"Starkly beautiful...a fresh new voice in American fiction."--Publishers Weekly (Starred review)

Keep checking back for more posts about the books we'll be selling at the Festival!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Interview with Lawrence L. Rettig: part 1

Lawrence L. Rettig is the author of Gardening the Amana Way, which will be released this month. University of Iowa Press editor Holly Carver asked him a few questions about the upcoming book. Keep stopping by to read the rest of his interview!

HC: Your Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens are inspiring. What caused you to become such an avid and thoughtful gardener?
LLR: I have a former neighbor to thank for my interest in gardening. He took me under his wing when I was fifteen years old. Among other things, he showed me how to graft. I thought that that was absolute magic. I was hooked.

HC: How do the Amana traditions of yesterday affect your daily life?
LLR: My wife Wilma and I try to live frugally, a virtue that was important in Old Amana. We save seeds and start plants from cuttings. Ziploc bags are washed and used over many times. Tinfoil is straightened, carefully folded, and used again. No food goes to waste unless it’s spoiled.

HC: Do you and Wilma experiment with new flowers and vegetables every year, and if so, what’s worked for you? What hasn’t worked?
LLR: Wilma and I are more conservative about the vegetables we grow (see my comments below regarding heirloom vegetables) than I am about the flowers. To be sure, we have preserved some of Wilma’s mother’s flower beds and even the type of flowers grown in them. We have some very old flower varieties and some very old individual plants.

But I like to explore. And I like challenges. That’s why I’m in contact with plant explorers and purveyors of rare plants. Growing in our gardens this year is a wild petunia from Brazil. According to the latest account I’ve been able to find, there are only fourteen plants of this species known to be growing in the wild. So far, the plants in our gardens are very vigorous and blooming with abandon. The flowers are bright red and the fused petals are pointed.

On the other side of the coin, several years ago I ordered—at some expense—the only blue impatiens known to horticulture. I was ecstatic when it bloomed, only to be crestfallen when it started to collapse and die. It evidently doesn’t like life indoors in a pot and prefers to grow in open ground.

HC: You’ve been gardening in the same place for many years. What changes have you seen in your plot and in the weather over the years?
LLR: We’ve changed the layout of several garden beds and added new ones as well. In making changes, we were careful to respect the integrity of the beds first started by Wilma’s mother. That’s especially true of the beds bordered with rocks my mother-in-law had gathered from various areas of the United States while on family vacations.

I’ve had fun expanding the rock theme. One example is the no-wa-wa fountain in the book. Another one I created recently features a head by George Carruth, a well-known rock sculptor, that incorporates other rocks to make an interesting display. I later added a small water feature to the display that is bordered by rocks as well.

Changes in the weather intrigue me. I’m fully convinced that climate change is a fact. We can argue about its cause, but not about its existence. My best guess is that our gardens are currently experiencing weather almost a full zone further south. By that I mean that while our geographical location in Iowa is zoned 5a/b, our weather has been more like zone 6. And I have proof. For two years in a row now, I’ve grown—without any pampering—two perennial species that are hardy only as far north as zone 6. One is the beautiful, orchid-like melittis and the other is a yellow-flowered, vining bleeding heart.

HC: Seed catalogs are a sign that winter may not last forever. What are some of your favorite catalogs? How do you decide which seeds to order?
LLR: I’m interested not only in heirloom varieties but in newly discovered or rare plants as well. For heirlooms Old House Gardens is unbeatable. Run by my good friend Scott Kunst, the plants and bulbs he provides are of the highest quality and are meticulously researched. He genuinely cares about his customers and his integrity shines through in everything he does and says.

For new, rare, and unusual plants, Tony Avent at Plant Delights is my go-to guy. I’m always impressed by the variety, size, and quality of the plants he ships. A great side benefit is his off-beat humor that comes through loud and clear in his catalog. He cracks me up.

Other favorite mail order sources include Annie’s Annuals and Perennials, Bluestone Perennials, Burpee, Caladium World, Colorblends, Forestfarm Plant Nursery, Garden Crossings, Heronswood Nursery (when it was still owned by plant explorer Dan Hinkley), Park Seed, and Wayside Gardens. As far as seeds are concerned, most of our vegetable seed comes from our seed bank, although we use other sources as well. These include Burpee, Park Seed, Seed Savers Exchange, Select Seeds, Stokes Seeds, and Thompson and Morgan. Like our ancestors, we raise standard vegetable crops, nothing really exotic: string beans, lettuce, radishes, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, spinach, sweet corn, cucumbers, bell peppers, beets, turnips, peas, squash, onions and garlic, tomatoes, potatoes. We also grow celeriac and salsify, which might be considered exotic by American gardeners, but they were standard vegetables in Old Amana gardens and still are in Europe today.

Deciding which plants and seeds to order is great fun and is one of the highlights of the winter season. Sometimes, when it’s snowing and the wind is howling, I hole up with my catalogs in our tropical garden room. Before I make a final decision on what to order, I consult my garden files. I keep a record of every order I’ve ever placed since about 1986. I consult last year’s orders and decide what worked and what didn’t. Then I decide what I want to order again this year. Aside from the files, I go through the catalogs (usually about thirty or so) and mark anything that piques my interest. Once that’s complete, I go back and make final decisions on what to order. I’m careful to order only those varieties I can’t buy locally. First of all, there’s no shipping charge and second, local plants aren’t quite as stressed as those that have been subjected to the rigors of shipping.

Check back Monday the 7th for part two of the interview!

Gardening the Amana Way by Lawrence L. Rettig

Monday, September 30, 2013

Raptor of the Week: Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl
Asio otus

The crow-size long-eared owl occurs regularly but nests rarely in Iowa. Since it feeds on mice and uses old crow nests, it is difficult to understand why this owl is so rare here. In winter, conifer stands are good places to find it.

The Raptors of Iowa, paintings by James F. Landenberger