Atkins home garden easy to access

Cinder block raised beds designed to make gardening easy for years to come

By Alison Gowans, The Gazette
Published: June 29 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 30 June 2014 | 7:36 pm in garden, Home & Garden, Life, Life & Accent,

Julia Himmelsbach, 59, hopes she’s gardening for decades to come.

“I told my husband, if I’m in a wheelchair, I’ll wheel out here and keep working,” she says. “I love to garden, and I’ll never stop.”

So Himmelsbach asked her husband, Doug Himmelsbach, 57, to build raised beds for the vegetable garden on their rural property near Atkins.

Bending over to weed was hard on her back, she says. Now, she doesn’t have to.

With split-face block walls topped with a wooden ledge, the edge of each knee-high bed acts as a bench she can sit on while weeding and tending her vegetables.

Her husband built the raised beds, following her design. They lined each bed with wire to keep moles out, followed by a layer of fabric to keep the dirt in. Compost and 17 tons of soil followed. Rows of beets, peppers, kohlrabi, spinach, onions, beans and tomatoes are just a few of the plants taking root in the recently completed garden space.

Himmelsbach says the beds, which are surrounded by mulched walking areas, also keep her and her husband from accidentally stepping on their plants. An unanticipated benefit is that without any feet pounding down the dirt, the soil stayed softer and easier to turn, she says. Another benefit — she’s seen fewer weeds than in past years.

She considered using wood for the walls instead of cinder block, but was worried about upkeep. Wood would rot if left untreated, and she was worried about treatment chemicals leaching into the soil and root systems of her vegetables.

Eighteen years working at Frontier Natural Products in Norway gave her a keen appreciation for keeping things chemical-free. It’s part of the reason she likes to grow so many vegetables.

“This way I know what’s in my food,” she says.

The raised beds are the latest of projects that have kept the Himmelsbachs busy since they built their home 11 years ago. When they bought the land, there were only a few trees and barely any grass, Julia Himmelsbach says.

Since then, with a little more than an acre of yard overlooking a neighbor’s cornfield, the couple has had plenty of room to indulge in a continuous stream of landscaping ventures. Those include a custom-built gazebo in back, complete with screens and electricity; a fire pit reached by sidewalks she poured herself; and a small pond covered by water lilies in the front yard. Next year she hopes to set up a rainwater irrigation system. Almost all of this, with the exception of the gazebo, she and her husband did themselves.

Her favorite project has been a memorial garden she built to honor her son Shane Eckholm, who died nearly three years ago at age 34.

“This is kind of my therapy, my yard,” she says. “I spend a lot of time out here.”

She has had a lot to keep her busy. Along with the vegetables, she has numerous flower beds, including boxes of petunias and daisies and marigolds lining her back porch. Bunches and bunches of hostas surround numerous trees.

The Himmelsbachs have planted more than a dozen trees over the years, though they’ve had to remove some lost to oak wilt or bad weather.

Three bountiful apple and two cherry trees keep her busy baking.

She brings rolls, bread and other goodies made from scratch each day to the students at Benton Community School District where she now works. Doug Himmelsbach works at the Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo.

Over the years, Julia Himmelsbach also has worked as a photographer and a caterer and once owned an ice cream shop where she made her own ice cream.

She says she’s never seen any reason to not take up new ventures.

“I always said, when I get old, I’m not going to sit in my rocking chair and say, ‘I wish I had tried that,’ ” she says.

“I decided life is too short to not do things I like.”

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