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News from Prairie Hill

Dear Friends,

We send springtime greetings your way. We're busy planting trees, creating new garden beds, moving seedlings around, working on floorplans for our new buildings, and generally reveling in the fresh beginnings a new season brings. 

We miss seeing you in person, but we hope you'll drop in on one of our Zoom events soon. See the schedule below. In the meantime, enjoy the sun!

Upcoming events at Prairie Hill

Information Meeting
Wednesday, May 5
6:00-7:30 p.m.

Come learn more about cohousing. Talk to some of the people who live at Prairie Hill. Find out why we like it. To get a link to this event, send a text to Val Bowman at 916-751-9188 or write to us at

Weekend Meet and Greet
Saturday, May 22
10:00-11:30 a.m.

Take a break and have a cup of coffee with us. Find out more about Prairie Hill from the folks who live here. Get your questions answered. To get the link, send a text to Val Bowman at 916-751-9188 or write to us at

Planting partners measure a newly-planted serviceberry tree. The plan is to record the height every year to see how fast it's growing..

Photo from The Gesneriad Society

Invisible seeds from the Ukraine

by Marcia Shaffer

It seems that I’ve always raised Gesneriads. You know them better as African violets and gloxinias but there are more interesting plants in this genus. I especially like the slipper gloxinias. At first, there was a Gesneriad club, a newsletter and whole greenhouses dedicated to the Gesneria family. Club members would trade cuttings and seeds and I would get a big box filled with baggies of cuttings of these special plants.

For years I’ve had a nine-inch round bowl with a light on top that Park Seed Company called a Sunbowl. It was sold for ripening fruit, but I used it to grow slipper gloxinias. This winter my Sunbowl broke, much to my distress. I found a new lightbowl but it was very much smaller. I decided that a Sinningia pucilla would fit perfectly in this little bowl. The plant measures 1” in width and the little 5/8” pink flowers stand up making a 1” tall plant. I got onto the computer and Googled a source for pucilla. I was surprised that I couldn’t just order a seed packet. After much research, I reluctantly decided to get some seed offered by Etsy that amazingly came from the Ukraine!!! The postage was more than I had in mind!

After a couple of weeks, Darla, our mail carrier, was at my door and asked me to sign for a little (4 x 6-inch) package. I carefully opened it and found a tiny paper envelope folded and refolded containing what I knew were tiny seeds.

That afternoon, I was anxious to plant the seeds and filled a small seed flat with potting mix for the tiny seeds. I’ve planted tiny seeds before so I knew how to do it. First you take a big breath so you don’t need to breathe and blow all the seeds away in the process of planting them. You hold the seed packet over the flat in case they slip out before you are ready. I knew the drill. The first problem was that I couldn’t unfold the envelope. After struggling with it I took scissors and just cut it in half. I tried to empty the first half of the envelope but didn’t see any seeds. Maybe the seeds were in the other half of the envelope. I emptied that half. No seeds. Was I cheated? Did they just not put any seeds in the envelope? Ordering seeds from the Ukraine was a dubious venture. How could I complain from Iowa when they were in the Ukraine? But I put a cover over the flat and put it under the lights. Each day I removed the cover and took the flat over to the light. Hmmm. Nothing.

A package of seed is a package of hope. I plant seeds each spring and wonder each time what will happen. But the miracle happened once again as one day when I took the cover off, there was a hint of green. I could barely see if it was moss or seedlings. In the light by the window, it sure looked like they were seedlings. And, sure enough, they've kept growing.

I wonder about the person in the Ukraine who folded up the envelope so carefully to send these seeds to me and I’m sorry I doubted him/her. All I hear about the Ukraine is guns and fighting.  But somewhere I know now that there is a person there who, like me, loves Gesneriads.

Just a few of our Prairie Hill grandkids

Who could resist this unicorn princess?
Sporting tiaras to celebrate "three!"
Francis's grandkids traversing a lake in Bavaria!
Tutus and backpacks—ready for anything!
Best friends—for the moment!

The Hidden Community

An excerpt from Nan Fawcett's blog

One community that is immensely important to us and all of life is out of our sight. We creatures who are so dependent upon seeing, so focused on the images before us, tend to be blind to the community that lives under our feet. Of course that's true. Out of sight, out of mind. Or maybe never in our minds in the first place. We think of soil as "dirty" and try to get it off ourselves quickly. "Soiled" is a negative term, one that makes us cringe internally. So we don't think about dirt as good. We walk over the earth and seldom think of what's below our feet. That's not a reprimand. I am this way too.

But ever since I did some research for an article I was writing several years ago, I've been fascinated with the community of life beneath the surface. You almost have to get down to the size of a tiny bug, at least in your mind, to be able to think about this. So many of the creatures that populate this ecosystem are microscopic. Microscopic and multitudinous. The numbers of individual life forms in the soil are flabbergasting. I heard a statistic something like this: in one handful of soil there are more microorganisms than all the human lives that ever lived on earth. That is not an exact quote, but you get the idea. Lots and lots and lots of life under our feet. Another startling statistic is about the ecosystem in our bodies. We are made of 1% human cells and 99% microorganisms! We just can't see them.

Just as in the environment above the ground, the one below the ground is made up of a vast and varied community of individuals playing many roles. Some of these tiny inhabitants align themselves closely with plants, and attach themselves to plant roots. They help change dead matter into forms that can nourish the plants growing there. They chemically change some substances. And one of the most important things they do in these days of climate change, in partnership with plants, is to draw down carbon into the soil. Maximizing that process is a huge opportunity to heal the planet. But it needs our cooperation.

Healthy soil has a tremendous ability to sequester carbon. However, much of the soil we have on earth now is not healthy soil. It has been over-farmed. It has been stripped of its green cover and lies baking in the sun. It has had pesticides and herbicides sprayed on it. In many formerly lush areas of the planet, desertification is taking place. One statistic says that 2/3 of the world is now desertifying, the ground turning to dust. That's an alarming statistic! There has been a tendency down through the ages for civilizations to rise to a flowering phase, and then gradually fail and disappear, and much of that process is because when we have many people living in a place, we tend to destroy the soil. Then it can't produce enough food for the population, and the civilization disappears, to grow up again in a new place.

The good news is that for millions of years, the earth has been able to self-heal and self balance. That ability is not gone. Human activity has just become too vast and too speedy for the earth to catch up. But we can do something about it. If we work together, we could harness the regenerative ability of the earth. There are people working on this, doing their best to educate us about how to care for our "mother" below our feet. And the things people can do are not complicated. We just need to slow down and change some of our habits. We can stop plowing fields in order to grow crops, instead planting in rows between a green foliage cover. We can stop using poisons, planting a variety of crops instead of monocultures so that insects are not immediately drawn to the one crop they love. We can learn to plant perennial crops whose roots grow deep and stay there year after year. We can make sure that the soil in our gardens or other cultivated places never stands bare and dry, using cover crops or mulch. 

In other words, we can care for the soil as if it is a treasured family member. Nurturing it, remembering its amazing capabilities, putting it first instead of last. It will take a little adjustment, a little uncomfortable change, but since our future depends upon it, it'll be worth it. And we'll gain a new friend at the same time, the healthy, thriving, populous community in the ground beneath our feet.

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Iowa City Cohousing · 140 Prairie Hill Ln · Iowa City, IA 52246-2029 · USA

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