Dan and Gilda Gieske love living off the land and teaching others

Gilda Gieske is making plans for the upcoming growing season, preparing to start seeds in a back room of her home.
Gilda Gieske is making plans for the upcoming growing season, preparing to start seeds in a back room of her home.

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Dan and Gilda Gieske are shifting into gear for the coming gardening season, starting seeds and unpacking equipment — seedling pots and grow lights.

While Dan grew up in Todd County’s Kandota Township, Gilda grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio — a true city gal. Moving west for college at Macalester in St. Paul, she met Dan.

They married and then moved north in 1971, raising their three children on 85 acres north of Sauk Centre, growing their own produce and raising sheep.

“We bake all of our own bread and do a lot of canning,” Gilda said. “We eat a lot from the root cellar and the pantry. Since I didn’t grow up on a farm, I’ve done a lot of learning by doing.”

She dedicates much of her time as a 4-H leader to the Kandota Klimbers. For several years, it was teaching her children Miriam, Ben and Rebecca and a host of neighbors. Though her children are grown now, Gilda continues as a 4-H leader.

“At our food meetings, the kids cook,” said Gilda. “It is truly amazing how it always comes out good. They are as surprised as we are when they like new things.”

It was about their second year of gardening when Dan planted an entire packet of cucumber seeds.

“It’s not quite as bad as planting all the zucchini seeds,” Gilda said, “but still …”

When the vegetables were harvested, they had literally bushels of cucumbers, which they took to the farmers market in Sauk Centre.

Dan now takes care of all the garlic. It’s planted in early October and harvested in late July to early August.

A few years after they started with farmers markets, the opportunity came to join with a group of farmers to form the Whole Farm Co-op in Long Prairie.

“We worked through the Sustainable Farming Association to get farmers together to develop a more direct market, to get paid a living wage for what we were doing,” said Gilda.

It was called Whole Farm Co-op because it showed the whole picture of raising families, farm sustainability and getting food to customers, she said.

“We don’t grow just a lot of old standards,” Gilda said. “I like variety. We plant 11 – 12 different types of cherry tomatoes.”

Gilda enjoys growing such unique new varieties as a purple-colored pepper and fingerling striped eggplant. But she also sticks with old tried and true varieties, when they are available.

“I can’t find seed for ‘Dusky,’ an early-ripening eggplant that was discontinued,” she said.

Co-op growers meetings are held through January and February to sort through what current demand trends are, which determines some of what is grown by members during the upcoming season.

The Gieskes pasture-raise sheep, with the goal of building up an Icelandic flock. They also have some Suffolk and Colombia stock.

“Icelandics are hardier,” Gilda said. “We’re using our Icelandic rams to build the flock.”

Four young ewes will be birthing their first lambs this spring.

The Gieskes sell their male lambs for meat at Schaefer’s in Sauk Centre.

As spring preparations for gardening begin, Gilda points out that a person doesn’t need complicated, expensive equipment.

She uses a simple shelf system with hanging grow lights in a room with large windows.

“I start a lot of seeds in old blue plastic mushroom containers,” she said. “I poke holes in the bottom and fill with seed-starting (soil-less) mix.”

Once the seedlings are established, they are transferred to newspaper pods, which can be planted directly in the garden.

Gilda teaches gardening techniques and helpful tips to community members through the Whole Farm Education Association, a non-profit education arm of the Whole Farm Co-op.

For more information, visit the co-op’s Web site at www.wholefarmcoop.com or call (320) 732-3023.