Green thumb: Floyd Bottem has knack for growing vegetables

WORTHINGTON -- A whimsical sign on the front of Floyd and Doris Bottem's house at 1731 Nobles St. says "Bottem Bunk." It's a remnant from the lake house the couple once maintained.

WORTHINGTON -- A whimsical sign on the front of Floyd and Doris Bottem's house at 1731 Nobles St. says "Bottem Bunk." It's a remnant from the lake house the couple once maintained.

Large pots, overflowing with green plants and a glimpse of fresh vegetables hanging between the leaves, are perched along one side of the driveway. They're a nod to the large garden that Floyd once planted and harvested.

The Bottems have lived in the house on Nobles Street for almost six years, since August 2002.

During his working years, Floyd was employed by Redwood County, driving truck and doing maintenance. They moved to Worthington from Lamberton in 2001, after Floyd suffered a stroke, to be closer to family and the ongoing medical care he needed. Their daughter, Deb Grimmius, lives just down the street now.

"He had the stroke in November 2000," explained Doris. "He had heart surgery first, then had a stroke that night. It was a complete shock. We were very disappointed."


Initially, Floyd "couldn't walk or talk or do anything," but with lots of therapy and support from his family, his physical and mental abilities have come a long way. Floyd can't maintain the big garden that he once did, but he still has a green thumb and has adapted to growing vegetables in pots.

"He touches it, and it grows," marveled Doris about her husband.

Growing up on a farm, Floyd probably helped weed and tend a garden, but he didn't become an avid gardener until he and Doris were married in July 1953 -- 56 years ago this week.

"It was a very hot day," Doris recalled, fanning herself with the memory.

"There was no air conditioning in those days," added Floyd.

Shortly after they were married, Floyd planted a garden, and soon his efforts blossomed into acquiring other garden spots.

"Later on, you had ours, your mother's, the neighbor lady's and some at your brothers," recalled Doris about the different plots that Floyd maintained over the years.

Vegetables were -- and still are -- Floyd's forte. This year's crop, planted in an assortment of pots, includes cucumbers, green peppers, a couple of herb plants, several types of tomatoes, Swiss chard and lettuce. That's all he has room for now, but at one time, he planted just about every type of vegetable seed available.


"I liked to experiment," said Floyd. "One year, I decided to plant sweet potatoes. That first year, when I didn't know anything about them, was our best year."

"He grew so much broccoli and cauliflower that I can hardly look at them now," Doris said. "I had too much. I still like the broccoli salad with the grapes in it, but that's about it."

Floyd's personal favorites are corn and beets, the beets because "you can fix them so many ways."

During their garden's heyday, the Bottems did a lot of canning -- corn, tomatoes, carrots -- so they could enjoy the harvest throughout the winter months, too. Later, they experimented with another preservation method -- a food dehydrator -- and had good results with drying herbs, green beans, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and fruits such as bananas and pineapple.

Already this year, the Bottems have been savoring a bumper crop of cucumbers, the lettuce, which is a Buttercrunch variety, and Swiss chard, which they prefer over spinach.

"The lettuce -- every leaf was perfect," noted Doris. "There was nothing eating the leaves. It was so clean. The Swiss chard is a little milder than spinach, and you don't have to hurry so much with it, because it can tolerate some frost."

With this year's cool and wet spring, Floyd and Doris still anticipate their first bite of a homegrown tomato. They like medium-size varieties such as Champion and Super Fantastic. In a hanging basket, Floyd has also planted a unique cherry variety called Tumbling Tom.

Neighbors come over to marvel at what Floyd has been able to grow in pots. He insists he's not a garden guru, that there's no magic method, no tomato tonic that helps his plants thrive.


"I've always tried to do my best," he said. "I guess there's the watering thing. They take a lot of water when they're in pots. The tomato plants, they can take a gallon a day. If it's too hot out, I cover them up."

"We have an old curtain we cover them with," added Doris. "You can tell, with the sun out here, if you're not right out there watering, the tomatoes will start drooping."

The Bottems have contemplated not growing any vegetables from year to year, but they always end up planting something. They enjoy the rewards they reap at the dinner table too much.

"Those cucumbers are so crisp, they just snap," Doris described. "The tomatoes taste like a tomato. We're spoiled with the garden. ... In 56 years, we've bought one can of tomatoes from the store, and there's no comparison."

"When we get tomatoes, we have a hard time keeping up, so we have bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches a lot," said Floyd, clearly looking forward to that menu option.

And it's also clear that Floyd enjoys still being able to use his green thumb, despite his physical limitations. He can sit on the deck of his house and literally watch his garden grow.

"It gives him something to look forward to," Doris said.

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