Archive for June, 2008

Czech Village ghost town

Museum staff make their way Tuesday down 16th Avenue as owners were allowed into Czech Village for the first time since last week\'s floods.    We’re diverging from our gardens a bit to address questions I’ve been hearing about Czech Village in Cedar Rapids, one of the area’s hardest hit by last week’s floods in Iowa.  I was able to go in Tuesday with the business owners and  one of our Gazette photographers, Cliff Jette, for a firsthand look at the devastation. For those of you who went to Houby Days just a few weeks ago, the area is unrecognizable from the vibrant, festive place that it was. What we saw Tuesday looked more like a ghost town, with broken windows, jumbled piles of debris and gray dirt from floodwaters covering every building and every item inside.


   The National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library was the same, with layers of muck on the floors and mud-covered historical artifacts. Ironically, Tuesday would have been a community meeting to discuss the museum’s expansion plans. Now the focus is on cleaning and rebuilding.


   Some business owners plan to clean and reopen; others are unsure. I didn’t see the Sykora’s Bakery owner on Tuesday. I know some people have inquired about that.


    I want to mention one concern for people who are working on cleanup. When I was interviewing the business owners as they waited to get in to Czech Village at the area’s checkpoint, I bent down to talk to one of them and put my hand on the grass. For the next hour or so, until I could wash it off, my hand felt like it was on fire. Health experts are warning about the bacteria and chemicals in the floodwaters and all of that – the gas and oil, and whatever else washed out of garages and elsewhere during the floods –  is now caked onto lawns and everything else it touched. Be careful. Wear rubber gloves when handling anything, as well as respirator masks when you’re going inside these buildings.


   This is the story that ran in today’s Gazette about Czech Village:


Business owners in Czech Village face rebuilding decisions

By Cindy Hadish

The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS  Rebuilding is the obvious answer for some business owners in the Czech Village.

    For others, answers will take time.

   Tuesday was the first day that owners were allowed to see the damage inflicted by last week’s catastrophic floods in the historic business area on 16th Avenue SW.

   “It’s quite the scene,”” said Randy Novak, president of Novak’s Heating and Air Conditioning. “It looks like a tornado hit.””

    As was the case in many stores, mud-encrusted furniture was upside down and items were jumbled into piles by the raging floodwaters.

    Novak is one of the business owners unsure about his future.

   “It’s a tough decision,”” he said. “We like it down here.””

    Rebuilding new elsewhere might be more economical, Novak added.

    The business, in the family since 1934 and in Czech Village since the early 1950s, lost furnaces, air conditioners and other inventory, plus two vehicles.

    Noting that June is typically Novaks’ busiest month and many people would need to replace furnaces that were underwater, Novak said the business is operating from a temporary shop and office.

    Nearby, Nan Barta, owner of the Saddle & Leather Shop, said she would do what she could to rebuild.

    The shop, in the family since 1946, has been a fixture in Czech Village since 1908. A 100-year anniversary celebration was planned for later this year.

     “It’s difficult at best,” Barta, 53, said of the devastation. “This has been my whole life. It has been my parents’ whole life. I loved it.””

    Cookie Vanous, 63, owner of Czech Feather & Down Co., echoed Barta’s sentiments. The business was started by her ancestors in 1875 and has been in Czech Village for 20 years.

   With the help of family, friends and Home Depot, which sent boxes and other materials, Vanous was able to remove nearly everything before the flood, including customers’ orders.

   “I want to save the building because of the history in it,”” she said. “We’ll stay here. It’s our heritage.””

    Engineers will have to determine the structural soundness of the buildings, some of which had flooding near rooflines.

    Al Zindrick, 53, owner of Al’s Red Frog and Zindrick’s Czech Restaurant, hopes to reopen.

    “I really plan on it,”” he said. “I want to be one of the ones to say, `This is not going to get me down.”

    Zindrick lives above the restaurant and was able to get his 92-year-old mother out before the floods came. Their cat was left behind with extra food and water.

   Czech Cottage owner Bob Schaffer left behind his parents’ pets in their apartment above the store. His mother, Jitka, 80, had lived through the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II.

  “I hope I’ll find three live cats,”” said Schaffer, 53, as he entered the store, a former pharmacy that has been in business for 33 years selling jewelry — which was removed before the flood — and Czech glass and other gift items. The building was built in 1901.

   Schaffer plans to reopen, but Mike Ferguson, 47, owner of the landmark Polehna’s Meat Market, was unsure.

   His priority Tuesday was finding a hazardous material crew to help remove thousands of pounds of rotting meat in the building.

   “There’s a lot of people worse off from me,” Ferguson said, his voice breaking. “But I lost my future.””

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Flood heartache

The following, from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith, describes the heartache that many Iowans are experiencing as they recover from devastating floods:  


     I found a penny today.  It was face-up, so I picked it up because I’m told that is a sign of good luck.  I gave it to my friend and wished him well.  And then we went back to filling a dumpster with possessions from his flooded home.

    The baby book, wedding, and family photos went out with the couch and recliner. Wet books were swollen so much we couldn’t remove them from the book case.   Our boots and gloves were smeared with greasy goo.  The stench was indescribably offensive.  We trekked in and out;  in and out, “ Save this?”  “Throw this away?”  “Let that dry out.”

    There just are no words to explain the level of devastation this flood created.  We have friends who may not have a job to return to.  A friend’s father, sister and mother-in-law all lost their homes.  

   But we rescued a plant today.  It was given to our friend by her grandmother when she was considerably younger.  It will get a good bath tonight.  It will survive.  In time, we will all survive.  I hope you can find time to help someone who is hurting even if it is only to find a penny and wish them well.


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How much water?


   I remember an old western movie in which the town experienced a water shortage. A vigilante group brought out a woman who had used what little water there was to wash her hair. “But it was dirty,” she protested. If I remember correctly, they promptly cut off her hair or otherwise doled out justice, Old West style.

   As Cedar Rapids residents were asked to restrict their water usage in the wake of floods that have devastated some parts of the city, many jumped on board to do what they could, while others apparently ignored the plea to conserve.

   Those restrictions have been relaxed, as of today, allowing short showers, and dishwashing and laundry to be done on odd days if your address is odd-numbered, and on even days for even-numbered addresses, from what I’m told.

   Still, it’s interesting to see how resourceful we could be during this crisis. I’ve found that water from my full dehumidifier is enough to “flush” the toilet once. And although a once a day flush may be a little extreme in the long-term, at least I’ve found a new use for the “gray water.” If anyone has other suggestions – I know people were using rainwater for the same thing – please add your comments below.



The following on water usage comes from the 


 Agricultural Water Management Council:



  Brush your teeth – 2 to 5 gallons


  Wash the car – 50 gallons


  Use the dishwasher – 8 to 15 gallons


  Flush the toilet – 1.5 to 4 gallons (each flush)


  Take a shower or bath – 17 to 24 gallons


  Run the washing machine – 35 to 50 gallons (each load)


  Eat lunch, chicken sandwich – 215.1 gallons


  Drink a glass (8 oz.) of orange juice – 49.1 gallons


  Eat dinner, lasagna, salad, and garlic bread 470 gallons




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Homegrown flood perspective

A boat makes its way down a flooded street near downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 12, 2008.    How do you describe the devastation to someone not experiencing these floods?

   Journalists typically pursue the Big Story with an excited fervor, but when it happens in your hometown – to your hometown – the news feels like a crushing blow to the stomach.

   There was the Time Check neighborhood completely under water, where my son played soccer this spring. Where I had interviewed Doug Ward this week for a story about his Ellis A&W restaurant’s anniversary – the oldest drive-in in Cedar Rapids. Where we had done what little we could to help co-worker Kathy Alter evacuate from her home with her mother. I still have her knitting – dozens of items she created for charity – in the trunk of my car. Kathy said it’s practically all that’s left from her home.

   There was the Cedar Rapids Public Library, where my children regularly begged me to take them – yes, for computer games, but also for the summer reading program, research for school projects and DVDs to check out, all perhaps taken too much for granted. The first thing my younger son asked was if the Harry Potter books had survived. Could anything survive that surge of water from the Cedar River?

   There was the stately St. Wenceslaus Church, where members tried to save historic artifacts by moving them up from the basement. I had intended to take pictures of my son serving Mass at the 104-year-old church, sometime soon. It was under the flood of water, as well.

   There was Czech Village, with its landmark National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library; Polehna’s meat market with its distinctive savory scent, historic Sykora’s, the bakery everyone had been waiting on to re-open; and the restaurants and bars that have been longtime neighborhood hang-outs. All under the swell of water. There was 20-plus year Czech School teacher Bessie Dugena’s t-shirt and souvenir shop, which my sons and I had sandbagged – a futile effort, it turned out – and her house just a block away.

   And then there was the home where my mother, Dorothy Martens, still lived on Hamilton Street, just blocks from Czech Village and until Thursday, seemingly nowhere near the river. The sidewalks where we rode our bikes as kids under a canopy of trees and the wide porches where neighbors would chat on warm summer evenings, all became part of the Cedar River this week. I’m in northeast Cedar Rapids. Mom’s across the river, so I can’t easily reach her to give her a hug.  

   I did talk to her today. Like other Iowans who have lost their homes, she’s had her low moments, but calls from relatives and friends, including a cousin in California, have buoyed her spirits. As usual, her first thoughts are with others. “I keep thinking of all the rest of Cedar Rapids,” she said. “It’s a house and we had some good years in it.” Somehow we’ll carry on.

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Coping with the floods

For our out-of-state readers who haven’t heard, floods have been threatening homes and disrupting lives in Iowa this week, with the situation worsening as of today in Cedar Rapids.


Once the floodwaters recede, we can hopefully carry on with our lives, including the peace we gain in our gardens.


With that in mind, nationally known garden expert Melinda Myers, who visited Iowa earlier this year during the Winter Gardening Fair, offers gardeners advice for dealing with flood damage…


As flood waters recede and homeowners, finding themselves a bit overwhelmed, move their attention from wet basements to their landscapes, Myers recommends the following:


Assess the damage, manage hazards, and wait for the soil to dry. Then be sure to manage early plantings of food crops safely by washing produce exposed to flood waters.  And play it safe by discarding any garden produce exposed to raw sewage as it can be hazardous to your health. Next, repair damaged soil, and watch for signs of flood damage-induced problems that may appear later in the season such as root rot or pest infestations.


Assess damage and manage hazards immediately.  Look to certified arborists (tree care professionals) to help with pruning and removal of hazardous branches and trees.  They have the skill, equipment and expertise to do the job safely and properly.


Most trees can usually withstand a week or less of flood conditions. More than this and you will start seeing leaves yellow and curl, branches die and extended periods of standing water can cause death for some trees. 


In the garden, seedlings and young transplants may have been killed or washed away. If this is the case, wait for the soil to dry before replanting. Early season crops such as leaf lettuce, spinach and radishes should be washed before eating and no garden produce exposed to raw sewage should be consumed.


Soil will also have an impact. When it is caked on the leaves of plants, it can block sunlight, preventing the plants from photosynthesizing (making needed energy) and the leaves can eventually yellow and die. Once the landscape dries out a bit, you can gently wash off any soil stuck on the leaves. Additionally, soil has been adversely affected by the floods. The water logged soil kills many of the micro organisms that help create a healthy soil foundation. The pounding rains and dislodged soil particles can add to soil compaction. Be sure to wait for the soil to dry before you start the rebuilding process.  Adding organic matter such as peat moss and compost will help add needed micro-organisms and start the rebuilding process. 


“If your new plantings were washed away and gardens flooded, the good news is that there is still time to plant. If the damage is more extensive, try containers this summer as you rebuild the landscape,” said Myers. “And if you were lucky enough to escape damage – help a friend.  A few flowers can bring a smile in less than 15 seconds and your waterlogged gardening friends may just need a bit of garden relief.”


For additional gardening tips, garden podcasts, videos and more, visit


Myers, best known for her practical, gardener-friendly approach to gardening, has more than 25 years of horticultural experience in both hands-on and instructional settings. She has a master’s degree in horticulture, is a certified arborist, and was a horticulture instructor with tenure. Myers shares her expertise through a variety of media outlets.

She is the author of numerous gardening books, including “Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening.” She hosts “Great Lakes Gardener,” seen on PBS stations throughout the United States and “Melinda’s Garden Moments,” which air on

network television stations throughout the country. She also appears

regularly as a guest expert on various national and local television and radio shows. She writes the twice monthly “Gardeners’ Questions” newspaper column and is a contributing editor and columnist for Birds & Blooms and Backyard Living magazines. In addition, she has written articles for Better

Homes and Gardens and Fine Gardening. Myers also hosted “The Plant Doctor”

radio program for over 20 years.


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How much rain is enough and more gardening tips

Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith describes how much water is enough  (obviously, many parts of Iowa have had too much this week) and other gardening hints:


We’re so excited:  my favorite daughter’s garden is growing by leaps and bounds.  We had no idea of the quality of soil in the area, but luckily she unknowingly over seeded so we can do some thinning.  Her husband is excited to be able to walk out and pluck a ripe tomato.  Can you imagine the kids learning to hull peas?

So how is your garden growing? 

Have you noted your guests—your birds and butterfly buddies?  Adding bird and butterfly houses and water may encourage them to stay longer.

Keep planting. Try a new variety.   “Mudding” in plants is not a great idea, but there are certainly a variety of perennials still available when the ground dries out a little. 

Due to the overly wet conditions now, it’s a good idea to check your plants for mold and mildew.    Remove any leaves with blotches or that are discolored.  Use an insecticide soap to control insects.  Wet conditions do make weeding easier. 

Perennials generally do not need extra fertilizer.  The soil usually provides adequate nutrients.  Watch your plants, though and if they need a boost, go ahead with a liquid fertilizer. 

Perennials require one inch of water each week.  New plantings will request water several times each week.  It is better to water thoroughly less often.   Young new trees should be checked routinely and watered thoroughly as needed.  Remember clay soils retain water:  sandy soils do not. 

Finish pruning spring-flowering shrubs this month.  Prune so that the top of the hedge is narrower than the bottom to allow light to reach all parts of the shrub. 

Deadhead annuals as soon as the flowers start to fade to encourage new growth.


And, remember to plan a fun, educational and inexpensive ($10 for the entire family!) day on Saturday, June 14,  from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Linn County Master Gardeners’ First Annual Garden Walk.  Tickets are available at each location.  For more information, see the last two weeks’ blogs or call the Horticulture Hotline at 319-447-0647. 

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What does worm poop look like?

   Only a gardener could get excited by a call to test out vermicompost, a.k.a., worm poop.  Such was the case when James Artis of TerraCycle, makers of the “world’s most eco-friendly products,” offered to send a sample of his company’s products.  Worms create some of the richest fertilizer around and I hadn’t used any since Stacie Johnson suspended her vermicompost business in Robins several years ago.

    In a package sent to The Gazette this week, Artis sent samples of some of TerraCycle’s newer items,  including cleaners and a cool-looking flower pot made from recycled computer plastic that would otherwise end up in the landfill. But I didn’t see what I expected: the brown, crumbly matter that I knew as vermicompost. Another call from James revealed the answer: the company’s worm poop is in liquid form. Packaged in a reused, 20-ounce soda bottle, I  didn’t recognize it for the fertilizer that it was.

   The product promises to not burn your plants and can be used on both indoor plants and outdoor gardens.   It’s available online for $6.95 at Gardener’s Supply company. 

    I’ll be testing it out through this summer, so watch the Homegrown blog for more on this natural fertilizer, as well as the cleaners. Check out more on TerraCycle at:

“World’s Most Eco-Friendly Products: 


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