MOUNT ANGEL — When the Benedictine Sisters arrived in Mount Angel in the 1880s, they created a farm to feed themselves and their students. The Swiss-German nuns hired hands to work the fields and tend livestock. But the women labored in a large vegetable garden.
Sister Teresa Henscheid, 76, maintains the leafy legacy. The slim retired registered nurse grew up one of 14 children on a southern Idaho potato farm and knows her way around a plant — which are many and varied at 40-acre Queen of Angels Monastery.
The land near downtown Mount Angel includes not only a vegetable garden, but an orchard of apples, plums and pears. Rows of blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries and Marion berries stand not far from an old brick pump house, home of the monastery irrigation well. Sister Theresa maintains herb gardens and a wooded grove that includes a Grotto with a statue of Mary.
For 40 years, she worked next door in the Providence Benedictine Nursing Center. As recreation from the demanding apostolate, she kept a few flower beds. When she retired, she became a gardener full time — more than full time.
Here's an example of the schedule. Each fall, the Sisters dry their plums to make prunes. The process takes place in an 85-year-old shed. A wood-burning furnace beneath the building provides heat, with Sister Theresa stoking the fire every two hours, even at night.
She practices no-till gardening. Each fall, she chooses a garden spot — about 100 feet square — and lays down cardboard. Fall leaves are piled atop that, then straw. When planting time comes, she and helpers poke holes through the layers, apply fertilizer and put in plants. The technique keeps weeds to a minimum.
In a swap that makes good use of waste, the manure comes from a local cattleman. He trades truckloads in return for used motor oil from the monastery's cars. The oil fuels warming beds for the cows.
The garden is a mainstay for the diet of the 39 nuns, and not just in summer and autumn. Tomatoes, berries, beans, apples and other produce get preserved during big canning parties in the dining hall.