Storm Recovery

Brush Pile In Predawn light

Over the weekend a storm broke off a branch in one of the maple trees. The branch wedged between two others 20 feet above the ground. I couldn’t remove it myself.

The tree service came yesterday with chain saws, ladders and loppers to bring the branches safely down. After work at the home, farm and auto supply store I cleaned up the site and built a brush pile next to the garden. I’ve been thinking of adding two more plots, so maybe, after I burn the pile, this is the time.

Not knowing better in 1993, we planted the maple too close to the house. It needs taking down according to my arborist and climber.

Seedling Cart

I’ve been working in the garden center at the home, farm and auto supply store. Foot traffic has been brisk with customers picking up flats of seedlings for flower and vegetable gardens. Working outdoor provided an opportunity to talk about gardening. I felt in my element.

At home, the lawn is overgrown and our garden is two-thirds planted. The seedlings are ready so I’m waiting for the intersection of dry-enough ground, time at home, and clear skies. As soon as that happens I’ll get more planted.

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It’s Not Memorial Day

It’s Not Memorial Day

We can end the witch hunt because it’s been found in the person of Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.

I had hoped our first female speaker would be different from other politicians. Those hopes were dashed as she proved herself otherwise in pandering to the sizable Iowa veteran population.

In her May 19 legislative newsletter she wrote as if it were for FOX News,

With Memorial Day right around the corner, I encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on the service and sacrifices that our veterans and active duty members of the military make each and every day.  Please also take some time to recognize those that protected us and kept us safe who are no longer with us.  It truly takes a special kind of person to put their country and others above themselves and for that we thank each and every member of our armed services, past and present.  Thank you for your service and I wish everyone a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Nuts to her. It’s not Memorial Day.

Had Upmeyer made her statement in support of Armed Forces Day, which was the next day, it wouldn’t have caught my attention. President Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their patriotic service in support of our country. In that context, Upmeyer’s statement may have been appropriate. Instead she politicized military service.

I take offense to Upmeyer’s thoughtless muddle because it casts a polite if patriotic fog over the fact of increasing militarism under President Trump. Not only is our country considering ramping up our 15-year war in Afghanistan, fighting a proxy war in Yemen through Saudi Arabia, and working to isolate Iran, we have forgotten the fact that real people serve in the military and put their lives at risk for this failing foreign policy. Under the 45th president there will be more war dead.

The purpose of Memorial Day is to honor men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It’s not to thank veterans for their service. It’s not to thank currently serving military staff. It’s not to reflect personally about highway safety or being happy. Those are political calculations. Memorial Day is to participate as part of a community in honoring our war dead.

One hopes that is something most Americans can agree upon.

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Harvest Saturday

First Kale

Four of six garden plots have been planted and are doing well.

Weeds are also doing well.

I’m waiting for a break in the weather to coincide with my work schedule to finish the planting and mulching. This annual conflict was complicated by feeling under the weather on Sunday. I called off work at both farms and stayed indoors recovering. It felt like a lost day.

Saturday I harvested radishes, the last of spring spinach, some turnip greens for salads, and a tub of kale. We officially have more greens than can fit in the ice box.

Spring Vegetable Broth

To use up some greens I made a batch of vegetable broth and canned it. During the next six weeks I hope to can 36 quarts for use throughout the year. There should be plenty of raw material, although carrots are last year’s crop and almost gone, Vidalia onions are from Georgia, and celery is from Earthbound Farms in California.

I’m not an extreme locavore and feel no guilt using a few imported items for a dish. My cooking style is derived from a local food culture which includes my garden and the farms where I work. Above all else, it is about using what is on hand in the ice box and pantry — a lesson learned from some of the best cooks I’ve met. If some non-local ingredients are needed and on hand to supplement a recipe, I’m okay with that. Besides, there aren’t Iowa carrots or celery to be had this time of year.

What to do with all the kale?

I reached out via email to find a home for some kale while it is still fresh. The rest will be preserved if I can make time after work.

I use three methods of preservation: freezing, canning and dehydrating. Until we get a separate freezer our capacity for freezing is minimal and saved for other favorites like broccoli, corn and bell peppers. I haven’t tried canning kale before, and the best use of canned kale seems to be soups and stews. I dehydrated in the past, then flaked it in a food processor or blender and stored it on the pantry shelf. Kale flakes are for soup.

A tentative plan is to take the kale remaining after the give-away and can a dozen pints to use in soups as an experiment. The rest will go into the dehydrator in batches. There is an urgency to getting this done as I planted enough kale to harvest a tub every week from now until late October. Keeping up with processing the crop will be a key dynamic in our kitchen-garden.

The 15-day forecast is for rain next weekend, so hope of getting the garden in before Memorial Day doesn’t seem realistic. Will have to find bits and pieces of time during the week to start turning soil in the last plots, and replanting where the early crops are finishing.

Importantly, I’m not freaking out over the amount of work in front of me. A person can plant only one plot at a time. Sanity comes from focusing on the gardening task at hand and executing it as well as we know how. We need sanity in this sometimes insane world.

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Joy Corning

Joy Corning – Photo Credit: Iowa General Assembly

Joy Corning was on our target list to become an advocate for U.S. Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Heady with Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, and confident Senate ratification of the New START Treaty would be a slam dunk, a nationwide coalition was formed to advocate for CTBT ratification after the 1999 failed attempt during the Bill Clinton administration.

Corning was on a short list of Republicans we wanted to contact Senator Chuck Grassley about the treaty. As things go in an advocacy coalition, I wasn’t the one to contact her. Someone in Des Moines phoned her and she called back.

“(Corning) had to decline our request that she make an appeal to Senator Grassley,” he wrote. “She said she needs to contact him on so many things, and she needs to have only a few top priorities and couldn’t add this.  She said she is working hard to bring her Republican Party back toward the center.”

Joy Corning died yesterday.

As it turned out, ratification of the New START Treaty was not a slam dunk and we adjusted our focus. Nonetheless, our contacts with Corning taught some lessons to those willing and able to hear them.

Always return phone calls. People who get things done in society almost always do.

Know who you are. While she couldn’t sign on to our cause the way we wanted, her efforts to “bring her Republican Party back toward the center” seem ennobling in the era of FOX News and right-wing talk radio. She fought that fight against steep odds and never gave up.

Focus on what’s most important. There is never unlimited time to advocate with an elected official. One must always be brief, be brilliant and be gone, lest our cause fade into obscurity.

Set the example. Corning’s daughters added the following to her online obituary, “Mother’s life was a model of class and grace, kindness and cooperation, service and civility. She led by example and always saw the good in everyone. She was active until the very end on efforts that supported human rights and justice for all.”

A person should embrace these qualities. That is Joy Corning’s legacy.

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Image Credit: I, NobbiP, Wikimedia Commons

(Editor’s Note: One of the roles this blog plays is helping decipher Iowa politics. Now that I am president of our home owners association there is an occasional reason to do so and communicate to our members).

Association members,

As many of you may know, the state legislature passed a law allowing for the sale and use of fireworks during the periods immediately prior to Independence Day and New Year’s Day.

I asked Rod Sullivan of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors what this means for people like us who live in unincorporated Johnson County. His answer was pretty straight forward.

Nothing has changed regarding fireworks sales and use in the unincorporated county for this year’s Independence Day holiday.

The county placed a 90-day moratorium on sales to study how the new law impacts existing law. The supervisors are watching how other counties implement the law and are drafting an ordinance to bring county code into compliance regarding sales of fireworks. After the moratorium and the update of county code, sales of fireworks are expected to be permitted, but not this Independence Day.

The existing requirements for using fireworks remain in place. Below is a link to the rules for obtaining a permit. There are four requirements: evidence of operator qualification, diagram of the shoot site, proof of insurance, and a $20 application fee.

If I hear any updates, I will pass them along.

Regards, Paul

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Planting Tomatoes

Garden Pallets

It took most of the day to plant the fourth plot in five varieties of tomatoes.

Using two pallets from Kate’s farm I sorted the metal stakes by size then pitchforked the grass clippings that have been on the plot since last fall.

There were numerous worms and grubs under the matted grass — a sign of  soil fertility.

Once the surface was cleared, I spaded the entire plot and applied about 30 pounds of composted chicken manure. I broke up the clods of dirt with a hoe, then used a garden rake to till the soil further. I resist using a mechanical tiller, partly to disturb the soil as little as possible, and partly because the expense is more than we can afford. I took several water breaks to stay hydrated.

Tomato Diagram

Once the ground was broken and tilled, I measured. I grew eight varieties of tomato seedlings: Italian, German Pink, Amish Paste, Brandywine and Supersteak are slicers. Black Cherry, Gold Nugget and Saladette are cherry tomatoes. This plot is for the five slicers with the three cherry tomato plants going somewhere else. I’ll use these tomatoes fresh in the kitchen with canning tomatoes coming from my barter agreement with local farms.

I dunked each seedling in a water bath immediately before planting. I dug a deep hole with a trowel and broke up the soil by hand as finely as I could to cover them. I doused each planting with water so they wouldn’t crisp in the sunlight and 80-degree ambient temperature. I re-applied the mulch and caged them. It took 15 stakes to cage 25 plants. The planting is done.

When the sun comes up I’ll check to make sure every plant survived. If some didn’t there are plenty of extra seedlings in reserve.

Tomatoes are a highlight of our summer garden. Taking a full day to plant them is okay, and the precautions against failure are many. Over the years I’ve become a better tomato grower but everything is conditional — on weather, on soil fertility, and on gardening culture. Fingers crossed, this should be a good year.

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Spring 2017

Third Garden Plot was Planted

Spring has been punctuated by conversations with scores of people in my neighborhood and beyond.

On Friday I spent two hours delivering handbills regarding a neighborhood public meeting. About 20 people showed up Saturday at the corner of our two main streets. The meeting was organized to elect trustees to our sewer district. I got a chance to review district history as we conducted official business. There was a solid exchange of information about wastewater treatment, something important to any home owner.

In this community organizing work the real world does not resemble my Twitter or Facebook feeds AT ALL. Conversations, in person, with real people, serve us better than any social media application ever can.

As my nine-day vacation from the home, farm and auto supply store winds down, farm and garden work have been the main focus. The garden is on schedule and about half planted — three plots in with three remaining. There are more seeds and seedlings than there will be room for. Hope for an abundant season is everywhere.

I’ve had numerous conversations about tomato planting. Consensus is we wait until today, May 15, to plant tomatoes. By then the risk of frost has passed. I hope to be planting some of mine soon.

In the meanwhile, the seedling cart is overflowing from new greenhouse arrivals. There is a tray of lettuce, some summer squash, and a tray of leftovers from planting to fill in gaps caused by plant predators or failures. The tomato seedlings germinated well and I’ll have 50 or so leftover. The pepper plants are as good as I’ve raised and offer a better prospect than in previous years. Bartering for greenhouse space took my gardening level up a notch or two — a better start means a better result in the ground.

The five years I’ve been working in community supported agriculture projects provided an education about gardening I couldn’t have gained elsewhere. I’m grateful for the time Susan Jutz, Laura Krouse, Carmen Black, Kate Edwards and others spent explaining agriculture to me.

The sun rose today at 5:46 a.m. and won’t set until 8:18 p.m. More sunlight for a more productive spring. What more could we ask?

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