Categories
Garden Writing

Clearing the Garden

First Brush Pile Fire of 2020 Gardening Season

It took five and a half hours to plant two apple trees on Saturday.

I need to move the support stakes as I put them too close to the trunk. Hopefully they will be easy to remove as they have been in the ground less than 24 hours.

I planted bare root trees that arrived Friday from Cummins Nursery, Ithaca, New York:

Zestar! on G.210 root stock.
Crimson Crisp (Co-op 39) on G.202 root stock.

Here’s hoping for apples in a couple of years.

I burned the first brush pile on the to be planted kale plot. It was a clean burn. After sunrise I will spade and till the plot. I also want to plant potatoes in containers and sow peas, beets, carrots, radishes and turnips. If there is time, transplant the first batch of spinach seedlings. There is a lot on the gardening agenda as spring has arrived.

How should I use the time after waking until sunrise, not just today, but going forward? I’m not sure. Other than to continue doing what I am, it is difficult to envision changes from routine as much as they may be needed. I’m too unsettled to contemplate change.

People say it is normal to experience anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing I’m normal is not reassuring and has made for restless nights.

The remedy will be to get lost in the work of putting in the garden. If I work longer shifts, maybe I’ll be tired enough at day’s end to sleep through the night. I’m a little sore from yesterday’s work as my spring conditioning regime in the garden begins. Engagement in a project has worked to relieve tension in the past.

It doesn’t help that I’m reading Anne Case and Angus Deaton’s new book exploring why capitalism is proving fatal for the working class with an uptick in mortality rates among white middle-aged Americans from what the authors call “deaths of despair.” There have been enough alcohol, opiod and suicide deaths in this group to reverse the 20th century trend of longer life expectancy. Other wealthy countries continue to see an increase in life expectancy in the new century. Americans do not. I’m looking forward to reading Case and Deaton’s analysis.

All this is not to say I find despair in daily life, I don’t. However, change is on the horizon. Unlike with the sunrise coming in an hour, it’s hard to know what to expect. I affirm today will be a gardener’s day with everything that means. That should be enough to move past the coronavirus engendered anxiety into something more meaningful.

I’m doing the best I can.

Categories
Juke Box

Juke Box – Jubilee

Today’s forecast is to be sunny beginning late morning, clear, and with a high of 52 degrees. I’m prepping to get outside and don’t have a lot of availability for screen time and related reading and writing before the sun comes up at 6:43 a.m. in an hour or so. I’m leaving this here.

Have a better Saturday than expected in a time of the coronavirus pandemic.

Categories
Garden

Rainy Spring Dream

Harvesting Spinach – 2013

The forecast was 100 percent chance of rain so I worked on the garden in the garage. I re-seeded dill and cilantro that didn’t germinate. I gave up on the shallots and onions which did not grow the way they should inside our home.

I planted new trays made from small shipping boxes lined with aluminum foil. The box of foil was printed with the date 1972. The improvised flats will serve. I planted:

Cucumbers

Marketmore 76, Ferry-Morse, 68 days.
Tendergreen (a.k.a. burpless), Ferry-Morse, 55 days.
Lemon, Ferry-Morse, 65 days.
Little Leaf Pickling, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 57 days.
Tasty Jade, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 54 days.

Lettuce

Buttercrunch, Ferry Morse, 65-70 days

Spinach

Matador, Ferry-Morse, 45 days.

There is a to-do list once the rain finishes and the ground dries out enough to till.

I text messaged the farm about Sunday’s seeding session and we called it off. The greenhouse is full. It’s too cold to put seedlings outside on wagons to harden. We texted back and forth for a while.

Text messages and phone calls are a part of farming that goes on regardless of the crop, almost every day. We stay semi-synchronized, although with a garden I’m very flexible.

My multi-colored Swiss chard didn’t germinate at all. The Fordhook chard didn’t germinate very well. If the seedlings that germinated survive transplant there will be enough chard from the garden for the kitchen. Celery takes the longest time to germinate and the report was it did. Things are looking good. There will plenty of green vegetables to transplant.

Yesterday they tilled and seeded carrots, peas, beets and spinach in the ground. I start my spinach and some beets in trays, but need to plant in the ground as soon as I can get in. Maybe over the next few days. After that, the next step is potatoes, then onions after the ground dries.

While working in the garage I began to dream.

I went on a reconnaissance mission to one of the training areas we used in Germany. I don’t recall where but I got to know Hohenfels, Baumholder, Fulda, Hofbieber, Dipperz and villages at the eastern entry point to the Fulda Gap.

My driver was Cheyenne and had just returned from leave where he attended a Sundance in Montana. I asked him if he ate peyote. He said he had. The driver was an E-1, the lowest enlisted rank. We had busted for getting into a fight and demoted him. He’d been our driver for almost a year. He was the best and the best we had. The peyote buttons remained between him and me. Our battalion commander didn’t want officers driving themselves, so he drove the M-151 quarter ton jeep.

Soon after I arrived in garrison the company motor pool sergeant who gave me a license to operate any piece of equipment in our unit. I’d had familiarization training at Fort Benning and qualified as a jeep driver at Fort Jackson, but the battalion commander was right, I didn’t know jack about fixing the jeep should it break down.

We drove up a ridge high above a valley whose name I can’t recall. It was a beautiful and calm place for reflection. I took notes and viewed the terrain through a pair of binoculars. We watched the clouds blow east up the ascent and over the ridge mid morning. As the valley cleared I finished the work we had come for and then drove back into a village to find lunch.

I don’t know why that experience came to me while planting cucumbers and lettuce. I’m thankful to have had it. It was a fitting dream while doing what I could to advance the garden.

Categories
Politics

Kimberly Graham – A Voice For ‘Us’

Kimberly Graham

On Tuesday, March 17, Blog for Iowa conducted a telephone interview with U.S. Senate candidate Kimberly Graham. We had intended to do an in-person interview but in consideration of the coronavirus pandemic we maintained social distancing. Graham was thoughtful in her answers to our questions. The following portions of the interview are transcribed from an audio recording. Any mistakes are the author’s.

Blog for Iowa: Why are you in this race?

Kimberly Graham: It’s kind of a perfect storm of three different things. The first, like a lot of women running for office now-a-days, the first thing that made me start thinking about running was the 2016 election. I never had any intention or desire to run for office. It was not something I thought I could even do as a person from a working class background. But the 2016 election was very upsetting to me like it was to a lot of people. And that’s what initially started making me look into running for office myself.

At the time of that election my son was 17 years old. He’s now 20. I couldn’t keep just only voting. I felt like I needed to do something more and that I could do a better job than a lot of our current leaders. And so, I thought that it would be important for my son, and for the kids I’ve represented for the last 20 years and all of their families, for me to step up and run for office so that we would have what I kind of shorthand “have a regular person” running for office.

I think we need “us” to be representing “us.” When I say “us” I mean regular people who are not wealthy, not well connected, who struggle financially, who know what it’s like to try to make it in the United States of America where if we ever did, we no longer have equality of opportunity on a lot of levels.

So I would say the 2016 election, my son, and all of the kids I’ve represented and families I’ve represented for the the last 20 years as an attorney for kids, for abused kids, and for parents in juvenile court. And watching how we’ve been investing in those kids and families less and less and less and less.

BFIA: How does being an attorney prepare you for being a U.S. Senator?

GRAHAM: Yeah, well I think it really uniquely prepares me because I’ve literally had the job of standing up and fighting for vulnerable people for 20 years now. That to me is really, in a nutshell, that should be the job of the U.S. Senator to listen, listen, and listen again. Find out what it is that either your clients or constituents need, whether you’re being a lawyer, whether your being a senator. What is it they need to live lives of health and dignity?

And then you go whether they are a farmer, whether they are a single mom living in Des Moines, whether they are a rural person living in Harlan, you know, whatever they are doing in this state, what do they need? What are their needs to live lives of health and dignity?

And then I see it as my job to go to Washington, D.C. and either draft legislation that doesn’t exist, or co-sponsor legislation, or advocate for those positions, whatever it takes to respond and to help the people that I am charged with representing. Just like I’ve been doing for the last 20 years as an attorney for mostly, not always, but mostly for people in poverty.

So I have a pretty good idea of how we are not doing a very good job taking care of people that either are in poverty or at the lower edge of the middle class in this country because I see it and I work with those people every day.

BFIA: Why does that experience best qualify you among the five Democrats running for the office?

GRAHAM: I’m best qualified because I still to this day, am still doing this work. In other words, I’m seeing in real time what is happening out there. Meaning what it is that people need to lead these lives of health and dignity.

I think also as someone who has owned a solo practice law firm for all of these years, I also understand how incredibly difficult it is to make it as a small business owner. We know that especially in our rural communities here in Iowa, but also in our cities, too, there are a lot of small businesses that are providing a living for people, but just barely.

If we had things that other developed nations have and have had for many years, like universal child care, like paid parental leave, like universal health care.Just those things alone would transform what it is like to own a small business in this country.

It would really promote and support entrepreneurship in this country to an incredibly high level because we would actually be able to own a small business without, you know, half of our income maybe in some cases, even more than half, going out the door for say our medical insurance right off the top which makes it very difficult to be profitable or to be profitable and not to make it.

I also believe that because I spent three years studying the United States Constitution and I know what it says, and I know how to read laws, and read bills, and read and write legislation that that’s really important because the thing, the devil is in the details, it is. It’s really important that somebody who is going to be our U.S. Senator have the ability to read a law, to read a proposed bill and really hold it up to the light and turn it around and look at it this way and that way and from every angle and have an ability to understand what certain things in that bill may mean when you put that bill into action, when the bill is actually implemented.

I should add, too, that I really, really believe that it’s incredibly beneficial for us to have, for everyone to have, like some kind of voice in our representation. For everyone to have some kind of a voice and what I believe has happened over the last forty years or so is that those who really have a substantial voice at this point are the very wealthy and well-connected and/or corporations. And I mean large, huge corporations.

I’m not talking about a little incorporated business in some small town. I’m talking about these mega multinational corporations and there are I believe more lobbyists by far than there are representatives in congress at this point.

So my argument is, my assertion is, that business is more than represented, in fact, I would say they are over-represented. What we do not have, in enough of a critical mass, what we don’t have a large enough number of, are people in congress who come from a public service background like I do. People that have a demonstrated history of trying to help people, as clichéd and eye-rolling as that may sound to some people. I’m doing the kind of law I do for the most part the kind of law that I’ve done in my career because I want to help people to have better lives.

I want to really be clear. It is not that businesses and corporations are the enemy. We need corporations. We need jobs. We need big business. We need small business. We need medium business. We need social workers. We need teachers. We need nurses. We need all of us. I believe the problem has become that only those multinational corporations for the most part are really being represented in congress. That’s not okay.

Senator Tom Harkin started his career at Iowa legal aid, and so did I. I really believe that most people had quite a lot of respect for Tom Harkin. Tom Harkin, it appears clear to me anyway, became a congressman and then a United States Senator because he wanted to help people. He stood up for unions. He stood up for human rights the world over. He stood up for children. He stood up for people with disabilities. That’s important. That is the kind of U.S. Senator that I intend to be.

BFIA: Let’s talk about Joni Ernst. Why is this senate seat flippable this cycle?

GRAHAM: To me there are several indications that it is flippable. The first one and probably the most obvious is that her polling numbers continue to drop like a stone. I mean, they just continue to drop, drop, drop, pretty much every time there is a new poll she is less popular.

Number two is if we look at the presidential election, the caucuses here in Iowa, what we see, at least among the Democrats is that the ideas of Senator Warren and Senator Sanders, if you add their polling numbers together for the last year and a half in Iowa, that is the majority, at least of Democrats. I can’t speak to the majority of all Iowans; although it is now, I believe the most recent polling indicates the majority of all Iowans believe we should have some kind of universal health care and that pharmaceuticals like insulin, people shouldn’t be allowed to charge what they are charging for insulin and those kinds of ideas. To me, there seems to be a clear shift that people are very tired of politics as usual and I believe that that’s part of how Senator Ernst got elected. Because people were getting tired of politics as usual and what was her campaign slogan?

BFIA: She was going to make ‘em squeal.

GRAHAM: Correct. To me that slogan says, “I’m going to go root out that corruption. It is not going to be politics as usual. I’m going to get in there, and I’m going to be different, and I’m not going to kowtow to powerful special interests.” That’s what that said. I believe that’s why she won by a pretty hefty margin. There’s other reasons I think she won but that’s the main one.

I also believe that’s the main reason President Trump won Iowa is because people are sick and tired, regular working people who are working all these jobs, don’t have health insurance, are barely getting by and hanging on by their fingernails if they happen to be at least nominally middle class, they are still hanging on by their fingernails in a lot of cases because of the high cost of medical stuff, and college, and day care, and all the other stuff. They are tired of it. We’re tired of it. We’re tired of working so, so hard.

We are some of the hardest working people on the planet. Americans are very productive. We work hard but we are not seeing the rewards of that. We are falling further and further behind financially. More of us are hurting financially. We may have jobs, but yeah, we have two jobs because we can’t make it on one. There’s all the gig economy. We have fewer and fewer unions, fewer and fewer union jobs that come with benefits and come with a pension and all of that.

Over these past forty years we’ve just seen this erosion of opportunity and people are sick of it. I think that that is what left us unfortunately vulnerable to a really, really skilled and good con man.

I don’t really blame the person who got conned if they got conned by a skilled con man. I blame the con man. What did he say? He went all around Iowa, including the Keokuk area. He stood on the floor of the, I think it was, the Siemens factory and said “This factory is not leaving here. These jobs are not leaving here. I will keep these jobs in America.” Those jobs are gone, they are gone now. He went around and promised people and sold people a bill of goods. People wanted to hear that because they don’t want their jobs leaving already economically depressed areas. Here’s this guy that they see as a successful businessman. You know, oh, Trump he’s a multi-millionaire… He has this persona that he’s such a great businessman and I think a lot of people mistakenly thought and believes he was going to come in here and was also going to make ‘em squeal.

(Editor’s note: The interview covered additional topics, including Graham’s approach to the climate crisis. For more information about her views on issues, click here).

Categories
Garden

Spring is Here

Greenhouse with first trays from the farm.

I planted the packets of Garlic Chive seeds near the front steps. I don’t know if they will grow, but I cleaned the space and thought it might work. If they do grow they will be used in the kitchen.

Garlic Chives, Ferry-Morse, 120 days.
Allium tuberosum, Burpee Seeds, 80-90 days.

I’m satisfied the portable greenhouse will meet my needs. There are some things to which I must adapt, such as internal temperature regulation and changing moisture levels. From working at the farm for eight years I’m familiar with those issues and don’t expect to have many failures. A strong wind could budge it from the buckets of sand that hold it down. For now, it’s holding its own.

The nursery emailed my two new apple trees are scheduled to arrive on Friday. I submitted a ticket for the One Call folks to mark the utilities. I was here when each utility line was laid so I already know where they are and have planned my planting accordingly.

A burn pile is started on the plot where I’ll plant kale. The kale seedlings are back from the farm and they will be ready to plant after a couple weeks in my greenhouse. Last year I planted 21 plants. This year it will be a smaller number divisible by three varieties, maybe 15 or 18. Unused seedlings will be save for extra, given to neighbors and the leaves cut for a traditional post-planting kale salad.

Cut seed potatoes rest in a tray in the garage. Oral history says let them season to the air for at least four days before planting. I have Kennebec and some variety of red potato. They are planned for the containers this year. I have to remember to give them plenty of water as last time the tubers were in dry soil when I dug them — smaller than expected.

There will be two production plots in the garden. By that I mean a variety of crops will go in them. The big crops are kale, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, cucumbers and broccoli. Each of them will have significant space of their own. Everything else must be in rows of as many plants needed for the kitchen.

The tomato space will be smaller by a third this year. Enough grew last year to keep us in canned tomatoes for another year. I don’t need as many so they will mostly be for eating fresh.

With warmer ambient temperatures I’m spending a little time outside each day. I’m beginning to have a vision of what the garden might be.

Categories
Garden

Pandemic Gardening

Working at home during the pandemic.

After the first cases of COVID-19 were reported by the State Hygienic Lab on March 8 it took a while to understand the scope of the coronavirus.

The next day, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation of disaster emergency. Two days after that the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic.

The president set a 15-day federal stay at home order which has since been extended until the end of April. Tens of thousands of Americans could die from the virus. We’re all hoping the number is much less.

In Iowa six people died of COVID-19 as of this morning’s update on the Iowa coronavirus website. 183 people have confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our county and the six adjacent ones, or 43 percent of the Iowa total. While we don’t know precisely how the virus spread, it seems obvious reliance on a small number of employers (Collins Aerospace, University of Iowa, multiple food processors) resulted in local commutes that enabled it. During a press conference yesterday the governor noted, “the end is not in sight.”

Jacque hasn’t left the house since March 8, so I am the one with the most risk of contacting the virus. I studied how it is transmitted and have been careful to maintain social distancing and keep clean hands. When I’m out in public I avoid touching my face. Whenever I interacted with people I first ensured they made adequate precautions, then cleaned up when I arrived home.

At the home, farm and auto supply store the company cleans the store multiple times a day, although they don’t go to the extent the grocery store does in wiping down the conveyor belt at the cashier after each customer. According to an article in this morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette, retail workers are most at risk because a. we are open for business, and b. a quarter of retail workers are age 55 and older and at more risk of contracting COVID-19.

Shopping trips? I don’t like shopping anyway so trips have been limited to the wholesale club, the grocery store, the gas station and to picking up soil mix to start and transplant seedlings at home. Because the cars are mostly parked we don’t use much gasoline. Each business I visited had a regimen to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

Outside I hear the laughter of children. I keep my distance. Occupied with writing, gardening and home life, the isolation from others is welcome even if the cause of it is not. I believe society will survive the pandemic. I also believe we will be changed by it. At least for a while, until we forget, and go on living as we have been for multiple millennia.

Categories
Garden Home Life

Planting During Green Up

Storm Brewing

Green up is all around and it’s time to get tomatoes and peppers planted.

Sunday, in a long session, I planted tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplant — hopefully enough seedlings for our garden with leftovers to share with neighbors. I planted from seed:

Bell peppers:
Pepper Quadrato D Asti Rosso, Ferry-Morse, 95-110 days.
Garden Leader Monster Bell, Ferry-Morse, 75 days.

Hot Peppers
El Eden (Guajillo), Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 65 days green, 85 days red.
Baron (Ancho), Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 65 days green, 85 days red.
Red Rocket, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 55 days green, 75 days red.
Pastilla Bajo, Ferry-Morse, 80-90 days.
Serrano Chili, Ferry-Morse, 73 days.
Bangkok, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 75 days green, 95 days red.
Long Thin Cayenne, Ferry-Morse, 72 days.
Jalapeno Mild, Ferry-Morse, 72 days.

Slicers and Plums
German Pink, Seed Savers Exchange, 85 days.
Martha Washington, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 78 days.
Black Krim, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 80 days.
Amish Paste, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 85 days.
Speckled Roman, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 85 days.
Granadero, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 75 days.
Brandywine, Seed Savers Exchange, 80 days.
Abe Lincoln, Ferry-Morse, 70-77 days.
Big Rainbow, Ferry-Morse, 80-102 days.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Ferry-Morse, 80-95 days.
Box Car Willie, Ferry-Morse, 80 days.
Pruden’s Purple, Ferry-Morse, 67-85 days.
Big Red, Ferry-Morse, 85 days.
Mortgage Lifter, Ferry-Morse, 83-90 days.

Cherries
Jelly Bean, Ferry-Morse, 70 days.
White Cherry, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 59 days.
Red Pearl, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 58 days.
Matt’s Wild Cherry, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Jasper, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Citrine, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Taxi, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 64 days.

Eggplant
Galine, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 65 days.
Early Long Purple, Ferry-Morse, 75 days.
Black Beauty, Ferry-Morse, 85 days.

Tomatillo
Tomatillo Purple, Ferry-Morse, 75/85 days.

We had a wind storm last weekend and it shook the portable greenhouse so much the two trays on the top shelves fell to the ground. I was able to salvage much of what fell down. The three varieties of leeks will be difficult to distinguish when I plant them, because they went all over the place. Note to self: bring the trays inside during windstorms.

Categories
Cooking Home Life Local Food

Nostalgic Breakfast Tacos

Fresh Cilantro Tacos

There is a 25 percent chance of rain beginning at 9 a.m., according to the weather application. I pulled the cars out of the garage so that space can be used for other projects if the forecast proves to be true. Despite the coronavirus epidemic the waste hauler is working today so I put the trash and recycling bins at the end of the driveway.

I made a taco for breakfast this morning and one of my go-to recipes is easy.

Nostalgic Breakfast Taco

When Mother began cooking tacos at home it was revolutionary. We hadn’t had that at home until the 1960s. The change was partly due to the rise of mass-produced, Mexican-style options at the grocery store. It was also a result of her work at the grade school cafeteria where they made dishes different from what we grew up with. Cafeteria work broadened our home food repertory. While we don’t eat beef in our home now, commercial soybean crumbles create a texture and flavor that reminds me of those early days when she made tacos for the first times. Here’s how it went this morning.

Two frying pans go on high heat. In one cook a pre-made organic flour tortilla. In the other heat a scant tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

Dice half a medium-sized onion and part of a frozen bell pepper. They go into the hot oil. You’ll hear the sizzle. Stirring constantly, season with salt, dried cilantro and powdered chilies. Cook until the onions and peppers are soft. Stir in a clove or two of minced garlic and cook until a garlic aroma rises from the pan. Stir for a minute or so and add one half cup of commercial frozen soybean crumbles. Stir until thawed and set aside.

Place the cooked tortilla on a dinner plate and garnish from the bottom up: a layer of Mexican cheese to taste, pickled sliced jalapeno peppers, salsa or hot sauce to taste. Put the fry up on top of the garnishes and serve with a beverage of choice.

I look forward to when garden cilantro and tomatoes are available. Tacos are a way to explore your palate and discover who you are. For me it’s a chance to remember standing around the kitchen in that American foursquare home with family while reflecting on how our lives have changed. Even on a rainy day that is positive experience.

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

Coping in a Pandemic

Onion Starts

We each need something to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The linked video by Dr. David Price of Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York helped me and it might help you. Click here to view the 57 minute video.

It is a recording of a video conference call in which Dr. Price explains what is COVID-19 and how to protect ourselves while living as reasonable a life as may be possible as we keep our distance from each other. It relieved stress about living away from friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. It explained how we should interact with a small group of family members who live with us. It is presented in a way that is persuasive and practical. Unlike so much of the hyperbole, misstatements, and falsehoods I read and hear elsewhere, Dr. Price is believable when we need that as much as isolation from the virus.

I yearn to get out of the house and trips to the garden and yard are not satisfying enough. Armed with knowledge, I plan to go to work at the home, farm and auto supply store in a couple of hours. I’m not afraid any more. I’m not being foolish. I’ll be keeping my distance from co-workers and customers and washing my hands a lot, trying not to touch my face. Absent a general call to stay in place, either at the federal or state level, we must go on living as best we can.

Social distancing would be more tolerable if the ambient temperature would warm up by about ten degrees. Getting my hands in the soil and doing much needed yard work would take my mind off the coronavirus and self-imposed isolation.

As a writer, I’m used to working in isolation. It gives me strength and an ability to distance myself from social media and unwanted contact with others. I find a chance to think clearly about my life with others and how it will be lived. There cannot be enough of this time.

As the number of cases of COVID-19 rises in the United States we don’t know how the infection will escalate. In New York, the number of cases is doubling about every three days. In Iowa, we have limited testing availability for the coronavirus, so what numbers we have don’t tell the whole story. The first person died of COVID-19 in Iowa yesterday. While tragic, I’m not sure what it means in the context of everything else going on.

My remedy was to view Dr. Price’s video, and use the information in it to go on living. We’re doing the best we can.

Categories
Garden Local Food

Onion Experiments

Onions planted in soil blocks.

Growing large storage onions has been challenging. I yearn to grow large onions and use them throughout the year.

Spring onions? No problem. Larger red, yellow or white, the kind we most use in the kitchen, have eluded me.

I’m determined this year will be different. Toward that end I’ve launched some experiments to see how I can do better.

Friday, Feb. 7, I planted Talon Yellow and Red Burgundy onions at home from seed. After six weeks the yellow germinated, the red did not. After chatting on line with another grower, they pointed out fresh onion seed is important. The Talon Yellow seeds were this year’s crop from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Red Burgundy were end of season discards at the home, farm and auto supply store. Lesson learned: get fresh onion seeds.

That same day I split my Matador shallot seeds with the farm. They are growing their half in the same environment as the rest of their onions, I started mine in a tray at home. Mine don’t look that healthy although they germinated. If the targeted planting time is mid-April, there is time for them to grow and hopefully survive transplant. I’m looking forward to comparing results.

I bought red, yellow and white onions starts from the home, farm and auto supply store. These are the same variety I bought every year since working there. I divided them roughly in half and planted some in soil blocks to give them a head start, and reserved the rest to plant in the ground as soon as it is tillable.

This year I ordered some onion plants from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They are to be shipped in a couple of weeks and then direct planted in the soil. The varieties are Ailsa Craig, Patterson and Redwing. While more expensive than seed at about 30 cents for each plant, I’m hoping to find something that works in trying it. I would much rather grow everything from seed yet I want other options as back up.

Finally, this morning, I planted six 3 x 3 containers with White Lisbon Bunching Onions from Ferry-Morse (60-110 days). I mixed both pelleted and non-pelleted seeds and broadcast them in the pots. If they germinate and grow, I’ll transplant the entire pots as groups of spring onions. It is a month behind where they should have been started, so we’ll see what happens.

The last part of my experiment is twofold. I am researching types of soil nutrients which support onion growth. My normal process is to hand till composted chicken manure into the soil before planting. If the several garden books in my library suggest another approach, I may try it as long as it is not a commercial, chemical fertilizer. This year I bought a small tiller which will break up the soil more thoroughly than handwork.

I am also planning a disciplined approach to watering and weeding the crop once it is in the ground. Because of our climate, I plan to mulch the crop to retain moisture in the soil. Weeding and regular watering has proven to be challenging, partly because weeding gets away from me and partly because my approach to watering is sparing. With a framework of “experimentation” perhaps I can do better.

I know growing storage onions is possible as I get them from the farms each year. With effort, maybe I can grow my own.