Germinating Leeks

Germinating Leeks

I felt very American on the way to the farm.

A flock of wild turkeys took flight from the field on the east side of our lane, and a bald eagle was picking at a deer carcass along 120th Street.

These emblematic birds inspire me every time I see them. It was a great start to a day of soil blocking.

I planted:

Rosemary: Ferry – Morse, 85 Days.

Cilantro: Ferry – Morse, 45-75 Days.

Genovese Basil: Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 68 Days.

It was an easy day in the germination shed as there were only 20 trays to block. 21 counting mine. The farmer spent time during the week playing catch up from a cold winter and the greenhouse is full. That feels great!

Summary: Kale, broccoli and leeks have germinated. Parsley and celery have not. I’m waiting a bit longer before turning soil in the garden.

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Climate Change, Roundabouts and Retail Stores

Rural Johnson County – 140th Street NE west of Ely Road on March 23, 2019.

During a tour of my usual spots to observe flooding it doesn’t look as bad as it has.

In 2008, the flood waters came to within 100 yards of our home before receding. We are nowhere near that now.

Yesterday afternoon Governor Kim Reynolds issued a press release saying the president had approved a major disaster declaration for 56 Iowa counties. Hazard mitigation funding became available for the entire state.

What’s going on?

“Are we just rolling snake eyes over and over or is there something happening here?” Erin Murphy of Lee Enterprises asked on Iowa Press this weekend.

“We have 147 years of temperature and precipitation records for the state,” Iowa State Climatologist Justin Glison responded. “The trend shows us warming and with the warmer atmosphere, a warmer surface temperature, we’re able to hold more water vapor in the atmosphere. That gives us a higher probability of having more precipitation events. What we are seeing over the past thirty years is that the intensity of precipitation events is increasing… Yes, we are moving into a new type of precipitation regime.”

No mention of the words “climate change” and that’s okay. Glison’s message is what I have been saying the last six years, and part of what Al Gore said the two times I heard him present his slide show. The current flooding is climate change happening in plain view. It is time to do something to mitigate not only the damage caused by climate change but the changing climate itself.

What should we do about climate change? Embrace the truth about what this scientist said. Then develop the political will to change human activities that contribute to global warming in a way that makes sense and creates a resilient culture.

The rest of my day seemed anticlimactic. While crossing the Cedar River bridge on Highway One I decided to visit the Ace Hardware Store in Mount Vernon to see if they had a replacement part for the faucet handle in the bathroom.

I entered the roundabout at the intersection of U.S. Highway 30 and Route One. It is a bit confusing but I was able to decipher the signs related to which lane was correct for my trip. I like the roundabout for intellectual reasons, although most locals hate it.

Before the roundabout was completed in October 2013, the intersection was one of the five most dangerous in the state, based on frequency of accidents. In the years since the new roundabout opened, the frequency of accidents remained higher than expected. The intersection is currently exhibiting a crash frequency of 16.8 crashes per year according to a 2018 study. The expectation was there would be from six to eight crashes per year. To make a 60 percent reduction in accident frequency, the study recommends better driver education and improved signage near the roundabout. In other words, Iowa drivers are not finding navigation of the roundabout intuitive and it shows.

I arrived in Mount Vernon and parked across the street from the small hardware store. The future of small city retail was on display as I walked through the entrance. As an employee of a home, farm and auto supply store my radar was up to take in the sales process.

Two cashiers greeted me as I entered and asked if they could help. They directed me to the plumbing aisles which were easy to find in the small space. I walked past a popcorn machine that offered fresh, hot popcorn to eat while shopping. Eating and retail seem inseparable in the 21st Century. I declined to sample a bag. I quickly found a selection of faucet handles.

Using my handheld device, I had taken a photo of the old handle with a ruler held up to it from two angles. I sought an exact match. Within a couple minutes, a sales associate walked up and asked if he could help me find something. I said yes as I wasn’t finding what I wanted. He confirmed the display represented what was on hand and led me to a dual-monitor computer where he researched alternatives. The idea was if we could find the part, the associate would order it on the spot. We looked through four examples, both the Ace and manufacturer brands and couldn’t match the size.

In my experience, expanding product offerings from a retail store’s physical inventory is essential to survival in small cities and towns. It harkens back to the early days of the Sears catalogue. While there were no mobile or home computers back in the day, modern retail at its best emulates the idea there is a broad array of available products that with time can be delivered just about anywhere. The difference between my experience at Ace Hardware and a large on line retailer like is the personal attention I received from everyone I encountered at the store. That service is what satisfies our human need for personal interaction, and is likely to make us a repeat customer. In doing so, local retailers can learn and work toward sustainability.

What do climate change, roundabouts and retail stores have in common? I’m not sure, but that was my day in society.

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Starting Spring

Buckets of sand and salt near the garage door.

It felt good to be outdoors on Friday. The sky was clear and temperatures warmed enough to shed my coat. Green-up has begun.

We filed our income taxes with the Iowa Department of Revenue and the Internal Revenue Service. Earlier in the week I paid the second half of our annual county property taxes.

This morning I plan to walkabout our subdivision, inspect roads, and address concerns about water and sewer leaks. With the hard winter and significant ambient temperature swings, there is damage. Whatever needs fixing requires a plan and a budget. As a board member and trustee of our home owners association and sanitary sewer district I share responsibility for both.

We’ve done our part to support government services. Now spring can begin.

Outdoor work was sweeping up enough sand from the road in front of the house to refill sand buckets used last winter. I haven’t purchased sand in about five years. Because of the hard winter there was plenty available. A 50-pound bag of solar salt filled empty salt buckets.

I found the fan to blow air across the damp garage floor. It took about two hours for moisture to evaporate. Baby steps to start spring 2019.

Governor Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for Howard County Friday afternoon. The number of counties under disaster proclamations is now 53 (of 99), according to the press release. Current estimates of damage exceed $1.6 billion according to this morning’s Iowa City Press Citizen, although counties reported they have yet to fully assess damage within their jurisdictions. Governor Reynolds proclaimed nothing about what government would do to help mitigate the deleterious effects of climate change going forward.

My farmer friend from the home, farm and auto supply store reported the ground needs drying before getting into his fields. While the weather quickly became spring-like, the usual issues for row-crop farmers remain. My specialty crop friends also found the ground too wet to work. They are planting in their hoop houses which are traditional season-extenders.

Spring began Wednesday and is just getting started. We’re ready.

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Juke Box – Jessica

Going into a long weekend of spring catching up. I’ll return to regular posts soon.

Here’s one of my fave recordings of Rickey Betts playing Jessica. I heard The Allman Brothers Band play the song at the University of Iowa Field House on Nov. 9, 1973, shortly after it was released. They won a Grammy for Jessica. Enjoy!

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Flooding in Late Winter

Cedar River on March 15, 2019

The amount of snow and ice melt in the Midwest is monumental.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued disaster proclamations for 41 counties because of flooding (Click on the map to see details).

News photographs show Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska, home of the U.S. Strategic Command, is one third underwater with at least 30 buildings damaged.

Where did all the water come from?

Warmer atmosphere held more water vapor which was dumped on Iowa and surrounding states in the form of snow and rain during recent polar vortex events. Wild swings in temperature, sometimes as much as 70 degrees in less than 24 hours, combined with rain quickly melted the snow. Because of deep frost in the soil, there was nowhere for the water to go but downstream. Iowa is used to spring flooding, but not like this.

Climate change created conditions for this flooding, both by enabling a warmer atmosphere to hold more moisture, and through warming in the arctic, which destabilized the trade winds and made the polar vortex. It has been depressing to live through this winter. The damage we see on our small lot in rural Iowa is minuscule compared to the bigger picture.

Last week, Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project trained another 2,000 leaders in mitigating the effects of climate change. News media cover climate change now more than in recent years because viewers and readers experience its effects every day. Climate change is real, it is happening now and we hope it’s not too late to find the political will to do something about it.

The state is watching how our governor and other politicians react to this iteration of flooding.

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Political Bandwidth

Cup of Coffee with State Representative Bobby Kaufmann, Stanwood, Iowa, March 16, 2019

The 2020 general election will be challenging for a lot of reasons, not the least of which for me is deciding whether policy or politics is the most important part of it.

Politics is the art of what’s possible. I’m over the naive notion that policy matters more than politics, although the art of what’s possible has produced some problems.

Perhaps the best recent example of politics over policy was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which passed with only Democratic votes and has been fought tooth and nail by its opposition ever since. Voters want better health care, but the ACA was challenged from the beginning. It didn’t deliver better health care. The insurance premiums were expensive. The co-pays were high. The only talking point that persists is that more people who did not have access to health care were covered. Despite continuing feel-good stories about the ACA, its solutions were not so good. It was what was possible.

A policy-only approach to the 2020 general election is equally problematic. I believe it is mostly because of the decline in K-12 education, the rise in private and home schooling, and the dominance of FOX News and right-wing radio among people who continue to be radio listeners or view television broadcasts and cable. The electorate has been dumbed down and will swallow almost anything people hear repeated often enough. Making policy for a gullible electorate results in crap for legislation. When the court system finds such legislation deficient, as in the recent “fetal heartbeat” law in Iowa which was declared unconstitutional, the reaction from a dumbed down electorate is “impeach the judges.” Ill-informed notions of how government works are de rigueur and infrequently challenged.

Policy wonks talk among themselves in a bubble of their own making but their policy products are not often well received. What will stand the light of an open society? Getting out in it.

It is easier to think and talk about politics than to get out of a house or apartment and actually do something in political society. Once a person escapes the fencing of confirmation bias and faces actual people with differing views, a couple of things become immediately apparent. The biggest is a person no longer has internal debate, mistaking it for action.

We are on our best behavior in a gathering of diverse people — less likely to assert extreme positions. It is a moderating effect of social interaction. It is easy to generate excitement among a small group of friends with common interests. What is hard is persuading people much different from us our ideas have merit.

There is a tedium to working through issues with others which can take the fun out of problem-solving. In modern society we want our gratification and conclusions right away. Execution of them becomes a neglected afterthought. Working through issues together requires a commitment to process that isn’t part of ad hoc meetings in public. We are a society with decreasing respect for such group decisions. More characteristic of how it works is some of us would rather drop our policy bomb at a gathering — like a terrorist with no serious intent of further discussion or resolution — and having disrupted normal discourse, escape to our compound. It gets old, fast.

The radio spectrum is a good example of our politics. On the A.M. band there is one type of programming, on the F.M. another. There is satellite radio that bypasses the spectrum. All of them play a role. I currently have only four stations programmed on my car radio where I do most of my listening.

During my transportation career I traveled a lot. When with my boss in Pennsylvania, Georgia, or other godforsaken places, he would turn on the radio in the rental car, find Rush Limbaugh, and want to have a conversation with me about it. I refused to participate meaningfully. I viewed political talk in the workplace as unnecessary and unwanted when there was so much else to discuss regarding our business. He would hammer me about Robert Bork’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court which had occurred more than a decade earlier. I failed to mention I was a supporter of and had caucused for Ted Kennedy during the 1980 Iowa caucuses. Maybe it would have been better to rip the bandage off and get it all out there. Maybe I’d have lost my job, but maybe not.

On Saturday, a farmer friend and I met at her farm and drove over to Stanwood for a meeting with our state representative, Bobby Kaufmann. The obscure town along U.S. Highway 30 is home to some scrappy people: doomsday preppers, FOX News listeners, and citizens with tough personal stories. We were welcomed by a group of about 27, and are getting to know some of the regulars who attend these meetings. It was one of the best political meet ups I attended.

What made it good is after four elections, Kaufmann rose within the Republican Party which has a majority in the House of Representatives. Because of his leadership position, he knows what is going on with issues that are in the news. A person wants that in a politician. While Kaufmann and I don’t often agree, we find common ground. My questions were few and centered around issues that matter to me: water quality, state revolving loans for public utilities, IPERS, and that’s it. He’s a skilled legislator who can focus both on policy and the art of what’s possible. He paid for coffee and cinnamon rolls for anyone who wanted them.

The easy statement to make is we should balance our politics and policy. I’m not sure about that. A better approach is to recognize there is political bandwidth and tune in. We find opportunities to move the needle of policy a good distance through discussion with diverse groups of people. When that’s not possible, talk about what is. I believe that can be how bold change in society takes place.

It’s part of sustaining a life in a turbulent world.

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Seeders Galore

Kale one week after planting.

I was first to break the snow on 120th Street while driving east to the farm for a soil blocking shift. There were a lot of people in the germination shed participating in a complex bartering situation. I’m not sure any money would ever change hands.

I planted:


Extra Triple Curled, Ferry – Morse, 75 days.


Blue Wind, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 49 days.

The kale uniformly germinated since last week. I should have plenty of starts to cull, plant, and give away. No apparent action on the leeks and celery. They take longer to germinate.

I got out into the garden briefly this week. There is the usual spring week to do. The ground remains hard, even with the recent rain. Planting is a while away. Lettuce seeds are ready to go in.

Summary: Recent rain melted most of the old snow but it ran off because the ground is still frozen. New snow fell last night. We’re running behind and so is everyone. I was asked what’s new in my garden this year. I have guajillo chilies and tomatillos planned. A Mexican food sub plot. Tacos and more tacos.

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