Between planning, planting and weeding a garden, and fall’s frosty end, lies a time to harvest, cook and preserve the results. So it is with our lives.
As humans we possess a unique ability to envision a future: one where we need supper and know we will need food later. We produce in abundance, fearing we won’t have enough. With modern food supply chains producing readily available foodstuffs in the United States this isn’t rational. In this sense, a gardener is an archetypal human living a life on urges, needs and wants we don’t fully understand.
The culture that produces a kitchen garden is complex, involving not just the gardener and soil, but seed producers, greenhouse operators, equipment manufacturers, chicken manure composters, potential future diners and others. A gardener is deeply engaged in human society. Much of our garden time seems solitary but isn’t. Animals wander nearby and we view the results when they eat garden plants and produce we’d hoped to harvest later. There is a daily drama of birds which are abundant in Big Grove. There is also a vast and little understood society of insects, some of which are annoying, a few deadly, and without others, the garden could not exist. A gardener embraces the complexity of life’s culture.
A gardener is not only a gardener nor does he or she seek to be. Each is just one iteration of humanity engaged in a broad society and we Americans are a peculiar bunch. We work hard, long hours whether it is at home or in a workplace and leave little time for enjoyment of the fruits of labor. Sometimes, like this weekend when I am between work at farms, we get time to ourselves to enjoy life lived how best we know. My story of Saturday is in four parts.
My day begins around 4 a.m. and if I’m lucky, I got six or seven hours of sleep. I slept well Friday into Saturday waking only briefly to put in a load of laundry around 2 a.m. The routine was basic. Do stretching exercises, make coffee, say hello to spouse, go downstairs, and turn on the desktop computer to see what’s going on in the world. That’s not to say I didn’t already know. I use my mobile device in bed before turning on the light. Usually something new has happened since retiring the night before.
I wrote a series of tweets to better understand my memory of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as it pertains to the false accusation it is a job killer. I recall local businessmen who said after the law went into effect they were in a position to add jobs but didn’t want to do so because they would have to provide health insurance per the ACA mandate. The assertion is the mandate killed these jobs and that idea got blown up into hyperbole of unprecedented proportions. Re-circulation of this idea is ongoing and rarely fact checked any more.
Businesses of a certain size should provide a health insurance benefit to employees or risk the possibility of being unable to recruit qualified staff. By defining the size at which to mandate health insurance, the law changed the business structure. In highly competitive local markets for landscapers, concrete workers, framers, heavy equipment operators and the like, employers faced a changed landscape. Operating on tight budgets, rather than embrace quality of life for employees they resisted change. The core problem lies in that the K-12 education system does a really poor job of preparing students to enter business. People carve out a niche, generate revenues and go out of business if they don’t properly manage risks or aren’t adequately capitalized. Small-scale operators I know are not educated in things we took for granted when I managed the profit and loss of a $12 million annual revenue transportation and logistics operation as part of a billion dollar corporation. The problem is not the ACA, or teachers. It is our education system doesn’t provide an adequate path for people to be successful owning and operating a business.
If there was no rain I water the garden shortly after sunrise. Without thinking it turned into weeding, then harvest and before I knew it the time was 11 a.m. The garden looks more like a weedy mess but inside there is abundance.
Before going outside I started soup to take for lunch at the home, farm and auto supply store, and mixed the brine for a batch of dill pickles.
I picked a box of kale for the library then went plot-to plot to collect what was ready. There were broccoli florets, leeks, onions and fairy tale eggplant in one. Jalapeno peppers, a bell pepper and cucumbers in the next. More broccoli and celery near the locust tree. Four kinds of tomatoes in the tomato patch. Basil is ready but I left it in the garden until I’m ready to make pesto.
Apples are sweet enough to eat out of hand, but not sweet enough to juice and ferment into apple cider vinegar. I picked the ripest for a batch of apple sauce. There are a lot of apples this year because of almost perfect pollination during spring. It should be a long apple season starting now.
I collected the harvest in a crate and placed it on the kitchen floor. There was another two hours of work cleaning the produce but that could wait.
I try not to leave our property on weekends unless for work. Ours remains a car culture and we don’t have disposable income for shopping if we thought we had it before. Saturday I went to HyVee to pick up canned goods, pantry staples, organic bananas and Morningstar Farms frozen products we use. Organic celery is permanently on the shopping list although we have a lot of celery ripening in the garden. I picked three heads that morning so bought none at HyVee.
On the eight mile trip to town I noticed two sweet corn stands on Highway One.
One is the farm where we get most of our sweet corn, Rebal’s Sweetcorn. Supply was uncertain from their Saturday post:
It was tough picking this morning; we had to really search for the corn in this patch… we’ve got corn today, but it’s not a full load, so if you want it, try to get out here early. And, because of having to search to find the better ears, we might just let this one go and wait for the next. We’ve got 4 blocks (patches) coming up that look beautiful!!! The question is when they’ll be on… we’re checking them every day, so I’ll keep posting
They had plenty as I passed Southbound.
Lindsey Boerjan runs a seasonal road-side stand further south and was featuring sweetcorn and melons. I wrote an article about women farmers in the Sept. 22, 2015 Iowa City Press Citizen:
Lindsey Boerjan is a fifth-generation farmer living on the family-owned century farm where she grew up. She moved back in 2011 and farms alongside her aunt, uncle, husband and daughter, who run a beef cow and calf operation. To supplement income from beef sales, Boerjan raises chickens and operates a small community-supported agriculture project.
The CSA didn’t make it, although the road-side stand likely does better. I decided to stick with Rebal’s on my return trip.
A musician played for free will donations outside the entrance to HyVee. He seemed too young and inexperienced to be playing Folsom Prison Blues, although he was very musical.
On arrival home I put away the groceries and started cleaning the morning harvest.
Leek stalks make a great vegetable broth base so I got out the large stainless steel pot. I added the leek leaves, broccoli stalks, a turnip — greens and root, kale and onion tops. I don’t usually salt vegetable broth and this time I didn’t add bay leaves. It cam out dark and flavorful — two and a half gallons.
Part of summer cooking is going through the ice box and making sure old stuff is used first. We have a broccoli abundance and need to do something soon with the gallon bags of florets. The freezer is almost full, so freezing more is not a good option.
I found some lettuce and decided to make a small salad and pizza for dinner. The salad is a work of art with two kinds of lettuce, kohlrabi, two kinds of tomatoes, cucumber, grated daikon radish, bell pepper, pickled jalapeno pepper, sugar snap peas and other items either from the farm or grown in our garden. Ironically I forgot to put some small broccoli florets on the salad.
I also made applesauce, salsa with tomato, garlic, jalapeno peppers and onion, and a cucumber salad of diced cucumbers dressed with home fermented apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper.
Our pizza process is to buy pizza blanks from the warehouse club and add toppings at home. Making our own pizza dough is no real work, but the convenience of a pre-made cheese pizza for $2.50 presents value. I added Kalamata olives and a diced red onion from the farm, then topped with Parmesan cheese. 15 minutes in a 425 degree oven plus a minute under the broiler and done.
Everything on my list didn’t get done Saturday. I’m processing the vegetable broth in a water bath this morning and figuring out how to pack a summer’s worth of yard projects into today’s glorious summer weather. That is, I wrote stuff on my white board. Once I move outside into humanity and culture, I will likely forget about the plans and do what comes naturally.