Kitchen Garden

Gleaning in Mid-October

Five gallon bucket of mostly peppers: Guajillo, jalapeno, Serrano and sweet bell.

Some parts of Iowa had a frost warning last night but not here in Big Grove. At 3 a.m. ambient temperatures were in the 60s and all was well with the gardening world.

That is, except for little green worms devouring kale and collards as they do at the end of season.

Kale plant with little green worms.

Despite the kale infestation there was plenty of chard for the kitchen as I gleaned the garden Friday morning. The season is bound to be over soon, even if exceptionally warm temperatures due to climate change extended it.

Chard, Guajillo chilies, eggplant, bell peppers and tomatillos drying on the counter.

There were a few tomatoes, mostly small versions of Granadero which produced well this season. The tomato patch is ready to be deconstructed, the fencing rolled up and stored for winter. The question is when I’ll feel like doing it.

Jalapeno and Serrano peppers drying, along with other garden items on the counter.

Partly because of the long season there are many peppers: Guajillo, jalapeno and Ace bell peppers grew better this year than ever. I’ll prepare Guajillo chilies with garlic and apple cider vinegar as a condiment for storage in the refrigerator. The jalapenos are a bit of a surprise as they didn’t produce much earlier in the season. They are big ones, so that increases the possibilities for cooking. My jalapeno needs have already been filled so I’ll have to get creative.

At the end of Friday I picked some basil for pizza making. Basil went into the sauce and whole leaves on top in a pseudo-Midwestern version of pizza Margherita. Fresh mozzarella would have been better, but we make do with what we have. If I try this again, I will wait to apply the basil topping until about a minute before cooking is finished. The pizza was eminently edible. This from a man who at a younger age would eat leftover pizza from a box left overnight in the living room.

Midwestern-style Pizza Margherita.

There is at least one more pass through the garden to get Brussels sprouts and maybe some more chard. The herbs under row cover could use another picking. There are plenty of pepper flowers but it seems unlikely they will make it to fruit. It’s been a good garden season and even the gleaning was bountiful. As fall turns to winter, I’m ready.

Kitchen Garden

Fall is in the Air

Ash and Maple trees starting to turn, Oct. 7, 2021.

It may be a while before the first hard frost. Peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and greens continue to grow in the garden. I want one more picking of Red Delicious apples before letting the rest go to wildlife. Fall is in the air and hopefully rain will come with it. It remains exceedingly dry.

Wednesday I mulched the garlic patch so planting this year for next is finished. I won’t start onions and shallots until late December in channel trays under a grow lamp. As I look to 2022, this year has been a great one for our garden.

For now, accept it that fall is coming and with it a an eventual end of the growing season. We live on the edge between abundance and scarcity. Hopefully we’ll have enough food between the pantry and commercial shopping to last until spring. One never knows in a time of climate change.

Kitchen Garden

Garlic Planting – 2021

Tilled plot for garlic, Oct. 3, 2021.

A fine mist of rain began just as I finished tilling the garlic patch. It felt good as I cleaned the electric rototiller tines. I’m not sure I found all the Bur Oak acorns squirrels buried in the plot. We’ll see this spring.

Garlic is in the ground the longest time of anything I plant. Three months the first year and the six or seven more next. It doesn’t take a lot of effort yet there is a specific skill set to getting good results. I learned from one of Iowa’s experts.

I set aside the best garlic heads from the last crop for seed. Last year I planted about 75 cloves and this year about 100. As I broke open the heads and separated the cloves, some had a bad spot. Those were set aside to be trimmed and used in cooking. A gardener wants seed garlic to be free of defects if that’s possible.

A lot of the seconds of garlic will go into a batch of Guajillo chili sauce using fresh chili pods. I also have dried Guajillo chili pods that need to be used up and I’ll use that to make taco filling with kale. The garlic will all get used.

There is a lot going on in the kitchen garden in October. Every minute presents an opportunity to get something done.

Kitchen Garden

Fall Garden Planning — 2021

Gleaning the fall garden.

Ambient temperatures are forecast to reach the high sixties today. It’s time to plan fall gardening and get to work.

The biggest task ahead is garlic planting. I cleared the plot where I had onions this year. The next work is to spade the soil, fertilize and till it. What’s left of the garlic harvest remains in the rack. It requires trimming, cleaning and sorting. I need about 100 of the best cloves for seeds and the rest will go into storage. It was a good crop and I hope next year will be better.

Because there were so many tomato plants the vines are still producing. They are not the best tomatoes yet fresh ones add value in the kitchen. Once frost comes, I will tear down the bed, stack and repair cages, and save the landscaping fabric and fencing for another year’s use.

I made the first pick of Brussels sprouts this week and they will produce into October. The plot where they are is the most diverse and will require gleaning it until frost kills everything. There will likely be tomatillos, peppers, cherry tomatoes and more sprouts. It will be the last plot to be torn down.

The main fall crop is apples. I went through the apple butter in the pantry and there is plenty to last two years and more. The same is true for apple sauce so the question is what to do with the abundance. I offered some of it to a neighbor who is coming next weekend to pick with their family. I plan to take the best fruit, make some baked goods and juice for apple cider vinegar and fresh cider. I also need to prune dead branches while leaves are still on the trees (so I can see what’s what). I don’t know what to do, if anything, about the scar on the Red Delicious tree where the derecho took a couple of big limbs. I’m resigned to eventually losing it. There is a lot of apple work ahead in the garden.

My greens plot was a success this year. We had plenty for the kitchen and the kale and collards will continue to produce into October. Some years kale makes it through November and last year it over wintered. There is landscaping fabric to recycle there along with fencing. Every plot needs work to prepare for winter.

As I organize and reflect on what happened, the overarching feeling is “where did the time go?” I’m thinking about my fall seed order already. Once the pension checks arrive this month I’ll reduce thoughts to an order and place it.

It’s been a great gardening year in a cycle that never ends.

Kitchen Garden

Apple Time in Iowa

Jonafree apples at Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, Sept. 17, 2021.

Large commercial farms in Iowa don’t grow apples the way they did. Iowa is mostly a corn, soybeans, oats and hay state when it comes to field crops. People don’t often grow apple trees at home either. Apples remain the most significant Iowa fruit crop and there are plenty around if you know where to look.

My backyard apple orchard has five trees. This year two varieties produced, Red Delicious and Earliblaze. Besides eating them fresh, I made apple cider vinegar and applesauce from Earliblaze, which were ready first and are done. I just started the Red Delicious harvest and made apple butter, and apple sauce from them so far. Preserving apples will get us through next year when the harvest is expected to be light. This year we have all the apple nutrition we can use with our own apples. Food in a kitchen garden is about more than nutrition.

To get more variety I went to a local orchard where trees are loaded with fall crop apples. Many varieties are ripe and ready to pick now. It was easy picking as the crowds had not hit them the way they will once autumn arrives Sept. 22.

“The full docket for apples this week includes Crimson Crisp, Jonathon, McIntosh, Cortland, Jonafree, Golden Supreme, Honey Gold, Honeycrisp, Song of September, Blondee, Burgundy, Bonner, Sansa, Cortland, Gala, and Ginger Gold,” according to the weekly marketing email from Wilson’s Orchard and Farm. In addition to apples, the farm began growing pumpkins and flowers which add to the scenic experience. In addition to picking apples I got in my daily exercise walking up and down the hills.

My goal was to come home with six or eight Crimson Crisp apples plus a few other varieties. (I planted a Crimson Crisp apple tree in the back yard and it hasn’t begun to fruit). I came home with a bag full of half a dozen varieties, plus some Honeycrisp for home storage. The flavors are distinctive in each, worth savoring.

People do it all the time yet I don’t know how they eat apples produced in other states and trucked into local grocery stores. Nutritionally they may meet requirements, but OMG! With all the locally grown apples and their diverse, often marvelous qualities why would you? As we eat through the ones I brought home we share and discuss each one. It is an experience of Iowa’s apple season and part of our local culture. At least it can be.

Apple time signals the beginning of autumn and the end of the growing season. It will be a rush to get everything done before snow flies. The main work of food production moves from the vegetable garden to the kitchen as bushels of apples become available. Apple time in Iowa connects us to the cycles of the season. Although the seasons have changed due to planetary warming and the greenhouse effect, we enjoy what persists during apple time.

Kitchen Garden

My Cookbook

My handwritten cookbook.

During one of our vacations in Stratford, Ontario I bought this bound blank book for reasons then unknown. Eventually, beginning in 2000, I wrote down recipes in it and today the pages are more than half filled.

They are the kind of recipes that are more than improvisational knife and spoon work with me standing in the kitchen, checking the refrigerator and pantry, and whipping up a couple of things for supper.

I return to the cookbook regularly.

First pick of the Red Delicious apples, Sept. 12, 2021.

It is apple time in Iowa and someone asked for apple butter. The first pick of Red Delicious apples will go toward that. I have older jars stored on the shelf but when I gift apple butter, I want it to be this year’s batch.

In 2010 I entered my recipe for apple butter in the cookbook. Back then I made something out of every apple harvested. It was a lot of apple butter, apple sauce and dried apples. There are still a couple old jars hanging around. (They need to be pitched).

Today I give away apples I won’t use. One year I gave 350 pounds to a community supported agriculture project for their members. Another I donated to the food bank. I also offer them to neighbors if interested. The idea is to bring enough into the house to make sure the apple products will last for two years until the next big harvest is expected. I’m done with overshooting that goal, except for apple cider vinegar which keeps a long time.

I have hundreds of printed cookbooks and likely a recipe for every growing, crawling, running, flying, slithering, and swimming thing in the ecosphere. I keep my faves nearby: Rick Bayless, Mario Batali, Julia Child, Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. I always return to the red-covered bound book I wrote myself for the good things in our life.

Happy cooking!

Kitchen Garden

Retro Post: Pepper Flakes

Serrano Peppers

First published on Nov. 7, 2010 on my blog Big Grove Garden.

Pepper Flakes

There is a natural urge to use everything. It gets suppressed by the modern American culture of throwing things away. In our house we often don’t have trash to take to the curb each week, but almost always have recycling to go out. American frugality has been in remission, but expect a comeback.

While working in transportation, I received a gift of some dried peppers in small plastic bags. Two bags have been sitting in the pantry for a while. In addition, I grew a long, thin and red pepper in the garden a few seasons ago. Some of these were dried and stored. In the box store yesterday, in the Mexican food section there were four feet of dried peppers in many different kinds. They were cheap and I bought two bags of the most abundant types. When I got home, I combined all of them and ground about half into pepper flakes. The one jar this produced will last a very long time. When I grind the second batch, it will go into small jars for gifts.

The challenge of American society will be to balance abundance with frugality. Waste not, want not is how it goes. I am afraid that we have not been understanding what we have been wasting, and it’s time we did.

Kitchen Garden

Pepper Time

Variety of garden peppers.

As we turn toward autumn tomatoes are finishing and peppers are coming on strong. I put up a lot of tomato product and am well-prepared to make it until next August. There is always a question of what to do with peppers. This year there are some new ideas.

Pickled jalapenos and hot sauce are traditional. I’ll also grind up what remains of hot peppers and mix it with salt and apple cider vinegar to use in lieu of fresh peppers in cooking. This worked last year so a repeat is in order.

Hot sauce and pickled jalapeno peppers.

I am backlogged with dehydrated hot peppers so no more this year. The main use is to grind for red pepper flakes. I have plenty on hand. I will re-hydrate the old ones next spring and use them to deter pests in the garden.

I grew Guajillo chili plants. The yield wasn’t what I hoped but will roast what there is, skin and coarsely chop them, and mix with apple cider vinegar, salt and garlic to use in Mexican-style cooking. I buy a commercially prepared version of this, so the idea has been in the works for a while.

Bell peppers will be cleaned, sliced in half and frozen in zip top bags. I don’t need many of these as there are some remaining from last year. The main use for bell peppers is for an afternoon snack. At two per day I could make it well into September with fresh ones for out of hand eating and cooking.

Arrival of pepper time also means the end of the garden is near. It’s hard to believe we’re already at that point in the growing cycle.

Kitchen Garden

Apple Cider Vinegar Time

Setup for juicing apples for apple cider vinegar.

Turning two five-gallon buckets of EarliBlaze apples into juice for apple cider vinegar took about three hours including set up and clean up. Three half gallon mason jars are fermenting in the pantry, and a quart and a half of juice is in the ice box. I drank some of the juice with tacos for supper. It was a good day.

There was already plenty of cider vinegar in the pantry: seven liter bottles, two half gallon mason jars and a couple of smaller bottles in the cupboard near the stove. The goal is to make some vinegar with every apple crop because some years there is no crop. It has not been a problem because vinegar keeps and apples are abundant.

Apple Cider Vinegar

I’ve been making apple cider vinegar since a neighbor gave me some of the mother passed down through his family since at least the 19th Century. I call it “ultra local” because the apples were grown a few steps from the kitchen.

I spent a couple of hours on Wednesday delivering a “Drinking Water Health Advisory” to every home on our public water system. My shirt soaked through with sweat as I walked the two miles of roads. It was good exercise even though I didn’t enjoy some of the steeper hills.

About a dozen people were out in their yards, providing an opportunity to connect. While the news I delivered wasn’t the best, all but one of them had heard of the problem I posted via Facebook and email. Most were in good spirits and appreciated knowing what was going on regarding the water system. I met via conference call with our engineer and water system operator in the morning and laid out a simple plan to address the problem. Here’s hoping for a speedy resolution.

With Tuesday’s announcement that Christina Bohannan is running for congress in Iowa’s second congressional district, I’ve been reflecting on the congressional campaigns in which I’ve been involved. I began to get active when we lived in Indiana, helping Pete Visclosky get re-elected to a third term. He retired in January this year.

Rep. Jim Leach represented the area where I grew up from 1977 to 2003. He moved to Iowa City after redistricting for the 2002 election and was elected there twice. While he was Republican, the district wasn’t as partisan as it is now. When we lived in Indiana I saw Leach hold hearings on Whitewater in the House Banking Committee, which he chaired. After that I realized it was time for him to go. When he became my congressman in 2003, I began working toward that end. In 2006 we elected Dave Loebsack to the Congress where he served until this year.

The 2020 election was a disappointment because the congressional vote was evenly split. Democrat Rita Hart contested the results, but nothing came of it. Mariannette Miller-Meeks was sworn in to the 117th Congress. We are at the beginning of another campaign.

It is time to pass the baton to the next generation in congressional politics. With the isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, I did very little volunteer work in politics during the last cycle. Rita Hart made it to our precinct only during the last days before the election, with little enthusiasm for her candidacy. With the resurgence of the pandemic, I see that approach continuing. Besides, it is time to let younger, more engaged people manage campaigns. In the end I’d rather spend time politicking with my neighbors than get involved in the massive energy and expense of a district campaign.

Maybe it was the scent of the apples that evoked this political remembrance. That tasty sweetness which over time will be converted to vinegar. As I age, astringent flavor is more interesting than sweet. I crave it. I make it. I look forward to using the new batch of apple cider vinegar. I both know where it came from and the chef who makes it.

Making apple cider vinegar is part of a life worth living.

Kitchen Garden

2021 Garden Experiments

Rouge vif D’Etampes pumpkin from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.


I successfully grew radicchio this season, yet haven’t figured out how it fits into the kitchen garden. I pickled some of the leaves, added it to soup and stir fries, and besides saying I have it, there’s not much value in the crop. I have seeds leftover and may plant half a dozen head next season. Unless something happens in the kitchen to encourage the use, I won’t be buying more.

Rouge vif D’Etampes

These seeds produced four decent and visually appealing pumpkins. I haven’t roasted one of them yet although if the flavor is good, I’ll grow the remaining seeds next year. The trouble is pumpkins want to take over the space in which they are planted. They need their own plot. Regular Jack-O-Lantern and cooking pumpkins are ubiquitous in this area, so buying one is an easy solution to our pumpkin needs if the garden runs out of space. I still have two cups of frozen pumpkin flesh left from last season.


The seeds started but the vines didn’t do anything. Not sure of the reason but they were next to pumpkins, which may have dominated the smaller plant. Organic cantaloupe are available inexpensively at the grocery store, so this is another one that may be better to buy and use the garden space for something else.

Mustard Greens

Mustard grew well but it doesn’t fit in our kitchen. Because I want to have a variety of greens available, I’ll likely plant it for the third time next year. The main use has been to make pesto from the spicy greens. I also give it away.


The onion crop was what I wanted: plenty of onions in six varieties. I successfully started onions indoors, although next season the seeds should be started in December for a longer growing period before transplant. The starts I bought from the seed company performed well and I’ll get more in 2022.


Once again the beet crop mostly failed. I started them indoors and transferred them outside where a late frost killed most of them. I tried starting a second batch but it didn’t take. My goal is to produce enough to pickle a couple of quarts for the pantry. They taste so good, I’ll try again next year after reading up on cultivation practices.

Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and the rest

The 2021 garden was my most successful yet. The variety of produce was good, as was the quality. I made planned improvements, including a patch of kitchen greens with kale, chard, mustard, turnips and kohlrabi. The container potatoes produced well. Garlic is still curing and the heads are large and appear to be disease free. I’ll use my own to plant next year’s crop. There were plenty of cucumbers, eggplant, and other crops to make the effort worth while.

Moving lettuce under row cover made all the difference. We had plenty of lettuce until a week or so ago. There is a fall crop growing now. I grew four or five crops of lettuce in succession.

I grew the most tomato plants ever both in quantity and variety. The quality was excellent. I figured out how to vine cherry tomatoes so they produce a lot and are accessible and separate from the main tomato crop. The trick is planting them in a straight row. I used cages but one could use stakes and welded wire fence with the indeterminate vines. If I were buying new, I’d get six-foot fencing. There will be enough Roma-type tomatoes to can whole and plenty of slicers to give away. One thing I know is how to grow tomatoes.

The second year of the new pepper process produced good results. Ace is the main producer. I tried seeds sent free from a supplier for the rest, but it didn’t produce as expected. Watering peppers adequately is important. If I ever use drip tape for a crop, it would be for peppers first.

A gardener’s life is one of constant learning and experimentation. To be effective one has to spend time in the garden observing. We planted our first tomatoes at home in 1983 and grew a garden every year since then, except one. As I approach 40 years in the garden, I hope to continue for many more.