Kitchen Garden

Spring Gardening Begins

Derecho damaged woodlands in the state park. April 1, 2021.

With a forecast low temperature of 28 degrees, I put the space heater in the greenhouse overnight. Once the temperature rises in the next couple of hours, the five-day forecast is above 40 degrees continuously. It’s time to start gardening outdoors.

It looks clear for planting potatoes today, in the Good Friday tradition. Seed potatoes are ready, and soil in the six containers needs to be worked and fertilized. Without fanfare, gardening for the 2021 season begins.

I’ll dig in the plots for cruciferous vegetables to see if it’s dry enough. If it is, I’ll seed carrots, peas and lettuce. The coronavirus pandemic had me planting seeds indoors early and I’m itching to get kale, collards, broccoli and others in the ground. One step at a time.

2021 gardening is in process.

Living in Society Work Life

Amazon, the Merchant

Writing space in 2000 with a locally made central processing unit via which I ordered from Amazon.

We logged on to the internet from home for the first time on April 21, 1996. I made my first purchase from on Dec. 23, 1998. It was a gift card for my spouse.

During the first years on the computer I purchased a lot of VHS video tapes and almost no books from Amazon. Among those early purchases were The Great Train Robbery, Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, The Seventh Seal and Roshomon, videos not available in local stores. I bought my first book in 1999, Decline of American Gentility by Stow Persons. It was unavailable in local bookstores even though Persons taught his course on American Intellectual History in Schaeffer Hall at the University of Iowa Pentacrest.

For books and videos, Amazon offered availability few others did. The immediacy of the internet made it preferable to driving half an hour to the nearest vendor in the county seat to place an order, then to return weeks later when the item arrived. When a person lives in the country, online shopping makes a lot of sense.

In 1998, reported a net loss of $124.5 million on $610 million in sales. They got better and are now very profitable. 2020 annual revenue was $386 billion with net income of $7.2 billion. They continue to grow and improve profitability, although no one dreamed they would dominate the marketplace as they do.

The trajectory of Amazon’s growth will accelerate as the company continues to control more of the supply chain and masters last-mile delivery (literally, the last mile(s) before the package reaches the customer’s door); This is the most difficult and complex aspect of fulfillment yet one of the most important touch points in terms of customer satisfaction.

Forbes Magazine, Feb. 21, 2021.

There are companies besides that moved their business model toward vertical integration, where all aspects of production through customer delivery were controlled. In the late 19th Century owners of such companies were called “robber barons” after feudal lords in medieval Europe who robbed travelers. The current owner of, Jeff Bezos, is easy to demonize as a robber baron, yet his business model requires customer satisfaction. A more practical criticism is to realize it is time for federal regulators to break up

In Iowa, Teamsters Local 238 in Cedar Rapids is organizing local Amazon workers at facilities in Iowa City and Des Moines. Unions have had little recent success organizing private sector workers in Iowa. Most prominent union spokespeople in the state represent government workers. I am interested in Amazon from multiple perspectives.

If Amazon did not exist, there is little local retail infrastructure to replace them. For example, our local hardware store carries common items used to run a household. I enjoy going there first when I need something. One out of two times they don’t have what I need. Our local grocery store does not have many organic options. There are no specialty shops like books, fabric, and sundries. Bottom line, locals rarely have what I need.

When I look at recent online purchases, I’ve ordered a few things direct from vendors (a new Dell CPU and garden seeds). I get most clothing from J.C. Penney online, food from COSTCO, and books from Amazon. With the coronavirus pandemic more household sales went online.

In addition to retail availability, Amazon delivery drivers have become a presence in our neighborhood, as familiar as the United States Postal Service which also delivers some Amazon goods.

On Saturday I become officially “vaccinated” as it will have been two weeks since my booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine. Coming out of the pandemic I need new topics to write about and Amazon is in my sight. After 25 years of buying from them, I’m ready to do something else if they do not resolve some of the injustices created while growing their business, or if government regulators do not step in.

With a fixed income, managing money is important and lowest price for quality goods matters. Amazon is a suitable new topic for this blog.

As always, relevant reader comments are welcome.

Living in Society

Rita Hart Withdraws Election Contest

Rita Hart

Readers have commented about my posts on the super close race in Iowa’s Second Congressional District. Today, Rita Hart withdrew her contest of the election results. Here is her campaign press release.


March 31, 2021

Rita Hart Statement on IA-02 

WHEATLAND, Iowa — Today, Rita Hart released the following statement: 

“After many conversations with people I trust about the future of this contest, I have made the decision to withdraw my contest before the House Committee on Administration. Since Election Day, and throughout this entire process, my mission has been about ensuring the voices of Iowans who followed the law are not silenced. I am saddened that some Iowans’ votes will not count through no fault of their own. The work of ensuring it does not happen again will continue beyond this campaign. 

Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans. It is a stain on our democracy that the truth has not prevailed and my hope for the future is a return to decency and civility. 

I wish Mariannette Miller-Meeks all the best as she serves the people of this great state as Congresswoman. This has been a difficult process for all of those involved and it’s incredibly important that we work together to reform the system so this does not happen again in the future. 

Running to represent the people of Iowa’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I got in this race to listen to the people of the district and bring your voices of common sense and decency to Washington, D.C. We must work to end the partisan gridlock and deliver for the working people in Iowa who are struggling to make ends meet. 

To those who invested in this campaign — donating a few extra dollars they could spare or volunteering time — and to ALL of my supporters, my campaign team, and to my family, my children and grandchildren, and especially my husband Paul, thank you so much for your hope and passion. I could not have persevered on this journey without your tireless dedication and commitment.

I am a life-long Iowan and I will always work for a more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren. That won’t change regardless of this, or any, election. We have so much more to work for. I hope you all will stay involved and join me in working to make Iowa a better place for all.”


Watching Sunrise

Sunrise Over Lake Macbride, Dec. 28, 2011.

I decided to watch the sun rise. There was an urge to grab my mobile device and take photographs. I resisted.

Not everything needs recording.

The sun rose east of the kitchen through the 25-acre woods. I made breakfast and viewed its changing colors. Another day’s beginning in Big Grove Township.

During the coronavirus pandemic my posts have become a diary of contagion. It wasn’t intended. Yet here we are, more than a year into the pandemic and despite the shipments of vaccines, there is a resurgence of cases of COVID-19.

These are uncertain times. We don’t know how a sunrise will play out, only that it’s the moment in which we live.

Living in Society

Whose Blood is Curdling?

Woman Writing Letter

I read with interest Bruce Gelder’s March 27 letter about the Miller-Meeks-Hart election. Couple of things:

The idea Rita Hart would “roll the dice,” like at a craps table at a casino, is laughable. As she repeated, the Iowa process allowed inadequate time for effective consideration. Pursuing a recount of Iowa’s Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives is legal.

The U.S. Constitution is clear. Article I, Section 5 says, “Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members.” The Federal Contested Election Act of 1969 identified a procedure for close races like this one. Scores of contested elections have been pursued in the House.

Hart’s appeal sets no precedents, as Gelder suggests. Any chaos being created is from a Republican noise machine expressing their perceived mistreatment. It’s like Democrats shouldn’t be given consideration because Republicans believe they won the election and that should be that.

The majority of election contests pursued by the House were dismissed. To gain consideration, the state must first certify results. The only “blood curdling” is occurring in Republican veins. They wish Democrats would just go away and not insist on our rights. That’s not likely.

Published in the March 31, 2021 edition of the Iowa City Press Citizen

Living in Society

With People Again

Sundog Farm on March 28, 2021.

Sunday was my first shift of soil blocking at Sundog Farm this spring. Besides shopping, medical appointments, and trips to government offices, it was the first time out since being restricted by the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. There were people (wearing masks) and animals (who weren’t)… and four dogs!

To see a short video of farm life on Sunday, click here.

It was partly cloudy with intermittent snow flurries. We worked outside with me making 35 soil block trays (4,200 seedling blocks) and a varying seeding crew of four or five, socially distanced across the concrete pad, planting broccoli, kale, mustard greens and other early vegetables. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, I worked mostly alone in the greenhouse. Sunday felt a bit more normal. The farmer and I negotiated our barter agreement and will continue discussions next weekend.

While it was relatively easy for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it has been a struggle for the farm workers who are mostly 20-somethings. I’ve had two doses and they had one. Both the state and federal government could do more to get rural Iowa vaccinated.

It’s good to be back to work, though. Here is a photo of my first tray of soil blocks for the season.

Tray of 120 soil blocks. March 28, 2021.
Living in Society

Forgotten Seeds

2020 Tomato harvest.

It’s time to plant peppers and tomatoes in channel trays.

Saturday morning I took three drawers from the seed sorter and reviewed what I had. There were 25 packets of tomato seeds long past their sell-by date. They went to compost and the envelopes to the shredder. The end result is 22 varieties to plant plus tomatillos. I forgot to order Roma tomatoes.

I went on the Johnny’s web site and ordered a packet of Granadero. The shipping cost would be more than the seeds so I added a cabbage seed packet. Usually plenty of cabbage is available from the farm, so I don’t grow my own. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic-shortened work season, I did not take the fall share and a couple of cabbage heads in the ice box serve a useful fall and winter culinary purpose.

Peppers will be two varieties of bell peppers and five hot. I’m getting better at growing peppers and tomatoes.

The ground was too wet to work yesterday so I’m hoping it dries enough today and tomorrow. That means I’d better decide where things go.

Potatoes will be in containers again and we’re six days from Good Friday planting. Main questions are whether to move the containers, and what medium in which to grow them.

Placement of onions, shallots and leeks has not been determined. I grew and ordered enough starts to produce double the crop of the 2020 garden. I need more row space for easier tillage this year.

Large greens — kale, collards, mustard, chard — are planned together this year in a special plot. The seedlings are well along and these will be the first transplants just as soon as the ground is ready.

There will be another plot split between broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and radicchio, lettuce, spinach, pak choi, and other small greens. I’ve been walking the garden daily, although a final plan is not finished.

Another day in the life of a gardener. Here’s hoping the rain relents for a few days.

Living in Society

My Politics Addiction

Lake Macbride, March 26, 2021.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale Friday morning, kicking off the 2024 Iowa Republican presidential nominating contest. He didn’t stop to speak to the press.

Republicans said they would hold a 2024 precinct caucus as usual regardless of whether Democrats do. A majority of Iowa Republicans favor Trump 2024 according to recent polls.

For his part, Joe Biden said he plans to run for a second term at his inaugural press conference last week.

Bloomberg reported U.S. cases of COVID-19 are rising again. It’s still bad in Iowa. Maybe it’s due to events like Urbandale where people gathered in public without social distancing or masks. The crowd looked pretty old and mostly male. Maybe they are all vaccinated, he laughed. News photos depicted what appears to be an aggregation of various daily coffee gatherings that occur around the state among retired and mostly male locals. Seeing Pompeo was something different to do, I suppose.

These days I have limited interest in politics. We are living in a time of Republican dominance in Iowa and I have no interest in watching the horror show. Yet I’m drawn to it… political stories in newspapers and on Twitter. One supposes I have an addiction. I don’t seem motivated enough to beat the addiction…yet. Likely, I’m in denial.

Part of my addiction is isolation resulting from the continuing coronavirus pandemic. In isolation, every human contact takes on increased importance. In normal times, it was easier to select which issues to work on and which to leave to others. Pandemic-caused isolation makes ridding myself of the addiction more complicated.

I intend to continue to vote, and will likely donate a few dollars to good candidates when I can. Anymore, political engagement is mostly determining whether a candidate is a Democrat. Advocacy has been co-opted by national players and the federal judiciary is in process of re-making the assumptions upon which my advocacy was once predicated.

Like anyone, I will try to help my local candidates. I can’t go cold turkey from politics. At the same time, I expect to get better focused on a handful of issues I deem most important. Readers of this blog know it’s the environment and its biggest threats: a warming plant, nuclear war and armed conflict.

There are many factors, physical, mental, emotional, and biological that make quitting politics difficult. It’s the rural Virginian in me that keeps me engaged. A low level dosage won’t cure me yet like the COVD-19 vaccine, it may inoculate me from the distractions that are possible. I should lean on my Polish ancestors who just came here, went to church, and made a life.

In any case, I’m addicted to politics and can’t let it dominate my life.

Kitchen Garden

Overnight Rain

Overnight Rain, March 26, 2021.

Weather permitting, I expect to prepare part of the garden today.

While the soil is too wet to work, last year’s fencing and cages can be removed to create a space to fell two oak trees, one of which is leaning as a result of the August 10, 2020 derecho, the other needs removal to make room for the remaining one to grow unencumbered. I’m ready.

The seedling operation is ahead of previous years. The debate is whether to put the brassica seedlings directly into the ground, or re-pot them to give the roots more room to grow before transplant. I’ll likely do a mix of techniques and compare. The sprouts aren’t quite to the point of forming the third leaf yet it won’t be long.

New spinach seeds arrived yesterday. The old ones aren’t germinating properly so I bought a new packet of 1,000 Seaside Hybrid Smooth Leaf Spinach seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I’ll start a couple dozen on the heating pad, and direct seed some as soon as the ground can be worked. My friends at the farm already direct seeded spinach, beets, peas and carrots.

Garlic is coming up nicely. It’s been in the ground for five months and I doubled the amount planted. I picked the best cloves for seed and hope for the best this year. We use garlic most days in our kitchen, so it is an important crop.

The beets I moved from the greenhouse to the heating pad are germinating. As soon as they appear successful, I’ll move them back to the greenhouse to wait for dry ground. The heating pad space will be to start peppers and tomatoes in channel trays. This year I’m going big with Guajillo chili peppers to make sauce for the coming year. In 2020 I experimented making my own Guajillo chili sauce and if successful this year, I’ll replace the commercial Hatch pepper sauce I’ve been using.

It’s been a challenge to use all the canned tomatoes. This year I expect to plant a lot of Roma-style tomatoes for canning and put up about 24 quarts. I’ve been freezing some tomatoes. While it’s easy, I prefer canned. Canned Roma tomatoes are becoming our mainstay for cooking chili, sauce and soups. It reflects a bit of refinement. In past years I canned any tomato I grew, skin on. Peeled Roma canned tomatoes are a much better option. I’m growing a large variety of tomatoes to eat fresh. My process is to germinate plenty and plant at least two seedlings of each type. We like the variety.

As we come out of the darkness there is hope for the day. That’s emblematic of so much in our lives during the time of contagion.

Living in Society

Be Neighborly, Get Vaccinated

Woman Writing Letter

Last week we located our scars from the polio vaccine. It was fun as we reminisced and discussed a friend who got polio as a child. It was important for everyone who could to be vaccinated against polio.

Today it’s important everyone who can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

My perspective is from serving six years on the county board of health. Vaccines can and do prevent illness, of that there is scientific evidence.

Why get the vaccine? First, it reduces the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 which causes sickness and sometimes death. That’s motivation enough for most. Being vaccinated also decreases the amount of time we must live with social restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone I know is tired of the restrictions now in their second year.

Some people pooh, pooh the vaccine and the pandemic and while illogical, that’s their choice. At the same time, we would all like to get out of the pandemic and return to a semblance of normal. People who don’t or won’t get vaccinated are holding the rest of us up.

Eventually the population will reach what’s called “herd immunity.” Medical experts are not sure if a person gets COVID-19 once they will be immune because people have contracted COVID-19 multiple times. As you may have read, the vaccines currently approved by the FDA are very effective.

We’re retired so we can wait out herd immunity as evidenced by a drastic reduction in the COVID-19 case count. People want to get on with a more normal life, though. So we did the neighborly thing and got vaccinated. I encourage readers to do likewise if they can.

~ Submitted as a letter to the editor of the Solon Economist