Categories
Kitchen Garden

Pruning Day

Deer eating buds and tender branches of a limb felled during apple tree pruning.

On the fourth day in a row of freezing and subzero weather I bundled up and pruned the pear and three apple trees. As the sprouts and branches came down, they were frozen: sap flow had ceased. That’s what we want during fruit tree pruning.

I pruned what could be reached. I used a ladder to remove a large branch that was crowding the spruce tree. With the bulky clothing I didn’t want to maneuver too much on the ladder, risking a fall. If the trees survive, there should be a crop in 2023.

Branches will remain where they fell until it thaws. In late winter or early spring, I’ll move the branches toward the brush pile, cut them up, and burn them, delivering their minerals to a garden plot. I enjoy the spring burn as much as anything I do in the garden.

A couple of hours after pruning, deer arrived to eat what they could of the fallen tender buds and first year growth. Food for them is scarce in mid winter.

I read my ninth book this month. In winter, when I’m not writing, cooking, sleeping, or shoveling snow, I’m reading. There is a list of my reading at the menu tab labeled “Read Recently.”

We have been avoiding public contact as much as possible during the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. The county Democrats decided to convert the Feb. 7 in person precinct caucuses to online because of the surge. My spouse hasn’t been out of the house in quite a while. I go to the grocery store once every week or two. I still drink fluid milk and have to re-provision from time to time at a convenience store. I frequented about half a dozen retail stores during the pandemic and organized my shopping so I spent the least possible time inside each.

Onions and shallots are doing well on the heating pad. When it’s time to plant the first spring seedlings, they come off the heat and get a trim. Last year I started cruciferous vegetables indoors on Feb. 7, so there are a couple of weeks to take care of shallots and onions.

Deer took an after dinner rest near the spruce tree. It is a popular spot for wildlife year around. Creating a habitat is one of the successes we have had. It is an accomplishment. Each time I see deer, squirrels, foxes, birds or an opossum, I consider how little wildlife there was when we built here. Hopefully the apple trees will survive long enough for birds to nest in them a few more seasons.

Deer resting on the grass near the spruce tree.
Categories
Environment

Waiting for Scions

Shallot seeds germinated first this year.

Inconsistent winter weather disrupted fruit tree plans. On Wednesday snow melt began flowing in the gutters and downspout. It felt safe enough to make a trip through melting snow pack to the composter near the garden. A slushy mix returned to the end of the driveway. Weather has been weird.

It takes several days of subzero temperatures in a row to prune fruit trees. I prefer a week of ten or twenty below zero yet we haven’t had that. I also seek to harvest scions, (pencil shaped fruit tree cuttings) to graft on root stock. I would save the Red Delicious apple tree which was damaged in the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. It served us well while it was whole. Trees need dormancy for scions to work and we haven’t had that either.

This week has been a fake spring. It’s still winter, for Pete’s sake! Yet the buds on trees look healthy, like they are ready to sprout. The lilac bushes were leafing just last month. I wouldn’t mind spring’s arrival yet I want a winter too.

At least the onions and shallots planted Jan. 6 are germinating.

We bunker in to avoid the coronavirus and wait for a deep freeze and dormancy it would bring. These days have been good for writing.

It is difficult waiting for winter and fruit tree work when what we really want is a normal spring. Today, I’d settle for a normal winter so I can harvest scions.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Postcards from Iowa #14

Reverse side: Stella Marrs, P.O. Box 2273, Olympia, WA 98507.

I plugged in the grow light for the first time since summer to move a flat of Ajuga plants indoors. We reclaimed them from the yard, where they spread and spread, all the way down to the drainage ditch. We transferred them from my father-in-law’s home before he died in the 1990s. At the nursery Ajuga plants are quite expensive, maybe $6 per pot. We’ll have plenty at no cost but our labor if we take care of them. They grow like weeds.

On Thanksgiving I plan to lay out the 2022 garden and prepare the first seed order. Second seed order, actually, as I already have the onions and shallots to start in late December. I hope to clear the dining room table and sit down to consider what seeds we have and what we want to grow in consultation with my spouse. It could be a family tradition, one that means something special. We’ll see how it goes as I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

We are not big on year-end holidays and usually spend them by ourselves. Once we make that decision each year, everything hinges on how we feel. There is a slate of phone calls, emails and the like. Being a vegetarian household, the deer, geese and wild turkeys are safe from us as the meat culture is absent. Most people would call what we eat “side dishes.” At a point long ago we reviewed the nutritional values and found we had a well-balanced, if nontraditional Thanksgiving meal.

I don’t know where I got this postcard yet I like it. I do garden organically, although I gave in and started using composted chicken manure as fertilizer. It improved the yield. I don’t use manufactured herbicides or insecticides, organic ones work fine. I get organic seeds when I can find them. To see the face of the farmer, I look in a mirror.

Friday morning there was a partial eclipse of the full moon. It looked awesome set in a bed of bright stars. I couldn’t get a decently framed photo so I didn’t take any. Memory will have to serve.

We have provisioned up for Thanksgiving and have everything we need. If the orchard releases Gold Rush apples today, I’ll go get some along with a half gallon of cider. If the Gold Rush are not available, I’ll stay home and make my own cider for Thanksgiving. I saved enough garden apples in case I needed them.

With the holiday season upon us, the rush to year’s end has begun. 2021 is almost over and we are ready to begin again. I’m here for that. I’m looking forward to another gardening year.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Vegan Apple Crisp

Vegan apple crisp.

It’s the end of apple season and with a vegan in the house, using butter in a dessert is out the window. I took the apple crisp recipe from my hand written cookbook and modified it after reading a couple of vegan recipes. The first test batch didn’t meet standards so I tweaked it and came up with this keeper.

Vegan Apple Crisp

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shelf positioned so the baking dish is in the middle of the oven.

Filling:

  • 8 good sized apples
  • 2 tbs wheat flour
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup apple cider or juice
  • 3 tbs arrowroot (mix together with lemon juice and apple cider)
  • dash salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (fresh if you have it)
  • a few grates of nutmeg

Grease the baking dish. Reserve the arrowroot mixture and mix everything else in a mixing bowl. Don’t beat it to death! Add the liquid and incorporate. Pour into the baking dish.

Topping:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup each of wheat and almond flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Using a pastry blender mix everything together and make sure it is well incorporated. Don’t beat it to death! Sprinkle on top of the filling and bake for 30-35 minutes, making sure the topping starts to brown.

Philosophy of cookery. Peel and slice enough apples to fill whatever baking dish you want to use. Mine is 9 x 13 x 2 inches. Adjust the amount of topping to match the amount of apples. The batch can be doubled or halved. It would likely freeze well in an airtight container.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Apple Time 2021

EarliBlaze apples.

EarliBlaze apples are ready to pick. They are sweet and crunchy. I have two five-gallon buckets of them to make apple cider vinegar, although I’ve been eating down one of them and might need more.

Taking stock of the pantry, we don’t need any applesauce, apple butter, dried apples or any apple products really. Fresh eating, baking and cider vinegar will be the main uses of this August apple. A lot of them fall before they are ready to pick. Deer come each evening to help us clean them up.

When Red Delicious ripen during late September or early October, I’ll revisit the plan. I have at least one person who would like this year’s apple butter, so I may make more. Despite losing a major branch during the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho, and more during a strong wind storm this year, it will be a big crop.

I would have planted the orchard differently in the 1990s had I known what I know now about apple culture. I planted trees too closely together. The six original trees were two EarliBlaze, two Red Delicious, and one each of Lodi and Golden Delicious. Wind and disease took a toll and only one Red Delicious and two EarliBlaze remain.

The varieties I chose are not the ones I would pick today. Having worked at an apple orchard since 2013, I learned a lot about which trees do well in Iowa’s climate and how to plan continuous apple picking from late July to the first hard frost in late October. In addition, I would match the varieties to what I want to accomplish in the kitchen. Late apples are more attractive to us now and everything they mean: storage for winter, apple cider making, and of course, fresh eating. There are no do-overs for our home orchard. The main questions today are what else will be planted in our yard for fruit, and what will we do when the three trees I planted finally live their last days.

I decided to decline returning to work at the orchard this year. The reason is pretty clear. The coronavirus pandemic played a key role.

I changed my mind about working this fall and won’t be reporting for work on the 28th.

The main reason is the surge in the coronavirus pandemic in Johnson County. Hospitalizations increased close to bed capacity, there is an influx of 30,000 people to attend university (about whom we know little of their vaccination status), the University of Iowa cannot require vaccination for COVID-19, and the CDC rates our level of community transmission of the virus as substantial.

Since I wrote this, the level of community transmission has gotten worse.

In late summer, the whole garden seems to come in at once with apples being a key crop. There is pressure to deal with all of it. Not enough pressure to prevent us from enjoying the taste of summer.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

August is for Apples

EarliBlaze apples ripening on Aug. 3, 2021.

It took about an hour to harvest tomatoes. While working in the vines I heard an apple drop from one of the EarliBlaze trees every couple of minutes. Each time I picked an apple and tasted it they weren’t quite ripe. When I cut them open to view the seeds, they were not the characteristic dark brown yet.

It won’t be long. The ground is littered with what will be a meal for deer that roam our subdivision.

EarliBlaze apple seeds on Aug. 3, 2021.

Tomatoes and apples are big crops, which along with celery, garlic and onions, are money crops that will last until next year’s harvest. It is important to get these crops right. With apples, it is about waiting until they are ripe, picking them all at once, then processing them as quickly as possible.

August is for apples. The early varieties like EarliBlaze are used mostly for apple cider vinegar, fresh eating, an apple dessert or two, and if we need it, apple butter or apple sauce. They have plenty of sugar to ferment into home made apple cider vinegar. In August the Red Delicious variety continues to grow and won’t get full-sized and ripe until early October. It is important to know when to pick them and to provide the best possible growing conditions. I have never sprayed them and the Japanese Beetles have found other leaves to eat this year.

Summer stir fry.

We had stir fry for dinner last night and summer stir fry, based on what’s available from the garden, is one of the best tasting meals we eat all year. We have it once or twice a week.

Even though my work at the orchard was delayed until the end of the month, I can fill any apple gaps with what ripens there. In the next couple of years the new trees I planted will fill those gaps. Going forward, my work days are filled with canning, freezing and drying produce. It will be non-stop work from now until frost. The payoff is a freezer and pantry full of food to use until the process begins again next year.

It is the best definition of sustainability. Besides, what else is there to do in a kitchen garden?

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Back to Work

Apple tree viewed from top of a ladder.

The owner of the orchard and farm asked me to return to work as a mapper a few weeks ago. The mapper helps customers find ripe apples in the orchard during u-pick season. I first worked there in 2013 and did every year since, except for last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I noticed on Instagram they were already picking Viking and Pristine apples so I texted him. It is typical for me to begin work there in August.

After seven messages we determined he continued to need me and that I would go over today to fill out employee paperwork. There is a new manager of the retail barn sales operation to which this position reports. There have been other changes since 2019 as the orchard and farm expanded its offerings beyond apples. I’ll need an orientation. I haven’t worked for someone else since April 2020.

This work suits me. It is two days per week with a fixed ending date of October 31 when the last of the fall apples ripen and are picked. I earned about $2,000 in 2019. You can’t live on it yet there is a use for the income. I don’t work solely for the money any more.

While cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Iowa and across the United States, I’ve been vaccinated and most of the work is outdoors. Hard to say what I’ll run into. In evaluating the risks I didn’t see many of them. After being at home for more than a year, I’m ready for regular human contact with apple seekers.

Working at the orchard adds a fruit element to home food processing. I checked my store of apple products and I’m still working off applesauce, apple butter, apple cider vinegar and dried apples from previous years. My three trees look to produce a big crop this year, and I’ll get some pears. I’ll mainly use apples from the orchard for varieties I don’t grow and use my own harvest to ferment more apple cider vinegar and eat fresh.

Work at the orchard fits well into my idea of a kitchen garden. With a continuing big harvest from the garden a greater portion of each day is spent cleaning and processing vegetables. Adding fruit makes sense. Working at the orchard provides a chance to discuss seasonal produce, cooking, and eating with other people interested in the same thing. By the time I get to October our pantry and freezer should be stocked and the household well-positioned for winter.

I believe I’ll be a better person for going back to work.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Apple Blossom Bloom

Apple blossoms on April 18, 2021

The legacy apple trees, the ones I planted in the 1990s, are loaded with buds. A few have opened, although the big bloom is yet to come. 2021 has the potential to be a great year for apples. The pear tree looks to have a big bloom as well. We are not past the last spring frost, yet I’m hopeful some of the flowers will bloom long enough for pollinators to do their work.

Even the two new apple trees appear to have blossom buds. They aren’t big enough to support much fruit without bending over like a tree in a Peanuts cartoon.

In past years I put up every apple harvested. Eventually I learned to donate part of a large harvest to the farm where I work. Members of the Community Supported Agriculture project appreciated getting them, and I didn’t have to work as hard. A person needs only so much applesauce, apple butter and apple cider vinegar.

Yesterday I planted the onion patch. About 425 starts of seven varieties, a row for each one. Last year I had eight rows, yet they were closer together which restricted growth. Spreading them out on a larger plot is a second year of experimentation in a long process of being a better onion grower. The onions harvested last year tasted great, and I expect this year’s crop to be the same. I ordered too many starts from the seed supplier, so I’ll put in a patch for green onions from some of them.

Three of seven plots are planted. Next step is to plant cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and more broccoli once I determine where. Garden work is definitely on the agenda for today.