Today I planted Belgian lettuce. There is nothing particularly “Belgian” about the seeds. According to my maternal grandmother it is called Belgian lettuce because it is planted March 2. It’s the tradition and that’s that.
I planted arugula as well because when everything is mixed together in a salad it will taste great. I planted:
Mesclun Mix of Seven Varieties, Ferry-Morse, 40-80 days.
A text message came March 20 while I was stopped at a traffic light in North Liberty.
“In total we need 22 120s this week so you actually might be able to do it all tonight!”
It was 4: 51 p.m.
The combination of daylight savings time and the vernal equinox provided a window to soil block at the farm after my shift at the home, farm and auto supply store.
Driving east on Mehaffey Bridge Road toward Solon and the farm, descending into the Coralville Lake and then the Lake Macbride dip in the road, I made mental plans on how to approach the work.
Pelicans had returned to the sand bars on the east end of the north branch of Lake Macbride on their annual migration. Their bright whiteness cheered the beginning of spring.
Sunset was at 7:18 p.m. It would be a push to get 22 finished by then. I made it, just barely.
I had planned to plant lettuce of my own, but waning sunlight made it difficult to see and separate the small seeds. I planted spinach instead. Chasing sunset is not always what we expect.
Yesterday I worked in the yard and garden, clearing one of the plots to make a burn pile.
The wind was negligible so I dumped a garbage can filled with shredded mailer envelopes and other paper at the base of the brush pile. It took one match to make the burn.
I got out the chain saw and cut down four volunteer mulberry trees that had grown 15 feet tall midst the lilacs. I hadn’t noticed them until last fall when sunlight from the Western sky highlighted them. They burned easily.
I gathered the tomato cages and piled them over the Belgian lettuce planted in March. The seeds are germinating and popping through the damp soil’s surface. The cages will be there to protect the lettuce for three to four weeks before the tomato seedlings are ready to plant.
It was a great day to spend in the garden.
A neighbor visited. She said the president of our home owners association sold his house and was downsizing to move into town. There would be three vacancies on the board with other resignations. I spend 14 years on the board beginning in 1995 and told her I would consider joining the board for the third time. I explained that I would start working at the orchard again in August, returning to a seven-day-per-week schedule. She thought the board could cover my absence, if needed, for a while.
Early spring has been busy already. There is so much life in which to engage. Taking part is important and contributes to sustaining a life in a turbulent world.
In a couple of hours I removed cages, stakes and last year’s brush from the cherry tomato patch, turned over and broke up the soil, planted six kinds of lettuce, and posted the afternoon’s highlights on social media:
First spade of dirt turned; chives, walking onions, spring flowers up; lilacs, apple trees and pears budding (a lot); Caracas early carrots (57 days) planted; six kinds of lettuce (Wildfire mix, Ridgeline Romaine, Edox Butterhead, Red Salad Bowl, Australian Yellowleaf and Sanguine Ameliore) planted in the ground. I got out the mower to clear the brush from a small patch of garden because it was too windy to burn. It’s March 4 and spring has sprung.
Taking soil from one of the sunken containers I mixed a bag of leftover soil mix from last year with it in a green cart. I refilled the container and planted carrots, covering them with straw from the tomato patch. I poured a bucket of water into the container through the straw. It felt good to get into our garden.
Buds of apple blossoms appeared in abundance. If they bloom normally and pollinate it will be a bumper crop. The arrival of pollinators and timing of the last frost will be crucial. Fingers crossed everything goes well. Last year’s apple crop was virtually non-existent. We are due for a good one.
February was the warmest on record in Iowa. The frost was out of the soil and the green up will not be long. It is very early to be doing much in the yard and garden.
About 20 people gathered in our nearby town to chat over beverages and hors d’oeuvres with Congressman Dave Loebsack. For some it was the first time to meet personally with a U.S. congressman. The event lasted an hour and a local organizer took notes and discussed a plan of political action with the many young people in attendance. I listened with some members of my own cohort (older folks table) and snapped a couple of photos.
The main group discussion was about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and plans for the new administration to repeal and replace it. A bill is being crafted in the U.S. House of Representatives, but Loebsack hasn’t seen it even though he is on the committee that will eventually consider it. It rots to be in the minority for this and many other reasons.
Loebsack has been targeted by Republicans for the 2018 election.
“President Donald Trump’s 10-point win in Iowa in the 2016 election is emboldening the Republican Party to take on the state’s lone Democratic congressman,” according to the Quad-City Times.
Loebsack has been targeted since his 2006 election. We don’t assume re-election is in the bag and will have to see how the campaign rolls out. Already there are third party negative ads about Dave and a lot of work needs doing to retain the seat.
We turned the first spade of political soil yesterday as well.
Snow fell in darkness leaving a thin blanket of white.
The pin oak tree began shedding last year’s foliage indicating warm weather activated new leaf buds and pushed out the old.
Seems weird to rake leaves in February. More to the point, it’s not normal.
In a couple of hours I return for a fifth season at Local Harvest CSA. The main spring task is soil blocking 72 and 120 cell trays for seed starting in the germination house. Part of my arrangement is keeping some of my own seedlings there. When I’m finished with the farm’s trays, I’ll make one 72 and one 120 tray for myself and seed them with kale, celery and basil. I’m hopeful they will do better than in the south-facing window in our bedroom. Getting my hands dirty with soil is a great way to get ready for spring, three weeks away by the calendar.
Other chores on my white board include doing taxes, computer file backup, cleaning the car, preparing the garden for spring and Belgian lettuce planting this week (traditionally March 2). I made extra servings of spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunches and want to make a batch of taco filling for breakfast on work days at the home, farm and auto supply store. There’s also more writing projects.
During a Climate Reality Project conference call on Thursday, a friend from Waterloo and I decided to work on a project with other friends from Waterloo-Cedar Falls. I’ve done two presentations there and look forward to more meaningful work. We’re planning luncheon, maybe next weekend.
Today is the day to plant Belgian lettuce according to my late maternal grandmother. Not a specific variety, any lettuce seed will do. March 2 planting makes it “Belgian” in a way someone who grew up in a Minnesota-Polish farming community would understand.
It’s not happening this year, as the ground is frozen and covered with snow like last year. I’m not ready to give up on tradition, but this year’s weather is forcing my hand. As soon as the ground can be worked, lettuce seeds will be broadcast belatedly.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac indicates the average growing season in this area is 163 days, with an average last spring frost date of April 25. I’m calling bullshit on that right now and planning this year’s indoor planting to coincide with a last frost day of May 15. God willing and the creek don’t rise, some seeds will be planted in trays this week, with seedlings ready to go into the ground in May.
Starbor hybrid kale seeds arrived by U.S. postal service on Friday. The back order was finally filled, so this season there will be three kinds of kale, including the Blue Curled Scotch and Scarlet varieties already on hand. If everything proceeds as expected, there will be plenty of kale.
Seed-wise, I’m ready to plant the garden as soon as conditions permit.
The apple trees produced an abundance of new growth last growing season. While temperatures are below zero is the time to get out and prune new growth and make shaping decisions. That work is planned for this week.
Heavy snows took a toll on our lilac bushes, and I’ve not been to the back of the lot to check that clump. They are maturing, and may be due for a radical cutting back to enable new growth. Some research is needed, but the one next to our front door shaped up nicely when I cut the old branches away. These were planted from rootstock when we arrived in Big Grove, so it’s hard to see them mature, even if it’s a part of nature.
No deal is finalized with the CSA this spring, although the farmer may not know what she wants yet. There is an opportunity for some spring work until her supervisor arrives in May. If that doesn’t materialize, the time will be spent improving our garden—which is definitely needed.
The pantry is being worked down, but plenty of tomatoes, soup stock, apple sauce and apple butter remain on the shelves. Jars of canned dill pickles, hot sauce, salsa and Serrano peppers remain. There are even a few jars of kale soup starter on the shelves. Enough to tide us over until the first harvest.
Absent Belgian lettuce, there is hope for an abundant gardening season.