Kitchen Garden

Spring is Coming 2022-Style

Working in the garage with door open on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

I resumed daily walkabouts around our property line after the snow melt and noticed the toll taken on our trees. Of 15 remaining trees, all but one of which I planted, only six have no apparent issues.

Most of them are damaged from either the 2020 derecho, or from one or more of the straight line wind events we’ve had in recent years. Disease is creeping into the two EarliBlaze apple trees as lower branches blacken, die, and are cut off in pruning.

The Green Ash by the house appears to be doing well. We expect the Emerald Ash Borer to take it eventually, although there had been no infestation as of yesterday.

The Bur Oak is native to Iowa and is also doing well. Planted in the 1990s, it will come to dominate the front yard as years progress. It is a good tree. In the backyard there is a Bur Oak planted from an acorn from the one in front. There were three oak trees planted from acorns near the garden at the same time. Two of them blew a kilter during the derecho. I removed one last year and the other needs to come down. The backyard Bur Oak that will remain is flourishing.

The pear tree planted at our daughter’s high school graduation party is thriving. We all placed some kind of organic matter in the hole before planting it. Most years we get pears. They are sweet and juicy and some years there are enough to put up pear sauce. The only issue is it is growing too tall to collect all the ripe fruit. It was a nice addition to the back yard.

The two apple trees planted near the garden have been growing acceptably. I hope they begin to fruit before the three remaining apple trees have faded and are gone.

It is unclear what to do about the trees this spring. I considered taking scions from the Red Delicious tree and growing new from the same genetics. The trouble is it will take from six to eight years for them to grow to maturity and fruit. That’s too long for a septuagenarian to wait.

I planted lettuce. My maternal grandmother passed down the tradition of planting “Belgian lettuce” on March 2. Usually it is to be direct seeded, although the ground was still frozen. I honored the tradition by planting a flat indoors for transplant into a row covered planting area. Spring is coming and we’ll want lettuce when it arrives.

“Belgian lettuce,” March 2, 2022.
Kitchen Garden

A Thaw

Driveway on Feb. 22, 2021. First day ambient temperature was above freezing since Feb. 4.

March 2 is the day to plant Belgian lettuce, according to family tradition. It’s garden lore from my Polish grandmother, one of the few tips from her about gardening I remember. This year, Belgian lettuce seems doubtful with more than a foot of snow on the ground seven days out.

If I can work the ground, I’ll plant it. It got warm enough to begin thawing on Monday, so fingers crossed. One has to ask where all the water will go. The answer is to late winter flooding.

Indoors I transplanted brassica seedlings started Feb. 7 to larger pots. The 12 broccoli plants are intended for an early wave. I planted 30 more broccoli seeds in blocks for the main crop. I reduced the amount of collards and kale this year. If I had six each of the two varieties of kale and four collards, that would be enough. I also had six kohlrabi plants in this batch. I need to plant more Redbor kale seeds next planting session as only five seedlings survived.

20 celery seeds are planted. They take the longest time to germinate, although this year I’m trying a new variety and they are on a warming pad to aid germination. If I were still at the farm, I’d plant more and put them in the greenhouse. The table downstairs with the heating pad has only four spots for trays and only two of them heated. I’m learning self-sufficiency in this, my first year away from the farm in a long time.

I have the new, portable greenhouse still in its box. It will stay there until the snow on the brick pad melts. Once it is set up I can move some of the seedlings outdoors and use the space heater when it gets cold. There is plenty of time to get everything started.

We look forward to the thaw more this year than most.

Kitchen Garden

Belgian Lettuce 2020

Belgian lettuce patch with arugula

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.


Arugula/Roquette Heirloom Variety, Ferry-Morse, 40 days.
Rocket Salad Coltivata Da Orto, Ferry-Morse, 60 days.

The ground was still frozen about an inch below the surface, so no other planting today. This morning’s activities signal the beginning of the garden.

Kitchen Garden

Racing to Sunset

Seasoning Seed Potatoes

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.

Garden Burn Pile

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.

Tomato Cages Protecting Belgian Lettuce

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.

Kitchen Garden Living in Society

First Spade of Soil

Belgian Lettuce Patch - 2017
Belgian Lettuce Patch – 2017

I turned the first spade of garden soil Saturday.

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.

First Spade
First Spade

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.

Lettuce Seeds
Lettuce Seeds

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.

Coffee with Our Congressman
Coffee with Our Congressman

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.


Erasing the White Board

To-do List
To-do List

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.

This last lap in the workingman’s race looks to be action packed with local food, environmental and cash producing projects coming into focus.

Night’s snowfall melting in the sun makes way for budding plants in a grey and brown landscape. It is almost time to wipe the whiteboard clean and begin anew.

Kitchen Garden

Belgian Lettuce and Garden Update


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.