Kitchen Garden

Celery Time – 2022

The rest of the celery harvest ready for cleaning and processing, Aug. 25, 2022.

The celery I grow is unlike anything available in local grocery stores. Planted March 13, it took the entire five months to get this far. I could have left some of it in the ground to grow larger. There is something to be said for getting the seasonal celery harvest and storage done all at once.

I forget when I first grew celery, yet it must have been during my eight years working on the vegetable and sheep farms. It is now a basic garden staple. How will I use it?

The best stalks will be eaten fresh. Some of the leaves have been frozen in plain water using a flexible cupcake tray. I’ll add one or two of these pellets of celery to each pot of soup I make. A plastic tub of stalks is in the refrigerator for cooking fresh. The rest will be sliced thinly and frozen in one-and-a-half cup portions in zip top bags. Looking at the yield, fresh should last until November, frozen until the next harvest in 2023.

Growing celery in the home garden is all about flavor. There is no comparison to commercially available organic celery grown in California. Mine is better in so many ways. The bold celery flavor adds to every dish I make with it. When operating a kitchen garden, adding distinct flavors to our cuisine is basic.

This variety is called Kelvin from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine. Recently someone asked if I save seeds. Usually, I do not. Kelvin celery is an improvement Johnny’s made over the previously offered iteration of the variety. They have a large research operation, and rather than save seeds from plants I like, I seek to leverage what they (and other seed companies) do to improve the genetics. Even though I spend most of my time in the garden alone, it is a collaborative activity connected to scores of people.

I know how to save most seeds. If we get to doomsday prepping, I may start saving them. For now, I’d rather be part of the community.

Kitchen Garden

Celery Day

Celery patch, June 2, 2021.

This celery patch was revealed from among the weeds yesterday afternoon. In the background of the photograph is a pile of grass clippings with which to mulch the plants until mature.

I tasted a stalk right there in the garden. The flavor of home grown celery is unlike any of your store-bought, shipped from California celery. Much of this will grow to maturity and be processed frozen. The culinary use is mostly for winter soups. Integration of the growing patches with the kitchen is what a kitchen garden is.

I harvested the largest kohlrabi and cleaned it in the kitchen. The flesh of the bulb tasted almost like butter: soft, mild, and delicious. Gardeners keep saying the leaves can be eaten. That’s a true statement, yet there are so many greens available kohlrabi leaves get neglected… and composted. There are six more plants in the first succession. When I harvest them, I might use the leaves as the base for more vegetable broth. I might not.

The forecast is for rain beginning at noon. Once the sun rises I’ll head back out to continue weeding and mulching. It’s much of what gardeners do in June.

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 Writing

Early Summer

Celery Harvest

When the electrical power went off I located my portable charger and plugged in my phone. The WiFi was dead yet access to the internet is crucial in an emergency.

A neighbor asked if our power was out via text message. I responded, “Yes, do you need cucumbers?” I walked a bag of freshly picked cukes over to the back door of their house where they were preparing the grill for a cook out.

The rural electric cooperative website reported more than 1,600 homes without power. The plotting of outages on their map was based on reports from customers so I phoned in our report. The operator was patient and helpful. All the information she had was on the website except that crews were working on the problem.

Our association has a Facebook page which was more active than normal. The loss of electricity didn’t have any apparent effect on social media. No new information there, just neighbors asking what up?

The duration of the outage was about 90 minutes. Just as power came on the doorbell rang. One of the well volunteers came down from the well house to report the water pressure was going down and soon they would have to turn on the back up generator. He smiled when I told him the electricity was back on. I made a post on our Facebook page pointing out the well volunteers were monitoring the situation.

In a rural subdivision we rely upon each other for information. Mobile phone technology makes our lives better. Glad I adapted back in 2012.

These summer days are gorgeous. Temperatures are rising to about 90 degrees each day with clear, calm skies. Humidity has been high so I get my outdoors work done early after sunrise and spend most of the day indoors. There is plenty of work.

I harvested the rest of the celery yesterday. Most of the harvest gets chopped into bits and frozen for use in soups and stir fries. The flavor of home grown celery is hard to believe, better than any celery grown for commercial sales. Fresh celery lasts a shorter time than store bought. That’s okay. It is worth the 120 day growing season for the flavor.

I sorted and brought the last of the 2019 onions to the kitchen. They need using up. In the meanwhile the portable greenhouse shelves are filled with this year’s crop, drying so they can be trimmed and stored.

Drying Onions
Kitchen Garden

Season’s New Hope

Sundog Farm in Late Winter
Sundog Farm in Late Winter

My first work day at Local Harvest CSA, was spent organizing for the season and soil blocking for the first seedlings.

I made two trays for myself as part of the barter deal with the farmer.

In one I seeded basil, Conquistador celery and Tall Utah celery. In the other was four kinds of kale: Dwarf Vates Blue Curled Scotch, Scarlet, Darkibor and Starbor. The growing season is here.

Basil and Celery
Basil and Celery

We never know the outcome of gardening. Tall Utah celery seeds are very small. It was difficult to get only one or two into each dibbled cell — I didn’t. I bought them on special from the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa where they don’t pellet seeds. Like with so much about gardening it is another experiment to see what grows well and tastes delicious. The pelleted Conquistador celery seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine were easier to plant. A controlled germination house environment should encourage the best from these seeds. We’ll see how it goes.

3,120 Soil Blocks
3,120 Soil Blocks

Soil blocking is endemic to Community Supported Agriculture projects. Like much of our work, it is done by hand. Getting the moisture content of the soil mix right is a constant challenge. It is dry as it comes out of the bag into a tub. Watering is done in stages, testing the moisture content after each round of turning with a transfer shovel. Moisture management continues as the soil blocks are made. The pressure of the soil block tool squeezes moisture from the mixture as the blocks are made. It makes the soil mix wetter. It took 3.83 hours to get organized and produce the first batch of trays. As the season progresses, I’ll get faster.

The farmer went to town to get some supplies for the germination shed leaving me alone with two dogs and partly cloudy skies. I took a moment to breathe the fresh air and look at the sky. Hope springs from days like this. New hope for a successful season.


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.