Categories
Social Commentary Writing

Poetry for a Life

Service Flags

Best wishes on Memorial Day from this veteran who made it home. As Mary Chapin Carpenter says on her series of songs from home, “Stay well, be peaceful, be mighty.”

I’ve written what I will about Memorial Day. Some of those words can be read here, here and here. I’ve soured on the American celebration of the spring holiday yet one thing I’ve learned is the death of our soldiers in combat is no abstraction. May they rest in peace.

Iowa is one of 24 U.S. states with uncontrolled coronavirus spread. That alone is reason to stay home, read, write, cook, clean and weed the garden. At some point we’ll get caught up with those homebody tasks and venture out of this pandemic pattern, but not yet.

For vegetable gardeners Memorial Day marks the end of spring planting. At the farm we are taking next week off from starting new seeds. The following week we’ll start the fall crop. In between rain showers I hope to get the cucumbers in — the last of my vegetable plots — and weed, weed, weed.

During a rainstorm I reviewed the books on the Reading List tab of this blog. I’m not reading enough poetry as poems comprise only 7.1 percent of listed books.

7.1 percent! I can’t get over that. I want to do better so I asked twitter: “I want to read more poetry. Which author would you recommend?”

The recommendations were pretty good.

When I received a payroll bonus from my part time job in high school I went downtown and bought two books of poetry at the M.L. Parker Department Store: The Complete Poems of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg’s Complete Poems. I didn’t really understand poetry and still have my failings, but it felt important to mark the beginning of my nascent home library with something other than young adult books.

Over the years I’ve developed other favorite poets. Of those well-known, my favorites are William Carlos Williams and Vachel Lindsay. I also favor Charles Bukowski, Wisława Szymborska, Lucia Perillo, Adrienne Rich, Gary Snyder. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Seamus Heaney. Of the classics I enjoy Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare but could never get myself to read Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, although feeling like I should have.

In response to my Twitter query our daughter recommended atticus so I signed up for the newsletter and followed him on Twitter. I’ll be looking for an opportunity to read The Truth about Magic: Poems.

Recommended by a follower in the UNESCO City of Literature are Amy Woolard and Jeremy Paden. Their books Neck of the Woods (Woolard) and Broken Tulips (Paden) are available so I’ll start with them when I can get my hands on a copy.

Another I’d not read is Mary Oliver, recommended by an Iowa farmer. I studied Oliver in response to the tweet and will obtain a copy of American Primitive for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. It is curious Oliver worked at the Edna St. Vincent Millay home for Millay’s sister. Millay was another recommended poet whose Collected Poems was already on my shelf. I’m building a pile of poetry on the dresser in the bedroom.

Emily Dickinson and Ted Hughes were recommended by a follower and fellow gardener in Canada. I pulled down copies of Poetry Is and Crow by Hughes and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. Punctuation editing is an issue with works by Dickinson as we know. Hopefully Johnson’s edition will serve.

A local friend who lives part of the year in Italy recommended W.S. Merwin’s Garden Time. I will locate a copy and start reading Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment which was already on my shelves.

Richard Eberhart of Austin, Minn. was recommended by another Midwesterner. On my shelves, rescued from a Goodwill Store in 1994, was a copy of the New Directions Paperbook edition of Selected Poems 1930-1965, which I am reading now. The iconography of these poems is very familiar.

If Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, 2020 will be the summer of poetry in a pandemic.

Categories
Garden

Warm Weather Vegetable Planting

Mustard greens – walnut pesto with a flat loaf of freshly baked bread.

On Friday I planted the rest of the tomatoes and the sweet, bell peppers. I’m running out of room for hot peppers so I harvested mustard greens and made pesto with ingredients from the pantry. I’ll use that space for a variety of hot peppers.

I have more seedlings than will fit in my seven garden plots so choices must be made. The last plot will be cucumbers with room for whatever else will fill the space, likely the single zucchini plant that germinated, and more hot peppers and tomatoes.

Succession planting is important to space management but the ice box is filled with leafy green vegetables and a family can only eat so many per day.

Rain is forecast in the next hour. As soon as the sun rises I want to harvest turnip greens to make the last of the vegetable broth for canning.

I’m trying to get better at growing bell peppers. Here’s a passage from the Jan. 18 barter proposal to my farmer friend Carmen:

We talked about mentoring on how to grow bell peppers. The idea we discussed was me spending some individual time with you discussing seed variety, irrigation systems, weeding, fertilizing, pest control and other issues, then helping you grow this year’s crop. While this means more labor on my part, I consider that part of the learning process for which I’d be bartering, not an added expense to you. As the crop comes in I would want a fair share for fresh eating and freezing as long as the harvest continues, some prime quality and seconds depending on what’s available. What is the value of that learning experience? I don’t know but I’m willing to settle the remaining accrued value for it, making us even.

Thursday I spent a couple of hours at the farm planting peppers. Below are comparison photos of the farm’s peppers and the row I put in my garden yesterday.

Pepper row at Local Harvest CSA
Pepper row in my garden.

At the farm they have a mechanical device to lay plastic for the rows. It creates a berm of soil in the middle of each sheet into which seedlings are planted. There is drip tape irrigation under the plastic. In my garden I manually made the berm with a hoe and garden rake, then covered it with a 48-inch layer of landscaping fabric. I placed grass clippings on each side. I have no drip tape and therefore need to make sure peppers are adequately watered.

The seedlings I used were a combination of ones I started and the main crop peppers at the farm. I also put in six plants of Guajillo chili peppers and two each of Serrano and Jalapeno. Fingers crossed I produce some peppers out of this.

A lot of weeding remains to be done. Also remaining is the related grass clipping collection for mulch. For that to happen I need a solid block of weather without rain. Doesn’t look like that will happen today.

Categories
Garden

First Kale

Red Russian Kale

I picked the first bunch of Red Russian kale and gave it to folks at the public library.

Despite the coronavirus, life goes on.

I spent a couple of hours at the farm learning how to grow bell peppers. Growing hot peppers has not been an issue. A generous supply of garden-grown sweet bell peppers has eluded me. By taking time to learn the process with more experienced hands I hope the harvest will be better this year. Fingers crossed.

Writers block hasn’t been a thing for me, but maybe it now is. Everything feels in between. In the third month of the pandemic I’m looking for new goals, new projects on which to work. I look at the calendar and realize the limited time left this year. Here’s hoping I find worthy projects pronto.

Categories
Garden

Rainfall in Big Grove Township

Garden on May 14, 2020, after the rain.

Rain fell on Big Grove Township last night and this morning.

Lilacs are in full bloom with branches weighed down by residual raindrops. It will be a day indoors to cook, to clean, to read and write.

The second batch of vegetable broth quarts has 20 minutes left in the water bath. Once sealed, cooled and dated they will join the others on the shelf. I heard one of them fracture when I submerged it in the hot water. Old Mason jars don’t last forever.

While digging in the cupboard to find 14 empty quart jars there was an old one with colored glass and a sharp edge on the lip. It had been chipped and was unlikely to hold a seal. I placed it in the recycling bin.

It’s another day in the coronavirus pandemic when we wait to see if the federal government begins to manage the crisis. Our governor gave the okay for beauticians, barbers, hair stylists and massage therapists to go back to work. I’ve seen a production of Sweeney Todd so I’ll continue with my aches and pains and let my freak flag grow back so I can let it fly once the rain ends and the pandemic has run its course.

Categories
Environment Garden

At Low Level

Spring Garlic

The shoreline was exposed as I crossed Coralville Lake to secure provisions.

While it looks like we are in a drought, it is better to say we are ready for extra water coming from upstream snow melt and spring rains flowing into the Mississippi River basin.

Lake water level is decided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a function of their plan to mitigate flood damage. The experience was a reminder ours is a built environment.

I stopped at a chain drug store and at the wholesale club to stock up. I’ve been donning a mask and going shopping every other week during the pandemic. Most other people inside retail establishments wear masks. If I didn’t want dairy products or were vegan I’d go to town less often, maybe once a month.

We harvest something daily from the garden. This morning it was spinach. With a spring share from the farm, I’m getting backed up on greens. It’s time to make vegetable broth for canning. I’ll carry six quarts over from last season and want 20 quarts on the shelf to make it through another year. Broth has become a pantry staple. I use it to cook rice, make a roux, and add flavor to soup.

In addition to making broth, today’s work will be preparing the main tomato bed for planting. That means to spade lanes in the plot, rototill the lanes, rake the surface smooth, lay garden cloth on the surface and put enough grass clippings on top to hold it down until the seedlings are in. I’m short of grass clippings for mulch but tomatoes are a high priority and will take the entire stockpile.

My creativity is at a low level and I’m not sure why. Partly it is the coronavirus pandemic, partly something else. Perhaps I’m simply enjoying this glorious spring weather — the part before insects begin foraging every living plant. Spring serves as fit distraction for what ails us. One can do a lot worse than spring.

Categories
Cooking Garden Local Food

Bow Tie Pasta with Garlic and Arugula

Bow tie pasta with garlic and arugula

The arugula is top quality this year and I’m in a use it up mode. I spent more time preparing for this dish of bow tie pasta with garlic and arugula than usual. I researched recipes and thought a lot about it during the past two days. I used Parmesan cheese from a green can because of the coronavirus pandemic. It came out well but would be better with higher quality cheese. Here goes:

Ingredients:

Big bunch of arugula, half a pound, washed and roughly chopped
2 cups dried bow tie pasta
12-14 cloves of garlic
Quarter cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup grated hard cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano)
Salt and pepper to taste

Process

Set a pan of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.

Peel and trim the garlic. Then slice finely (1/8 inch).

Once the water reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to directions.

Once the pasta is down, bring the olive oil just to the smoke point. Add the garlic, stirring constantly. As the garlic begins to brown, add the pine nuts and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the knob of butter and stir. Before the foam begins to subside, transfer everything to a mixing bowl. Drain the pasta and dump it in the bowl. Combine until they are incorporated.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the arugula and cheese and mix gently until the arugula wilts.

Makes two generous servings.

Categories
Environment Garden

Insects in a Garden with Arugula

Pear blossoms ready for pollination.

Pollinators came in abundance and did their work. Now it’s snowing flower petals.

The collapse of insect populations is a well-documented phenomenon. 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction, due mostly to habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture. Agricultural chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are additional causes, according to Biological Conservation.

In our yard insect populations find a home, begin doing their work, and cause trouble in the garden almost as soon as freezing temperatures abate. They are relentless. Humans should be so relentless.

Insect damaged Pak Choy.

Because of insects our yard has a bird population. They nest in the fruit trees and lilac bushes. They perch everywhere there is something upon which to stand. It’s easy to find them chasing insects through the air. It’s for the birds and insects I use no weed killers or lawn fertilizers and let the grass go to seed.

We are an island in a sea of agriculture. When wheat is harvested Japanese beetles head to property like ours where they feed on certain types of vegetation. Corn and soybean harvests result in visits of additional species of displaced insects. It is important to consider the world outside our property lines as insects know few boundaries and what farmers do a section of two over impacts us.

The first white butterfly flew around the cruciferous vegetables yesterday. They lay eggs on foliage which hatch and produce green worms that eat said foliage. It didn’t take long after planting for the butterfly to show up.

I observed a number of bee species during the pear tree pollination. Dandelions are an excellent source of early pollen for bees so I let them go. A large bumble bee lumbered through the air, laden with pollen, and flew through an opening in the chicken wire mesh around a garden plot.

The pear tree is being pollinated as I type this post. If pears form this year there will be another struggle with Japanese beetles over the fruit. Last year we lost the whole crop to the pests.

I went out to the garden before sunrise to see if I could catch the culprit eating my Pak Choy. In order to defend against bugs they need to be identified. I shone the light on my mobile phone but couldn’t find it today.

I turned to the arugula which reaching maturity. I returned to the garage, got a colander, a pair of scissors, and a knee pad, and pulled back the fencing to harvest a big bunch. I removed an insect, cleaned it and put it away in the ice box.

When I returned from a shift at the farm I made a lunch using this process:

Add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a large bowl. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice, tablespoon of home made apple cider vinegar and finely minced spring garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until incorporated. Fill a serving bowl with arugula and dump it into the larger bowl. Toss gently until the leaves are coated. Return the salas to the serving bowl. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and serve.

Categories
Cooking Garden

Planning A Vegetable Garden

Pear Blossoms

Since retiring on Tuesday there has been one good day to work outside.

Tuesday and Wednesday were cool and dark with scattered showers. I read two books, reworked the family budget, and spent most of my time indoors.

Thursday was a glorious spring day when I measured and cleared the remaining three garden plots and planned the sequence of events and layouts. Today looks equally nice and an opportunity to start direct seeding and planting from the greenhouse.

This year may be the best yet start to the garden. I’m hopeful even though a lot of weeding and combating pests lies ahead.

There will be spring garlic from the volunteer patch and arugula planted March 2 is ready to harvest. I’m reviewing cook books for ideas, seeking a spring pasta dish as a chance to combine fresh arugula and last season’s garlic. Repetition is anathema to having a kitchen garden so a key ingredient will be spontaneity.

Mario Batali has a recipe using fresh mushrooms cooked in sweet vermouth with ten cloves of garlic. It sounds good. I have the garlic, but no vermouth and only canned mushrooms from the wholesale club. A recipe I remember from television is Jaime Oliver and Gennaro Contaldo making pasta using wild rocket they found growing in London. The spontaneity of their process is more what I’m after. Deborah Madison has a recipe called spaghetti with overgrown arugula and sheep’s milk ricotta. It’s closest to the ingredients on hand. Where our ice box is lacking and could improve is by having some pecorino or any kind of ricotta cheese. I make this once a year, so I’m in no hurry to get into the kitchen. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll use whatever ingredients are on hand.

Another spring-use-it-up recipe is a quick version of eggplant Parmesan. When the eggplant harvest comes in, I cut large ones into half-inch disks, roast and freeze them. Every so often I get fresh mozzarella pre-cut in disks from the wholesale club. Canned tomatoes are always in abundance and these three things together make a dish.

Make a simple tomato sauce using canned tomatoes (reserving the juice for soup), basil, dried onions and dried garlic. Whatever you like is fine, even a prepared pasta sauce. Place a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to coat the bottom of the baking dish. Seat frozen eggplant disks in the sauce and cover them with more sauce. Next, a disk of fresh mozzarella on each piece of eggplant. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top and bake in a 400 degree oven on the low-middle shelf. It’s ready as soon as the mozzarella begins to brown. I usually make individual servings in small baking dishes.

A last spring tradition for today is vegetable soup using fresh greens and whatever is in the freezer that needs using up. I always begin with onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves. Key ingredients were a bunch of fresh greens roughly chopped, a quart of canned tomatoes, two quarts of vegetable broth, frozen sweet corn, frozen grated zucchini, and a quarter cup each of dried lentils and barley. There are few rules other than starting with mirepoix and whatever diners like and needs to be used up. It made about a gallon of soup.

Living with a kitchen garden is the center of so much. When arugula, garlic and spring onions start to come in we are ready to break the long winter absence of fresh vegetables.

Categories
Farming Garden

Spring Share and All

Tomato seedlings taking a ride home.

Today is the first spring share at our community supported agriculture project.

The farmers developed a no-contact method to deliver shares during the coronavirus pandemic. Each member’s share will be prepacked in a cooler and left under the oak tree that dominates the farm entrance.

No more self serve from bins in the walk-in cooler until risk of infection passes. With portable coolers there is less to sanitize after pickup.

Sunday was a drop-dead gorgeous spring day in Iowa. Cumulus clouds floated in blue sky and the temperature was perfect. Neighbors were outside working in yards, kayaking on the lake, and walking the roads and trails. There are only so many days like this each year before insects arrive to eat our greenery. Each leaf on each tree looked perfect in the mid day sun.

The first tray of tomato seedlings took a ride home in the passenger seat after my shift at the farm. The forecast is rain the next couple of days so I’m not sure when I will plant them. The portable greenhouse is getting full.

A group of friends from high school participated in a Zoom meeting last night. The host, who also played keyboards in our 1970s band, organized a weekly meeting using the service. I found value in the conversation.

One of the guys on the call is an unemployed nurse who found work last week helping a team from the Iowa Department of Public Health administer COVID-19 tests to slaughterhouse workers. Beginning Friday he spent three days in Waterloo with a team drawing blood and doing nasal swabs to about 3,500 people. Today they head to Columbus Junction for more. I’m glad he found work.

Whatever the reason for the governor’s hesitation, unchecked spread of the coronavirus happened in Iowa because of it. Chasing it in meatpacking plants and care facilities alone will be a major undertaking. She started this scale of testing too late to head off the worst aspects of the pandemic. We are in this until researchers develop a vaccine and distribute it world-wide. Word on the street is it will take three years to accomplish that.

Yesterday we completed our ballots for the Democratic primary. Like many, we are voting by mail because of the coronavirus. Primaries are the time to vote your beliefs. Once voters express their preference, we’ll support the nominees in the general election to retake our government. We can flip the Iowa House of Representatives this year, and if stars properly align, the U.S. Senate. It will be an unusual election because of the pandemic.

So much depends on so many things. Yet when spring is as glorious as it was yesterday the work ahead in politics fades from view. Our collective journey home continues.

Categories
Garden

Third Plot Planted

Garden April 20, 2020

In a cool, calm morning I finished planting the third garden plot.

Sugar Snap peas, Snow peas, carrots, Hakurei turnips, kohlrabi, three varieties of kale, Pak Choi, red onions, Imperial broccoli and spinach.

The wind came up in the afternoon. Hopefully everything didn’t get beaten down.