Kitchen Garden

Late Spring in a Kitchen Garden

Radicchio Leaves, June 11, 2021.

These late spring days of gardening are among the best of the year. Produce is coming in with variety and quantity, the ice box is filling faster than we can eat and preserve everything. It’s why we garden.

There was a time when I didn’t consider leafy green vegetables important in a garden-based meal. I hoped to grow spinach and lettuce, and maybe that’s it. That changed and now I have an entire plot devoted to different kinds of greens. Greens I used to compost now go into vegetable broth or main courses.

This year I successfully grew mustard, chard, kale, collards, turnips, kohlrabi, beets, arugula, lettuce and spinach for leafy greens. I am also experimenting with radicchio.

Radicchio is a bitter green. Based on my research it can be eaten at any stage of the plant. Ideally one gets good sized heads, and I may yet do so. I didn’t understand how big the plant grows, and thinned some to make room for a couple with heads. That produced an opportunity to try some things.

The first leaves I picked went into a fresh salad. Next, I separated and sorted the culled leaves and pickled the larger ones in a brine made with malt vinegar mixed with my own apple cider vinegar. The pickled leaves will be ready in seven days. Like with any pickle in this household, a little goes a long way. What else?

We have not eaten much arborio rice yet have a couple of bags on hand. I thought to use some of it in a radicchio risotto. I searched my main cookbook library and found radicchio recipes in Molto Italiano by Mario Batali, Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant by Annie Somerville, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Classic Italian Cooking for the Vegetarian Gourmet by Beverly Cox with Dale Whitesell, and Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets by Deborah Madison. There were a couple of recipes for risotto and other interesting options. What surprised me was how many cookbooks did not mention radicchio.

Next step is to read all these recipes, pick a risotto plus one other dish to try with the leaves depicted above. The next couple of days are already busy, yet I hope to work this in. Radicchio was comparatively easy to grow, although some refinement is needed in my future cultivation of the plant. I can likely start another crop for fall harvest.

With the garden in and weeded, I can work on other projects in the yard and house. Broccoli heads are beginning to form and cauliflower won’t be far behind. I monitor for predatory pests, as insect life in the garden is vibrant and hopeful. There are likely some cabbage eaters coming, maybe some squash beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and others. I’ll pick them off as I’ve always done without insecticides. My post-pandemic schedule enables me to keep watch over the garden.

I’m planning two main garden harvests per week. One Monday morning for the food bank, and another toward the end of the week for preservation and cooking. This year’s garden has been satisfying on many levels. So much so, I hung a sign on it.

Garden 2021
Kitchen Garden

A Spring Harvest

Garden produce displayed on my work bench on June 4, 2021.

The Dutch oven on the stove top is bubbling with today’s vegetable broth. This batch is different because I used kohlrabi greens, which I usually compost, along with turnip and beet greens. The color is rich. Air in the whole house is imbued with the aroma of mirepoix combined with fresh greens. It is elemental.

By tomorrow night, part of the broth will be used to make dinner.

On trash/recycling day I walk the receptacles to the road when I wake so I don’t forget them after sunrise. There was a cool breeze with low humidity as I did it this morning. It felt good after yesterday’s high temperature close to 90 degrees. According to a local meteorologist, the weekend will be exceedingly warm, without precipitation. It’s a time for humans to stay hydrated and to water the garden enough to keep plants growing in the heat. During yesterday afternoon’s walkabout it appeared pumpkins, cucumbers and squash planted have become established despite the heat. It was touch and go for a while.

When I write about the kitchen garden it blocks other topics. For the time being it’s okay. In 2022 I’m planning a course of renewal as a septuagenarian, there’s more I want to accomplish during my days. For now, the scent of vegetable broth and small successes in the garden will sustain me.

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

Garden is In – 2021

Garden on May 31, 2021

On Memorial Day I fenced in plot #7 and planted Guajillo chili peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, and a variety of yellow squash and zucchini. There is always something more to plant, yet with the fences up, I’m saying the garden is done. A gardener needs closure.

The next step is to go through the greenhouse and see what I might have missed and find a space for it. There are also extra seedlings which can now be composted. The pumpkins, cantaloupes, and winter squash are not ready to go into the ground yet. From here it is a clean-up operation… and weeding.

There will be less weeding because of the landscaping cloth used in some of the plots. Our yard doesn’t produce enough grass clippings to mulch everything, so I had to do something. Last time I brought a load of mulch from the Iowa City landfill a whole new and different crop of weeds sprouted from it. It was free, but a bad option. I re-used the landscaping cloth from last year and with care it will make it through multiple seasons. It is a better choice than single-use plastic or contaminated mulch from the landfill.

The kitchen is transformed by spring produce. There have been a variety of salads, kale and other greens in everything, spring onions, spring garlic, and radishes. Most notable is the abundance of lettuce. Using row cover on lettuce made a big difference in the size and quality of heads. There is more than we will be able to eat fresh. That’s not to mention arugula and spinach, which together make a nice green salad dressed with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. The first batch of spring soup should be stellar.

Garlic scapes have begun to emerge, signaling summer and its long season of food preservation. I’m ready for the busy days ahead as the garden comes into its own and we enjoy the harvest.

It’s nice to call planting done even though a gardener’s work is never finished.

Living in Society


Wildflowers on the Lake Macbride State Park trail, May 26, 2021.

Fourteen months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, it was time to get the newer car serviced. For the most part, the 2002 Subaru sat in the garage or driveway during the pandemic. Wednesday I drove it to town, dropped it at the shop, and walked home along the Lake Macbride State Park trail. It was a near perfect day for a long walk, with clear skies and ambient temperatures in the mid 70s.

Rain is today’s forecast, as it has been for the last two weeks. We haven’t gotten much rain, only enough to retard gardening progress. It looks like drought will be more Iowa’s problem this growing season, although there has been enough moisture here.

In an effort to stop taking a post-operative opioid pain killer, I skipped a dose yesterday afternoon. I’ll likely skip another dose at 11 a.m. today and if the pain is subsiding, switch back to Ibuprofen (or nothing) before bedtime. It was useful to have access to a strong pain killer.

I’ve been mostly out of the garden since I put the tomatoes in and need to finish up initial planting with Guajillo chilies, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes, and acorn squash in plot seven. I also need to weed… a lot.

I’ve been reading Mark Bittman’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal. It presents a broad history of food in society, focusing on the detrimental aspects of agriculture. I’m reading the chapter on branding — the rise of Chiquita, Campbell’s, Heinz, Kraft and others. In my autobiography there is a section about the rise of grocery stores and branded prepared foods, so Bittman provides a great background for that work just when I need it. The current average rating on Goodreads is 3.88 which seems about right. I can’t say there is much new to me in the book yet he does part of my research for me.

At 9 a.m. this morning there is a 100% chance of rain, according to my weather application. As soon as the sun rises at 5:36 a.m., I plan to grab my spade and turn over as much of plot seven as I can before it starts. After being waylaid for a week, I’m ready to get back to the garden.

Kitchen Garden

Lettuce Progress

Magenta and Bibb lettuce, May 25, 2021.

This year’s spring lettuce crop beat expectations. I harvested a lot and the heads are healthy-looking. I set a wheel barrow with lettuce at the end of the driveway to share the abundance with neighbors. Only a couple found homes but I’m happy to place any of it. I’m not really marketing either.

I seem to have cracked the code for growing lettuce. Here’s what I am seeing.

It began with selecting variety. Magenta from Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a good summer crop lettuce and that’s most of what’s in the photo. I also procured five other varieties, which I’m trying in succession.

The germination heating pad made a big difference. Seeds germinated more quickly and that resulted in more viable starts. I recycled some nine-cell seed starter trays and that’s the right size per succession crop for our household. Before last frost I transplanted to larger containers and now I’m planting from the nine-cell trays directly into the soil.

Lettuce under row cover.

What appears to have made the biggest difference is planting lettuce under row cover. The heads grew quickly to maturity and the soil remains fertile with addition of composted chicken manure crumbles. The row cover also protects lettuce from excessive sunlight and from insects. I’ve grown lettuce from seedlings before, but never like this, with big heads and a high seedling success rate.

I did a financial analysis of gardening as a potential source of income and lettuce would be a key component. People will pay more for organically grown lettuce fresh from the garden. I haven’t thought much about taking it to the farmers’ market before, but after this spring, I can see a path to selling some of it next year.

A gardener is always observing the results of their work, trying new things, and staying up to date on tools and techniques available to improve cropping. When one hits on a success, like this lettuce crop, the work seems worth it.

Think I’ll have a celebratory salad for breakfast.

Kitchen Garden


Water bath canning.

The first batch of vegetable broth is canned and stored. I am well on the way to meeting a 24 quart budget.

Two different batches went into this water bath canning session. The colors were different because of different greens used. I thought of marking them in vintages as is done with wine, yet that may be a step too far. It’s only broth.

My garden is producing enough leafy green vegetables that the challenge will be using them up. I’m ready to go on my own after the last farm share on Monday. I appreciate the spring CSA share as a bridge between winter and my garden becoming established. Their high tunnels make it possible. I could likely do without it but that would mean changing behavior of nine years — it would be too much coming out of the pandemic.

I strained my shoulder and was waylaid for a couple of days. Luckily it rained so I didn’t feel I was losing garden productivity. I treated with rest and Ibuprofen and the injury does not seem permanent. Can’t say it’s as good as new, because at age 69, who would believe it?

Since the World Health Organization declared the global pandemic on March 11 last year I gained three pounds. I feel healthier than I have in years, although am cognizant of age’s fragility which produces strains and minor aches and pains. I’m doing okay and hesitate to add the dreaded phrase, “for my age.”

Friday afternoon I made black tea with lemon balm. It was surprisingly refreshing. I buy the cheapest bagged tea leaves at the grocer and they make the best iced tea. I use the ones without strings. The lemon balm came with the farm share and I added it to three tea bags in our Brown Betty before pouring the water. It made a scant two quarts.

With nine days left until Memorial Day, finishing initial garden planting is within reach. I started some winter squash in trays yesterday and the rest of what I start indoors from seed will be for succession planting. I’m already on the third round of lettuce and spinach, second of broccoli and cauliflower. With the isolation created by the coronavirus pandemic, it is expected to be a great gardening year.

Kitchen Garden

Spring Garden Gallery

Oak trees in the vanishing point.

Kitchen Garden

Spring Shift

Stump from a Bur Oak tree damaged by the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho.

Weather is shifting enough to start planting warm weather crops. This passage from the farm’s weekly newsletter explains:

We were full steam ahead last week trying to get all of our cooler season crops like broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, fennel, and herbs planted before the long-awaited rain we got over the weekend. We always wait until at least May 15th to plant warm season crops that can’t handle colder temperatures or frosts, so it’s important to us to stay on top of planting all the cool season crops and field preparation ahead of that date. That way when May 15th rolls around we can really focus on planting the huge number of plants that suddenly need to go in the ground to give them the longest season possible as well as getting them established before it gets too hot.

Carmen Black, Local Harvest CSA, May 10, 2021.

My small greenhouse is packed with plants and the weather forecast looks like Wednesday is the last reasonable chance of frost. I ordered some weed suppression fabric from my Maine-based supplier, spaded plot #6 for tomatoes, and made sure everything in the greenhouse was watered and ready to go into the ground. There is a lot to do and the next three weeks will be pretty intense.

The challenge will be determining where to put everything. I have a general idea, and the plots with single crops (onions, garlic, tomatoes) are easy. Fitting all the squash, cucumbers and zucchini into spots where they can spread is a tough decision. I sat on my stump considering this more than a few time over the last month.

One of three Bur Oak trees I planted as acorns blew askew during the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. It had to be taken out and I did. Rather than cut the stump to ground level I left it tall so I could sit on it when I need a rest. I use it more than anticipated, although more as a thinking place. It has been a nice addition to the garden.

The garden tasks ahead are clear. In between a debrief from the recent Climate Reality Project virtual training this morning, and the special convention in the county seat to nominate a candidate for supervisor tonight, I hope to accomplish a lot. I wish the rest of my life were that clear.

Now that the weather shifted it’s go time.

Kitchen Garden

Planting Annuals

Garden Plot #5, ready to plant.

Ambient temperature reached 38 degrees overnight, indicating we are not out of the frost zone yet. In Marion, just north of us, it hit 33 degrees. Despite this reality, the following appeared in the Saturday newspaper:

Mother’s Day has a twofold purpose in this part of Iowa. It’s a time to honor moms and it is time to plant your annuals as the fear of a late frost is over. I think.

At least it looks like this May is going to be sunny and warm without any dips to freezing.

So if you haven’t already, it is time to scope out the garden centers, find what you want, and a few more you couldn’t resist, and enjoy planting.

Judy Terry, Iowa City Press Citizen, May 8, 2021.

Gardening as consumerism? Blech!

I buy plenty of supplies for the garden. However, I haven’t been in a garden center since I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store. My work was to receive merchandise and set up display areas, not to shop. Things I need from a garden center makes a very short list.

People have to get their seedlings somewhere, so I don’t begrudge folks who frequent garden centers. I encourage people to plant something, even if in a container on a patio. I also understand newspapers appeal to a certain type of resident. The paper dipped below 10,000 subscribers and had to begin once a week free distribution to meet advertising contracts. They may need articles like Ms. Terry’s to prop up sagging circulation. I’m okay with that, too. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

My little greenhouse remains full despite planting yesterday. Into the garden went Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, leeks, spinach, tomatillos and okra. I planted the okra and tomatillos in drainage tile so they will be protected or easily covered if it does freeze. Everything else should withstand the cold.

My garden fencing is a mess driven by trying to recycle previous years’ mesh. I’m committed to reorganizing it because I need two rolls of the welded wire fencing for the tomatoes and a third, which is heavy duty, to make more tomato cages. That is a big project by itself.

For now, though, we wait for danger of last frost to pass.