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Kitchen Garden

It’s Spring By The Calendar

Garden on May 11, 2022.

With intense heat, humidity, and heat advisories, my shifts in the garden have been shorter this year. When I get dizzy, it’s time to head into the house and cool down. There is progress, nonetheless.

All the trays of seedlings under the grow light found their way to the greenhouse on Wednesday. I will need to start more lettuce, yet it can wait. The main crops — broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans — need to get in the ground as soon as my four-hour shifts allow.

The calendar says we have five weeks of spring left, but I don’t know about that. Technically, it is spring, yet weather-wise, summer has arrived.

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Kitchen Garden

Sunday Afternoon Walk

Pac Choi.

Around 1 p.m. I finished in the garden and took a walk on the state park trail. The wind had picked up. While there was plenty of remaining work in the garden, onions were in and other plots tended, I was ready to break the tension from wondering how I would fit everything in the ground this year.

The trail held little traffic: a couple of joggers and a group of young adults out sight-seeing. Spring has arrived with greys and brown of winter yielding to green, yellow and purple. There has been human activity in the park, due mostly to cleanup of the 2020 derecho and the recent prairie burn. The margins between the trail and housing developments get thinner each year. The breeze helped me forget.

Mostly I felt the rush of air on my face as I walked my prescribed route. Strong wind is a blessing and a curse. Yesterday it was a stress-reliever.

Under the row cover everything looked good. I inspected and weeded, then picked some Pac Choi for a stir fry this week, and enough lettuce and spinach to make a small salad. Dinner was the salad with organic rotini and sauce leftover from Friday’s pizza-making. I’m ready for my spouse to return home.

As I read the news after dinner, a longing for better times arrived. When I graduated high school it felt like the strictures of society were loosening. There was hope for better days for our country and our lives in it. No more. Republicans never liked the changes of the 1960s and ’70s. Since Ronald Reagan was elected president they have been rolling back the liberties we gained. The repression pushes down on everything.

They say longing and loss brings people together yet I don’t know about that today. Yesterday I wrote a friend, “I think things changed dramatically during the pandemic. Not only did we break all our good habits, I don’t see enthusiasm for just about anything in real life. People simply want to get by in their own world and leave the politics and pandemic out of it.” What good is it to bring together yet another isolated small group when the tide of conservatism threatens everything we have come to know?

I used the garden hose for the first time this season. It is old. I need to get a new one. The mended joints came loose while it was in storage. They leaked as it filled with water pressure. The nozzle is kaput as well. This morning I’ll take wrenches and a screwdriver to repair the joints again. There are a couple of old nozzles in the garage to use if needed. I don’t like them as well yet one of them will serve. Despite the leaks, the garden got watered and will until I replace the hose. That is, if I do.

So it goes on a spring day in Big Grove Township.

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Kitchen Garden

Shift of Onion Planting

Pizza toppings: Kalamata olives, spring onions and red bell pepper.

On Saturday I spent seven hours planting onions. The names of onion varieties are delightful: Walla Walla, Red Carpet, Ailsa Craig and Rossa di Milano were started from seed.

I emptied the wagon and hooked it to the lawn tractor to haul heavy things. I used to carry the 100-foot water hose, tiller and everything else out there, yet I don’t want to risk being injured. This is a concession to age. The new system reduced the number of trips back to the house.

I filled the small cooler we received as a wedding gift with iced water and a couple of canned beverages. When I got thirsty, a drink was nearby. Hydration is important when working in the sun, as are frequent rest breaks.

This may be the last year for seeding my own onions. Onion starts from the seed supplier have done better than home-seeded ones. It is the final results that matter. I planted three long rows of Patterson onion starts, figuring this would be the mainstay for long-term storage. The variety did well last year so we’ll see how they do.

When I finished for the day, I showered and made a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. I didn’t feel like cooking. I sliced some store-bought radishes in half and had them as a side dish. Garden radishes should be ready soon. I fell asleep in the reading chair shortly after sitting down. Knowing my condition, I set the alarm to wake me in time to view the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate debate. The primary election is June 7.

My spouse has been at her sister’s home since Earth Day and I’m ready for her to return. Today’s forecast is clear with more wind than yesterday. I should finish the onions and till at least one more plot. Gardening season seemed like it would never arrive, yet it has.

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Kitchen Garden

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

Onion Plot, May 2, 2022.

It is always upsetting to spade the garden in spring. When I do, it disturbs a world that became stable since the last growing season. One year I found a burrow of rabbits. This year it was a mouse maze under a section of ground cover. As a human gardener I have no choice but to remove the pests. That’s not to mention the microbial empire disrupted by the turn of a shovel. While the spaded garden may resemble a mass-murder scene from the perspective of earthworms and bacteria, in the long term, the garden is better for it. Better for humans, anyway.

I’ve been reading about the Declaration of Independence. Property and the ability to acquire, own, and do what one wants with it as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others was an unspoken aspect of the founding document. Here is the declaration of rights from the second paragraph. Note there is no mention of property.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Declaration of Independence, National Archives.

There were slave holders among the founders. They realized including enslaved humans as part of “all men” who had self-evident rights would have dire consequences for the new republic. In chattel slavery’s peculiar institution, enslaved humans were property without rights. Slave-holding founders were mixed in their views toward slavery, yet the new country assumed slavery would continue to exist after 1776. What may be speculation today, yet seems equally self-evident, is the founders set in motion a process that would lead President Abraham Lincoln to free the slaves. This process of emancipation continues to today. Despite Chief Justice John Robert’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, that racial disparity is not as bad as it was when the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965, and preclearance of changes to voting laws identified by geography no longer applied, the need for racial justice continues.

My plots of garden are more fertile than most of the farmland surrounding us. If I’ve taken to applying composted chicken and turkey manure as fertilizer, my gardening practices are nothing like the chemical-based, Borlaugian agriculture practiced by so many of my neighbors. Any life destroyed by planting the soil in a garden will be renewed and the soil made more healthy.

Despite delays, there will be a garden this year. Already the turnips, peas and beets are germinating in the ground. Inch by inch, row by row. I’m going to make this garden grow. Now if the rain will let up for a few days.

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Kitchen Garden

Last Frost

Double Ruffled Daffodils, I think.

It is difficult to know when winter’s last frost will occur. I believe it passed, and especially after Mother’s Day, risk of frost will be minimal. The garden is as far behind as it has been since we moved to Big Grove Township in 1993 and dug the first plot the following year.

Under row cover almost everything looked good. Radishes and spinach are up. The transplanted lettuce and Pac Choi are doing well. One type of radish seed did not germinate so I planted lettuce seedlings in its place. One can never have enough lettuce. I weeded and rearranged the row cover supports to make enough for a second row for herbs and vegetables needing protection from flea beetles like Tatsoi and arugula. Radicchio is new to me and last year it grew well under row cover, so I’m planning a couple of heads there. Row two will be in the same plot as the first with celery planned in between covered rows.

It rained most of Friday and the forecast is for more today. There are plenty of political events to attend if I can’t get in the garden. If there is one close, I’ll attend, but otherwise focus on garden tear down (removing fences and cleaning them), seeding in trays for the greenhouse, and laying out the garage floor with garden stuff. It’s time to park the vehicle in the driveway where it will stay for a few weeks until the garden is mostly planted.

The next major planting is onions. I removed last year’s ground cover from the planned plot and am waiting for rain to end long enough for the ground to dry, burn brush, and turn, till and plant. The onion and shallot seeds are getting a bit long in the trays and need to go in the ground. Onion starts from my supplier need planting as well. Onions are an important crop and if I can get in the ground, I’ll plant more this year than last.

Tomato, pepper, celery and eggplant seedlings need some growing time in the greenhouse before they are large enough to plant. A week of sunny days would help. The fruit trees are late producing leaves. I was worried the Red Delicious tree was a goner after being damaged multiple times in wind storms. It is not expected to fruit this year, yet it survived winter and that’s a positive sign.

The yellow flowers I brought from Indiana are beginning to bloom. They are also late, yet there are some beautiful blooms coming out after a lackluster season in 2021. My spouse is with her sister in the state capitol. I sent a bouquet via email to celebrate the end of April. The blooms don’t last long.

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Kitchen Garden

Working Outdoors

After being damaged in a windstorm the greenhouse is back up… and full.

Everything takes longer than expected. It took about two hours to assemble the replacement frame for the greenhouse and transfer the seedlings from the dining room floor where they landed after a wind storm ruined the last one.

Overnight temperatures were forecast to drop to freezing. At 3 a.m. I checked the weather’s progress then ran an extension cord for a space heater to keep tender plants from freezing. It was warm enough inside the greenhouse they would have survived, yet better safe than sorry.

Yesterday I transferred kohlrabi and arugula seedlings to their rows, pounded fence posts into the ground, and installed a temporary fence to deter deer. I had planned to do more yet ran out of hours on my shift.

Republicans keep yammering about food and gasoline prices yet that’s not what is killing my budget. Big percentage increases in insurance, natural gas, broadband, electricity, and telephone service are. Each increase is the result of a large company’s accounting department. Go figure.

Weather looks good for more time in the garden today. I’d better get organized.

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Kitchen Garden

Getting Started in the Garden

2022 garden composter.

The kitchen and garden composters are in position for the 2022 growing season. The pace of my garden work slowed in recent years yet I keep at it. Yesterday I made progress in the plot to be used for leafy green vegetables. Plot prep work has become straightforward, routine. I work for a while and then take a rest. Quickly the work is done and the soil ready for planting.

Rain is forecast today, beginning around 9 a.m. and continuing most of the day. I hope to get an hour or two of spading done before it begins. After that I’ll go to the grocery store for provisions.

I made a second burn pile and ignited it. The intent was to clean up the area around the plot. I burned deteriorating pallets and brush. While I was working the fire, an ember got caught in my jeans and burned a hole through them. I didn’t notice until it began to burn me. No harm done, though. My clothing became imbued with smoke.

Eventually, I will make a commitment about what vegetables and herbs go where. Thursday is forecast to be a great day for gardening and I set aside a full six-hour shift. If all goes well, by the end of it, the next plot will be finished.

There is a lot going on in society right now. So much there is inadequate time for reflection. For the time being, I’ll write about gardening while I consider the rest.

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Kitchen Garden

Planting Day

Early vegetables under row cover.

High winds blew the row cover off the frame multiple times on Monday. I went outdoors and fixed it. I ended up using landscaping stakes to secure it in 40+ miles per hour wind. By sundown, the wind slowed. It was too late to get back to the garden.

By the time I return home after a morning appointment in Cedar Rapids, it should be warm enough to try gardening again. The good part about the delay is I had ample time to evaluate how to rearrange the next plot for planting. I decided to move the large composter over the remaining roots of the now gone locust tree to assist in its decomposition. I plan to get rid of the pallets that have been on the plot for a few years and store fence posts in the garage. This will increase the planting area, something sorely needed this year.

If I can get seeds in the ground, tomorrow’s rain will be good for them.

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Kitchen Garden

We Need a Break in the Weather

Seedlings are indoors. These trays plus four more under the grow light make 17. Half of them should already be in the ground.

The forecast is cold and windy today: marginal for working in the garden. As temperatures climb to around 40 degrees, the wind is forecast to pick up, resulting in a wind advisory beginning after lunch with gusts up to 45 miles per hour. Once the sun rises, I’ll go out and see what can be done before that starts. I’m not hopeful. Both seeds and seedlings need to get into the ground. Like with everything about gardening, it is culture rather than an exact science. There is flexibility.

I spent part of Sunday transferring germinated tomato seeds from the channel tray into full-sized soil blocks. I made 150 seedlings (bottom right of the photo) and plan to make another tray of slicers once I move some of the plants into the garden and greenhouse. The replacement greenhouse is not expected until next week so space is restricted. Tomatoes are an important garden crop and getting the right number at the right stage is important.

This year, I’m planting tomatoes in three plots. There will be a large space for slicers, one for plums, and another for cherries. The slicers are a mix of colors and will mostly be used fresh. Roma are for canning and I am trying San Marzano tomatoes for the first time. I’m also planting more Amish Paste along with Speckled Roman and Granadero. Cherry tomatoes are a basic and produce for a long season.

I’m hopeful for another great year of tomatoes. With 19 varieties the prospects are good.

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Kitchen Garden

Good Friday Potatoes

2022 Red Norlund potato planting.

I planted seed potatoes on Good Friday as is tradition. It was unclear they would make it into the ground on the designated day, but they did.

We enjoy a few potatoes fresh from the ground in July. Our annual consumption is about 100 pounds for two of us, so potatoes are not a dietary mainstay. The reason I plant them at all is for crop and menu diversity. I use raised containers because one year rodents got more than we did.

I emptied the containers and refilled them with soil from around them. I added compost from the kitchen composter along with some fertilizer. I planted nine or ten seeds in each container and hope for the best. Potatoes can be a staple food. Organic potatoes are widely available in our area if we run out.

It’s another cold day in Big Grove. The sun is out, wind is down, so once it warms above 40 degrees, I’ll resume work on the plot with newly planted potatoes. If everything goes well, I’ll direct seed peas, beets, turnips and carrots. My farmer friends already have theirs in the ground. When the fencing is up, kohlrabi, collards and some kale seedlings are ready for planting. If good weather holds it will be a busy time until Memorial Day.