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.

Kitchen Garden

Blustery Day in the County

Waiting for better weather to install the boat docks on the lake.

Some parts of the county reported wind gusts of 60 miles per hour yesterday. The National Weather Service counted eight tornadoes in Iowa. The wind lifted my greenhouse from its base and rolled it along behind my neighbor’s home. The main outdoors work was dealing with the wind.

Wind is expected to die down today. After my conference call I should be able to work in the garden. I plan to continue deconstructing a plot for peas and greens. I’ll transplant tomato seedlings from the channel tray where they germinated to soil blocks. This is Good Friday, the traditional day to plant potatoes. The potato seeds are cut, seasoned and ready to go into the ground. Four packets of seeds arrived from the seed company which need to get planted in blocks and placed on the heating pad to germinate. It will be a busy day.

In addition to dealing with wind, I had my annual diabetes screening with my ophthalmologist. The good news is there is no evidence of diabetes in images of my retina. Cataracts are progressing toward needing surgery in five or more years. For now I can see clearly and if I use the new eyeglasses prescription things will be in focus. He dilated my pupils and I was disorientated most of the day. Not wanting to drive home immediately after dilation, I went to a nearby retail store and walked around until my eyesight recovered enough to drive. I brought home a load of mostly organic fruit and vegetables.

I’m reading The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles C. Mann. I had not known much about either of its main subjects, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt. This is a good time to take up this study because how civilization interacts with the environment is a key modern consideration. The book outlines two main approaches. I lean toward Vogt’s “carrying capacity” approach, with some caution. While Borlaug won a Nobel Prize for his work with plant genetics, hybrid seeds and industrial-scale agriculture are part of our current environmental problems.

I’d like to get back to normal yet I don’t know what that means any longer. Spring, while blustery, has sprung.

Kitchen Garden

A Springery Mix

2022 garlic patch.

During yesterday’s drive to Des Moines precipitation was a mix of sleet, snow and rain. We are supposed to be finished with winter, so instead of a “wintry mix” let’s call it a “springery mix.” High winds were freezing cold when I made a rest stop.

The garden is behind and getting further behind each day. Ambient temperatures today are forecast at 30 degrees the next few hours with wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour during the day. I pulled trays of seedlings out of the greenhouse and brought them indoors again. They are progressing, yet slowly.

At least the garlic looks good, with only a couple of dead spots. Garlic is great yet a person can’t live on it.

Onion starts are to arrive from the seed provider this week. They will sit on the workbench until the soil dries and I can get into the garden to prepare the bed. The onions and shallots I started from seed need planting as the starter soil appears to be exhausted of nutrients. We are not in a good place.

This morning I have an appointment across the lakes after which we’ll see if any gardening can be done today. I may be relegated to transplanting tomatoes to larger soil blocks and seeding the next wave of vegetables. Will take it one day at a time.

Kitchen Garden

Gardening In Between

At the junior high school track meet on April 13, 2022.

I woke to the sound of rain falling on the roof. The furnace was off with its quiet mechanicals accentuating the gentle sound. After a restless Monday night, I slept straight through to Wednesday.

Weather was sub-optimal for gardening yesterday. Wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour drove me to abandon tear-down of the garden plot planned for cruciferous vegetables, peas and greens. I managed to move the kitchen composter to a new location and tear down weed infested fencing. A lot of work remains.

This plot was the first dug after moving to Big Grove in 1993. I remember that initial work like it was yesterday. Our lot is 0.62 acres and I envisioned a big garden even if my work in transportation kept me away from the daily work of planting, weeding and managing crops. I became a better gardener by sticking with it. The plot became filled with sunken potato tubs, two composters, and pallets of miscellaneous stakes and other essential garden junk. It was a hodge-podge. I plan to clear all of it to gain planting space. I don’t know to where I’ll move the garden composter yet.

In late afternoon I drove to town and met with our candidate for state house, Elle Wyant. Her seventh grader was participating in a track meet at the high school. It provided an opportunity to talk about politics.We had more in common than I knew.

I don’t understand track and field. There were 400 people at the stadium, mostly milling about between events from what I could determine. It is the stuff of modern society: boring most of the time, injected with deep engagement in brief flashes. How did we come to that as a way to live?

Kitchen Garden

Turning the First Spade

Seedlings back inside the house while it has been cold.

Ambient temperatures are expected to rise by 20 degrees during the next two hours. Winds are down and skies clear. It is time to turn the first spade in the garden.

This is the latest I’ve begun gardening and there is a long to-do list. Once indoors chores are finished, I’ll get after it.

If the ground is frost-free the order of business is set up the first plot with row cover and plant seeds and seedlings for early harvest. Once that is finished, preparation for potato planting is next. I’m keeping the buried containers, although moving them. Also on the list is transplanting kale and other leafy greens to a bigger pot to help them grow before going into the ground closer to last frost. Any tear-down of fences and ground cloth from last year’s garden will be a bonus. I scheduled a five-hour shift and hope to work all of it.

Society is getting busy again. As the coronavirus pandemic appears to be normalized, my hope is people can be reasonable in preventing the spread of infectious disease. COVID-19 vaccination should be rolled into vaccine schedules that already govern our health.

Spring has sprung and people are anxious to get busy doing things they couldn’t during the pandemic.

That includes me.

Kitchen Garden

Gardening Begins

Garden on May 31, 2021

Gardening season has begun!

Onions and shallots planted Jan. 6 were ready to come off the heating pad. The only note is shallot seeds from 2020 did not germinate this year. Because I also planted new seeds, everything is fine. I replaced onions and shallots on the heating pad with a flat of kale, broccoli and collards on Feb. 6.

It doesn’t require much work at this point. There is soil mix from last season. Making and planting a flat of soil blocks took about an hour. The worst part was the garage was pretty chilly. I was able to stand the cold and finish the work.

About a dozen seed catalogues arrived since Jan. 1. I went through them yesterday and believe I have what is needed. I’ll take another look and order what may be lacking in my seed collection this week. I started older seeds on Sunday. There is plenty of time to see if they germinate. Once they do, I’ll plant the next flat of early seeds.

Snow remains on the ground. Since provisioning last Thursday, I haven’t left the house except to retrieve the mail and deliver the recycling bin to the street. I’m thinking by late March I can plant cruciferous vegetables in the ground. Once the snow melts there will be a lot of outdoors work. I’m ready for it. It’s time to garden.

Kitchen Garden

Gardening in 2022

Shallot and onion starts – 2022.

The gardening season kicked off in Big Grove Township with onion and shallot planting on Thursday. I planted two varieties of shallots and five of onions. After consultation with farmer friends, I decided to start earlier this year to see if my starts had a better result for planting in the spring. The trays will rest on a heating pad until they germinate. I ordered onions starts from the seed company again as an insurance policy.

Friday was the coldest day of winter thus far. It reached ten degrees below zero and ambient temperature is expected to remain below freezing until Monday when sub-zero temps return. If the forecast holds, I plan to be pruning trees Monday as the sap will have stopped flowing by then. Like with anything relying on weather, I’ll wait to see what happens.

Friday was trash pickup day. There was no trash in the trash cart and the recycling cart was less than a third filled. Because of the cold I left them in the garage this week. We are getting good at reducing our household waste.

We have provisions enough to last a couple weeks without leaving the house. This week, the county public health department suspended COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing. They issued a press release, which said, in part,

During the past week, there has been a 250% increase in cases from the previous week. The total amount of cases in the past week reached an all-time high of almost 1,400 positive individuals. Due to this dramatic increase, Johnson County Public Health no longer has the ability to contact everyone who tests positive to conduct case investigations and contact tracing. JCPH will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases in high-risk groups and coordinate with organizations who experience a rise in cases, evaluate capacity, and keep the public informed of changes in our COVID-19 response.

Email from Johnson County Public Health dated Jan. 5, 2022.

This is what it looks like when a pandemic inundates the public health system. They can’t do their normal work because there are too many cases of COVID-19.

It is probably best, with the cold, the raging pandemic, and a full pantry and refrigerator, we stay home and bunker in. There is no lack of things to do. We want to live until spring to plant these onions and shallots in the ground. The 2022 gardening season has begun.

Kitchen Garden

Garlic Planting – 2021

Tilled plot for garlic, Oct. 3, 2021.

A fine mist of rain began just as I finished tilling the garlic patch. It felt good as I cleaned the electric rototiller tines. I’m not sure I found all the Bur Oak acorns squirrels buried in the plot. We’ll see this spring.

Garlic is in the ground the longest time of anything I plant. Three months the first year and the six or seven more next. It doesn’t take a lot of effort yet there is a specific skill set to getting good results. I learned from one of Iowa’s experts.

I set aside the best garlic heads from the last crop for seed. Last year I planted about 75 cloves and this year about 100. As I broke open the heads and separated the cloves, some had a bad spot. Those were set aside to be trimmed and used in cooking. A gardener wants seed garlic to be free of defects if that’s possible.

A lot of the seconds of garlic will go into a batch of Guajillo chili sauce using fresh chili pods. I also have dried Guajillo chili pods that need to be used up and I’ll use that to make taco filling with kale. The garlic will all get used.

There is a lot going on in the kitchen garden in October. Every minute presents an opportunity to get something done.