Categories
Garden

Spring Garden Review – 2020 Planning

Garden on May 31, 2020.

We’re taking a break after spring planting.

At the farm the major crops for the CSA vegetable shares are in. We took time off from new seeding and begin fall crops next week. At home initial garden planting finished yesterday and a few sections have been replanted. Every available spot in our seven plots has been planted — the best space utilization since we moved here in 1993.

Time to consider some lessons learned. This post is about planning and I hope there will be others about technology, seed starting and other aspects of gardening in the near future.

With the exception of adding two apple trees near the west entry to the garden the layout remained the same as last year. Seven plots with three in specialty crops (tomatoes, onions and garlic) and four divided into rows with three-foot sections in each to separate varieties.

Since I began starting seedlings at the farm a few years ago I produce more than I need. This results in a tendency to use them, over-planting some leafy green vegetables which produced in abundance yielding restricted space availability for other crops. Family and friends can only eat so many leafy green vegetables.

I put in a lot of broccoli for freezing (33 plants), more kohlrabi than we will use, and varieties I don’t normally grow (mustard greens, two kinds of chard, okra, collards) because I got free seeds at the home, farm and auto supply store. I’m glad for the experience growing these varieties yet intend to harvest everything in one section of greens this week and replace it with more desirable tomatoes, many of which are mystery tomatoes from a wide variety of free packets from work. Even though the plan was to reduce the number of tomato plants because I canned a lot of them in 2019, I’m gravitating back to the number of plants I had because of the abundance of greens and tomato seedlings.

The main tomato patch is planned by variety (slicers and plums) although I got which is which mixed up when preparing the seedlings for transplant. There are also five plantings of cherries in another plot. Tomatoes make a great gift, so if they all produce, there will be no problem finding homes for them if the canning jars and freezer are full.

Each year I get a little smarter about deer deterrence. In addition to fencing everything with four foot chicken wire, I’ve used two tactics. I position plants deer like furthest away from the fence. This year I put the okra in the center of a plot so they can’t reach over the fence and eat the leaves. The high fence (five feet with an exposed section at the bottom) around the tomato patch also serves to keep them away from eating tender shoots and has improved production. I also use what I call gang planting. That is, I plant rows closer together so deer do not have a place to land if they jump the four foot fence. This year I spaced the rows more properly to enhance production. We’ll see how that goes. Since I began working on these issues, deer have been a minor inconvenience rather than a problem. I appreciate their help cleaning up fallen apples when there is fruit.

There are the questions of rabbits and small rodents. The main trouble with rabbits is when the new bunnies are born and they get into everything. Mature rabbits tend not to dig under the fences, partly because I don’t regularly mow the lawn or use any kind of spray or fertilizer. There is plenty for them to eat more readily available. The undisciplined litter of bunnies is unaware of these “rules.” Their reign of terror on the vegetable patch is short because predators reduce the population quickly. Thus far I live and let live with rabbits, although am skeptical that will be a long term condition of gardening. We keep a watchful eye on each other.

Planting potatoes in containers eliminated the problem of burrowing rodents eating into the tubers before I dug them. They continue to nibble at bulbous roots like beets, radishes and carrots in the rows. I’ve come to accept it as resolved through detente and just live with the damage. At such time there is not enough left for our family from their foraging my attitude could change. I rarely see the rodents although I am aware of their presence. They broke into the sealed compost container for kitchen waste.

The last planning issue is bigger, beginning with trees I situated in the garden that got away from me — the locust tree is dying, and the three oak trees planted the year our daughter graduated from high school (one for each of us) need to be thinned to one. The shade they provide has protected crops in the blistering sun of planetary warming and in times of drought. They became part of the overall garden design although that was adaptation rather then planning.

I have big ideas. One fall I’ll clear the plots early and take the locust down and cut two of the three oaks as they are planted too closely together and have grown too tall to transplant them. At the same time I may hire a landscaping firm to create a deer-proof enclosure and re-structure the plot layout to improve space utilization. That would enable me to get rid of a lot of the chicken wire. I’ll also build a shed to store garden tools so I don’t have to continuously wear a path (now visible from space) from the garden to the garage. These things have been delayed because of financial constraints. Soon we may be in a position to act on them.

Thirty seven years of gardening leads me to this formal reflection about what I’m doing. Next up will be technology which is making a big, positive impact in getting the plots planted and will hopefully improve yield.

Categories
Garden Politics Social Commentary Writing

News, Retreat, Action

Home Garden May 30, 2020

When the news goes to hell, like it did on Friday, I retreat.

In an on line chat about poetry I wrote a follower, “Hope things are going better in Canada than they are here.”

“They are, very much so here in B.C.,” he responded. “I’m not a flag waver type but this present moment produces a real sense of refuge.”

On Friday moving to Canada was not out of the question.

To where did I retreat? I worked outdoors from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday. I harvested grass clippings for mulch, put in the seventh garden plot, and called initial garden planting done.

I picked kale and delivered it to one of the library workers. Our public library remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic yet they continue to run limited operations behind locked doors. Next week they begin curb side materials pickup as they determine how best to reopen. The local newspaper featured a photograph of the librarian wearing a mask in from of the building. Our library is the most obvious local indicator of the progress of the pandemic and economic recovery.

Once again, a video shared in social media — the May 25 murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis — sparked demonstrations and violence broke out in cities around the United States. Coverage dominated the news, eclipsing every other story, including the coronavirus pandemic which has now resulted in more than 100,000 U.S. deaths according to official statistics. It is a sign of the times I didn’t hear of Saturday’s demonstrations in the county seat, or in nearby Cedar Rapids until after working in the garden. There were no demonstrations where I live.

The thing about a retreat is it has a fixed beginning and end point, leaving us with the question what do we do next? It’s not complicated.

Above everything else, addressing the lack of leadership in our current government is a priority. That means voting the Republicans out of office in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles. It is difficult to see how any substantial change will be possible, in any area of society, until that is done. I’d much rather be writing about the climate crisis, income inequality, and social justice. For that to have meaning, we need leadership to set different priorities and move the country toward solutions. We can point out solutions to the climate crisis and income inequality, and that black lives matter all we want. To make a difference, our only hope is to change our government.

My last paycheck from a job was in April after retiring from the home, farm and auto supply store. Our expenses came down dramatically during the pandemic so there was money left from our pensions to pay down debt and donate to political campaigns. We’ll be doing more of that. Better than that will be to develop a positive message about who we are as Iowans and as Americans and to share that broadly. Living with a demagogue as president has been frustrating. We have to believe our best days are ahead of us and take action to work toward that end.

Categories
Cooking Garden Local Food

Rhubarb Crisp

Rhubarb Crisp

Someone asked for the recipe when I posted this photo in social media. I was taken aback.

There was no recipe, I just made it out of the rhubarb and my experience. In a kitchen garden we don’t open a lot of cookbooks.

Ingredients arrive from multiple sources and we consider them, make dishes and meals, using what is available in the ice box, garden, pantry, and our imagination. Experience comes into play. It is a way to source food, cook and eat that isn’t emphasized as much as its value warrants.

Living with a kitchen garden is as good a way to produce meals as I know. It takes some experience but rather than ask, “what is the recipe?” an alternative is “How would this product be made palatable, nutritious and tasty?”

Here’s how I responded to the question:

I saved and diced all the rhubarb that was in my CSA share. It filled this dish. In a mixing bowl I put the rhubarb, one scant cup of granulated sugar, a tablespoon of ground cinnamon, sprinklings of ground cloves and ground allspice, a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of all purpose flour and mixed until incorporated. I returned the mixture to the clean baking dish and sprinkled about one to two tablespoons of water on top. (If I was making apple crisp I would use lemon juice here. Rhubarb is already plenty tart).

For the topping, just use any that you like. This one has a stick of chilled, cubed salted butter, a cup of rolled oats, two thirds cup packed brown sugar and a pinch of salt. I use a pastry cutter to blend everything together, leaving it in chunks. Sprinkle the topping evenly and baked 35 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

That’s a recipe of sorts. If a person eats ice cream, a scoop on the side of a warm, just out of the oven serving of rhubarb crisp would be divine. Or as close to that as we humans can get.

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
Garden Home Life

Lilac Time

Lilacs through the front door.

The lilacs will soon be in full bloom. They don’t last long. What does?

Social distancing in the coronavirus pandemic has me well ahead in the garden, creating an in between time to consider life’s possibilities.

This week I plan to plant tomato and pepper seedlings and get everything I can into the ground. We are past the last frost, although with as chilly as it’s been, things aren’t growing well yet. There’s no hurry.

That said, there has been plenty of arugula, lettuce, spinach, spring garlic, pak choy, mustard greens and spring onions. What we don’t get in greens from our garden we get from the CSA spring share. I have big salads on the dinner menu three times this week and side dishes of stir fried greens every other day but Friday. When I was a younger gardener I didn’t understand the importance of greens to the enterprise. Now I do.

I’ve taken to hanging a U.S. flag over the garage door. The one I use flew over the U.S. Capitol. I paid $16 for it through our congressman. For a long while I flew the flag I took with us on field maneuvers in the Army. I flew that one from the radio antenna during non-tactical road marches. It got worn so I replaced it. Flags wear out. Everything does.

I’m down to my last face mask so Jacque has been getting input on what kind she should make for me. The one I have is a dust mask from the garage workshop. It fits snugly. It serves. The new one will have parts of an obsolete vacuum cleaner bag as the filter medium. While Americans have poor discipline in their behavior to prevent spread of COVID-19 (or lack of discipline, more likely), we’ll do our best not to catch it or transmit. The main thing is going out only when we need to. With the garden and plenty to do inside it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s better for us anyway.

Today’s challenge is figuring out what to do beyond getting through each day. I’d been dodging the idea of retirement and now that the pandemic flipped me to this new status I’m not sure what to do with the rest of my life. I’m not used to working without a clear plan. I need to make one and for that I need new priorities. It’s an in between time for now and those decisions will be delayed for another day.

For the time being, the allure of lilac scent beckons me outside.

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.