Last Day of Winter and Garlic is Up

Garlic planted last fall.

Garlic plants emerged in the garden.

It was a mild winter so I expected they would. The actuality of it is what we crave.

The rows were mulched in autumn, although they could use more. Next time I head into town I’ll pick up a couple of bales of straw. I don’t know when that will be.

In the early morning of a normal work day I weighed whether to work my shift. The managers at the home, farm and auto supply store are the main reason I’m still there. They treat me fairly and have been flexible with my schedule. As coronavirus spreads in our county I don’t want to be exposed. In the morning huddle last week the store manager echoed the guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health in saying if I’m sick, I shouldn’t go to work. Except for a couple of sneezes this morning, I’m not that sick. There’s more to it than that.

I’m more worried about exposure to coronavirus in a public place than in spreading my germs. My age puts me in an at-risk group to contract COVID-19. Likewise, I’m fighting diabetes with which I was diagnosed last year — another risk group. Most deaths from COVID-19 are in people over age 60. No one in my family is encouraging me to work my shift. At this point I was waiting for the early crew to arrive at the store so I can call off.

During this pandemic it’s hard to know what to do. The number of cases statewide is low at 29 as of yesterday. Of those, 18 are in our county. The number could quickly escalate, so the CDC guidance to stay home if we can makes sense for the 15 day recommended period.

The federal government is flailing. They throw hundreds of millions of dollar proposals around like we have it. The current national debt is over $23,475,000,000 with a budget deficit over a trillion dollars. We’ll have to borrow the money, most likely from China. All the jiggering of the economy seems likely to put money in the hands of people who need it least rather than address the pandemic.

As my garlic grows the tumult of national discourse seems remote. I don’t want to die from coronavirus and am doing my best to manage the risks. When I was at Fort Benning a radio station in Alabama would to play a Merle Haggard song in the wee hours of morning. It explains how I feel as well as anything:

I’m only human. I’m just a man.
Help me to believe in what I could be and all that I am.
Show me the stairway that I have to climb.
Lord for my sake, teach me to take, one day at a time.

One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking from you.
Give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do.
Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine,
So for my sake, teach me to take one day at a time.

Farming Local Food

Garlic Harvest 2019

Pulling Garlic

In a year of weird weather, garlic suddenly became ready to pull at Sundog Farm.

Some cloves began to burst and if the farmers couldn’t figure out exactly why, they decided to harvest it all before any more went past its prime.

It was a good call as the garlic heads brought to the barn were large and the crop was bigger than expected. It was an exceptional crop. The harvest took place on two days this week. I helped with the second.

Eight of us worked the field and racked the garlic for curing. It was hot work, and I couldn’t stand the sun and heat for long. After two and a half hours pulling garlic from the field, I changed to the racking operation in the barn to get out of the sun. There was plenty of work for everyone. Here are some photos of the operation.

Eight rows of garlic remained to pull on day two of the garlic harvest. The ground was wet so we pulled, shook off dirt on the roots, and let it dry in the sun for a bit.
Staying hydrated is important and we refilled our water bottles multiple times over the morning.
After an hour or so, the stalks were cleaned of remaining dirt and hauled to the barn in a pickup truck.
The stalks were inspected, sorted by quality and lined up along a two by four rack, three deep. Next a second two by four was placed on top and they were bolted together with three sets of nuts and bolts.
The individual racks were lined up on sawhorses where they will rest and dry until fully cured.
The farm crew got to take some fresh garlic home. Here are six heads I brought back. These are “seconds” that were a bit deformed or had been hit by the fork during harvest. They eat as well as any of them.

After clearing the field of garlic the crew met at the farm house where we ate lunch of grilled brats and hot dogs, fresh grilled vegetables, and pickled asparagus put up last year. The grilled onions had been picked just moments before hitting the grill. Days like this one feels something got accomplished.

Cooking Garden Local Food

Kale and Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic Scapes

Here’s a second recipe for kale and garlic scape pesto. The first uses walnuts and Parmesan cheese and can be found here.

Get out the food processor and place it on the counter.

Measure the following and place in the bowl of the food processor in the same order:

Two thirds cup raw pine nuts
One third cup thinly sliced garlic scapes
One and one half cups roughly chopped kale, packed
One third cup whole basil leaves, packed
One teaspoon sea salt
One half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Two tablespoons lemon juice. If fresh lemon, peel first and add the yellow rind
Two thirds cup extra virgin olive oil (reserved)

Turn on the processor and grind the mixture until it starts to break down.
Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture as the machine runs.

Scrape the bowl into a quart canning jar with a spatula.

Spread some immediately on a slice of sourdough bread toast for the cook and any kitchen visitors. Screw on the lid and refrigerate until ready to use.

Fresh pesto keeps only briefly without oxidation in the ice box. If you want to use it way later, put the jar in the freezer.


Garden Garlic

Garlic Patch

Garlic growing happened in our home garden.

After randomly planting it in a plot where it propagated year after year without care, last October I planted cloves the way I learned from my friend and mentor Susan Jutz.

I harvested 20 head of garlic this morning.

What made this year different was devoting time to find every available opportunity for good growth. It was worth it.

Following are some photos of the harvest.

Garlic Scapes
First Head of Garlic
The Garlic Harvest
Makeshift Garlic Rack

Now that the harvest is in the garage, I’m heading to the kitchen to make some kale-garlic scape pesto for lunch.

Garden Home Life Local Food Work Life

Hacking Through


It’s been a tough couple of weeks complicated by a lingering and persistent impulse to void the rheum of excess mucus. I don’t feel ill for the most part, but the coughing has been terrible.

Missing work without sick pay means less income and a further exploration of the life of low wage workers. Well into the experiment in alternative lifestyle, I don’t see how people can make ends meet, even working three jobs as I have been doing this spring. That said, I won’t give up and expect to continue hacking through this rough patch—literally.

I picked lettuce, spinach and radishes from the garden the last two nights and made a frittata for dinner with greens from the CSA, spring garlic and onions. It was satisfying served with a salad, and there were leftovers. Already garden production is worth savoring. Between now and Memorial Day, the focus is on getting the spring planting done.

For the moment that’s all there is to say except change is coming. To make this life more sustainable, to improve our economic base. How change will look is an open question. I look forward to seeing how it comes together.

Local Food

Roasted Pepper Garlic Spread

Cheese Spread with Pickles
Cheese Spread with Pickles

The warehouse club sells packs of six 8-ounce bars of cream cheese. I bought one.

A basic use-it-up strategy is to make a spread for crackers and bread for after work snacking or luncheon. It’s easy.

Soften a bar of cream cheese on the counter until it reaches room temperature. Unwrap it into the bowl of a food processor.

On the bits and pieces shelf in the pantry locate some roasted bell peppers. Add about one whole pepper’s worth to the bowl. Roast your own if you have them, but in winter, who does?

Add one peeled clove of garlic and process until the texture is smooth.

The basic spread could be seasoned as you like it, although I found garlic is enough. Spread on crackers, toast or bread, Top it with pickled bits from the ice box: cucumbers, olives, beets or radishes and no finer winter snack can be found. If we lived in Russia a shot of vodka would be a mandatory accompaniment.

Much though I enjoy thinking and writing about cooking and processing food, it’s not why I blog. That is, the food’s not the story, the process is.

My first blog in 2007 was an effort to provide a place for our daughter to keep up with the home front. Not sure how much she reads it now, but she has been and remains a primary audience regardless of where I have gone with this writing. Luckily, I have grown a larger, supplemental audience.

Learning and writing about food preparation exemplifies a main process for understanding complex topics. There are few recipes simpler than the one above, but its simplicity belies complexity that led me to it. It is easy to collect recipes, more difficult to decide which batch of 25 will go into a seasonal repertory, and harder still to align a cuisine to seasonal, local food. Writing this blog helps with all of that behind the scenes, when all the reader sees is the end of the process in the form of a recipe.

So it is with the other main topics: sustainability, politics, the environment, worklife, climate change and local food. A constant trying-out of ideas and phrasing. Most of what I see in daily life is complex and simply recording what may have happened through a viewpoint not that interesting.

This blog is a process that leads hopefully to better living. I am thankful for anyone who follows along.

Cooking Local Food

Kale and Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic Scapes
Garlic Scapes

LAKE MACBRIDE— There were big coolers full of garlic scapes and kale available at our CSA pickup point this week. It’s time to make:

Kale and garlic scape pesto

2 cups garlic scapes cut into thin slices
8-10 leaves kale, stems removed and rough chopped to make processing easier
2/3 cup toasted walnuts
Extra virgin olive oil
 to achieve desired texture (1 to 1-1/2 cups)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Place scapes, kale, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor and grind until well combined and somewhat smooth but not completely pureed. Slowly drizzle in oil and process until desired texture is achieved (hint: not too much). Empty the contents into a mixing bowl and add cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Put it into small canning jars and keep one in the refrigerator and freeze the rest.

Farming Local Food

Garlic Harvest on the Farm

Garlic Diggers
Garlic Diggers
Lining up Garlic on Racks
Lining up Garlic on Racks
Loading the Wagon
Loading the Wagon
Wagon Filling Up
Wagon Filling Up
Left Cut Scape, Right Scape not Cut
Left Scape Cut, Right Scape not Cut
Garlic Curing in the Barn
Garlic Curing in the Barn
Garden Home Life

Sunday is Laundry Day

Old Sweatshirt
Old Sweatshirt

LAKE MACBRIDE— Yesterday’s wind died down to reveal almost perfect weather conditions today. A little cold— frost is evident on the leaves of thyme— but not the hard frost about which gardeners often fret. My April 30 assessment proved accurate: it is still time for planting.

While the yard is too wet for mowing, there is laundry to do, and a day to organize. Today will include the first cut of lawn— an abundant and sustainable source of mulch for the garden. It will take four hours to make the two cuts, bag and spread the grass clippings on garden plots. The five-gallon gasoline container was filled yesterday, so if the mower starts and the sun shines, we’re ready to go. The neighbors will appreciate the results.

Garlic Patch
Garlic Patch

The other big task for today is digging and delivering spring garlic to the CSA for inclusion in tomorrow’s shares. I estimate two to three hours for the project. There is so much spring work to do, the balance of the day will be easily filled.

Before I finish my third cup of coffee and second breakfast, head down to remove the old sheet from the door to my study and put away the space heater for the season, I want to write about the sweatshirt in the photograph.

While making kits at the warehouse, it occurred to me the sweatshirt is as old as some of my cohorts who were born in the 1990s. It was a gift during a boondoggle of a trip to Aventura, Florida, where a group of corporate transportation equipment maintenance executives met to discuss braking systems. There were a number of these so-called “maintenance councils” sponsored by equipment manufacturers. While invited to join a many of them, one had to be selective. Brakes are important in trucks, so I went.

Turnberry Isle
Turnberry Isle

Last to arrive, my schedule prevented me from playing golf on the one of the resort’s courses that morning as other council members did. My plane landed at the Hollywood airport as dinner was being served and the taxi delivered me to the restaurant as speeches, mostly related to tenure on the council, began.

When describing the trip as a boondoggle, it means everything was included: air fare, luxury hotel accommodations, meals, greens fees for golfers and entertainment. There was even a budget for gifts like the sweatshirt, although corporate policy prevented me from accepting anything too extravagant. Corporate staff had our beds turned down, and reviewed our final hotel bills to ensure everything within reason was paid by the corporation.

During the event, golfing was available, but I’m no golfer. As an alternative, we toured the inland waterways, went deep sea fishing and experienced the constant fawning of sales staff, engineers and corporate interns present for the event. The company wanted the experience to be unforgettable as they held a council meeting to discuss brakes. In transportation, a brake failure through improper manufacturing or maintenance is a liability— and there are lawsuits.

While doing the laundry, I noticed the sweatshirt was frayed at the seams. It won’t last much longer. I donned it again to head downstairs, and then to the garage and garden. Not because of the memories, but because it was something to keep away the chill as the sun burns off the frost and new work begins.

We launder our memories as well as our clothing, in hope of something. Better experiences and memories, I suppose. Memories we make ourselves, away from the exigencies of corporate masters and lawsuits. Eventually old clothes will wear out. There will be something else to wear— something we produce ourselves, rather than the gift of a corporation looking out for their own interests. At least that is what one believes on laundry day.


Garden Work

Three Rows Planted Today
Three Rows Planted Today

LAKE MACBRIDE— Today was the first real work session in the garden and I cleaned up two of the plots, built my burn pile, evened out the ground near where the backhoe dug to fix the waterline leak last fall, and planted Cherry Belle Radishes, Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach and Purple Top White Globe turnips. The arugula and lettuce seeds have sprouted and survived the gully washer of a rain a few days ago. There are chives ready to cut, and the garlic patch is growing well. Three types of bulb flowers are growing, and after they flower, will be transplanted somewhere else. That is, except for the daylilies, which will be dug and transplanted as soon as I get around to it: nothing can kill those things.

A neighbor messaged me on Facebook, and a group of us is planning to go in on a rototiller rental. I usually dig by hand, but am okay with community projects like this. Partly, it means three plots have to be turned by spade to get ready for the rototiller in two weeks.

Last week, an experienced gardener said we had missed the opportunity for spring turnips, but I don’t know. I planted a row today, and will likely do another in a week or so. She said if one misses spring turnips, the date is July 25 for turnip planting. I’ll reserve some seeds for then and attempt a double crop.

It feels good to work in the sun and soil in the morning.