Kitchen Garden

Garlic Planting 2022

Breaking down the best heads of garlic for seed.

With ambient temperatures remaining warm there is plenty of time to get in a garlic crop. According to my long-time mentor, if a gardener misses autumn planting, it can be planted in the spring. Since I began planting my own garlic each October, I’ve had excellent crops. I watch the weather closely for a planting window beginning in mid-September.

I am taking my time this year, working three or four hours daily to strike the tomato patch, clear the ground cover, and dig up the soil. I have six shifts on six days thus far. Partly the extra time is because I’m aging. Mostly it’s because I enjoy gardening in the brilliant fall weather and don’t want it to end. It will be the last garden planting before winter.

I haven’t studied the history of garlic yet it is an amazing vegetable. The genetics of what I use came from a farm that developed it over more than 20 years. I watch for fungus and cull the best cloves for planting just as she did. 100 garlic plants will get me through the year and the seeds are ready to go into the ground.

Last night I made Guajillo chili sauce using the rest of the gleaned Guajillo chilies and smaller cloves of garlic culled from the seed selection process. I cut the chilies in three pieces, added a dozen cloves of garlic, a few tomatoes gleaned from the garden as I was clearing the tomato patch, salt, and enough tomato juice to cover the bottom of the pan. The mixture cooked down and I added home made apple cider vinegar to cover. Once the chilies were soft, I set them aside to cool on the counter while I made dinner. I blended them in my 40-year old Osterizer and used a funnel to remove the tough skin and seed. It made three pints, which, along with all the other chili sauce in the refrigerator, will last until next year.

Once garlic is planted and mulched, the rest of garden work is getting ready for winter. After that, it’s back to writing my autobiography.

Garden plot planned for garlic.
Kitchen Garden

Garlic Harvest 2022

Heads of garlic just out of the ground, July 12, 2022.

This year’s garlic crop was a success. I planted 100 cloves and yielded 100 head. It will be enough to seed next year’s crop in October and use in the kitchen until July 2023. The harvest is curing in the garage until the leaves turn brown and dry. After that, I’ll sort and trim them, then store in a cool, dark place until used. The best of the crop will be used as seed.

Growing garlic is a basic part of our kitchen garden. Garlic is also one of our favorite ingredients. The goal for the garden is to produce food to make our kitchen meals interesting throughout the year. Since I began growing garlic a few years ago, it joined tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, peppers, greens and apples as one of the foundational elements of our cuisine.

Because of the space garlic requires to grow, I have no ambition to increase the harvest and sell some of it. In fact, since I began donating excess produce to the local food bank, commercialization of any part of my garden seems unlikely. I’m happy with where I am, which is flush with garlic for the coming year.

2022 garlic crop on my home made curing rack, July 12, 2022.
Kitchen Garden

Summer Begins

Vidalia onions, garlic scapes and fresh basil.

White butterflies flit around cruciferous vegetable plants laying eggs. It is a sure sign summer is here. I spend more time in the garden and noticed increased insect life. In addition to the green worm-producing butterflies, there are plenty of pollinators. Insect life is a blessing and a curse, something with which gardeners learn to live. There should be a big harvest this year.

Using a scissors, I clipped the top parts of chervil plants and held the herb in my hands. The mild anise fragrance was intoxicating. It made about two cups of loosely packed leaves which are washed, dried, and in a tub in the refrigerator waiting for me to figure out how to use the herb.

I plan to make my first batch of pesto today of mustard greens, garlic scapes, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. Mustard is strongly flavored and will dominate the pesto. There is little benefit to adding herbs as they would be overpowered. Will see how it tastes when I get into the project. I have plenty of basil yet I may reserve that for a more traditional pesto.

Today is the first day of summer and we ended spring with spaghetti and peas for dinner. The sauce was made of last year’s tomatoes, vidalia onions, garlic scapes and fresh basil. Tomato sauce so good I had to stop and consider how lucky we are to have a garden. It was a fine way to welcome summer.

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.

Kitchen Garden

Pandemic Year Garlic

Garlic Patch July 3, 2021.

It was a good garlic harvest this year. All the heads looked solid and disease-free. I hit only one with the spade. The yield was 75 head, or enough for a year in the kitchen and to seed next year’s crop.

Harvested garlic.

It took about two hours to dig it. The work went easily because I had weeded the plot. This is my third year growing garlic at home and experience pays with this crop.

The entire crop in a cart.

I made the garlic rack last year out of simple materials. I use the sawhorses for something else during the year. The present challenge is to let it dry thoroughly, then cut the roots and leaves to make the heads look like what we buy in the store.

This variety has a long history on the farm where I work. The heads and cloves are large, and the flavor is what we want. Planted in October 2020 and harvested yesterday, garlic spends to most time in the ground of anything I grow. In the pandemic year of 2020-2021, it did well.

Kitchen Garden

First Day of Spring

Garden on March 20, 2021.

Saturday was a punk day because of Friday’s COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. I felt tired most of the day, took a long nap, and curtailed outdoor activities even though skies were clear and temperatures moderate. I took this photograph of the garden as the sun set. It’s a starting point for the gardening season.

Garlic is poking through the straw and everything else needs clearing. The forecast today is a high of 65 degrees, so if I feel better, I’ll be out in the garden. I need to be out in the garden.

We have three head of fresh garlic left from last year. After using it, there is a pint of pickled garlic, and a jar of commercial chopped garlic to use. If we can’t make it to scapes, I’ll buy some elsewhere to see us through.

The pandemic had us cooking more at home, resulting in flats of empty Mason jars stacking up. Maybe ten dozen have been emptied since harvest. We are almost out of prepared vegetable broth, so I plan to make seven quarts from the freezer to tide us over until turnip greens are ready.

It’s not just me. A lot of us want the coronavirus pandemic to be over. There are some positive signs. At the Friday vaccination clinic one of the people administering shots said there were less than half a dozen coronavirus hospitalizations at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. No one there was on a ventilator. Outbreaks have been reduced to close to zero at Iowa nursing homes. The media narrative changed rapidly when supplies of vaccine boosted by the Biden administration’s efforts began to arrive. The pandemic is not over, yet as we see the number of cases and deaths decline, there is hope.

Gardening continued during the pandemic. It has been a source of normalcy. As the new season begins, I’m ready to see what adventures arrive in our patch of Big Grove Township. It’s been a long, isolated winter that on this first day of Spring appears over.

Kitchen Garden

Time to Plant Garlic

Burn pile, Sept. 19, 2020.

The sound of Spanish-speaking roofers found me tending a burn pile of limbs pruned from apple trees. It seems like the neighbors just built their house: it’s too soon for a replacement roof. The quality of craftsmanship isn’t what it used to be, I suppose. Maybe it was damaged during the Aug. 10 derecho. Roofers made a one-day job of the expansive surface overlooking the neighborhood and the lake beyond.

Embers remained by the time I went to bed. I raked them over large pieces of wood so they would have a chance for overnight consumption. It isn’t the last burn pile of the year although a necessary step toward disassembling the tomato patch. That’s where garlic seeds will go.

It is time to plant garlic.

This year’s crop was excellent. Healthy plants produced large cloves that are storing well. I’d like to repeat that. Part of me wants to be done with the garden yet until the first hard frost it will keep producing on the margins without much effort. This year’s kale may grow into November.

I picked the tomato patch for garlic because most of it has been covered with landscaping fabric and mulch all season. It will be easy to dig up and rototill. The lawn needs mowing and I’m saving that to use the clippings to mulch the garlic. If needed I will purchase straw bales to finish. Planting garlic is a two-day process here. Preparing the plot one day followed by planting and mulching the next. Once it’s done it doesn’t seem like much work for the reward next July.

Yesterday I delivered my completed ballot to the county auditor. With early voting comes a rush to election day. I scheduled a number of volunteer activities to help get out the vote, beginning with a rally in the metropolis with our congressional candidate tomorrow afternoon. The outcome of the election in Iowa is uncertain. Much work remains even if our federal candidates are holding their own in polling in this red turning purple state. It’s not over and we can’t relax now just because we cast our ballot.

I don’t know the future of our country yet I hope for the best. We’re doing the best we can to right the ship of state and set course for a better horizon. As society is increasingly and globally connected, new horizons resemble the previous one. Our work remains the same.

For now our climate in Iowa can still produce a decent crop of garlic and that’s where my attention is the next few days. In the background is the dull grind of the election. We’ll know the results soon.

Kitchen Garden

Weeds in the House

Wildflowers, July 11, 2020

I like my lawn. It is a great source of mulch for the garden, although it seems like there is never enough.

What is there transitions throughout the growing season. We are currently in clover and around the edges native plants come up like the ones in the photograph.

These are weeds, but they look nice on the counter.

When basil comes in I make pasta sauce of last year’s canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil. I’m trying to use up the old tomatoes to make room for new. Pasta sauce varies from preparation to preparation. Near as I remember, this is what I did yesterday.

Summer Pasta Sauce

Drain six pints of canned, diced tomatoes in a funnel. Once thoroughly drained, put them in a slow-cooker, reserving the liquid for another dish. Whizz them with a stick blender until somewhat smooth yet with a few chunks of tomato.

Ribbon all the basil you have (about a cup and a half of chiffonade). Put the basil in the slow cooker and incorporate with the tomatoes.

Dice two cups of onions and mince three or four large cloves of garlic.

Heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Once shimmering add the onions and stir gently until they begin to turn translucent. Salt to taste. Next add the garlic and cook until the aroma of garlic rises from the pan. After a couple more minutes transfer the mixture into the slow cooker and incorporate.

Turn the cooker on high heat and let it go throughout the morning. Around lunch time stir and turn the heat down to medium. Once it’s dinner time, cook pasta noodles, put the drained noodles in a mixing bowl and ladle a couple of generous servings of pasta sauce on top and mix gently with tongs. It’s ready to serve topped with Parmesan cheese, pepper and maybe thinly sliced green onions.

We served the pasta with steamed green beans picked that morning and simple cucumber salad. We’re in the cucumber season so we eat them constantly. There’s no room for more pickles in the ice box or pantry.

New potatoes are in so I tried a new recipe for potato salad. I cut it back to make less for two people, so it could be doubled or tripled for a dish for potluck. In the time of the coronavirus, there won’t be any potlucks soon.

Summer Potato Salad

Boil a pound of peeled, cubed new potatoes. Don’t boil them to mush. Hard cook an egg and put both in the ice box overnight.

Dice the potatoes into a bowl. Grate the egg into the same bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, a quarter cup prepared mayonnaise, a tablespoon Dijon mustard, and a generous tablespoon of chopped sweet pickles. Stir gently with a spatula until incorporated. Put the mixture in a refrigerator dish, level it out, and sprinkle paprika on top for decoration. Leave it refrigerated a couple of hours before serving if you can resist eating it at once.

Potato salad has many variations and this is most like what Mother made for us when we were graders.

Kitchen Garden

Garlic Harvest 2020

Heads of curing garlic, July 2020.

Planted last October, on July 2 it took about an hour to harvest the crop of 50 head of garlic. It was the biggest garlic harvest we’ve had in our home garden.

The variety comes from my friends Susan and Carmen who in succession, over 25 years, have been growing and selecting seed from the annual crop to produce it. Garlic doesn’t take much more effort than proper planting, weeding, harvesting and curing. The genetics and culture of producing it are everything though.

Garlic Patch in Late April 2020

If everything goes well, I plan to keep the best third of the garlic heads to use for seeding next year’s crop. By doing so I’ll continue the process started so long ago on that nearby farm.

Just so you know, our household doesn’t have any problems with vampires.

Kitchen Garden Writing

Garlic Time 2020

Head of garlic straight out of the ground.

The garlic is ready. Yesterday I dug a head from the plot and the cloves are mature. As this image shows, each clove is pulling away from the stem and when I cut into it, the hydrated precursor to the paper had formed around each clove.

I’ll dig up the 50 plants today or over the weekend, rack them in the garage, and cure them until it’s time to remove the stalk.

It’s a nine-month process from planting cloves in October until the July harvest. Done right, the time commitment is worth it.

Garlic is a basic part of our cooking: I can’t imagine being without it. I also can’t recall the last time I had to get some other than at the farms where I work. If the quality is good this year, I’ll save a third of the heads for planting this fall.

In addition to garlic, the zucchini, cucumbers, celery, and onions are ready. Tomatoes are forming but it will be a while before they are mature and ripen. By the calendar it’s time to dig new potatoes from one of the four containers. The garden is turning to peak production whether I’m ready or not.

As it does my attention turns to writing for Blog for Iowa the next four weeks. I will cross post here the following day, although it is more political writing than I usually do. There is a lot to say about that part of society these days and I’m glad for the platform.

The forecast is hot and humid the next ten days… Iowa summer. July will be a mad rush to get everything done as we remain is semi-isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic. There should be less distractions than in the before time. I’ll miss the company.