March 2 is the day to plant Belgian lettuce, according to family tradition. It’s garden lore from my Polish grandmother, one of the few tips from her about gardening I remember. This year, Belgian lettuce seems doubtful with more than a foot of snow on the ground seven days out.
If I can work the ground, I’ll plant it. It got warm enough to begin thawing on Monday, so fingers crossed. One has to ask where all the water will go. The answer is to late winter flooding.
Indoors I transplanted brassica seedlings started Feb. 7 to larger pots. The 12 broccoli plants are intended for an early wave. I planted 30 more broccoli seeds in blocks for the main crop. I reduced the amount of collards and kale this year. If I had six each of the two varieties of kale and four collards, that would be enough. I also had six kohlrabi plants in this batch. I need to plant more Redbor kale seeds next planting session as only five seedlings survived.
20 celery seeds are planted. They take the longest time to germinate, although this year I’m trying a new variety and they are on a warming pad to aid germination. If I were still at the farm, I’d plant more and put them in the greenhouse. The table downstairs with the heating pad has only four spots for trays and only two of them heated. I’m learning self-sufficiency in this, my first year away from the farm in a long time.
I have the new, portable greenhouse still in its box. It will stay there until the snow on the brick pad melts. Once it is set up I can move some of the seedlings outdoors and use the space heater when it gets cold. There is plenty of time to get everything started.
We look forward to the thaw more this year than most.
Kale is a money crop in my garden. By that I mean I learned how to grow it and have had success most years since. I distribute a lot of free kale to friends and neighbors. Today was the day to plant it along with broccoli. The varieties are:
Something was weird about the Calabrese seeds from Ferry-Morse. It appeared broccoli seeds were mixed with another kind, rendering the packet pretty useless for predictability. I planted some of each as the main broccoli crop will be Imperial anyway. We’ll see what happens.
Sundays in the greenhouse have become a day to which I look forward. The goats are due to drop kids any day, and of course we are well into lambing season. Our crew of five or six people works well together. I enjoy the conversation with twenty-somethings, although some of them will soon turn thirty.
I’m not sure the onions planted previously will make it. Some of them are tall and spindly. Others haven’t come up. The soil is damp so we’ll see how they come out. At this point if they fail I can get starts elsewhere.
My small, portable greenhouse arrived this week. Instead of keeping flats of seedlings on a short stack of pallets near the garage door and moving them inside at night, I’ll keep them here. I’m not sure how exactly it works, but look forward to learning.
The weather has made this year’s start better than 2019. Let’s hope it continues.
This week at the farm it was another light day of 21 trays of 120 seedling blocks. One of the seeders brought some children whose voices could be heard while they played with the farm dogs most of the time I was there.
My tray of kale in the greenhouse is ready to plant. The ground isn’t ready so I left it behind for a week. Space in the greenhouse is at a premium so planning where to plant needs to happen. I planted from seed:
Snapper, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 62 days green/82 days red.
El Eden (Guajillo), Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 65 days green/85 days red.
Baron (Ancho), Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 65 days green/85 days red.
Serrano, Ferry — Morse, 73 days.
Jalapeno — Mild, Ferry — Morse, 72 days.
Jalapeno — Early, Burpee, 72 days.
Red Flame, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days green/80 days red.
Red Rocket, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 55 days green/75 Days red.
Long Thin Cayenne, Ferry — Morse, 72 days.
Bangkok, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 75 days green/95 days red.
Except for the rosemary, everything planted previously germinated. I now have 720 seedlings in the greenhouse.
The intent of many varieties of hot peppers is to have a single patch of two or three rows with a couple plants of each kind. Serrano and Jalapeno are for eating fresh. I’ll pickle some jalapenos. I’m experimenting with El Eden (Guajillo) and Baron (Ancho) for drying and using in chili sauce, so I may plant a separate row of those two. Everything else is to dry and use as red pepper flakes or chili powder.
The cold, wet spring is making the coming week a crunch time to get started planting.
Megaton, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 90 days.
King Richard, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 75 days.
American Flag, Ferry-Morse, 150 days.
The garden continues to be snow covered. According to the National Weather Service, frost in the region is estimated to be 24 to 36 inches in the ground. Needless to say, until I can see the ground, I can’t dig in it.
Summary: The garden is running behind, the greenhouse is chilly, and the soil is frozen. Planting in the ground will be delayed until the soil can be worked. Hopefully the greenhouse starts will be successful. Garden work has begun.
Snow began overnight and is expected to continue all day — the first real snow this winter.
We need more from winter, a week of subzero temperatures to kill bugs in the ground and to stop the sap flow in trees before pruning. Today’s snowfall gets us started, although the long-range forecast shows ambient temperatures well above zero the rest of the month.
We are ready to bunker in. We have reading piles, plenty of food, an internet connection, and an operational forced air furnace. I expect to drive my spouse into town for work so she doesn’t have to scrape windshields afterward. Having lived in Iowa and the Midwest most of our lives we know what to do.
Breakfast was kale cooked in a style of central Mexico with caramelized onions, finely chopped garlic and red pepper flakes. This recipe is worth trying because it allays the bitterness sometimes associated with kale, making a hearty and delicious vegetarian meal. Here’s what I did.
In a medium sized frying pan warm extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. Cut three medium onions in half, slice them into quarter-inch ribbons, and add to the olive oil. Salt generously to taste. Once the mixture is cooking, reduce the heat and caramelize the onions. Finely chop three cloves of garlic and add them to the caramelized onions along with red pepper flakes to taste. Mix and cook just until the garlic loses it’s raw taste. Add one half cup of vegetable broth and a generous amount of kale. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook for five minutes on medium low heat or until the kale is tender. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. At this point I laid two home made bean burgers from the freezer on top of the kale and covered again until the pre-cooked burgers were warmed through and the moisture evaporated. (If you want to use the kale mixture as a taco filling, the bean burgers aren’t needed). Transfer the kale and a burger to plates and top with Mexican cheese and fresh salsa. If you have it, freshly chopped cilantro would be a nice addition. The breakfast of champions.
Five weeks remain until soil blocking begins at the farms. It’s a chance to garage the car for days at a time and turn inward as if there is just us in the world. The snow is getting deep enough to shovel the driveway before heading to town.
Already it is becoming a productive, mostly indoors day. Winter at its best.
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.
The forecast had been rain, however, a clear fall day unfolded and I planted garlic. Pushing cloves into the ground with my thumb and index finger, I made two rows and covered them with mulch retrieved from the desiccated tomato patch. It doesn’t seem like much, it’s my first garlic planting ever. If it fails to winter I have plenty of seed to replant in the spring.
Had I been more prescient about the weather I would have spent more time outside: mowing, trimming oak trees and lilacs, clearing more of the garden, and burning the burn pile. Neighbors were mowing. The mother of young children piled up leaves from the deciduous trees at the end of a zip line portending great fun. Instead, I spent the morning cooking soup, soup broth, rice and a simple breakfast.
Leaves of scarlet kale were kissed by frost leaving a bitter and sweet flavor. I harvested the crowns and bagged the leaves to send to town for library workers. Usable kale remains in the garden. It will continue to grow with mild temperatures. Leaves of celery grow where I cut the bunches. There is plenty of celery in the ice box so I didn’t harvest them and won’t until dire cold is in the forecast. An earlier avatar of gardener wouldn’t have done anything in the garden during November.
I picked up provisions at the orchard: 15 pounds of Gold Rush apples, two gallons of apple cider, two pounds of frozen Montmorency cherries, packets of mulling spices and 10 note cards. Sara, Barb and I had a post-season conversation about gardening, Medicare and living in 2017.
The morning’s main accomplishment was clearing the ice box of aging greens by producing another couple gallons of vegetable broth. I lost count of how many quart jars of canned broth wait on pantry shelves. For lunch I ate a sliced apple with peanut butter.
We live in a time when favorite foods are under pressure from climate change. Chocolate, coffee and Cavendish bananas each see unique challenges from global warming. In addition, recent studies show the higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the nutrient value of common foods. Our way of life has changed and will continue to change as a result of what Pope Francis yesterday called shortsighted human activity. He was immediately denounced in social media by climate deniers.
This week, Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) introduced the HERO Act which purports to reform higher education. Specifically, the bill would open up accreditation for Title IV funding to other than four-year colleges and universities. In an effort to break up the “college accreditation cartel” DeSantis would keep current Title IV funding but add eligibility for other post K-12 institutions. States could accredit community colleges and businesses to be recipients of federal loans for apprenticeships and other educational programs.
Telling in all of this is that as soon as he introduced the bill, DeSantis made a beeline for the Heritage Foundation for an interview about it with the Daily Signal. Does higher education funding need reform? Yes. What are Democrats doing to effect change in higher education? That’s unclear. A key problem is progressives don’t have a network of think tanks and lobbying groups funded by dark money to counter the HERO act or the scores of other conservative initiatives gaining traction in the Trump administration.
Even though the 45th president seems an incompetent narcissist, the influence of a conservative dark money network within his administration is clear: in appointments to the Supreme Court and judiciary; in dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, in undoing progress in national monuments and parks, in weakening the State Department, in potentially politicizing the 2020 U.S. Census, and much more. The reason for his success is his close relationship with wealthy dark money donors and the agenda they sought to implement since World War II.
Today is the 39th anniversary of my return to garrison from French Commando School. I returned with a clear mind, physically fit, and an awareness of my place in the world.
“I am ready to experience the things of life again,” I wrote on Nov. 12, 1978. “The time at CEC4 has cleansed me of all things stagnant. I will pursue life as I see it and make it a place where I pass with love and peace for all.”
We work for peace on the 99th anniversary of the Armistice. If people are not unsettled by evidence of climate change and a Congress that ignores it in favor of pet projects designed to please the wealthiest Americans, we haven’t been paying attention. The need to sustain our lives in a global society has never been clearer.
Ambient temperature hit 91 degrees Sunday, about 20 degrees above historical average. The heat continues, drying the topsoil, creating want of rain.
An idea once held — the garden should be planted by Memorial Day — is outdated. As early crops come in, others will be planted. What’s more significant to yield than planting time is weeding, mulching — and with the heat, irrigation.
This year’s garden is four varieties of kale, sugar snap peas, radishes, beets, eight varieties of tomatoes, broccoli, three varieties of bell peppers, three varieties of hot peppers, winter and summer squash, basil, cabbage, collards, turnips, two varieties of celery, two varieties of carrots, six of lettuce, spinach, bok choy, daikon radishes, potatoes, onions, leeks, three cucumbers and of a pear and two three apple trees laden with fruit.
Our garden, combined with bartered shares in two CSA farms, will provide plenty of vegetables this summer. We should be set for a productive season.
Last night was what I had hoped for our kitchen garden.
I spot-watered plants that needed relief from the baking sun. Picking a turnip, I ate the small root and saved the greens. I picked a leaf of collards and headed inside to make this dish for supper.
Greens Hot Plate
Add high smoke point oil to a frying pan on high heat. Once the oil is hot add two cups thinly sliced Vidalia onions and season with salt, stirring constantly. (A pinch of red pepper flake would be a nice addition, allowing it to cook for a minute in the oil, but our cooking is capsaicin free until the finished dish reaches the table).
Prep greens — collards, kale, bok choy and turnip — by removing the thick stem and veins and tearing the leaves into bite-sized bits. Thinly slice the stems and add them to the onion mixture. Once the onions become translucent, add fresh garlic if you have it, although granulated works.
De-glaze the pan with vegetable broth. Stir and add the greens.
Add a quarter cup of vegetable broth and cover the pan to create steam. Once volume reduces in size to one third, remove the lid and mix the ingredients together. Re-season. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Continue gentle stirring until the leaves are tender.
In a large dinner bowl place a cup of warm rice. Using tongs, cover the rice with the greens mixture. Finish with thinly sliced spring onion, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and feta cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
After hours in the kitchen garden much remained to be done after Saturday.
Garden work began at 6 a.m. I moved to the kitchen at 3 p.m. and worked another four hours.
I was steadily busy throughout waking hours with only water breaks to sustain me.
I harvested kale and weeded the plot, replanted a failed tomato plant, weeded carrots, dug up two small plots to plant cayenne pepper and eggplant, harvested collards and put temporary fencing around them. I mowed the fifth plot and spaded soil in about a third of it. With the near 90 degree temperatures, I picked lettuce before it had a chance to bolt.
In the kitchen I cleaned lettuce, collards and kale and made dinner of a big salad. I steamed and froze the collards and emptied the ice box of every bag of greens and went through them. The goal was to make soup stock with the cooking greens. It was a dish too far. Organized, they went back into the burgeoning ice box.
The highlight of the day was unexpected. The sugar snap peas are four feet tall and began to flower along the tops — as if an artist daubed white paint on a canvas, impressionist-style. I stopped and looked from different angles as sunlight faded flowery details. Beautiful.
I harvested 12 kale plants and weeded the plot. It yielded two full tubs and more. I made a box of 24 leaves for the library workers and washed the small scarlet leaves to put them away.
I put some of the abundance by the road for neighbors and passers by to take. It was the city-wide garage sale day so the expectation was bargain-seekers would find this spot. It was gone in less than 15 minutes.
After a shower and clean sheets I slept eight straight hours.
On the plus side I was so engaged in our kitchen garden there was little time to think about much else. At the same time it was difficult not to feel like little got done despite evidence to the contrary.
Well-rested, the weekend cycle of watering, weeding and planting starts again. It’s what we do to sustain a life in a turbulent world.
Four of six garden plots have been planted and are doing well.
Weeds are also doing well.
I’m waiting for a break in the weather to coincide with my work schedule to finish the planting and mulching. This annual conflict was complicated by feeling under the weather on Sunday. I called off work at both farms and stayed indoors recovering. It felt like a lost day.
Saturday I harvested radishes, the last of spring spinach, some turnip greens for salads, and a tub of kale. We officially have more greens than can fit in the ice box.
To use up some greens I made a batch of vegetable broth and canned it. During the next six weeks I hope to can 36 quarts for use throughout the year. There should be plenty of raw material, although carrots are last year’s crop and almost gone, Vidalia onions are from Georgia, and celery is from Earthbound Farms in California.
I’m not an extreme locavore and feel no guilt using a few imported items for a dish. My cooking style is derived from a local food culture which includes my garden and the farms where I work. Above all else, it is about using what is on hand in the ice box and pantry — a lesson learned from some of the best cooks I’ve met. If some non-local ingredients are needed and on hand to supplement a recipe, I’m okay with that. Besides, there aren’t Iowa carrots or celery to be had this time of year.
What to do with all the kale?
I reached out via email to find a home for some kale while it is still fresh. The rest will be preserved if I can make time after work.
I use three methods of preservation: freezing, canning and dehydrating. Until we get a separate freezer our capacity for freezing is minimal and saved for other favorites like broccoli, corn and bell peppers. I haven’t tried canning kale before, and the best use of canned kale seems to be soups and stews. I dehydrated in the past, then flaked it in a food processor or blender and stored it on the pantry shelf. Kale flakes are for soup.
A tentative plan is to take the kale remaining after the give-away and can a dozen pints to use in soups as an experiment. The rest will go into the dehydrator in batches. There is an urgency to getting this done as I planted enough kale to harvest a tub every week from now until late October. Keeping up with processing the crop will be a key dynamic in our kitchen-garden.
The 15-day forecast is for rain next weekend, so hope of getting the garden in before Memorial Day doesn’t seem realistic. Will have to find bits and pieces of time during the week to start turning soil in the last plots, and replanting where the early crops are finishing.
Importantly, I’m not freaking out over the amount of work in front of me. A person can plant only one plot at a time. Sanity comes from focusing on the gardening task at hand and executing it as well as we know how. We need sanity in this sometimes insane world.