Sound of Children Playing at the Farm

Two Pallets for the Garden

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:

Bell Peppers:

Snapper, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 62 days green/82 days red.

Hot Peppers:

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.


Early Garden Planting

First Seeds Planted in the Greenhouse on March 10, 2019

I planted seeds at the greenhouse and am hopeful of the results. Here’s what I planted:


Scarlet, Seed Savers Exchange, 60 days.
Winterbor, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Starbor, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 55 days.


Tall Utah, Seed Savers Exchange, 100 days.
Conquistador, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 80 days.


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.

Cooking Local Food Writing

Bunkering in During Snowfall

Last of the Fresh Kale

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.

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.

Environment Garden Local Food

Armistice Day at Home

Group of captured Allied soldiers on the western front during World War I representing eight nationalities: Anamite (Vietnamese), Tunisian, Senegalese, Sudanese, Russian, American, Portuguese and English. Photo Credit – Library of Congress

Most of Armistice Day was at home.

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.

Cooking Garden

Garden is Planted, Dinner is Served

Six-foot Tall Sugar Snap Peas

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.

Garden Local Food

Hard Day and Easy Night

Lettuce Harvest

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.

Green Vegetables from the 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.

Roadside Kale Distribution

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.

Garden Local Food

Harvest Saturday

First Kale

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.

Spring Vegetable Broth

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.

Local Food

First Share

New Seedling Cart with a Pallet from the Farm

After work at the home, farm and auto supply store I drove to the farm and picked up the first spring share. In it were spinach, baby kale, Bok Choy, Choi Sum, broccoli raab, rhubarb, oregano and garlic chives.

Already my mind is swirling with cooking ideas.

I’ll prepare a breakfast omelet using greens seasoned with oregano and garlic chives. Most of the oregano will be dried and flaked for cooking. Garlic chives will be processed with cream cheese for a sandwich spread. In the mix is rhubarb jam, spinach casserole, and sautéed greens. There will be lots of cooking with this week’s abundance.

It’s the next stop on along the annual circle of local food.

While at the farm I sorted through a stack of pallets used to deliver straw and hay and found two to bring home. I made a wheeled cart for summer crop seedlings finishing before the big May planting. The other will be used to organize the garage until Memorial Day. I’ve requested May 6 – 14 off work at the store to get planting done.

For the moment, life is about the weather — seeing how it unfolds and checking my weather app for forecast updates. It is also about forgetting the fray of politics for a while to become a practitioner of something useful — not only in Iowa but globally.

Farming Local Food

Season’s New Hope

Sundog Farm in Late Winter
Sundog Farm in Late Winter

My first work day at Local Harvest CSA, was spent organizing for the season and soil blocking for the first seedlings.

I made two trays for myself as part of the barter deal with the farmer.

In one I seeded basil, Conquistador celery and Tall Utah celery. In the other was four kinds of kale: Dwarf Vates Blue Curled Scotch, Scarlet, Darkibor and Starbor. The growing season is here.

Basil and Celery
Basil and Celery

We never know the outcome of gardening. Tall Utah celery seeds are very small. It was difficult to get only one or two into each dibbled cell — I didn’t. I bought them on special from the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa where they don’t pellet seeds. Like with so much about gardening it is another experiment to see what grows well and tastes delicious. The pelleted Conquistador celery seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine were easier to plant. A controlled germination house environment should encourage the best from these seeds. We’ll see how it goes.

3,120 Soil Blocks
3,120 Soil Blocks

Soil blocking is endemic to Community Supported Agriculture projects. Like much of our work, it is done by hand. Getting the moisture content of the soil mix right is a constant challenge. It is dry as it comes out of the bag into a tub. Watering is done in stages, testing the moisture content after each round of turning with a transfer shovel. Moisture management continues as the soil blocks are made. The pressure of the soil block tool squeezes moisture from the mixture as the blocks are made. It makes the soil mix wetter. It took 3.83 hours to get organized and produce the first batch of trays. As the season progresses, I’ll get faster.

The farmer went to town to get some supplies for the germination shed leaving me alone with two dogs and partly cloudy skies. I took a moment to breathe the fresh air and look at the sky. Hope springs from days like this. New hope for a successful season.