Categories
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.

Categories
Environment Local Food

Erasing the White Board

To-do List
To-do List

Snow fell in darkness leaving a thin blanket of white.

The pin oak tree began shedding last year’s foliage indicating warm weather activated new leaf buds and pushed out the old.

Seems weird to rake leaves in February. More to the point, it’s not normal.

In a couple of hours I return for a fifth season at Local Harvest CSA. The main spring task is soil blocking 72 and 120 cell trays for seed starting in the germination house. Part of my arrangement is keeping some of my own seedlings there. When I’m finished with the farm’s trays, I’ll make one 72 and one 120 tray for myself and seed them with kale, celery and basil. I’m hopeful they will do better than in the south-facing window in our bedroom. Getting my hands dirty with soil is a great way to get ready for spring, three weeks away by the calendar.

Other chores on my white board include doing taxes, computer file backup, cleaning the car, preparing the garden for spring and Belgian lettuce planting this week (traditionally March 2). I made extra servings of spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunches and want to make a batch of taco filling for breakfast on work days at the home, farm and auto supply store. There’s also more writing projects.

During a Climate Reality Project conference call on Thursday, a friend from Waterloo and I decided to work on a project with other friends from Waterloo-Cedar Falls. I’ve done two presentations there and look forward to more meaningful work. We’re planning luncheon, maybe next weekend.

This last lap in the workingman’s race looks to be action packed with local food, environmental and cash producing projects coming into focus.

Night’s snowfall melting in the sun makes way for budding plants in a grey and brown landscape. It is almost time to wipe the whiteboard clean and begin anew.

Categories
Garden Social Commentary

High Summer Harvest

Cherry tomatoes, Fairy Tale eggplant, green beans and a pickling cucumber harvested July 16, 2016
Cherry tomatoes, Fairy Tale eggplant, green beans and a pickling cucumber harvested July 16, 2016

Photographs of kale can only be interesting for so long.

The leafy green and purple leaves are producing in abundance — so much so I pick only what is needed, removing imperfect leaves from the plants to the compost heap.

Seven kale leaves stand in a jar of water on the counter to keep them fresh and ready to use.

If summer were only about kale, this one would be an unmitigated success.

Something else is going on.

This week I conversed with a group of twenty-somethings about the new application for smart phones, Pokémon Go. It was the most animated they had ever been. I asserted the application represented the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. They didn’t dispute it. One had already tried the game and moved on to something else. Apparently there are not that many Pokémon to find in rural Iowa.

The continuous stream of violence manifest its latest event Thursday with a terrorist attack in Nice, France. More than eighty people were killed and as many as 300 injured as a lone driver drove a large truck through a crowd gathered to view a Bastille Day fireworks display. The terrorist made it two kilometers before he was shot dead by law enforcement. French President Francois Hollande seeks to extend the existing state of emergency put in place after the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

In American political news, the Republican top of the ticket is set with Indiana Governor Mike Pence named presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate. The less said about this pair the better. Suffice it that I disagree with them on just about everything. The national political conventions are imminent, with the Republicans this week and Democrats the following. Something unexpected might happen at either convention.

In a strange turn of events, twice failed U.S. Senate candidate Tom Fiegen made a post on Facebook that blogger Laura Belin re-posted:

FB Post Belin

Belin makes sense if Fiegen, not so much. The episode represents further coarsening of Iowa politics. Fiegen likening an effort to persuade him on his presidential vote to sexual advances is plain weird. I know I wouldn’t want to get in the back seat with him on a dark gravel road. Whatever virtue he may have had vaporized after he quit being his own person and hitched his campaign wagon to Bernie Sanders. His current, post being a Democrat, rants serve as an example of how low politics has gotten. I know my mother said if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything, but Fiegen lives in our house district and may foment more ill will. I hope not.

Lastly, this week Deadhorse, Alaska set a record high for any Arctic Ocean location. Is it climate change? How could it not be.

At least for now there is plenty to eat and fewer photographs of cruciferous vegetables.

Categories
Garden

Kale in Sunlight

Kale Seedlings Sunning
Kale Seedlings Sunning

Yesterday was a spring day as good as it gets. I took advantage of it and worked outside.

The kale seedlings have been slow-developing, so I put them in direct sunlight. The day’s growth was noticeable. I transplanted the scarlet variety into bigger pots to give them room to grow. They were laggards of the three varieties and best liked in my distribution network. Indoor bedroom germination has never been optimal, but a few hours in sunlight made a difference. More seedling sunning is planned today.

Yesterday’s garden work included planting three kinds of onions, basil seeds, Easter egg radishes, leaf spinach and arugula. I’m moving on to conditioning the soil for everything else.

A sign of the times, I planted the last seeds in pots: zucchini to get a head start for early May transplanting. It won’t be long before the danger of frost is past and everything can go into the ground.

Something is growing in the carrot planters, but I’m not sure it is carrots. Will wait until the leaves show what they are.

The first cut of lawn is the best. The unevenness of early growth gets smoothed over to produce a transient, semi-manicured look. There is a lot of trim work to do, with minor clean-up. The clippings fell where they may providing mulch for the expected long and dry spell. I’m first to admit I don’t care for lawn mowing. The restrictive covenants require me to do it about twice a month.

The apple trees won’t have a good year. Two of them have zero blooms and the Red Delicious has only a couple dozen. The pear tree should bear fruit based on the abundance of blooms. There were plenty of pollinators flying around, including a bumblebee trying to fly up my pants leg.

I gave some excess onion sets to a neighbor and she reciprocated with some “walking onions.” They were ready to eat, but I stuck them in the ground next to one of the composters.

There is always more to do in a garden. We are thankful for each day of clement weather and sunlight.

Categories
Cooking

Stand In The Kitchen

Scarlet Kale
Scarlet Kale

The word “cooking” was on the calendar this afternoon. I went into the kitchen at the appointed time and stood there.

After a while I turned the radio to National Public Radio news, and stood there.

I stood there and let the quiet of a placid summer afternoon sink in.

Filling a wide-mouth Mason jar with ice, I drew filtered water from the icebox and drank.

I refilled the jar.

The green beans had gone bad, so into the compost. A moldy squash was removed to the compost bucket.

There were too many cucumbers, so the small ones were made into sweet pickles (I hope).

When I selected Brandywine tomato seeds last winter I had no idea the fruit would be so good. A dozen were lined up on the counter in the order of ripeness. I took the biggest one and made two slices from it. I diced one more that was injured from growing between wires on the tomato cage and piled it on top. With salt, pepper and feta cheese, it made two meals by itself.

I cleaned and picked over a crate of kale and found a couple of green worms on the leaves. The predators have arrived. Removing my guests, I tore the leaves and filled up the salad spinner. The kale dried on the counter.

I stood there a while longer, but now I knew. The other dish would be a kale stir fry.

Slicing half an onion, seven cloves of garlic, and a yellow squash, I sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil until tender. Then I piled on the kale and stirred gently. First it turned bright green, then it wilted. It cooked down to two servings, which was just right.

The meal was satisfying, and unexpected. Which is what happens if one would but stand in the kitchen and live.

Categories
Local Food

Taking Local Out Of Local Food

Kale Salad
Kale Salad

Ingredients for this kale salad were grown within 100 feet of our kitchen. It is as local as food gets.

We enjoy garden produce in high summer — when nature’s bounty yields so much food we either preserve or give it away. Any more our household gives away more than it preserves because the pantry is well stocked with previous years’ harvests.

Friends and family talk about the “local food movement.” In Iowa it is being assimilated into lifestyles that gladly incorporate ingredients from all over the globe. This assimilation has taken the local out of local food.

From an intellectual standpoint, it wouldn’t be hard to replace food grown in China, Mexico, California and Florida with crops grown here in Iowa. The number of acres required is surprisingly small. For example, local farmer Paul Rasch once estimated it would take about 110 acres to keep a county of 160,000 people in apples all year. The political will to encourage home-grown solutions in the food supply chain doesn’t currently exist. Until it does, rational, local solutions to food supply remain in the ether of unrealized ideas.

A vendor at the Iowa City Farmers Market was recently suspended for violating a rule that produce sold there must be grown by the vendor. Just walk the market and ask booth workers from where they hail. Often he/she is an employee or contractor working for a farm seeking coverage around many Eastern Iowa farmers markets. Too often they are anything but local growers. What’s been lost in this commercialization of local food is the face of the farmer.

Knowing where one’s food comes from is a basic tenant of the local foods movement. I enjoy working with local growers on a small acreage to produce food for families. At the same time, I seldom purchase a box of cereal from the supermarket even though I’ve seen the grain trucks queue up to unload at the cereal mills in Cedar Rapids.

For example, my garden doesn’t produce enough garlic for the year. I’d rather buy a supplemental bag of peeled garlic cloves produced at Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, Calif. than cloves lacking discernible origin at a farmers market. I know how Christopher Ranch produces their garlic. Absent the face of the farmer, there is value in understanding food origins, and that means some percentage of a household’s food supply will not be local.

There is a lot of marketing hype around “organic,” “GMO-free,” and “gluten free” foods, and this has to be impacting the customer base of local food producers. If consumers feel they can get a reasonably priced, “healthy option” at the supermarket, why make an extra trip to the farmers market, except for the occasional special experience? Why wouldn’t one pick up a bag of Earthbound Farms organic carrots when local growers can never produce enough to meet demand? At the same time, marketing hype is just what the name suggests.

Food security and sustainability are complicated. Before the local foods movement came into its own, it already is being assimilated faster than one can say snap peas. From a consumer standpoint the local came out of local foods some time ago, and it may not be back.

Categories
Garden

Mulching the Kale

The Kale has been Mulched
The Kale has been Mulched

The kale is mulched and ready for a long season of production. I harvested a bushel today and most of it went to friends at the library. We already have more than enough  in the ice box, and with so many plants this year, we can be picky about what we eat.

Underneath the grass clippings is a layer of newspaper. Once it is dampened down and moistened, weeds will have trouble poking through. It should be worth the extra effort because the way the plants are growing, with the pick leaves from the bottom strategy, we should be in kale through November.

Broccoli Seedlings
Broccoli Seedlings

Since rabbits got to my broccoli, I planted more seeds for a second crop. I put the starter tray outside and the seeds are germinating more normally than they did in the bedroom window. There is something to the idea that light is the key to growing broccoli and I’ll re-think how I do it next year.

Yesterday I got out the ladder, climbed on the roof and cleaned out the gutters. While up there I noticed how many pears were forming at the top of the tree. It is going to be a puzzle to harvest those when ready. They were growing higher than my head while standing on the roof.

There’s more to life than gardening, but the green beans for dinner last night, and the promise of carrots, kale and fresh tomatoes keeps me working at it steadily.

It’s all part of sustaining a life in a turbulent world.

Categories
Local Food

Massive Kale Giveaway

Morning Kale Harvest
Morning Kale Harvest

Folks who live near me need not worry about kale this year. Already, our icebox is full of leaves, and as they are picked, such picking spurs growth. It is expected to be a long, abundant kale season with a massive giveaway.

There’s a lot of work in the hopper this morning, but I couldn’t resist posting this photo of the morning kale harvest.

Categories
Local Food

Kale Canceled

Fresh Kale
Fresh Kale

Had to have known this was coming from my seed company:

Earlier this season you placed an order with us which included 365.11, Winterbor F1 PKT.  Unfortunately, due to a supply problem we have canceled your order for the item listed.

The operator of the CSA where I worked last summer explained the kale seed problem in more detail:

For the past three years weather conditions around the world have impacted seed supplies.  For the second year there is a shortage of kale seed.  Turns out the big hybrid kale seed suppliers are in Europe and they were all affected by disease.  Fortunately I had ordered and saved seed from my favorite varieties last year.  So for those of you who were secretly happy there might be a shortage of kale it’s not going to happen.

Kale Seeds
Kale Seeds

The seed shortage is only half the problem. Demand for the leafy green vegetable has soared, with many people now including kale in smoothies, soups, casseroles, and salted snacks in the form of kale chips. Luckily I have two packets of kale seeds received as a gift last fall.

Kale was one of the most common green vegetables through the end of the Middle Ages. Because it grow and tastes better after the first frost, there has been plenty of it to go around.

Immediate plans are to look at garden stores to see if there are some packets of seeds available. However, I may have to make do.

Categories
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.