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

Greens Day

New cherry tomato support system.

When I left the house, I planned to weed the onion patch. I didn’t make it there. Instead, I harvested four tubs of greens, replanted under the row cover, and set up the new tomato support system for cherry tomatoes.

I grow indeterminate cherry tomatoes, which means the vines grow and grow until they get much higher than the four foot cages and begin to snake around the garden. I ran out of cages this year so I tried something different, a post and lattice method of supporting tomatoes. I like it because there is less hardware. It should make it easier to manage the vines. Time will tell if the new method is successful. If it works, I may use it for all the tomatoes and phase out the cages.

Spring greens, before insects arrive in large numbers, are the best. Saturday I started a batch of vegetable broth to which I added kohlrabi greens, collards, four kinds of kale, wilted spinach, Fordhook chard, and mustard. It produced a flavorful broth which I’ll water bath can in quart jars this morning. In addition, I made vegetable soup, using the best of the greens.

I harvested cilantro, dill, chives and basil. Each of these herbs has a specific use in the kitchen. One of my experiments was to grow chervil, which is classic French cooking as part of the fines herbes that includes tarragon, chives and parsley in addition to chervil. Next year I must grow tarragon. I’m developing applications for chervil and would appreciate comments about how readers use it.

I grow cilantro for a couple of main purposes, mostly to use fresh on tacos. If I have it, it will go into any Mexican-style dish. It’s the tacos.

I don’t know if the weeds are too far gone in the onion patch. When the sun rises, I plan to give it another go. Here’s hoping I don’t get distracted again.

Kitchen Garden

Long June Days

Wildflowers on the state park trail June 7, 2022.

We have been blessed with some perfect June days. Temperatures have been moderate and when it rained, it was the gentle kind that nourishes everything it touches. We can’t get enough of these long, beautiful days.

The garden is producing an amazing amount of greens: arugula, spinach, chard, collards, kale, mustard, turnip, lettuce and others. The season is only just beginning.

I’m halfway through the garlic scape harvest. Everything planted the last few weeks has taken and the greenhouse is emptying. There is weeding to do, a lot of it. At the same time there is a brief caesura. I can breathe.

We need these long, June days.

Kitchen Garden

Spring Seasoning

Herbs, spices, seeds, and flavorings arranged on the counter.

When the world seems to be falling apart on a path toward chaos, then oblivion, we draw into family. My spouse and I set a meeting to go through herbs, spices, flavorings, extracts, sweeteners and seeds. That’s right! We put it on our calendars and everything. I baked a vegan rhubarb-applesauce cake before we began and that helped us along.

We both use the kitchen and things had gotten out of control. We were determined to remedy that. It turned into a two-day project during which we learned something about ourselves.

There were so many items tucked away in multiple places, just collecting them in one place was a major project. A few found their way from Indiana to Iowa in 1993 when we moved to Big Grove. Others migrated from our child’s kitchen in Colorado ten years ago. I had two shelves in the pantry where I crammed jars and bottles since I built the shelves. Over the stove, in the cupboard, in the turnabout, stuff was everywhere. We truly had no idea what we had in case a recipe called for something.

We set no firm time-line for disposition. If the item was unique, or we hadn’t used it in a while, we were more likely to keep it for potential use. There were a number of containers with no expiration date. There were also those I grew in the garden or foraged. We tended to dispose of bottles with a best by date of 2009 or earlier when it had one. The oldest was dated 2002. It was not an absolute rule. What mattered more was the aroma of each bottle gauged against future use. At the end of the first day, I had a five-gallon bucket full of discarded herbs, spices and flavorings for compost. The compost pile will be fragrant in a different way for a while.

This seemed like a bigger project than it should have been yet it is only the beginning of downsizing the number of possessions in our household. The project created many different interactions between us and the end result was positive. Practice makes perfect, they say.

Organization might help us maintain a grip on what’s in the pantry so our meals can be better for the knowledge. It was a positive way to spend an afternoon. There is plenty of negativity away from our little enclave. We were able to avoid it for a while. The fresh cake helped.

Kitchen Garden

2022 Garlic Transition

Last garlic bulb.

The last bulb of garlic from the 2021 garden is ready to use. By the time we consume it, scapes from the new crop will be available. This is where a gardener wants to be.

Since I began following the garlic-growing practices of my farmer friends, it has been an unmitigated success. Using seed from the farm, I grew my own seed for the following year crops with plenty for the kitchen. I also increased the size of the garlic patch this year. The plants looks healthy and should be ready to harvest in July.

I cut all the scapes to encourage the bulbs to grow large. Scapes serve as a replacement for garlic until the harvest.

Next steps in the cycle are to clear off the table in the garage and convert it into a drying rack later this month. Garlic is an important vegetable in a kitchen garden. Once one learns how to cultivate it, it is clear sailing to great culinary dishes.

Kitchen Garden

Vegetable Broth 2022

Winterbor kale, May 2022.

Someone asked me how I make vegetable broth when I posted this photo on Instagram. I wrote an exceedingly long explanation that may not really answer much. The method is centered around using the abundance of garden greens. Here’s how I explained it, although ask me again and the explanation might vary from the simple mirepoix, bay leaves and greens seasoned with salt.

I get out a big stock pot and evaluate how much I want to make depending on available greens. Usually one large onion, a pound of carrots, half a dozen stalks of celery and three bay leaves. Two large onions seems too much, but IDK. I know it’s controversial but I season the broth with salt at the beginning of the cooking. I want the flavor to be ready when I use it. I used to leave salt out completely but changed my thinking on that. Then I pile in whatever greens are available. I like turnip greens best, but they are not ready yet so I cleaned up the refrigerator, using bok choy, kale, collards, and tatsoi yesterday. Next I fill with tap water so the greens are covered and crank up the heat until it is boiling. Once it comes to a boil, I turn the heat to low and cook at least until the onions are transparent, often longer. Couple hours, for sure. Stir often. I use mostly cruciferous vegetable greens, yet would not be averse to adding wilted lettuce to the mix. If I have leeks, I’d add them too. I also put vegetable scraps in the freezer for broth and soup, yet in the spring I keep it simple with mirepoix, and cruciferous vegetable greens. I want to end summer with 3-4 dozen quart jars of broth made using the water bath canning process. No worries about electricity disruption. Thanks for asking.

Facebook post, May 28, 2022.

A bit rambling, perhaps, yet one could make a batch of vegetable broth based on this narrative.

Kitchen Garden

It’s Spring By The Calendar

Garden on May 11, 2022.

With intense heat, humidity, and heat advisories, my shifts in the garden have been shorter this year. When I get dizzy, it’s time to head into the house and cool down. There is progress, nonetheless.

All the trays of seedlings under the grow light found their way to the greenhouse on Wednesday. I will need to start more lettuce, yet it can wait. The main crops — broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans — need to get in the ground as soon as my four-hour shifts allow.

The calendar says we have five weeks of spring left, but I don’t know about that. Technically, it is spring, yet weather-wise, summer has arrived.

Kitchen Garden

Sunday Afternoon Walk

Pac Choi.

Around 1 p.m. I finished in the garden and took a walk on the state park trail. The wind had picked up. While there was plenty of remaining work in the garden, onions were in and other plots tended, I was ready to break the tension from wondering how I would fit everything in the ground this year.

The trail held little traffic: a couple of joggers and a group of young adults out sight-seeing. Spring has arrived with greys and brown of winter yielding to green, yellow and purple. There has been human activity in the park, due mostly to cleanup of the 2020 derecho and the recent prairie burn. The margins between the trail and housing developments get thinner each year. The breeze helped me forget.

Mostly I felt the rush of air on my face as I walked my prescribed route. Strong wind is a blessing and a curse. Yesterday it was a stress-reliever.

Under the row cover everything looked good. I inspected and weeded, then picked some Pac Choi for a stir fry this week, and enough lettuce and spinach to make a small salad. Dinner was the salad with organic rotini and sauce leftover from Friday’s pizza-making. I’m ready for my spouse to return home.

As I read the news after dinner, a longing for better times arrived. When I graduated high school it felt like the strictures of society were loosening. There was hope for better days for our country and our lives in it. No more. Republicans never liked the changes of the 1960s and ’70s. Since Ronald Reagan was elected president they have been rolling back the liberties we gained. The repression pushes down on everything.

They say longing and loss brings people together yet I don’t know about that today. Yesterday I wrote a friend, “I think things changed dramatically during the pandemic. Not only did we break all our good habits, I don’t see enthusiasm for just about anything in real life. People simply want to get by in their own world and leave the politics and pandemic out of it.” What good is it to bring together yet another isolated small group when the tide of conservatism threatens everything we have come to know?

I used the garden hose for the first time this season. It is old. I need to get a new one. The mended joints came loose while it was in storage. They leaked as it filled with water pressure. The nozzle is kaput as well. This morning I’ll take wrenches and a screwdriver to repair the joints again. There are a couple of old nozzles in the garage to use if needed. I don’t like them as well yet one of them will serve. Despite the leaks, the garden got watered and will until I replace the hose. That is, if I do.

So it goes on a spring day in Big Grove Township.

Kitchen Garden

Shift of Onion Planting

Pizza toppings: Kalamata olives, spring onions and red bell pepper.

On Saturday I spent seven hours planting onions. The names of onion varieties are delightful: Walla Walla, Red Carpet, Ailsa Craig and Rossa di Milano were started from seed.

I emptied the wagon and hooked it to the lawn tractor to haul heavy things. I used to carry the 100-foot water hose, tiller and everything else out there, yet I don’t want to risk being injured. This is a concession to age. The new system reduced the number of trips back to the house.

I filled the small cooler we received as a wedding gift with iced water and a couple of canned beverages. When I got thirsty, a drink was nearby. Hydration is important when working in the sun, as are frequent rest breaks.

This may be the last year for seeding my own onions. Onion starts from the seed supplier have done better than home-seeded ones. It is the final results that matter. I planted three long rows of Patterson onion starts, figuring this would be the mainstay for long-term storage. The variety did well last year so we’ll see how they do.

When I finished for the day, I showered and made a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. I didn’t feel like cooking. I sliced some store-bought radishes in half and had them as a side dish. Garden radishes should be ready soon. I fell asleep in the reading chair shortly after sitting down. Knowing my condition, I set the alarm to wake me in time to view the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate debate. The primary election is June 7.

My spouse has been at her sister’s home since Earth Day and I’m ready for her to return. Today’s forecast is clear with more wind than yesterday. I should finish the onions and till at least one more plot. Gardening season seemed like it would never arrive, yet it has.

Kitchen Garden

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

Onion Plot, May 2, 2022.

It is always upsetting to spade the garden in spring. When I do, it disturbs a world that became stable since the last growing season. One year I found a burrow of rabbits. This year it was a mouse maze under a section of ground cover. As a human gardener I have no choice but to remove the pests. That’s not to mention the microbial empire disrupted by the turn of a shovel. While the spaded garden may resemble a mass-murder scene from the perspective of earthworms and bacteria, in the long term, the garden is better for it. Better for humans, anyway.

I’ve been reading about the Declaration of Independence. Property and the ability to acquire, own, and do what one wants with it as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others was an unspoken aspect of the founding document. Here is the declaration of rights from the second paragraph. Note there is no mention of property.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Declaration of Independence, National Archives.

There were slave holders among the founders. They realized including enslaved humans as part of “all men” who had self-evident rights would have dire consequences for the new republic. In chattel slavery’s peculiar institution, enslaved humans were property without rights. Slave-holding founders were mixed in their views toward slavery, yet the new country assumed slavery would continue to exist after 1776. What may be speculation today, yet seems equally self-evident, is the founders set in motion a process that would lead President Abraham Lincoln to free the slaves. This process of emancipation continues to today. Despite Chief Justice John Robert’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, that racial disparity is not as bad as it was when the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965, and preclearance of changes to voting laws identified by geography no longer applied, the need for racial justice continues.

My plots of garden are more fertile than most of the farmland surrounding us. If I’ve taken to applying composted chicken and turkey manure as fertilizer, my gardening practices are nothing like the chemical-based, Borlaugian agriculture practiced by so many of my neighbors. Any life destroyed by planting the soil in a garden will be renewed and the soil made more healthy.

Despite delays, there will be a garden this year. Already the turnips, peas and beets are germinating in the ground. Inch by inch, row by row. I’m going to make this garden grow. Now if the rain will let up for a few days.