Kitchen Garden

Planting Annuals

Garden Plot #5, ready to plant.

Ambient temperature reached 38 degrees overnight, indicating we are not out of the frost zone yet. In Marion, just north of us, it hit 33 degrees. Despite this reality, the following appeared in the Saturday newspaper:

Mother’s Day has a twofold purpose in this part of Iowa. It’s a time to honor moms and it is time to plant your annuals as the fear of a late frost is over. I think.

At least it looks like this May is going to be sunny and warm without any dips to freezing.

So if you haven’t already, it is time to scope out the garden centers, find what you want, and a few more you couldn’t resist, and enjoy planting.

Judy Terry, Iowa City Press Citizen, May 8, 2021.

Gardening as consumerism? Blech!

I buy plenty of supplies for the garden. However, I haven’t been in a garden center since I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store. My work was to receive merchandise and set up display areas, not to shop. Things I need from a garden center makes a very short list.

People have to get their seedlings somewhere, so I don’t begrudge folks who frequent garden centers. I encourage people to plant something, even if in a container on a patio. I also understand newspapers appeal to a certain type of resident. The paper dipped below 10,000 subscribers and had to begin once a week free distribution to meet advertising contracts. They may need articles like Ms. Terry’s to prop up sagging circulation. I’m okay with that, too. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

My little greenhouse remains full despite planting yesterday. Into the garden went Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, leeks, spinach, tomatillos and okra. I planted the okra and tomatillos in drainage tile so they will be protected or easily covered if it does freeze. Everything else should withstand the cold.

My garden fencing is a mess driven by trying to recycle previous years’ mesh. I’m committed to reorganizing it because I need two rolls of the welded wire fencing for the tomatoes and a third, which is heavy duty, to make more tomato cages. That is a big project by itself.

For now, though, we wait for danger of last frost to pass.

Kitchen Garden

Rain Came

Apple blossoms after pollination.

The rain wasn’t much on Monday. Barely enough to wet the ground. Afterward, I did not water the garden even if it could have used a thorough soaking. The next rain is forecast on Saturday.

The greenhouse is full of seedlings ready to go in the ground.

Now I wait. Unlike when consulting the Toledan Tables, we’re not sure when everything will align.

Kitchen Garden

Hot and Windy Day

Sunny morning as apple blossom petals fall to the ground.

Ambient temperatures soared to the high eighties on Saturday with wind gusts over 25 mile per hour. It was an unseasonably hot and windy day. Pollinators continued to work the fruit trees and the backyard is covered with fallen apple blossom petals.

I worked outdoors, digging the next garden plot and washing garden tubs. The next plot will hold a large number of vegetable varieties, more than a dozen. As I spaded the earth and considered layout options, time passed quickly. How seedlings are arranged will impact production.

It was a day of anticipation, for soaking up sunlight, and being buffeted by the wind.

Kitchen Garden

Peak Bloom

Red Delicious apple tree in peak bloom. April 30, 2021.

Friday outdoors work included mowing grass and running the trimmer in the ditch. I worked up a sweat.

Near the curb box for the cable connection were two morel mushrooms. I didn’t harvest them. Hopefully they will propagate and next year there will be more. It’s the first time I found morels on our property.

I planted Rouge vif D’Etampes pumpkins and Sarah’s Cantaloupe in soil blocks. It’s my first time growing both of them. Once they germinate, I’ll put them in larger pots, then into the ground. They are the last of the new seeds to be started indoors. From here it is succession crops of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, and others.

The goal is to get initial planting done by Friday, May 28, which is the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend. After that, I can celebrate the holiday and turn to other projects.

April was a dry month with dry conditions persisting across parts of the state. “We’ve had a significant expansion of that D-O or abnormally dry category,” state climatologist Justin Glisan said. “As a reminder, that’s not drought but it is a sentinel for us to recognize that we are seeing drier-than-normal conditions, given precipitation deficits through late spring.”

May is to be a wetter month, he said.

Because ours is a home garden, the produce of which is used mainly in our kitchen, I don’t get carried away with watering. I make sure to apply some daily moisture, but feel it is not my job to make up for the lack of rainfall.

Even though I mowed, it didn’t produce a lot of clippings for mulch. Likely because I set the deck at four inches. This year, a larger part of the garden will have black landscaping fabric serving as mulch. It worked particularly well with peppers and tomatoes last year, and I saved the fabric to re-use.

Fruit is setting on apple and pear trees. Yesterday was peak bloom and fallen petals blanket the ground. Soon the bloom, with its sweet fragrances will be finished, followed by a long season to harvest. If good conditions persist, the harvest will be a great one. It is what a gardener works toward.

Kitchen Garden

Pear Blossoms

Pear blossoms, April 27, 2021.

During this year’s fifth shift of soil blocking at the farm I got my groove back. That means I maintained a production rate of ten trays per hour. I’ve done better than that, although this year the supplier changed the composition of the soil mix and it’s taking some adjustment. It’s my ninth year at the farm under two different owners.

The farm crew is getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and we’re working through the unmasking process. When I work alone in the greenhouse I’m unmasked, when with others, masked. When the crew makes deliveries, the usual social distancing and masking protocols are followed. There is a fear that contact with so many people carries risk of transmission of the coronavirus. We don’t want the virus brought back to the farm. The good news is we are working through it.

At home, pollination is proceeding. Apple blossoms are open and petals have begun to fall after fruit set. The weather forecast is good for finishing fruit set before a frost. This is a key time in apple production.

The pear tree has fewer blossoms than in previous years yet there looks to be a harvest. Now that the sun is up, I’ll head out to the garden to take in the fragrances of the flowers before they disappear.

Kitchen Garden

Discarding Recipes

Blue Spruce tree, April 27, 2021.

As we enter the spring harvest season the food we prepare in the kitchen gets different. There is an improvised quality to everything because in turning away from the pantry, ice box and freezer, fresh ingredients are incorporated into most every meal. It creates variation and deliciousness.

Our dinner stir fry included Bok Choy, cutting celery and spring garlic. This morning’s breakfast was a pan casserole using leftover rice, Kogi and Broccoli Raab. All of these vegetables were from our spring share at the farm. I take advantage of their high tunnels for early greens.

On my daily garden walkabout I checked under the row cover and everything’s doing well. In fact, it is some of the best-looking lettuce I remember growing. I need to learn to grow better lettuce and after a couple of days, it looks promising for this year.

I cut back the dead leaves from the recent frost on broccoli, kale and collards yesterday. They all are regenerating and ultimately survived the frost. I added mustard greens to the row and will wait until after last frost to add chard plants. looks like there will be no shortage of kitchen greens.

The frost killed most of a row of yellow onions so I replanted. This morning the new starts look well. Onions are such an important part of our cuisine, they warrant careful attention.

Celery, leeks, and a patch of spring onions survived transplant and I need to mulch. The lawn is at a point to mow: the first clippings will mulch the celery. There are never enough grass clippings.

Like last night’s stir fry the recipe book is out the window as we live in each moment. I’ve been cooking enough to know what to do, which ingredients to leverage in our cuisine. An anthropologist might be able to describe what I do better. I don’t feel any urge to do much that doesn’t come naturally and based on long learning. Don’t need recipes for that.

Kitchen Garden

Maple Tree Seeds

Autumn Blaze maple tree seeds.

I’m hoping pollinators show up in force today. Two apple trees and the pear tree are in bloom. The other apple tree is not far behind them. The lone bumblebee I saw on Friday will have a big task ahead if it’s the only one doing this work.

We got rain yesterday, not much, enough to delay watering the garden. I’m working on the irregularly shaped plot, the one with sunken containers, pallets of supplies, and composting bins. I dug up half the volunteer daylillies and hope to dig up the other half today. Spring transplanting of daylillies is okay if one trims the green portions to about half. They should take once a spot for them is identified. They grow like weeds. They are weeds where they currently are.

A corner of this plot, next to the containers, will be lettuce and radicchio with row covering over them. The long row needs something that can grow without a deer fence. I don’t know if I have that as they eat almost anything. The middle-sized row may be Brussels sprouts which are a long time until harvest. Once they are in and mulched, sprouts are low-maintenance and can grow with a little water and that’s it. If I go through the packed greenhouse I’m confident I will gain inspiration.

It is best to plant the plot so I don’t have to enter it much, because in a moment of losing presence of mind, I installed a wall on three sides of the growing space. Won’t be fixing that this year, though. What was I thinking? I wasn’t.

The sun is up and there’s work to do. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages in English literature.

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales.

Here’s the plot after working my shift. The row covered part has lettuce, spinach, radicchio and cilantro. The four tubs next to it are potatoes. and two in the background have cruciferous vegetables in one and will have basil in the other.The rest of it was fertilized and tilled.

Plot #4 2021 Garden.
Kitchen Garden

Robins and Their Egg

Abandoned Robin Egg

Two robins were moving around the garden in a way that was not normal. The expectation was they would be poking in the ground, searching for earthworms. When I went to water the garden, in the middle of nowhere, I discovered a robin’s egg sitting in the mulch. The birds didn’t appear to know what to do, if anything.

Since there was no nearby nest in which to put the egg, I left it there. It remained intact, yet abandoned, the next morning. On the third day robins continued to maintain a vigil. Without incubation, the egg is a goner.

Three fruit trees are blooming and the fourth is not far behind. Except for a lone bumblebee I have not observed much pollination activity. It looks to be a great bloom, although without pollinators that would be as far as it gets.

The message this morning is there are uncertainties in life to be observed. What we do about uncertainty remains an open question.

Kitchen Garden

Spring Burn Pile

Spring burn pile April 22, 2021.

Thermal energy came from the pile of white ashes on this year’s tomato patch. It warmed my hands. The embers will exhaust their fuel soon and I’ll spread them on the ground after they cool. Tomatoes will be the last to be planted in a few weeks.

The burn pile was mostly branches from the felled oak tree. Yesterday I cleared three garden plots for spading, tilling, and then planting: more steps on the path to a productive garden.

It looks like Tuesday night’s hard frost killed most of the beets and damaged broccoli, kale and collards. I have plenty of seeds and seedlings for replanting. First we’ll see if the bigger plants recover before yanking them out.

The Washington Post published an article about transportation and the shift to electric vehicles. It gave reasonable consideration to the operating costs of such vehicles, and the trade offs between operating a gasoline powered vehicle and going electric. I found if the car gets parked most of the time, very little gasoline is burned.

Thus far in 2021, I spent $36 on gasoline; in all of 2020, $492; and in 2019, $930. The coronavirus pandemic curtailed our driving and reduced how much gasoline we purchased. Unless one of us returns to working a job, the gasoline we burn for transportation should be minimal.

All the same, the news in the Post article about the inefficiency of internal combustion engines was eye-opening.

Most internal combustion engine cars are so inefficient that the vast majority of energy produced by burning gas gets lost as heat or wasted overcoming friction from the air and road. In other words, instead of filling my car’s 16.6-gallon tank, I might as well put 14 gallons of that gas in an oil drum, light it on fire and watch the smoke drift upward.

Washington Post, March 30, 2021.

When you put it that way, of course we’ll look at buying an electric car. We need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as we can.

When I burn brush on a garden plot I’m releasing carbon into the atmosphere, along with returning minerals to the soil. However, what I’m doing is already part of the carbon cycle and therefore a renewable process. University of Iowa chemistry professor Betsy Stone explained it to me:

“It’s considered to be a renewable fuel because we have that carbon cycle going on,” Stone said. “With fossil fuels, we’re releasing fossilized carbon. It goes into the atmosphere and takes millions of years to get back to fossilized form again.”

Paul Deaton, Iowa City Press Citizen, Oct. 7, 2015.

I cut the stump of the oak tree tall so I could sit on it while contemplating the garden or needing a rest. Yesterday, while figuring out where to plant things it occurred to me burning brush was a good thing. I also thought we should probably get an electric vehicle.

While the first burn is done, I’ll be sitting on that stump coming up with ideas more often. Some of them will make their way into doing things.

Kitchen Garden

Cuban-style Black Beans

Organic Beans

Canned beans are a time-saver in the kitchen, especially for weekday meals. I made this recipe from both dried and canned black beans. Flavor-wise, the canned bean preparation was better. There are three parts to the recipe: beans, sofrito and rice.

Drain and wash two 15-ounce cans of organic, prepared black beans and put them into a cooking pan. Add a half cup diced bell pepper, half cup diced onions, two crushed cloves of garlic, and a bay leaf. Cover the beans with broth, tomato juice or water and bring to a simmer.

In a frying pan sautee one large, diced onion, one bell pepper, and three or four cloves of minced garlic. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and dried spices: cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Also add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Sautee until the onions are translucent, stirring constantly.

In a blender, puree half of the sofrito and one cup of the beans. Use enough bean liquid to cover the beans and sofrito in the blender. At this point if there is more than enough liquid to barely cover the beans remaining in the pan, spoon it off.

Pour the puree back into the bean pot along with the remaining sofrito. Add two tablespoons brown sugar and balsamic vinegar to taste (about two tablespoons). Stir constantly on medium heat for about ten minutes.

Serve on cooked brown rice. Makes 4-5 servings.