Kitchen Garden

Spring Freeze

Tomato and pepper seedlings under a grow light, April 20, 2021.

I didn’t take any chances with a potential freeze last night. I set up a space heater in the portable greenhouse and took trays of tomato and pepper seedlings indoors to put them under a grow light. It doesn’t look like ambient temperatures made it down to freezing.

Better safe than sorry. Story of my life.

Kitchen Garden

Apple Blossom Bloom

Apple blossoms on April 18, 2021

The legacy apple trees, the ones I planted in the 1990s, are loaded with buds. A few have opened, although the big bloom is yet to come. 2021 has the potential to be a great year for apples. The pear tree looks to have a big bloom as well. We are not past the last spring frost, yet I’m hopeful some of the flowers will bloom long enough for pollinators to do their work.

Even the two new apple trees appear to have blossom buds. They aren’t big enough to support much fruit without bending over like a tree in a Peanuts cartoon.

In past years I put up every apple harvested. Eventually I learned to donate part of a large harvest to the farm where I work. Members of the Community Supported Agriculture project appreciated getting them, and I didn’t have to work as hard. A person needs only so much applesauce, apple butter and apple cider vinegar.

Yesterday I planted the onion patch. About 425 starts of seven varieties, a row for each one. Last year I had eight rows, yet they were closer together which restricted growth. Spreading them out on a larger plot is a second year of experimentation in a long process of being a better onion grower. The onions harvested last year tasted great, and I expect this year’s crop to be the same. I ordered too many starts from the seed supplier, so I’ll put in a patch for green onions from some of them.

Three of seven plots are planted. Next step is to plant cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and more broccoli once I determine where. Garden work is definitely on the agenda for today.

Kitchen Garden

Cleared to Plant

Third plot spaded and ready to till and plant. April 17, 2021
Me: Guessing everyone is planting tomorrow and no soil blocking. I could use the day in the garden.
Farmer: Yes! Thanks for texting and also for knowing.

Earthworms are up and Robins returned in numbers: sure signs of spring.

Conditions are perfect for another day in the garden. Yesterday I spaded the plot for onions and shallots. The ground was wet, so I let it dry overnight. Today I plan to rototill and get them in the ground. Sunrise will be at 6:21 a.m. on this partly cloudy day.

Everything on my initial seeding schedule is planted in soil blocks. Seedlings are backing up everywhere… at home and on the vegetable farms. Greenhouse space must be cleared to make way for the next succession of plants. While it’s too early to plant frost-sensitive plants, I acquired some row cover as part of the barter agreement. I’m thinking about a row of lettuce, radicchio, spinach and radishes under it. Gardening season is here!

The new apple trees are leafing out, meaning they survived winter. It’s too soon for fruit this year. It looks like the legacy trees will produce despite fall blooms last year. The pantry is still loaded with apple products of harvests past: applesauce, dried apples, apple butter and apple cider vinegar. I’m good.

A simple breakfast: Coffee, applesauce and a slice of flatbread leftover from dinner. Next, do dishes, change clothes, and get busy.

Kitchen Garden

Gardening Under an Open Sky

Garden Plot #2, April 16, 2021.

A six-hour shift in the garden moved things along.

In that time I relocated tomato cages, tilled the soil, laid down garden cloth recycled from last year, and planted kale, collards, beets, kohlrabi and broccoli to join the peas, radishes, carrots and turnips already there. I left spots for chard and mustard greens, and once beets, radishes, carrots and turnips are done, other vegetables will be planted there.

When finished, I installed four-foot chicken wire fencing around the plot to deter deer and rabbits from the smorgasbord. It was a good day’s work.

Perhaps the best thing about Friday was working in the garden blocked out computer work on my desktop and mobile device. There’s more to life than constant engagement on line.

Kitchen Garden

Planting Day

It’s a day for planting, so today’s post shows the greenhouse is full. Everything in it was grown from seeds. Time to get the cold weather plants into the ground.

Happy Spring!

Kitchen Garden

Editor’s Desk #8

First kale harvest, April 11, 2021.

Red Russian kale over-wintered so we had fresh kale for our stir fry dinner Sunday night. I mixed it with some Winterbor and Redbor leaves collected while re-potting plants for final growth in the greenhouse.

This year’s garden work is just beginning.

I’ve been on spring break from writing my autobiography. If asked, I am working on the book. It’s been a long spring break. More accurate is the project is stalled and in need of a completed manuscript. It’s time to set aside new writing, crank up the engine, and edit what I have: some 170,000 unedited words.

Writing the book has been like mining a vein of coal to see where it goes. I often got caught up in its adventure and that part of the process is not finished. Why write an autobiography except to experience and find meaning in memories?

I spent Sunday afternoon considering two photo albums I made years ago. One of photos taken beginning in 1962, and another of images of Father taken over the years he and Mother were married from 1951 to 1969. I didn’t write anything. I simply looked at the images and tried to remember some of the moments. This is part of the autobiographical process, but doesn’t work toward a finished manuscript. More material from the vein to be sent above ground toward the tipple.

To get things on track, I will review the outline, then go through the words written. Last winter I spent time on the first five points of the outline. I previously wrote at length about the 1980s and 1990s. I know the story ends either at the beginning or end of the coronavirus pandemic, yet how it ends is unclear. That meaning must be extracted from the tumult and tension of daily living.

I don’t argue with other writers who say a daily goal with follow-through is needed. As today’s shift begins, gardening and writing are both on the schedule. I’ll add an hour to work on a plan beyond today.

Kitchen Garden

Pantry Enchiladas

Woods along the state park trail, April 6, 2021.

Evening meals are our main ones, especially during the pandemic. I wrote a list of simple meals to get us through this time of contagion. Last night I spent a couple of hours preparing enchiladas for the first time.

Based on the amount of prep work, enchiladas are less than simple. Tortillas need cooking, a sauce must accommodate differing tastes, and issues of fillings and side dishes remain to be resolved. Enchiladas are a from the pantry meal this time of year.

I buy uncooked flour tortillas at the wholesale club. Cook them first and store on the counter in a tortilla warmer.

Next, I opened a 15-ounce can of prepared organic tomato sauce. Emptying the can into a sauce pan, I mixed a couple tablespoons of water with a tablespoon of arrowroot in the can. Once thoroughly mixed, I added it to the tomato sauce and incorporated. Seasoning: chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and dried cilantro leaves. I brought the mixture to just boiling and turned it down to a slow simmer. There are two glass bread pans in the cupboard to separate plain from spicy. This base sauce will make both.

A filling is easy. We buy prepared vegetarian refried beans in 16-ounce cans at the grocery store. They come with onion powder, chili pepper and garlic powder already mixed in. They can be used as is, or with added seasoning. I added salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried cilantro leaves. Once seasoned, mix thoroughly.

Prepare the baking dishes with a light coating of cooking spray or lecithin. I prepared the less spicy batch first. Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Roll the bean mixture in tortillas and place them in the sauce, seam side down. Our dishes hold three. Cover with additional tomato sauce, then wrap the pan with aluminum foil to retain moisture while cooking.

For my batch, I added prepared hot sauce to the remaining tomato sauce and lined the bottom of the baking dish with it. I used the bean mixture as a base filling and added prepared peppers from the ice box and a Mexican-style cheese. Once three enchiladas were lined up, I covered them with the remaining sauce, sprinkled some cheese on top and wrapped with foil. Both dishes went on a baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. At that point, remove the aluminum foil and cook another ten minutes. If you want the cheese to brown, put that one under the broiler.

It is important to pay attention to how much tomato sauce is used. This recipe makes enough for two bread-pan sized baking dishes and no more. Don’t run out!

I made a batch of Spanish rice to go along with the enchiladas. Enchiladas will be a nice addition to our pandemic rotation of evening meals.

Kitchen Garden

Seedling Time

Kale Seedlings, April 5, 2021.

Toward sunset I checked the greenhouse. The plants look healthy and unblemished.

There are a couple of empty shelf spaces which will be filled with tomatoes and peppers once the channel trays germinate on the heat pad. The question is when to plant?

My farmer friends posted this note about gardening in Iowa:

It’s really easy on these first nice days to get excited and plant plant plant but we know there’s some frosts still on the horizon! The roller coaster of spring in Iowa keeps us on our toes, but what it delivered today felt pretty dang good.

Local Harvest CSA, Instagram, April 5, 2021.

The ten-day forecast is for overnight lows well above freezing. Despite the risk of frost, I plan to get kale in the ground this week. It will tolerate some frost and I don’t want the seedlings to get root bound. In case the early crop fails, I started back up seedlings.

I walked on the state park trail yesterday afternoon and the place looks pretty bleak. The landscape is of browns and greys. Spring does not appear to have arrived and damage from the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho is noticeable everywhere.

There is hope in the greenhouse and untilled garden. Hope sustains us in the time of contagion.

Kitchen Garden

Potato Planting 2021

Everything aligned to plant potatoes on Good Friday as is a Midwestern garden tradition. It began with cutting seed potatoes and curing them in the garage for about ten days.

I removed all but the lower four inches of soil in four containers. Adding two scoops of fertilizer to each (composted chicken manure), I stirred it around until the soil was broken up and the fertilizer thoroughly mixed in.

Next I arranged seven or eight seed potatoes in the soil at the bottom of the tubs. I got a yard stick and made marks eight inches above the soil. I filled them in two layers to the marks, putting a scoop of fertilizer in between layers.

After smoothing the surface, I applied ground red pepper flakes to deter digging rodents and defecating cats from getting into the soil. Next step is to get the garden hose from winter storage and give each tub a thorough soaking.

Once the potato vines begin to sprout from the soil, I’ll fill each tub to the top with additional soil. After that, the plants are monitored and watered. If Colorado potato bugs show up, I’ll pick them off and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.

This process doesn’t grow many potatoes, but the harvest is delicious and abundant enough. Importantly, it reenacts a gardening tradition inherited from my maternal grandmother.

Kitchen Garden

Spring Gardening Begins

Derecho damaged woodlands in the state park. April 1, 2021.

With a forecast low temperature of 28 degrees, I put the space heater in the greenhouse overnight. Once the temperature rises in the next couple of hours, the five-day forecast is above 40 degrees continuously. It’s time to start gardening outdoors.

It looks clear for planting potatoes today, in the Good Friday tradition. Seed potatoes are ready, and soil in the six containers needs to be worked and fertilized. Without fanfare, gardening for the 2021 season begins.

I’ll dig in the plots for cruciferous vegetables to see if it’s dry enough. If it is, I’ll seed carrots, peas and lettuce. The coronavirus pandemic had me planting seeds indoors early and I’m itching to get kale, collards, broccoli and others in the ground. One step at a time.

2021 gardening is in process.