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Kitchen Garden

In the Greenhouse

Bedding Plants
Bedding Plants

RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP— It’s the fifth week of making soil blocks for the farm, and flats of seedlings are filling the tables. It is warm inside the greenhouse, and most days I work in jeans and a T-shirt. There is a sense of accomplishment, even though nothing has been planted in the ground except a few items in the hoop house.

There is a small community of growers and talk centers around plants and ultra-local events. Soil quality, weather, temperatures— all leading to a bigger question— when to get into the ground during this cold spring? On a farm there will be a practical answer to this question. Here’s hoping to get out of the greenhouse soon, and into the fields.

GARDEN NOTES: On the home front, I dug, raked and planted the first seeds in the garden. A two foot by ten foot patch where I broadcast Arugula (Rocquette) on the eastern end, and the remainder in a mix of three 45 days to maturity lettuce seeds (Black Seeded Simpson, Gourmet Blend, and Simpson Elite). The watering cans went missing, so I dumped dishpans full of water into a colander to diffuse the initial flow. It worked well.

Inside, I set up a table near the only south-facing window, where I consolidated all of the indoor seedlings. Things are coming along nicely— for the most part. After consulting with the CSA, I abandoned the project of starting onions from seed and replanted those cells with Cayenne pepper seeds. The Rosemary mostly did not take, so I marked the ones that did and planted broccoli in the rest of those cells. I made what I am calling “bombs,” planting all of one kind of seeds in each of several old flower pots. A basil bomb, a mint bomb, and an arugula bomb will hopefully be available for the kitchen. Some have already sprouted.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Getting Started in the Garden

Seedlings
Greenhouse Seedlings

LAKE MACBRIDE— Thursday will be the day to get started in the garden. Temperatures have been above freezing for a few days, so by then, the ground should be thawed enough to turn over and plant lettuce. I use the broadcast method for lettuce— a local tradition.

Six kinds of lettuce seeds are germinating in a seed starter. These will be grown into heads of lettuce, a first for me this year. Although it is a late start, it’s time to get going.

The garden is already active, with garlic, chives and oregano overwintering. The daylilies sprouted, as have other bulbs. This year I plan to relocate some of the bulbs from the garden to other places around the property. I say that every year, but this time it may be for real.

Spring has sprung, and it is about time.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

First Day in the Garage and Garden

Garage Resources
Garage Resources

LAKE MACBRIDE— With temperatures in the mid-50s, and a day off work, how could I not spend the day in the garage and garden under azure skies? I cleared the first plot for the spinach, lettuce and herbs and turned the first spadeful of soil. Ice persisted two inches below the surface, but it won’t be long before the ground is warm enough to plant. I brought the trays of seedlings outside to take in the full sunlight of spring.

The front yard needs some work. Last year, a backhoe service dug down to the waterline, repaired a leak, and left a sinking spot near the house. We also had the septic service pump our tank last year: the ground covering the lids needed something. The soil was warm enough above the septic tanks to sow grass seed. As I did, I noticed the view of the lake now that our neighbors removed their diseased pine trees. The sense of isolation created by the treeline is gone. I am thankful for the view of the lake, glad to surrender a bit of privacy to see open water from our front steps again.

Screwdrivers
Screwdrivers

Last fall a contractor sowed grass seed mixed with soil in the community-owned ditch. The late winter runoff furrowed the ditch, requiring attention. The plan is to rake up the leaves and cover the trench this weekend, instead of waiting for the contractor’s return.

This year is the big sort. A process of downsizing— casting aside items no longer needed to sustain a life on the Iowa prairie. There are challenges for the sort in the garage, as a person can always predict a use for many things found there. Nonetheless, either they will be used, or they won’t. Decisions will be made. The big sort will reduce the detritus accumulated after auctions and trips to the home store, down to a more meaningful level. It didn’t go well yesterday.

It started with sorting the woodpile kept under my workbench. The first woodworking project will be making a box to carry my gardener’s boots— calf-high, rubberized for protection from dirt in the garden and manure on the farm. Now that I work on a farm, I’ll need the boots with me, and the box of boots will ride along in my car.

I sat on a five-gallon white plastic bucket and handled the wood scraps one-by-one, looking for the right sized pieces. A piece of hardwood leftover from my father-in-law’s project to make a weather station; another removed from decrepit drawers acquired at auction; some with hand-cut dovetails from another era. I got halfway down the pile and stopped. Partly because I found the scraps needed to make the box. Partly because the flow of memories was too much to take in all at once. It seemed impossible to get rid of any of them.

Bulletin Boards
Bulletin Boards

The day proceeded with similar storm and stress. In a society that seeks a reason for everything, with that certain Iowa intrusion into private lives, my garage and yard time is to unravel the genome of a life proscribed by others. A place and time of freedom in a post-Enlightenment Iowa life.

I brought the seedlings inside at the end of the day, and placed the ones planted yesterday on the heating pad— hoping to encourage germination and a bountiful harvest.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Spring, but not All

Seedling Starter
Seedling Starter on a Heating Pad

LAKE MACBRIDE— A layer of snow covered everything this morning, indicating that the calendar start of spring meant nothing to Mother Nature.

A few days ago, I checked the soil in the garden— it was still frozen. During many a previous year, the lettuce had been in the ground for three weeks, and seed potatoes were in the garage, waiting to be cut and seasoned before planting on Good Friday, now just five days away. Spring is not all it was expected to be this year.

I decided to try starting my own seedlings again. In the past, I failed miserably, but after making soil blocks at the CSA, found the confidence to try it again. The cells are mapped out on graph paper, and yesterday, I started putting the trays on a heating pad set to low for a few hours at a time. When I looked at the green pepper seeds this morning, they had begun to take root after this first heating pad session. There is plenty of moisture in the soil mix, so I’ll continue the practice and see how the seeds sprout and grow. So far, so good.

In an effort to avoid the deadly intersection of cabin fever and spring fever, I have been exploring some new writers and found Girl Gone Farming, which is a blog by someone who recently moved to a farm in Pennsylvania after living in New York City for three years. Worth reading here, especially for readers who are city folk.

The snow continues to float through the air, morning has turned to afternoon, and it appear to be spring, not at all, in the garden.

Categories
Kitchen Garden Writing

Knowing our Farmers

Germinated Seeds
Germinated Seeds

RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP— The seeds I planted last week had sprouted when I returned to the farm for shift number two. The work was easier this time and I finished quickly. I used a water bottle to stay hydrated, and it helped a lot. The greenhouse is starting to fill with the flats of seedlings for three growers who use the space.

Even though it was only my second day of making soil blocks, the skill had been learned, and I trained another worker.

The CSA where I work is not organic. “We can’t afford that,” said the producer. This attitude is common among vegetable growers, and while some equivocate, saying they use “organic practices,” the truth is the discussion about organic is based on penetrating markets. While it is not mentioned much anymore, the purpose of Community Supported Agriculture is to know your grower, and how they raise vegetables. It requires the buyer to have a depth of knowledge beyond fungible commodities. Being part of a CSA is about more than just the weekly share of vegetables, even if our consumer culture focuses on that aspect of the arrangement.
Seedlings
Most consumers don’t have time to know the farmer, and buy food at the grocery store. Maybe there is an alternative, and while labor intensive, it starts on farms like this one.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

At the CSA

RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP— Yesterday was the first of a long series of work days at a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. I spent three and a half hours making blocks of soil mix to grow seedlings, then planted lettuce seeds in some of them. I had no expectations for the day, but mostly because of dehydration, had to cut it short. (Note to self: next time take a water bottle). I am not physically ready for farm work, but hope to be soon. As this growing season evolves, my physical condition should improve. The reason for being at there was to learn how a greenhouse works in late winter, and about growing lettuce from seedlings. I am also trading labor for a share of produce.

If one would write about local food, some experience on a CSA seems mandatory. It is one thing to talk and write about local food and another to grow it. The latter takes more work than people realize. What was immediately apparent was the labor intensity of sustainable agriculture in its current iteration. Machines could have done all of the work I did more efficiently, but with substantial capital investment. Local, sustainable agriculture starts out behind in the race with large scale operations over efficiency. It is a conscious choice among options for how to spend limited capital, and as long as cheap labor is available, capital investment will be directed to other things on a long list of priorities.

We didn’t talk much, but between periods of work, managed to catch up on news, and what’s going on with family. The only thing to report is that local CSAs continue to struggle to find customers, with some of last year’s customers cutting back to half shares, or not renewing this season. Managing a base of members whose investment is less than $1,000 per year is also labor intensive.

My sense is that there are pockets of strength in the local food movement in Johnson County. It is not really a cohesive system yet. People enjoy going to the farmers market to buy produce, but they often do so with discretionary income. In a tight economy, discretionary income can be reduced or evaporate completely, effecting farmers markets and CSA business alike because they are perceived as an indulgence rather than a way of life. There is inadequate attention paid to the role of home cooks as buyers/promoters of sustainably grown food. That needs a remedy as well, but is also labor intensive, and the planting season is here.