Categories
Garden

Warm Weather Vegetable Planting

Mustard greens – walnut pesto with a flat loaf of freshly baked bread.

On Friday I planted the rest of the tomatoes and the sweet, bell peppers. I’m running out of room for hot peppers so I harvested mustard greens and made pesto with ingredients from the pantry. I’ll use that space for a variety of hot peppers.

I have more seedlings than will fit in my seven garden plots so choices must be made. The last plot will be cucumbers with room for whatever else will fill the space, likely the single zucchini plant that germinated, and more hot peppers and tomatoes.

Succession planting is important to space management but the ice box is filled with leafy green vegetables and a family can only eat so many per day.

Rain is forecast in the next hour. As soon as the sun rises I want to harvest turnip greens to make the last of the vegetable broth for canning.

I’m trying to get better at growing bell peppers. Here’s a passage from the Jan. 18 barter proposal to my farmer friend Carmen:

We talked about mentoring on how to grow bell peppers. The idea we discussed was me spending some individual time with you discussing seed variety, irrigation systems, weeding, fertilizing, pest control and other issues, then helping you grow this year’s crop. While this means more labor on my part, I consider that part of the learning process for which I’d be bartering, not an added expense to you. As the crop comes in I would want a fair share for fresh eating and freezing as long as the harvest continues, some prime quality and seconds depending on what’s available. What is the value of that learning experience? I don’t know but I’m willing to settle the remaining accrued value for it, making us even.

Thursday I spent a couple of hours at the farm planting peppers. Below are comparison photos of the farm’s peppers and the row I put in my garden yesterday.

Pepper row at Local Harvest CSA
Pepper row in my garden.

At the farm they have a mechanical device to lay plastic for the rows. It creates a berm of soil in the middle of each sheet into which seedlings are planted. There is drip tape irrigation under the plastic. In my garden I manually made the berm with a hoe and garden rake, then covered it with a 48-inch layer of landscaping fabric. I placed grass clippings on each side. I have no drip tape and therefore need to make sure peppers are adequately watered.

The seedlings I used were a combination of ones I started and the main crop peppers at the farm. I also put in six plants of Guajillo chili peppers and two each of Serrano and Jalapeno. Fingers crossed I produce some peppers out of this.

A lot of weeding remains to be done. Also remaining is the related grass clipping collection for mulch. For that to happen I need a solid block of weather without rain. Doesn’t look like that will happen today.

Categories
Garden Home Life

Lilac Time

Lilacs through the front door.

The lilacs will soon be in full bloom. They don’t last long. What does?

Social distancing in the coronavirus pandemic has me well ahead in the garden, creating an in between time to consider life’s possibilities.

This week I plan to plant tomato and pepper seedlings and get everything I can into the ground. We are past the last frost, although with as chilly as it’s been, things aren’t growing well yet. There’s no hurry.

That said, there has been plenty of arugula, lettuce, spinach, spring garlic, pak choy, mustard greens and spring onions. What we don’t get in greens from our garden we get from the CSA spring share. I have big salads on the dinner menu three times this week and side dishes of stir fried greens every other day but Friday. When I was a younger gardener I didn’t understand the importance of greens to the enterprise. Now I do.

I’ve taken to hanging a U.S. flag over the garage door. The one I use flew over the U.S. Capitol. I paid $16 for it through our congressman. For a long while I flew the flag I took with us on field maneuvers in the Army. I flew that one from the radio antenna during non-tactical road marches. It got worn so I replaced it. Flags wear out. Everything does.

I’m down to my last face mask so Jacque has been getting input on what kind she should make for me. The one I have is a dust mask from the garage workshop. It fits snugly. It serves. The new one will have parts of an obsolete vacuum cleaner bag as the filter medium. While Americans have poor discipline in their behavior to prevent spread of COVID-19 (or lack of discipline, more likely), we’ll do our best not to catch it or transmit. The main thing is going out only when we need to. With the garden and plenty to do inside it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s better for us anyway.

Today’s challenge is figuring out what to do beyond getting through each day. I’d been dodging the idea of retirement and now that the pandemic flipped me to this new status I’m not sure what to do with the rest of my life. I’m not used to working without a clear plan. I need to make one and for that I need new priorities. It’s an in between time for now and those decisions will be delayed for another day.

For the time being, the allure of lilac scent beckons me outside.

Categories
Cooking Review

Book Review – A Cook’s Tour of Iowa

A Cook’s Tour of Iowa by Susan Puckett.

A Cook’s Tour of Iowa is a well-curated collection of culinary culture that represents a certain view of Iowa. It’s the picture Iowans can recognize. We also recognize many of the things mentioned as fading in cultural prominence.

As a resource for writing autobiography, the book conjures personal memories of Iowa things like the Grant Wood Art Festival, Maytag Blue Cheese, the African-American community in Buxton, Iowa, and many more. It is indispensable for that reason.

What is lacking is the diversity of what Iowa has become, even since 1988 when the first edition of A Cook’s Tour appeared. Our culture is also leaving behind things like VEISHA, Old Creamery Theater (no longer in Garrison, or Amana), and some of the festivals and events to which Puckett referred.

If we had an Iowa-themed dinner party, picnic or cookout, one might search the book’s contents for dishes to make for pure nostalgia. However, life in Iowa has become more than that.

I appreciate the work that went into A Cook’s Tour of Iowa. I may not open it often, but knowing it is there provides comfort as the food system changes along with the society that engendered it.

Categories
Cooking Garden Local Food

Bow Tie Pasta with Garlic and Arugula

Bow tie pasta with garlic and arugula

The arugula is top quality this year and I’m in a use it up mode. I spent more time preparing for this dish of bow tie pasta with garlic and arugula than usual. I researched recipes and thought a lot about it during the past two days. I used Parmesan cheese from a green can because of the coronavirus pandemic. It came out well but would be better with higher quality cheese. Here goes:

Ingredients:

Big bunch of arugula, half a pound, washed and roughly chopped
2 cups dried bow tie pasta
12-14 cloves of garlic
Quarter cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup grated hard cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano)
Salt and pepper to taste

Process

Set a pan of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.

Peel and trim the garlic. Then slice finely (1/8 inch).

Once the water reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to directions.

Once the pasta is down, bring the olive oil just to the smoke point. Add the garlic, stirring constantly. As the garlic begins to brown, add the pine nuts and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the knob of butter and stir. Before the foam begins to subside, transfer everything to a mixing bowl. Drain the pasta and dump it in the bowl. Combine until they are incorporated.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the arugula and cheese and mix gently until the arugula wilts.

Makes two generous servings.

Categories
Environment Garden

Insects in a Garden with Arugula

Pear blossoms ready for pollination.

Pollinators came in abundance and did their work. Now it’s snowing flower petals.

The collapse of insect populations is a well-documented phenomenon. 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction, due mostly to habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture. Agricultural chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are additional causes, according to Biological Conservation.

In our yard insect populations find a home, begin doing their work, and cause trouble in the garden almost as soon as freezing temperatures abate. They are relentless. Humans should be so relentless.

Insect damaged Pak Choy.

Because of insects our yard has a bird population. They nest in the fruit trees and lilac bushes. They perch everywhere there is something upon which to stand. It’s easy to find them chasing insects through the air. It’s for the birds and insects I use no weed killers or lawn fertilizers and let the grass go to seed.

We are an island in a sea of agriculture. When wheat is harvested Japanese beetles head to property like ours where they feed on certain types of vegetation. Corn and soybean harvests result in visits of additional species of displaced insects. It is important to consider the world outside our property lines as insects know few boundaries and what farmers do a section of two over impacts us.

The first white butterfly flew around the cruciferous vegetables yesterday. They lay eggs on foliage which hatch and produce green worms that eat said foliage. It didn’t take long after planting for the butterfly to show up.

I observed a number of bee species during the pear tree pollination. Dandelions are an excellent source of early pollen for bees so I let them go. A large bumble bee lumbered through the air, laden with pollen, and flew through an opening in the chicken wire mesh around a garden plot.

The pear tree is being pollinated as I type this post. If pears form this year there will be another struggle with Japanese beetles over the fruit. Last year we lost the whole crop to the pests.

I went out to the garden before sunrise to see if I could catch the culprit eating my Pak Choy. In order to defend against bugs they need to be identified. I shone the light on my mobile phone but couldn’t find it today.

I turned to the arugula which reaching maturity. I returned to the garage, got a colander, a pair of scissors, and a knee pad, and pulled back the fencing to harvest a big bunch. I removed an insect, cleaned it and put it away in the ice box.

When I returned from a shift at the farm I made a lunch using this process:

Add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a large bowl. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice, tablespoon of home made apple cider vinegar and finely minced spring garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until incorporated. Fill a serving bowl with arugula and dump it into the larger bowl. Toss gently until the leaves are coated. Return the salas to the serving bowl. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and serve.

Categories
Cooking Garden

Planning A Vegetable Garden

Pear Blossoms

Since retiring on Tuesday there has been one good day to work outside.

Tuesday and Wednesday were cool and dark with scattered showers. I read two books, reworked the family budget, and spent most of my time indoors.

Thursday was a glorious spring day when I measured and cleared the remaining three garden plots and planned the sequence of events and layouts. Today looks equally nice and an opportunity to start direct seeding and planting from the greenhouse.

This year may be the best yet start to the garden. I’m hopeful even though a lot of weeding and combating pests lies ahead.

There will be spring garlic from the volunteer patch and arugula planted March 2 is ready to harvest. I’m reviewing cook books for ideas, seeking a spring pasta dish as a chance to combine fresh arugula and last season’s garlic. Repetition is anathema to having a kitchen garden so a key ingredient will be spontaneity.

Mario Batali has a recipe using fresh mushrooms cooked in sweet vermouth with ten cloves of garlic. It sounds good. I have the garlic, but no vermouth and only canned mushrooms from the wholesale club. A recipe I remember from television is Jaime Oliver and Gennaro Contaldo making pasta using wild rocket they found growing in London. The spontaneity of their process is more what I’m after. Deborah Madison has a recipe called spaghetti with overgrown arugula and sheep’s milk ricotta. It’s closest to the ingredients on hand. Where our ice box is lacking and could improve is by having some pecorino or any kind of ricotta cheese. I make this once a year, so I’m in no hurry to get into the kitchen. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll use whatever ingredients are on hand.

Another spring-use-it-up recipe is a quick version of eggplant Parmesan. When the eggplant harvest comes in, I cut large ones into half-inch disks, roast and freeze them. Every so often I get fresh mozzarella pre-cut in disks from the wholesale club. Canned tomatoes are always in abundance and these three things together make a dish.

Make a simple tomato sauce using canned tomatoes (reserving the juice for soup), basil, dried onions and dried garlic. Whatever you like is fine, even a prepared pasta sauce. Place a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to coat the bottom of the baking dish. Seat frozen eggplant disks in the sauce and cover them with more sauce. Next, a disk of fresh mozzarella on each piece of eggplant. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top and bake in a 400 degree oven on the low-middle shelf. It’s ready as soon as the mozzarella begins to brown. I usually make individual servings in small baking dishes.

A last spring tradition for today is vegetable soup using fresh greens and whatever is in the freezer that needs using up. I always begin with onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves. Key ingredients were a bunch of fresh greens roughly chopped, a quart of canned tomatoes, two quarts of vegetable broth, frozen sweet corn, frozen grated zucchini, and a quarter cup each of dried lentils and barley. There are few rules other than starting with mirepoix and whatever diners like and needs to be used up. It made about a gallon of soup.

Living with a kitchen garden is the center of so much. When arugula, garlic and spring onions start to come in we are ready to break the long winter absence of fresh vegetables.

Categories
Farming Garden

Spring Share and All

Tomato seedlings taking a ride home.

Today is the first spring share at our community supported agriculture project.

The farmers developed a no-contact method to deliver shares during the coronavirus pandemic. Each member’s share will be prepacked in a cooler and left under the oak tree that dominates the farm entrance.

No more self serve from bins in the walk-in cooler until risk of infection passes. With portable coolers there is less to sanitize after pickup.

Sunday was a drop-dead gorgeous spring day in Iowa. Cumulus clouds floated in blue sky and the temperature was perfect. Neighbors were outside working in yards, kayaking on the lake, and walking the roads and trails. There are only so many days like this each year before insects arrive to eat our greenery. Each leaf on each tree looked perfect in the mid day sun.

The first tray of tomato seedlings took a ride home in the passenger seat after my shift at the farm. The forecast is rain the next couple of days so I’m not sure when I will plant them. The portable greenhouse is getting full.

A group of friends from high school participated in a Zoom meeting last night. The host, who also played keyboards in our 1970s band, organized a weekly meeting using the service. I found value in the conversation.

One of the guys on the call is an unemployed nurse who found work last week helping a team from the Iowa Department of Public Health administer COVID-19 tests to slaughterhouse workers. Beginning Friday he spent three days in Waterloo with a team drawing blood and doing nasal swabs to about 3,500 people. Today they head to Columbus Junction for more. I’m glad he found work.

Whatever the reason for the governor’s hesitation, unchecked spread of the coronavirus happened in Iowa because of it. Chasing it in meatpacking plants and care facilities alone will be a major undertaking. She started this scale of testing too late to head off the worst aspects of the pandemic. We are in this until researchers develop a vaccine and distribute it world-wide. Word on the street is it will take three years to accomplish that.

Yesterday we completed our ballots for the Democratic primary. Like many, we are voting by mail because of the coronavirus. Primaries are the time to vote your beliefs. Once voters express their preference, we’ll support the nominees in the general election to retake our government. We can flip the Iowa House of Representatives this year, and if stars properly align, the U.S. Senate. It will be an unusual election because of the pandemic.

So much depends on so many things. Yet when spring is as glorious as it was yesterday the work ahead in politics fades from view. Our collective journey home continues.

Categories
Local Food

Farmers Markets in a Pandemic

June 15, 2013 Farmers Market in Cedar Rapids

There is nothing better than buying a bunch of radishes at a farmers market, biting the root off one at the booth, eating it, then buying a few more bunches if they taste good.

The sights, sounds and smells of an open air farmers market are something unique. During the coronavirus pandemic the fun and experience of markets diminished as they closed and now are expected to become a place of accommodation as they begin sales again.

Nothing like a good old proclamation by the governor to suck the joy out of a farmers market:

SECTION TWO. Pursuant to Iowa Code § 29C.6(6) and Iowa Code § 135.144(3), and in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health, I hereby order that farmers markets, as defined in Iowa Code § 137F shall not be prohibited as a mass gathering under the Proclamations of Disaster Emergency issued on April 6, 2020, or April 16, 2020, but only to the extent that the farmers market complies with the following requirements:

A. Farm Products and Food: The farmers market may only permit vendors who sell farm products or food. Vendors selling other goods or services are not permitted.

B. Entertainment and Activities Prohibited: Musical performances, children’s activities, contests, or other entertainment or activities organized by the farmers market or vendors are prohibited.

C. Common Seating Prohibited: Farmers markets must eliminate all common seating areas, picnic tables, or dining areas and shall prohibit vendors from having any seating for the public to congregate or eat food on the premises.

D. Vendor Spacing: Farmers markets shall space all vendor booths or assigned parking areas so that there is six feet or more of empty space from the edge one vendor’s assigned areas to the neighboring vendor.

E. Social distancing, hygiene, and public health measures: Farmers markets shall also implement reasonable measures under the circumstances of each market to ensure social distancing of vendors and customers, increased hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 at farmers markets consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Any other farmers market, festival, or community gathering of ten or more people that does not comply with these requirements is prohibited. Customers of farmers markets are strongly encouraged to engage in social distancing, wear a mask or other protective face-covering if unable to maintain a distance of six feet from others, practice good hygiene practices, and attend the market alone without other family members.

Who will venture to a farmers market at this point in the arc of the coronavirus pandemic? Iowa is projected to reach peak resource utilization and number of deaths per day about May 4 according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Once we reach peak, we will be only halfway through the number of positive test results and deaths from COVID-19. In other words, it will be at least six to eight weeks after peak before the incidence of cases and deaths tapers off to a level regular people are willing to risk exposure to do normal things like visit farmers markets.

Farmers markets have less to offer when stripped down to an economic exchange of money for food. Tasting radishes and the like will be restricted and impractical under the proclamation. Interaction between customers and farmers is a key aspect of a market and restricting it diminishes them. It is more difficult to get to know the face of the farmer when they are wearing a mask.

Farmers are developing other means to get to market while social distancing. Our local food hub developed and is implementing an on line ordering system to minimize human contact during the pandemic. While not the best, it does provide some market for growers and as a local solution can be more acceptable to local food seekers than the governor’s proclamation. Interest in community supported agriculture rose since the pandemic began with every operator I know full or expanded this season.

We hope the coronavirus will eventually recede into the background the way influenza has. Until there is a vaccine that works consumers are expected to be skeptical about going places that are not essential. Given the low level of trust people have in our government, no proclamation from the governor will change that.

Categories
Garden

Third Plot Planted

Garden April 20, 2020

In a cool, calm morning I finished planting the third garden plot.

Sugar Snap peas, Snow peas, carrots, Hakurei turnips, kohlrabi, three varieties of kale, Pak Choi, red onions, Imperial broccoli and spinach.

The wind came up in the afternoon. Hopefully everything didn’t get beaten down.

Categories
Garden Writing

Back at the Greenhouse

Greenhouse at Sundog Farm April 12, 2020

I’m still soil blocking at the farm and took this photo to prove it.

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting the food system dramatically. I didn’t think we’d be in such a position yet there are legitimate concerns about running out of food while large dairies and vegetable and meat producers destroy excess perishables because so many U.S. restaurant dining rooms are closed. One would think the distribution challenges could be resolved, although they haven’t yet been.

Our household will make it through the food supply turbulence, and I’ll make sure our neighbors do as well. Barring unexpected issues it looks to be a great garden year.

The combination of using a large greenhouse and my portable one makes things possible that weren’t last year. I’m starting more seeds at home and soon will see the result. A larger number of seedlings are growing at home than I’ve had this early. Also no worries about vegetable predators.

There are responsibilities with having a home greenhouse. Mainly monitoring internal temperature and watching the weather for strong winds. Too hot or too cold and seedlings in which so much was invested could perish. A strong wind could blow the structure over despite 200 pounds of sand buckets weighing it down. I used the Weather Channel app on my phone before, yet find myself checking it more often with a home greenhouse. Last night the temperature dipped below freezing so I hooked up a space heater to protect the seedlings.

Yesterday I planted in trays at the farm:

Cucumbers

Marketmore, Ferry-Morse, 68 days.
Tendergreen (Burpless), Ferry-Morse, 55 days.
Tasty Jade, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 54 days
Little Leaf Pickling, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 57 days.

Lettuce

Arugula, Ferry-Morse, 40 days.
Magenta, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 48 days.
Buttercrunch, Ferry-Morse, 65-70 days.
Bibb, Ferry-Morse, 57 days
Parris Island Cos, Ferry-Morse, 68 days.

I also transplanted pepper starts from a channel tray to larger soil blocks.

Where I am deficient in technique, I’m learning needed skills at the farm. I’m re-engineering how I grow peppers as part of the barter arrangement with the farmer. I’m also learning how to produce a better crop of onions. As a result of this learning, I placed a heating pad and channel trays in the on-line shopping cart at the seed company. The seed company is not taking orders from home gardeners because of the pandemic. I won’t use them until next year in any case, so there is time. A bigger concern is whether they will ship my onion starts before planting time. Because of a need to keep their employees safe during the pandemic, their shipping process slowed down.

As usual I was tired after my shift at the farm.

I went home and took a shower, then it rained in the afternoon. Once the ground dries out, I’ll return to the garden. My hope is to harvest grass clippings for mulch before the lawn gets too tall. I don’t know about that if it keeps raining.