Categories
Kitchen Garden

Gleaning in Mid-October

Five gallon bucket of mostly peppers: Guajillo, jalapeno, Serrano and sweet bell.

Some parts of Iowa had a frost warning last night but not here in Big Grove. At 3 a.m. ambient temperatures were in the 60s and all was well with the gardening world.

That is, except for little green worms devouring kale and collards as they do at the end of season.

Kale plant with little green worms.

Despite the kale infestation there was plenty of chard for the kitchen as I gleaned the garden Friday morning. The season is bound to be over soon, even if exceptionally warm temperatures due to climate change extended it.

Chard, Guajillo chilies, eggplant, bell peppers and tomatillos drying on the counter.

There were a few tomatoes, mostly small versions of Granadero which produced well this season. The tomato patch is ready to be deconstructed, the fencing rolled up and stored for winter. The question is when I’ll feel like doing it.

Jalapeno and Serrano peppers drying, along with other garden items on the counter.

Partly because of the long season there are many peppers: Guajillo, jalapeno and Ace bell peppers grew better this year than ever. I’ll prepare Guajillo chilies with garlic and apple cider vinegar as a condiment for storage in the refrigerator. The jalapenos are a bit of a surprise as they didn’t produce much earlier in the season. They are big ones, so that increases the possibilities for cooking. My jalapeno needs have already been filled so I’ll have to get creative.

At the end of Friday I picked some basil for pizza making. Basil went into the sauce and whole leaves on top in a pseudo-Midwestern version of pizza Margherita. Fresh mozzarella would have been better, but we make do with what we have. If I try this again, I will wait to apply the basil topping until about a minute before cooking is finished. The pizza was eminently edible. This from a man who at a younger age would eat leftover pizza from a box left overnight in the living room.

Midwestern-style Pizza Margherita.

There is at least one more pass through the garden to get Brussels sprouts and maybe some more chard. The herbs under row cover could use another picking. There are plenty of pepper flowers but it seems unlikely they will make it to fruit. It’s been a good garden season and even the gleaning was bountiful. As fall turns to winter, I’m ready.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Fall is in the Air

Ash and Maple trees starting to turn, Oct. 7, 2021.

It may be a while before the first hard frost. Peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and greens continue to grow in the garden. I want one more picking of Red Delicious apples before letting the rest go to wildlife. Fall is in the air and hopefully rain will come with it. It remains exceedingly dry.

Wednesday I mulched the garlic patch so planting this year for next is finished. I won’t start onions and shallots until late December in channel trays under a grow lamp. As I look to 2022, this year has been a great one for our garden.

For now, accept it that fall is coming and with it a an eventual end of the growing season. We live on the edge between abundance and scarcity. Hopefully we’ll have enough food between the pantry and commercial shopping to last until spring. One never knows in a time of climate change.

Categories
Sustainability

Local Food — Summer 2021

Neighborhood tomato give-away, Aug. 21, 2021.

The food system is in transition and I believe the local food movement will come along with it.

The way Americans produce and consume food, with centralized growing operations at a distance from markets, is being forced to change because of a new and different climate. I believe changes will be positive over time, although they will take adaptation which will not be pleasant. The local food movement will focus on three types of operations: specialty growers, more complex farm operations centered around key individuals or a small group, and more kitchen gardens like mine. To some extent that structure already exists.

The ongoing, long-term drought made worse by climate change is taking a toll. The water shortage is acute in the Western U.S. because there has not been enough snow melt or rain. It should be called aridification rather than drought, because the changes are likely permanent. With the continuing water crisis, reservoirs and lakes across the west are at record low levels. A reckoning is coming and it means, among other things, higher prices and disrupted food supplies.

It’s not much better in Florida, Texas and Mexico. We long recognized growing lettuce and other produce in California and Arizona, and shipping it to the Midwest and East Coast, made little sense and was expensive in multiple ways. Have you ever tasted a Florida tomato? There are better alternatives. Because vegetables are grown with shipping in mind, taste has taken a back seat.

Producing food more locally is a natural reaction to disruption in food supply. In the settler days, before we had all these fancy supply chains, it was called “making do.” More people will grow some of their own food in backyard gardens, on decks and patios, or in community gardens. Not only does the food taste better, we can control the inputs to eliminate worry about pesticides and fertilizers. In the pandemic people lost some control of external events and one way they regained it was to become more self sufficient. So many people are preserving food that it has become difficult to obtain canning jar lids.

Labor is a basic problem the local food movement cannot solve. By growing food ourselves, the labor element is removed as we each invest labor to support our garden. Labor is an assumed investment and we scale personal labor in food production to fit our ambitions and the size of our garden or farm. Produce grown like this will meet some of our nutritional needs.

53 percent of Iowa corn goes to producing ethanol. If the country moves to electric vehicles, ready or not, adaptation is coming. The simple truth is either farmers find new markets for all that corn or adapt to other crops. Expect agricultural interests to oppose elimination of ethanol. Folks have proposed some of those crop acres be devoted to different kinds of produce, the kind people eat at the dinner table. However, it’s now or never to effect mitigation of climate change. There will be no choice but to adapt and land use is only one aspect of adaptation.

Climate change is real, it is having an impact on our lives, and unless we do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — on a large scale — it is going to get worse. Local food production can be part of the solution.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Apple Time 2021

EarliBlaze apples.

EarliBlaze apples are ready to pick. They are sweet and crunchy. I have two five-gallon buckets of them to make apple cider vinegar, although I’ve been eating down one of them and might need more.

Taking stock of the pantry, we don’t need any applesauce, apple butter, dried apples or any apple products really. Fresh eating, baking and cider vinegar will be the main uses of this August apple. A lot of them fall before they are ready to pick. Deer come each evening to help us clean them up.

When Red Delicious ripen during late September or early October, I’ll revisit the plan. I have at least one person who would like this year’s apple butter, so I may make more. Despite losing a major branch during the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho, and more during a strong wind storm this year, it will be a big crop.

I would have planted the orchard differently in the 1990s had I known what I know now about apple culture. I planted trees too closely together. The six original trees were two EarliBlaze, two Red Delicious, and one each of Lodi and Golden Delicious. Wind and disease took a toll and only one Red Delicious and two EarliBlaze remain.

The varieties I chose are not the ones I would pick today. Having worked at an apple orchard since 2013, I learned a lot about which trees do well in Iowa’s climate and how to plan continuous apple picking from late July to the first hard frost in late October. In addition, I would match the varieties to what I want to accomplish in the kitchen. Late apples are more attractive to us now and everything they mean: storage for winter, apple cider making, and of course, fresh eating. There are no do-overs for our home orchard. The main questions today are what else will be planted in our yard for fruit, and what will we do when the three trees I planted finally live their last days.

I decided to decline returning to work at the orchard this year. The reason is pretty clear. The coronavirus pandemic played a key role.

I changed my mind about working this fall and won’t be reporting for work on the 28th.

The main reason is the surge in the coronavirus pandemic in Johnson County. Hospitalizations increased close to bed capacity, there is an influx of 30,000 people to attend university (about whom we know little of their vaccination status), the University of Iowa cannot require vaccination for COVID-19, and the CDC rates our level of community transmission of the virus as substantial.

Since I wrote this, the level of community transmission has gotten worse.

In late summer, the whole garden seems to come in at once with apples being a key crop. There is pressure to deal with all of it. Not enough pressure to prevent us from enjoying the taste of summer.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

At the Food Bank

World War II Gardens

Volunteers at the local food bank couldn’t wait to taste the cherry tomatoes I donated Monday morning. As soon as they were weighed in they tried some as I pointed out different varieties. It is surprising our city of 2,615 people has a need for a food bank, yet business is brisk. I enjoy the social aspect of donating to the food bank.

A group of civic-minded people noticed a number of area residents drove ten miles to the county seat to use a food bank. They felt the local need was real. The community pantry was organized in 2012 by a board that consisted of local residents and representatives from area churches. “It is able to provide food and needed supplies to residents due to the generosity of our community and businesses,” according to the pantry Facebook page. Here’s a link to the Cedar Rapids Gazette article from when it opened.

A key consideration for gardeners is reducing food waste by timely consuming, storing and processing garden produce. Having a local food bank provides one more way to reduce waste. So far this season I made six donations. While they aren’t much in the scope of things, everything helps feed people who are struggling to put food on the table. Why shouldn’t pantry clients receive fresh produce?

Local food production makes a difference in reducing reliance on the drought-ravaged growing areas of California, Arizona, Florida and Texas. Just like with victory gardens during World War II, the aggregate effect of local people growing food is positive. As dry conditions continue, especially out west, consumers will have to rely more on local food production.

If you garden, figure out how to donate part of your production to help others. It makes a person feel like an important part of society and that alone makes it worth doing. The benefit to recipients is tangible.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Reasons to Source Food Locally

Garden produce on Saturday, July 24, 2021.

Despite near drought conditions most of this growing season, our garden is producing the best crop I can remember. Our ability to irrigate is most of that. I’m also becoming a better gardener. We don’t have it as bad as California does.

Because of dry conditions over an extended period of time, California farmers are letting fields go fallow. Without rain or irrigation there is no point in putting seeds in the ground. California Governor Gavin Newsom issued three drought emergency proclamations this year, in April, May and July. The state called for residents to reduce water use by 15 percent to stretch supplies and protect water reserves. While this drought is not the worst on a 1,000 year time line, it is bad and if it continues it will affect what shoppers see in grocery stores. It goes without saying prices will trend upward.

Because of drought in western states, what we do in our Midwestern back yards increases in value.

When Michael Pollan released this video in 2010, the landscape for local food was different. His focus was on the amount of fossil fuel it took to produce vegetables in California and distribute them across the United States. He also discusses the energy required to make processed foods, like Hostess Twinkies. While avoiding global warming remains a reason to eat locally, with drought made worse by climate change, supply becomes an issue. If California farmers are not planting crops, if almond trees are not sustainable there, how will we get nutritious food? There are few better solutions than growing one’s own and sourcing locally.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

With a Bitten Tongue

Cherry tomatoes from the garden.

Like most everyone I’ve bitten my tongue. I also scalded it with hot food and beverages. It healed, at least I think it has. As I prepare food from our kitchen garden, some days I don’t notice the taste, partly due to damaged taste buds.

The first cherry tomatoes are such a burst of flavor one must notice. Some days I swoon with how good a dish prepared in our kitchen tastes, even one I make often. Days when taste is dormant are sad ones–distracted with life, eating becomes a simple necessity, a chore.

“Today, food has taken on value, which goes beyond the simple act of eating,” Massimo Bottura, who operates a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, Italy said on a BBC program called The Future of Food. “I was born with the will to be contemporary. When you are truly contemporary, your mind is constantly projected toward the future. There is always more future in my future.”

What does that mean in an Iowa kitchen garden?

I mastered enough techniques to convert raw food into meals. Few ingredients have me consulting with cook books about how to prepare or serve them. For example, a few days ago I harvested a dozen bell peppers and knew to parboil them to make stuffed peppers. I knew how to prepare the dish with rice, onion, celery, tomato, garlic and other ingredients on hand. Hard to say where I learned the technique yet it is part of culinary me. There are many techniques resting behind the door of consciousness. It gives me confidence in the kitchen, enough confidence to put meals on the table each day without consulting recipes. Does it go beyond a single meal into the future? That is more tricky.

I make soup often and attribute it to my Polish heritage. I can consistently produce a certain flavor profile. In the past I made big batches of soup and water-bath canned the extra. No more. I focus on flavor in smaller amounts done over and over through the gardening season. My typical soup starts with mirepoix: celery, onion and carrot. From there, I add what is available, including pearled barley, lentils, turnips and potatoes if I have them. Yesterday I added radicchio leaves, cabbage, kale, grated zucchini, and part of a jar of canned whole tomatoes. Salt and bay leaves seasoned the soup. Because the crop is coming in, I added diced broccoli stems. It simmered all day and by supper time was a meal. While this is not specifically a Polish soup, my heritage influenced the preparation. It suited my palate.

It is a struggle to get beyond the meal currently being prepared. After a trip to the garden, and a tour of the refrigerator and pantry, I get ideas about what to prepare each day. As the gardening season proceeds there are more choices. I’ve found the more our cuisine is driven by ingredient availability and freshness, the better the meal. That’s not surprising, although not particularly noteworthy. I enjoy cooking, and eating home-prepared meals more than restaurant fare. I’m nowhere near the level of Bottura. We get by in our kitchen.

I don’t know if my palate is truly damaged, and live with what I have. When a dish comes out really well I enjoy eating it. Much of the time I’m distracted from living and eating by outside concerns. My best plan for the future of food is to grow great ingredients and pay attention to the preparation. With practice I’ll get better and occasionally I will touch the sublime. That’s what a home cook can hope.

Categories
Living in Society

Needed Rain Fell

Fresh from the garden cauliflower.

A gentle rain fell through the night and continues this morning. We need rain to assuage the drought. When it rains, garden-watering is more thorough and much appreciated. A benefit was not having to water the garden by hand last night.

In unexpected ways my trip to Florida was life changing. The driving was uneventful and easy. It was easier for me because our daughter led our convoy and all I had to concern myself about was fuel and keeping the rental truck between the highway lines. We spaced overnight breaks so we weren’t exhausted when we arrived each night. We splurged on food, using delivery services like Door Dash, Grub Hub and Uber Eats. We took care of ourselves. Like a vacation, the time was golden even though we didn’t do anything special besides be together.

I hadn’t visited her in Florida since 2013. I missed visiting at a place she lived for five years, the only residence of hers I hadn’t seen. The seven day trip was the most time we spent together in a long time. What’s changed is now that she’s closer–a mere day trip away–we can make plans that the 1,290-mile distance between us made impossible.

Something else changed.

There is a renewed urgency to get things done, to focus on what’s most important. I want to cross things off my to-do list. During the first part of the coronavirus pandemic I seldom looked at or maintained a to-do list. The trip changed all that.

I don’t know how this will turn out yet I’m hopeful. Hopeful we can spend more time together. Hopeful to find more meaning in quotidian affairs. Hopeful to get things done that are worth doing. I didn’t expect that, but it’s welcome.

It was drizzling rain when I went to the garden. I picked three head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, four bell peppers, a cucumber, a zucchini and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Every day is like that. Rain is important to a healthy, abundant garden. The future is a slate wiped clean by the trip from Florida. For now, we have enough rain.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Pandemic Year Garlic

Garlic Patch July 3, 2021.

It was a good garlic harvest this year. All the heads looked solid and disease-free. I hit only one with the spade. The yield was 75 head, or enough for a year in the kitchen and to seed next year’s crop.

Harvested garlic.

It took about two hours to dig it. The work went easily because I had weeded the plot. This is my third year growing garlic at home and experience pays with this crop.

The entire crop in a cart.

I made the garlic rack last year out of simple materials. I use the sawhorses for something else during the year. The present challenge is to let it dry thoroughly, then cut the roots and leaves to make the heads look like what we buy in the store.

This variety has a long history on the farm where I work. The heads and cloves are large, and the flavor is what we want. Planted in October 2020 and harvested yesterday, garlic spends to most time in the ground of anything I grow. In the pandemic year of 2020-2021, it did well.

Categories
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.