Kitchen Garden

It’s Spring By The Calendar

Garden on May 11, 2022.

With intense heat, humidity, and heat advisories, my shifts in the garden have been shorter this year. When I get dizzy, it’s time to head into the house and cool down. There is progress, nonetheless.

All the trays of seedlings under the grow light found their way to the greenhouse on Wednesday. I will need to start more lettuce, yet it can wait. The main crops — broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans — need to get in the ground as soon as my four-hour shifts allow.

The calendar says we have five weeks of spring left, but I don’t know about that. Technically, it is spring, yet weather-wise, summer has arrived.

Living in Society

Simple Fare in an Iowa Life

Dinner on April 6, 2022: Casserole with eggs, onions, celery, garlic, Parmesan, thyme and leftover rice, served with peas and carrots.

On Wednesday I loaded the automobile with obsolete and not working electronics to recycle at the county landfill. Three televisions, a wall-mount telephone, a non-working videocassette player, a laptop computer, and miscellaneous small items fell into bins there after I paid a $66 fee. There were also two computer towers, one of which was the one my spouse bought in 1996 when we dialed up the internet for the first time as a family. The other was a locally made machine built in the last millennium. I scrubbed the hard drives clean before recycling them.

Last week I took three big bags of clothing to Goodwill. One was scraps for recycling. The other two could be tagged and resold. I didn’t ask for a receipt. It felt good to be rid of some of the detritus of a modern life in Iowa. There will be more purging of unused stuff from our home this year.

Temperatures returned to near freezing so I have to bring seedlings indoors again. I don’t know what’s up with the lingering cold, rain and snow making it impossible to get into the garden. My onion starts are to arrive next week and I haven’t turned a spade in the garden yet. I find other things to do yet there is a certain stress lingering in the background because of the delayed season.

My impression of the political scene after candidates filed to get on the ballot is Democrats are teed up to take a shellacking in November. We have good people running for office yet there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for politics. Likewise, a certain laziness permeates recent events in which I participated. I’m not seeing any fire in the belly to win an election among regular Democrats like me. Republicans in control of the state legislature and governor’s office are driving the narrative and making their points. They are highly motivated to tear down the long-standing culture of the state and replace it with something I don’t recognize. Democrats have been forced to play defense.

At a Zoom political event last night, I changed my political donation strategy while listening to Christina Bohannan and Elle Wyant speak. I budgeted $100 per month in donations and switched them around to candidates I believe will have the best prospects of being elected in November. In the big races, U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor my $100 per month split three or four ways will be of negligible impact. Even my state senator’s race will be a big money campaign. The only political fund raising phone calls I received this cycle were from Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn, U.S. Senate candidate Michael Franken, and county attorney candidate Rachel Zimmermann Smith. Even with the small number of requests, my $100 per month doesn’t go far. I’ll revisit the strategy after the June 7 primary.

I’ve been keeping the thermostat at 58 degrees while my spouse is away helping her sister. This morning I donned three layers to retain body heat. I have also been making non-vegan vegetarian dishes while she is away. It’s not fancy food, just simple fare in an Iowa life.

Social Commentary

It is Spring

Portable greenhouse, 2022.

On walkabout, garlic poked through the mulch. It is spring.

I assembled the portable greenhouse yesterday afternoon. The extra space and light will make a difference, another step toward planting the garden.

A big batch of vegetable soup simmered on the stove most of the day. We ate it for dinner and filled five quart jars. Three of them are to take as my spouse returns to her sister’s to finish packing.

My daily routine is disrupted by spring. That’s good. Like grass greening in the lawn, it is a sign of renewal. Without it, sustainability is elusive.

Opening statements at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee were yesterday. It was as if I wandered into a retirement home occupied by committee members. My conclusion, after listening to most of them? We need younger senators. Thankfully, in Iowa we have three suitable candidates to replace Senator Chuck Grassley during the November election.

War in Ukraine continues. The Ukrainian government refused to surrender even though most of Mariupol has been bombed to ruins. The Russian war machine will rapidly wear down, yet not before more destruction. Somehow Ukrainian farmers will get a crop in the ground this spring.

This week, António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, pointed out what most should know: we are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe. The upshot is there is time to act on climate, although not for long.

Kitchen Garden

Spring is Coming 2022-Style

Working in the garage with door open on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

I resumed daily walkabouts around our property line after the snow melt and noticed the toll taken on our trees. Of 15 remaining trees, all but one of which I planted, only six have no apparent issues.

Most of them are damaged from either the 2020 derecho, or from one or more of the straight line wind events we’ve had in recent years. Disease is creeping into the two EarliBlaze apple trees as lower branches blacken, die, and are cut off in pruning.

The Green Ash by the house appears to be doing well. We expect the Emerald Ash Borer to take it eventually, although there had been no infestation as of yesterday.

The Bur Oak is native to Iowa and is also doing well. Planted in the 1990s, it will come to dominate the front yard as years progress. It is a good tree. In the backyard there is a Bur Oak planted from an acorn from the one in front. There were three oak trees planted from acorns near the garden at the same time. Two of them blew a kilter during the derecho. I removed one last year and the other needs to come down. The backyard Bur Oak that will remain is flourishing.

The pear tree planted at our daughter’s high school graduation party is thriving. We all placed some kind of organic matter in the hole before planting it. Most years we get pears. They are sweet and juicy and some years there are enough to put up pear sauce. The only issue is it is growing too tall to collect all the ripe fruit. It was a nice addition to the back yard.

The two apple trees planted near the garden have been growing acceptably. I hope they begin to fruit before the three remaining apple trees have faded and are gone.

It is unclear what to do about the trees this spring. I considered taking scions from the Red Delicious tree and growing new from the same genetics. The trouble is it will take from six to eight years for them to grow to maturity and fruit. That’s too long for a septuagenarian to wait.

I planted lettuce. My maternal grandmother passed down the tradition of planting “Belgian lettuce” on March 2. Usually it is to be direct seeded, although the ground was still frozen. I honored the tradition by planting a flat indoors for transplant into a row covered planting area. Spring is coming and we’ll want lettuce when it arrives.

“Belgian lettuce,” March 2, 2022.
Living in Society


Wildflowers on the Lake Macbride State Park trail, May 26, 2021.

Fourteen months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, it was time to get the newer car serviced. For the most part, the 2002 Subaru sat in the garage or driveway during the pandemic. Wednesday I drove it to town, dropped it at the shop, and walked home along the Lake Macbride State Park trail. It was a near perfect day for a long walk, with clear skies and ambient temperatures in the mid 70s.

Rain is today’s forecast, as it has been for the last two weeks. We haven’t gotten much rain, only enough to retard gardening progress. It looks like drought will be more Iowa’s problem this growing season, although there has been enough moisture here.

In an effort to stop taking a post-operative opioid pain killer, I skipped a dose yesterday afternoon. I’ll likely skip another dose at 11 a.m. today and if the pain is subsiding, switch back to Ibuprofen (or nothing) before bedtime. It was useful to have access to a strong pain killer.

I’ve been mostly out of the garden since I put the tomatoes in and need to finish up initial planting with Guajillo chilies, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes, and acorn squash in plot seven. I also need to weed… a lot.

I’ve been reading Mark Bittman’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal. It presents a broad history of food in society, focusing on the detrimental aspects of agriculture. I’m reading the chapter on branding — the rise of Chiquita, Campbell’s, Heinz, Kraft and others. In my autobiography there is a section about the rise of grocery stores and branded prepared foods, so Bittman provides a great background for that work just when I need it. The current average rating on Goodreads is 3.88 which seems about right. I can’t say there is much new to me in the book yet he does part of my research for me.

At 9 a.m. this morning there is a 100% chance of rain, according to my weather application. As soon as the sun rises at 5:36 a.m., I plan to grab my spade and turn over as much of plot seven as I can before it starts. After being waylaid for a week, I’m ready to get back to the garden.

Kitchen Garden


Water bath canning.

The first batch of vegetable broth is canned and stored. I am well on the way to meeting a 24 quart budget.

Two different batches went into this water bath canning session. The colors were different because of different greens used. I thought of marking them in vintages as is done with wine, yet that may be a step too far. It’s only broth.

My garden is producing enough leafy green vegetables that the challenge will be using them up. I’m ready to go on my own after the last farm share on Monday. I appreciate the spring CSA share as a bridge between winter and my garden becoming established. Their high tunnels make it possible. I could likely do without it but that would mean changing behavior of nine years — it would be too much coming out of the pandemic.

I strained my shoulder and was waylaid for a couple of days. Luckily it rained so I didn’t feel I was losing garden productivity. I treated with rest and Ibuprofen and the injury does not seem permanent. Can’t say it’s as good as new, because at age 69, who would believe it?

Since the World Health Organization declared the global pandemic on March 11 last year I gained three pounds. I feel healthier than I have in years, although am cognizant of age’s fragility which produces strains and minor aches and pains. I’m doing okay and hesitate to add the dreaded phrase, “for my age.”

Friday afternoon I made black tea with lemon balm. It was surprisingly refreshing. I buy the cheapest bagged tea leaves at the grocer and they make the best iced tea. I use the ones without strings. The lemon balm came with the farm share and I added it to three tea bags in our Brown Betty before pouring the water. It made a scant two quarts.

With nine days left until Memorial Day, finishing initial garden planting is within reach. I started some winter squash in trays yesterday and the rest of what I start indoors from seed will be for succession planting. I’m already on the third round of lettuce and spinach, second of broccoli and cauliflower. With the isolation created by the coronavirus pandemic, it is expected to be a great gardening year.

Kitchen Garden

Spring Garden Gallery

Oak trees in the vanishing point.

Kitchen Garden

Spring Shift

Stump from a Bur Oak tree damaged by the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho.

Weather is shifting enough to start planting warm weather crops. This passage from the farm’s weekly newsletter explains:

We were full steam ahead last week trying to get all of our cooler season crops like broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, fennel, and herbs planted before the long-awaited rain we got over the weekend. We always wait until at least May 15th to plant warm season crops that can’t handle colder temperatures or frosts, so it’s important to us to stay on top of planting all the cool season crops and field preparation ahead of that date. That way when May 15th rolls around we can really focus on planting the huge number of plants that suddenly need to go in the ground to give them the longest season possible as well as getting them established before it gets too hot.

Carmen Black, Local Harvest CSA, May 10, 2021.

My small greenhouse is packed with plants and the weather forecast looks like Wednesday is the last reasonable chance of frost. I ordered some weed suppression fabric from my Maine-based supplier, spaded plot #6 for tomatoes, and made sure everything in the greenhouse was watered and ready to go into the ground. There is a lot to do and the next three weeks will be pretty intense.

The challenge will be determining where to put everything. I have a general idea, and the plots with single crops (onions, garlic, tomatoes) are easy. Fitting all the squash, cucumbers and zucchini into spots where they can spread is a tough decision. I sat on my stump considering this more than a few time over the last month.

One of three Bur Oak trees I planted as acorns blew askew during the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. It had to be taken out and I did. Rather than cut the stump to ground level I left it tall so I could sit on it when I need a rest. I use it more than anticipated, although more as a thinking place. It has been a nice addition to the garden.

The garden tasks ahead are clear. In between a debrief from the recent Climate Reality Project virtual training this morning, and the special convention in the county seat to nominate a candidate for supervisor tonight, I hope to accomplish a lot. I wish the rest of my life were that clear.

Now that the weather shifted it’s go time.

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

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.