Categories
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.

Categories
Living in Society

With People Again

Sundog Farm on March 28, 2021.

Sunday was my first shift of soil blocking at Sundog Farm this spring. Besides shopping, medical appointments, and trips to government offices, it was the first time out since being restricted by the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. There were people (wearing masks) and animals (who weren’t)… and four dogs!

To see a short video of farm life on Sunday, click here.

It was partly cloudy with intermittent snow flurries. We worked outside with me making 35 soil block trays (4,200 seedling blocks) and a varying seeding crew of four or five, socially distanced across the concrete pad, planting broccoli, kale, mustard greens and other early vegetables. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, I worked mostly alone in the greenhouse. Sunday felt a bit more normal. The farmer and I negotiated our barter agreement and will continue discussions next weekend.

While it was relatively easy for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it has been a struggle for the farm workers who are mostly 20-somethings. I’ve had two doses and they had one. Both the state and federal government could do more to get rural Iowa vaccinated.

It’s good to be back to work, though. Here is a photo of my first tray of soil blocks for the season.

Tray of 120 soil blocks. March 28, 2021.
Categories
Writing

Spring in Louisville

Spring flowers pushing up

Editor’s note: This was gleaned from a March 20, 2009 post on my Facebook page. My work in transportation and logistics exposed me to the deepening relationship between Chinese manufacturers and American markets during the 1990s. It was in Louisville I attended some Elite Eight basketball tournament games while attending the truck show. I also attended concerts arranged by show management with Alabama, Kenny Chesney and Reba McIntire. While geared more toward independent contractors and small companies, I was able to meet with staff from our company’s major suppliers.

During our descent, I saw the white flowering dogwood spread over the city. Grass was green and skies clear, a great day for flying and learning about the culture of trade shows. Our host sent his concierge to pick us up at the airport and deliver us to the Mid-America Truck Show.

This trade show is a chance for manufacturers, insurance companies, massage therapists, truck stops, software companies, advertising outlets and everyone who seeks the dollars found in trucking to show up. Back in the 1990s, we bought a copy of the attendees list, and discovered that the vast majority of attendees come from within a 250 mile radius to the show. It is a big event, and local in focus.

Some folks plan to buy their new truck here. Hawkers demonstrate how to reduce knee and back pain. Recruiters hope to take a driver application. Truck stop operators hope to meet up with clients. There are too many booths to take it all in.

What I did notice was a number of booths set up by Chinese companies. In one, I found Buzz, a ten-year acquaintance, introducing the Chinese manufacturers to his American contacts. In others, five or six Chinese sat in small circles in the booth in front of their wheels or oil seals, looking like they were isolated from this sea of truckers, tattoos, and facial hair. That they were here is a sign of the times, and if their behavior seemed odd this time, I am confident that they will learn how to work this crowd. One of my traveling companions said that he was surprised to see the Chinese here, instead of working the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) crowd: that is where their best impact could be made.

The Louisville Truck show is our industry writ large. It was okay to see it yesterday, for what may be my last time. Louisville in Spring is, for me, more about the dogwood.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Late Winter Walkabout

Spring flowers pushing up

Ambient temperatures were in the low 60s on Sunday, creating a suitable environment for a yard walkabout. The report is in: Spring is coming.

The flowering bulbs were the first sign of it. Along with apple trees beginning to bud, garlic is up under the layer of straw, and lilac bushes show new growth. Most of the grass is brown and matted from recently melted snow, yet there is a bit of green scattered around the yard. The signs are unmistakable.

I assembled the portable greenhouse and moved four trays of seedlings outside. It was warm enough overnight to leave them there. I planted a flat of spinach, celery, parsley and cilantro, using up last year’s bag of soil mix. This flat went on the heating pad for germination. There remains indoor work, yet our focus can turn outdoors.

As snow continues to melt in the garden I considered where to plant early lettuce. The ground is not workable, yet soon will be. When it is the seeds can go down and there will be a lot to do.

The calendar shows 13 days until Spring. I’m already there.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

38 Days Until Spring

Basil starts under the grow light.

Kale, broccoli and collards germinated within three days. This is the first year using a heating pad and grow light indoors. My reaction is positive.

Already onions, shallots, leeks, basil and the cruciferous vegetables are in process. Despite more than a foot of snow on the ground the garden starts bring promise.

March 2 is the traditional day to sow lettuce seeds in the garden. If the ground can be worked, I will. Grandmother called this planting “Belgian lettuce,” regardless of the variety of seeds planted. With my new indoor setup I’ll be starting lettuce indoors as well, as soon as snow melts and the greenhouse can be assembled. Annual cycles of gardening have begun.

What’s different this year is the coronavirus pandemic. Iowa has had a slow start up in vaccine distribution with not much relief in sight for the near term. I know some of the places where vaccines will be available and as of yesterday, no appointments were available. The main impact is my decision to avoid working on the farm this year until being vaccinated. That means I’ll have to be more self-sufficient in my gardening. I believe I’ll be fine.

The outdoors temperature is forecast to remain cold for a while. Yet indoors, there is hope of a great garden.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Sharing the Wealth

Neighborhood Kale and Collard Stand, June 15, 2020.

Yesterday’s kale harvest was big. To share the wealth I displayed some at the end of the driveway and posted the free give-away on Facebook.

Some of it was claimed, the rest returned to the garden via the composter.

Ten years ago I saved or preserved everything I grew in the garden. Any more I keep only enough to get us through to next year. I’ve visited root cellars filled with very old Mason jars of a garden’s preserves. That’s not who we should be. We take what we need and if we can’t give it away, leave the rest for compost.

Leafy green vegetables are not a favorite around here. I have regular customers who use it in smoothies or bake kale chips. Others prepare it traditionally as greens. The main use in our household is in tacos, soups and stir fries. When out of lettuce we make kale salad. Once in a while I add a leaf to a smoothie. I’m not a smoothie person. I tried kale pesto once and it was okay. Pesto with more flavor, like mustard greens, is better. For a gardener the main challenge is to grow just enough to meet needs. I cut back the space for kale to 18 plants this year. It is still too much.

Combine kale with kohlrabi, collards, mustard, spinach and chard and there is an abundance of greens this year. Next year I’ll use the planting space differently to more closely match what I grow with kitchen usage.

For now there is kale for all who want it.

Categories
Writing

Cool Spring Days

Lake Macbride State Park trail. June 13, 2020.

The last few days have been ideal. Rain let up, temperatures dropped to the 60s and 70s, and much about our time on earth is worth living.

These days are golden.

The garden is producing and it has already been an abundant year. Last night I made biscuits with fresh sage and cheddar cheese from my cookbook, split them into a bowl, and spooned homemade vegetable soup on top. It made a fine dinner. There were leftovers.

I’m ramping up for my summer stint of covering Blog for Iowa while our editor takes a break. My first post is scheduled for July 6. In the meanwhile, these days don’t last yet we enjoy them while we can. Or as James Russell Lowell wrote:

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays:
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light.

  ~Excerpt from the Vision of Sir Launfal

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Collards on Cornbread

Collards on Cornbread

Collard greens are easy to grow and the plants produce for a long season. Once one decides to include them in a garden there had better be a plan to use them.

The first picking, before little hungry insects arrive, is the best. Sorting leaves near the composter is a way to cull the best of the best. Yesterday I harvested two pounds of leaves and decided to make collards on cornbread for dinner.

The vegetarian recipe was a collaboration with people I know combined with a few internet searches. Traditionally the dish is made with pork so the issue of how to replace lard and the meat was a primary issue. This dish came out tasty tender.

Collard Greens

One pound stemmed collard leaves
One cup diced onions
One head finely minced garlic (5-6 cloves)
Tablespoon each butter and extra virgin olive oil.
Salt and pepper to taste
One teaspoon hot pepper flakes or fresh chilies if available (optional)
Three cups vegetable broth
One pint canned tomatoes or fresh if available

Measure one pound of stemmed collard greens and cut into half inch ribbons. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven heat one tablespoon each of extra virgin olive oil and salted butter. Once foaming subsides, add one cup diced onions and a finely minced head of garlic (5-6 cloves). Season with salt and pepper to taste and sautee until softened. Add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional).

Once the onions become translucent, add the collards and three cups of prepared vegetable broth. Also drain the liquid from a pint of diced tomatoes into the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and cover. Stir the greens every so often. Once the volume of the greens is reduced, reduce the heat to a simmer.

Cook until the leaves are tender, about two hours. Add diced tomatoes and continue cooking until they have warmed.

Spoon onto cornbread, including a generous amount of the cooking liquid.

We found the recipe to be quite satisfying and a welcome way to use produce from the garden.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Weeding the Onion Patch

Kohlrabi greens with spring onions and garlic, steaming in vegetable broth.

I’m determined to grow shallots and onions this year. I took the solar powered radio to the onion patch, took down the fence, and weeded until it was done.

The onion starts purchased from the home, farm and auto supply store are growing but not yet forming bulbs. The shallots growing from seed look like they will be something, and soon three varieties of storage onions started from plants will need thinning so there is room for them to grow.

If the garden produces storage onions it would be for the first time. I’m following the guidance of my mentor so there’s hope of success in the form of a bin full of onions stored near the furnace over winter.

A few dozen onions from 2019 remain in the bin. I am so confident of onion success I’m planning to caramelize a big batch of them and transition to reliance on what I grow. More than anything, onions are a mainstay of our kitchen and growing them a key part of making our kitchen garden more relevant.

Among the weeds I found was lamb’s quarters, which grows in abundance without doing anything but planting other things. Lamb’s quarters grows everywhere in Iowa on its own. While culinarians forage these leaves to include in gourmet preparations, in a kitchen garden a cook needs only so many greens. I ate a few of the tender top leaves and composted the rest. They are a tasty green, less bitter than some I grow intentionally.

Around the country protests continue in the wake of videos of the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported large turnout for demonstrations in nearby Cedar Rapids and Iowa City last night. No one knows how long demonstrations will continue or how long it will take government to act on them. The expectation is government will act.

In 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and ensuing riots in American cities, it took six days for President Johnson to respond by signing the Civil Rights Act. I don’t see any such action coming out of the Trump administration whose reaction has been to build a fence around the White House and seek to retain power by winning the Nov. 3 election.

While we need to eat, the progress of my onion patch may be the least of our worries. What happened to George Floyd shouldn’t happen to anyone. There is systemic racism in the United States, and we must each do something to address it. What will be the enduring legacy of the Black Lives Matter movement? With our current federal government that remains an open question.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Volley of Lightning Strikes

Lake Macbride State Park, June 2, 2020

The day began with a loud volley of lightning strikes west of the house. I don’t recall hearing so many at once. When hail pelleted the windows it felt like were in for the worst.

It didn’t last long and there was no damage to the garden or anything else I inspected after the clouds moved on.

Thus began another warm, wet day in Big Grove Township.

The morning work project was to organize the garage so both vehicles could be parked inside. Mission accomplished.

I found a cooking preparation for Fordhook chard that can be applied to other leafy green vegetables with great results:

Bring half a cup of vegetable broth to a boil in a Dutch oven. Clean the leaves from the stem of the chard. Finely slice the stems, three spring onions, three cloves of garlic, and add to the Dutch oven. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add roughly chopped leaves and cover. Cook for 2-3 minutes in the steam then stir to get the other side cooked, a couple more minutes. When the chard decreases in volume mix the leaves and bits and pieces and serve. Makes two servings.

When the garden has many varieties of leafy green vegetables a basic kitchen preparation like this is important.

We are not out of the impact of video footage depicting the murder of George Floyd being released in social media. While there are no demonstrations here, the crowd of protesters in the county seat grew to about a thousand on Wednesday. The president’s amateurish way of handling the crisis will prolong more than end the violence. We can all feel the vacuum of leadership sucking.

The coronavirus rages. 106,198 people died of COVID-19 in the United States as of yesterday. No end to the pandemic is in sight, although there is hope for a vaccine. The plan after a successful vaccine is unclear. The president’s failed leadership is evident: he should set expectations and take bold action to assist with the response. He has done neither. Meanwhile, society is deteriorating into chaos with one state legislator saying yesterday to a group that opposes mandatory vaccination laws, “COVID-19 isn’t even killing anybody.”

On the state park trail near where I live most people don’t wear protective equipment. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources does not require it although they request people otherwise maintain social distancing. Joggers, hikers and bicyclists haven’t been wearing facial masks, although I spotted a family group wearing them while taking a hike.

My activities outside home are restricted to grocery shopping, drug store visits, gasoline purchases, medical visits, and a shift per week at the farm. The farm crew moved on site at the beginning of the pandemic and has been self-isolating since then. I work alone in the greenhouse when I’m there. Other than at the farm, I wear one of my homemade face masks whenever I’m with people anywhere else.

I have been participating in TestIowa, the statewide COVID-19 response application. The app suggested I was eligible to be tested so I went to a drive-up clinic at nearby Kirkwood Community College. The result was negative. After visiting clinics for a diabetes follow up I made a list of conditions I’m experiencing. There were a dozen. I’m at a loss to say when all that happened but I feel pretty good. Feeling good likely hinders the effort to address these conditions as well as I otherwise might.

As spring turns to summer I’m ready for change. It’s a time when the morning thunderstorm is both familiar and frightening — a time to persist in doing what’s right for our family and for the broader society.