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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the farm the major crops for the CSA vegetable shares are in. We took time off from new seeding and begin fall crops next week. At home initial garden planting finished yesterday and a few sections have been replanted. Every available spot in our seven plots has been planted — the best space utilization since we moved here in 1993.
Time to consider some lessons learned. This post is about planning and I hope there will be others about technology, seed starting and other aspects of gardening in the near future.
With the exception of adding two apple trees near the west entry to the garden the layout remained the same as last year. Seven plots with three in specialty crops (tomatoes, onions and garlic) and four divided into rows with three-foot sections in each to separate varieties.
Since I began starting seedlings at the farm a few years ago I produce more than I need. This results in a tendency to use them, over-planting some leafy green vegetables which produced in abundance yielding restricted space availability for other crops. Family and friends can only eat so many leafy green vegetables.
I put in a lot of broccoli for freezing (33 plants), more kohlrabi than we will use, and varieties I don’t normally grow (mustard greens, two kinds of chard, okra, collards) because I got free seeds at the home, farm and auto supply store. I’m glad for the experience growing these varieties yet intend to harvest everything in one section of greens this week and replace it with more desirable tomatoes, many of which are mystery tomatoes from a wide variety of free packets from work. Even though the plan was to reduce the number of tomato plants because I canned a lot of them in 2019, I’m gravitating back to the number of plants I had because of the abundance of greens and tomato seedlings.
The main tomato patch is planned by variety (slicers and plums) although I got which is which mixed up when preparing the seedlings for transplant. There are also five plantings of cherries in another plot. Tomatoes make a great gift, so if they all produce, there will be no problem finding homes for them if the canning jars and freezer are full.
Each year I get a little smarter about deer deterrence. In addition to fencing everything with four foot chicken wire, I’ve used two tactics. I position plants deer like furthest away from the fence. This year I put the okra in the center of a plot so they can’t reach over the fence and eat the leaves. The high fence (five feet with an exposed section at the bottom) around the tomato patch also serves to keep them away from eating tender shoots and has improved production. I also use what I call gang planting. That is, I plant rows closer together so deer do not have a place to land if they jump the four foot fence. This year I spaced the rows more properly to enhance production. We’ll see how that goes. Since I began working on these issues, deer have been a minor inconvenience rather than a problem. I appreciate their help cleaning up fallen apples when there is fruit.
There are the questions of rabbits and small rodents. The main trouble with rabbits is when the new bunnies are born and they get into everything. Mature rabbits tend not to dig under the fences, partly because I don’t regularly mow the lawn or use any kind of spray or fertilizer. There is plenty for them to eat more readily available. The undisciplined litter of bunnies is unaware of these “rules.” Their reign of terror on the vegetable patch is short because predators reduce the population quickly. Thus far I live and let live with rabbits, although am skeptical that will be a long term condition of gardening. We keep a watchful eye on each other.
Planting potatoes in containers eliminated the problem of burrowing rodents eating into the tubers before I dug them. They continue to nibble at bulbous roots like beets, radishes and carrots in the rows. I’ve come to accept it as resolved through detente and just live with the damage. At such time there is not enough left for our family from their foraging my attitude could change. I rarely see the rodents although I am aware of their presence. They broke into the sealed compost container for kitchen waste.
The last planning issue is bigger, beginning with trees I situated in the garden that got away from me — the locust tree is dying, and the three oak trees planted the year our daughter graduated from high school (one for each of us) need to be thinned to one. The shade they provide has protected crops in the blistering sun of planetary warming and in times of drought. They became part of the overall garden design although that was adaptation rather then planning.
I have big ideas. One fall I’ll clear the plots early and take the locust down and cut two of the three oaks as they are planted too closely together and have grown too tall to transplant them. At the same time I may hire a landscaping firm to create a deer-proof enclosure and re-structure the plot layout to improve space utilization. That would enable me to get rid of a lot of the chicken wire. I’ll also build a shed to store garden tools so I don’t have to continuously wear a path (now visible from space) from the garden to the garage. These things have been delayed because of financial constraints. Soon we may be in a position to act on them.
Thirty seven years of gardening leads me to this formal reflection about what I’m doing. Next up will be technology which is making a big, positive impact in getting the plots planted and will hopefully improve yield.
When the news goes to hell, like it did on Friday, I retreat.
In an on line chat about poetry I wrote a follower, “Hope things are going better in Canada than they are here.”
“They are, very much so here in B.C.,” he responded. “I’m not a flag waver type but this present moment produces a real sense of refuge.”
On Friday moving to Canada was not out of the question.
To where did I retreat? I worked outdoors from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday. I harvested grass clippings for mulch, put in the seventh garden plot, and called initial garden planting done.
I picked kale and delivered it to one of the library workers. Our public library remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic yet they continue to run limited operations behind locked doors. Next week they begin curb side materials pickup as they determine how best to reopen. The local newspaper featured a photograph of the librarian wearing a mask in from of the building. Our library is the most obvious local indicator of the progress of the pandemic and economic recovery.
Once again, a video shared in social media — the May 25 murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis — sparked demonstrations and violence broke out in cities around the United States. Coverage dominated the news, eclipsing every other story, including the coronavirus pandemic which has now resulted in more than 100,000 U.S. deaths according to official statistics. It is a sign of the times I didn’t hear of Saturday’s demonstrations in the county seat, or in nearby Cedar Rapids until after working in the garden. There were no demonstrations where I live.
The thing about a retreat is it has a fixed beginning and end point, leaving us with the question what do we do next? It’s not complicated.
Above everything else, addressing the lack of leadership in our current government is a priority. That means voting the Republicans out of office in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles. It is difficult to see how any substantial change will be possible, in any area of society, until that is done. I’d much rather be writing about the climate crisis, income inequality, and social justice. For that to have meaning, we need leadership to set different priorities and move the country toward solutions. We can point out solutions to the climate crisis and income inequality, and that black lives matter all we want. To make a difference, our only hope is to change our government.
My last paycheck from a job was in April after retiring from the home, farm and auto supply store. Our expenses came down dramatically during the pandemic so there was money left from our pensions to pay down debt and donate to political campaigns. We’ll be doing more of that. Better than that will be to develop a positive message about who we are as Iowans and as Americans and to share that broadly. Living with a demagogue as president has been frustrating. We have to believe our best days are ahead of us and take action to work toward that end.
Someone asked for the recipe when I posted this photo in social media. I was taken aback.
There was no recipe, I just made it out of the rhubarb and my experience. In a kitchen garden we don’t open a lot of cookbooks.
Ingredients arrive from multiple sources and we consider them, make dishes and meals, using what is available in the ice box, garden, pantry, and our imagination. Experience comes into play. It is a way to source food, cook and eat that isn’t emphasized as much as its value warrants.
Living with a kitchen garden is as good a way to produce meals as I know. It takes some experience but rather than ask, “what is the recipe?” an alternative is “How would this product be made palatable, nutritious and tasty?”
Here’s how I responded to the question:
I saved and diced all the rhubarb that was in my CSA share. It filled this dish. In a mixing bowl I put the rhubarb, one scant cup of granulated sugar, a tablespoon of ground cinnamon, sprinklings of ground cloves and ground allspice, a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of all purpose flour and mixed until incorporated. I returned the mixture to the clean baking dish and sprinkled about one to two tablespoons of water on top. (If I was making apple crisp I would use lemon juice here. Rhubarb is already plenty tart).
For the topping, just use any that you like. This one has a stick of chilled, cubed salted butter, a cup of rolled oats, two thirds cup packed brown sugar and a pinch of salt. I use a pastry cutter to blend everything together, leaving it in chunks. Sprinkle the topping evenly and baked 35 minutes in a 375 degree oven.
That’s a recipe of sorts. If a person eats ice cream, a scoop on the side of a warm, just out of the oven serving of rhubarb crisp would be divine. Or as close to that as we humans can get.
Best wishes on Memorial Day from this veteran who made it home. As Mary Chapin Carpenter says on her series of songs from home, “Stay well, be peaceful, be mighty.”
I’ve written what I will about Memorial Day. Some of those words can be read here, here and here. I’ve soured on the American celebration of the spring holiday yet one thing I’ve learned is the death of our soldiers in combat is no abstraction. May they rest in peace.
Iowa is one of 24 U.S. states with uncontrolled coronavirus spread. That alone is reason to stay home, read, write, cook, clean and weed the garden. At some point we’ll get caught up with those homebody tasks and venture out of this pandemic pattern, but not yet.
For vegetable gardeners Memorial Day marks the end of spring planting. At the farm we are taking next week off from starting new seeds. The following week we’ll start the fall crop. In between rain showers I hope to get the cucumbers in — the last of my vegetable plots — and weed, weed, weed.
During a rainstorm I reviewed the books on the Reading List tab of this blog. I’m not reading enough poetry as poems comprise only 7.1 percent of listed books.
7.1 percent! I can’t get over that. I want to do better so I asked twitter: “I want to read more poetry. Which author would you recommend?”
The recommendations were pretty good.
When I received a payroll bonus from my part time job in high school I went downtown and bought two books of poetry at the M.L. Parker Department Store: The Complete Poems of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg’s Complete Poems. I didn’t really understand poetry and still have my failings, but it felt important to mark the beginning of my nascent home library with something other than young adult books.
Over the years I’ve developed other favorite poets. Of those well-known, my favorites are William Carlos Williams and Vachel Lindsay. I also favor Charles Bukowski, Wisława Szymborska, Lucia Perillo, Adrienne Rich, Gary Snyder. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Seamus Heaney. Of the classics I enjoy Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare but could never get myself to read Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, although feeling like I should have.
In response to my Twitter query our daughter recommended atticus so I signed up for the newsletter and followed him on Twitter. I’ll be looking for an opportunity to read The Truth about Magic: Poems.
Recommended by a follower in the UNESCO City of Literature are Amy Woolard and Jeremy Paden. Their books Neck of the Woods (Woolard) and Broken Tulips (Paden) are available so I’ll start with them when I can get my hands on a copy.
Another I’d not read is Mary Oliver, recommended by an Iowa farmer. I studied Oliver in response to the tweet and will obtain a copy of American Primitive for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. It is curious Oliver worked at the Edna St. Vincent Millay home for Millay’s sister. Millay was another recommended poet whose Collected Poems was already on my shelf. I’m building a pile of poetry on the dresser in the bedroom.
Emily Dickinson and Ted Hughes were recommended by a follower and fellow gardener in Canada. I pulled down copies of Poetry Is and Crow by Hughes and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. Punctuation editing is an issue with works by Dickinson as we know. Hopefully Johnson’s edition will serve.
A local friend who lives part of the year in Italy recommended W.S. Merwin’s Garden Time. I will locate a copy and start reading Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment which was already on my shelves.
Richard Eberhart of Austin, Minn. was recommended by another Midwesterner. On my shelves, rescued from a Goodwill Store in 1994, was a copy of the New Directions Paperbook edition of Selected Poems 1930-1965, which I am reading now. The iconography of these poems is very familiar.
If Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, 2020 will be the summer of poetry in a pandemic.
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.