LAKE MACBRIDE— Today was the first real work session in the garden and I cleaned up two of the plots, built my burn pile, evened out the ground near where the backhoe dug to fix the waterline leak last fall, and planted Cherry Belle Radishes, Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach and Purple Top White Globe turnips. The arugula and lettuce seeds have sprouted and survived the gully washer of a rain a few days ago. There are chives ready to cut, and the garlic patch is growing well. Three types of bulb flowers are growing, and after they flower, will be transplanted somewhere else. That is, except for the daylilies, which will be dug and transplanted as soon as I get around to it: nothing can kill those things.
A neighbor messaged me on Facebook, and a group of us is planning to go in on a rototiller rental. I usually dig by hand, but am okay with community projects like this. Partly, it means three plots have to be turned by spade to get ready for the rototiller in two weeks.
Last week, an experienced gardener said we had missed the opportunity for spring turnips, but I don’t know. I planted a row today, and will likely do another in a week or so. She said if one misses spring turnips, the date is July 25 for turnip planting. I’ll reserve some seeds for then and attempt a double crop.
It feels good to work in the sun and soil in the morning.
LAKE MACBRIDE— Rain fell against the bedroom window, framing the day for inside work. The forecast is for showers to end in an hour or so, with a chance of thunderstorms tonight. Today’s high temperature is expected to be 73 degrees. We need the rain, and welcome warm temperatures. Now that the ground thawed, moisture should soak into the topsoil for gardens, lawns, trees and field crops. I would have preferred to work outside this morning, but there is plenty to do inside. We’ll see how things go as the day progresses.
Yesterday, I made up more seedling trays. The CSA provided some used plastic trays which are now planted in yellow squash, cucumber and zucchini. They are situated near the south facing window in our bedroom, and there is not much room for more on the folding table.
To water the seedlings, I set up the lid of the recycling bin on a table in the garage and filled it halfway with water. I dunked the trays, one at a time, watering from the bottom. Each tray was warm to the touch as I carried it downstairs, evidence the south facing window was beneficial.
There is a significant investment of time in this year’s seedling experiment. Too, if the seedlings don’t sprout and mature properly, there will be the additional expense of purchasing from the farmers markets or grocery store. After cutting soil blocks at the CSA and seeing plants grow in the greenhouse, I gained confidence, and there is promise of success in most of the cells.
It has been 27 days since beginning my temp job at the warehouse. At the beginning, it wasn’t clear I could hack it, but that feeling has been overcome, and physical adjustments have been made and assimilated. With a start time of 3:30 p.m., the best hours of the day are mine to work on a multitude of projects at home. This inner focus, coupled with gardening, is what is needed most for the time being, while working toward a sustainable life on the Iowa prairie.
RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP— It’s the fifth week of making soil blocks for the farm, and flats of seedlings are filling the tables. It is warm inside the greenhouse, and most days I work in jeans and a T-shirt. There is a sense of accomplishment, even though nothing has been planted in the ground except a few items in the hoop house.
There is a small community of growers and talk centers around plants and ultra-local events. Soil quality, weather, temperatures— all leading to a bigger question— when to get into the ground during this cold spring? On a farm there will be a practical answer to this question. Here’s hoping to get out of the greenhouse soon, and into the fields.
GARDEN NOTES: On the home front, I dug, raked and planted the first seeds in the garden. A two foot by ten foot patch where I broadcast Arugula (Rocquette) on the eastern end, and the remainder in a mix of three 45 days to maturity lettuce seeds (Black Seeded Simpson, Gourmet Blend, and Simpson Elite). The watering cans went missing, so I dumped dishpans full of water into a colander to diffuse the initial flow. It worked well.
Inside, I set up a table near the only south-facing window, where I consolidated all of the indoor seedlings. Things are coming along nicely— for the most part. After consulting with the CSA, I abandoned the project of starting onions from seed and replanted those cells with Cayenne pepper seeds. The Rosemary mostly did not take, so I marked the ones that did and planted broccoli in the rest of those cells. I made what I am calling “bombs,” planting all of one kind of seeds in each of several old flower pots. A basil bomb, a mint bomb, and an arugula bomb will hopefully be available for the kitchen. Some have already sprouted.
LAKE MACBRIDE— With temperatures in the mid-50s, and a day off work, how could I not spend the day in the garage and garden under azure skies? I cleared the first plot for the spinach, lettuce and herbs and turned the first spadeful of soil. Ice persisted two inches below the surface, but it won’t be long before the ground is warm enough to plant. I brought the trays of seedlings outside to take in the full sunlight of spring.
The front yard needs some work. Last year, a backhoe service dug down to the waterline, repaired a leak, and left a sinking spot near the house. We also had the septic service pump our tank last year: the ground covering the lids needed something. The soil was warm enough above the septic tanks to sow grass seed. As I did, I noticed the view of the lake now that our neighbors removed their diseased pine trees. The sense of isolation created by the treeline is gone. I am thankful for the view of the lake, glad to surrender a bit of privacy to see open water from our front steps again.
Last fall a contractor sowed grass seed mixed with soil in the community-owned ditch. The late winter runoff furrowed the ditch, requiring attention. The plan is to rake up the leaves and cover the trench this weekend, instead of waiting for the contractor’s return.
This year is the big sort. A process of downsizing— casting aside items no longer needed to sustain a life on the Iowa prairie. There are challenges for the sort in the garage, as a person can always predict a use for many things found there. Nonetheless, either they will be used, or they won’t. Decisions will be made. The big sort will reduce the detritus accumulated after auctions and trips to the home store, down to a more meaningful level. It didn’t go well yesterday.
It started with sorting the woodpile kept under my workbench. The first woodworking project will be making a box to carry my gardener’s boots— calf-high, rubberized for protection from dirt in the garden and manure on the farm. Now that I work on a farm, I’ll need the boots with me, and the box of boots will ride along in my car.
I sat on a five-gallon white plastic bucket and handled the wood scraps one-by-one, looking for the right sized pieces. A piece of hardwood leftover from my father-in-law’s project to make a weather station; another removed from decrepit drawers acquired at auction; some with hand-cut dovetails from another era. I got halfway down the pile and stopped. Partly because I found the scraps needed to make the box. Partly because the flow of memories was too much to take in all at once. It seemed impossible to get rid of any of them.
The day proceeded with similar storm and stress. In a society that seeks a reason for everything, with that certain Iowa intrusion into private lives, my garage and yard time is to unravel the genome of a life proscribed by others. A place and time of freedom in a post-Enlightenment Iowa life.
I brought the seedlings inside at the end of the day, and placed the ones planted yesterday on the heating pad— hoping to encourage germination and a bountiful harvest.
LAKE MACBRIDE— A layer of snow covered everything this morning, indicating that the calendar start of spring meant nothing to Mother Nature.
A few days ago, I checked the soil in the garden— it was still frozen. During many a previous year, the lettuce had been in the ground for three weeks, and seed potatoes were in the garage, waiting to be cut and seasoned before planting on Good Friday, now just five days away. Spring is not all it was expected to be this year.
I decided to try starting my own seedlings again. In the past, I failed miserably, but after making soil blocks at the CSA, found the confidence to try it again. The cells are mapped out on graph paper, and yesterday, I started putting the trays on a heating pad set to low for a few hours at a time. When I looked at the green pepper seeds this morning, they had begun to take root after this first heating pad session. There is plenty of moisture in the soil mix, so I’ll continue the practice and see how the seeds sprout and grow. So far, so good.
In an effort to avoid the deadly intersection of cabin fever and spring fever, I have been exploring some new writers and found Girl Gone Farming, which is a blog by someone who recently moved to a farm in Pennsylvania after living in New York City for three years. Worth reading here, especially for readers who are city folk.
The snow continues to float through the air, morning has turned to afternoon, and it appear to be spring, not at all, in the garden.
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