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.
The specificity of the garden project is comforting. There is a clear beginning and end. The work product will be useful. It is eminently do-able in a single work shift. I crave more of that over the complicated and grand-scale projects lingering on my to-do list. I yearn for resolution of the vagaries of living in the coronavirus pandemic.
When the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho shook loose buckets of sand anchoring the portable greenhouse to the bricked pad, its time had come. The wind lifted the greenhouse straight up in the air and tumbled it into the next door neighbor’s yard, destroying it.
I bought a replacement as I’ve come to rely on having my own greenhouse to start seeds and store garden seedlings.
Snow cover melted enough to shovel the rest of the pad and install the new greenhouse. The road in front of our house is dry so I can sweep road sand into buckets to hold this one down. It will be the first outdoors project other than snow removal this year.
The coronavirus pandemic created vagaries that plague us in daily life. The governor’s most recent proclamation found me in the “vulnerable Iowan” category because I’m over 65 years of age. She encourages me to continue to limit my activities outside home, and encourages others to stay away from me. Fine. I’ve done that by provisioning in town every other week. Provisioning trips were the only time I left the property since the proclamation was released Feb. 5. Everything else we need, which isn’t much, we get delivered to home. This part is easy.
We are scheduled for a booster of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on March 19. The pharmacy sent a confirmation email yesterday. What happens after that is unclear. Epidemiologists say we are waiting until presence of the coronavirus in the community is limited. Not sure what that means. There is no reasonable indication of what social behavior in the post-pandemic world looks like. I’m thinking of getting rid of the personal-sized pizza pans I use for entertaining. Should I?
I look forward to sweeping up the road sand and clearing the space for the portable greenhouse. It’s something to latch onto and call finished in a day. Yet I yearn for more, for resolution of the uncertainty of our current lives. It’s not existential angst. It’s simple things like how many gallons of skim milk should I buy at the warehouse club. If things were normal, the number would be one.
I need the greenhouse space soon andplan to work on the project as winter snow melts in Iowa. After that, I’ll pick another, then another, until a sense of normalcy returns.
The thaw began and there is no stopping it. The ground remained covered with snow for most of February, yet no more. Snow cover is slowly melting and will soon be gone. Above the septic tank was first to go.
36 hours after the COVID-19 vaccination I still feel normal. Even the soreness around the injection spot feels better. I emailed the farm to see if we can make arrangements for my return after the booster shot in a couple of weeks. The farmers are all twenty and thirty somethings so their priority group has not been approved for vaccination yet. There are protocols to negotiate before making my way back to farm work.
I applied to be a mentor in the Climate Reality Leadership Corps U.S. Virtual Training beginning on Earth Day. There are three virtual trainings this year, one in the U.S., one for Latin America, and one global training. To find out more, follow this link. If I’m accepted, this would be my third time attending, the second as a mentor. I’m feeling bullish about reengaging in society after getting the first dose of vaccine.
Democrats got solidly beaten in the 2020 Iowa general election. I’m not sure what I want to do to help rebuild the party. I’m also not sure the party can be rebuilt in a way to win elections anytime soon. In any case, it’s time for the next generation to take the reins. While I will remain supportive, I’m stepping back. Politics won’t be a priority as we slowly exit the coronavirus pandemic.
Getting out of the pandemic is a first priority. We are doing our part to follow the governor’s guidelines and hope others will too. What’s certain is I’m getting spring fever and can’t wait to get outside and do normal things again. It’s only three weeks until Spring!
I cleared the driveway of snow a dozen times this year, including yesterday. There has been snow cover for weeks and it is expected to continue. It’s the first real winter, the kind we had when I was a kid, in a long time.
The record-setting cold that has gripped the central U.S. has pushed snow cover across the 48 contiguous states to an all-time high in the 18-year database of the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center.
Snow covers about 73.2 percent of the U.S. to an average depth 6 inches (15 centimeters), according to the agency. A year ago 35.5% was covered to an average depth of 4.6 inches.
Restricted at home during the coronavirus pandemic, there are new things to explore. While tracing an internet order, I noticed the delivery vehicle had a satellite tracking device which updated location every 10 – 30 seconds. For a while, in between reading passages in a book, I followed the truck around our area on the map, noting where it stopped and the routing. The driver used roads I don’t normally think of using. There were a lot of stops. Anticipating arrival of the package, I opened the curtain and watched her truck pull up. Curiosity satisfied, I’m not going to spend a lot more time at this yet it’s something new to break the pattern of living at home with just the two of us. A different aspect of life in Big Grove.
I spoke to the local medical clinic to confirm my upcoming blood test and follow up appointment. They will provide the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. They didn’t know when that would be. If they have it by my appointment, I can get it then. That’s the second opportunity in our area once the vaccine supply chain starts flowing.
It appears the new president takes the pandemic seriously and we have a chance to return to normal. At a town hall meeting in Wisconsin last night, CNN reported this from President Biden.
President Joe Biden would only commit to a return to normal by next Christmas during a CNN town hall on Tuesday, saying he did not want to boost Americans’ hopes when he could not be certain of a still-early vaccine rollout.
The prediction of nearly another year in pandemic-dampened conditions was admittedly not optimistic. But Biden still said it was as good as he could offer with any level of confidence.
“As my mother would say, with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, that by next Christmas I think we’ll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today,” Biden said. “A year from now, I think that there’ll be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, having to wear a mask.”
He added: “I don’t want to over promise anything here.”
It was a mild winter so I expected they would. The actuality of it is what we crave.
The rows were mulched in autumn, although they could use more. Next time I head into town I’ll pick up a couple of bales of straw. I don’t know when that will be.
In the early morning of a normal work day I weighed whether to work my shift. The managers at the home, farm and auto supply store are the main reason I’m still there. They treat me fairly and have been flexible with my schedule. As coronavirus spreads in our county I don’t want to be exposed. In the morning huddle last week the store manager echoed the guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health in saying if I’m sick, I shouldn’t go to work. Except for a couple of sneezes this morning, I’m not that sick. There’s more to it than that.
I’m more worried about exposure to coronavirus in a public place than in spreading my germs. My age puts me in an at-risk group to contract COVID-19. Likewise, I’m fighting diabetes with which I was diagnosed last year — another risk group. Most deaths from COVID-19 are in people over age 60. No one in my family is encouraging me to work my shift. At this point I was waiting for the early crew to arrive at the store so I can call off.
During this pandemic it’s hard to know what to do. The number of cases statewide is low at 29 as of yesterday. Of those, 18 are in our county. The number could quickly escalate, so the CDC guidance to stay home if we can makes sense for the 15 day recommended period.
The federal government is flailing. They throw hundreds of millions of dollar proposals around like we have it. The current national debt is over $23,475,000,000 with a budget deficit over a trillion dollars. We’ll have to borrow the money, most likely from China. All the jiggering of the economy seems likely to put money in the hands of people who need it least rather than address the pandemic.
As my garlic grows the tumult of national discourse seems remote. I don’t want to die from coronavirus and am doing my best to manage the risks. When I was at Fort Benning a radio station in Alabama would to play a Merle Haggard song in the wee hours of morning. It explains how I feel as well as anything:
I’m only human. I’m just a man.
Help me to believe in what I could be and all that I am.
Show me the stairway that I have to climb.
Lord for my sake, teach me to take, one day at a time.
One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking from you.
Give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do.
Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine,
So for my sake, teach me to take one day at a time.
Most of the usual seeders were absent from the greenhouse as I made blocks for 3,840 seedlings. Those who did work tried to stay at least six feet away from each other, although it was hard given the confined space.
“You may be the vector,” I said to one.
“No, you are the vector,” they replied.
It was in fun, but a serious note rang heavy in the atmosphere. None of us wants to die from the coronavirus.
I worked mostly alone as the farmers tended sheep in the barn. There are now 45 lambs and they are not ready to be outside all the time. Before she left I reviewed my planting plan with the farmer, made adjustments, and planted the following for my garden:
I planted our first Big Grove Township garden in Spring 1994. What I grew is lost in memory.
Yesterday the original plot looked a wreck with desiccated weeds and a hodge-podge of sunken containers, fencing, two composters, a wheel barrow, an old wash tub, six-inch pieces of drainage tile resting on a couple of pallets, and a locust tree. The locust tree was intended for transplant but it got away from me.
I don’t know if the locust tree will recover from last winter’s extremely cold temperatures. The tips of branches in the crown did not leaf out last spring. If it doesn’t recover I’ll take the tree out even though the shade it provides protects plants and conserves moisture during our increasingly hot, dry summers. The plot was not meant to be a permanent residence for trees.
A friend in Cedar County gave me black plastic tubs in which feed for their animals was delivered. I cut large holes in the bottom for drainage and buried them to grow potatoes, radishes, lettuce, basil and sundry root crops. Mostly it was for potatoes which when planted in the ground fed small rodents who thrive with us in the garden. The containers worked to keep them away from the roots.
Composters are necessary for a garden to turn organic matter into fertilizer. One is an open air composter made from pallets retrieved from the home, farm and auto supply store. Garden waste goes in there. The other is a sealed, black plastic container for organic household waste such as peelings, fruit cores, and other fruit and vegetable matter generated from the kitchen. That is, it used to be sealed. Over the years something got inside and has been pushing stuff out of the entry point chewed into the plastic. I should fix or replace it. Until I do it remains a place to dump the kitchen compost bucket and produces some usable compost. The next time I move it there will be compost.
If I had a garden shed I would not use the plot for storage. I continue to think about building a shed, but that’s as far as it has gotten. It won’t be this year, or probably next.
Despite all the useful clutter, the plot continues to be productive. Last year I grew broccoli, eggplant, radishes, basil and beets there. The year before I grew cucumbers. The containers are always busy with multiple crops each year. As I plan this year’s garden I see better utilization of this plot.
Ideas about 2020 in plot #1: Belgian lettuce on or about March 2; potatoes in containers on Good Friday; radishes in a container; a crop of something, cucumbers, eggplant, or maybe hot peppers to change from cruciferous vegetables planted here last year. These are ideas, and the beginning of planning. We’ll see how it unfolds, although Belgian lettuce seems certain a week ahead of the date.
I remember digging this plot in 1994, measuring the distance from the property line, a memory of nothing growing in the yard except grasses and a mulberry tree in the Northeast corner. I barely knew how to garden then. In the interim, my views of how to garden have changed for the better.
Based on the 15-day weather forecast, winter is finished. As temperatures climb and the remaining snow melts we had just better accept it we won’t have had much of a winter. It is time to lean into the growing season as soon as Mother Natures enables us. Soon it will be Spring.
Sunday a group of us gathered at Wild Woods Farm to pull plastic over the new greenhouse.
Pulling plastic takes a couple of experienced team leaders and a crew that can follow directions. The idea is to make the plastic covering as taught as possible then secure it with wiggle wire for years of use. The work proceeded as planned on a warm, clear and calm day.
It’s pruning time for grape vines, fruit trees, and any kind of tree. This weekend people were pruning in t-shirts because it was so warm. The concern is sap begins to flow before the cuts heal, creating an entry point for disease. Fingers crossed I got mine pruned in time. Folks are preparing to tap maple tree sap for syrup so we are at the in between time for finishing pruning.
My onions and shallots have sprouted and I moved them to the landing to get more light. They seem feeble at this stage. I’m not sure what else I can do but make sure they have moisture and light. This is the second year I tried starting them myself. The first didn’t produce usable onion sets. This year’s experiment is for the crew at Sundog Farm to start some of my shallot seeds as well to compare results. Eventually I’ll get this right, hopefully this year.
While garden and yard work beckons it is still winter. Piles of snow remain on the ground. Snow is forecast this week. There is hope for spring, but it is a false hope. It’s best to use the time to catch up on indoors work so when true spring arrives we are ready.
January and February are usually months to read books. I’m working on my fourth but it seems like I’m running behind.
Political work has taken a bite out of my time.
Ambient temperatures have been warm. Absent a cold spell of temperatures below zero, I’m planning to prune our fruit trees this coming cycle of days off. As I lean into retirement I work two days at the home, farm and auto supply store with five days in a row to do what I please. The days are filled with activity.
Sunday I’m scheduled to soil block at the farm, the first time this winter. I bought a small soil blocking tool for home use and planted onions and shallots. It’s the first time doing it at home and what the future holds as I wean myself from greenhouse use over the next few seasons.
Our ice box is getting down to carrots, turnips, bread, dairy and pickles. There are mostly jars of things. Light permeates the glass shelving, revealing what’s in the bottom drawer. Growing season is a couple of months away.
Our cooking is from the pantry and freezer. We have storage onions and potatoes and lots of garlic. Apples from our trees and the orchard have been gone a few weeks. There are plenty of canned goods. We have enough to last us until spring arrives, supplemented by weekly trips to the warehouse club and grocery store.
Winter in Iowa has changed. It’s weird. It’s not consistent from year to year. I try to adapt and still find the new experience a bit sucky. Are you winter or not? No response.
As I finish this post, a prelude to getting ready for work, I feel ready: ready for what’s next, ready for something different, ready to move on. In this winter morning I’m ready to emerge from my book-lined writing space and ascend to the kitchen, and all that happens there, midst a winter lament.