Categories
Kitchen Garden

Last Day of Winter and Garlic is Up

Garlic planted last fall.

Garlic plants emerged in the garden.

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.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Seeding During the Pandemic

Kale and Broccoli Seedlings at Two Weeks.

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:

Early White Vienna Kohlrabi, Ferry-Morse, 55 days.
Swiss Chard, Mixed Colors, Ferry-Morse, 30-60 days.
Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard, Ferry-Morse, 60 days.
Florida Broad Leaf Mustard, Ferry-Morse, 48 days.
Southern Giant Curled Mustard India, Ferry-Morse, 56 days.
Bibb Lettuce, Ferry-Morse, 57 days.
Buttercrunch Lettuce, Ferry-Morse, 65-70 days.
Parris Island Cos Lettuce, Ferry-Morse, 68 days.

I noticed the kale and broccoli planted March 1 germinated with a high rate. Some of the seeds planted last week have already sprouted, although it will take celery a couple weeks.

19,920 seedling blocks made during the first five weeks. The crew will begin transplanting to the high tunnel maybe this week.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Frozen Ground

Burn Pile

A friend grows straw for the home, farm and auto supply store and he isn’t in the fields yet. The ground is frozen.

In addition to producing wheat straw he grows commodity crops and has a tough row to hoe… literally.

I enjoy interacting with him and his crew as they remove a hundred bales from a gooseneck trailer and put them on pallets. Once re-stacked, I move them indoors with a lift truck.

I have been drafting emails to groups of which I am a part since I woke. Gotta stay on top of all that so when the ground thaws I can get my spade in it. Not yet… but soon.

Categories
Home Life Kitchen Garden

First Big Grove Garden Plot

First Garden Plot, Feb. 24, 2020.

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.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

False Spring

Pulling plastic at Wild Woods Farm, Feb. 23, 2020.

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.

Categories
Writing

Winter Lament

Onions and shallots

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.

Categories
Work Life Writing

Two-Day Work Week

Soft shell taco, Spanish Rice, and refried beans. Midwestern staples.

Yesterday was my Monday and today is my Friday at the home, farm and auto supply store.

A two-day work week suits me.

I’m ready to call it quits from an operational standpoint. Spring is coming with its multitude of outdoors work. The two days could readily be used for more productive endeavors. It’s the paycheck that keeps me there. There is always a use for the income.

The Iowa precinct caucuses are Monday, which leaves four days to prepare for my role as temporary chair. I’m pretty well along but little else will get done in the run up to Feb. 3. After that I can focus on pruning fruit trees, getting our income taxes prepared, spring gardening, and everything else that has been delayed by winter.

Spring isn’t here, but it won’t be long.

Categories
Home Life Writing

Last Days of 2019

Front Moving East at Sunrise on Dec. 29, 2019

Snow flurried outside the dining room window for a while. I thought we might return to normal winter weather. The thought passed and snow stopped without accumulation.

We need a good streak of very cold days to prune the fruit trees. Last year it was difficult to find such a streak yet I’m hopeful this year. I’m not going to wait for ideal conditions. I’ll take what we get in our evolving climate.

This year’s reckoning with the past and planning for the future is taking more time and effort. It’s not because I did more. The process has been more organized and thoughtful than in recent years. I’m conscious of my age and weighing carefully which projects and activities will get my attention. At the end of it I want a definite plan with time lines. It’s a better process.

While our personal lives went okay in 2019, our participation in broader society was like the wafting odors from nearby feedlots. It was hard to stay separate from the international shit storm.

As Julian Borger pointed out in The Guardian, 2019 was the year U.S. foreign policy fell apart. “Donald Trump’s approach to the world is little more than a tangle of personal interests, narcissism and Twitter outbursts,” he wrote. That’s no way to run a country, even if a majority seeks to isolate American interests from the rest of global society. We can do better than this.

Steven Piersanti wrote on DCReport.org, “Under the bankrupter-in-chief, the national debt is skyrocketing while economic growth is lagging.” Trump is running the country just like he ran his failed businesses, according to Piersanti. “The country’s economic resources are being wasted and our economic health is endangered.”

“The next 12 months will determine whether the world is capable of controlling nuclear proliferation, arresting runaway climate change, and restoring faith in the United Nations,” Stewart Patrick wrote at World Politics Review. Those things matter to everyone and positive outcomes on any of them are dubious without American leadership. President Trump, ditcher of nuclear arms control agreements, critic of the need to address climate change, and bad-mouther of the United Nations does not appear to have an appetite or the capacity to lead at home or abroad. The prospects are bleak on these fronts and more until government changes hands.

It comes back to personal planning for next year. What amount of time will I devote to addressing these problems? The overarching motivation is to remove our current federal elected representatives from office and replace them with people who understand the importance of foreign policy.

At the same time, I can’t let politics be a single thing that absorbs all my time. Regardless of the Republican shit storm, we each need balance in our lives.

It’s taking a little longer to plan this year but the premise of it comes back to my tag line. How shall we best sustain our lives in a turbulent world?

A toast to 2019, an aspirin and vitamin for 2020, and off we go into an uncertain future with the potential for great things.

Categories
Home Life

Into Winter

Iowa Winter

After I returned from a shift at the home, farm and auto supply store I scrubbed and cut up potatoes to roast for dinner. Roasted potatoes, a burger patty and frozen peas made a dinner — comfort food as winter approaches.

The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, our pantry and ice box are full. There was no need to grocery shop after my shift comme d’habitude.

In eight weeks it will be time to start onions, leeks, and shallots inside, then begin soil blocking at the farm a week or two later. For now there’s indoors work of reading, writing, cooking and cleaning.

A neighbor put out bird feeders to attract birds, then expressed concern that cats were hanging around, chasing the birds away and prompting her dogs to bark at them. I wrote a response.

This is an interesting topic. Although I don’t have any solution to the issue of dogs barking at wandering cats, by putting out bird seed, like I have, a person attracts a variety of animals to the yard, which includes not only birds but mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, deer, and maybe others.

Because of our proximity to the state park, we see almost every species native to Iowa here.

The bird feeder also brings predators of small animals, including cats, but also hawks, owls, and foxes. Then there are the scavengers like possums, turkey vultures and crows.

My point is when we decide to place a bird feeder out we are creating an ecosystem, especially if we fill feeders year-around. If members have pets, they should be kept on a leash or indoors, that’s long been our policy. However, there is a bigger ecosystem that will continue, even in the event pets can be controlled.

On that note, we head into winter.

Categories
Writing

2019-2020 Winter Reading List

2019-2020 Winter Reading List

Ten books queued on my bedside table for winter reading:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

What I Stand For is What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969 – 2017.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann.

A Life on the Middle West’s Never-ending Frontier by Willard L. ‘Sandy’ Boyd.

The Mosquito: A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond.

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond.

Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes.

Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss.

Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Selizer.

I will add some fiction, cooking, and gardening books as winter progresses. Feel free to share what you are reading this winter in the comments.