Categories
Environment

Winter Snowfall/Heat Wave

Geese walking on the lake, yet not for long.

Today’s high is forecast to be 78 degrees. Now Mother Nature is just messing with us. On the plus side, maybe the warmth will melt the 3-4 inches of snow that fell overnight. Iowa weather always has something a little different. What I found to be different is I used a different weather app to check the forecast and it was set to Washington, D.C. We don’t need a weather app to know there will be a lot of hot air over there.

Seven trays of vegetables rest on the germination table and the landing near the front door. Everything looks reasonably good. I added the task “assemble greenhouse” to my list and am ready to move onions and cruciferous vegetables outdoors. After the snow melts, I will.

There was an F3 tornado on Saturday that killed six people in central Iowa. Today, the Iowa legislature takes up House File 2299 which would make it harder for Iowa homeowners to prove damage from disasters like a derecho or tornado. There is a GoFundMe for one of the families affected by the tornado, and that appears to be the way society is going these days. We are on our own.

I like it when I can turn off the fan on the ceramic heater in front of my desk. It looks to be one of those days, that is, after I bundle up to take care of snow removal on the driveway. Soon the space heater will be moved to the greenhouse. I can’t wait.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Spring is Coming 2022-Style

Working in the garage with door open on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

I resumed daily walkabouts around our property line after the snow melt and noticed the toll taken on our trees. Of 15 remaining trees, all but one of which I planted, only six have no apparent issues.

Most of them are damaged from either the 2020 derecho, or from one or more of the straight line wind events we’ve had in recent years. Disease is creeping into the two EarliBlaze apple trees as lower branches blacken, die, and are cut off in pruning.

The Green Ash by the house appears to be doing well. We expect the Emerald Ash Borer to take it eventually, although there had been no infestation as of yesterday.

The Bur Oak is native to Iowa and is also doing well. Planted in the 1990s, it will come to dominate the front yard as years progress. It is a good tree. In the backyard there is a Bur Oak planted from an acorn from the one in front. There were three oak trees planted from acorns near the garden at the same time. Two of them blew a kilter during the derecho. I removed one last year and the other needs to come down. The backyard Bur Oak that will remain is flourishing.

The pear tree planted at our daughter’s high school graduation party is thriving. We all placed some kind of organic matter in the hole before planting it. Most years we get pears. They are sweet and juicy and some years there are enough to put up pear sauce. The only issue is it is growing too tall to collect all the ripe fruit. It was a nice addition to the back yard.

The two apple trees planted near the garden have been growing acceptably. I hope they begin to fruit before the three remaining apple trees have faded and are gone.

It is unclear what to do about the trees this spring. I considered taking scions from the Red Delicious tree and growing new from the same genetics. The trouble is it will take from six to eight years for them to grow to maturity and fruit. That’s too long for a septuagenarian to wait.

I planted lettuce. My maternal grandmother passed down the tradition of planting “Belgian lettuce” on March 2. Usually it is to be direct seeded, although the ground was still frozen. I honored the tradition by planting a flat indoors for transplant into a row covered planting area. Spring is coming and we’ll want lettuce when it arrives.

“Belgian lettuce,” March 2, 2022.
Categories
Living in Society

Pivot Toward Spring

Kyiv bookshop. Photo Credit : Wikimedia Commons.

An inch or two of snow fell overnight indicating winter is not finished.

There is not enough trash and recycling to roll the carts through freshly fallen snow to the street for pickup. I’ll wait until daylight to blow snow from the driveway, without cart tracks and my footprints. With our intent to stay home, I could let it go and natural warmth would clear the driveway within 24-48 hours. I’m ready for some outdoors activity.

Despite snowfall, one senses a pivot toward spring.

The ten-day forecast is for ambient temperatures to begin climbing above freezing tomorrow. After that, highs are forecast in the upper thirties to mid forties going forward. I’m reminded some of our worst Iowa blizzards have happened during March. It may not be the end of winter, yet one can’t help but think of spring. The ground remains frozen.

We hope for spring, even if another thing that fell overnight was Russian missiles on Kyiv, Ukraine.

I try to shut out commentary and focus on news of the Russian invasion. There is plenty of news available, although one needs a filter to separate wheat kernels from the chaff. A cook can’t make bread from opinions. It is ironic that U.S. companies maintain large grain export operations in Ukraine and Russia when Iowa grows 50 percent of its corn to make ethanol. Ethanol should be eliminated due to its impact on the environment. That is commentary readers may not welcome.

While stationed in Germany as an infantry officer, I prepared to fight a European land war against the former Soviet Union in the Fulda Gap. A soldier should know that if Russia planned to lay siege to Kyiv, it would begin this morning at dawn. There is no satisfaction from seeing my prediction come true as it did. Spring is not the best time for tanks to navigate through the countryside. One presumes Russia will make quick work of the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, while the ground remains frozen, before spring thaw and planting time arrives.

I have reading and writing to do and welcome a couple more days of cold weather. I’d like nothing better than to browse a bookstore for a while to see what is available. Instead, due to a lingering coronavirus, I’ll stay in and follow the news of the Russian invasion while keeping my eyes on imminent spring. The pivot has already begun.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Warm Winter Day

50 degrees in Big Grove, Feb. 15, 2022.

Two days of ambient temperatures in the 40s and 50s drew back snow cover to reveal a well-beaten deer path. Their droppings are scattered all over the ground. They hadn’t yet eaten tender young branches growing above the six-foot fence protecting two new apple trees. Maybe they won’t. Deer have become a regular animal in the yard. I don’t always look when I see them running down hill from the corner of my eye.

I walked around, picking up branches pruned from the fruit trees and placed them in a brush pile for spring burn. The ground didn’t give at all, remaining frozen. With temperatures today and tomorrow back in the single digits and teens, we are a distance from spring thaw.

I went to a grocery store. You know the kind. One that sells lots of different things. The organic kale looked great so I bought a bunch for stir fry and soup. I picked through the cauliflower for a clean head. Can’t remember if I ever bought kale in a store before. I don’t think so. Previously its been grown by me or my farmer friends. Frozen kale is used up, so a person has to do something to secure greens for winter meals.

One of the varieties of kale seeds didn’t germinate. The seeds are from the 2019 season, so it’s not a surprise. I’m putting together another order from my main seed vendor and expect it to be the final seed order for the 2022 garden. Seed catalogues are piling up next to the reading chair in the living room. Any more, I don’t spend much time looking at them as I know most of what I want.

A neighbor is planning an extended visit to relatives this summer. They offered me their garden plot, which is a nicely fenced area adjacent to our property. I’ve been thinking I could use more space. I’m considering it. I’d plant it with a uniform variety of vegetables, maybe fall crops of broccoli or cabbage, and adopt it for the season as the eighth plot. We’ll see.

It was good to get outside and exercise. It’s too early to begin turning dirt, so we wait. Parsley looks like it will over winter. It’s time to finalize plans for the garden.

Categories
Environment

Mid-winter Thaw

Deer paths in the snow.

Ambient high temperatures are forecast around 40 degrees the next couple of days. If that bears out, most of the snow should be gone. It has been a welcome time for cocooning yet this week’s weather indicates it won’t be long before working outdoors.

Onions and shallots need a trim. Broccoli seeds planted Sunday have begun to germinate. It’s good to see the older seeds are still vital. I’m thinking of setting up the greenhouse yet it’s too early.

We’ll see what Iowa’s weather does. For the moment, hope of spring is not far away. That’s enough to encourage me to get to work on everything.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Pruning Day

Deer eating buds and tender branches of a limb felled during apple tree pruning.

On the fourth day in a row of freezing and subzero weather I bundled up and pruned the pear and three apple trees. As the sprouts and branches came down, they were frozen: sap flow had ceased. That’s what we want during fruit tree pruning.

I pruned what could be reached. I used a ladder to remove a large branch that was crowding the spruce tree. With the bulky clothing I didn’t want to maneuver too much on the ladder, risking a fall. If the trees survive, there should be a crop in 2023.

Branches will remain where they fell until it thaws. In late winter or early spring, I’ll move the branches toward the brush pile, cut them up, and burn them, delivering their minerals to a garden plot. I enjoy the spring burn as much as anything I do in the garden.

A couple of hours after pruning, deer arrived to eat what they could of the fallen tender buds and first year growth. Food for them is scarce in mid winter.

I read my ninth book this month. In winter, when I’m not writing, cooking, sleeping, or shoveling snow, I’m reading. There is a list of my reading at the menu tab labeled “Read Recently.”

We have been avoiding public contact as much as possible during the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. The county Democrats decided to convert the Feb. 7 in person precinct caucuses to online because of the surge. My spouse hasn’t been out of the house in quite a while. I go to the grocery store once every week or two. I still drink fluid milk and have to re-provision from time to time at a convenience store. I frequented about half a dozen retail stores during the pandemic and organized my shopping so I spent the least possible time inside each.

Onions and shallots are doing well on the heating pad. When it’s time to plant the first spring seedlings, they come off the heat and get a trim. Last year I started cruciferous vegetables indoors on Feb. 7, so there are a couple of weeks to take care of shallots and onions.

Deer took an after dinner rest near the spruce tree. It is a popular spot for wildlife year around. Creating a habitat is one of the successes we have had. It is an accomplishment. Each time I see deer, squirrels, foxes, birds or an opossum, I consider how little wildlife there was when we built here. Hopefully the apple trees will survive long enough for birds to nest in them a few more seasons.

Deer resting on the grass near the spruce tree.
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

New Greenhouse

Greenhouse Pad

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.

Categories
Living in Society

Three Weeks Until Spring

Snow melts first over the septic tank.

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!

Categories
Living in Society

Long Winter

Newly plowed driveway, Feb. 16, 2021

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.

Bloomberg News, Brian K. Sullivan.

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.”

CNN Politics, Kevin Liptak.

And so, it goes.