Prairie View

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Garden Report and Kansas City Trivia

The Kansas City Royals made it to the world series (baseball).  That's nice.  No skin off my nose if they win or lose the series.  That's all.

Kansas City, MO is actually the home of the Royals.  This confusing nomenclature almost guarantees that many residents of at least two states are fanatically loyal to the team--both Kansas and Missouri.

Kansas City, Missouri was named for the Kansa Indian tribe that populated the area.  That is exactly the same reason Kansas was chosen as a state name.  Missouri named their city before Kansas named their state.  For the way I'd like this story to go, this is inconvenient.  Kansas thought Missouri should change their city name to Missouri City, especially since a city had developed on both sides of the Missouri river at the same spot, and Kansas really wanted the city name and state name to match on their side of the river.   They also seem to have wished to ride on the coattails of the Missouri city's success and larger size.  So they gave their city the same name as the state name.  It worked!  The city on the Kansas side grew and prospered.

Together, the two cities make up one of the larger urban areas in the nation.  Divided, each city is one of the larger cities in the states in which they are located.

The Kansas River comes from the west (through Kansas) to join the Missouri River at the site of the two "Kansas City" towns.  North of the confluence, the river forms the border between Kansas and Missouri.  South of the confluence of the two rivers, the border follows a meridian line near 94 degrees west longitude.

This border also divided the two areas in other significant ways.  West of the line became Indian Territory at one point before statehood, and settlers were moved out (e. g. the Ingalls family of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books).  East of the line later became slave territory, and west of the line was a free state.


On Saturday night we had a light frost, and the cantaloupe and cucumber and winter squash vines noticed, but nothing else in the yard and garden paid any mind.  Weather Watchers (Facebook group) is predicting the first big freeze on November 8.  We'll see.

That hoped-for rain did not materialize here last week.  It all fell south and west of here.  The necessary lift was not present, and the storm system fell apart--whatever that means.  Disappointing.


I keep carting in beautiful heads of broccoli from the garden, but the cauliflower and cabbage are still biding their time.  Chinese cabbage has some fat heads, and the mustard Hiromi harvested once for pickles has grown out again and is ready for a second harvest.

I have only one kohlrabi plant and one carrot that came up in the row where I had planted them.  I'm letting both of them grow till the first big freeze to see how the timing might work out for another time, when germination will hopefully be better.

Spinach also germinated poorly, but now has huge "heads" wherever it grew.  I'm enjoying arugula in sandwiches.  Hiromi leaves it all to me.  "Too strong," is his pronouncement.

The Italian kale is almost entirely smooth-leaved, with leaves up to 2 feet long.  The plants are more than a yard wide.

I'm trying to work up the courage to harvest all the beets.  I'll need some mighty big kettles to cook them all, or I need to repeatedly re-use the ones I have.  Years ago I once canned diced beets in a mixture that contained water, vinegar, and sugar.  When I opened the jars, I drained the beets and used them to make a salad similar to a potato salad, with the beets substituting for the potatoes.  I liked it.  It had a shocking pink color.  Recently I made something similar without pickling the beets first, and it was too sweet for my taste.  Does anyone else use beets in a creamy salad?  How?  I've forgotten what I did.

Last week I planted garlic and winter onions.  The garlic sets came from Dwight's potluck, and the winter onions were from the little bulblets at the top of the onion leaves on the mama plant.  I hope to have green onions in early spring from this planting, while leaving the mama-plant to do its multiplying thing next year again.

I started this post almost a week ago, and intended to add more wrapup content to it.  I never got back to finishing it, so now it's outdated, but I'm going to publish anyway.

Several updates:  The winter onions are coming up.  I do have several sizable cauliflower heads out there now--all in the Snow Crown row, and at least one cabbage head worth harvesting.  Most of the cole crops should have been planted earlier, but the broccoli was nearly perfect.  We planted all of them on July 26, direct-seeded outdoors.  Next year, with the ability we now have to control the seed-house temperatures during the summer, I think I will seed the heading cole crops indoors around the first of July, and perhaps seek to germinate some of the other seeds indoors as well--like spinach, for example, that much prefer cooler soil temperatures for germination.  According to this germination temperature chart, not many seeds are happiest with soil temperatures in the 80s, and we're very fortunate if ambient temperatures in July get down to the 80s.

This week we've had a 31-degree morning that really zapped the green beans.  I think the tomatoes are still OK, and all the cold-hardy cole crops certainly are.   Hiromi has pulled up all the plants for the vine crops.  He's attempting to destroy the hiding places for squash beetles and other pests.  I'm thinking that the mulch we decided to leave in place in that area will still provide abundant hiding places, but far be it from me to interfere with any tidying-up activities anyone around here wishes to undertake.

Our new puppy, Barney, thinks the cauliflower bed containing a double row of the huge plants is the coolest hiding place ever.  We love how the cat and Barney are co-existing--if not happily, at least peaceably.  The cat has the good sense not to run from Barney, thus depriving him of a taste of the thrill of a chase.  She also has the good sense to hiss at him when he gets too vigorous with his sniffing activities in indefensible spots.  Detente is a good arrangement between dogs and cats IMHO.  Close friendship is probably too much to hope for in most cases.

We're still puzzling over how the hind quarters of a freshly killed rabbit happened to arrive near the back door.  The cat has been known to kill rabbits (she's a big cat!).  Did she present it as a gift to Barney?  Did Barney find it and drag it to the back door?  We don't think there's any chance that Barney could have killed a rabbit by himself.  He's too inexperienced and unskilled for that.  We do hope his skills develop in that regard, however.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Rose Bowls"

I'm getting ready to donate a bunch of vases to a thrift store.  Does anyone local want the five "rose bowls" before I do that?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Coveting a Sugar Maple

Sugar maples do not grow here.  That's what I always thought, although I wasn't sure why that was so.  I learned from Jason Griffin that it's because our soils are too alkaline, our moisture is too sparse, and our summer temperatures are too high.  At our latitude the eastern border of Kansas is the western extent of their range, Dr. Griffin told us.

All that is true about growing sugar maples in Kansas, except for one glorious exception:  the Caddo Maple.  This tree has a fascinating history.

Caddo County is located in western Oklahoma.  That area is host to a species of sugar maple that tolerates alkaline soils, heat, and drought.  Seeds were left behind in an isolated pocket when a prehistorical glacier came through and deposited detritus along the way (this was Dr. Griffin's explanation).  The Caddo Maple is named for Caddo County, Oklahoma.

John C. Pair was a Caddo Maple champion.  He planted a number of those trees at the Horticulture Research Center that was eventually  named after him, and, now, more than 50 years later, those trees are still thriving.  Last week I fingered a sturdy leaf on one of them.  It didn't have a blemish on it anywhere--not edged in a crackly, brown border as some leaves on less well-adapted trees were.  The leaves had not yet begun to change into their autumn hue, which is yellow--not flaming red or orange, as I had hoped.

The Caddo Maple is not a good lawn tree because it will not tolerate watering as frequently as is required here for maintaining quality turf.    So it really needs to be planted where it can safely be ignored, except perhaps for the first few years of its life.  I presume that it will also create shade so deep that grass does not easily grow under it.

Maples in general have relatively thin skin (bark), which is easily damaged during the freezing/thawing that may occur during our sunny but cold winters.  This might show up as a vertical crack on the southwest side of the trunk.  Wrapping the trunk during the winter is one way to try to prevent this, but Dr. Griffin is not a fan of trunk wrapping.  He says it traps moisture underneath the wrap and provides hiding places for insects, thereby opening the tree to damage from pests and diseases.  If wrapping is done, the wrap should stay on the tree only from Thanksgiving to Easter.  A better way to protect the bark is to leave low branches intact  to provide shading for the trunk, until the tree is older and the bark is tougher.

Caddo Maple leaves hang on much longer in the fall than most leaves--more like an oak than like most maples.  This also might help prevent winter trunk injury because of the shade they would help provide.

Dr. Griffin believes that propagating Caddo Maple trees would provide a good economic opportunity for some enterprising nurseryman.  Amen.  I'd love to see this develop  for some good person I know.   I haven't tried very hard to locate a source, but, sometime in the near future, I want to do so.

Caddo Maple is the first tree on my "indestructible" list for Kansas.  I want one in my future.


Added later:  Online, I found a Wichita nursery that sells a John Pair Caddo Maple.  It can't be mail-ordered, but a picture can be viewed on their website.  In contrast to what I remembered hearing on my tour of the John C. Pair Center, the pictured tree has brilliant orange-red foliage.  It's possible that when Dr. Griffin was answering a tour group member's question about fall color, he was responding about a particular tree, or perhaps about the predominant color for most seedling trees, rather than the specific John Pair selection.  It's likely that this one is propagated by cuttings. Here's the link to a picture of the one available from Brady Nursery in Wichita.  It goes by the name 'Autumn Splendor,' but the brief description identifies it as a John Pair selection.  With the description is a reference to the fact that the tree must have good drainage.  The size of the tree is 30' by 30'.

Here's a link to the John Pair Caddo Sugar Maple available from a Colorado nursery.  It has more information on the culture of the tree than the Brady Nursery site does.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Indestructible Plants

On this day when I recited to Hiromi over breakfast a long list of things I want to accomplish today, the main thing I can think of doing right now is writing here some of the most memorable take-aways from a day spent at the John C. Pair Horticulture Center near Haysville, KS--in the Wichita area.  The director of this research center associated with Kansas State University spoke to us in the morning in a very informative lecture and picture presentation on shrubs.  In the afternoon we rambled about outdoors over the many acres of plantings designed to identify the varieties of plant material that are best suited to our challenging southern Great Plains environment.

Several quips and insights from Dr. Jason Griffin, the director, solidified in my mind what I have known for a long time about gardening in Kansas:  "Kansas is where plants go to die." Our highest July temperatures are like the hottest US regions.  Our coldest January temperatures are like the coldest US regions.   In this transition zone, we have too much heat for northern plants and too much cold for southern plants.  We have drought, in addition to temperature problems.

Dr. Griffin jokes with his colleagues from eastern states like Pennsylvania that they must have a really boring job because almost anything they plant at any time in any way, taking care of it in any way, or not taking care of it--and it all grows!  Here, in seasons like the summer of 2012, when 100% of the state was in severe drought and much of it was in exceptional drought (the worst category on the scale), a great sorting out took place at the research center.  He cited other events when fall temperatures dropped suddenly (November 2014 saw a drop from 69 degrees to 19 degrees--the first really hard freeze of the season, and plants were not fully dormant), or rose too high too early in the spring, and a hard freeze followed--after plants had already come out of dormancy.  Such extremes further separate the tough plants from the others.

Since I am currently on a mission to identify indestructible landscape plants for our environment--the kind that could be planted at a rental property where it would be likely to be neglected by tenants, I was all ears during the presentation and the walk.

My to-do list is calling, and the plant list I compiled must wait for a later post.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tempura Recipes and Notes

I've written several times about cooking tempura, a Japanese food consisting of deep fat fried vegetables and meat which are dipped in a savory sauce and eaten over rice.  The process keeps evolving for us, and I'm recording here its most current iteration, especially in the recipes at the end.

Assemble a variety of vegetables and some meat, cutting each food into pieces that are thin enough to fry fairly quickly and small enough in size to fit into the dipping bowls you will use at each individual place at the table.  The pieces should not be so small, however, that frying them individually will become too tedious.  Any or all of the following foods can be used:


Green beans (ends removed and left whole)
Sweet potatoes or butternut-type squash (peeled and sliced thinly)
Onions (sliced--keep slices together rather than separating into rings)
Sweet peppers (slice "slabs" off the sides of the peppers)
Zucchini or other tender-skinned summer squash (slice into rounds without peeling)
Okra (leave whole)
Eggplant (peel and slice--if the Japanese type of eggplant, slice diagonally)
Mushrooms (leave whole if not too large, or slice in half or fourths lengthwise if very large)

Other vegetables--less common traditionally
Broccoli (cut into reasonable sections)
Cauliflower (separated into florets)
Corn kernels (formed into a clump by mixing with batter.  We've eaten this in a restaurant.)
Whole (or stemmed and seeded) hot peppers


Chicken (probably breast meat)
Pork (probably tenderloin)
Shrimp (peeled and sand vein removed)

We also dipped and fried chunks and sticks of cheese--not traditional in Japan at all, but very good


Hiromi has now approved the following recipes for "public consumption."  We served it to several groups during the past week.

Dipping Batter Recipe

Dry Ingredients:

1 cup cake flour
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Liquid ingredients:

3/4 cup ice water
2 Tablespoons vinegar

Keep all ingredients very cold before final mixing, and during use for dipping.

Sift dry ingredients together or mix thoroughly.  Pour liquid into chilled bowl and then add dry ingredients.  With whisk, press flour mixture into liquid, doing so repeatedly only until very little dry material remains.  It will be very lumpy.  This is ideal.  Mix batter as little as possible.

Place batter bowl into larger bowl of ice water.

Work in fairly small batches (I've never more than doubled the recipe), since the batter eventually will smooth out and become less airy during frying if it sets too long without being used up.

Tempura Dipping Sauce (or Soup)

1 cup water
1 Tablespoon dashi*
2 Tablespoons soy sauce (We always use Kikkomen brand)
2 Tablespoons mirin**

*Dashi:  Powdered Japanese soup base
**Sweet rice wine, used only for cooking

Cook together the first three ingredients briefly and then add mirin.  Serve while still hot in individual small dipping bowls, starting with about 1/4 cup servings.


We cooked Japanese rice in electric rice cookers, using the measurements indicated in the cooking pot.  (It comes to a ratio of about 1 cup rice to 1 1/4 cup water.)  The rice is short-grain glutinous white rice.  Botan or Kokuho Rose are brands we like.  This kind, when eaten from a rice bowl held close to the mouth, can be eaten with chopsticks. American long-grain rice, eaten from a plate, wouldn't work at all for chopsticks.


Heat oil to at least 360 degrees.  With tongs or cooking chopsticks, dip food into batter and slip into hot oil.  Fry for only several minutes (till tender), and then remove and drain on paper towels and distribute while hot to those seated at the table.


If the oil is very fresh and unused, very little browning may occur, even when the food is well-cooked.

This is slow food--literally.  Nearly all the cooking is done while people are already at the table.  Hiromi often fries--all at once--one kind of food--enough for each person at the table to have one piece, and then switches to another food for the next round.  After he's worked through the variety of offerings, he takes requests for whatever is still desired.


Our small group at church numbers about 37 people, including several families with small children.  We served tempura to most of them last night, utilizing the help of other families in assembling and cooking the meal.  We provided the batter, dipping sauce, and rice for everyone.  We were part of one of three cooking groups, each of which supplied a fryer, oil, and meat and vegetables, and some cooking utensils and serving dishes for their group.

We used to think it would never work to cook tempura for this size group.  Now we know it can be done--but not without a lot of cooperation from a lot of people.  


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Stories From Class Day

At last week's Master Gardener class, during lunch in a restaurant, I sat with people from the class who reside in neighboring counties.  In the process of getting acquainted, I learned that the lady beside me was an inspector for the health department, and the man across from me was a physician.  Both are recently retired, I believe.

The inspector beside me asked the doctor across from me if he had been involved in any way in an Ebola episode.  That was the opening to the following story, set in a veteran's hospital emergency room in Wichita.

Someone showed up who had just arrived by air from overseas.  He was diabetic and had developed gangrene in his foot.  It needed to be amputated.  He was from Africa, and had recently been in areas where Ebola was present.  Upon arrival in Wichita, because he had a fever and was nauseous, his presence triggered all kinds of Ebola-evasive action.  That's apparently why he promptly showed up at the emergency room.  Complicated quarantine measures followed.

The patient's route to Kansas, however, was very circuitous, and why he came to Wichita is still a little mystifying--except for one little clue that eventually surfaced.  Maybe there was a good reason for seeking out a location in the middle of "nowhere."  He worked for an oil company in Saudi Arabia.  When he became ill, the company bought a ticket for him to be treated in America.  He had arrived in Wichita from Saudi Arabia after stops in London and Chicago, and perhaps other places.

Fortunately, he was not found to have Ebola.  His symptoms were caused by the massive infection in his foot. That was the good surprise.  The bad surprise came when he needed to clarify the nature of his job with the oil company:  Assassin.


The doctor also recounted how he had come to want to specialize in trauma and injury cases, consequently spending most of his medical career as an emergency room physician.

"I was the only one in my class of 160 at medical school that was paying my own way, so I decided I'd better get as much as I can out of my training.  That's why I asked if I could observe surgeries.  The first time I did that--I hadn't even started med school--things started going bad in the surgery room and the doctor asked me to help.  I protested and said I didn't know anything about this yet."

"You grew up on a farm, didn't you?  You've seen worse than this.  Get over here."

He ended up helping then and helped regularly from then on.

That's one perk of growing up on a farm that I never thought of--having a foot in the door during medical training.  


The doctor also recounted what happened at the hospital when someone sprinkled white powder in the area and called out "anthrax! "  An immediate lockdown occurred, and a phone call went to alert a designated person at a state agency.

After several hours of cleanup and testing, during which time no doctors, visitors, or patients could leave or enter the facility--creating havoc with the normal functions of the facility, the powder was found to be coffee creamer from the cafeteria.

A similar scenario occurred twice more in rapid succession.  Finally, the state official who was notified each time became a trifle irate.  "Why do you keep calling me?" he asked the doctor who was telling the story.

"Because that's the protocol we're ordered to follow," he answered.  "We know what to do, and if you'll let us, we'll just do it without bothering you."

"Go ahead," he said.  "You're the first person who's ever called me with this problem, and I'm sure you're not the first person this has happened to. And please hide your coffee creamer."

So much for state regulations and official disaster protocols and doctors following orders.


I asked the state inspector lady if my information was right about what was required in order to make a church kitchen "inspectable" as a site for preparing food to be sold (or, technically, to be served to the public).  She told me that my information was basically correct, but added a few bits of information.  She wasn't quite sure that having an automatic dishwasher negated the need for a three-compartment sink.  She also said that the dishwasher must reach a certain approved temperature in order to qualify as a sanitizer.

Another detail that I had never paid attention to is the requirement that food be kept at a safe serving (or storage) temperature, or consumed within four hours from the beginning of preparation time.  Any leftover food must be refrigerated within two hours of completion.   Serving from a steam table would presumably keep it at a safe serving temperature for a prolonged period of time. Not so for food set out on a serving table or counter.

The outside entrance to a kitchen that I had heard was a requirement was not clear to her as a requirement.  Maybe this applies primarily to cases when it's located on the site of a family home.

She also asked me if our kitchen would be used for canning.  I said I didn't know.  She hastened to add that "it can't be, unless you have retort equipment."*  Relying on my own research and memory from hearing this addressed in a workshop by someone from K-State--and on research Leroy H.  had done on this matter earlier, I said that  my understanding was that retort equipment was required only when canning non-acid foods that required processing under pressure.  (A second requirement for us is attendance at the Better Processing workshop at Nebraska State University) She acknowledged then that she didn't know for sure, and gave me names and phone numbers I could call for more information.

I gained several impressions from this encounter. One, even inspectors don't know everything.  Two, some inspectors are very distrustful of uninspected facilities.   This one said, "I'd trust something from your kitchen [it's possible that this is misplaced trust, although I certainly don't have cats walking around on my counters--as one circumstance she cited], but I never eat anything from farmer's markets or any place selling food I think might have been prepared in a home kitchen."

*Think of retort equipment as "reporting" equipment.  In this application, it keeps a running record of temperature changes at specific times during the canning process.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Canning Concord Grapes

This year, for the first time in my memory, I canned Concord grapes for juice.  I have usually not had access to grapes at an economical price, but this year someone in the community had them shipped in from New York, and sold them for $11.00 per half bushel.  They were delicious.  If only we could have eaten them fresh a little faster there would have been none left to can.  Partly because my canning jars were nearly all full, I decided to attempt to can a grape juice concentrate, rather than go by the recipe I found online, which called for 1 1/3 cups grapes to each jar and 1/3 cup sugar.  The jars were to be filled with boiling water.  By multiplying that by three, I came up with a recipe that called for 4 cups grapes and 1 cup sugar per jar.  I reasoned that when I open the jar I can simply add two jars of water and have just the right concentration of fruit  juice and sugar in the final beverage.  the sugar ended up taking up so much space that I probably didn't quite get 4 cups of grapes into the jar.

Something I did not anticipate happened, however, and I need help figuring out why.  The contents seemed to expand during processing, and, besides bubbling over enough to color the canner water purple, they continued to bubble after I took them out of the canner.  The tea towel and counter on which I placed the jars are both stained purple.  What's up with this?  Thankfully the jars all sealed.

The sugar did not all dissolve either.  Each jar has a layer of sugar on the bottom.

I need help from grape canning veterans?  Do you use a syrup?  Do you cook the grapes before putting them in the jars?  Is the sugar layer on the bottom normal?  Is my recipe at fault?  Is trying for a concentrate not a good idea?

I thought I was being smarter than my mom (who thought she was also being smarter than her mom) by making a concentrate.  My mother said that her mother used to put one cup of grapes and one cup of sugar in each quart jar before filling it with boiling water.  My mom halved the sugar and still put in one cup of grapes.  My recipe calls for even less sugar than my mom's, and calls also for more grapes per jar.  Does anyone from grape growing country wish to share their methods and recipe?

I hope that some time in the future we'll have grapes from our own vines.  In the meantime, I'll be a customer if the Troyers on Red Rock Road bring in New York grapes again next year--and if I can figure out how to do the canning right.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sunday Wrapup--10/4/2015

We got several bits of unwelcome news in the past few days--about friends and family who are facing crises.

John and Renita Y.'s family are leaving E. S. because of having unwittingly become targets for threatened gang violence.  It started with their innocent young daughter's having spied several men with evil intent and telling her mother what she saw.  After the information passed through various "hands" and the intended target escaped with his life, guess who is being blamed for enabling his escape?  The threat to the family from here was delivered by means of trashing their house and then apparently calling emergency services to report the incident.  Local citizens recognize this as typical "threat language."

Twila Y., has been diagnosed with cancer--less than a week after having first noticed a new lump.  She is the mother of a high school student ( the youngest) and the grandmother of her oldest son's four children, with five others in between. Our family has lived alongside theirs for many years, with our children finding age mates among theirs.  In her husband Joe's family, two siblings and three of the siblings' spouses have died of cancer.  We all think that's quite enough cancer for one family.  My dear friend Marian was Joe's sister.

Closer home for our family, we're hearing alarming news from our oldest son's adopted country.  The fearsome terrorist/military group based in the Middle East has taken responsibility for the killing of two foreigners whose countries are aligned with the "crusader coalition."  One was from my husband's homeland, and the other was from the country in which the Apostle Paul was martyred.  One was killed in our son's city of residence, and the other killing happened in another district. Both were apparently working with a non-government organization.  Foreign embassies have recently given some guidelines for appropriate precautions for their in-country citizens.

All of these situations call for intercession and faith in God's goodness and power.  All of them also involve family members of David and Susanna, our bishop's family.


My youngest brother was released from HCF on Friday of last week.  He's staying with Dad for now, based on his own request.  If an opening develops at Oxford House in Hutchinson and his application is accepted, he will likely transfer there.  After two years of him not being within hugging distance, it's very good to have him around again.  He's pleasant and helpful, and openly speaks of the "out-of-control" situation that characterized his life before his incarceration.  Substance abuse treatment is part of his release arrangement. The first order of business for him is to air up the tires on his vehicle and see if it still runs, get the tags current, and renew his driver's license.  For  many others, release also means finding a place to live, and finding a job.  Those two things are taken care of in Marcus' case.

In the lead-in to Marcus' release, I attended a court hearing, and was duly impressed there with the power in the hands of a judge.  Of those who entered the court room in prison garb, cuffed and shackled, some were back on the street within an hour.  Others were not granted that freedom.  To have a responsible, fair judge is a great blessing.  Thankfully, Judge Rose appeared to be that kind of judge.  Marcus' appointed attorney was the same one who represented the infamous BTK murderer from Wichita a number of years ago.  I presume that was also a court-ordered appointment.


When Dad picked up Marcus, another young man who had just been released asked if he could have a ride home.  He said his family was to have been there to pick him up, but no one was there to do so.  Dad agreed, and introduced him to the Lord en route.  The young man was very open and very grateful.  His parents both have a drug problem, just as he does.  "No one ever cared enough to talk to  me like this," he told Dad, while thanking him.

I couldn't help wondering what Marcus was thinking while the conversation was taking place in his hearing.    Some things about their situation were very similar, and some things were markedly different.


Three Catholic women from the Kansas City area attended our church service this morning as the guests of William and Elizabeth Hershberger.  They have been friends for at least 20 years.  The visiting women are sisters to each other and are all teachers in Catholic schools.  One was a sister in the other Catholic sense of the word for ten years, leaving before taking her final vows.  I learned by listening to her speak to someone else this morning that only cloistered sisters are normally referred to as nuns.  Those who serve in the public are called sisters.

I've heard lots of "Catholic" talk since I started to attend the Master Gardener classes.  Three of the people with whom I make the ride back and forth to Newton are Catholics, and I hear them talk among themselves about their religious life.

One lady informed another in my hearing that she was not raised Catholic, and it took her four tries to "make it" into the Catholic church.  I'm not sure what that meant.  I also learned that those two women attended the same parish services, but didn't know each other because they normally attend Mass at two different times.  They also really wished that "Father"would add a more convenient confession time--either before or after Mass, rather than having to make a special trip for confession.
When we met a priest at the restaurant where we ate lunch, he turned out to have been stationed earlier in our area, and was now on another assignment.  He told the ones in our group who knew him that he was "making people mad" again.  The ladies with me explained later that right after he came to St. Teresa, he was ordered by the bishop to close the school, and when he followed those instructions, the action met with a great deal of disfavor among the patrons.

One of the ladies told me that she only once in her life attended a Protestant service--in Kansas City.  It was a Mennonite church, and she was with dear friends from nursing school at Bethel College.

I've heard that "Father" has terrible eating habits, and the diocese eventually hired a cook so that he'd get some decent food.

The only man in our van load is also Catholic.  He's "an officer and a gentleman."  Actually, I don't know that he's like that film character at all.  I'm not familiar with the movie except by title.  What I do know is that he was the school resource officer for more than 30 years with the local country sheriff's department.  He's courteous, and every week I learn more about his varied interests.  First I heard about irises.  He's a member of the local iris club.  Last week I learned that he is a published author, and we had a lively conversation about writing.  I also learned that his wife is an artist--whose name I now recall having seen often on paintings.  Recently she has taken up sculpture, and in an interesting twist on their interests as a couple, she created sculptures of the main characters in a novel he is in the process of writing.  These sculptures "live" in the house with them.  Next Thursday evening both of them plan to go to Salina to hear Anne Lamott speak.  She's a well-known writer.

Just now, from the Amazon site that lists his book, Cop in the Classroom:  Lessons I've Learned, Tales I've Told,  I found that he was also a teacher and coach in public schools, a store security officer, and a substance abuse counselor,

In addition to the above book, I'd like to read a play he wrote:  Under the Radar:  Race at School.  It's about racism.

In speaking of his retirement, Jim stated how it is, and it matches my experience on sabbatical.  He said, "I do a lot more of what I want to do--when I want to do it, but I'm no less busy than I was before."


A few nights ago, when the forecast sounded chilly, I carefully placed cucumbers from the garden inside a grocery bag and put them on a chair on the patio--my way of compensating for limited refrigerator space.  The next morning the bag was gone, and I was sure the cat hadn't moved it.  I spied the bag several yards away, with several cucumbers half in and half out of the bag.  More cucumbers had dropped near the chair and along the way.  I didn't know whether to blame a raccoon or a possum.

On the way to church this morning I saw several vultures gathered around a dead 'coon on the road.  I hope the cucumber thief is gone for good.


The afternoon session for Master Gardeners last week was about dealing with nuisance animals.  I was a little amused by the polite reference to euthanasia as one of the appropriate solutions in some cases.

I had never given much thought to hazards associated with relocation of nuisance animals.  I had thought about the ethical problem of making the nuisance animal on your property someone else's problem, but I had not thought of how the animal may be carrying pests and diseases that infect a distant population when an animal is moved.  Voles, moles, deer, and  armadillos were among the nuisances covered.

I learned that armadillos are native to Central America, and have steadily moved northward over a period of many years.  The first ones were found in Kansas in about 1911? and now they are found also in Nebraska.  People who should know believe that there must surely be a northern limit to their range, but no one knows what that is.

I learned also that it's now proven beyond any doubt that some armadillos carry the leprosy bacterium.  Eating the flesh is not the only way for the bacterium to pass from animal to human.  Handling the animal can do so as well.  On the positive side, leprosy is now fairly easy to treat.

Bait or electronic vibrations do nothing to help kill or frighten away moles.  Moles feed only on living, moving creatures, and do not rely on their sense of smell at all.  They seem to thrive in some areas that are regularly assaulted by vibrations from passing vehicles, right next to a busy street, for example.  A vicious-looking mechanical trap, placed strategically to extend into a busy tunnel is the recommended way to euthanize a mole.


One of the aspects of the Master Gardener class that turns the tables on this teacher is that I now take a quiz at every class period.  It covers the content of the previous class period's lectures.  A final test will be based on the quizzes.  Students must score at least an average of 70% to pass the class.

I give the test-makers high marks for creating good tests.  The answers are not obvious, even though they're always multiple choice.  On the first two tests I missed the extra-credit question both times.  I think the graders are being a little over-dramatic by boldly  marking such papers with a -1, when it's followed by a 100% notation.  The papers are all laid out on a table after they're graded, and students go there and pick out their own quiz, with all other papers in full view.  Protecting students' privacy is apparently not a high priority, but I'm pleased to report that I have been able to scrupulously avoid peering at the scores of other test takers.    

My table-mate, who retired recently from a position as director of a county health department, was thoroughly dismayed after the first test.  The next time she reported to me, "Miriam, I studied for hours.  This [previous test score] is entirely unacceptable.  I was a straight-A student and valedictorian of my class.  I can't keep on flunking these tests."   After the last class, she happily informed me that she now had a passing average.


At the gathering where the "old" master gardeners and the new ones were introduced to each other, my high school science teacher was present.  I learned later that he had talked about me behind my back, and that he saddled me with a reputation to live up to.  I was frankly dismayed.   It was kind of him, of course, but directly interfered with my wish to stay under the radar, and be able to network with other class members as one of the "learning" crowd.  I determined to take some decisive action to be helpful and supportive wherever I could, in order not to be seen as being aloof in any way.  I thought immediately of the elderly lady in the class from our county who is a caregiver for her 92-year-old sister dealing with dementia.  She had been fishing for ideas or help with the final presentation that each person (or team) is to give to the class, and no one had offered her much.  I couldn't think of much at the time.

Later, at home, I thought of an idea that might interest her, and emailed her the suggestion and offered her help in getting started and in doing the presentation if she wished.  She was very pleased.  I remembered hearing her say that she's re-doing her yard and wants especially to make it welcoming to birds and butterflies.  I suggested that she give a presentation on how she plans to do that.  My recent involvement with the pocket prairie planting at school covered a lot of the same territory, since we had similar goals for our plantings there.  Now I'm beginning to feel more comfortable again.


Fresh green beans and fresh beets from the garden are part of our meals this week.  Starting about now, we could also eat various types of greens often--kale, chard, spinach, beet greens, and mustard (the mustard is actually destined to be pickled--for Japanese takana pickles).  Broccoli heads are sizing up, as are the Chinese Cabbage heads.  The cauliflower and cabbage aren't as far along as I wish they were.  Planting time lesson is being noted--earlier next year.

Rhoda Y. told me recently that she got 80 quarts of tomatoes from the 4-bushel picking of tomatoes she got here.  I'm very happy that she could use them.

Rhoda inquired about how I did my fall garden.  I should have told her how I planted the cole crops that grow into large plants.    I direct-seeded them inside carefully-spaced No. 10 cans with the ends removed.  The cans were placed on either side of a 12-inch-wide trench bounded by long ridges on the sides.  At first, I watered daily inside the cans with very gentle spray, and after they germinated and grew to some size, I watered by filling the trench and allowing the water to seep into the root zone from below.

To people in more hospitable growing climates, this probably all seems like going to needless pains, but the bit of shade and wind protection those cans offer is very valuable.  I really hate thinning, so this widely-spaced method also offers me the advantage of being able to avoid that.

Other crops direct-seeded in rows were beets, green beans, red radishes, daikon radishes, mustard, carrots, kohlrabi, shungiku, and spinach.  The last four germinated very poorly for some reason, but the others did well.

In a different area, and planted much later, I have another collection of greens coming along.  I hope that many of these will winter over under a row cover.  I can't wait to taste these first-time greens:  tyfon, claytonia (miner's lettuce), and mache (corn salad).  I've grown or tasted these before:  arugula, radicchio, and sorrel.  I'll plant warm-season greens next spring.  Amaranth, perilla (shiso), New Zealand spinach, and spreen (looks like lamb's quarter) are on that list.  I hope to let all of these go to seed next summer, thus providing a perpetual greens supply in the future.