Monday, November 29, 2010

Praise Borage



I did not spend the time during this very busy week getting decent photos of the borage that has so artfully returned, an encore performance that I think is rather striking for its season. It is so wonderful to see plants simply turning their noses up at the cold weather and flourishing.  Best of all is that I had little to do with it -the borage simply re-seeded itself from the spring flowering. I pulled all that remained sometime this summer, after deadheading and cutting back to nothing worth keeping. Now I see that I should pull them right after they begin to decline and wait for the seeds to sprout for the fall display.

Ha! I truly believe this is the first time I uploaded a blurry photo to the blog. 


Friday, November 26, 2010

I'm Gonna Have To Ask You To Take That Back




Public Information Statement


Statement as of 5:09 am EST on November 26, 2010

... The growing season has officially ended for the entire tri-state
area...

The National Weather Service frost and freeze program has ended for
the following counties...

In southeast New York... New York (Manhattan)... Bronx... Kings
(Brooklyn)... Richmond (staten island) and Queens.

In northeast New Jersey... Hudson.

Although these areas have not experienced freezing temperatures... we
are several weeks beyond the average date of the first freeze which
was on November 10th.

This concludes the frost and freeze program for the entire tri-state
area for the 2010 season. Frost advisories... freeze watches and
warnings will resume in the Spring.




Beach Farm: Week 16.5 -Beyond The Garlic



Snap peas.

Some flowers.

Broccoli growing in its tent.

The sound of birds at Ft. Tilden needs to be heard to be believed. This is the season for birders, and the south shore of Long Island, the tidal marshes, are major stopping points for migratory birds.

Rosemary in bloom, unusual here, reminding me of its cool weather bloom in New Mexico.

Still harvesting greens and radishes.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Beach Farm: Week 16 or 120 Days or 240 Days 'Til Garlic



I met Mimi in the 36th St. subway station. I had forgotten my metrocard, so we needed meet through the iron bars and I wondered if that was the only time garlic had been passed through them. The garlic looked so good, it almost seemed a shame to plant it -eat it, look at it, but don't bury it! Mimi jumped back on the train, and I headed for my van, grabbing a cup of coffee for the trip. I convinced myself that the cold, the wind, required coffee-warmed preparation. Once I left the comfort of the van for the field, I wasn't all that cold, but the coffee sure was.

The whole garden -small, bare, brown. I am now thinking, probably too late, that I should have planted more greens. Maybe another attempt at spinach in the old tomato rows?

Mimi's hardneck garlic. 

Garlic, Allium sativum, is divided into two subspecies -the hardnecks, A. sativum ophioscorodon, and the softnecks, A. sativum sativum. These two subspecies have hundreds of cultivars, all of which have descended from A. sativum in its native range -the Caucasus Mountains. In fact, many of the varieties now available were locked behind the "iron curtain" of the Soviet Union until the late 1980s, when the Soviets granted the USDA permission to collect garlic.

Hardneck vareties like Rocambole, Porcelain, the Purple Stripe(s), and the weaker hardnecks like Asiatic, Turban, and Creole generally have hard central stems, less, but larger cloves, and thin papery skins.  Because of the thin skin, these tend to have a shorter storage life, say 5 to 6 months, but are also much easier to peel. Hardneck varieties also have distinctive scape shapes which can be useful for identifying your garlic in the field.

Artichoke and Silverskin varieties belong to the softneck subspecies, A. sativum sativum. These have more cloves, up to 20, and, as the name gives away, a soft stem which makes them the garlic for braiding. The cloves have more paper on them, which helps them store for a longer time than the hardnecks, but this extra paper makes peeling trickier. Softnecks are said to be easier to grow, which, along with the quantity of cloves and long storage life, make these the choice grocery store garlic we've been eating all these years.

Amongst the two subspecies, and the several varieties, there are dozens upon dozens of cultivars with specific traits for growing, storing, and eating. Garlic is not the monolithic bulb I was once familiar with. The last time I grew garlic was 13 years ago in southern NM. I simply bought a few bulbs from the grocery store and plopped them in. Familiar with planting flower bulbs, when to plant was easy enough, but I was confused about harvest time in that desert climate. Thanks to our temperate climate and the internet, it was easy enough to figure out that I'll be pulling garlic around the fourth of July. 

While we are sure these bulbs are Allium sativum ophioscorodon, we cannot be sure of the variety. Each bulb had 4 large cloves, light coloring, and medium heat which leads me to believe that they are a 'German' cultivar of a Porcelain (based on my googling about). Apparently these will have a 'snakes nest' of scapes if they are, in fact, Porcelain -spring time will help solve some of the mystery. The only other possible choice is the variety Rocambole, which also have distinctive double loop scapes in spring. 

The newly planted garlic mound, planted in the recently cleared hot pepper bed. Apparently garlic can be tricky to grow, depending on the variety, the local climate -like all plants. Many are proponents of mulch, of which I had none and so my garlic goes without. The hardnecks require a good hard cold spell, but don't much care for freeze and thaw. They like watering, but well-drained (really, what doesn't?), but then stop watering for the last month or so. Okay, it's useful to know these things, but experience is the best teacher, next to failure, and one way or the other, we'll have something to talk about next July.




Sunday, November 21, 2010

November Sky


At the beach farm. On days where the sun is partially obscured by high clouds, the skies are dominated by pinks and blues. Yesterday, around 4pm, the sun and the moon shared the sky.





Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bird Droppings


Sweet Gum, or American Sweet Gum to some, Liquidambar styraciflua is a favorite tree. Here it is near the northern limits of its range, but should have no trouble surviving our temperate borough.

While walking upon Lookout Hill, I heard the faint tapping of the season's first ice pellets falling on dry leaves, although the sun was shining and the sky bright blue. I paused, looked around, up.

It was them! Cedar Waxwings making the most of the Sweet Gum above me.

Later, along the Lullwater, the same thing. I found this tiny seed in my hair, placing it on the head of the 3/4 inch rebar used to prop up wire fencing in the park. 


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beach Farm: Week 15 or 113 Days



We rose early this morning so that we could get to the beach farm before work. Yes, every day is a work day, and on a day like today, hitting the farm is a luxury. We are there less and less, which is really all that is needed. The water had been turned off on November first, and on that same day I removed my irrigation timer. Since then, the weather has been rather good to us, rain some, but also warmer temperatures, and not too much wind.

It is now November fourteen, and knowledgeable gardeners that you are, you are fully aware of what's not present in our kitchen garden. It's true, only so much can be grown to eat now, but eating we are. Tonight's dinner had yellow bells, mixed greens, and radishes -all from the beach. If we are lucky, this will continue long into December, until the day we head out of town for Minnesota Christmas.  They just received 12 inches of snow.

It took some time to get over the loss of the heat-loving vegetables. After all, those are what we think of when we think of 'farm.' Now that the momentary post-garden depression has passed, and the green things are filling out, the farm feels right again, a little bit like spring.

The water is now off for the season, and with that comes watering concerns. It's been two weeks since my last visit, but there appears to be little to worry over. It's cool. It rains at least once a week. And, there's the ocean, humidity, and the dewpoint, all conspiring to condense moisture onto surfaces like lettuce, broccoli, and snap peas. Thank you for watering.

What remains of the morning dew on the snap peas.

And on the broccoli, which has put on some heft over the last two weeks. 

Which warranted the makeshift plastic tent build-out. It's a start. Our enemy here is the cold wind, and the low-energy sun. Old windows would be way cooler, err warmer, longer-lived too.

The mizuna mixed greens are perfectly sweet and spicy.

I hastily seeded this entire area (formerly of broccoli) with arugula in two rows, and mesclun mix in two rows. While the arugula is taking off, all that seems to be growing adjacent are weeds -bad seeds?

Radish.

Just for the simple compensation of picking something, everyone should grow radishes into the fall. They're sweet and spicy, not just spicy -like summer radishes, and the greens go right into the salad.

I haven't been harvesting the collards -not a big fan, but today we took some. There are white flies pestering them now that the summer broccoli has been harvested. White flies are not terribly offensive as pests go, but they do sap the plants. Hopefully we will have a good hard freeze for a couple of weeks in, say, maybe January.

While Betsy hoed the weeds, I noticed lots of earthworms squiggling about. This one above exited its tunnel and moved near the parsley seedlings. When we broke ground, in July, I did not see even one. 

As with the mesclun mix, the spinach seeds simply did not produce. This is the sole plant from a whole packet of seeds. So wish we had more, love home grown, cool weather spinach.

Today's harvest. We plucked all the peppers, as they had finally looked like our basil -pale green and yellow leaves. There was a cold, wet day last week that did them in. Got some collards, and salad greens, a few radishes too. I also picked some celery. If the weather stays reasonable, some snap peas and broccoli may be in our future. Is it too late to plant garlic or onions? I don't think so.


Friday, November 12, 2010

At Large



Loosed pumpkin head, orange, green eyes, about 6 inches tall and 2 lbs. Last seen on the park circle.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Laetiporus Cincinnatus or How We Saved The Minnesota State Fair


Preceding post, Mushroom People, ...

...doing as mushroom people do, we left the trail and walked along the slopes around the wetland, on the neighbor's property too, into the untamed woods that no one ever seems to explore. We saw hundreds of Indian Pipe clusters, but little in the way of mushrooms. We found two great washouts from recent heavy rains, but then, no great mushrooms. After pausing near a newly fallen oak amongst a field of hog peanut in the sunshine, we move back towards the property line and decide its a wash -all we have are common puffballs.

We headed back for the house. Passing a great oak tree, just a few feet ahead of Rex, he says something, and to this day I'll never remember what, but as I turn my head to listen, in the corner of my eye I catch a singular ray of sun passing through the branches above. My eye follows that beam of light downward to the base of the tree, and Oh My God, what is that?! Rex! Look! What is that? "Oh, that's a Sulfur Shelf. Look at that," he says in his casual man about the woods way. Wow, what should we do? Should we dig it out?


Laetiporus in its environs at the base of a large oak tree.

No. We decided to leave it until we called the mushroom people to see if they actually want it, but then, why wouldn't they? An unbelievable find, really. Look at that, a perfect rosette! My first sulfur shelf happens to not be the semi-circle shelf on the trunk of a tree that I imagined after all.

We were suddenly unsure about whether or not we should actually dig it up. What a majestic mushroom, why  ruin it, why disturb its chances for sporing? Why give it to anyone? Shouldn't we leave it, for its own sake? What if the neighbors notice its gone? It is in their woods after all. Maybe this is theft? What if they were waiting to eat it?

But then, what of the edification of 500,000 Minnesotans, what of the Fair? What of our pride too -our find and its attendant glory? Our decision then, let's call the mushroom people. Ring Ring. Message -arrgh. Hi, uh, we think we found something you're gonna want -it's a Sulfur Shelf. Please give us a call back. We went to dig up the mushroom, placed it in a box and put it in the cool, dark basement. If they don't call us, we'll eat it now that it's plucked from the earth.


The Sulfur Shelf was nearly 20 inches across.


About 6pm we received a call from Ruth, who had been collecting for the Fair exhibit all day and desperately needed a centerpiece mushroom. She told us that her husband would come out to get our finds, meeting us halfway in the parking lot of a Starbucks in Wayzata. We loaded up all our mushrooms -the puffball logs and the sulfur shelf, and off we went. Once there, we sat in the van until our man arrived. How is that when you participate in a parking lot hand-off, you feel you are moving in a covert, illicit manner? It must be written on the body, because you always can tell which car is the car, which unknown man is the one to receive the goods. When our man, who will forever be known as Ruth's husband, emerged from his vehicle, we exited our van and approached him.

Mycologist, I asked? "Yep." Okay, we got something for you, but we're not going to give it to you if you're just going to eat it yourself -that, we could well do. It must go into the Fair display. Agreed? "Oh, yes, of course. Agreed." In trade, we received a Minnesota Mycological Society business card. "Please consider joining," said the man.

The Sulfur Shelf is one of the Foolproof Four, popularized by Clyde Marting Christensen in his book Edible Mushrooms. As it turns out, our Sulfur Shelf or 'Chicken of the Woods', was not the common Sulfur Shelf, Laetiporus sulphureus, but Laetiporus cincinnatus, a less common species known as 'White Pored Chicken of the Woods' that tends to grow at the base of oak trees in rosette form. Most importantly, it has better flavor and all of the fruiting body is edible, whereas the common Sulfur Shelf offers only edible edges without boiling. So, if your looking for that woodsy chicken flavor in a stir fry, L. cincinnatus is the Sulfur Shelf you want to find.

On Friday of the same week, we went to the Fair. Now, I've never been to the Minnesota State Fair, and at least until recent competition from Texas, it has been known as the largest in the states. We had plenty to see and do, but in the back of our minds we were always making our way to the horticultural building where all the plant related exhibits were located. We didn't know where in the large building (built specifically for this purpose of agricultural/horticultural presentations) the Minnesota Mycological Society's exhibit would be.

After thousands of judged green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, rows and rows of identical looking corn cobs, bouquets of roses, bonsai, houseplants of every stripe, indoor sustainable garden dioramas and grow your own food displays, we stumbled upon the Mycological Society's exhibit and I can say that I was absolutely impressed with the magnitude of their work. Not for the sake of winning any prize, either, because they had no competition, but for the sheer educational effort, their desire to show hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans just what all that fungus around them might be.

Their exhibit was large -this image only a section of the centerpiece. Around back they had books, microscopes and slides, mushroom cultivation kits, posters, and what else. They also had members present to answer questions.

Proud hunters were we. Our 'purple ribbon' Sulfur Shelf at the top of the display.

In the case you cannot read it -that's Grand Champion.

The judge's comments attached.

In fact, we filled out the display quite well with our small log of Pear-shaped Puffballs, Lycoperdon pyriforme.

And our Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, nicely placed on bark and timber, accentuated by moss and oak leaf.


And our larger log of Pear-shaped Puffballs.


Incidentally, they had the Giant Puffball, Calvatia gigantea, which I would have loved to find.


And some cultivated mushrooms.


Our Sulfur Shelf, from the side, a little worse for the wear, a little dry, shrunken, and decidedly less edible after four days.

The display also helped me ID some of the mushrooms I had seen on our hunt

 Golden Waxy CapHygrophorus flavescens.



Spindle-shaped Yellow Coral, Clavulinopsis fusiformis


What an adventure our first week in Minnesota had been. Rather unexpectedly, I felt steeped in mushroom experience, and primed for deeper mycological understanding. Although I still consider my interest in mushrooms casual,  my eyes are trained onto them now and my respect for them is that much greater.