Monday, February 28, 2011

Dog Doo Afternoon

The other day began with picking up the trash, the trash that, as it's told, blows in, except for those cat tins and beer bottles. I believe they do not take to the wind so well. In fact, the amount of trash on the sidewalk, in the tree pits, and especially near the corner storm drain was more than I had ever seen. Too heavy for the street sweepers to pick up, now, the neighborhood will have to get out there to clean it up. I cleared the sidewalk cutaway and the drain, leaving the rest for another day or someone else with initiative, as I had my hands full with the garden and tree pits.

I am disheartened by the number of bagged dog turds thrown into the garden. This behavior seems otherworldly -someone has already bagged the doo, yet tosses it into the garden instead of one of the many pails. I keep telling myself that it only takes one to make such a mess, just to keep my heart open to all the dog owners I see. But then there are those who let their dog drop yellowcake on the fenceline, undiscovered until I am toe deep in it while raking the leaves or trash out of the garden. 

Most turds I find through olfaction, and recently this sense has been overloaded. Last fall one of my upstairs neighbors stopped to tell me that she smelled 'cocky.' Her english is not very good, and she was pointing to the garden. I wasn't sure what she was telling me. Does she not like the garden?

Today she stopped to tell me she was again smelling too much cocky. She said it was wafting up and in through her windows, ruining her quality of life (I can only presume). I too smelled the cocky and it is raunchy, adding a rank flavoring to our outdoor experience. I told her it was cat shit, but she heartily disagreed, saying for sure that cat's dung smells different, and this surely was people poo, aka cocky, and they're dropping it at night on the sidewalk and the place in front of the building where the landlord keeps his utility poles, which happens to be underneath her windows. 

It is hard for me to fathom that people are squatting to poop in front of our house. Besides, a walk with eyes through the utility pole zone reveals an alarming amount of fresh and old turds, and I am pretty sure they are dropped by cats. Cat's that eat whatever human food they can find are probably going to make a nasty stink, and the same goes for people's dogs, whose tree pit turds I can attest are just as rank. Cat's like loose soil and privacy, but this winter both were erased by mountains of snow.  Between the poles and our  south facing building, the snow melted early on, creating one of few 'good' spots for them, and they did it by night. Another neighbor tells me they (the cats, that is) started going in their basement door well -probably a good day spot if you're a cat.

My upstairs neighbor told me that two years ago one of our other neighbors, a nice elderly man, was discovered to have 75 cats, living and dead, in his house. A team was brought in to deal with the 'situation', although to this day cats still follow him around the block. 

Oh man, are you feeling sick after reading all this? If you've got problems with feral cats, check out the NYC Feral Cat Initiative.

*Minor Update: this Sunday someone shoveled up the winter's garbage around the storm drain. Thanks to whoever had the initiative.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Opening Day

It was opening day yesterday, as all the neighborhood stopped to chat while I was out cleaning the garden. I even got to crane my neck chatting it up, old style, with my neighbor upstairs (ack, apparently the window affair will be starting up again).  It was time to open up the garden to air and light, removing leaves and litter, and open up some new possibilities.

I raked leaves that never had a winter's chance to blow into corner catches, matted under the all-winter snow, creating a comfy, never did freeze environment for over-wintering perennials. I hesitated for just a second, thinking there's well enough time for a long, hard freeze for these newly exposed leaves. But then I wanted to rake, to clean, and did a cursory job, leaving some for later. I also pruned out all the lower branches of the climbing hydrangea, in hopes that they will not catch trash and to minimize the privacy so many neighborhood cats find under there.

I could have photographed all the bulbs coming up, but after three years blogging, who needs more of that? I was impressed with the greenery of the Aconitum, or Monkshood, that was just a few days ago covered in a pile of snow.

You may or may not remember that I had some late, late irises in December. While cleaning the iris bed out, I found some stalks that had budded, but ceased to grow, remaining under snow for most of winter. This one I had cut and peeled open, revealing no sign of rot. In fact, the bud seemed perfectly healthy and ready to shoot up this spring. Unbelievable. I left another intact, just to see what happens.

I've started some snap peas in bond paper tubes and every quick glance makes me think I'm seeing chocolate cake.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Halal Meat

I braved Fairway in the middle of a Saturday, yet couldn't convince myself to pay 12 dollars for a Murray's whole chicken, nor spare the cash for the lamb I was thinking of. I did pick up some baby octopus, all the way from the Philippines, for $3.99 a pound, after being inspired by it at Babbo a month ago. When I am at Fairway, I am looking for deals, not getting caught up in the smorgasbord. 

Afterward, I stopped in one of my local halal butchers for a whole chicken, keep the head, and maybe some lamb or beef. The whole chicken was $4.50, sold, but the lamb the tough kind, and the filet mignon would only be let go whole. What they did have, which I haven't seen since last year when the butcher offered some for me to try, was the cured/smoked beef steak you see below. I do not know the reason that it is sold at this time -for a festival, or holiday, or just because now is a good time to start up the smoker. It's made in house, is only $7.99 a pound (and it's light weight), is very lean, and fairly tender. Flavor is smokey, of course, but the texture is closer to a salt cured meat than a dried jerky. Sliced thin, it almost melts in your mouth. If you can find it, try some. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Playing Outside

I've been playing outside these past few days. Digging out the cold frame, moving pots, tossing frozen cat poop, and beginning to think about picking up all that litter. Bulbs are shooting up greens, expecting crocus any day now. The cold frame has seen better days ever since it became the cat frame, and then snow shed, but it's hanging on enough to do its job.

And its job is to house the seedlings on sunny days, lid propped.

These complicated, bent beginnings are leeks, my first attempt at the onion.

These are the leggy, but graceful Broccoli 'Piracicaba' seedlings. I did not try hard enough to drop one seed per dib, but I do find that broccoli disentangles fairly easily when it's time to plant.

These seedlings are only a few days up, and the window sun and excessive kitchen heat push them to grow too fast. So they get to play outside whenever it's sunny and above 35 degrees F. They come in at night, unless it isn't expected to drop below freezing. I do want to balance the quick growth of inside with the hardening of outside, so that they are ahead of the game when I go to plant in the middle of March. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Presidential Snow

I presided over the holiday by going to the park to photograph. On the way...

Snow that clings, reanimating, the rose kinetic, a hydra, but then Hiroshige's ukiyo-e.

 Financial crisis construction.

You can imagine the earthy pitch scent emanating from these trimmed yew.

Crabapple circle.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It's Cold Again...

...but the broccoli seedlings are up and in only two days.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

L'hiver Est Mort, Vive L'hiver!

If I plead too much for the emptiness of winter it is only because I have and want to do more than time or my character allows.



picnic tables

tomato cages

trash pails


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Seed Box

This is the seed box I built about two weeks ago from scraps (pine, acrylic, cedar) found at school, and all a bit cockamamie because my instincts for functional design were overrun by the limits of materials on hand. It is now, finally, and at least a week late by my count, filled with soil, and broccoli, parsley and leek seeds.

A box of simple construction -pine boards glued with waterproof wood glue, handles glued on, cedar legs to keep it out of the water. The floor is 3/16 thick acrylic, with holes drilled for drainage. Slots are cut into the box sides for acrylic sleeves -the weird part. I could have simply filled the entire box with soil and seeds, so why partition at all? Honestly, I was thinking I could make it more like a traditional seed starter tray, but it probably has more to do with my sensibility for order than any practical consideration.

If I insert all the sleeves, each 'cell' is 2.5 inches by 10 inches by 4 inches deep. I imagine pulling sleeves to make larger bins for certain plants. I also imagine, with great sense for practical fantasy, that the removable sleeve will make it easier to extract the seedlings for planting, but it will probably require a knife. 

I am glad to not purchase a plastic cell-tray, and also glad to have 4 inches of depth so I don't have to pot up. I think that was what this was all about. In the off-season, I'll wash it, then store my seed packs in its orderly rows. The size was built around my cold-frame, but I gave no thought to the drip pan. It's too big for anything but our old aluminum bake sheet, so bake sheet it is.

Three weeks till beach farm.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Two nights ago I dreamt that the winter dead plants in my garden were full of honey bees. I was startled, of course. I also dreamt that the landlord cleared the other side of the house making it ready for planting. None of this is real.

It will warm up this week. That will push us toward spring, my heels dragging on pavement.

I went to Lowe's yesterday to get some seed starter mix, or even just some sphagnum, or potting soil in a small bag. They had none of these things! I asked and the woman said it is not time yet. Really? They did have massive bags of Miracle Grow soil, fertilized and moisturized. The big box stores still stock their shelves as if this were the suburbs.

I wish my local nurseries were open. I ended driving to a hardware store on Court St. They had a few bags of Fafard starter mix. I bought two and a bucket for coffee ground collection.

I've built my seed starting box out of scrap materials. I've also received my irrigation supplies and agribon fabric that I will use as a cabbage moth deterrent.

Now to put it all together.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Snow Farm

I recently visited the snow farm, aka beach farm, ostensibly to drop off my permit application, pay my fee, and receive my parking permit from the NPS ranger who mans the little shack, left turn, before the bridge. But really all I wanted to do was trudge through the snow, taking photographs under the mid day sun, of all the good things I expected to see there.

The snow had a firm layer on top, compressed, congealed, by the many icing events over the last few weeks. Walking was easier than I imagined, sinking in about three inches on each new step. The landscape was untrammeled, except by a lone animal as evidenced by these tracks.

This is my plot, along with a receding view of neighbors' plots. The snow had been caught in drifts, affected by wind and obstructions. The few upright sticks indicate the location of the garlic I planted last November.

The snow was quite deep to the north and south side of the fence, dipping at the fence line to just a few inches.

My plot, looking northwest, untouched since late November.

I became quite aware of the heat created by decaying wood. Look closely and you will see green things quite unfrozen  at its base. This is the north, not sunny, side of the post in the corner of our plot.

In fact, the more I walk, the more green I find. Not exuberance, mind you, or even real growth, but definitive aliveness wherever the icy snow had melted away from the heat of decay or radiation. 

Though weeds, they bring exaltation.

To the south of the garden were vines with green leaves -a surprise. But then consider the micro climate -south facing fence line, peninsular location, and of course, the great pile...

...of horse manure.

And although this has been one of the coldest winters I can recall in recent years, the rosemary still has tender green leaves near and under the snow -not those dry, gray leaves my potted rosemary has (it's okay to call that dead).

Even my neighbor's Swiss chard had seemed to survive the winter.

I now find some useful logic in the winter garden. City folk relent, while we curse snow on streets and sidewalks, the constant snow cover is a friend of the garden. If we want to over winter certain herbs and vegetables we want a winter snow cover, which protects the plants from those freezing, drying winds, keeps the soil from freezing hard, and limits the detrimental freeze/thaw oscillation. Add to this the beauty of decay. Livestock manure, a large compost pile, rotting wood, or some other form of heat generating bio activity. The heat generated is enough, especially if placed in a sunny, protected spot, to keep some cold weather vegetables and herbs alive. 

Of course, the plants can usually read the season better than us, lying in wait.

This Is A Park I Love...

...but never have seen in person.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Look Away From The Horizon

As much as you do, undoubtedly, I grow tired of the tense shouldered, hunching posture of winter, the gray ice pavement, even the frozen dog turds. But I don't want it to end. I cannot ask for it to be over. Time is as slick as that puddle ice. GO SLOW.  The quiet is everything. Spring moves far too fast for me to beg for it. It is something to be savored, contemplated, in the ever-lasting distance of winter.

recently finished work.

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Eyes Are Full Of Smoke

We made the hour and a half journey upslope to the patch-treed, rumpled farm landscape, snow and ice refracted illusions of shadow and light at high speeds on two lane highways. Then, downslope, treed, over the Minnesota River, into the town of New Ulm, Minnesota. Unprepossessing, downtown paralleling the river, low rise, unanticipated one story marketplatz, grain elevators, powerplant, and grid of house-planked streets.

New Ulm is the site of significant battles during the Dakota War of 1862. New Ulm is also the ancestral town of my wife's paternal family. Mention her last name on the streets of New Ulm and any devotee of local history will first say, "ahh yes, first white baby born in the county." It is hard to hear these words without focusing on inflection. I joke with Rex that his ancestor is like some sort of Abraham of the Midwest.

The Dakota war led to the largest mass execution in United States history -the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Mn. Hermann the German, rising above New Ulm from its heights above the river, is a monument to German settlement in Minnesota. To me it's a bit ironic that 'Hermann the barbarian' should rise above a town with this difficult history, that he should become the symbol, controverted, of civilization over 'savagery.'

First stop, the New Ulm Historical Society in the old post office building.

Rendition of the mass hanging.

Little Crow.

Hermann, from behind.

New Ulm, after sunset, from the heights.

Wilhelm and Wilhelmina. The expression on his face seems a little out of step with the portraits of the times. I detect a little smile and she may even be suppressing laughter. Or not.

Apiary was the norm.

Day in the yard at "Waldheim." There are people who name their property and those who don't. What drives this difference?

Apiary in the orchard.

Rubber and Ice

We exited our station after 1 am, which is highly unusual for us, but this time because we had just come from a free, NYC premier of a movie called Rubber, by a French filmmaker I cannot recall, at the IFC. The visual idea of a tire rolling through the desert landscape was mine, created over ten years ago in the Chihuahua Desert, and completely unknown to this filmmaker. The proof is in a box of Polaroids and on old vhsc cassettes. He took it in the direction of slasher movie and I took it nowhere, but that, my friends, is another story. 

Upon leaving the station I was suddenly quite stunned by the landscape all around me. I do not use the F line much anymore, favoring the more steady and direct B line, so I hadn't seen the landscape transformed by the snow and ice until just then, illuminated by the yellow sodium lights of night.

The spot in springtime

As is usual, and always a mistake, I did not have my camera, because of its ancient bulk and weight, and I regretted it immediately, yet I was also unwilling to return because of the cold, the hour. The landscape was one of hummocks and greasy shine, slick in appearance, as if the snow top had been burnished or oiled and polished. It was beautiful, but creepy.

After skating home over icy asphalt, I decided to head out front in the quiet of early morning to take some shots of our own slick snow mountains. The shine is a crust and quite fragile to the touch. My street scape lacks the power of the overpass park (as I call it), but hints at the total quality.