Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beach Farm Rest

I was not a fan of this rare, early snow. But what grew out of it was an awareness that I needed to take a break, have a domestic weekend. I haven't cooked at home more than a handful of days since August, certainly not two in a row. I haven't seen much of friends, either, and the beach farm has been all but neglected. I did go to the studio for a couple of hours yesterday to do the little things that needed to be done, but then came home to make some pappardelle, pancetta, and Cipolle di Tropea (minus the Tropea) along with a sauce of garden tomatoes. Fresh, but frozen, green beans from the garden with healthy dose of unplanted rocambole garlic on the side.

Today we went to the beach farm, where it was a surprise to find it not as cold as expected. It was as if the northwesterly winds were picking up warmth and moisture from the bay on its way to us. The brassicas held up, naturally, to the cold and snow, as did the snap peas. Things looked only a bit more bedraggled than my last visit, two weeks ago, but this time the life of the garden produced positive feelings unlike that depressing sense of a season's end. Must've been the snow, a cold and sticking reminder of the brevity of life.

So why not slow roast a leg of lamb? Simmer some peppers and carrots and eggplants alongside. Mashed potatoes and roasted rocambole garlic too. I even have desert.

The cauliflower is heading up. Still, I do not think there is enough sun energy to maintain productivity at this time of year. These will be harvested sometime in the next three weeks.

Same goes for the other brassica. I've harvested small to medium heads from these plants, planted in late August from large starts. Too late? Sun too low? Or just poor cultivation practices?

 Side shoots. These too will be pulled in favor of garlic in the next three weeks.

 Last tomato hanging on to the vine. Tomatoes are not appetizing at this time of year.

Marriage of brassica and solanum. These tomato plants have been sprouting in the cauliflower bed for a couple of months now. Must be from last year's tomato patch.

 Snap peas tall and productive. They are not as sweet as spring, and their flavor a little more dilute. I think its the low-light, again. Planted in March it is cool, but the sun is burning strong.

 Basil headed for seeds. We'll dry these and collect seed.

The haul, not impressive, but still a fact. Five small but fat carrots, several small eggplants and poblano peppers, a handful of snap peas, and herbs. Long live the beach farm.

Welcome Sun

Fallen limbs.

The hair cut hydrangea and our block's most red tree.

In the midst of the storm I went out to grab the iris. I guess we have two months extra winter this year. At least yesterdays freak weather has me feeling that way.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Snow Blow

Betsy has Marie's camera, worried that I was going to forget it for our trip to garlic land. So, I had to use our lousy camera for some shots of what to me is pretty miserable. The effect of the lousy camera is spot on - looks like miserable. I usually have flowers well into December, although some years only making it to Thanksgiving. To see so many irises succumb to snow is sad -how often does an iris see snow?

New Dawn has seen snow, or at least it's hips have. This weather not only ruined my plans to finish up garlic planting, but has also ruined so many asters, chrysanthemums, gaura, even cosmos and phlox still blooming. I'm all for the first snow, but this is a low blow.

Well Whadya Know

Let me be the first to say that snow flakes of the wet and fat kind have fallen. Never in my NYC area life have I seen snow before Halloween. Frost, yes, but never snow. I can recall some light snow flakes in the first weeks of November. I have to cancel my garlic planting trip not so much because of the snow, but because of the driving conditions expected tonight in the Hudson Valley. It will have to wait two weeks. 

My exhibition is next weekend and I may as well hit the studio and get the hell out of this unheated apartment! I know it's cold when the cats go under the cover on the couch instead of splay out on top. Two bumps on the ol' log.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lord of the Land

I've received a couple of text messages concerned about the weather this coming weekend. Snow they say, freezing temperatures too. No matter say I, the garlic is fine and the weather on Sunday should be okay for planting. Yet, this morning, while preparing for work, I hear my landlord instructing one of his workers to cut back all the flowers. Wa?!? I race outside to see what is going on.

Yes, the asters and mums and sunflowers and gaura and cosmos have all leaned forward from the heavy rain, but also to beg for as much sun as possible. They extend out past the old iron fence at most 10 inches in spots. There is ample walkway for one, and what sour soul could demand that flowers be cut away so not one brushes the legs? 

Offended party now on the scene I want to know why he needs the flowers cut back to the fence line. Because of the snow, he says. So I can get the snow blower through, he says. THE SNOW BLOWER!?! It's only October I explain. I always cut back the plants after the first real freeze, which year in and out has tended to be anywhere from November to December. 

Fine, I say. But don't have your guy do it, I'll do it, like I always do long before it snows. I wrap the corner and see that his guy already did the side yard, hacking back the climbing hydrangea to the fence, trimming its graceful trusses to a jar head. Same for the cosmos, the chrysanthemums, and when he tells his guy to pull out my sunflowers I protested. Of course I want those, I planted them!

Snow. Yeah, right. 

The Human Plow

In good farm fashion I rose early for the day's work. I took the truck to the compost facility for my last load, stopped only by this freight train on my return. 

This time I shoveled the compost right into the waiting tractor's shovel, which was then dumped where it was needed, saving me a lot of back ache, but tearing up the sod pretty well.

Enormous amounts of rain had fallen in the region since mid August. Puddles formed in the tire tracks.

Which Is why we trenched the lower, wetter part of the plot in order to raise the height of the beds at this end. Water collected in the trench, even as we pumped it out. Fortunately our beds are well above the water line.

You can see here what a mess the tractor made of the lawn.

But the water is an indicator of other possible problems which we hope do not bear out. Namely, high soil acidity due to constantly saturated soil. In anticipation of this I spread 40 pounds of lime onto the site pre-compost. Forty pounds may not be enough to elevate our pH to appropriate levels, but will have to do for now.

Soil limed, compost spread, now I am set to make the beds.

 But not before I jump on the ol' wheel horse one last time to till it all in.

Each bed is roughly twenty inches wide, set to accommodate two rows of garlic planted eight inches apart. Despite the wet soil, I cross-contoured the rows so that they hold water and soil in place.

I had hoped to have the soil test results before this day, but ESAC did not come through until two days later. As it turns out, our soil has a very low pH of 5. This has all kinds of implications, the most important being how acidity affects soil bound minerals like iron, aluminum, and magnesium. I've all kinds of books on soil sitting on my shelf, unread, until now never needing to fully understand the chemistry of soil. Soil particles are charged positively or negatively. Compost is useful because it binds certain metals. Lime raises the pH, but not all limes are created equal. Aluminum is abundant and toxic to plants, but is locked up at neutral pH. Zinc is a trace mineral necessary for growth, but too much is a bad thing. Cadmium is related to zinc on the periodic table, is a byproduct of smelting, is found in phospate fertilizers. 

The likelihood of finding perfect soil is slim, and I will do the best that I can with what has been given. I've added three inches of compost to the top soil, added lime with more to come. Our lead was only twice background and way lower than even the most stringent residential standards. Mercury was at background levels. Arsenic was extremely low. Our Cadmium levels were twice what my bagged Farfard compost tested at three years ago, but little information exists on standards for soil cadmium. Chromium was lower than the bagged compost. Copper was low and zinc appears high (62) until you compare it to Canadian agricultural standards (200ppm). 

Here's a head ringer: Commercial fertilizers may be responsible for a large portion of the heavy metals in your yard or agricultural field. Whether it is from bagged and dried sewage sludge like Milorganite, straight up bagged synthetic N-P-K, or micro-nutrient fertilizers, you may be adding cadmium, lead, zinc, copper, chromium, arsenic, and what else to your yard or field every year. Even liming can have industrial waste-product origins. Did you know that burnt tires are a source of zinc for micro-nutrient fertilizers? Check out this lengthy EPA report. I am all for reporting on bag or box what extra components are built into our fertilizers. I use "organic" fertilizers, but even those are not excluded from the problem. Many mineral fertilizers are the by-products of industrial or mining processes. And many toxic metals are mined along with those nutritive minerals. Oy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Weekend Farmer

I arrived Friday around noon, making seriously good driving time for a Friday in October. Waste no time now, there's work to be done.

The first thing I noticed was a bale of straw that had sprouted. S'pose it's good to wait two weeks, given a little rain, before spreading your straw. Happens to be the five dollar bale, which means you get what you pay for and I won't be using these cheaper bales. I once used uncomposted horse manure for a soil amendment and I paid for it with a year of weeding out oats.

The landowner, Andrew, lent me his pickup truck so I could pick up a few loads of compost from the town compost facility. Nice guys, low price. But again, I got what I paid for -this compost is made mostly from leaves and pine needles. The man at the booth sold me on the unscreened -he said it was better composted. But, after getting it home, I realized that it was full of pine cones that then needed to be removed or they will interfere with bulb development. In the end it is hard to argue with 8 yards of compost for 64 dollars, but next time I will take the screened.

 The dumping, one cubic yard at a time.

Two yards of compost in the back of a pickup is a little daunting at first. But I got my rhythm down, and the whole bed was empty in about a half hour. I tried to shovel some of it to where it was needed, but that wasn't possible everywhere. 

A four cubic yard pile that could have been eight. I lost an hour trying to find a place called tractor supply in search of lime. The last load, then, needed to wait until first thing Saturday morning.

The sun finally set low enough to stretch out beneath the clouds that hung on to the Catskills all weekend.

In the neighbor's field, raking shadows, and an invitation.

To the deer. We'll soon find out how much interest, or hunger, will drive them to taste garlic. They are abundant here, very, and can be seen day and night.

Earlier in the day a tractor arrived, sitting idle until a quick operator's lesson at dusk. It's a party only after the heavy equipment shows up. Off I was into the early night throwing levers and moving compost by the beams of a John Deere.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Road To Garlic paved with gold.

I just got back from 3 intensive days of soil cultivation and garlic seed planting. Posting about that soon. I've heard some commentators say that the fall colors should be spectacular this year because of all the rain, but my eyes have always noted otherwise. Rain makes plain. My trip upstate, I think, bore this out. Generally duller coloring, and heavy on the yellows. Not much of that molten orange-red maple I love to see. But that's okay, I was busy, which has me just as pleased.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Beach Bug

I haven't had too many insects at the beach farm, but autumn is the time when most are out and about.

Including the pesky cabbage worms devouring the cauliflower and broccoli leaves.

And crickets on a nearby shrub.

And the grasshoppers making mincemeat of my chard (although seen here on the eggplant).

But then there are the monarchs stopping in much as the migratory birds do.

And the swallowtail making the most of what little parsely and carrot tops remain.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The week's haul. Smallish broccoli, several large eggplant, small poblanos, a black russian tomato, and several stunted but FAT carrots. The beach farm was a little sad this visit. Must be the season of decline, the weedy abundance in every other plot, the dead tomatoes, and the waiting. With the cool air blowing now from the northwest, instead of from the ocean as it does all summer, it is upon me to clear the plot -just empty it of everything. Garlic time is in November, and with it goes all else dead or alive.

I placed the dead and dried cilantro in the area I would like them to resprout next year.

The snap peas look good, but it's just not the same as spring. Why?

Most of the seeds rotted due to Irene and other rains, so only a few on the trellis. I never did remember to plant more, although there was time -I just didn't make it a priority. Peas in spring.

Still, lovely flowers.

You may not be able to see how outsized one of the cauliflower plants is compared to the others.

In an effort to make good use of the compost we are producing at home, I decided to start bringing our home scraps to the beach farm. The pit is under the chard leaves to the left. Proximity to the composting heap has made this cauliflower twice the size of all the others despite constant munching by cabbage worms.

I've noticed something about compost this year, something I suppose I always knew but chose to disregard for the sake of convenience. Bagged compost is essentially dead compost. Yes, it's rich-looking, dark, and earthy. But the sogginess and suffocation seems to kill off most of the biological activity. It is easy to think that it is the compost that betters your plant growth -but it isn't. The composted matter is simply the medium of explosive biological activity that plants really do respond to. In other words, your compost needs to be alive to really spur amazing growth. Yes, "dead" compost is still okay and useful in poor soil, but "alive" compost is where it's at. Now to figure out how to have all my soil seriously biologically active.

I've ranted about the NYT article on community garden vegetable theft, so all I will say is -hope you enjoyed it.

These guys are wreaking havoc on my tender chard -the same chard from last spring. Hope to get a frost sometime soon to put them to bed while the chard hangs on long enough to produce some tender leaves.