Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Bugs

This past weekend was glorious weather, so I went out to the beach farm to plant a bit more garlic and pull some brassica. I found myself kneeling, searching the soil for creatures after pulling a particular weed, which I cannot name, with several minuscule white creatures.

The weed.

The bug. Seriously small -those are grains of sand beneath, amazing I saw them at all. Good, bad, or ugly -still don't know.

It made me curious about other inhabitants of roots. I found this millipede in the roots dead basil plants.

I turned to see this fly on a recently cut broccoli floret. 

Lapping it up, eh. A testament to the sweet juices of autumnal broccoli. Click on the image for even more detail.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Over break I made my first pizza crust ever. I've made pizzas before on various Mediterranean breads, but never the dough from scratch. First time for everything. My grandpa would be proud, and then tell me how it could be better.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Trimming Asters

I've noticed on my stat reports that quite a few people have viewed my blog while searching for, no -not for the mysterious killing squirrels in the rain*, but for trimming asters and pruning asters. I've discussed more than once pruning asters in June, but never mentioned what to do with them come November. I wouldn't want anybody to leave empty-handed, so what can be done now that most asters have quit blooming?

You do not need to cut the asters back until late winter/early spring. But you may prune back the dry stems now if you prefer the neater look of cut perennials. Just cut them a few inches above the ground. There are many types of asters, of course, but all may be cut back after flowering is over. New England and New York Asters and their cultivated counterparts will form clumps which may eventually need to be divided. You can do this in spring. Plants such as the Smooth Aster will form fluffy seed heads that will self-seed whichever way the wind blows. If pulling asters in spring is not your style, cut those back before they go to seed. By the looks of my asters, now is entirely too late!

*actual search that somehow landed here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers

A few images from Thanksgiving, already four days ago.

 A brief interlude in Forest Park where I found me some shiny fungus.

 And yellow balls aglow above.

 Back at home, the tree that refuses to fall.

 And the sunflowers that refuse to quit.

 And the polychromatic chrysanthemums.

 That refuse fencelines.

 And the last of the new dawn roses (??).

And the fiery Zelkova, stoopside.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Growing Garlic: Part I

Allium sativum ophioscorodon var. turban 'Tuscan'

A few of you may have noticed I've gotten a bit into garlic growing lately. In fact, I am trialing over the coming nine months a small field in upstate New York for seed production. That plot will be reclaimed as a vegetable patch by its owners late next summer, while I am, with good fortune, making preparations on another larger field somewhere else. If all grows well over the next nine months, I should have nearly 2000 heads of garlic to inspect for vigor, size, and disease. From this initial crop, I will select the best grown heads for next season's planting, beginning the process once again. 

While I grow the garlic upstate, I am also trialing them at the beach farm. I want to be sure that each variety I bring to market grows well in our regions' range of USDA zones (5a-7a). In short, I am taking my time to develop the best heads of garlic that I can. If this year's seed stock proves successful, my first official garlic seed stock will be available in 2013. Growing great garlic depends on high quality seed stock and since we can't grow something from nothing, a lot is riding on the seed stock I purchased from growers in other regions of the United States.

I sourced my seed garlic from 6 different growers located throughout the United States' west and midwest regions where most of the accessible seed stock growers/retailers are located. Those climates are generally drier than ours, sometimes more temperate and sometimes not. Most seed stock growers will tell you that it can take three or so years for new garlic to acclimate to your growing region and that they make no guarantees that their garlic will do as well for you as it has done for them. Fair enough -not all growers are created equal and neither are soils or climate.

I have also planted two varieties of Hudson Valley grown, high-quality table garlic, picking only from two well-qualified organic growers whose table garlic heads appeared to be on par with my seed garlic. My interest here is to trial garlic grown in our own region in order to compare growth characteristics with its western seed stock counterparts. There is a slight risk in this practice because table garlic is not subject to the rigorous visual inspections of seed garlic in field and processing. Some diseases that affect growing quality may not affect short-term storage or culinary use, allowing those heads to be sold at market. This was a chance I was willing to take in order to trial locally grown garlic. All the garlic I grow will be inspected for good health and should any serious problems arise, the whole trial plot will be terminated.

In Part II of Growing Garlic, I will talk about the promise and pitfalls of growing grocery store or farmers' market garlic, and the difficulty in finding garlic seed when you need it most -planting time. 

To be continued....

Allium sativum ophioscorodon var. porcelain 'German White' and 'Georgian Crystal'

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Raised From The Dead

My new compost project has begun. I am composting our kitchen scraps right in the vegetable garden soil. My goal is to create a living soil from dead plants. Possible problems? Disease -always with the disease, Frank. A good compost pile heats up real nice, my method will not, but then they always say to keep the diseased stuff out of the pile so obviously heat wasn't going to do the pathogens in anyhow. On the other hand, I'm hoping (not very scientific, hope, is it?) that the organisms, micro and otherwise, will take on the pathogens with great enthusiasm. In fact, I am hoping that I am creating an abundant food source for as many microorganisms as possible. Each week's compost (about a gallon) will be dug into a new hole in fallow garden space -especially the tomato zone. As the winter progresses, old spots will be infused with new kitchen scraps. I suppose all that I am thankful for is the opportunity to play around with a good experiment, no care for failure. And, the project gives me a reason to keep going out to the beach farm all winter long.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beautiful Beach Farm Days

The weather was perfect for beach farm work this weekend. I was there Saturday morning, the sun and soil still quite warm with a balance of cool breezes. The water has been shut off, so irrigation fixtures have been removed. The basil has given up the ghost, but I love the sweet herbal tea scent the dried plants emit every time I brush them.  I pulled broccoli for transplant or compost, then prepared beds for garlic cloves, tossing weeds, stones, grubs and wireworms. 

Test plots for several varieties of garlic.

Including these -the big mistake! Well, we'll see. I suppose there are several reasons not to plant Allium vineale in one's community garden plot. Several sources complain of rampant wild garlic that is impossible to eradicate. I wish to dispute this claim. They spread by seed and cloning -should I cut the flowers off they should be quite easy to control, right? Is it possible I have introduced some wild allium disease harbored by the field grown vineale? Possible, I suppose. I wonder how large these "wild" alliums will get when they are grown as individuals in a cultivated setting. Individuals I've seen growing in woodland settings or on the West Side Highway median were often quite large. These bulbs are good eating and worth a shot in the plot.

Some broccoli florets still producing.

Broccoli that has yet to head up has been transplanted to the cauliflower bed.

What got into this basil's stem?

And snap peas producing prodigiously now. Really good, cold air sweet.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Soil Test Redo

I've sent in two new soil tests. One for the beach farm -I've never had it tested and am mostly curious about the pH. And, since we're getting it tested, may as well get the metals analysis too. The "upstate" sample is a redo of the garlic plot now that 8 yards of compost have been added. I am hoping it ups the pH and I am also curious about the compost's effect on the metals numbers -any dilution?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Beach Farm & Gallery

I am off to the beach farm to plant some and harvest some. Then, by 1 this afternoon I will be gallery sitting should anyone want to stop in to see my paintings. See No Globe for directions. I will be there from 1 to 5 pm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November In The Garden

Old brass lamp beckons to all who pass.

All the neighborhood bees are here.

The self-seeded hot pepper. I pulled it today, only half-considering eating those green goblins.

The soiled napkins.

And borage.

And soiled napkins.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Greenwood 梅

Sweetgum too.

Azalea, but also Virginia Creeper, Oak and obelisk.

Kwanzan Cherry.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Beautiful Day

Fall back on a beautiful day. Crisp air, slight breeze, blue skies, the scent of fallen leaves, and the yellowed and tawny leaves of the beech tree. The beech is the reason I go to High Rock Park on Staten Island, and mushrooms the excuse. Today there simply were no mushrooms, but a few small, pale yellow caps, and a strange, large white wood mushroom that smelled, to me, spicy, verging on anise. Marie took samples. This was our second trip to High Rock, and I was high with hope to find some edible mushrooms. We did find an old, large hen of the woods, and a minute after that, a tick of the woods. Pants into socks, but nothing to eat.

We did see lots of these Striped Wintergreen (or the much more fun Spotted Pipsissewa), Chimaphila maculata down near what I call dead tree pond.

These are the seed capsules of the same plant. Marie says the seeds are as fine as dust.

Moss, always respectable.

So we didn't have much luck with mushrooms, but we did stumble into Pouch Scout Camp, where I was awed by the range of reds of all the oaks surrounding the large pond, known as Ohrbach Lake. It's a little odd, but G. maps does not show a pond in that area in maps or terrain view. But there it was, isolated and beautiful. Save Pouch Camp.

Hungry and unprepared, we ate some Staten Island pizza at a place called Francesca's. Marie had some wine, Vince and I cokes. Military History channel was on the tv, displaying as many dead soldiers as it could muster between our cokes and that last slice. Readers from Staten Island, send us in the right direction for lunch -we were at the mercy of the road to the Verrazano.

I delivered Vince and Marie to their place and off I was to the beach farm to plant some garlic.
Late in the day it was warm, a touch balmy. The air had stilled, and I had some cloving to do at the picnic table with scale, garlic, and notepad. The soil is nothing like my upstate plot, soft and friable, but with small stones and occasional chunks of concrete. The dibber dibbed, and I planted 100 or so cloves, drank my still hot coffee (thank you real thermos), thought about where next year's vegetables would go given the greater space commanded by the garlic. Tomatoes will stay put, and the haricot vert will be in this year's garlic/broccoli bed. Herbs are staying put, as will the pea/cucumber trellis. But where will I experiment with the allium vineale? Still unknown.

I harvested my first ever cauliflower -the one I planted near the compost hole. Grew twice as large and twice as fast as the others. Still, so late in the season, it was not a big head -maybe 6 inches across. Yet it tasted so good, and sweet, that I ate most of it before Betsy got home, leaving just enough for her to taste. So good.

Some broccoli are producing side shoots and I like how they purple. They are also very sweet. I ate all that I picked, which isn't very much as much of broccoli has yet to head up and probably won't so late in the season. There were also many snap peas, some of which I snacked on while planting garlic, but left most because of the early dark that afflicts all outdoor activities at this time of year.

I stood enjoying the warm blanket of air, the white noise of waves in the distance, coffee in hand. How I wished my agricultural practices could all happen right here, at the beach farm. I was reminded of my roots on Long Island, two landscapes at my core -the red oak woods and the beach, and the atmosphere of life near the ocean. Then I thought of our eastern farm lands, changing from potatoes and cabbage to sod, then to grapes, but more often than not -to homes.

I went home, as the moon rose, to make meatballs of lamb and red cipollini onions mixed with diced dry sausage and fennel.