Friday, May 31, 2013

Weeder In Chief

If I didn't live in the city I'd probably see the garden in the earliest morning light more often, but then I wouldn't see this city garden, would I. The sun now rises at 5:27 am, and this scene is an hour later.

Despite the holiday there was very little traffic, maybe because of the rainy and cool weather the two days prior. We had made such good time I detoured to Agway in Riverhead to pick up another 10 bags of dolomitic lime (I need 65 bags). We drove through the Hampton villages before the Memorial parades began, but as men in uniform assembled, and were on farm by just after nine. Betsy came along, her first trip to the farm since we first visited after the land trust had accepted my proposal. That was April, 2012. This time she and I will be weeding. 

Garlic must be weeded. I've only had to do a little this spring, which has been quite a boon, but now the warm weather weeds: crabgrass, pigweed, lamb's quarters, and an unknown plant with basal rosette are really taking off. Our sharp hoes and, at close quarters, our fingers set the weeds back another two weeks. It's all one can really do, disturb them by disturbing the soil. Some will continue to grow, only slowed down by our actions, and new weed seeds will be exposed to light, heat, and moisture enough to sprout. All we are doing is buying time, enough time to allow the garlic to perform its best without the competition.

Around 3 in the afternoon, Betsy asked for coffee. I also filled the thermos of another farmer out on his field. Is it only in the Hamptons do farmers drink fair trade, organic coffee?

I didn't have time last visit to deal with the Colorado Potato Beetle. My two rows of potatoes are not a priority, but this time I took forty five minutes to pluck them off the tater leaves. Of course they're mating now and it's the young that can really do in the crop.

With the sun raking across the field, it wasn't too hard to spot the bright orange eggs. On the green leaves they jump out, but I also found them on nearby pieces of dead grass and the undersides of weed leaves. You can see the eggs through the leaves with the sun hitting this way -the dark spot on the semi-translucent leaf gives them away. I'm sure I missed many, but the less there are, the less damage to the young plants. Lady bugs and other predatory creatures will also hunt for the young beetle larvae. There are no organic pesticides worth trying (and very few conventional poisons as well).

Nearing sundown, the critters crawl into any nook or cranny they can find.  I cannot determine if this is creepy or cute. 

After 9 hours of weeding, two hours of liquid fertilizing and beetle picking, our next task was harvest. We harvested one row of pea greens, leaving the other for a neighbor farmer to sell at market. We also clipped spinach, arugula, pac choi, mizuna, and baby kale. Highly dependent on rainfall, and lacking organic matter, our greens crop quality is limited.  I pay for irrigation, but the system is unwieldy and not built around the needs of my operation. There are flea beetles in this field (they make little holes in the leaves of greens, peas excepted). All said, given that we missed spring planting at the beach farm, it is sweet to have these greens to eat and they are quite tasty if not perfectly tender and attractive.

I try take some time to look things over at the end of the day's work, to soak up the atmosphere, to see something unseen. It doesn't always work.

Betsy decided to pick some kale flowers. They've been pretty popular with the other farmers, each coming by to harvest for their markets.

We left near dark, the summer glow in the sky long after the sun had set. The traffic was moving along until we arrived near the intersection of Montauk Highway and the Southhampton Bypass. We decided to stop at the poor, but convenient Princess Diner for a late meal. By the time we left the diner, the traffic was moving along again. Nearing midnight, I stopped at the only highway pull-off on the LIE, just past the Sagtikos Parkway, for a few minutes rest. Ten or fifteen minutes with eyes closed will do to regain my focus on driving, but this time I didn't want to wake up and we stayed there until after one. I had to force myself up, which I did, and we sped on the nearly empty highway back to Brooklyn.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Near Past

A quick set of pictures from last week, when the weather turned cooler than expected. I went out to the farm to apply the ingredients I purchased at the Hydroponic Garden Center in Queens. The day began with clouds.

Yet by afternoon the sun had shone. Then, late afternoon I could see the fog rolling in off the ocean. That's it there, the pale gray bank above the trees.

Another farmer mows our grass.

Fog is rolling in.

Amber Waves wheat field. See their wheat project here.

The moon shifted restlessly, concealed and exposed, as the fog drifted inland.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Steal This Fertilizer

I had been passing this store, just off the Long Island Expressway in Queens, for years, as long as I can remember, but I never stopped, never went in. Why? As a dirt gardener, a practitioner of geoponics, maybe I had figured that a store dedicated to the dark arts of indoor growing would not be all that useful. I may have imagined it as a pot-growing mini mart full of magic beans and crystals. I mean garden centers have hard enough time surviving, how is it a hydroponics store has survived? Hmm? 

There is very little online information about boron fertilizing, and in fact, the majority are on forums dedicated to hydroponic cannabis growing. After all, it is the hydroponicists that had to do their homework on nutrients. Although most nutrients are available in most soils, hydroponic growing uses no soil so that practitioners were forced to experiment with different nutrients and micro-nutrients in varying quantities and ratios until they figured out what works. I knew that if I was going to get my hands on a boron supplement quickly, I needed to head out to Flushing to that red and yellow sign off the highway. 

Soon after walking through the front door I was taken by the variety of garden items: Seeds of Change seeds, worm castings, guano, manure growing trays -so many of the things you rarely see in the average city garden center. I thought I'd have a look around, see what other things this store might have for farming or gardening. A young man in black t-shirt passed by and asked if he could help me with anything (you will not go long in this store without that happening). Of course, I said, I'm looking for a boron foliar.

"Um, that would be over here, although I don't really know which one of these has it, but one most likely does. Here, this chart shows you which product has boron." As I look over the chart (oh look, Miracle Grow has it) to figure my best shot at an adequate supplement (none are boron only products), the man asks why I think I need boron. Uh oh. 

Now here's the kind of customer I am in three words -leave me be. If I need help I'll ask, but I won't volunteer more than is necessary. In other words, do not second guess my decision to seek what I seek. In this case -show me what has boron and is a foliar. I'll even find it myself if you do not mind me reading every bottle on your racks. My experience has been that over eager store clerks can send you down the wrong path in a heart beat and you just may leave with something you weren't looking for or nothing at all.

But, okay, fine. I have had a soil test that shows zero boron and my plants are showing signs of boron deficiency. "What are these signs -are you sure boron will do the job?" says the clerk. Look, I've had Cornell take a look at my field and they agree this is a reasonable action based on the evidence." Oh, you know, let me get someone else to help you.

Oh. No.

Standing between two chrome racks of sparsely stocked mystery products I'm approached by an older man, but he's probably my age or only a little older, it's just that he looks this way because of the bald patch and the untucked Hawaiian shirt. "So, you say you're looking for boron. Why do you need boron?"

Well, my field is showing distinctive signs of boron deficiency and my soil test shows...

Those were probably the last words I got in edgewise. Even if I could remember the long-winded diatribes, the conspiracies, the hippie magic, the anti-corporate anti government waves of malcontent that were breaking over my simple needs, I wouldn't waste my blogging time with it. You can imagine, can't you? I had to continue to interrupt his speech to bring him back on track to my simple need - a foliar with boron, which he had well decided I did not need (remember what I said about over eager store clerks?). In each of several attempts to redirect this one way street toward my need I was redirected to different products, none of which were the proper substitute for understanding and properly preparing the soil mind you (should a clerk chastise you for not using compost, for getting soil tests, for communicating at all with Land Grant institutions?), with ridiculous names like Ecolizer (a terrible name for an agricultural soil supplement) or Magical. 

Not completely ignorant of the book from which he preached, I saw the potential of these two products, but I did not feel that they were targeted to my problem. Often these products appear like snake oil, especially when buttressed by a salesman pitching their absolute effectiveness for everything from insect control to productivity.  Their labels are too often reminiscent of a product called Superthrive, something I bought when I was young and ignorant. Maybe you did too? Do these work? I do not know

This is the line, isn't it? Does it work, does it do anything? I suspect there is so much gray area around the circumstances of their effectiveness that it may prove to never work unless your conditions are such that you never really needed it in the first place. Added compost would have been a good thing to do, or for that matter two years of cover cropping. But that simply doesn't matter at this point. I'm looking for a band aid now and I'm okay with that. 

After accepting his two suggestions he relaxed his missionary zeal just enough to show me the foliar section (there's a foliar section!), but none of these would he recommend for my particular problem (which he was very sure of despite knowing virtually nothing of it). Fully apprised of my role now, I pumped his ego by suggesting he is the only person to carry Fertrell products anywhere around here. It's because I'm old school, says he. Fertrell is a brand of organic fertilizers out of southern Pennsylvania, and the one I had eyed is a fish and kelp product in a gallon jug. I pick up the foggy brown container to scan the label. Boron. Yes. Only point zero two percent, but God damn, I'll take it. 

Only 10 minutes left before close, I asked if I could peruse the rest of his offerings (drip components, soil ammendments, greenhouse fans, grow lights, canning and beer making supplies, and books). He led me on a tour. At closing time, register about to be closed, I was allowed a peaceful exit, but not before I heard, wait, don't go! from the rear of the store. As I pushed open the door into the fresh air of the LIE service road, his outstretched, bare arm handed me an old, newsprint copy of Acres, USA subheading The Voice of Eco-Agriculture.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Planet Boron

I left the house at 6:30 am last Friday to head out to the farm. I should always leave this early, or even earlier, but I usually don't get out until 7:30 or 8 am. It's either before rush or after, and there's always traffic, especially on the two lane highway into the Hamptons. At this time of the year the vans, dually pickups, and cars of those servicing the rich line the road from the end of Sunrise Highway to Amagansett. Tourists? Them too, but not usually at my travel hours. Traffic, now adding nearly an hour's travel to the farm, is the greatest reason I wish to move to the northern prong, somewhere between the Sound and the Bay. 

I left early so to arrive before the team from Cornell's Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center. Sandy, the vegetable (potato, particularly) specialist, and Dan, the entomologist, were coming out to see my field with hopes of aiding their diagnostics. Scott Chaskey, farm director of Quail Hill Farm, had suggested I contact Sandy about my maggot problem. Since then I had sent several photos of maggots and rot, dropped off two sets of samples, and engaged in a string of emails.

Cornell has been fantastic, providing me with services I couldn't accomplish on my own or afford. Delivered samples have been tested for possible viruses (turns up negative), maggots identified (they think seedcorn maggot), and visually inspected for fungal disorders (Botrytis observed on some).

On this visit, the field generally looked healthier. Part of the reason is that the plants are now growing rapidly, but also because the maggot problem has waned (which could just be the eye of the storm). Yet, Sandy and Dan got to see first hand the general condition of most of the plants, particularly the early Turban, Asiatic, and all of the later harvested softneck varieties. To their eyes my plants are suffering from environmental and cultural conditions that have created opportunity for pests. It is hard to disagree with this position given the state of my field. After all, I planted in soil completely unprepared for a field of garlic, organic matter is low with no compost added, pH was low and limed just before planting, so that nutrients may be locked up.

I hit my garlic book the day prior to investigate any mention of purpling leaf tips, which to my eye seemed entirely out of the ordinary. Yellow sure, but purple must indicate a deficiency. I discovered a paragraph, in a section on fertilizing, in which the author suggests that a boron deficiency has been shown in one researcher's tests to promote purple leaf tips. Oh. I pull out my soil test to see if boron is one of the micro nutrients tested. Yes it was and look at that -boron zero. Ah, some evidence! Now, how do I find boron and is it too late to apply it?

After the leaves purple they wrinkle and die, which isn't good for the health of the plant or the developing bulb. Each leaf is a sheath around the bulb, feeding and protecting it. Sandy thinks now is a fine time to apply boron as a foliar spray. She tells me it is a common deficiency in strawberries and is applied regularly. She also took leaf cuttings to send to Cornell's lab to test for nutrient deficiencies.

Meanwhile, I set about Googling boron on my phone, looking for a source of the mineral and reading the few sources of information on the stuff. Should have known the product Borax is a variant of boron that apparently can be used on plants. I see by the Internet results that the product called Solubor (also Polybor, Granubor, Fertibor) isn't readily available retail and my field pretty much needed it yesterday. I see that those products are all made by the company Borax (as in 20 Mule Team).

From their website:
Borax operates California's largest open pit mine in Boron, California - one of the richest borate deposits on the planet. While boron is present everywhere in the environment, substantial deposits of borates are relatively rare. We supply nearly half the world's demand for refined borates,  minerals essential to life and modern living.

While I am deeply concerned about the appropriate dosage of Borax per acre (apparently Boron is an herbicide in higher (and unknown) quantities), I run to town to the hardware store to pick up some cheap Borax. Nope, don't have it. I head to the grocery store, but yet again nothing. Fine, I'll have to come back to the farm to spray Boron, yet the extra time will help me find a more suitable product, one maybe with a label for agricultural purposes, although it will cost me in time and fuel.

Interlude: Scenes From The Perimeter

The grass around the field is beginning to get lush and hummocky.

The kale we so enjoyed a month ago is now blooming its head off.

The wheat field.

The leaves are just now filling out the trees.

Sorrel on the edge of the wheat field.

It had been a very long day, but I felt I hardly got any work done. I walked the rows spraying kelp and fish, I weeded some, I planted a row of onions, and I spent and hour or so with the folks from Cornell. My field was spared the cool weather weeds, prompting Cornell to comment on the swell weeding I've been doing. Hardly true, and now the warm weather weeds have sprouted, just waiting for the perfect moment to take off.

Elephant Garlic, a leek.

The Turban strains 'Tuscan' and 'Thai Purple.' 

Rocambole 'Italian Purple'

Last minute problems that aren't being taken too seriously. I knew what these were, after all -what else would they be? Colorado Potato Beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata. The irony was that the potato specialist peered at my two potato rows just this morning, just as the potatoes broke through the dry crust, and there was nothing there. By the end of the day, each crack in the earth in which a potato leaf attempted to emerge was a mini swarm of potato beetles. Out came my Japanese hoe, Nejiri Gama, sharp as a sword piercing beetles, slicing them one by one.

The sun now down, I needed to go. The deer were out, and they are abundant around these fields. They skirt the fence in herds.

A train blows by, headed west.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things...

Landlords spraying Roundup on all the plants that stick their heads out of fences. 

Poster rehash, F train Brooklyn. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Wow. The new Blogger compression looks ok on the phone, but on the desktop -I don't think so. Can they not get this right, with all the resources at their disposal? At the very least the image should center automatically. These two photos are exactly the same, cropped and "brightened" on the phone, but the bottom was scaled (supposedly to their x-large setting) and compressed by Blogger, the top downloaded from the phone and resized in Photoshop. 

Other Fields

This is Toby's garlic. He grew it from garlic purchased from Hudson Clove last summer. I'm not recommending anybody plant my garlic, but chances are if it looks healthy by planting time, it is. Toby's garden appears to bear that out. I know he's not the only one who planted my garlic last year and I wonder if anyone else wants to let me know how theirs is growing.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Beepin Flowers

We were driven out of the house early today to see why it was there was beeping and cursing going on, for what worked out to be hours. A half marathon apparently had closed down all the local roads, and no one knew. Our small streets became clogged with cars, angry drivers, and no reason. It was road madness. Since I was outside, I pulled my samurai hoe from the van and made short order of weeds, moved a few plants, then took photos of some flowers.

Flax, sun barely shining through the clouds. We planted two of these Larry specials last year. One returned this season.

 Geranium gracing the iron fencing, just beneath grandma's rose.

 Grandma's rose stretched itself this spring, reaching over the hacked shrub rose.

The scent is a light citrus spice. The first bud of the season was cut for my grandmother on mother's day. She still has a nose for flowers at 98.

We thought tradescantia bit the dust, but some has come up in odd places -in this case under the rose. Iphone refuses to do well with the blue-purple, especially with yellow on top.

Today I head to Flushing for some Hot Pot and dumplings with a visiting friend, but only after I visit an open studio in LIC and hit the hydroponics store off the LI Expressway. I've been eyeballing this place for years and years, now finally have a reason to check it out.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May's Apple

This is our May apple flower. I don't know why I think it's rarefied, but I treat it as such. An unlikely, delicate, ephemeral green in our yard?

It's holding its own amongst the blue hosta, the asters, the day lilies, Norway maples and ever roving pokeweed. This is a competitive crowd. And then there's the fauna.

I think the yew tree that shades the area offers a respite from most human interaction and so we have yet again a May apple.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Field Notes

Last year the side garden received more than its share of regular trouncing, but it's growing again so we're at it again. Some plants came back from the dead either from their own roots (salvia) or from self seeding (dicentra eximia). Overall things look okay except for the bare spot where the trouncing was too much. Here we've moved some delicate natives that years back I bought at the New England Wildflower Society in Massachusetts. They're slowly coming to life as natives so often do. 

I apologize for these sunny, hard iPhone photos. I've been eyeballing cameras for months now and cannot decide. When you cannot decide, don't do anything. Obviously I do not have my intended use down and/or the cameras that are out there do not meet my needs. It's hard to beat pocketable iPhones for convenience if not for bokeh. It's not even that there aren't great cameras out there. It's just me and the money, I guess. 

In better blogging news, google has updated their mobile blogging interface to finally include inserting photos within the text body! They will still be scaled and on the blurry side, but I'll take the incremental improvements. This post was made on the bus, a somewhat nausea inducing experience, but a great use of down time. 

Our may apples are producing fruit and I think that's remarkable. Remember that I plucked these from a cull pile on a Van Cortlandt Park trail building trip.

On Friday I plan to head out to the farm. I was sent a photo from another farmer showing some strong yellows in my long storing varieties. They were yellow before, so I'll need to visit to comprehend  what is really going on. I'll spray my last dose of fish and kelp meal, plant the remaining onions (so late now, but why the hell not?), and pull some weeds. I'm not a religious sort, but clearly the success of this year's crop is out of my hands. 

Next week I have a meeting with the folks at New Amsterdam Market, the high priced foodie market in the old Fulton Fish location near the South Street Seaport. I contacted them last December but hadn't heard back until just the other day. It appears they're interested and if their stall prices aren't too high, so am I. Now I just need to harvest some healthy garlic. 

Update: Might I now say that these photos look terrible on a computer screen. I think Blogger is scaling these terribly so that they are more than blurry, but pixelated. Yech.