Thursday, December 8, 2016

Post Post

Is this now a post post journal in accord with our new post truth environment? I admit to being busy with so many different projects that the will to post has been minimal or rather, non-existent. To blog one has to make time or have time, an idea to flesh and flush out, images to give sight to sore eyes, and an editor -always have an editor. Is it that there is nothing new to report? Hardly -there are too many things to report.

The garlic is in last season's potato bed and even more at the neighbor's sheep farm. We may see Hudson Clove return to small sales next year. The bed of herbs is taking in the glories of climate changes that helped create the longest growing season in our region's written history. Depending on one's micro-climate it was possible to grow throughout November. I believe November 19 or so was the first time it froze long enough to do in the cold-sensitive plants and the brassicas lasted into December.

Our lawn has turned completely from grass to creeping charlie. I may use the language of the walking dead to describe it from now on: another area has turned. I could go into a description of creeping charlie, but a visit to Wikipedia should do. Creeping charlie was likely brought to our place, intentionally or otherwise, by my father in law. Our vegetable gardening created bare patches that allowed it to get stronger. The lawnmower chopped it into little bits; each sprouting into a new plant as the weather permits. Last summer and this summer the weather was all too permissive. It spread far and wide and quite literally there is now no more grass. It's also invading the perennial garden and after we had the dumpster removed from the drive, I discovered it growing underneath. Raking leaves is out of the question, unless you want it to spread wherever you move those leaves. My father in law raked and hauled leaves into the woods, over the slope -a good practice, generally. At slope bottom, however, there is now a large colony of charlie that I have low initiative to deal with. I've seen it in the middle slough, too and then again sliding down the slope into the back slough.

While everyone was lining up to buy things on black Friday, I lined up herbs and flowers to prep for a winter indoors. The rosemary was over-wintered in its pot last year and hung in there, but took until mid summer outside to really take off. Much larger and greener than last year, and not so delicately ripped from its summer bed, I hope it will survive once again. Along with lantana, it will be spending the winter in warm, dry, sunny bedroom window.

The pineapple sage wouldn't have made it to bloom if the season hadn't been so extended (although it may have in the greenhouse). There is nothing this red in November around here, poinsettia excluded (we overwintered and oversummered one from last Christmas). I've cut a few branches for rooting and even brought the whole plant in. I will cut it back hard after flowering is complete and see how it does.

Some Siberian cold (often the coldest place on earth) has been dislodged and is making itself felt now. The Army Corp wisely held up the DAPL so at least some of those protesting the pipeline would be inclined to head indoors. The ridiculously warm temperatures gave those not familiar with the Dakotas a false sense of our climate and would have been hit hard by the forty mile an hour winds and zero degree temperatures of the last few days. The cold and wind forced me to bring our agave and opuntia cacti in from the greenhouse. My educated guess is that these can survive zero degree F temperatures as long as they stay dry, but I decided not to chance it. They will also spend the winter in warm, sunny bedroom window.

I, however, will spend the sunny part of days out and semi-out of doors. You'd be surprised how easy it is to get used to 15 degrees F. I just spent 20 minutes outside this morning, sans jacket, to take some photos. It's the fingers one needs to worry about, especially where there's wind. 

Above is the south side of the studio building we've been working on for the last year. I think the temperature inside has stabilized at 34 degrees F despite the 17 degrees F outside and is warm enough to do some interior framing and insulating (where I'll be after this). With the luck of the longest growing season, the grass seed I planted here in early October not only sprouted, but grew in somewhat. Then, in one of the many furious acts born out of every last day above freezing, I tilled it all but a two foot wide grass strip in order to winter plant a native savanna garden from seed mixes I purchased from Prairie Moon.

I also tilled behind the building, on the west side, where I will broadcast a woodland mix of forbs and sedges. I do not expect this to be as easy as my milkweed experiment turned out to be. Disturbed areas like this are perfect for invasive plants (like garlic mustard) to take over, so I have to act immediately. In the greenhouse, towards late winter, I will also seed five inch deep cell trays with many of the grasses and some forbs. These will be planted directly around the building and elsewhere on the land where large oaks have fallen to create sunny openings.

As I look out the window, I see that it is flurrying again. Till next time.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Hallow

The leaves have largely left the trees yet there hasn't been much of a freeze. A few weeks ago I wouldn't have thought this to be, after that first bitter morning gave us the shiv. My projects continue, in fact some have come to flower, not a moment too early, like the sage, better late than not at all. Things have turned around through early mid November.

Broccoli laid out last April, still in bed, dreaming up florets. It's both in flower and production, an odd duck in brassica land.

Whereas summer planted broccoli is beginning to form heads that should never set flower.

October came with a few freeze warnings but has chosen a different path. Just once did a clear night after a warm day provide a frosting for the garden.

Eggplant is an impressive plant -it takes long to establish but is one of the last to go. Its tolerance of light frost is likely due to the insulation provided by its pubescent leaves.

Starbursts of fennel, they did not produce meaty bottoms or seed.


Halloween is the Christmas of autumn (see that the box store has both decorations on display simultaneously). It was named Hallowmas long ago (Shakespeare: "like a beggar at Hallowmas"), and stems from Hallow evening (Hallow e'ening). All Hallow's Eve, the 31st of October (it used to be in May), the evening preface to All Saints Day on November the first. On November the second we have All Souls Day because you cannot mix the especially good with the rest of us. We speculate that the Church ordained these holy (hallow) rites on these autumnal dates to commingle with the rites of the pagans. Remembering the martyrs and saints and even the common dead must have had a very different tone in the warm growth of spring.

The emotions and attitude of growing darkness, chilling air, graying, stormier days, and the browning of plant life despite plentiful harvests could lead a mind to superstition and omen. Superstition leads us to an awareness of sin, that our darkening days in the face of so much good fortune must be accounted for, and that we account for it by accusing ourselves of the darkness that we confront at the cold edge of autumn. What else could have been offered, holy or pagan, to salve the confrontation with the portent of one's death from cold, disease, or starvation? Think of the dead -the saints and the rest as you enjoy today's plenty in the sweet of a soul cake.

"A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

 Down into the cellar,
And see what you can find,
If the barrels are not empty,
We hope you will prove kind.
We hope you will prove kind,
With your apples and strong beer,
And we'll come no more a-souling
Till this time next year."

By Christmas, as the larder dwindled from plenty to rations at the grim precipice of the full course of winter, the attitude of holy or pagan rites change to the spirit of hope, to the growing light as the earth begins its tilt toward the equinox, but also the superstition of redemptive suffering through the depths of winter. Why do I suffer? Because you are a sinner. Be mindful of this, suffer, and you will find redemption. The experience of spring is so wholly positive, so ineffably discordant with the experience of winter that our psyche again seeks superstition in the redemption rites of spring.


Several years ago a woman wearing a patterned skirt, equally of deep red and bright white, sat across from me on the subway. This color combination was visually captivating and I thought about why these two colors, put together, had such power. I considered things that come in red and white and two that came to my mind were Santa Claus and meat. Yes, fat marbled red meat. I thought about the promise of fatty red meat at the precipice of winter. I thought about venison at winter's solstice, its winter fat, but also of flying reindeer pulling Santa Claus in a red and white outfit. This fat, jolly piece of marbled meat or at the least sheathed in the colors of meat. What a gift to anyone trying to survive the winter, at its outset, when hope, hunting, the preservation of meat in freezing temperatures, and the ash-covered, fire-cooked meat (the irony that industrial era Santa comes down the chimney) are a bulwark against the longest season. Of course, I'm mixing histories and rites, but the psyche and the imagery so specific leads me to, at the least, wonder about such things.

Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


The breath of autumn is now well upon us. It scatters the leaves as well as my mind, and puts the quick into my step. As in life and age, autumn has a way of shifting the unimportant away. In our cold clime that first freeze can be an icy slope. One descends from warmth to frozen in a day or two. No lollygag of a New York City autumn -there is terminus.

The paper wasps have finally crawled deeply into buildings and the ants have long left the work atop their mounds. There is a grasshopper on the garage wall, but no longer in the garden. Flies find their way in as do lady beetles and what remains of the mosquito swarm has descended into the basement stairwell.  A woolly bear and a large wood spider hastened from the unfinished studio. A week ago I heard the frog's last chirp.

Last week we had our first frost, and tonight, should the skies clear, we will have our first freeze. We can now accept bringing in plants, out of sympathy for them, as we do with our pets. Will the lantana come in? Will the begonia tubers be saved? Should I unearth the rosemary and pot it?

Despite better planning, the fall vegetables have not gone as hoped. Cauliflower was a wash, and the broccoli too. Green beans just a week or two too late and nibbled. Brussels sprouts have more leaf than sprout thus far. Spring planted broccoli continues to flourish. Eggplants always do better until they just can't and I have yet to harvest the majority of potatoes.

Although it is nearing winter (it comes earlier here), there are still several outdoor projects to complete. I need to replace a porch balustrade, cedar plank the utility room landing and replace several mossy and rotted plank ends on the porch. There is a window frame to repair -it should not go another winter, but it is on the second floor and I don't prefer ladders. A brick walkway has remained a gravel trench. The gutters continue to fill with leaves -this can wait, but not beyond snowfall. Warmer temperatures are required to apply a second coat of paint to the alcove where siding, sill, and door were replaced by the height of summer. The studio has much remaining, but there is now power and today the concrete contractor is placing the insulation foam. Progress. Should I call the mudjacker for the sidewalk that cants to the house? Is there time? Is there money?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Milkweed Zoo

Milkweed growing has been a great success for most of the six (or was it seven?) varieties I sprouted last spring. Doing particularly well is A. incarnata (swamp milkweed), A. verticillata (whorled milkweed), and A. tuberosa (butterfly weed). Take a look at those hardy roots on that sixteen inch tall swamp milkweed. The five inch deep cell trays that were terrible for vegetable starting were great for milkweed because I could leave them to develop strong roots without worry about setting them out too late.

I've planted out in the yard and woods a majority of the plants, and all that remain in cell trays are only unplanted due to the continual and relentless mosquito attack this late summer. We've had a highly unusual, severely wet and humid August and September which has had a deleterious effect on some of our vegetables, our studio building progress, and even our mood. It's even bringing on an early, brown autumn as wet Septembers are prone to instigate.

But enough about that. We did have a couple of dry, sunny days, one of which had me near the greenhouse bed of giant Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed in mid August. The milkweed, leaning from height and heavy rains well into our potato bed needed to be put back in its place. Being milkweed and August, I anticipated finding Monarch caterpillars, but there were none. What I did find, however, is a startlingly rich collection of other insects. Some were feeding on the plants while others were feeding on those feeding on the plants, and still some feeding on the litter of those feeding on the plants.

Black-legged Meadow Katydid.

Possibly a Blue Mud Dauber or maybe even a Steel-blue Cricket Hunter, and of course -an ant.

Mating Lady Beetles -likely the good, bad, and ugly kind otherwise known as Harmonia axyridis because they eat plant pests (good), were introduced by us humans (bad), and enter the house by the thousands in autumn (ugly).

And their offspring meeting an ant.

But what of this offspring, with its yellow coloration, different patterning, black legs, and little or no spines? After much digging, I'm going with the Ash Grey Lady Beetle, Olla v-nigrum -I do recall seeing a wine-colored 15-Spotted Lady Beetle earlier this year, submitted to BugGuide and identified. We'll see what the insect community has to say about this guy.

A Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus.

Paper Wasps.

Red ant. Which kind? So many kinds...

Flower Crab Spider

Another kind of flower crab -notice the chunky hind quarter? The females change color to match their surroundings.

Yellow Jacket.

Had I spent even more time I would have found even more creatures; frogs, crickets, grasshoppers, moth larvae (Tussock Moth comes to mind). Check out this good post on the merits of maintaining a balanced ecology of the butterfly garden. Yes, we plant milkweeds for the Monarchs, but nature has its own way and we have ours. It's likely better to let nature take its course while we do what we can to better the circumstances of all living things.

I like the moment when the ant meets the paper wasp.

The monarch caterpillars do not seem to be fond of the old, possibly tough, Common Milkweed near the greenhouse and vegetable garden. No, they were found of a young A. syriaca, the butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) and the Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata). I prefer the last two, myself, for their nicer flower, form, and spread and so it is that these species, butterfly and plant, are in our flower garden.

It was only a matter of hours between these two photos.

Chrysalis still intact, metamorphosis nearly complete, and because it is late in the season, we wait for what some call the "super Monarch" -the one that flies all the way to Mexico and then breeds next year's northerly migrating offspring.

Plenty of nectar nearby.

To kick off the long flight.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Minnesota Grown

At Minneapolis' large Lyndale market, on late summer weekends, you'll find lots of folks perusing, window shopping, often eating some kind of corn, brat (said brot) or danish. There is a difference from the markets I have become accustomed to back in NYC, largely Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza or the Union Square Greenmarket. Those markets have served as a kind of model and have skewed my experience of the markets here in Minnesota.

On the wooden table are paper trays, each carrying two or three tomatoes. I'll get to the trays in a minute, but let's fix on the sign. It says "Home Grown Tomatoes $5 each tray." For those regular to or familiar with Greenmarket might wonder if these folks are farmers or neighborhood gardeners. Home grown?

"Home Grown" to a Minnesotan means that this produce was grown locally, probably within 100 miles. You might think, "isn't that obvious, or isn't that required to be a part of the market?" Well no, here it is not. At the market you will find several resellers -distributors of produce from bananas to corn grown by someone else and likely somewhere else in the world. Not to be kept in check by ideological purity, this market believes if you're out for home grown tomatoes you may also want to pick up your weekly supply of bananas. So it is that you see little placards, usually handwritten, stating that these tomatoes are grown by us farmers, locally. When you don't, whether it is or isn't, home grown remains in question.

Trays. I'm not sure why this has come to be the accepted presentation of produce at Minnesotan farmers' markets, but it is the norm for most markets. It serves to keep people from squeezing every tomato because one doesn't pick through the trays, or even the half pecks or bushels. You must buy the whole bucket.

At the crowded weekend markets there will be enough trays displayed on tables to give you a feeling of plenty, but that ordered plenty is nothing like the cornucopian dream overflowing tables under some of Grand Army's tents. That display of abundance offers such deep reassurance, it leaves you feeling rich and spending more, whereas the ordered compartmentalization of produce on Minnesota farm market tables leaves you feeling that you've received your share.

The scant baskets at small town farmers' markets presents like a Soviet dispensary. A single basket of tomatoes, two of potatoes, and three of pickling cucumbers hardly seems worth the effort for the farmer or for us. All of which leads me to think of the nature of these markets, how they are, in broad generalization, an urban affair that caters to the whims and desires of an urban mind that requires such comfort as the perception of overabundance in the countryside. I am a bit conflicted on whether or not to indulge this fantasy or whether or not farmers should, yet I do enjoy its effect no less for being aware of it.

The Minnesota climate favors vegetables suited to three months of long day growth, little in the way of tree fruit, melons or any other long season, heat-loving produce. The staples are there: tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, bell peppers, etcetera, but the markets lack surprise and adventurous experiments. Are Minnesotan diets less adventurous? Do regional culinary traditions create limits?

Fresh produce farming in Minnesota has largely shifted from a German/Norwegian/Polish to a Hmong enterprise. This demographic shift has brought most of any new variety to the market. In fact, any excitement in going to market lay in the good southeast Asian produce available. Are the neatly arranged baskets and nearly flawless produce a Hmong introduction?

Minnesota agriculture is a 20 billion dollar industry, but the majority of that is giant farm commodity production: corn, soy, barley, wheat, oats, sugar beets. The vast, vast majority of farmers in Minnesota are white men of an average age of 56 operating on 25 million acres or nearly half of the state's land area. Of the tens of thousands of farmers, less than 500 identify as Asian American. At the Lyndale location of the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, I hazard the guess that half of the vendors are Asian American. This alone tells me we would have much less fresh, "home grown" produce available to us if these farmers weren't so enterprising.

Few of these market farmers are growing organic produce, however. It's not that people aren't buying it or that it won't be found in nearly every large grocery store. Yet, at the weekend farmers' market, I think I saw one farmer out of several dozen that claimed "natural" or "no pesticide." My guess is that certification is a long and costly process to the market farmers, but there is also a short growing season and weather hazards a plenty. The yield reductions of organic growing, alone, could turn a profit into a loss.

As of the 2012 census, there were seventy three thousand farms in Minnesota. Of that number, roughly seventeen thousand have sales of less than $1000. Of that same number, roughly ten thousand have sales over $500,000. The other farmers, all 56,000 of them, have sales somewhere between $1000 and $500,000. These are not profits or even salary, just receipts.

To keep yields up, market growers might require more labor and land, and I'm not convinced the traditional Minneapolis Farm Market customer is as willing to part with more cash for higher priced, locally grown organic. Local farmers may have a hard time competing with the Cascadian Farms or Earthbound Farms you find at Whole Foods.

As much as I would like to enjoy the Minneapolis Farmers' Market or even our small local markets, I don't visit them often (I do go to a local apple grower for apples in season and our farm park for meats). Although our vegetable garden is small it provides us with three to four months of no pesticide produce and our local cooperative market fills in for much of the rest of the year. Sometimes I think of getting my garlic growing going again and I wonder whether or not I could find local customers willing to pay high prices for the crop. My experience has been that city-dwelling New Yorkers are excited by their connoisseurship of the authentic, the obscure, the unusual in all things, even produce. I cannot say, yet, if that is true for the folks of Minneapolis -although if beer is any indication (better local beer here than anything I've had), it is possible.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Spoils of Summer

Now that I've figured out to successfully grow bell peppers, I tend to be at a loss for what to do with them. This means I eat them raw quite a bit. August is high season for eggplant which continues until the frost. The tomato plants have the look of late September, nearly caput, and even the fruit have taken on the scabs of blight. Below my beloved speckled roman paste tomatoes. Despite heavy blight, they still produced, if a bit more unsightly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


My favorite heirloom Roma (speckled Roman, above), have been pulped in the sloppy strainer contraption I bought several years ago. It's been a terrible year for tomatoes, so humid and damp that blight set in well over a month ago. It's been a very good year for green beans and potatoes, broccoli and basil. The fall cauliflower and Brussels are floating giant leaves but no sign of anything edible yet. 

Soon we leave for a weekend in Milwaukee to hang an exhibit. I'll be showing photographs, a first. I'll post the information when it's all set up. In the meantime, check out my Instagram feed (you can find it here), from which I've harvested, maybe even pulped, the exhibit's images. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

When Fruit Flies

Did you bring fruit flies home with those grocery store peaches? Have they multiplied in your compost bin or on other fruit? To get rid of them, place a day or two worth of fruit cuttings in a stainless steel bowl with a large paper towel over the top, leaving about a half-inch or so uncovered on one side. That will be the entryway. Even if you left an 1/8th-inch uncovered with paper towel, they would find their way in. Leave the bowl on the counter top over night. Do not disturb it in any way. The next morning, the earlier the better, grab a ceramic plate with a smooth bottom (so it makes a tight seal against the bowl's rim) and ever-so-gently place it on the paper towel covered bowl. Take the bowl outside, preferably away from the door you exited, and dump the fruit scraps into the compost pile.

Shake your other fruit. Did any more flies appear? If so, eat, can, or freeze fruit those that are over-ripe and repeat the process. Your kitchen should be clear -for awhile. Fruit flies will find fruit no matter where it is, lay eggs, and rapidly a few flies will become a fog of them. If the flies are not laying eggs in rotting fruit, they'll try the counter top compost bin, and lastly the kitchen sink drain. See this link for ten more traps and a way to deal with the drain.

Fruit flies are one of the most studied insects and have been used heavily in biological research. Click on the fruit fly link to read up on them (and their uncanny sex life). Below, one of the more unusual sex life of insects photos I have ever seen, thanks in part to the photographer's insert.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Garden Report

Potatoes are waning but they're still impinging on the herb bed. As the sun lowers and the potatoes die down, the herbs should reclaim their full sun. In the back left, really tall milkweed.

As the garlic comes out over the last few weeks, the fall brassicas have been filling in. These are brussel sprouts, the first planted, into the space previously occupied by garlic 'Xian.' I've never grown these before, but have planned it for years. Notable this season is a lack of cabbage moths -not complaining!

Eggplant fruit coming on now.

Green beans, from purple to roma, prolific and easy as ever.

All peppers are fruiting, some large. Only difficulty is that the plants can hardly hold their large fruit and that I shouldn't be so lazy as to try to break a pepper off the plant instead of going for the pruner. What happens? Well, I break the whole pepper plant in half.

In complete opposite of last year, all our tomatoes are suffering blight. Could have come in on our purchased compost, or maybe because we planted in last years potato and eggplant beds. Hard to avoid poor rotation in a compact garden. Next year I think these beds will be garlic and the garlic beds will be tomatoes. All that can be done now is watch the tomatoes try to outgrow the blight.

More brassica as the Porcelain garlic 'Music' has come out. As two more varieties of garlic are harvested over the weekend, even more brassica will go in. Above is kale started from seed in the greenhouse.

These giant pompoms, hydrangea actually, were moved from the south side of the house last year. We planted them in a great arc around the curving lawn-driveway. They are quite garish, but they keep the plow truck and other skiddish drivers from driving over the lawn and garden in summer and winter (thanks to the long lasting dried flower sepals), and maybe they keep the deer at bay. Maybe.

And we've finally started digging into the soil for new potatoes. Above: Kennebec russet, Pontiac, and Yukon Gold. Thanks to the quantity of compost and straw they came out with little soil and easy to clean.

I've been very busy with many things, from door and sill replacement, old deck removal, job searching and applications, studio building projects, contractors and everything I can't stand about some of them, photographing, studio painting, my class Landscape into Art which runs on the twenty third of July, a bit of socializing, gallery going, and even a music festival in a corn field last weekend. Blogging has had to take a back seat to all this (as well as taking quality photos for them), but rest assured -I was able to plant half of my milkweed over the septic drain field and beyond yesterday. Progress.