Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Winter Corn Harvest

The U.S. Congress recently passed a new energy bill. Its said to be historic, but dare I doubt some of its provisions. For one thing, 35 mpg by 2020 is not laudable. I would buy a car that gets 50-60 mpg on diesel fuel and this is nearly possible today. The ethanol provisions are more bothersome. Corn makes a less efficient fuel than gasoline. Think of all the fuel that goes into the process of growing corn, then figure the fuel going into making corn-based fuel, and then figure in the 30% drop in fuel efficiency of corn ethanol over gasoline. And in the end, we're still burning fuels. Bush says he will sign.

For about 10 years I had a 1977 Ford F250 with a 2 bbl, 400 c.i. big block engine. The bed was full size with a plastic liner. With 1500 pounds of steaming compost in the bed of that truck, I got 10 miles per gallon. I got 10 mpg even when it was empty.  

I loved that truck, but every passing year with it in NYC became more absurd and finally, I had to let it go. I sold to a young man moving to Vermont. They don't build them like that anymore, all steel inside and out. That truck had a lot less horsepower than most family cars do today.

The following letter about fuel efficient automobile technology is an open letter to the U.S. Congress from Tom and Ray Magliozzi -- of the National Public Radio show Car Talk.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi
Box 3500 Harvard Square
Cambridge MA 02238

Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming
United States House of Representatives
Washington DC 20515

October 25, 2007

To Chairman Ed Markey and Members of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming:

You are about to make a crucial decision that may be a turning point for our country. As you consider how high to raise our nation's CAFE standards, you are undoubtedly coming under a barrage of lobbying from various parties. Including us! The obvious question is, who do you believe?

On the one hand, you have people like Ed Markey, who's been trying to increase fuel economy for as long as we can remember. Admittedly, he's from Massachusetts. And yes, we've seen his haircut.

On the other hand, you have the automotive industry (i.e. car salesmen), whose ratings for honesty are below even those of Congress in public opinion surveys. Let's remember why:

In 1972, Ford President Lee Iacocca told you that if the "EPA does not suspend the catalytic converter rule, it will cause Ford to shut down." Hm. That wasn't exactly right on the money, was it?

A couple of years later, car makers were back in front of you guys, squealing over proposed new fuel economy standards. Chrysler Vice President of Engineering, Alan Loofborrow, predicted that imposing fuel economy standards might "outlaw a number of engine lines and car models including most full-size sedans and station wagons. It would restrict the industry to producing subcompact size cars-or even smaller ones-within five years." That thing got a Hemi, Alan?

As the industry triple-teamed Congress to keep America from improving fuel economy, a Ford Executive let fly this whopper: If CAFE became law, the move could result "in a Ford product line consisting either of all sub-Pinto sized vehicles..." Ask the man who drives an Expedition if that ever came to pass.

The onslaught of "we can't... it'll ruin us... you're denying Americans a choice of vehicles" begins every time we the people--through our elected representatives-try to bring the auto industry, kicking and screaming into the modern era. And every time, their predictions of motorized-skateboard futures have failed to materialize. Let us repeat that, because the historical record bears it out to a tee. Every single time they've resisted safety, environmental, or fuel economy regulations, auto industry predictions have turned out, in retrospect, to be fear-mongering bull-feathers.

Isn't it time we (you?) stop falling for this 50 year-long line of baloney?

The truth is, significantly higher average fuel economy can be achieved. In fact it's already being achieved. And if we don't push our own auto industry to set world class standards, they'll be beaten again by the Japanese, the Koreans, and, maybe even the Chinese, who will do it with or without U.S. Congressional action.

There are technologies aplenty that already exist that could be used to meet much higher CAFE standards.

* Hybrid-electric vehicles. Hybrids offer, in many cases, a 50% increase in mileage over gasoline versions of the same vehicles. GM just introduced a hybrid Chevy Tahoe, that reportedly gets better city mileage than a Toyota Camry.

* Clean diesel engines. With new, clean diesel fuel now mandated in America, expect a surge of clean diesel engines in the next three to five years that get 25% better fuel economy than their gasoline counterparts.

* Diesel-electric hybrids. Combine the advantages of hybrids with more efficient diesel engines.

* Turbo chargers and super chargers. These force additional air into cylinders to wring more power out of available fuel.

* Cylinder deactivation. Cylinders that are not needed at any given moment, are deactivated, and instantaneously reactivated as soon as the driver demands additional power. Widely available now.

* Plug-in, series hybrids. Now on the drawing boards, plug-in hybrids allow drivers to charge up overnight, when the electric grid is underused, and they'll handle most commutes without ever firing up their internal combustion engines.

* Automatic stop-start technology. At least one energy analyst we spoke to believes that this simple technology, in and of itself, could result in a 10% decrease in fuel use. It's already used in hybrid vehicles, foreign and domestic, and is on its way in more vehicles in the next couple of years.

* Higher voltage electrical systems. These save fuel by allowing energy draining systems, such as power steering, and air conditioning, to be run electrically, instead of by draining power from the engine and using fuel.

* Regenerative braking. Captures energy otherwise lost when the car slows down to give a further boost to on-board battery systems.

* Safe, lightweight materials. Lightweight steel, aluminum and carbon fiber panels reduce weight, allowing a smaller, more efficient engine to propel a car just as fast on less fuel.

* Better transmissions. Six speed automatic transmissions, widely available now from Ford and others, increase fuel economy by 5% and offer smoother acceleration. Mercedes has seven speeds. Lexus has eight. Nissan has CVTs Ð continuously variable transmissions. All of these improve mileage AND performance.

* Common rail fuel injection. Now standard on modern diesels, this same high pressure fuel delivery technology is beginning to be used to increase fuel economy in gasoline engines, too.

* All wheel drive systems that use electric motors at the non-driven wheels, like on the Lexus RX350 hybrid, eliminate heavy, gas-wasting differentials and drive train components on cars designed to go in the snow.

* More appropriately sized and weighted cars. When we're facing a future of global oil wars and economy-killing gasoline prices, perhaps having single commuters drive 5,000 pound SUVs is something we'll just have to learn to live without. And modern computer electronics, such as stability control, can now ameliorate any driving dynamic issues that result from lack of mass.

* More appropriately powered cars. In 1964, the most powerful, over-the-top Mustang muscle car you could buy came with an optional, four-barrel, 271 horsepower engine. Today, that's what comes standard on the highest rated minivans. 275 horsepower. To take your kid to nursery school? What does this say about our national priorities? Do we really want to send our kids to fight and die in the desert so that we can go 0-60 in eight seconds instead of ten seconds?

The truth is, we could achieve a CAFE standard of 35 miles per gallon in five years if we made it a priority. Every one of the above technologies is either available now or is well along in the pipeline. There's nothing "pie in the sky" here that hasn't been thought of or invented yet.

Look what American industry did in World War II. Look what we did with the space program. It's time to make energy independence just as high a priority. And it starts with you guys (and gals), our representatives. Don't buy the "can't do" bull this time.

Not only can it be done, but by increasing CAFE standards dramatically, you'll be helping the American automotive industry compete-by forcing them to synchronize their priorities with those of the American people, and the populations of other countries where they will be increasingly marketing their cars.

It's the job of private enterprise to design and sell products. But it's the job of Congress to set our national priorities. Trust us, the car companies won't go out of business because America insists that they build the world's best, most efficient cars. We urge you to set the bar high for American ingenuity. We have no doubt our car industry will make the grade-to the benefit of all Americans.


Tom and Ray Magliozzi

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Two Minutes for Tulips

Well, I did it. Today was balmy by recent days' comparison. We cleaned the house some and still I had twenty minutes before I had to leave for work. That bag of tulips was bothering me and I know they would have gotten moldy and rotted had I left them to next year. So I went out on this cloudy, breeze-less day and planted those tulips. Ground soft as ever, not a lick of freeze in it, and I only chopped a few previously planted bulbs in the effort. So I call it a good gardening day and probably the last of the cold season. But there is one other nagging question, "should I remove those leaves now or later?"...

Some say remove fallen leaves to retard the development of disease in the garden. Some say let the fallen leaves stay to act as winter mulch. Those leaves can protect young shoots coming up during early spring freeze/thaw cycles. Yet the leaves can also retard the growth of some young plants. So which is it?

Well, it is true that I have little need for winter mulch in my garden as the ground hardly freezes. Those leaves will be harder to remove in spring as they will be wet and entangled deep in the plants. I haven't had any serious problem with disease in the garden, so that really doesn't factor in. Okay, I think I found another task to take on before Christmas. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winter at Last

I am not one of those people who absolutely loves winter. Yet I am glad it is here. I am glad that those everblooming roses finally threw in the towel. Its good to see the sun set on those goldenrods, asters and sunflowers (those cousins party together into the wee hours of autumn). Maybe it was a little alarming to see the pineapple sage I wish to overwinter so suddenly turn black after being so brilliant green. But still, come on, it is December. As I remember it, its cold in December and the plants should be long dormant.

Yet how magnificent was it last Sunday as I traveled through Manhattan on my way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a full blown snow? Fresh, dry snow on golden leaves still not dropped by the Honey Locusts. The two seasons came together quite marvelously on Sunday. The sidewalks near my apartment were still littered with freshly dropped yellow maple leaves as the snow began to fall. It is so unusual to see the snow and leaves together. So it is with pleasure that the winter ushered in and the garden gave out.

Besides, I still have a bag of bulbs to plant. Its not that I was in denial of the passing moment for planting, but with the blooms still going, I simply could not bring myself to start digging around. It seems that anywhere I dig I hit bulbs anyhow- even though I do not have a full spring bulb garden. Simply, I have run out of space, yet couldn't resist a deal on some tulips. I really don't like tulips much, yet there I was seduced by those pictures on the boxes at the nursery. Now the anxiety that a warmish, humid day will not present itself and those bulbs will be passed over for other, seasonal activities -like shopping.

Christmas shopping will send me over to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden next week. I am hoping to bring together my own personal interests with the possibility of finding all those small gifts we need to find at this time of year. The garden has two shops now- garden and gift and it is free to enter BBG during the dormant season weekdays, November 20 through February 28. Check out these leafy Christmas ornaments they are selling. There are Gingko, Oak, Maple, Birch, Aspen and others made of metals that are silver, copper, and gold in color.

Jill at brklynstories asked me about a month ago, "By the way, I've always wondered - what can a gardener do during winter while the ground is frozen?" After giving it some thought, I think I have the answer. Rest.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tis the Season

Well early this morning did it, finally we had a freeze. In my neck of the woods, we hit around 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Now we could argue about shades of gray, hard freeze or not. I'd say then we had a soft freeze. Cold enough to wilt and blacken the more tender annuals. Not cold enough long enough to set back the flowering perennials much.

The difference between a frost and a freeze? Well a freeze is much easier to define: when the temperature drops below 32 degrees F for a sustained period of time. This often happens during the early morning hours at this time of year, after much of the heat the city has accumulated radiates out into the night sky. Freezes tend to come on clear, still nights. Clear allows much heat to radiate upwards, still allows this process to continue unfettered. Clear and still also indicates cold and dry near winter time. Dry, meaning low moisture content in the air, allows the air to cool off even faster because water vapor retains heat. So at this time of year, after a cold front passes, the wind dies down, and the skies clear we have a greater chance of a freeze. Freezes will kill most annuals, so many of which are tropical in origin. Freezes may kill native annuals, but often it takes a hard freeze. Perennial leaves will blacken and die depending on the length and depth of the freeze.

Frost is a phenomena dependent on a variety of factors. When the temperature drops to freezing, usually in the dark, early morning hours, and the moisture content of the air happens to be high, we may have a frost. Frosts involve the coalescence of dew point and temperature. The frost can occur at a range of freezing temperatures, but the frosted surface must be colder than the dew point, the dew point colder than the air temperature, and the dew point must be below freezing. Simply put, frost is water vapor that condenses directly into a solid (ice) on things like plants, cars, and ground whose surface temperature is colder than the dew point. Frosts occur most frequently where there is little to no wind.

In spring we worry about late season frosts, which could take down tender young plants. In autumn, we usually accept the fate of our plants after the long season. However, if it is vegetables you want to protect in spring or fall, simple row covers of plastic or even soda bottles filled with water may do the trick. Both these devices hold heat and lessen the chance for frost on an extremely local level. I've grown broccoli under a clear plastic tent for weeks in freezing temps until they were ready for harvest. While broccoli tends toward cold hardiness, most plants can't be protected from a long, hard freeze. It is then time to let go.

This frost formed one December before dawn and was gone by 9 am

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Front Yard

On the right side of NYCGarden is a feature called Front Yard. So far I have been posting pictures of plants in my front yard, but my intention with this feature is to highlight the front yards of New Yorkers. What I want to do is approach certain homes that have front yards that I think are interesting for one reason or another and ask the gardener about their yard and take a photograph. Afterward I will post a picture and some words about what inspired their front yard. It is a little late in the season to get this started now, but by springtime I hope to have a few Front Yard feature posts. You will also be able to link to an archive of past Front Yard posts.

What I am interested in is ideas about yards and gardens. Most yards can be broken into a geography of home, front, side, and back yards. Each has specific uses and psychological conditions. I want to discuss the front yard because it is the place that we present ourselves to the public. It is a visually public space that is organized or designed privately. In NYC, front yards are often simply an apron to the home's body. Yet still they communicate ideas about the people who live there.

For me, the idea of gardening in the front yard is essential. Directly, to anyone willing to notice, I am presenting ideas about myself. It also gives me an opportunity to meet people, to be out in public without the NYC rush. The gardens give me and passers by something to discuss and allowing us, perhaps, to cross over perceived boundaries. They reveal our personal sense of beauty, speak about our cultural background, and express our practical needs. This is only the beginning of what a garden opens up. The front yard forms the passage that visitors experience on their way into our private spaces; our front yards are the preambles to our homes. My front yard may be a precondition.

Obviously, people have different ideas about what their front yard should be. The source of these ideas isn't always explored, but maybe come from their childhood experience, their neighbors, magazines, or a combination of sources. All front yards express something, intentional or otherwise, about the people who live there. However, many of us won't see the same thing when looking at them.

So whenever I stroll down a street I am looking at the many front yards. Each yard tells me a different story and every so often someone is saying something really interesting. That is what Front Yard will be about.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ongoing Crisis - What's in a Yard

There are so many things to get up about, and yards seem to drive more people into a tizzy than anything. Recently I heard a report on NPR about a man who lived in a Home Owners Association (HOA) type community in New Hampshire. He was fighting to hang his laundry out in the yard and use his, ahem, solar powered dryer. The HOA reminded him that it is against the rules as are many yard "disturbances". Protecting the value of homes in the neighborhood, as always, is the reason given.

I'm afraid it may have more to do with taste and class than property values, but isn't that something we all can agree on- the value of our investment? The idea is that people who hang their laundry, have too many cars parked in the driveway (or on the grass), have kids who play basketball for too many hours, etc. are not welcome in these neighborhoods. If the HOA bans it, people inclined to have such things won't buy in or, if you are inclined but bought in, you simply won't be allowed.

But here is where it gets interesting. Values are shifting and boom! colliding into each other. The man in the NPR report wants to air dry his laundry because its good for the environment, not because he can't afford the electricity that operates his expensive dryer! Green-values people, a small but growing segment of the population, are demanding to let their clothes air dry. This is colliding with the HOA segment who wants to maintain property values over all else. We've seen the same thing when it comes to growing vegetables, wildflowers, or meadows in front yards. Also, unusual home designs in conventional neighborhoods. This is such an interesting space, where two sets of "values" are going head to head. Town ordinances (like this one) banning cars from being parked on the grass are running up against people who are promoting green driveways as a way of mitigating runoff and excess heat. To one person it is offensive, to another its forward thinking!

Offensive-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Forward Thinking

Personally, I can't stand for it when town or HOA ordinances state that I can not plant tomatoes in the front yard. These ordinances are the problem, not the decisions of any particular home owner. I say we need to learn to get along instead of legislating absurd conditions for participation in a community! I think we can all get together to discuss what's really necessary for our communities as long as we think deeply about our own decisions. Let's legislate what really matters.

Check this newspaper link:
Yards and Cars

Here is a link to an interesting defense summation in a court case regarding meadows in yards

Here is a link to an excellent page on weed ordinances.

It is impressive to me how many web hits come up that promote wildflower lawns and so on. Not long ago these searches pulled up article after article of lawsuits and fines. These are still out there, but people and government are coming around to more options in the yard.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This week The Brooklyn Paper reported in its Police Blotter section that men, at least one armed, robbed unsuspecting gardeners in a Carroll Gardens community garden.

Here is the text:

November 3, 2007

Green thugs
By Ariella Cohen
The Brooklyn Paper
A gun-wielding trio of robbers busted into a community
garden on Henry Street near Fourth Place and held up three
gardeners on Oct. 22, police said.
The men entered the garden at 5:15 pm and flashed a silver handgun at the green thumbs, a
56-year-old woman, a 24-year-old man and a 29-year-old man.
“Give me your stuff,” one of the thugs barked, while another guarded the entrance to the green
Apparently, money does grow on trees because the garden-robbing goons got away with $790
in cash, as well as a watch and two gold bracelets.
They fled west across the Cole Street footbridge to Red Hook, police said.
©2007 The Brooklyn Paper

What are the chances your community gardeners are holding $250 dollars in cash each. A fenced in space with one exit seems an excellent target for two guys who think the chances are pretty good you got something. Its just that I wonder what tipped these guys off to its potential. Was it the garden? Did it say wealth to them? Was it the fact that gardeners are so often entranced in their work and might be easily surprised? Or that they were trusting and not wary of strangers in a community space? Was it the spatial scenario I described above that said easy pickins? I think the stereotype is that community garden says "people without means, without much money. " Yet, in a place like NYC, it may simply mean dirt for gardeners of all incomes. For these robbers, it meant paydirt. I hope this doesn't catch on.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Leaf Collection

This Saturday begins the leaf collection in the city of New York. Check out the leaf collection website for the details. Remember, put leaves in the tall paper leaf bags or in sturdy garbage pails out on the curb on the dates posted. See the calender to the right for dates. If the bags don't disappear right away, DSNY says they'll get to them, please be patient. Below is a list of stores that sell the bags from the leaf collection website.

Where to Purchase Paper Lawn & Leaf Bags

The NYC Department of Sanitation does not provide bags or bins for recycling, composting, or garbage. Paper lawn and leaf bags can be purchased at various hardware stores and supermarkets.
Below is a list of retailers that sell paper lawn and leaf bags.

Please note: Our mention of these retailers does not constitute an endorsement of their services. If you find any outdated information, or would like to suggest additional listings, please Contact NYCWasteLe$.

BRONX stores that sell paper lawn & leaf bags:
Big Kmart 1998 Bruckner Blvd., Bronx 10473 718-430-9439
C.S. Brown True Value Hardware 12 E Tremont Ave., Bronx 10453 718-294-1650
Fairbanks Lumber True Value 4527 White Plains Rd., Bronx 10470 718-324-8358
Georges True Value Hardware 2044 Westchester Ave., Bronx 10462 718-829-6666
Home Depot 1806 E Gunhill Rd., Bronx 10469 718-862-9800
Home Depot 635 Zerega Ave., Bronx 10473 718-518-8811
Kornblau Supply Co Inc 5554 Broadway, Bronx 10463 718-548-0433
Pathmark 961 E 174th St., Bronx 10460 718-860-3139
Pathmark 1851 Bruckner Blvd., Bronx 10472 718-892-0100
Pathmark 2136 Bartow Ave., Bronx 10475 718-320-2902
Stop & Shop 5716 Broadway, Bronx 10463 718-548-3344
Super Stop & Shop 691 Co Op City Blvd., Bronx 10475 718-862-2809
Van Nest True Value Hardware 669 Morris Park Ave., Bronx 10462 718-829-2338

BROOKLYN stores that sell paper lawn & leaf bags:
A&G Locksmith & Hardware 347 Knickerbocker Ave., Brooklyn 11237 718-497-5882
Almac Hardware 596 E 16th St., Brooklyn 11226 718-434-1736
Almac True Value 2 Newkirk Plaza Brooklyn 11226 718-434-1736
Bath Ave True Value Hardware 1800 Bath Ave., Brooklyn 11214 718-236-6700
Clinton Hill Hardware 452 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn 11205 718-237-7827
Corner Hardware & Paint 2266 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn 11210 718-377-8516
Court Street Hardware 95 Court St., Brooklyn 11201 718-858-5250
Crest True Value Hardware 558 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn 11211 718-388-9521
Doody Home Centers 2461 E 17th St., Brooklyn 11235 718-648-6000
Frankson True Value Hardware 469 Kings Hwy., Brooklyn 11223 718-375-2873
G & M True Value Hardware 9105 Avenue L, Brooklyn 11236 718-209-0717
Hardware Express True Value 829 E New York Ave., Brooklyn 11203 718-778-2700
Home Depot 585 Dekalb Ave., Brooklyn 11205 718-230-0833
Home Depot 2970 Cropsey Ave., Brooklyn 11214 718-333-9850
Home Depot 5700 Avenue U, Brooklyn 11234 718-692-7296
Home Depot 579 Gateway Dr., Brooklyn 11239 718-827-9568
Home Depot 550 Hamilton Ave., Brooklyn 11232 718-832-8553
Lowe’s 118 2nd Ave., Brooklyn 11215 718-249-1151
Mazzone True Value 470 Court St., Brooklyn 11231 718-624-8494
Midwood Lumber & Millwork 1169 Coney Island Ave., Brooklyn 11230 718-859-8100
Murrays True Value Hardware 4214 Avenue D, Brooklyn 11203 718-629-9555
New York Lumber 600 Utica Ave., Brooklyn 11203 718-774-8900
Nostrand True Value Hardware 1785-87 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn 11226 718-693-6327
Park Ave True Value Home Center 525 Park Ave., Brooklyn 11205 718-403-0100
Pasternacks True Value 5506 18th Ave., Brooklyn 11204 718-232-3900
Pathmark 1525 Albany Ave., Brooklyn 11210 718-859-4600
Pathmark 111-10 Flatlands Ave., Brooklyn 11207 718-649-8225
Pathmark 2965 Cropsey Ave., Brooklyn 11214 718-266-4935
Pathmark 1-37 12th St., Brooklyn 11215 718-788-5100
Pathmark 625 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn 11217 718-399-6161
Pathmark 1245 61st St., Brooklyn 11219 718-853-8633
Pathmark 3785 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn 11235 718-934-6614
Polsteins Home Center 7615 13th Ave., Brooklyn 11228 718-232-5055
Sids True Value Hardware 345 Jay St., Brooklyn 11201 718-875-2259
Sunset Hardware 8111 5th Ave., Brooklyn 11209 718-748-0960
Super Stop & Shop 1009 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn 11226 718-469-1300
Super Stop & Shop 1710 Avenue Y, Brooklyn 11235 718-648-0202
Tarzian True Value Hardware 193 7th Ave., Brooklyn 11215 718-788-4120
Waldbaum’s 3100 Ocean Ave., Brooklyn 11235 718-743-5291
Waldbaum’s 2149-2151 Ralph Ave., Brooklyn 11234 718-531-9115
Waldbaum’s 81-21 New Utrecht Ave., Brooklyn 11214 718-236-8369

QUEENS stores that sell paper lawn & leaf bags:
Clearview Paint & Décor 20-11 Francis Lewis Blvd., Whitestone 11357 718-747-5000
Forest Builders Supply Inc 74-02 Forest Ave, Ridgewood 11385 718-381-5800
Hillside True Value 16921 Hillside Ave., Jamaica 11432 718-297-2656
Home Depot 112-20 Rockaway Blvd., South Ozone Park 11420 718-641-5500
Home Depot 124 04 31st Ave., Flushing 11354 718-661-4608
Home Depot 131 35 Avery Ave., Flushing 11354 718-358-9600
Home Depot 132-20 Merrick Blvd., Jamaica 11434 718-977-2081
Home Depot 50-10 Northern Blvd., Long Island City 11101 718-278-9031
Home Depot 75 09 Woodhaven Blvd., Ridgewood 11385 718-830-3323
Main Star Supply True Value 7610 Main St., Flushing 11367 718-261-7907
Raindew True Value 3515 Francis Lewis Blvd., Flushing 11358 718-539-7559
Pathmark 42-02 Northern Blvd., Long Island City 11101 718-937-5722
Pathmark 134-40 Springfield Blvd., Springfield Gardens 11413 718-525-0600
Pathmark 92-10 Atlantic Ave., Ozone Park 11416 718-835-7900
Target Store 135-05 20th Ave., College Point 11356 718-661-4346
Stop & Shop 64-66 Myrtle Ave., Ridgewood 11385 718-381-5136
Stop & Shop 8989 Union Tpke., Ridgewood 11385 718-846-2310
Super Stop & Shop 24926 Northern Blvd., Little Neck 11362 718-423-5601
Super Stop & Shop 34-51 48th St., Long Island City 11101 718-728-7724
Whitestone Hardware True Value 1248 150th St., Whitestone 11357 718-767-9546
Waldbaum’s 156-01 Cross Bay Blvd., Howard Beach 11414 718-738-6875
Waldbaum’s 83-25 153rd Ave., Howard Beach 11414 718-843-5585
Waldbaum’s 75-55 31st Ave., Jackson Heights 11372 718-651-6013
Waldbaum’s 196-35 Horace Harding Expy., Fresh Meadows 11365 718-423-9588
Waldbaum’s 46-40 Francis Lewis Blvd., Bayside 11361 718-224-9302
Waldbaum’s 213-15 26th Ave., Bay Terrace Mall 11360 718-279-3188
Waldbaum’s 35-10 Francis Lewis Blvd., Flushing 11358 718-445-7472
Waldbaum’s 15-301 10th Ave., Whitestone 11357 718-767-8404
Waldbaum’s 133-11 20th Ave., College Point 11356 718-359-2394
Waldbaum’s 259-01 Union Tpke., Glen Oaks 11004 718-831-6227

STATEN ISLAND stores that sell paper lawn & leaf bags:
Community Hardware 453 Port Richmond Ave., Staten Island 10302 718-442-6299
Doody Home Centers 1677 Victory Blvd., Staten Island 10314 718-872-0099
Eddies Home Center 2076 Hylan Blvd., Staten Island 10306 718-979-7878
Home Depot 2501 Forest Ave., Staten Island 10303 718-273-5069
Home Depot 2750 W Veterans Rd., Staten Island 10309 718-984-4690
Home Depot 545 Targee St., Staten Island 10304 718-818-9334
Lowe’s 2171 Forest Ave., Staten Island 10303 718-448-5244
North Shore Hardware 647 Forest Ave., Staten Island 10310 718-981-1013
Reimans True Value Hardware 1825 Victory Blvd., Staten Island 10314 718-442-1200
Pathmark 3501 Amboy Rd., Staten Island 10306 718-967-6788
Pathmark 2730 Arthur Kill Rd., Staten Island 10309 718-984-7961
Star Supply 3000 Richmond Terrace., Staten Island 10302 718-448-7772
Super Stop & Shop 2795 Richmond Ave., Staten Island 10314 718-761-4856
Village True Value Hardware 262f Arden Ave., Staten Island 10312 718-966-9217
Waldbaum’s 1441 Richmond Ave., Staten Island 10314 718-698-6454
Waldbaum’s 4343 Amboy Rd., Staten Island 10312 718-948-9596
Waldbaum’s 3251 Richmond Ave S, Staten Island 10312 718-967-9029
Waldbaum’s 6400 Amboy Rd., Staten Island 10309 718-966-8393
Waldbaum’s 375 Tompkins Ave., Staten Island 10305 718-447-5690

The MAN Gardens

Strolling through the Flatbush Gardener I picked up this little piece from NYC.gov. I have to hand it to Xris over there, he's on top of things. So I am glad he brought this to my attention. I do not want to speak on the specifics of the proposal because I only quickly read his post and glanced at the slide show presented by the city. But some thoughts...

First I want to say, as a gardener and appreciator of things garden and wild, I would like to see more green in all neighborhoods. Second I want to say that I think the city should encourage the greening of the city exactly for the reasons they state: cooler temps, storm water runoff, cleaner air, etc.

I hope this won't be simply stating the obvious, but we should consider why neighborhoods have become concrete. As a man and woman passed my bulb planting activity four years ago, I heard the man say "Too much effort". And isn't this to the point. I have always believed the woman had said to him, "oh, look- he's planting a garden." Yet too much effort are the words ringing in my ears.

So why has NYC become a concrete paradise? Well simply put, people feel it's too much effort to plant. Concrete sheds water, barely needs to be weeded and if so, spray it with herbicide! It easily shoveled, swept, or hosed. Most of all, money spent and its O-V-E-R! Its the same for vinyl siding, isn't it. We can lament its aesthetic shortfalls, but homeowners don't want to paint their homes, don't want to repair rotted wood siding because its costly and time consuming. Absentee landlord's love concrete and tenants have little choice. People with physical problems may want concrete. These are some reasons concrete has won over in areas where cars don't fit or can't get to. Let's face it, its less effort and maintenance.

Of course there must be the driveway for the car as well. I guess that's reasonable if you have a car in the city. And there are so many cars. There is not a night when all the spots in my neighborhood are not taken. Brooklyn is a car town.

This leads me to a sore point about grass strips between sidewalk and street. In my neighborhood, grass strips are many things: weed strips, dirt strips, dog shit strips, garbage strips, broken bottle strips, and lets not forget the most important thing- open car door strips! Where people are parked and must exit cars every day, the grass cannot hold up to this grinding by the feet. In neighborhoods where grass strips seem to work, there MUST be conscientious passengers and caretakers of them. As long as we worship the auto, do away with the grass strip. Its absurd, really. Like those two concrete strips running up a grass driveway-you remember the kind. This photo resembles the idea.

We, as gardeners, can help anyone convert their concrete pad into a garden space. We can show them how to do it with little watering, weeding, and the like. We can show them the beauty of plants the landscape contractor would never touch. We can give them perennial divisions, cutting, and seeds. I am interested in what I call our Collective Green. You heard it here first. We can band together to green up the neighborhood's yards. Volunteers wanted.

I like to win people over as opposed to forcing them. I hope that my front yard sells itself, gives people ideas. If not, so be it. Must be the Libertarian in me. But is a mandate being proposed for NYC? It appears that the proposal is only for new development. But how much new row house or single family style construction is there in the city? The kind that would create "front yard" space? In Queens and Staten Island, mostly, I'd guess.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Flowers Won't Push Daisies

It has been at least a week since my last post. I am getting ready to put together part two of "Our Weeds". The garden is still blooming like mad, especially the aster I cut back hard in June. Roses that won't quit-it is the industrial hedge rose, sunflowers may bloom forever. I've had them blooming into December. That reblooming iris doesn't know what the hell its doing, buds won't open. The sun is so low, there is about 20 minutes of sunlight a day on it now. I still don't know where I will put that Salvia I bought a week ago at Liberty Sunset. Plus the landlord still has workers tamping down the soil and plants in the side garden. I think I'm going to have to get in there and dig things up-at least in the side garden.

Making plans for a larger garden at a remote location, well remote to my house, but still in Brooklyn.
I plan on dividing my plants soon and delivering those divisions to a garden in Sunnyside, Queens. Someone I met while away in New Hampshire this summer. She has more soil than plants, lucky devil.
Leads me to an idea...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Holloween

Things are absolutely still singing in the garden. I have some pale yellow irises re-blooming, though barely seeing any sun. Asters, sunflowers, roses, goldenrod, cosmos, monkshood, chrysanthemums, even phlox still in bloom. But the twinge to start dividing and moving plants is picking up. I think I'll have to wait another two weeks before I can stand to cut down some of those blooms. I did purchase a Salvia Elegans, Pineapple Sage the other day on my Red Hook Nursery District tour. There is no place for it, which means digging something up to place it. Hmmn, what will it be? I need more space. Maybe I can find a new location to garden in addition to the front yard. A post soon on my trip to Red Hook.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Green-wood Cemetery

street sign               cicada moult

This Sunday I spent the earlier half of daylight hours, in a post Holloween party night daze, walking through Green-wood Cemetery. As I strolled through the early-mid 19th century grounds for picnicking with the dead, I thought how peaceful it is in this park. It really is my favorite park and really is peaceful. But watch out, cars sometimes wrap corners pretty fast and silently as drivers aren't expecting walkers. Green-wood, noted so much for its famous dead and buried, brownstone Gothic arch, and parrots, has a nice selection of tree and shrub specimens. This photo is of a hydrangea I noticed while walking along. I have my favorite hydrangeas, and this isn't one of them, but it is amazing how pleasing this shrub can be in summer and then turn to match autumnal color. Pretty spectacular.

Hydrangea Flowers

As I neared the archway, I gazed upon hundreds of people about to take a tour of some kind and I became glad I was leaving as they were coming. That's just the thing about telling people about your favorite places -you don't want everyone to go. Whats that old saying, "Nobody goes there anymore, its too crowded." I'd say the stigma of death and the soccer obstacles we call headstones will keep it mostly quiet.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Hook Nursery District Tour

This Sunday was such a lovely day that I walked through Green-wood Cemetery to get over to the 5th Avenue entrance. Here I picked up the B63, took it to the B77 which I rode to Van Brunt Street for my Red Hook Nursery District tour. Now I must mention that this may not be the best time to gauge nurseries. However, they are open, have items for sale, and as I have stated before, autumn is an excellent time to plant. Plus, I was excited to visit three nearly new nurseries in one area. So why wait till spring? I will qualify my pros and cons with the statement that this was a preliminary visit, in an off season. New visits in spring!

Chelsea Garden Center:

The first thing you should know about the Chelsea Garden Center is that it is broken into two parts with two separate addresses. The main entrance, at 444 Van Brunt Street opens onto their plant yard. This time a year I do not expect much to be laid out here, but this nursery did have an assortment of shrubs and small trees. Chelsea is probably closest to the name "garden center" because it sells plants and all the extras like trellising, pottery, wooden planters, and other decor items. Also carried are an assortment of tools, fertilizers, and soil amendments.

What caught my attention was their decision to offer this season's remaining half and one gallon perennials at 50% off. This was the greatest surprise and delight. They had little in terms of selection, but the willingness to cut prices to reduce over-wintering of these plants makes this gardener happy. Next year I'll get there on the first day this deal is offered. I would say that their plants looked healthy and were well labeled. The selection of 1/2 and full gallon pots ranged in price from $16.95 to 19.95, although a few were $14. Hostas seemed to range higher, up to $24.95, and this higher pricing for hostas occurred at the other nurseries as well.

The other address (on the corner of Reed and Conover Streets) contained their large selection of ceramic pots and the greenhouse. The greenhouse has less houseplants than I expected given its size. A number of people I assumed were the staff did make an effort to say "hi" to me as I wandered the plant yard. I usually don't need the help and I am happy when staff leaves me to be instead of continually asking if I need help.

Pros: Currently fifty percent off perennial pricing! (making pots $8.50-10), lots of planters, pottery, trellis
Cons: Smallish plant yard, little selection of perennials
Prices: The highest in the district $16-24.95 1/2- 1 gallon perennial pots
Quality: Plants appeared healthy. Chelsea sells Monrovia plants, good plants but they are shipped great distances
Selection: Average to low (but it is late October)
Staff: Says hi, leaves me be

Afterward, I left busy Van Brunt (used to be so quiet on Sundays) to move on to 204-207 Van Dyke Street, home of Liberty Sunset Garden Center.

Liberty Sunset Garden Center:

My first impression was built on the confusing signage which told me the entrance was in two opposite directions. First, I went left, then right. Turns out right was, uh, right. As I head down the pier, I begin to see the plants lined up along its edge. A woman with a large dog says that I may go inside. On the right is a multi-tiered display of plants, from annuals to perennials, herbs to flowers. On the left, more of the same.

All kinds of plants are out and about with no apparent sense of order. Some plants are overgrown and bearing fruit (peppers, tomatoes). To confuse more, some plant pots have white numbered prices hand written on them, others correspond to a list the center has posted with a colored "dot" system. Finding the dots on the plants was not always possible. It was hard to tell if the pricing was current. Many plants were not labeled with description or names. There were shrubs, small trees, and some additional perennials around the back of the pier as well as an awfully inviting set of table and chairs.

This may be the wrong aspect to celebrate when discussing nurseries, but Liberty Sunset has the best view of any nursery, maybe anywhere. You start to understand the vibe when you lose yourself to the winds blowing in off New York Harbor. But wait, I can't be thrown off by this. Look at these plants, blown over by the wind, poorly labeled, overgrown, uncared for. Whats up with the expensive cone flower (new variety, I guess)?

But wait, there's a plant I've been looking for- Salvia Elegans, Pineapple Sage. Its still in flower, leggy as hell and probably root bound. I should get this at a bargain-its annual here in NYC. I better go inside.

Now if the view didn't blow you away, you may swoon at the romance of the 1850's warehouse this nursery decorates. Tall ceiling, wooden beams, big space. Operatic music flowing out of some unseen sound system. Tropical plants, well placed all around-is this a store at all? I head towards the sunlight pouring in through the wood and glass doors in the back. As I approach the sounds of falling water, I look to my right and see a man and woman surrounding an enormous bowl of food (smells good) in a dining area. Suddenly I feel I am intruding and turn back towards the front. I ask the friendly guy at the register if he could ring me out. He didn't know enough to tell me if the plant I was buying had overwintered in this location, but he could tell me that tropicals are the owner's real interest, and that that was him eating his meal. The clerk tells me I get two sages for the price of one, to which I decline because it may not survive the winter, and who wants two if that is the case. I quietly hoped he would offer me this one at half price then, but he did not. At $5 and change with tax, this was no deal for an annual that I could easily propagate from a stem I could easily have snipped. But hey, it was worth $5 just to see this place.

Pros: Great view, Civil War era industrial NYC romance
Cons: Confusing signage, plants disorganized, uncared for.
Prices: Reasonable 1/2 gallon perennials $12.99 - $16.99, 1 gallon perennials $14.99 - $22.99
Quality: Tropicals good, outdoor plants seemed they had seen better days
Selection: Average
Staff: eating lunch, friendly clerk at register

After a brief stop at Mark's pizza on Van Brunt, I jumped on the B61 for a few blocks. Off again at the handball courts, near Hamilton Ave. One block away at 45 Summit Street is Gowanus Nursery.

Gowanus Nursery:

This roving plant center had its start on 3rd Street in Gowanus Gardens or what have you. There were few customers when I arrived around 2 or 3 pm. The two staff were friendly and helpful from the start. I could see the difference in this nursery as soon as I walked through the gates.

There was a logic to the layout and all I had to do was inquire to understand it. As for price labels, a logic here too. A handy color chart enabled me to know the prices based on the color combination of a wooden stake and the letter "g" painted on it. Some stakes were light pink with a dark blue "g". Others were yellow, with a pink "g", and so on. I studied the chart along with looking at the plants' stakes and soon I began to remember prices based on the color combos without having to resort to the chart. All plants were labelled with names and descriptions, often from regional wholesale growers. The staff told me that in the future, plant prices will be right on the container.

The organic layout of the plants encouraged me to linger, which then led to getting into in depth conversations with the two staff members on hand. This was quite pleasant. Also, I didn't feel like I had to buy something for their time, always a relief as I have so little room in the garden as it is.

It appeared to me that the Gowanus Nursery endeavors to find the more unusual varieties of common perennials, keeping plant people happy who are always hoping to find something different. This nursery is doing what many larger out of town nurseries won't or can't do at this time of year -selling perennials! The surprise was that Gowanus had on average the lowest prices in Red Hook. One half gallon and one gallon perennials ranged from $11 to $16. Some plants ranged higher, such as the hostas, but overall most were modestly priced. They also had quart-sized perennials running under $10.

What they had little of was the garden center decor items, such as pottery, trellis, and wooden planters, or bags of soil amendments, like fertilizers, compost or manure. One note of caution, check their website before going next spring as this nursery may be moving once again.

Pros: Best average prices, unusual plant varieties
Cons: Few garden center items, like pots and bagged amendments
Prices: On average, Red Hook's lowest. 1/2 and one gallon perennials ranged from $11 - $16, occasionally higher
Quality: Healthy looking plants
Selection: Best selection in the neighborhood, some unusual varieties
Staff: Friendly, conversational, knowledgeable

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hooked on Plants

Who doesn't remember Red Hook when it was a bit sleepier, especially on weekends. Before Fairway, I used to have a studio on Beard Street. Alas, the prices rose and now I am adrift. But what's this, a virtual renaissance of Red Hook's empty lots. Nurseries you say, three?! Maybe for its empty lots, maybe for its new found vehicular traffic on weekends, but there it is-three plant and garden centers in Red Hook. Three?! That is unusual. I guess we need to call it a district now.

I have not been to the Gowanus Nursery since its inception on 3rd. I haven't been to Chelsea Garden Center since it was only in Chelsea. Liberty Sunset, well that's just too new, but I think I was staring at its plastic sheeted greenhouse for at least a couple of years. What I do realize is the dependence on cars to get to these establishments (B77, B71, and B61 buses go to the neighborhood).

Do you know one of those people who will drive all around town to save three cents on gas? Don't drive out of town for plants unless that's what its all about-the drive out of town, nice day in the country (or on the L.I.E.). As for price differences in Red Hook, I say the nurseries are close enough to each other to shop around. But really, what do you think a flat of annuals should cost in NYC? Let me tell you about 4.99 a gallon perennials I buy in Maine when I drop in. And prices are going up, for us and the retailer-the price of fuel alone is driving up the price of everything.

I expect that if each of these nurseries has a specific identity, they all may last. Specialize, have good service. Keep your plants watered. Twenty bucks for a flat of annuals isn't so bad. Twenty bucks ain't what it used to be. The souls who work out in the rurals, those folks who put seeds into flats in humid greenhouses need to make their dollar too. This is NEW YORK CITY! I expect twenty dollar flats to be near the bottom! When I was 19 I worked at Frank's Nursery & Crafts. We sold flats of annuals for 7.99-11.99. This was in 1989. What has happened to the price of everything in 18 years? How much is the real estate you garden on worth? This isn't the suburbs either, where you may have a 1/4 acre to fill with your annual mash up. The lots are small, no doubt not filled with annual starts. In places like NYC small things cost more than big things elsewhere. Either way, I don't hesitate to say, if you want the cheapest annuals, try the big chains.

I do gauge a nursery's prices, but not on a flat of disposable annuals-a luxury product. I gauge them on the price of a half or full gallon perennial and with the knowledge that some perennials will cost more than others, even if all in the same sized pot. I do this with the understanding that year after year, this plant will be with me, and divisible. Suddenly, that 14.99 dollar gallon seems on low side, 12.99 a downright bargain. I'd say that 12.99 is the minimum we may find locally. I suspect, too, that the price of the gallon is relative to the attention paid to it while it at the nursery.

An example: Hick's Nursery and Martin Viette Nursery. Both out on Long Island, about an hour's drive. Viette is on Route 25A in East Norwich. Hick's is on Route 25 in Westbury. Viette has higher prices (12.99-19.99) per gallon perennial, but the upkeep is excellent. Hick's has lower prices, say 9.99 to 14.99 the last time I visited (3 years ago), but their plants often looked abused, often unwatered, tipped over - the reason why its been so long since I have been there. Same plants species at each, but different prices. My observation is that Hick's is an understaffed, high traffic nursery in a slightly cheaper real estate zone. Viette has plenty of exceptional staff, less customer volume, and in a much fancier neighborhood. These differences account for differences in price.

If we want nurseries in our neighborhoods, we must visit them, go at the least three times a year-not counting when you buy Christmas trees. Ask for plants in the spring, summer, and definitely autumn. New York City is a downright excellent place to plant in autumn. Check out the Blogging Nurseryman to keep up on the difficulties of running a small, independent nursery. Its got to be harder in the real estate frenzy of New York City.

Yet what we do have in New York City is discerning, curious plant lovers. Our gardens are small, but come on, this is one of the best places to garden given our climate and rainfall. I hope these nurseries can develop a strong base of customers who support them because they are small, knowledgeable, and have unique offerings. I hope these nurserypeople consider the vast ethnic variety of New York City so that they can provide plants desired by people from all over the world. Good luck. I'll visit soon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Smashed Plants

And so my prediction of an early end to the season in my new plot on the side of the house came true. At least in part. Workers doing tasks on the landlord's building danced on the plants. Too bad, because if I had known when they were working, maybe I could have prepared. Well I learned an important lesson: don't plant right up against a house, leave three feet of working space.

Not that my garden is some kind of foundation planting, but just that there is so little space I needed to use every last bit of it. It could be said that every street-side garden in NYC is a foundation planting. Google foundation planting and all you seem to get are commercial articles about the project. Its maybe unfashionable to talk about it in the garden design crowd, but commercial landscapers do it by the truck load. I think it is funny how one of the articles mentions that people today like to garden privately in their backyards. This is true, but its also true that I like to garden in the only yard I have-the front. Its public and I appreciate the relationship I develop with the people in the neighborhood via this activity. I'll do a post on this in the future.

Anyhow, make it possible to get to your house if work may need to be done, sparing yourself the agony of smashed plants. Or pull out the plants before the worker's arrive. So as not to end on a bad note, here is a picture of my "Sheffield Pink" Chrysanthemum, doing well in its first year in the garden.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Our Weeds: part 1

The topic of weeds is so broad that it will be hard to blog about it in one post. I am putting together a catalogue of weed photos so that you can access them for identification. Please email nycgarden@gmail.com or comment about factual corrections so that I can update the listing.

So what is a weed, after all? I believe it was Emerson who stated that a weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. It seems that this future virtue will be in the eye of the beholder. I once grew out a lawn (meaning I did not mow -to the neighbor's displeasure) around a house I had rented just to see what would rise up. Seven flowering plants in the lawn I had catalogued that summer or as clear to the neighbor's eye- seven weeds. I am no enemy of plants so that certain "volunteers", as my grandmother calls them, are always visible in my garden. Fortunately this means little to my Brooklyn neighborhood where weeds and garden plants seem to equal each other in number. Weeds are the green mass around the concrete mass.

I allow in my current garden a selection of weeds that I feel I can manage, namely Dayflower Commelina Communis and Smartweed Polygonum caespitosum. They self-sow each year, have pleasant visual attributes, and are easy to pull should they get out of hand. I allow them to fill in blanks the way another gardener may with annual seeds bought at the garden center. Now I must admit I also have a knack for picking perennial plants for my garden that become "weedy." It took me two years to eradicate plume poppy Macleaya cordata from the garden. At times it seems that everything I like is weedy in the garden: Solidago, Spiderwort, Perennial Ageratum, Maximillian Sunflower, and Boltonia. It has become a matter of learning how to manage these perennials so that they do not behave like weeds. So even cultivated plants become weeds in the garden, and often they do so out of the garden.

Do we think the same of a weed that pushes through our sidewalk as we do of a weed in the garden, farm or park? I think the context with which you engage these plants gives them their offensiveness or virtue. For instance, if you are trying to tackle a weedy back lot that has not seen the sustained attention of humans in years, you will curse the perniciousness of certain plants till your death. A friend in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn has been battling morning glory vines since they moved into that house 11 years ago. Decades of seeds sitting in the soil, simply waiting for the right stimulus to sprout. Weeds to the farmer hit his bottom line, infiltrate his harvest, and so are cursed, yet some commercial crops are weeds themselves. In parks, especially wilderness parks, the weeds are often called "invasives" or "aliens". Yet the native plants found in many parks may be considered weeds to the farmer or in our home garden. As a way of distinguishing, maybe it is that weeds seem to inhabit our most cultivated landscapes, whereas invasives inhabit our more natural places. No matter though, because all these plants have the ability to adapt to and exploit their new environment. Some will be weeds in your garden and some invasives will be your beloved garden plants. What's a gardener to do?

We have to make choices for our gardens. Its worth checking online lists of weeds and invasives so that you can make informed choices, learn about the habits of these plants so that if you do plant them, you may try to keep them under control. The New England Wildflower Society has a great website with lots of information, including their definition of native, exotic, and invasive plants. Also, check out the United States National Arboretum site which, at the bottom of the page, has a state by state listing and also several links to other organizations regarding invasive plants.

Certain plants are illegal to cultivate in certain states and often these will not be for sale in those states. I have not found a listing of illegal plants for New York State, but state government has established a council, the Invasive Plant Council of New York State. I believe, as in some other states, that sales of certain garden plants (ex. Purple Loosestrife, Japanese Barberry) will be made illegal in the state of New York. A list has recently been put together by Suffolk County.

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about the whole issue. Weed versus cultivated plant, native versus alien invasive. I am concerned about the ecosystem disruption brought on by the non-native invasive plants. It has become a landscape management crisis. However, species do migrate on their own and as companions to other species (like us). When we think about this we need to understand that it is human need and desire that creates both invasive plant problems and native plant conservation. We want the native flora to flourish and to have our cultivated plants. How can we choose? Should we?

I really like the Connecticut Botanical Society website. I have linked to it many times in this post. They have a wildflower listing that includes wild-growing plants that we would consider garden plants and weeds in addition to natives. Great photos, clear layout, great site. You can search via flower color or plant family. Great for identification. Also linked to many times for great images and information is missouriplants.com. While the site specializes in Missouri plants, many grow in our own area. Superb for identification.

Well a little post on our weeds has become a long post on invasives. Surely there's more to come on that.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Where Bees Sleep

I am getting ready to put together a longer post on weeds. Until then, I want to relay to you my utter fascination with the beds for bees. Tonight, as I passed the garden's sunflowers, I noticed one bee, then many sitting on the disk. I almost couldn't believe what I was looking at so that I had to blow on them to see if they would move. It took me a few minutes to realize I should try to get some photos. I had to use the flash, which disturbed them a little. But then back to sleep they went.

My landlord set up a date with a siding contractor, coming soon. Despite promises to the contrary, I fully expect major destruction to the garden wherever the workers will be. Small spaces, ladders, bootfeet, and old shingles tossed to the ground pretty much spells the end of the growing season to me. With that in mind, here's a shot of the garden from this morning.

The garden in early June

The garden now.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Farms go Vertical

According to an article at MSNBC, architects are planning for vertical tower farms in cities (or elsewhere). Seems a little too technological for my taste, but it is arguable that many of our vegetable foods already do come from horizontal greenhouses. Check out this site: verticalfarm.com.

My wife and I had a vegetable garden in a
community plot in Madison, Maine in the summer of 2006. Its a short season up there.
I bought Early Girl and some Roma-type plums tomatoes and I was lucky to harvest any before I had to leave at the end of August. I bought large-sized starts, maybe 18 inches tall, to get me going. So what do I know when I read that a company, Backyard Farms, Inc. (previously known as U.S. Functional Foods, LLC), decided that this is a great place to open a huge greenhouse complex to grow tomatoes, year round! Well, central Maine does have some economic woes and so, no doubt, the government there gave the company some tax incentives and excellent electricity rates. To grow fruit of this sort in a greenhouse without the aid of the sun (essentially 1/2 the year) requires a lot of artificial light. It requires pumps and fans and irrigation. It requires heat. A lot of energy goes into this type of production.

Despite all this, central Maine is now providing much of New England with hothouse tomatoes year round. Could it really be cost effective? How do those tomatoes taste? I read one report that Whole Foods is carrying them. The press has been good, though mostly scraped from the Associated Press report. Check out these links: Kennebec Journal, The Maine Democrat, Global Good News.

Would you like to see 18 story greenhouses in New York City?

Do check out the book Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. I really enjoyed this book and it is worth your time. I am thinking twice about all those potatoes I have ever eaten after reading Pollan's description of an ordinary Idaho farmer's agricultural practices in the field. This is simply a great read on the interrelationship of humans and plants.

It happens to be raining tonight and it is about time. Its been a bit droughty the last six weeks or so. The plants are doing fine, but the trees have given in to some leaf drop. Tonight we did see some lightning. You know that it is said to be good for the plants. Oh they look so healthy after a good thunderstorm. I'll continue to think it even though I always suspected it wasn't true. Its just that when you get some lightning, you often get some good, deep-soaking rain. However, and this is just some foolish thinking, I do think that plants know when it is going to rain and prepare for it. So that beside the deep-soaking rain, they were also prepared for it, not taxed by it like they may be from the sprinkler or hose.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

NYC Closes Sprink Creek Composting Facility

It is hard for me to believe that NYC could close Brooklyn and Queens only compost facility - Spring Creek. Not only is composting an important waste reduction activity, it has been a great boon to gardeners across the boroughs of this city. I have been going to Spring Creek for a few years now to supply my garden with fresh and FREE compost. As much as I can cart away. Let me tell you this was a busy place on the giveaway weekends. The facility was well staffed with DSNY employees directing cars in and out of the facility and helpful with directions should drivers feel disoriented. To be sure, this is not an area many people go often. Spring Creek is on the north side of the Belt Parkway, NW of JFK airport. But its easy to get to (I take Linden Blvd., aka Route 27, the whole way) and no problem once there.  

Apparently the DSNY has not been able to renew their operating permit. I do not know why this is the case. They say they are searching for new facilities. Meanwhile, there are two other sites to pick up fresh compost this fall, at the Fresh Kills Facility on Staten Island and at the Sound View Facility in the Bronx.

Last year DSNY gave away at Spring Creek great brown paper leaf bags. They also have compost bins at discounted prices for sale. Check out the schedule for this years compost giveways. Also check out the schedule for leaf pick-up.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fall is the time

Fall is the time I most want to plant. Many would suspect that its the spring, after the long winter. But autumn I think is the ideal time, especially in New York City. In the typical Brooklyn autumn, I like to start my transplanting around Halloween and often after that date. Given my garden's southern exposure and the warm temperatures we have been having over the last few years, my asters, sunflowers, roses and some annuals are still flowering at that time. I have years when these plants are still going in December. So it is that I hate to disrupt this display by tramping all over everything and digging things up. I want to wait until the last moment, and keep my eye on the coming weather. These days I'm just thinking about moving things, in November, I'm probably doing it.

Fall being a time to garden, transplant, and to find new plants, I like to go to nurseries. However, these days nurseries are filled with pumpkins, hay bales, and assorted autumnal decorations. Maybe they have bushels of apples for sale and hay rides in a wagon. Even my local nursery, and I am lucky to have one, brings out the decorations at this time of year.

J&L Landscaping on the corner of Caton Ave. and E7th St. in Brooklyn

We are all familiar with the Christmas trees and wreaths sold at nurseries in December. I am sure that many of you have noticed the creep of holiday sales into the fall planting season. Now I don't blame the nurseries. After all, they are businesses trying to make a buck. Most non-gardeners buy plants in late Spring and summer-when its on their minds. Gardeners of course are a different breed altogether, its always on their minds. So the nurseries succumbed to a business model that offers nostalgia and sentiment over plants. Check out the Blogging Nurseryman.

Part of the issue is that many nursery plants just look like hell in their pots at this time of year. Management wants them to be out of sight of future customers. Many days seen without water, blown over in windstorms, root bound in their pots. Who'd want to buy them. I just miss the days of sales, when a good gardener could resurrect almost any plant under duress, and get a good deal or two. The industry is such that retail nurseries will only get shipments of what the wholesale growers are pushing. In fall, you know its the Chrysanthemums. To be fair, most nurseries are still offering their selection of trees and shrubs until frost. Those are out past the 1/2 acre of pumpkins on hay.

As with all things lustful, there is the Internet. Gone are the days of mail order plants. I remember my first shipment from a catalog. Some dehydrated roots of who knows what! How disappointing to open your shipment of new plants and find three brown twigs. I was sure they were dead already, but then I was a kid and didn't know the first thing about it. The Internet changed all that. Glorious photos, all year round, of full healthy plants. Easy ordering and easy shipping.  Suddenly it was possible to get healthy, although small, plants fresh on your doorstep at the time to plant. Every plant I have ordered has survived, even thrived. White Flower Farm was the source for my Russian Sage, my Boltonia, and my Aster "Monch". All are very healthy. I also got nice lilium bulbs from Select Seeds, but get on it early as they do sell out. The only worry we have is whether or not we can be there when the FED EX guy shows up.

If you can tear yourself away from the Internet, go on over to your local nursery this fall and buy a plant (if you can find one). While your there, pick up a pumpkin. Still can't get those online.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Welcome Ramblings

I was out today dusting the sidewalk. It was that kind of a day, when the high clouds semi-obscure the suns rays. It’s a gardening day and in New York City, that means sweeping the sidewalk for many of us. I do have a garden though, small but productive, in my Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s in the front yard, if you will. Its not much of a yard, roughly 30 inches by 30 feet, running 1/2 the length of my apartment building. Between the soil and the sidewalk stands an iron fence, about 30 inches tall.

I water my garden about three times a year, outside of mandatory soakings after transplants. I do this with a white 5-gallon pail, filled at the spigot around the house corner, near where my landlord parks his pole setting truck. He's a telephone pole setter, not many like him.

At this time of the year I take stock of the growing season. You can, as many neighbors scratching their heads in wonder do, find me standing at the fence staring into my little plot. What I am doing here is re-organizing the plants, rethinking their placement. I do like to move the plants around. A fascination from the very first moment I had actually moved a plant. I was young; I dug up a sedum (yellow-green flowers, tiny leaves) growing in random placement around our foundation and moved it. I don't remember why. I also did this with clumps of grass in our backyard (not known for its lawn). I reclaimed sandy areas for play while agglomerating grassy ones. A gardener was born. I learned the magic of transplant, that I could also not kill something. Maybe even improve its lot or even its fate.

I killed alot along the way. I also learned not to care. You can't let death get in the way of your learning. I do not know how many plants I have lost. But I remember why when specific plants are in question and do not make those errors twice. In the service of learning, do things. This year I cut back my asters one time too many. Oh, they're okay-just budding out later than normal. But I wanted to push it, because these asters so often get out of control. Now I know and nothing was lost.

Every gardener has a specific set of circumstances. It is these that ultimately tie one to the land, specific knowledge meeting general knowledge. Me, well I have a garden where the soil may never actually freeze due to its proximity to the concrete sidewalk and foundation and its southern exposure. Last winter it was so warm, the clematis I recently transplanted from another garden leafed out in January! And we so often plant given our circumstances. I've been away for summers the last several years, so I planted for Spring and Fall. This summer the garden was rather barren because I was here to see it for the first time in years. Given my microclimate, now I'm thinking about upzoning my planting. I've always been a fan of pineapple sage (salvia elegans) and other mildly hardy sages. They grow as annuals here, but you know I think I might be able to get it to survive over winter.

The fact that I've been away every summer caused me to consider watering. I knew that I wanted a careless garden, a group of plants that essentially took care of themselves. So I chose based on my interests in color, form and so on, but also on whether or not they could support themselves with no water, all year. So here is a list of plants in my front yard:

Russian Sage -Perovskia atriplicifolia
Maximilian's Sunflower -Helianthus maximilianii
Yarrow -Achillea millefolium
Stonecrop -Sedum spp.
Primrose -Oenothera spp.
Hardy Ageratum -Eupatorium coelestinum
Aster spp.
Chrysanthemum "Sheffield Pink" -Dendranthema x rubellum
Lavender -Lavandula angustifolia
Garden Phlox -Phlox paniculata
Climbing Rose "New Dawn"
Geranium spp.
Tickseed -Coreopsis lanceolata
Cosmos sulphureus
Easy, everblooming shrub rose
Sidalcea spp.
Onion -Allium sphaerocephalon

They have all done exceptionally well, and I only water if it doesn't rain for weeks on end. This year, not at all. I do have a propensity for spreading plants. But this is a topic for another day.