Monday, September 22, 2008

Gas Cans & Gas Don'ts

A tip from the Yardener/Gardener blog, I thought I may bring this to your attention. We all know about the millions and millions of gallons of gasoline spilled at service stations every year. How about the gas spilled from filling lawnmowers? Right, sure you've done it. Now its been a long time for me -not having mowed a lawn since, I dunno, I was 20. But I remember the headache of blind filling. Apparently we spill 17 million gallons a year this way. So Consumer Reports tested a few no-spill gas tanks. If your mowing, maybe you could get one. They may be regulation soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mosquito Menace

Susan Ellis,

It was sometime around fall, 2001 that I began to notice them. I was working on a garden project in Park Slope. In the middle of the day I was being drained of my blood by a kind of mosquito that I had never seen before. They were out in the middle of the day. They were non-stop. They were the Asian Tiger Mosquito.

I grew up in these parts. I comfortably told anyone engaged in a conversation about mosquitoes that where I grew up, mosquitoes came out in force at dusk only. Sometimes, though rarely, they chased us in. In our urbanized region, mosquitoes were never as prevalent as in the north woods and dry summers made them even less frequent. This was my mosquito experience until Brooklyn 2001, when everything changed.

These new mosquitoes were day travelers, preferred shady spots, and didn't have any noticeable water to breed in. I thought maybe a sump or drain had some water in it, but it never seemed enough to promote the quantities of mosquitoes I was seeing.

Leap forward to now. My tomato patch is an incredible reservoir of the Asian Tiger Mosquito. None of our common mosquitoes anywhere to be found. Yet, when I walk into the vegetable garden I am assaulted by tens, maybe 100 little black and white striped mosquitoes. They are aggressive and the welts itch immediately. My friends with vegetable gardens are chased out of them regularly. Many have come to using Deet where before they did not.

I have noticed that I do not get one mosquito while tending to the super sunny front flower garden. Never a bite until, maybe, the sun goes low behind the trees. I have noticed that in the shady afternoon of the vegetable garden I get swarmed like crazy. I get drilled by them in the sunny morning too, but not nearly as much as the shady afternoon. It is worse now that the tomato plants are full and lush. I've seen the mosquitoes sitting on the leaves before they realize a meal has just stepped in. They hide under the canopy of leaves, I do not think they like the full sun. I do not have standing water in the garden, but I do have planter boxes that get watered. I now question whether it is possible for the Asian Tiger Mosquito to breed in wet areas without standing water. I think it may be.

My Mosquito notions:
Asian Tiger Mosquitoes like shady sites
They only need wet soil, not standing water to breed
They feed at all hours of the day
They are present where other mosquitoes are not
Highly aggressive
Roost in plant canopy
Do not tolerate full sunshine

Susan Ellis,
A Google Search turns up some facts:

  • In 1985 the mosquito turned up in Houston, Texas. By 1995, it made its way to Southern New Jersey. At this time it is in most of the Eastern United States. So my 2001 time frame seems to make some sense with this time line.
  • The mosquito apparently lays its eggs in dry containers (tree holes, tires, pots, etc.) and those eggs are hardy enough to wait until water arrives. So maybe for me it is not the damp soil, but dry planter sides that then get inundated every few days or so with water from the watering can that promote the breeding. Another hot spot maybe the water runoff grate at my street corner, just four feet from my garden.
  • The mosquito apparently was a forest dweller in its home range. This may explain the attraction to the shady afternoon garden. Strong sun may be a bit too much for it (?).
  • It feeds heavily in the late afternoon. Well, that crosses over with the shady part, so...
  • Municipal mosquito spraying doesn't work because they do this at night and the Asian Tiger is active in day. The Tiger is also very localized, never traveling more than 200 yards or so. This means that every person who has the bugger would have to spray. But then you would kill everything else active in the day, like bees and dragonflies. Plus, who likes spraying?
  • The only solution is to eliminate containers that might hold the slightest amount of water. For me, this may mean my vegetable planter boxes! Oh, no! Watch me move to raised beds in two seconds!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Psst. Hey, Sarah - I Wanna Show Ya Somethin.

Straw bear at the Berkshire Botanical Garden

Eupatorium Blue

Eupatorium ceolestinum is in the family Asteraceae (the Asters). I pulled this plant from my Grandmother's house before it sold. She calls it Hardy Ageratum. It looks like the annual Ageratum, but this Eupatorium is both perennial and native. One thing I never noticed about Grandma's Hardy Ageratum was it spreading. Mine spreads, not terribly so, but noticeably. It continues to send out new under-soil-surface runners, but is easy to pull.

While walking in Prospect Park this morning, looking at all the white-flowered Snakeroot, Ageratina Altissima, I thought of my dear garden variety Eupatorium. I thought, what a wonderful plant blooming so blue at this time of year and filling up its space so well that I can divide it and give it to others and its native to North America and so on. Snakeroot used to be called, botanically speaking, Eupatorium rugosum, and so now it lives a double life until those who care about such things can figure it out.

Snakeroot in Prospect Park

My Eupatorium

Fall Seedlings

Besides all those cherry tomato seedlings popping up, I do have some young ones that I intentionally planted in the former green bean box and cucumber box. I think the spinach will do well, the broccoli, uh -I dunno.

Broccoli on the left, Spinach on the right

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Season's Knowledge

I think it is late enough in the growing season to make some sound judgements regarding my vegetable planting boxes. First -they worked. They held together, held the soil, supported the plants, even did not dry out too fast.

  • For green beans, the box worked out excellent. Ten to twelve inches wide and the same in depth, I was able to get an amazing amount of bush beans in a small planter. The longer the box, the more plants. I planted mine with two parallel rows down the length of the planter. A great success.
  • My 12 x 12 x 12 parsley box has worked quite well too. Similar sizes work great for basil.
I have a varying sizes for the tomatoes and this is where my critical judgement comes in.
  • Twelve by twelve by fourteen inches deep is not enough soil space for a rapidly growing large tomato plant like the San Marzano, Brandywine, or German Stripe I planted. These plants have meaty stems and grew 5 feet tall in one month's time. The plant's roots went through the planter bottom and tapped the ground. If you are growing on a rooftop, or concrete pad, or wherever, the roots may not be able to do this and the large plants will suffer during hot, droughty periods. They may also succumb to disease due to stress or become stunted.So my judgement is that large tomatoes, like those indeterminate heirloom types, require larger, deeper boxes. What depth? I can only guess at this point to say at least 20 inches, maybe 24 inches deep. The depth seems to be more crucial than the width.
  • Smaller tomatoes, like cherries, grapes, and anything labeled "Patio" should do fine with 14-16 inches of depth. But stay on top of the watering. These boxes dry out sooner than the earth and the bushy plants shed water around them, not into the planting box.

My planting was very dense, 7 tomatoes in less than 40 square feet. The more room you can give them, the better for air circulation and light penetration.

I had some questions about whether or not to line the box with plastic. I do not do this anymore because I do not want to grow in plastic. I prefer to have the soil hold the moisture, then let it drain out. The plastic may prolong the life of the wood planter on the interior. But I don't think it is a significant increase in life of the planter to warrant it. However, the plastic may increase resistance to blossom-end rot and cracking of tomatoes by maintaining a steadier moisture level. So this is a matter of personal choice, although you do want to be sure there is some drainage in your planter. Over wet soil is as bad for plants as drought.

For a reason that has remained a mystery all season, my cilantro has been sickly. I think this is because the soil has remained wet no matter what the weather conditions. I do not understand this, there is drainage in the planter (is it clogged?). Not until I empty the planter will I find out.

A View

This is the view from one of the trails

Saturday, September 6, 2008

NYC Compost Give Back Dates Announced

The NYC Compost Project announces it Fall 2008 Compost Give Back.
Save the dates:

Soundview Facility
(Bronx) October 4th & 5th -8 am - 2 pm

Fresh Kills Facility
(Staten Island) October 18th & 19th -8 am - 2pm

There are still no give backs at the Spring Creek facility (Queens/Brooklyn)

From the DSNY:
Unfortunately, Still No Compost Givebacks in Brooklyn

At present, DSNY doesn’t have an operating compost site in Queens or Brooklyn, so we are unable to provide more convenient giveback locations for residents in these boroughs.
DSNY is awaiting final approval from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to operate the Spring Creek Compost Site, located near the Brooklyn/Queens border by the Gateway mall.
DSNY currently has only two permitted compost sites (Fresh Kills on Staten Island and Soundview in the Bronx). To keep composting programs operational, DSNY needs additional sites. To address this problem, NYC’s Solid Waste Management Plan created the Compost Siting Task Force comprised of representatives appointed by the Mayor, the five Borough Presidents, and City Council.

Of course you may go to the other facilities, but for the gas and tolls.

Trail Maker

Rex's woods had been neglected over the years, probably at some point a farmer's woodlot. But he is a woodland trail maker -its his favorite activity. It gives him an intimate knowledge of the woods he lives in and opens the woods up to people, mainly his neighbors. Last year I carved a trail sign out of Redwood for his network of trails. We mounted it on two Cedar posts this passed July at the head of the main trail behind the house.

Rex uses the fallen timber to frame the trails and the wood chips from the chainsawing to soften the path. Moss often grows on the old logs.

He can often be found clearing the woodland brush. These woods have been invaded by Buckthorn, an invasive brought over from Europe as a hedging shrub. Over many months he piles up the brush and twigs which form great piles like the one below.

At any given time there may be a few of these piles around the woods. In winter, if there is good enough snow cover, he will burn these piles. I'd like to be there when he does.

Heart Land

My father-in-law, Leroy (Rex), has ownership of about 38 acres in south central Minnesota. Its quite different out there, from my vantage point here in Brooklyn, NY. This blog will be about that landscape.

The land is glacially sculpted, much like the land I grew up with on Long Island, NY. But his land sits in the Big Woods- an area defined by deciduous forest. The land is hilly, or rolling, with many small and large lakes (the land-o-lakes), wetlands and bogs. To the west is prairie. This part of Minnesota has distinct boundaries, created in part by the glaciation, in part by precipitation, and partly by fires. As you drive west, you can sense the change from the Big Woods region to the prairie region even though it has been drastically altered by farming.

Drink Garden, Drink

Oh that beautiful warm rain. Thank you Hanna.

Image courtesy of

Thursday, September 4, 2008

PF 1

Only 11 days left to visit Public Farm One at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens. While the project suffers all the same problems any urban gardener faces, this architectural project serves to inspire us to grow under any circumstances or limitations we may face. I never thought of concrete tubes (ex. Sonotube) as a useful container for planting.

Citibank looms over the P.F. 1 garden

The underside of the structure

All the paper tubes are tied together with 2 x 4 lumber and bolts

The growing media is supported by a plywood base

A graphic representation of the growing media system called GaiaSoil.

The growing media is primarily Polystyrene, with a layer of jute and then a thin layer of compost on top. In this photo you can see the polystyrene coming through. This spinach is not doing so well, although I cannot say it is because of the growing medium or some other problem- like summertime.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hint of Autumn

Traveling through New England over Labor Day weekend, I saw in the mountains of Maine, New Hamphire, Vermont, and New York hints of Autumn in August.