Saturday, November 22, 2008

Casual Camera Casualty

What's casual in a casualty -I suppose that its a matter of chance. My casual camera, the Canon Powershot A80, was suffering psychedelic visuals. By casual chance I noticed that the company was offering rehab for cameras that were suffering symptoms just like my camera's. My camera being a casualty of not so good engineering over at Canon, I sent it off this week for rehab. They say they can help.

By chance I located, hidden in a drawer, a really cheap digital video camera that also takes stills. A brand name I certainly do not recognize. Its images are quirky at best. Poor contrast control and blurred edges. Difficulty focusing. Not very dynamic. You'll see this in all my recent photos.

My Canon will be missed. Please return safely, and soon.

Sometimes a camera works so poorly that it does magical things. I have a compact 35 mm film camera, a Ricoh AF40 with 38mm lens, that's like this. Actually, the Ricoh is a decent camera giving excellent results in certain situations. This digicam, however, is just bad, yet it still took these photos that I find to be fantastic. In the spirit of all cameras' quirks, I offer these dreamy photos taken by my nameless digicam.

These shots make sense now, a dreamy warmth out of step with that bluster outside.

My Brain is Frozen

Well, it must be because I was outside today wrapping up my broccoli starts as if they were going to make it. I mean I know I am too busy when I am wrapping for the freeze 5 days after it struck. They may have made it if I got to them by Wednesday. But now?!

It looks spooky, like some kind of phantom cradle. Its an apparition. So's my broccoli.

Lone tea barely freezing, hanging on, still scented

Salvia elegans succumbs to nasty black death, but that lone, wallside branch not giving in.

The asters hanging on, their oily leaves more resistant to the cold.

Crazy Hard Early Freeze

I haven't seen it this cold this soon since 2002. I didn't have a garden that year, but I remember the cold on Thanksgiving morning as I went off to the parade with my then girlfriend and now wife. It was cold then, but this cold comes with a stinging wind. Brrr.

As we walked through Prospect Park this morning to pick up our Thanksgiving turkey from the farmer market, I couldn't help but to notice all the south facing slopes that had full grown canopy and understory trees with totally green leaves on them. Now, I don't mean the evergreens, but maples and the like, deciduous trees that seemed to not even have the chance to change color before the freeze. Those leaves look flash-frozen, perfectly green.

So it was disjunctive to feel the brisk wind on my face and see masses of perfectly green leaves attached to groupings of trees. Its particularly noticeable on the west side, near the cemetery as you descend the moraine's slope and also between the massive, green brick Parks' garage and the drive. Unusual, or at least I cannot recollect this scene from past years.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bye Bye Vegetables

Sad, those tomatoes.

But the parsley is hanging in there, and a lone Sheffield Chrysanthemum

Such dark pictures, these were taken mid-day.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Real Freeze Coming this Week

Button up your tender plants, this seems to be the real deal. I got some broccoli trying so hard to grow in its three hours of dim sunlight each day that I think will make it through. I intended the make a plastic cover for it, but no time, or no plastic, or both. 

Meanwhile the sunflowers, salvia elegans, asters, goldenrod, roses, and chrysanthemums that still bloom daily will take a good hit. My guess is they won't all succumb, but the pineapple sage may.

The bright side: the end of those pesky tiger mosquitoes. Must still be a problem for some, because I get a steady stream of hits regarding those. So good riddance. 

I guess I am ready for the end, though it comes a little earlier this year than recent past. I need to clean out the garden and remove the too many plants I do have. Although this may have to wait for spring as it seems a bit late for a giveaway.

The San Marzano and German Stripe tomatoes are still putting out flowers despite the two hours of sun a day they get. I am tempted to clip a few branches to over winter, but alas I think it will be a failure knowing full well my lack of attention to indoor plants. They are still so brilliant green out there, so it will be a shame to see them succumb to the freeze.

My spinach was a failure. Two leaves on most, some bolted prematurely. Miserable level of achievement there. Say goodbye to the basil, oh you'll be missed. Hang on parsley, Thanksgiving is coming and I need you still. 

My camera has died and this has left me without photographic motivation. By some good fortune I happened upon the Canon website and noticed my camera was covered by some defect policy. Hooray now that I am getting it fixed for free even though it is over four years old. But without the pictures, posts are harder, wordy even, and further in between.

Well, it was a good growing year. Next will be different; better? How, I do not know yet, but I'll let winter sow its yearnings. This is also the end of my first full blogging/growing season. An anniversary of sorts. More to come I hope. Happy freezing!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Community Garden Parks

I think this recent post by the Flatbush Gardener is a valuable read. In it he defines 3 types of garden spaces: park, community garden, and urban farm. He discusses the cooptation of certain community gardens by corporate, wealthy enterprises such as the New York Restoration Project and Target Corporation.

From the NYRP website:
Garden Restoration and Management
Community garden restoration is one of the most creative and effective things we do to revitalize under served communities. NYRP secures funding from corporate and private donors to restore and endow our community gardens, and then engages leading architectural and landscape designers to transform them into community treasures (click here for NYRP garden designers). With participation, guidance, and input from community gardeners, schools, and organizations, our designers develop appropriate, innovative, and environmentally friendly designs to meet the community's immediate and future needs. Once a garden restoration is completed, NYRP commits resources for its permanent stewardship, providing ongoing support to community gardeners, including design consultation, technical assistance, garden materials, volunteers, community outreach, and educational and cultural programming. We also provide a dedicated horticulture team, carpentry, and crews that help with garden maintenance and local residents serve their community as garden managers.

I am most interested in the community garden plots listed that do not have designers. In other words, plots that have been designed by the people who use them. These plots have gone under the least drastic changes under the NYRP. Most often I cannot see much difference between the before and after. Sometimes I like the look of the before more than the after. Many of the designer gardens were drastically altered to offer some grand spaces. But these changes do not always say "community garden" to me. Check out these Brooklyn alterations.

In my opinion:

The wealthy class sees landscape as a stage for genteel activity. Unkempt land is targeted for "improvement." This has long been the rule for land use. Community gardens, in my experience, spring from a set of conditions that set them at odds with these ideals. While community gardeners do aim to improve the land, the form with which this takes place is different-the gardeners' perspective is different.
What inspires a community garden? Certainly a set of conditions must exist.
  • land disuse
  • free time
  • need for fresh vegetables
  • desire to interact with natural processes
  • desire to come together with a community
  • desire to improve community

Maybe there are more conditions, but this list touches on it. When I look at community gardens I see a wild growth, disarray even, bounded often by timber, stone, or brick frameworks. There are grass, dirt, brick, or chip paths. Often found items are incorporated into the landscape. People are actively involved in the landscape, working or hanging out.

It seems to me that these community-come-designer gardens confer upon these landscape spaces the dictum of an aesthetic formality, a genteel order and other issues. The design defines the work so that the worker is more often catering to its aesthetics than tending to vegetables. Design often cares little for people or rather, it asks us to bend to it. Is there space for drinking beer? Can large groups congregate. Where can we BBQ? I found this object, where can I put it? My vegetables sprawl, is there room for this? Where can we compost? These are the questions of a community gardener.

A new thought. People are more and more interested in actively participating in natural processes, involved in "nature." I wonder aloud then about the idea that parks, defined by the Flatbush Gardener as "green spaces open to the public, but not cared for by them," could be expanded to include green spaces open to the public and cared for by them. Would it not be better to incorporate into governmental agency the notion that green spaces are important, that activity connecting us with natural processes is a valuable component of civic life? This idea over the incorporation of our community landscape spaces into private, wealthy institutions? When these institutions become parent to these spaces, it will be difficult to extricate their expectations from community needs.

What we need is to express the enormous value of being human in a landscape that allows us involvement with natural processes. What community gardens seem least interested in are the formal rules designed for wealthy institutions. If a neighborhood has so changed, that the garden space has simply become an expression of its wealth, then so be it. But I would like to foster the idea that people have a need to interact with these natural processes. That involvement with the work of a garden is a good thing. That work is not a negative. That we should be proud of our work. And why cannot a park be a place that we come together to do this work? When I hear the word "recreation" there is no other thing that comes to mind than garden work. Re-creation. Doesn't sound like jet-skiing to me. Aren't parks for recreation?

So I imagine that future parks could be designed to include human participation. An abstraction, yes, from our original habitat, but important -even in its abstraction. As we design more parks around our new reality- ecological niches, but with less money for park development, could we not include adults or groups of school children to do a lot of the hand-work? The benefits of this are huge. Would it not be something to say this is our garden?

Friday, November 7, 2008

If You Can Avoid it, Do Not Ever Rent From UHAUL Again


Today was the first day of a small landscape job I am doing on the side. Concrete pad, soil amendments and so on. I rented a UHAUL van from 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. I've used them before because they are convenient to my subway. Each time though, there is always something. I mean ALWAYS. It starts with their frustrating policy of having to call a second landline at 8 in the morning. First, I do not have a landline. Second, at 8 am, everyone I know is either traveling to work, at work, or sleeping. But they won't rent without that phone call. Of course, all the numbers I am giving him are not being answered or messages. He's looking at me like I am doing something wrong now. He tells me I SHOULD have family with land lines. Now the UHAUL jerk is telling me how my family should live?! Finally I give him my brother's number. My brother answers and is like, who the fuck is this. I have to yell to the speaker phone that it is his brother, Osama Bin Laden, trying to rent a van to blow something up!  By this point the UHAUL jerk decides this is satisfactory. Yippee, now I am on my way.

Now I need the van to haul concrete bags, soil bags. On my way out the truck checker tells me to make sure it is clean on its return. I see now that they are doing things a little differently at this branch of UHELL, and make note to clean van.  Of course some bags leak soil onto the ribbed rubber matting in the van. So when we were all done with our four trips, we take the rubber mat out and hose it down. We hold it up to drain the water and put it back in the van. All better now. We drove to my house, my helper had a beer and we ate some sopressata, talked for about an hour. 

Then I went to return the van. I dropped it off, gas topped off, clean.
The checker opens the back doors and says-is this wet?

I said, well we hosed off the mat so that it would be clean as UHAUL requests. I look at the back and I see that the rear 18 inches of the mat are damp, no standing water here, damp!

I look at my receipt and I see he has checked the DIRTY box which entails paying 25 extra dollars. Fuck no, I am pissed off now.

So I go inside and the lady at the counter says that this is dirty and I must pay. I said it is clean, not dirty. She says it is wet and we cannot rent a wet van. I say it is 6 pm and who you going to rent to now before you close? Many people she says, so pay the fee. I say no, I will go outside and dry it off with my shirt  before I pay this bullshit extortion. 

Now I know, its only 25 dollars, but if there is one thing I hate, its money scams.

So I go outside and I see there is a man cleaning the van. I say, hey-your cleaning the van with liquid and making it wet. He says this is not water, but a CLEANING SOLUTION. I say the little bit of dampness is going to dry pretty soon, so how bout checking the not dirty box on my slip. At my prodding he admits that it is probably a way UHELL makes extra money. He then leaves me a rag so I can scrub the rubber matting to soak up the dampness. This takes 10 minutes. 
He changes me receipt to say clean.

My question is this: Why did it have to go this way? Why couldn't they be reasonable? To scam extra money off their rentals. Thats what they do. They are one of the worst companies out there. I see they are trying to make the 4th Avenue branch better, they have some new employees, they are visibly cleaning vans. But this kind of customer treatment makes them one of the worst companies. You can smile and wave all you want, but it isn't courteous to be ridiculous about cleaning standards. Its simply absurd. Go to Budget or elsewhere even if you have to pay more because its always something at the UHELL. Read these stories.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sowing our Seeds

I do try to stay on topic, and so it is with this post that I offer this analogy. Tomorrow, November 4th, 2008, we in the United States of America will sow our seeds. There is so much hope and determination in the act of sowing seeds. Much expectation as well. There will be failure, there will be loss, but there will also be growth and moments of sheer beauty. There will be lots to do, and much to ponder-but gardeners don't mind the work. I can't say gardening in November has been this exciting in a long while. See you sowing your seeds!