Saturday, February 28, 2009

!!Crocus Explosion!!

It just wouldn't be garden blog right if I didn't put my crocus blooming on the web. Its the crocus photos at winter's end that seem like photos of your friends' children at Christmas. I love garden photos, but everyone's dishing these. Here they are:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Glacial Lakes State Park

Last night I had a tornado dream -usually the kind I have when I am deeply bothered by something. The tornado bears down on me, I hold on. This one shook and rattled the concrete building I dreamt myself to be in. I woke up.

Magically, this made me think of last summer's trip to Glacial Lakes State Park in Minnesota's prairie country. I chose this park as my destination because the name of a nearby lake, Minneswaska, was the same name as a lake and state park in the Shawangunks of the New York's Hudson Valley. And the closest town was named Starbuck.

View Larger Map

Minnesota is divided between three distinct regions: northern coniferous forest, prairie, and the western most extent of the eastern deciduous forest (called Big Woods in Minnesota). My trip took me on one of several roads that follow an arc of glacial lakes, or kettles, that remain as reminder of the Wisconsin glacial period (so-so Wiki article). I left the Big Woods and entered the prairie. According to the Minnesota DNR, 98% of Big Woods has been converted to farm land, housing and commercial development and 99.9% of Minnesota prairie has been turned for farm land.

When I neared the park, the land turned from farm to grassland. The road turned from asphalt to gravel.

This landscape was rolling, elevated, scattered stones and boulders about, and grass -lots of grass.

After entering the park, the roadway descends toward a kettle lake. The parking area is surrounded by a glade of trees.

I began walking on the trail that circumnavigates the main kettle lake, called Signalness Lake.
I'm impressed with the oak forest and the feeling like this forest is a hidden pocket in the prairie come farmland. It also strikes me how similar this landscape is to my own Long Island experience with its kettles and oaks.

As you walk down the slope toward the lake, you cross this simple footbridge. It crosses a wetland adjacent to the lake. Among the many plants, milkweed -Asclepias syriaca and what looks like yarrow, Achillea millefolium (native or not???).

I couldn't ID so many of the plants I discovered on this trip, like this one below. It was just above the wetland.

Lakeside, half-way around and looking at my starting location.

Leaving the lakeside I move back uphill toward the drier forest. To the east rolling hills and prairie grassland. Notice how the woodlands are in the depressions in the land, where there is more moisture and protection.

The drier uplands are primarily prairie land. But native sumacs can aggressively fill the slopes without fire as a control agent. Prairie loves fire because it keeps woody plants from taking hold.

Scanning the prairie you see a fabric of grass and other plants.

Closer looking finds brilliant flowers. What is it?

Of course the native coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia.

Hoary Vervain, Verbena stricta

Name this grass.

I know this one because of my time in New Mexico -its Leadplant, Amorpha canescens.

I always enjoy the interpretive signs, especially old disintegrating ones like this explaining how this landscape was formed.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


As I exited the subway tonight, accosted by noise, I thought of all the sounds I encounter from work to home. It goes like this:

At work, in a model studio full of wood cutting tools -its the steady whistling wind of the dust collection, the circular screech of the sliding saw, the rattling of the bad bearings in the old band saw motors, the deep thrumming of the re-saw, the rhythmic wih, wih, wih of the disc & belt sander, the thrumping of the drum blower that sounds pretty much like a dryer full of sneakers, the whirring of the laser cutters' fans, the laser pulsing which sounds not so much like Star Wars but eeeeeeeeaaaaaaa as it scores and vaporizes wood and pulp, the rattle-knock of the air compressor blowing wind onto the laser's flame, the wah, wah, wah of the nail gun compressor, and the drill press, table saw, and the hammer, and the.....

Ahh, to leave such a place and enter the traffic noise of Columbus Circle, down quickly into the subway always just when the steely roar of the 1 train coming in, down another flight to the A/D platform. Here its the musician banging his drums, trains roaring in, roaring out, lookout -the blare of the garbage train horn and its locomotive humrumhumrumhumrum. Onto a train, screech and squeal, bing and bong. 

Finally my stop, in Middle Brooklyn, I exit and it always seems another train is roaring in on the opposite side as I exit. Man with luggage opens the siren's gate as I rush to the portal to the outside world. 

Outside the rush, the constant rush of automobile whooshing and occasional Harley thromping and garbage truck harrumphing as I am ear level with the Prospect Expressway in its last throes of 70 mph. This sound follows me to the overpass, the sounds of street traffic, the rolling steel gates crashing down. I turn the corner two half-blocks from home and hear the buzzing of the sodium halide lights of the nursery and then the turbulence of wind in my ears.  As I turn the last corner I can hear my footsteps. I slow. I pause at the front yard garden and it seems so quiet compared to the day's noise. I imagine silence.

But I know true silence. In it there is a ringing sound.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pea Shoots

Those peas sure grow fast once they stick their heads out of the ground.

And look at those roots 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Broccoli Sprouts Are Movin Out

I've been sending the broccoli sprouts outside into the cold-frame now by day, inside by night.
Next to the sprouts is a single pot with the "winter-sown" broccoli seeds in it -no activity here.
Also, a 2-liter bottle of tap water to help keep the space a little warmer at night.

Snap Peas Sprout

The Scheeper's Snap Peas Sugar Ann are coming up, not long after I planted them, just a few days. Soon they'll be heading out with the broccoli sprouts into the cold-frame by day.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Trash in the Garden

I've gotten complacent, I just let it sit like fallen leaves. Unless its a telephone book or newspaper circular flattening some bulb shoots or something of that nature. I used to clean it up regularly, but now only so often. It keeps coming, never ceases no matter the season. But its in winter that I let it be the longest. It mostly blows in (infernal wind!), but I can tell a tossed bottle of beer or drug baggy from the blown trash. Bottles are more common in warm weather.

I live on a short, little-respected block. Two buildings on it, mine and the neighbor's. The neighbor's fronts the intersecting block so that the side of their house becomes a no-man's land of mostly dog-shit, no fault of their own. The opposite corner, mine, stands without entry or sentry and becomes a good place to toss bottles. But the whole garden fills up. I am reminded of Jonathan Letham's Fortress of Solitude:

"A fair question, actually. Did the renovators think this was Park Slope? Or what? Why should Dose have to carry them? Abraham and Dylan was one thing, but some of those brownstoners, David Upfeld, Isabel Vendle, the Roths, wouldn't look him or Junior in the eye, seemed to begrudge their place on the street. Upfield, out there each day in his Red Sox cap and handlebar mustache, picking litter from his yard. Glaring at PRs on crates in front of Ramirez's store, like they were ever going to quit tossing bottle caps and empty packets of plaintain chips in his forsythia."
pg. 461

Something else entirely? I dunno. I've gotten accustomed to the winter flower, the bleached colors of clinging trash. In the front yard, you gotta be cool. Or lazy.

Speaks To Me

Its telling me I should get out there and rakes those leaves!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fear is Fifteen Cops With Hands on Their Guns

As I sit typing a post about some blooming witchhazel, I notice some shouts outside. My desk is by the window, our apartment building isn't insulated, so that outside noise is practically inside noise. I look out the window and I see about 7 police officers looking in my direction. Shouting, spraying mace, toward the landlord's driveway -right outside the window. I hear "put down the mace!" (I think) and then as more officers arrive, I hear "Put down the knife! Its all over!" They're screaming at the guy. I see him, can't tell his age, he's got a baseball cap on (maybe, its all happening so fast). He's just standing there in front of my landlord's pole-setting truck. They're continuing to spray mace. He seems to have a green leaf on his eye, maybe used to wipe the mace, maybe pulled from the english ivy on the neighbor's fence.

Reinforcements come in. Now there's at least 10 cops and one guy with a knife (maybe). Everyone's agitated. More cops are coming on to the scene. They're still yelling, "put it down, its over. Where's the tazer?" More spraying of mace. At this point their hands are resting on their guns. A blonde female officer arrives shouting to the man in the least calm manner, "calm down dude, its okay. Put the knife down, dude. Calm down!" Is she the negotiator?

I have two fears: I am going to play a part in a man getting shot to death by the police of the City of New York. I don't want to be a witness to this, yet I can't call the police! The police are Asian, Black, Hispanic, White, male and female. The man with the knife, a black man. I am aware of this despite my agitation. My second fear -in the rain of bullets my 1st floor apartment will be pierced and I will be hit. I leave my office area and go to the kitchen, 25 feet from the focus of the police. Over-reaction?

I put on shoes and head to the front door. By the time I get out to the stoop, the police are wrestling the man on the ground, trying to get him to give up the knife, I think. There are a lot of police now. A lot. I brought my camera because I feel I should somehow record what I am witnessing and at the same time as I sense the police don't want that. An officer (who happens to be my upstairs neighbor's son!) chases a man with a telephoto lens off my stoop, saying "Its private property, get off!" I feel how the agitation of the moment affects your memory, affects your perception. The camera resists that to some degree. How did this photographer know about this - a radio scanner?

Questions pour in. What if he dies? What has he done? Why are they chasing him? Why won't he drop the knife? Does he have a knife? A gun? He is surrounded, he doesn't have a chance. Is this a last stand? Is he mentally disabled? I have no answers, all I see is a sea of blue. I see the humanity in the police, the lack of clear structure, the rattled officers' attempt to keep procedure. "Where is the sergeant," I hear. It is chaos, but everyone knows who's side their on. It is a strategy of overwhelming force, really overwhelming. One man, 40 police. Most could do nothing but watch. Their discomfort, their agitation, they are on edge -those on the front line. So am I, just a witness, a bystander. To their credit, I never see a drawn gun.

I believe they tazer him. They carry him to the intersection. Cops laugh, those on the sidelines, complain of shit on shoes (welcome!). An officer is aggressive and told to calm down as they hold the revived man down on the hood of the police car. Finally the FDNY EMT arrives, then must have sedated the man, placed him on a stretcher, strapped him in, rolled him off to the ambulance.

What happened here? How did this happen in my front yard?

The second wave of police officers arrive at the scene. Notice the placement of some hands

The blonde officer arrives shouting, "calm down" and "dude"

I believe the yellow thing in the female officer's hand is a Taser

After tasering, the officers cuff him, relax a little

Now they carry him to the intersection

At the intersection they hold him on the hood of the car

You get a sense of how many police officers, detectives are present (no bystanders in this shot)

But now, sedated and strapped in a stretcher, only two cart him away.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On a Gloomy Day, Witch Hazel

Ghosts From Season's Past

On a Brooklyn sidewalk.

I Drown Squirrels, But Its Okay Because I Use a Rain Barrel To Do It

This Highlighted Archive article from the New York Times Home & Garden Section, "Peter Rabbit Must Die," left me feeling shamed, ashamed of my people -the humans. The article seems to thrill in the confessional talk of killing yard animals -the squirrel, the raccoon, the woodchuck, even birds that chomp the carrots or mow down the tomatoes.

With rhythmic sensibility, the author mentions that killing wild animals may be illegal (as if that seems to matter) or that the reader should indulge in a book by John Hadidian on coexistence with wildlife. But in an article subtitled "Humane Ways to Deal with a Pest Problem", it was the description of the drowning of squirrels in a rain barrel that put me on edge:

"They did, however, as conscientious environmentalists, have a large rain barrel on the roof, which they used to water the garden. Who first came up with the idea of drowning, Ms. Lennig cannot recall, but it was her husband who handled the first executions. The trap, which was long and narrow, fit perfectly in the barrel.

Ms. Lennig has yet to be able to deal with the removal of the corpse, which is then thrown into the garbage. But she and her husband are now so comfortable with this form of pest control that when they visited Ms. Lennig’s in-laws at their lakefront property last year, where squirrels were climbing on the deck and ravaging the planters, they offered to drown them.

“My husband and I said, ‘We’ll take them to the lake,’ ” she says, “but our in-laws were having none of that. We had to get in the car and drive them five miles away. I spent the entire weekend like a soccer mom, driving squirrels around.

Isn’t drowning cruel?

No, Ms. Lennig says. She recalls reading that you lose consciousness and then your heart stops; it’s actually one of the nicer ways to go."

Drowning of squirrels? If a young man did this, people would call the police because it suggests his future as a serial killer -heartless, unable to empathize, no conscience. You know what I am saying here, but somehow in the name of the garden -that's fair, good reason, drown the squirrel. By the way, I once saw a squirrel swim across a lake -not kidding, they can swim.

I have experienced the ravages of squirrels on roses (eats every bud) and tomatoes (one bite, no thank you -next), I've seen the damage of deer and woodchucks. I don't belong to PETA or even the Humane Society, but as a gardener -the kind that I am, suggests that we are not using our brains or hearts if we submit ourselves to drowning of animals that are simply enjoying the things we set out for them. They do not distinguish between nature and culture -that's our pathology!

I live in the City of New York. I got feral cats, rats, birds, and squirrels. I am smarter than them -yes its true. But they have time on their paws. It is my job to outsmart their tenaciousness. Killing is not outsmarting them, its the tantrum of a child, undeveloped. Outsmarting them, that's fun, full of boastful pride.

I am growing vegetables. For the sake of aesthetics I should not build a cage around my vegetables? Build a cage around your vegetables! Put the wire mesh in the ground and all around so that the animals cannot reach your prized tomatoes.

In creating the garden we realize our connectedness to the animals of the world because we see how strongly attracted to that ideal environment we and many animals are. It is a garden for all of us, but only we have the intelligence to build it and protect it. I do not believe that aesthetics, irritations, or petty fears should trump life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Infernal Wind

This is the season of wind -a constant blowing, or even nor-easter gale. I believe it is true that wind can make a person mad. I hate its constancy, its always in my face. It gives me head colds.

I don't want the wind, don't wish for wind. We were formed in the windless environment of the forest canopy or before that, under the sea. It is unnatural for us primates. Accept it only when it blows our sails, turns our turbines, or blows toward our backs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Philadelphia Flower Show

I won two tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show from the NYC garden blog called Garden Bytes From The Big Apple! The blog authors, Ellen Spector Platt and Ellen Zachos have great knowledge of houseplants and container gardening among other things, and they give away prizes!

I've never been to the Philly Flower Power Hour, or to anything remotely like a flower or garden show. I do know that its the top dog in the U.S. of gardening A. because it is so often mentioned in the gardening press. I have imaginings of something part Disney, part Automobile Show, part Rodale Institute, part Botanical Conservatory, and hopefully not part Funerary Display.

The one down side: getting there. A quick review of Amtrak says $180 round trip for two to Philly. $180!!! No wonder people drive. Mass transit should be cheaper than driving. That should be its priority selling point -Uh, we're cheaper than driving. I'll probably take Greyhound, at about 60 bucks for two, roundtrip. Cool, okay -reasonable enough, bus -well
I must submit to mass transit, I don't have a car.

Monday, February 16, 2009

PP in TPT or Planting Peas in Toilet Paper Tubes

I am planting Snap Peas for early spring harvest. Normally I would want to plant these directly outside, but I decided against that for this experiment. I will be planting them into my tomato planters and a good hard freeze is not only possible, but expected before winter gives it up. I thought -why take the chance. So I am starting these seeds indoors, then moving them to the cold-frame outside for hardening-off. Afterward, maybe sometime in early March, I will transplant them into the tomato planters if the weather seems amenable to the notion.

I am using TP/PT tubes. Paper Towel tubes, cut into three and Toilet Paper tubes used without alteration. The soil-filling process was a little messy, more than I would have liked, but it was easy enough to clean up the soil-less potting mix. You can see in the photo that I am also using yogurt-containers, old vegetable start pots and other recycleables -all of which have bottoms with holes.

I was most interested in the paper tubes because they have no bottoms. I wanted to see how well the soil stayed in the tube, even after multiple waterings. The soil was ever-so-slightly damp and it stayed in the tube with a little compaction. Here I am holding the tube, soil facing the force of gravity, yet the soil stayed in place.

A closeup of the bottom of the paper tube. I even used a large (about 3-inch diameter) paper tube from a role of drawing paper and the soil stayed put same as this.

In these two shots you can see the tubes placed in a plastic food container. I added water to the top of the soil and also into the plastic container. The water was quickly taken up and the soil stayed put.

You may have seen Johnny's, or even Martha Stewart hawking a device for making potting soil cubes for seed starting. Its a great tool for someone with tons of seeding to do, but for those of us in the city, with our small spaces -all we need is toilet paper or paper towel tubes.