Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lead Belly

This is the soil under my vegetable planters

I have received my soil test results from the ESAC. I had a sense that things weren't good over in the side garden, but I didn't think it would be as bad as it is. Although I suppose it could've been worse. I didn't test the front yard mostly because I do not plant veggies over there, but now I am thinking I will test it. In addition to the side yard analysis, I sent in my planter box compost, which is a mixture of Farfard product and an "I can't remember brand" of seaside compost I bought from Gowanus Nursery last year. I did this as a sort of control group, something to compare the yard earth to.

The good Dr. Cheng analyzed my soil himself. Below are the results, please click on the image to zoom in.

These numbers will mean little to you as they do me until they are put into context. Dr. Cheng has agreed to provide that context but asked me not to post that until some final details are worked out. Comparing the side yard soil under my gardening feet to the store-bought compost kept in pots:
  • Arsenic is 3 x greater in the side yard

  • Lead is 50 x greater in the side yard

  • Cadmium is 3 x greater in the side yard

  • Chromium is 2 x greater in the side yard

  • Mercury is 9 x greater in the side yard

  • Soil PH is a bit more acid in the side yard (expected and compost near neutral 7)

  • Organic content (humus) is a low 8 percent of soil in the side yard

  • Soluble Salts were half what they are in the compost (not sure what this means)

In regards to nutrients:
  • Calcium (Ca) is 5 x greater in the compost (probably because of sea life in it)
  • Magnesium (Mg) is 4 x greater in the compost
  • Phosphates (P) are 24 x greater in the compost
  • Iron (Fe) and Potassium (K) are just a bit more in the compost
  • Manganese (Mn) is 3 x greater in the compost
  • Copper (Cu) is about 23 % less in the compost
  • Zinc (Zn) is about 95 % less in the compost
What does all this mean? Well, we can see that the compost has a greater nutrient load than the common soil. It also has a balance PH compared with the common soil. Only copper and zinc are lower in the compost over the side yard soil.

Clearly the side yard soil has much elevated Lead (Pb). Close to 1/10 of a percent of the analyzed soil is lead or put another way, for every 10000 particles of soil, there is one particle of lead.

EPA guidelines put Lead safely at 400 ppm, my soil is well over 900 ppm. Then there's the Mercury, Cadmium, Chromium, and really, who knows what else?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Not a Park?

This is one of my favorite parks. Its a "viewing" park, closed off by fencing all around.

As you exit the subway, dip below the overpass, you will encounter this grassy "knoll" (really, bridge embankment). Its mostly grass, a few huge dandelions, honeysuckle on the fence, and a few plane trees (or as I call 'em, sycamore).

Because of the dip below Ft. Hamilton Pkwy, the view is one looking skyward. A snippet of our pastoral ideal, a heavenly meadow skirting the sacred grove. A park, minus the shepherd, and therefore the tall grass. A simpler life, one of discourse, philosophy, idleness, and lovemaking.

Its at its prime a few times throughout the year. In winter it fills with garbage, to be expected. The DOT comes with weed wackers (mecha-sheep), decimating the grass several times each year. Looking nasty for about three weeks, it then bounces back. I wish they would let it go to seed, brown, or whatever it would do. Its lovely when the grass is 24 inches tall and waving in the breeze. Where much is said about our cut lawns, little ever about tall grass.

Pretty Sure Its the Biggest Tree in Brooklyn

This is an English Elm

Its near the Bowling Green, technically on the Parade Grounds.

Its about 24 feet in circumference.

Broccoli Report

There broccoli are slowly growing in the side yard -a little cooler and shadier there.

These brocs are growing in the front yard, full sun, and putting on the leaf. Hoping the hot weather this past weekend doesn't send them to bolt.

This guy, or girl, has been around the broccoli for a couple of days now. Get those caterpillars! When I put the camera real close for the shot, the spider turned around for it. Work it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


After entering Prospect Park I hardly could believe seeing this squirrel -completely eviscerated, saving its head. I made this b&w photograph because it removed some gruesomeness from the scene, but now I see how it also looks like a forensic crime scene photo.

You Know Its Frost Free Time When...

The Aphids come along.

I have three rose bushes in my front yard garden. One is a the climber, New Dawn. The other two are pictured here. On the left is Rosa "Knockout" and on the right is an old Tea Rose I ripped out of my grandmother's backyard before her house was sold. I pruned the knockout heavy this year. The Tea is about 50 years old.

The leaves and bud on the old Tea
As you can see in the above picture, there's not one aphid on the Tea. Whole plant completely clear.

The leaves on the Knockout

But the Knockout, literally 18 inches from the Tea has a good colony of Aphids on many of the young leaf shoots. Why do they prefer the Knockout over the Tea or the New Dawn? This isn't particular to this year either. I don't believe it has to do with the hard prune, but does it? The Knockout can handle it though, its one tough mother.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Instead of going to the studio today, I gardened, then walked to the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza. Its ramp time, I bought two bunches, a splurge just this once until next year. Clean them well, saute with shitake mushrooms, a little butter, prosciutto or pancetta and toss with a good pasta and some EV olive oil. Yummy.

Angeliqueomania, Anomolas, and Mystery Ferns

I can't stop looking at these tulips. And that leads to photographing them, doesn't it. And that leads to showing them on the blog.

Another of my favorite plants is the Climbing Hydrangea, Hydrangea anomola. Its really all year something else. I pulled two out of a garden that I knew was going under the bulldozer (cause I planted it myself!). I put it on the fence of the side yard. Only down side is that people snap the branches a lot.

But what graceful form, gestural.

Another plant, a fern I pulled out of that very same garden is coming back this year. I had my doubts because it is planted in the front yard, in sun all day except for the last few hours and is tucked between heat holding wall and sidewalk. But there it is, making its way back.

Another Plant Addict

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pressing My Monetize Button

My friend, fellow artist, and funny guy Tim has been pressing mine for a while now. Lately he has bragged of his 103 dollar check from ad sense. Tim has a blog on soft drinks called softdrinkreviews. Seems innocuous enough, but go there, dig in, read on, and you may just laugh your soft-drinking ass off.

His ad sensations are placed right under the title. Its clever play for him and one that reaps minor financial rewards.  I am poor at making money from what I enjoy, so I will stay poor. Tim, keep those hundreds coming. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rare Moment of Balance

80's What?!!

Weather Underground is reporting it will be in the lower 80s all weekend. Get those vegetable starts out of the cold-frame on Friday then!! Also, don't be fooled into planting tomatoes too soon. Wait it out, proceed with caution.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stroll up Prospect Park SW

This garden I liked. Some trees will be too big soon enough, but I liked the effect, loose mixture of lots of plants. There was more to the right, but the photo was no good.

Massive root and trunk.

Do these "gators" really do anything besides just look trashy? I'm not sure I've ever seen one filled with water. Without water, they're just bags stuck to a tree.

This combination of dead grass/weeds and fence really inspires me to garden.

When will this fad die back. It sprung up a several years ago after a long hiatus. Who invented this stuff -someone from Georgia or Oklahoma where the soil is as red as this mulch?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hi Time For the Garden

As you can see, my garden is long and skinny. Its filled with many plants. This is the time when I get lots of comments or just see people stopping and looking. Its a good time for the garden. The leaves are new and fresh, the bulbs are giving flowers, the roses and spirea showing rich, red new leaves.

But get in closer and you see the tulip 'angelique,' still blooming after four years. Many tulips do not reliably come back and others are eaten by the squirrels. But angelique has come back again this year and lookin good.

Its double form is a vessel for all its colors, greens, yellows, pinks, and whites.

But they're not all thats begun to bloom this week. The Siberian Bugloss, False Forget-Me-Not or the Variegated Heartleaf Brunnera. Whatever you call it, its blooming now.

Monday, April 20, 2009

View From Above

Weekly Vegetable Update

Broccoli 'Calabrese' looking good, hoping it doesn't get too warm too fast. The two largest are the over-wintered ones.

'Sugar Ann' snap peas putting out flowers now. I have to keep myself from just eating the vine!

The asian greens mix and Italian arugula have true leaves now, I've tasted them all.

Oh the tomatoes. I fish fertilized again today and do hope the burning you see isn't from the feeding. All but the 'Black Russian' tomato are overcoming the previous burn. I'm still holding out for it though. Basil 'Genovese' in there too. J & L around the corner is already selling 18 inch bush tomatoes, complete with flowers.

I must remember, because I certainly forgot, to seed the 'Salad Bush' cucumbers and cilantro 'slow-bolt (yeah, right)'.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Supporting My Corner Nursery

I went over to J & L today to let them know how root-bound that weeping cherry was that we bought there on Saturday. The owner was there and we got to chatting about business, local nurseries and growers. In a lot of ways, to a guy who's been around the Brooklyn landscaping block, it comes down to the numbers. Business is slow. Its a good time to get city contracts, private 10K type jobs are little to none. Nursery business is swift, people buying lots of little things. I have noticed a pickup of customers at J & L and I can attest that this weekend was quite busy at Gowanus too.  J & L sells quart-sized perennials for 3 and 4 dollars, gallons for $8+.

I worry that he's getting older and hard times might move him toward retirement. I really like living a half-block from my garden needs. So I'm going to give them all the business I can afford. Including bags of compost to fill these tubs I got from the boxwood shrubs I planted the other day.

New Front Yard

Yesterday I planted a new front yard. I had this insight to share, a definition of a garden: A garden is a place that has easily-dug soil. That's it.

But its not a garden until this is true. What I did yesterday -not a garden. Not even now. But a front yard with new plants. If you have to work as hard as I did with a shovel and a maddox, its not a garden -yet. You have to make it one.

Together with two, at one time three others, we drove to the Red Hook Nursery District and then our local J & L. Five shrubs and 25 perennials later, but emptied-handed when it came to the desired tree, we took on another passenger and headed to J & L. There they saw it -the perfect weeping cherry tree. Nothing attracts a new yard builder like a weeping cherry tree in April. They had one in back, full-flowered branches weeping nearly to the ground. I could tell it was in a pot too small for its 2.5 inch caliper. As I tried to steer them back to the younger, more spindly cherries, they gravitated back to their desire. Sold!

The tree was some of the worst pot-wound, root-bound I've ever dealt with. I hacked until I worried, then planted the sucker. They were watering in at 9:30pm. What a day. Today I am shot.

I am always concerned when anyone wants to plant a tree three or four feet from their house. But the desire for what they see now is so strong, it overcomes rationality, its an emotional decision. After all, there are so many others on the block and they are fine, right? And the neighbors, they love it. It got lots of looks, and even a few comments. Nothing pleases like a cherry tree in April.

Looking To Do Something Outdoors Today


Come celebrate the season's perennials, annuals, bulbs, herbs, flats, house plants, cut flowers and more, at this special one-day market! 

For information on additional Greenmarket Flower Market dates and locations download our flyer.

April 19, 2009 from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm
Court St. at Montague St., Brooklyn, NY (

I'll stop by this on the way to the studio. Enjoy the weather!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Quoting A Quote

Quote of the Week

"The ambition for broad acres leads to poor farming, even with men of energy. I scarcely ever knew a mammoth farm to sustain itself; much less to return a profit upon the outlay. I have more than once known a man to spend a respectable fortune upon one; fail and leave it; and then some man of more modest aims, get a small fraction of the ground, and make a good living upon it. Mammoth farms are like tools or weapons, which are too heavy to be handled. Ere long they are thrown aside, at a great loss."

Abraham Lincoln, Sept 30, 1859, Wisconsin State Fair

Is this true today?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Urban Farmer -Wasssss Dooowwwwnnn!

My tomato seedlings have been getting stockier, reaching up to the lid of the cold frame. Yesterday morning I stepped out to see that at least two of the varieties had fried tops.

When you go to the nursery, its easy to imagine that all the seedlings are all that the nurseryman started. But only the best make it to the tables and racks (if not, you just walk away, right?). At home, starting just a few seedlings, the pressure is on to get it right.

So was the culprit the cold temps two nights ago? It never got down to freezing that night and the seedlings were in the cold-frame with a bottle of warm water. Was it the diluted fish fertilizer I put on them a few days ago? Its hard to imagine that the 2-4-1 diluted liquid did them harm and why some yet not the others? The sun is getting stronger and despite low temperatures, in the cold-frame greenhouse its quite warm. The tomato tops are close to touching the polycarbonate. I suppose the culprit really was my carelessness, but I think all but one will recover.

Then there's the orange pixie problem. I started two of those in February with all the others. But they never passed an inch tall, stunted, wierd. Both fried in the cold-frame. This week a new one I seeded in a tp tube has sprouted and looks considerable healthier, although it is having trouble shaking its seed pod from its cotyledons. I've been tempted more than once to try to pull it off like a sweater stuck on its arms and head. The pixie is supposed to handle pots and planters well.
We'll see if it ever gets there.

I will move the tomato seedlings out to the ground during sunny days, cold-frame at night and rainy days. I hope I can get a good run out of my snap peas before I have to clear the way for these tomatoes!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Urban Farmer -Wasssssssssuuuuup!

Its starting to look like the small veg patch that it is again. I raked out most of the leaves and garbage (there's always more...). All the planters are filled as you'll see below.


Snap Peas (flowers coming on)

Mesclun Mix

Mint and Arugula