Friday, July 30, 2010

The Farm On The Beach: Week One

Some peppers have croaked.

And a celery or two as well.

Broccoli looking strong.

Wind is definitely a demon here at the beach farm. And take note -those thunderstorm rains barely pierce the soil surface. Maybe a 1/4-inch down and it is dry and dusty. Flood irrigation is not so great until the plants get bigger root systems -as expected. But overall, things growing, getting darker green since their anemic existence in those cel-packs.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aster Creature

I'm not ashamed to name the Asters as some of my favorite plants in the garden. They do most of what I ask, including surviving overcrowding, heat, wind, drought, and massive infestations of bugs that help to mottle and yellow their leaves all while continuing to put out new growth in preparation for fall flowering.

Please, click on these photos for a closer view. The black dots, no doubt, are bug poop.

This is Aster 'Alma Potschke.' It survived multiple transplants last year, then a clobbering by a baseball bat, and this year a garbage pail toss. Now the pests.

These are the critters. A quick glance might yield you aphids, but one really must get close for these. Their backs look somewhat sculpted and lacy, with stripes. The nymphs, which are everywhere, do not have this feature and are clearly spiny. My quick internet search yields the Chrysanthemum Lacebug or Corythucha marmorata as a possibility, in the family Tingidae or Lace Bugs. It seems these pests are named for the nursery trade plant group they prefer to infest. But they aren't touching my mums, and seem to love asters.

So far the Lace Bugs haven't touched my newly planted showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa.

Monday, July 26, 2010

City Water

I arrived at the farm on the beach Friday evening with all my cheap and easy supplies. Dictating my irrigation choices was the 1-inch PVC pipe and fittings my wife had in her studio. At the corner hardware store, there were barely any parts that reduced from 1-inch to 3/4 inch -which is the size of the 'female' fitting on the irrigation timer. After an exhaustive, dust-inhaling search amongst all his inventory, we found three different components that could make it work.

Some may question using PVC (polyvinyl chloride) as an element in water systems, although I have little concern for this application. My alternatives were expensive brass or copper pipes or other plastic compounds with a similar set of issues. In NYC, conventional PVC use is in lawn irrigation and may be slowly replacing cast iron 'black pipe' or 'charlotte pipe' for waste water. That said, around the U.S. and Canada, PVC is becoming the most common choice for potable public water mains and domestic supply. So, I guess what I'm saying is that we're drinking it anyway.

The garden is set up with ancient 1-inch galvanized iron pipes, rusting on the interior like you can't believe. My piping begins with brass fittings and valves, but then attaches to a plastic automated valve, water then flowing through a flexible plastic tubing to the PVC system. I do not have a backflow preventer, but then neither does anyone watering with a hose in a community garden. If you were to install a hard-plumbed irrigation system at home, this would be something you would need.

I cut the pipe to fit and placed all the fittings where I wanted them. At first, I didn't glue anything so that I could change things if needed.

Then I dug the trench with my handy trench digger -it's a shovel only 4-inches wide.

I had an old timer, but it didn't work any longer -forcing me to buy a new one. Lowe's had this timer by a company called 'Orbit,' costing about 30 bucks. It looked cheap and crappy, but was very easy to program -in fact, it didn't come with instructions of any kind. Mechanically, it may be cheap and crappy, but so far so good. I was pleased that it came with a metal screen at the inlet to filter out those chunks of rust that are sure to make their way through to my system.

The whole setup is rather Frankensteinian. Scavenged flexible clear pipe is only 1/2-inch interior diameter with scavenged hose connectors having 3/4-inch connections. I needed to reduce my 1-inch PVC to said 3/4-inch connection. At my corner store I was able to find a 1-inch PVC sleeve-to 1-inch 'male' threaded, a 1-inch 'female' threaded iron pipe reducing to a 3/4-inch female threaded, and to connect it all a double-ended 3/4-inch male threaded galvanized iron! Oy.

I buried the pipes, never gluing the top fittings because I wasn't sure if I would want to replace or reuse those pieces in the future. The water flows gently, which I wanted, so as not to disturb the soil or spray water all over the place. In other words -it works.

This is how most folks at the garden (or any garden) like to water their plants. They probably have a trigger spray nozzle or some such device. I cannot explain the feeling given by watering plants this way, but it is definite and possibly trance inducing. Is it the sense of control over one of the most important elements in all of life? Is it the power of 'making it rain?' Or is it something more sensual -the wetness, the mist, its cooling effect? Could be its sound, the splish and splash, but what of the pfffffft? I cannot say. No matter, I make it rain with electronic valves and gravity, near the ground and at regular intervals.

This is smarter because no matter what anyone says about farms in the city, I will not be slave to watering or rain. I am a city dweller and I long to escape for two weeks at a time, to see the land and its produce, to marvel at the broad expanse of forest and field, to bathe in the cool moist understory of air seeping from woods on hillsides without ever worrying of his tomatoes or green beans -that is in the contract! You -in the countryside will have great expanse and distance between you and others, neighborliness and drive by wavings, a slow pace, cleaner air and honesty. We -in the city will be free from rising at dawn to milk the cows, will have variety in all things, hustle, bustle and irony, and never, ever, will we have to worry about the state of the food growing on our little 'farms.' Because I am a city dweller, I must tend to other pursuits.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Like Autumn Cold Front

I was at the studio just before the weather I knew was on its way was to break. I stood at the window taking pictures, blobs of rain blowing sideways into my face. The wind hailed from the WNW. It blew through with some rain and no thunder from where I was standing. Tonight's temperature will drop below 70 degrees F for the first time in what appears to be quite awhile. A night in the 60s actually feels cool. Weird.

White caps on the harbor.

Fait Accompli

We woke up city farmer early -that's about 6:30 am for you civilization types. Hopped in the van and hit Ocean Pkwy -sun still behind trees.

We planted up the remaining starts. Crammed in as many as I thought worth losing to overcrowding. The rest we happily donated to a summer camp's plot (A12 -my 1st choice!) because I simply cannot toss unused starts. I scavenged this old and warped picket fence from a plot owner about to be evicted. We needed to frame the corner as many people enter the larger garden from this corner. The stakes are for the tomatoes that I delude myself into thinking will get tall -no one's tomatoes get tall here -I think it's the wind. Besides, it's friggin late July! Anyhow, those stakes I'm going to cut down for the sake of visuals alone, then rig up some sort of support system. On the other hand -tall tomato plants could be a goal for next year.

We went with a trench flood system for irrigation. Our work was hasty and I think the trenches show it -too deep in spots. That said, it works for this years short season.

Thar she blows. Neighboring plot is full of weeds and old, stunted brassicas -alluring to those white cabbage moths fluttering about. Thinking of getting some netting for the broccoli -the only plant I'm giving half a chance of producing the way it should.

A community garden is full of people, plants, and free advice. A teacher once asked me if I knew I was doing something the wrong way. Yep, I said. Okay, she said, as long as you know. The right way is preferred, but anywhichway usually yields an education.

By the way, I called that free woodchips guy and he (Evergreen) never returned my call. I'll try another one soon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Passing Of Orange

The Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa, has bloomed again. Nice. You can see the first flush's seed pod forming on the top left. Incidentally, I've never seen a butterfly anywhere near this plant.

With the passing of these flowers and the last of the ordinary daylily, there will be no more orange in the garden. We move strictly into the pink, yellow, and blue (wait -scarlet, fuschia, salmon, burgundy, white and magenta) of the late summer and autumn front yard garden. I still have a lily yet to bloom -and I do not recall its color (must hit last year's blog entries).

Friday, July 23, 2010

More Storms In The Wee Hours


An Evening At The Farm

That's the moon.


Fast lightning.

Not so fast.

I could see the spin on this storm from my vantage. On my ride home, I saw some powerful lightning. I put on 1010 WINS, who mentioned the tornado watch. As long as we sit under this boundary, unstable weather will predominate. More storms tomorrow, the next day. I will be at a bbq tomorrow out east, then canoeing on Sunday -keeping my eye on the skies.

Side Garden Revisited

With all the attention on the farm on the beach, it's easy to forget the garden at home. I haven't been attending to it all that much, now that the worst of the heat wave has passed.

The tomatoes have gotten quite large, and are producing somewhat. I pulled off many of the wilted leaves from the disease that has been affecting them. This makes them look much more attractive, but has done little to stop the upward progress of the yellowing, then browning, of the leaves.

The cosmos are in full flower now, yet leave me wishing they put out a little less greenery. The zinnias are also doing better and are considerably tolerant of the high heat. I grew zinnias in southern New Mexico, and they did quite well at 105 degrees F.


I trimmed back the borage so that it could do its best to provide a second bloom. It's nothing like the first bloom. I think I know why it is said that borage makes for better tomatoes and beans -it brings in a lot of pollinators. We have much less bees now that the borage is producing so few flowers. I am thinking of scattering seeds at the farm on the beach. If these here don't get producing, I will pull them out in favor of something else.

It's worth noting that our beans have done terrible this year. Producing N-O-T-H-I-N-G. The purple podded beans we planted have not produced one pod! My old blue lake bush seeds were not viable anymore, sprouting only a few plants -and those have only given a few beans. I've noticed less availability in the markets -is this just me? Last year my one container of blue lake bush provided at least 4 lbs of beans over the summer.

Strafed By Rain Today

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Sidewalks Of New York

Not long ago my neighbor had a mason "improve" his sidewalk's condition by leveling out the bumps on the long stretch beside his house. The bumps were clearly made by the plane trees. Well, not more than a few weeks after he had this mason fix it up, the city came in (well, a contractor paid by the city) and tore up the old sidewalk and replaced it completely at no cost to him! I wouldn't of believed it if he hadn't told me. They actually did a nice job too, curving the sidewalk where the tree's roots were swollen from contact with the previous sidewalk.

Then I came across this post at KARMABrooklyn Blog. Apparently, if you are a homeowner who resides in a 1, 2, or 3 family home, and your street tree is lifting your sidewalk, the Parks Dept. will come in and repair that sidewalk. The sidewalk has always been a contentious space between owners and the city. It's the city's sidewalk to plant trees, but it's the owner's sidewalk when it comes to fixes or replacement. I think this program can go a long way toward amelioration and maybe cut down on those pesky 'I tripped on a city sidewalk' lawsuits that we always hear about, but never seem to ever know anyone directly involved.

Being that the Parks Dept. is involved, we can hope (there's always hope) that they will make tree pits more friendly to the the trees. Good luck trees.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Overheard At The Beach Garden

Woman -"Eww, there's bugs on the plants"
Man -"Only New Yorkers worry about bugs"

A woman arrived, loudly complaining that they were taking her plot away from her. Making a big stink. Her plot was full of weeds. "I tried to garden. I was here in May."

Another man, with his family in tow, complained quite loudly that his tomaduz all had brown spots on the bottom. Why? Someone shouted out "fertilizer." Sounds like blossom end rot, so I asked him if he had been watering his tomaduz. "No, a wise man told me not to water." Not knowing said wise man was standing right next to me, I offered "there's your problem, listening to wise men." Old man punched me in the arm!

BBQ Turkey

At the farm on the beach, a gardening neighbor with tons of herbs gave us a branch of rosemary. We both thought lamb, but didn't want to pay the hefty price. This morning we went to the Cortelyou farmer's market and bought boneless turkey thigh from DiPaolo, with plans to BBQ.

I rolled the turkey with rosemary and garlic, tying it up with butcher's string. Salt and pepper.

A little overcooked, because we were socializing with our neighbors instead of watching the grill. Still, it was moist and tasty.

Farm On The Beach: Planting Nights

I thought I could do it. Leave the studio at 5pm, go home, pick up the vegetable starts, head to the farm on the beach, prepare the soil, layout and plant the starts before nightfall, all before the rain that was expected to come. I wanted to take advantage of the coolness of night, the irrigation from rain, the best opportunity for the fragile starts to settle in on these hot July days.

I have three flats of vegetable starts: eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli, collards, cabbage, sweet and hot peppers, celery, and chard all thanks to J&L Nursery. Underneath those starts is a wheelbarrow full of horse manure and shavings from a pile on the southwest corner of the garden. I thought I might give that a try, although a previous experience with less than composted horse product gave me a season of weeding oat sprouts! I used the manure in the celery bed. I decided not to wait for compost this season -who can wait any longer! I am using an 'organic' 5-10-5 fertilizer and plan to get compost delivered for next season.

While I began laying out the tomatoes, the storm clouds began to build to my north. This storm affected flights out of JFK, but not me.

I rushed to get my plants in the ground, feeling my executive functioning faltering as the sun dropped lower in the sky. I was digging trenches and building mounds for the tomatoes. Where will the peppers and the broccoli go? Cucumber seeds? Don't forget the chard!

Oh no. The sun is about to set. Will I get locked in? How late is this place open anyway? Tomatoes are mostly in, turn on the water to check the irrigation trenches. Maybe I should plant something else. How about the celery -I've only 12 of those. Farmers work by the sun and I've started at 7pm! Silos of farmers' jokes are filled with city boys' best intentions!

And as if to rub it in, the storm that was building to my west, traveled south. Just enough big drops to show me what it could've provided, but didn't. Great show of lightning though, and I'm reminded of all the summer storms I see from my apartment that appear to be taking place off the coast of Coney Island.

I rush to pack up all that I didn't plant. The rest will have to wait until Thursday as work precludes me from attending to farming until then. I became aware of two things: The plot is too small for all that I've planted in my mind and the birds like to gather here at dusk.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Warm Tap

It happens every year. I don't look forward to it, but it's not the worst thing. What is it? It's the moment you realize that the tap water is warm, not the refreshing chill it was just a month prior. It happened a week or so ago. Maybe after the heat wave. It tastes the same, just warmish.

Hot For Farming

We received our federal farm allotment this past week. On Friday morning, we begun the hard work of turning the soil from a weed-lot to cleared-lot. It was hot and humid, but a breeze was blowing in from the ocean, 1000 feet away.

The plot, F12, had been weed-whacked a couple of weeks ago by the Dept. of the Interior. The heat and drought fried what remained. Our weeds are heavy on the mugwort, queen anne's lace, and crabgrass -but mostly mugwort, Artemesia vulgaris. You can't see them here.

But just under the soil surface, mats of stolons running every which way. Each little piece of stolon can create a new mugwort plant, so clearing as much as possible is essential. The soil is decent, friable, but demands organic matter.

This job would've been much harder if it were clay. My choice for breaking ground, a mattock. Many of the long time Tilden gardeners (some as long as 40 years) suggested I use the tiller (broken, missing?) -but in my opinion, this is the best way to go. Although tilling is faster, it also buries the stolons. Betsy raked though the mattocked soil to clear out the weeds, and wheel barrowed them to the compost pile.

And you just might hit these rubber mats with the machine -ouch. There are many ways to control weeds -chemicals, mechanical or manual pulling, or barriers. Someone chose interlocking rubber mats in many of the pathways in and around my plot. I pulled up those in our area, and will check into the free woodchips that I heard about at the BBG.

This is Thaddeus, the ranger. While we were beginning Friday morning, he and a team of DOI employees came to check on the garden. He announced that he was looking for beautification projects for the summer. I gave him some ideas. I will forward him the woodchip info if that pans out. I also think a sign board where we can share info would be useful -place it right where those folks are sitting. In the mean time, they can mow the pathways that aren't covered in rubber mats or astroturf, and fix the plumbing.

Our standpipe and valve did this when turned on. No pressure. First thing to check was the line -how did all the other valves flow? Turns out just fine, including the one after mine in the line. Must be the valve then.

This took some doing. My ordinary wrench could not extricate this valve from the pipe. I needed a super sized pipe wrench. These valves are brass, but the pipes are not -they are galvanized steel. Anyone who has ever worked on an old home knows that if the building is filled with galvanized pipes for water supply, there will be expensive trouble in the near future.

Here's why. This is the inside of that valve that I removed. It's filled with small chunks of rusted steel that have corroded off the inside of those pipes. Pipes like these won't be good for much more than 5 to 7 years. The galvanized pipes here have been in place for a very long time. No doubt each valve has some of this rust in it. I saved mine to show Ranger Thaddeus.

The new system: all brass fittings, with a 'T' branching off to the public tap (red) and to my personal irrigation timer tap (black). Now I just need to figure out how I want to irrigate beyond the timer: trench flood, black pipe drip system, or soaker hose. My experience has been with the first two, although the black pipe and fittings for the drip will be expensive and time consuming (finding components/installing). This year, I may have to go with soaker or flood, although something about the soaker hose gives me pause. The rubber? The slowness? What?

All told, it took about 6 hours to clear the land, over two days. That was the hard part. The vegetables are sitting in the side garden waiting for us to plant them. I still want to get some organic matter in the soil before we plant. I am waiting on J&L for info about a compost delivery -looking at about 3 cubic yards worth. The plot to the left, belongs to an Irishman named Jimmy -he hauled in about 30 bags. I don't want to do it by the bag for cost alone.

Both days, it being so hot, we escaped to the beach after our work. The water is warm, maybe 70 degrees, but enough to cool us down. We hope that we don't get caught leaving the garden, where our van is parked -our permit is for active gardening only. How we see it is, though, that coming all this way to garden requires the benefit of the beach. That's where it's at, see. And driving to the adjacent Reis Park to pay for parking is silly. SO we leave our van, permit on mirror, and head to the beach, fingers crossed.