Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Yesterday, from the roof where we are replacing the rotten siding, sun behind the trees, I spotted a hummingbird darting around Rex's garden. I never see them away from those sugarwater feeders. So I watched it, as it went from flower to flower, including impatiens! Who knew those could have wildlife impact?

Tropical Weather Afoot

Entirely too unclear at this moment, but it appears NYC may get strafed by Hurricane Earl on Friday or Saturday. Possibly high winds means protect those rooftop plants! I don't expect much from this storm, but one never knows. NYC is a tough target and rarely sees much tropical weather. The garden should expect some rain, however, and that is always welcome.

New Letter From The Big Woods...

...can be read here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


The weather when we arrived in Minnetrista, Mn, on Sunday night was warm, and humid. Folks were commenting on the humidity, how high it has been and how unusual for here -especially in August. I have never been here in August. My wife told me it would be the beginning of autumn -cool, dry, less mosquitoes.

On Monday night, a cool front came through, bringing some rains. The windows open, the sound of rain I never appreciate in NYC. On Tuesday morning, it was breezy, cooler, drier. Suddenly it felt as it can in NYC on a late September day. It's been breezy since, although on again, off again. Last night we opened the windows wide for the breeze was blowing and it was beautiful to sleep with it. The wind is southerly -the other side of the high pressure that has been affecting the east coast recently.

The breeze blows the mosquitoes away in clearings, allowing me to work on the house without cursing and slapping. What a wonderful thing, and it stands to reason that mosquitoes dwell in the forests, where breezes barely break the canopy, let alone the understory. Should it increase in strength enough to break the canopy, then one has other worries -flying limbs! Surrounded by woods, one listens to the crack and whoosh of fallen timber. If it is rotten and wet, limb fall is hush and sudden thud! Keep moving, use your ears, look up, know the canopy.

As you walk along or off the trails, you'll see fallen timber. Everywhere. To my eye, trained on change by long periods of absence, it's more severe than ordinary. We point out the dead trees above the canopy -largely comprised of red and white oaks, maple, bass. Rex, my father in law, informs me that it's the red oaks, not so much the whites, and that maples are moving in to replace them. Only the largest trees are dying -but none so old that they should be considered beyond their normal life span. Something's wrong. The loss of these grand reds is disturbing and changes the feel of the forest.

I tell him that I will google the issue, the way we all tend to nowadays but he certainly does not. Red oaks, minnesota, dying. Google comes up with Oak Wilt, Ceratocystis fagacearum. The listed symptoms appear as ours do -the rapid decline, the loss of leaves. Most disturbing is how the problem is spread locally -through intertwined and self-grafted roots of neighboring trees and through the movement of diseased or dead fallen timber. Both of these are happening on Rex's land.

Today, I will have to inform him, if in fact this is the disease infecting his red oaks, that his use of the fallen logs, cut by his chainsaw for his trails' edging, may be an important vector for the disease around his property. Or maybe not. When we have this conversation, I will learn what species have been cut up for trails and the evidence of disease should be linked to this. The woods is not all that large, and it is entirely possible that the fungus would have been spread by root grafting and the insect vector you can read about via the link to oak wilt.

Ignorance is bliss, but in the age of easy access to information, it's also a shame. Not that I blame him, he's not the only 79 year old man without interest in the internet. If anything, his forester should have spotted the problem. And maybe he did, but thought to shield an aging man from problems he will not perceive as such until he discovers he cannot solve them.

Do Not Think...

...about the garden while you are away. Do not even look at it in your mind. No hint of worry should unsettle your soul. Everything's just fine. Your plants are not lap dogs locked in a car on a sweltering summer day, they are not children playing in the streets, they are not unattended elderly felled and disabled. They are plants! They are strong! They are doing what they do well and doing it without a thought or worry! They grow, produce, consuming carbon, spewing oxygen!

So shhhhhh. Settle down. Focus. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Yellow Jewelweed

Behind my friend's fathers repair shop, tucked into a hillside in upstate NY, I noticed a stand of yellow-flowered jewelweed, or Impatiens pallida. It isn't uncommon, although I expect to see the orange variety, like the kind we have here in Prospect Park or the same that grew around my old studio in Maine.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

So Far So Good

Yes. Finally I returned to the beach farm and no one has screwed with the water valve. Why? Because I darted down there on Friday, before leaving town, to install a hasp and lock -one of those miniature brass padlocks, discreet and effective. When I arrived that day, despite the box and the writing that requests leaving that valve turned on, it was again turned off. I attached the lock, hoping that this measure showed that I meant business.

When we arrived last night, the box was not ripped from the plumbing, as would be easy to do, to show us that whomever has been messing with the valve also means business. On some level I had hoped that the person was a lunatic, not just petty or vindictive -turning off a gardener's watering system, isn't that full of petty spite? A lunatic, crazed by automated watering, now that I can accept.

Soon we will be away for 14 days and wish for the plants to be watered as planned via automation. They are growing quite heartily now. Our transplants went in about 4 weeks ago and their growth suggests to me that one could have two full warm seasons on the beach. Other folks have tomatoes, eggplants, cukes and zukes, planted in spring and now beginning to wane. Yet ours are young, flowering, just ramping up production. Yes, two seasons may just be possible.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Christine Quinn Is Right...

...Community gardens should be made into NYC Parks. This is the only permanent solution to city-owned lots that have the potential to be sold for housing. Although history has shown us a few fools to suggest it, land under the Parks sign shouldn't be looked at for development. As NYC parks, they could incorporate Olmsted's democratic ideals with community gardens' democratic aesthetics. More and more I question the passive use of parks and wonder what more active involvement in parks would be like. Is the community garden as park the seed of some larger civic park landscape? If you can bear my undeveloped thoughts and unclear writing, consider what I said on this theme a couple of years ago in this post. If there's one thing I've learned in three years of blogging -editing!

Today I pulled up the rest of the borage. I deadheaded the cosmos and wondered much about the two super meaty stalks that have grown 5 feet tall and have not put out flowers. I considered yanking the three tomatoes, and may still do so tomorrow. I chopped up the terribly dry soil where the borage eeked out its miserly living and soaked it with three pails of water. Tomorrow I think I will plant the NY ironweed and bluestem goldenrod in that location with the hope that in the ground with no water will be better than in its plastic pot with no water. And still, I may pull those tomatoes.

Our sage wilts at a hint of sun -must mean that it's rootbound. All the perennials that I've planted under the yew, with the exception of aconitum, gaura, phlox, and eupatorium, have been languishing. They must be moved -hang on till September! God, those tomatoes! One green orb and I hesitate to slash and trash. I need that space. No more vegetables in the polluted side yard! To the beach, to the beach!

I'll be off to the Big Woods for a spell. If I receive my camera before then, I shall post a time or two. I have to work on the van, some o-rings and gaskets, throttle sensors and rotors, not to mention painting the bondo fender. But we also have some work on the house, rotten siding on the second story, flashing and roof repair. A busy stay in the Big Woods.

When I return, the beach farm will be out of hand. Two weeks of undisciplined growth. Incidentally, we harvested our first goods from the beach -collards and chard. I'll wash and cook those tomorrow.

Department Of Corrections

Last month I reported that there would be no more orange in the garden. Well, I was wrong. The butterfly weed, or Asclepias tuberosa, has taken to continuous blooming. This is its third flush, and the strongest yet -all the while forming its funky, pointy seed pods. Good native, that a girl (or boy).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lythrum Asylum

I noticed that a gardening neighbor has recently planted some purple loosestrife in her front yard. Again, the cheshire cat sits smiling at me. Anyone I've mentioned it to has asked if I have confronted her about it. Of course not. I'm not that confrontational, and I like these neighbors -they garden! But it is also that I am more interested in the problem perplexus than just snootily ratting out my neighbors.

I do wonder where she got it. I like to imagine she pulled it from the roadside on a trip upstate, but isn't it more likely she purchased it or got it from a friend? Since last year, the sale of Lythrum salicaria, or Purple Loosestrife, has been banned in two of the 4 counties of Long Island -Nassau and Suffolk. Why only them? Maybe because these areas have not seen much of an invasion yet and feel that it is still possible to protect ecosystems from our magenta menace. Yet, it is here in the city and in Suffolk and Nassau that I have most frequently seen purple loosestrife in private and public gardens. And now in my neighbor's.

It surely looks good in the landscape right now. Her one plant does what my New England Blazing Star can't seem to do on its own -delicately fire magenta spires through the air. On the other hand, this siren should be seen for what it is.

"Then with heavy heart I [Odysseus] spoke to my comrades thus : `Friends it is not right that only one man, or only two, should know the divine decrees that Lady Kirke has uttered to me. I will tell you of them, so that in full knowledge we may die or in full knowledge escape, it may be, from death and doom. Her first command was to shun the Seirenes--their enchanting notes, their flowery meadow. I alone was to hear their song, she said. You for your part must bind me with galling ropes as I stand upright against the mast-stay, with the rope-ends tied to the mast itself; then I shall stay there immovably. And if I beg and beseech you to set me free, you must bind me hard with more ropes again.’

The Odyssey, Homer

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Buzz Cut

This morning I woke up to the sound of a small gas-powered motor. I parted the blinds to capture this view from my window (yeah, not much of a view). The shrub was being trimmed.

When all was done, quite a crew cut. Yikes. However you like it, folks.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Talking The Walk

We left town on Friday for a quick escape from NYC. We went to Providence, RI, then up to Maine to visit the art program where we used to work. Somewhere between Providence and East Madison, Maine, I lost my camera.

I didn't know it until I visited a friend's new vegetable garden. While I was munching on the green beans (hers are way better than ours), I noticed a large-leafed polygonum, or smartweed, growing in the middle of her bush beans. On said smartweed a blasphemously large pile of Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles love to eat foliage of tender plants like green beans, yet there they were munching on this one smartweed. Genius I thought! Allow some smartweed as a trap for these beetles. I ran for my camera. Hey, where's my camera? Missing. Vanished. Gone. Must've left it in Providence?

Insert picture of Japanese beetles eating smartweed here.

On Sunday, after a most blissful post-cold front night in Maine on a lake with good old friends, a dinner raid on the reach-in (the large glass-doored fridge), and a few G&Ts, we headed to Mt. Desert Isle for a night of camping and a hike. On our way we passed a man on Route 2 tapping an 8 foot diameter earth down the highway.

Insert photo of oddball thing here.

At 5 pm we arrived Seawall campground, where we expected to stay, but it was filled. As it sounds, Seawall is right on the ocean and in August, very popular. Fortunately, we found another park campground (that shall remain unnamed) that was not far, one spot available and nearly perfect. We ate non-lobster for dinner at a lousy lobster pound on Rte. 3 and headed back to the camp for an early sleep. At first the stars were visible, then in the early hours of Monday it drizzled some and poured some. Cool breezes blew into our van while we slept, half-naked, without chill. Only Maine could make rain and clouds seductive, desirable.

Insert picture of campground here.

On Monday morning, we returned to the Isle and decided to grab a map from the ranger station at the head of the island. The extra helpful ranger confidently suggested two hiking routes to fill the 2 hours we said we had. We selected the shortest hike, ate breakfast in Southwest Harbor at the place the ranger suggested (Sips) and headed out. Four hours later, climbing the up up up of the northern face of St. Sauveur Mtn., I realized that the ranger did not get a good look at me, or she wanted to teach us a lesson about hiking in Acadia. What she should have said was two hours in, two hours out!

Insert photo of Valley Cove, Somes Sound, and boats, fog and sun.

We made it to the top, foraged for blueberries, bumped into a friendly couple we had met previously on the trail. They gave us the last of their water -how generous. We thinking a two hour hike on a foggy day, no need for water bottles. Silly us. Sun came out, hiking vertical.

Insert photo of me guzzling two liters of liquids at local convenience store.

I also saw quite a few plants that were quite interesting to me. One had dicentra eximia type leaves and a pink oxalis-type flower. Have to find out what that was.

Insert photo of plant I thought was great that you might too.

We left Mt. Desert Isle at 5pm, hours after we had planned. On the way we listened to a radio station calling itself Frank FM. We arrived in Providence at midnight. Our friend, graciously accepting us so much later than expected, offered us watermelon -just the right thing. She said she had never seen my camera.

Insert picture of me miming blogging without images.

On our return to NYC, we decided to hit the beach farm to see how things were going and for the swim because we really weren't ready to return home. When we arrived at the farm, things generally looked good, although I noticed some wilting plants and that the flood ditches were powder-dry. Despite my box, someone had turned off the water again. What can I say? You don't want to hear it.

Insert photo of wooden box with writing on it.

All that I could do at that moment was to write on the box with a delible pen that the valve should remain open, that the irrigation is controlled by the timer, that the timer is the controlling valve, when it is open and for how long, and please, please, do not close this valve -your water pressure will not be affected! Afterward, we sprayed the garden with the hose to wet down the soil and it caused the writing to bleed like some gothic mascaraed overture -now with a sense of drama that my architectural drafting hand attempted to dismount. Hello hasp and lock.

When we arrived home we were happy to find a dead mouse on the floor. Yes, I said that right. The night before we left, our cat had been scouting a mouse. Now, we've always had mice in the ceiling, but never before have we found evidence of any mice in the apartment -giving our one mousing cat credit for that. For some reason (I'm going with upstairs bachelor neighbor's new flooring and new live-in girlfriend) the mice have decided to migrate into our territory. I had been finding our mouser staring at the kitchen counter for several nights. On this night, the night before we left town, I finally saw a mouse. Well, good mouser that she is (she was trained on Maine mice), she caught and carried it happily to the living room where she decided it was best to let it free so that she could have some fun with it. Well, in the ensuing WTF, the mouse made it inside the couch. We tried and tried to get it out. The next morning we headed out the door leaving that trouble behind, hoping that in our absence our animals will find a resolution.

Insert dead mouse/proud kitty photo here.

I was unhappy to find that some folks thought it was okay to pull flowers from our garden while we were gone. When they pulled the zinnias from the side yard, they simply yanked the whole plant out. What we found was a dried up zilch hanging from the fence. In the front yard garden someone has broken and removed the blooming lily stem so that they could bring it home to enjoy all the remaining lilies.

Insert broken lily stem picture here.

Well, now that I am sans camera, I wonder in what ways my blogging will suffer. It is the images that drive the structure of my posts. I have been looking into cameras to replace my aged Canon A80 (purchased 2004) for two years now, never finding the camera that does everything that I want it to. All the while my Canon had been holding up, doing its duty, suffering only through the pesky E18 error (dirt in lens -can't extend lens). A week ago, I left it on the roof of the van and drove to the studio -it was still right where I put it when I got out in Sunset Park! I guess I've been unconsciously trying to lose it.

Well, now it's time to start touching cameras. Hello B&H. I cannot buy, however, I am totally broke -not even the can't touch my savings broke -no savings. We poured everything we have into the Previa minivan and new studios. Hmm. I need to find a way to make some extra cash.

I thought maybe the cat could do photo shoots and TV commercials. We all think this, right?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On Again Off Again

In the two weeks or so we've had the irrigation timer up and running, we've noticed a couple of times that the black valve that controls the water to our system has been shut off. Honest mistake, skulduggery, or simple ignorance could be the reason -who knows? Well, being that we will be in and out of town this August, I thought it best I make a house for the valve and timer.

A scrap piece of pine cut to size, weatherproof wood glue and couple a hinges make it all go. I drilled a 1 inch hole through the roof, disassembled the pipe, and reassembled the pipe with the wooden housing mounted.

Then I mounted the door with a couple of cheap brass hinges. I am holding off on the latch and lock because I really do not like lock-down architecture. It says there's an issue or that I'm paranoid, where I'd rather suggest, casually, that the valve and timer are connected and need not be disturbed.

It's hard for me to imagine someone opening up the box to turn off the black valve by accident. It is clear, isn't it, that the water is not running, despite the black valve being open, and that the timer is actually the valve now? Maybe that's not clear. A friend suggested writing on the box, but I'm interested in whether or not the box itself communicates our needs. Should it not work, there are words and padlocks.

Need Nothing

This plant, Aconitum or Monkshood, literally needs nothing. It is located under a yew tree. I never water it and the rain never makes it to the ground it's planted in. Yet it never complains. The phlox next to it, complains a little. That monk is an ascetic for sure, wants for nothing.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I've let this nightshade get real big. It does have nice form and it is in the weedy pole garden, after all.

Its flowers are white with yellow centers, its leaves and stems slightly to somewhat hairy.

These are the fruit. This weed should end up in my weed atlas, but is particularly hard to ID. There are several weedy nightshades, but I am willing to venture Hairy Nightshade or Solanum saccharoides. Are there any nightshade experts out there?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Carpenters

As my landlord famously said, "Day divebomya!"

The male carpenter bees are very curious and defensive. They might even get in your business. This one, above, gets real close to my camera to check it out.

You can tell the males by the yellow-white marking between the eyes. The males don't have stingers, and the females that do are rarely seen. Those dive bombing bees are the males protecting their turf and fighting for mating rights. My mail carrier is much more comfortable with these guys now that I told him they don't sting.

Their aggression is usually directed at each other, but can also be directed at you or me, or other bugs in their territory. That territory is about the width and half the length of my front garden -allowing me to claim that they are guarding my plants, these sentries. You can see how the bee on the left is geared up for a strike against the other on the right, who's stance is more "casual." I find many bees on the sidewalk that have not made it through these battles (or so I presume).

It's tough out there, but you needn't worry about their aggressive posture -you are as likely to get into a scrap with a carpenter bee as a possum is likely to wrestle a man; interspecies battles being so uncommon after all.

P.S. My landlord has the wooden sill sprayed with some noxious chemical every year. It kill some, but they always come back. No, the hole carved into the sill is not good for your home, albeit only a couple of inches deep. Old holes are re-used, new holes are carved out. Use treated wood for your new sill, and properly flash it. Leave wood out in the yard if you would like to attract carpenter bees.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Star And Chorus

I don't recall the kind of lily this is, other than a late bloomer.

Its scent is awesome - may I use that sort of Mtn Dew skateboard language?

A month ago, yellow and orange lilies were blooming in front of the phlox. Now, these -the star du jour. Phlox -plain, but always there.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

We'll Be Lucky To Get Rain This Time Around...

The Mantis Chronicles

I've two resident mantises in the side garden this year. One above, the other below.

Here, it lay in wait for pray -the borage an excellent spot for flying treats.

Front legs wound up, they spring into action -grabbing a yellowjacket. But the bugger fights back with jaws or stinger and it happens to escape. I watch the mantis tend to the wound with its mouth.

A few minutes later I see that the yellowjacket's luck has run out. Mmm, exoskeleton.

And here's where it tore the head off, dropping it to the ground below.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Beach Farm: Week 3

The tomatoes have greened up.

The eggplant has gotten taller.

The collards more full.

The cucumbers have sprouted.

Chard has been leafing out.

The broccoli is fine.

But the peppers could be better.

When I moved the studio from storage I found my old gardening bag. In it were these metal tags. I had an idea when I was in NM that I would tag my vegetables, writing in grease pencil the name and planting date. Kind of dorky, but then useful because I tend to forget these things. I tagged what I could remember this time around.

Something I learned in my first three weeks at a community garden: don't take things from derelict plots like the one above -even after the eviction date.

I took two of these concrete things for washing my feet of mud (water flows right through don't you know) at the entrance to my plot. Upon my return, they were gone -back at the other plot. I waited a week, figuring the person for still packing up, feeling a little foolish for thinking some one who never actually gardened a plot wouldn't be around for picking up some cheap concrete things. Well, I was wrong again. There I go figuring again, this time after another week, I went and dug out of the weeds another two of these pavers and placed them at the entrance to my plot. Yet, upon my return they were once again removed and put back at the other plot.

Lesson: do not take things from other people's plots -even if it looks like they are never, ever there and even if they have been evicted.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Government Pork

Here at the National Recreation Area, we benefit from federal spending. In this case, it comes in the form of a picnic table and bbq grill. Pork -yes sir. Beef too, and then there were the mussels and corn. The government dole never tasted so good.

Yes we can.

Brandywine Frankenstein

These are the first and probably only brandywines I'll harvest this year. The cycle of drought and watering led to some cleft with heft. I made a tomato salad -oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. I cut out the coarse ravines. Eaten at room temperature.

One tomato growing note: I had one tomato with blossom end rot this June. I promptly started placing all our egg shells crumbled up on the soil surface. Entirely unscientific, but I must say that despite the droughty conditions, no blossom end rot on any tomatoes since the egg shells went in. For whatever it's worth.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunday Weather

It's odd when radar imagery and actual experience collide. Two thin lines of "activity" were merging on radar, yesterday, over Brooklyn. On the way to the studio, we were below these two merging lines. I was driving, so it was hard to get a photo. The clouds here were traveling longitudinally. It rained underneath, briefly.

Lousy Attitude

These are the early brandywines. There's a third, about ripe, to the right of the little green one.
I think these may be all I get from this plant. It hasn't produced a new tomato since that little green one, I think due, in part, to the extreme heat last month and the fungus attacking it from the ground up. I may go ahead and pull it, excited by the chance to plant more perennials in its place.

In fact, its been a lousy year for the vegetable garden in pots. These purple podded-beans were a complete failure -I think this is maybe one of five beans we've gotten from this container. Called Bush Bean -Purple Queen, Phaseolus vulgaris, described on the Botanical Interests (TM) packet as an heirloom with beautiful deep purple pods, a compact plant that is a good container vegetable to be harvested in 55 days. We planted these about May 20th or so. They continued to grow to at least double the height of the blue lake beans, falling over, producing little flowers that never seemed to form pods. What they did produce were yellow leaves -ugly and unproductive. The common Blue Lake bush beans have done so well over the last few years in the pots that I must've gotten complacent. I am willing to figure it a failure on my part -something missed, uncared for. Inoculant? Diseased soil?

This is what they looked like before I pulled them out a minute later. I cleaned out the container and planted new bush bean seeds I got from J&L (a steal so late in the season). We'll see how that goes. I love fresh green beans, and in these little containers, 24 x 10 x 10 inches, I have been able to reap two crops of green beans (Blue Lake Bush) from the same plants over the last few summers.

This is my total harvest this year. The green ones are from the three blue lake plants that sprouted -my seeds were passed their prime and didn't fare as well as past years either. Wah wah waaahh.

This volunteer tomato seems all the more healthy for being in the ground. Maybe it's that I am tired of container vegetables altogether. I wasn't going to plant any vegetables this year, yet I did. Now that I have the beach farm, I think that's it -except for the herbs which I always want to have close to the kitchen.

Mystery Magnolia?

It's flower is not all white, but I am guessing a cultivar of Magnolia virginiana, or Sweetbay Magnolia. It grows in Prospect Park, at the bottom of the slope, just north of the lake, road side. The hard-edged thing is a large metal container (as in truck) that has been gracing the park for a few weeks.

Asking price, 3.35 million.