Monday, January 31, 2011

Thoughts For Another Month

Apparently more snow and ugly weather is on the way and surely the news media is making hay. We'll survive.

I've been hearing commercials for Portuguese cork on public radio these days. Haven't you? So, wasn't it that we were supposed to be very concerned about the fate of a diminished cork oak forest? Now all I am hearing is sustainable harvest, greenhouse gas absorbing, living tree harvesting cork, cork, cork. And now with all the polyurethane corks, shouldn't we wonder about peak oil? What? Oil an endangered resource? Eh? Will those plastic corks give way to the corky corks? I don't like the idea of plastic corks, but they never split from poor storage.

I had some other thought, but alas, I cannot recall. Better wait till next month.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Snow Job: Be Good To The Hood

I am going to say this for the social welfare of all New Yorkers, and quite particularly for those New Yorkers who have cars. I hope you are sitting down.

I have a minivan. It parks on the street, hopefully somewhere near my apartment. After the other night's snow, I got up early enough to get the shovel work done before the plows came through. This wasn't tough, because all the serious plowing was still being done on the main drags. I pulled the snow off and then shoveled the snow out from around the van, throwing some of it on the sidewalk pile and some in the street. I made sure I wouldn't compact the snow with my tires by clearing out underneath and in the tires' path.

Then the plows came and pushed most of the snow away. I was lucky enough to be on the left side of the street, easing my work.

There are a few ways of dealing with driving after a large snow. One way is to never move your parked car -in fact, never even clear the snow off of it. That's one way. Another way is to gun your engine, spinning your tires relentlessly, so that your can leave your spot in a half hour. That's one more way. Some do diligently clear out their spots, but then put garbage pails, cones, or saw horses in place. Yet another way, but it's illegal and rude -you haven't purchased the spot with your labor. I, or someone else, will park in that spot because we too have given up our spots. Rather obvious I suppose, but not to the entitled person who thinks their labor is worth more than any one's.

After a long day at the studio I hustled back to the neighborhood because I knew parking would be tough, but I found a few options. First, I parked temporarily and grabbed my shovel. I proceeded to clear out a spot by throwing the snow onto the large corner piles -not in the street where the slushy mix is collecting into hard ruts which are very difficult to navigate -forget parallel parking! Then I parked, clearing out more snow around the van so it's easy to pull out the next time. But I didn't stop there, no, I then cleared out a path behind my van because I was parked near the cross walk, which is blocked by a huge pile, and I want people to be able to cross safely.

I do not think I have taken extraordinary measures. Imagine if all the people in our neighborhood cleared out their cars early on, then continued to clear the spots as they left and returned. Maybe we wouldn't have verbal confrontations on the street about who owns spots and we wouldn't be sliding off ruts into parked cars, and all in all we would feel a sense of  accomplishment instead of the prevailing every person for themselves attitude.

Minnesotans laugh at New Yorkers. Why? Because we have an uncivilized approach to dealing with snow in the streets. They laugh because we refuse to work together. They have institutionalized their collective activity, so that they simply, all together, move their cars to one side of the street before the snow emergency so that the plow can clear one side, then move again to the other, so the plow can do the opposite side. It takes some organization, some doing, to get it to work, but work it does.

I'm not sure I would even recommend that for our town, but I highly recommend taking care of your car and your neighborhood by sacrificing a little time and labor to solve the problem instead of complaining so much about the snow and your lousy neighbor who took your spot, and then concocting something ridiculous like saw horses with tow away zone plastered all over it. Get real NYC.

I, for one, just wish the highway overpass sidewalks were cleared of snow or even just salted, bus stops and subway entrances were better cleared, and businesses did a little more to clear the corner crosswalk cutaways. It's still January folks, and all that slush is about to freeze. We need to spend a little more time and money on sidewalk clearing and let the car owners, like myself, take care of our own -and the best way to do that is to work together.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Obligatory Snow Storm

I missed the big one in December, so this is my first big snowfall. After shoveling out the car and sidewalk, shaking snow off sagging roses and yews, I took a couple of shots.

 Landlord's truck shows how much snow, maybe.

 The side garden shows it, no?

 How about the bird house? They hate shoveling.

It is only in the snow that you can truly appreciate the red branches of climbing hydrangea.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snowing Pretty Good

But the storm is also fast moving. Right now, it's looking like we've received four to five inches on top of what fell this morning.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gangs Of New York

And they're all family. There were three more just below the top steps of a local feeder. On Saturday morning I went to a presentation on urban wildlife by the Field Director on Urban Wildlife, Laura Simon, of the Humane Society of the U.S. The cats weren't the main topic, but what keeps them going also keeps the raccoons, possums, pigeons, squirrels, and rats a coming. 

Tips for keeping wildlife at bay:
  • Don't feed the wildlife.
  • If you do feed feral cats, watch them eat and then remove the tray.
  • Keep your trash in a tight-lidded container. 
  • If your sanitation worker dislikes your trash container, so would a raccoon.
  • Keep your home well maintained, sealing up all points of entry.

Notes on wildlife diseases:
  • Raccoons carry rabies. 
  • Actual cases transferred to humans in urban areas is low.
  • Only 3 deaths per year, nationally.
  • If you are bit by a raccoon or other wild animal, get the vaccine immediately. 
  • There is no blood test for rabies, and showing symptoms means it's too late for you.
  • Raccoon Roundworm can be deadly -you could get it from raccoon poop.
  • Raccoons poop just like cats -in a hidden spot in the garden.
  • Keep your hands away from your mouth while gardening -this means no fresh beans until washed up!
  • Ensure that children wash; check play areas for poop.
  • Possums have a natural rabies resistance, are highly unlikely to attack or bite, and should be of little concern.

Other notes:
  • Raccoons don't chew wood or wires. 
  • They enter homes through obvious openings.
  • A raccoon may have young in its nest, so be aware before you seal up any entry points. 
  • If you see one trapped in a dumpster, leave a branch or piece of wood so it can climb out. 
  • Raccoons can't jump.
  • If you see a possum in a garbage pail, tip it over and leave it be -it will leave after you do.
  • Possums are ugly but cause no harm.

Raccoons and Opossum are omnivores, eating many insects and mice. But not if we feed them so much. Truth be told, it's not the squirrels, raccoons, opossums, or even rats that are the problem -mostly its us feeding them inadvertently or intentionally. As it turns out, the city is as gracious to smart animals as it is to smart people.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Yeah, It's Cold

And I've decided not to order any new seeds. Really. I want different things, but then, who am I kidding. I'll have hundreds of seeds going out of date in the coming years. So, I'll plant what I got. I did, however, get a couple of free seed packets from my irrigation supply order from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. I requested leeks and carrots. In season, undoubtedly I will pick up some starts from one of our Brooklyn nurseries. I may even head on over to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, after one of our many snowfalls this winter, to photograph and buy some of their many seed packets on display in the gift shop.

All in all, I am dissatisfied with the mail order/online process for seeds this year. Hmm. Either they are too highly priced (Scheepers), too complicated (Fedco) or just too slow (one site said 45 days to process orders!). I also got caught up in wondering where the seeds actually came from and whether or not I wanted seeds selected in or for a northern climate (Johnny's, Fedco).

Yep. I've got enough seeds. I'd rather spend my time doing something else. This week I plan to build a custom seed starting tray out of scrap materials at work. And dig the cold frame out from under the snow. And dream of even better irrigation.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Night Snow

The view out my bed's window, just after rising. 

This was the kind of snow I like. Wake up to it. Soft, hushing, blue skied. No wind just yet, snow clinging to everything just where it had settled. It can even make my neighborhood look like a postcard wonderland, for the first hour or so, at least. Had I not needed to shuffle off to work, I'd a been in Prospect, camera in hand.

It's going to get colder soon, if it hasn't already (I've been indoors, windowless). Secondary cold front coming through bringing temps into the teens, maybe lower, for our lows. And wind, there'll be wind.

Lamb's Leg Adapted

From Marie's. Turned out quite well, though I suspect her leg was of higher quality than mine. Cooking instructions, just right. Pink inside, rested, tender. Nice.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thorn Turd

This is one side of our lovely building.

In November, the landlord decided to start replacing windows. His guy started with the upper apartments. He said he would do ours this January. So far, nothing. The window above is one of the new windows. It appears that he wanted to redo the windows before he did the siding, which he has been threatening to do since the expulsion. That sequence makes sense, and while I am loathe to open my place to the dust and debris of removing rotten window framing and walls, better now than when the garden is in season, right? I can take the dirt, the cold, but the plants, abuse them while dormant!

Unfortunately, many pieces of the old, rotten framing are tossed down below. One particular good toss unseated my rose trellis. Now the whole thing hangs lopsided. When the debris whacked the trellis, it snapped the main branches of my honeysuckle. I suppose that's not all that bad, it's never done well here anyway -too sunny and hot.

Amazing enough is how it sprouts new leaves despite the coldest winter in some time. I will move this plant this spring to the other side of the house. Where over there? I do not know. I gotta start giving things away.

One great pleasure of my neighborhood is that many people actually bag their doggy doo. So too bad that some folks decide it is then okay to wing the thing into my climbing rose. Particularly thorny the rose, particularly stuck sack of shit. Public gardening is a thorny enterprise and I grow weary.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ahh, The January Thaw.

Welcome, thaw. Thawt you weren't gonna make it this year. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gowanus Nursery Moving Again

It seems development is chasing this nursery around Brooklyn. Apparently they will be moving around the corner, and the upshot is that they will have indoor as well as outdoor space in this new iteration. I think the new address will be the corner of Carroll and Van Brundt. See here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gardening Book of Yore

My father-in-law's house is full of old things passed down from generation to generation -the kind of things city people can't save easily because of lack of space. The most numerable and important are the books. My wife brought Henderson's Handbook of Plants and General Horticulture to my attention. The title page states that Peter Henderson is also the author of " 'Gardening For Profit,' 'Practical Floriculture,' 'Gardening For Pleasure,' Etc, Etc." and, of course, joint author of "How the Farm Pays." The edition you see here is the second, published in 1890, and the first -1881.

 Very nice illustrations, if a bit stylized.

A time when agricultural production was taken most seriously: "that it is discreditable to themselves and their country to be outdone, even in Peas"! I cannot say that New York is  any longer known for its stock of pea seed. I have since discovered, in my own seed search this season, that Peter Henderson was a seedsman, himself.

One hundred twenty years ago, most in this country still lived on or near the farm, yet there were books not unlike those today. Popular then -the garden calendar. What's old is new again, and like many things of old, there is much humor to be found:

"Plants In Rooms—Are They Injurious To Health? The question whether plants may be safely grown in living rooms is now settled by scientific men who show that, whatever deleterious gases may be given out by plants at night, they are so minute in quantity that no injury is overdone by their presence in the rooms and by being inhaled. Though we were glad to see the question disposed of by such authority, experience had already shown that no bad effects ever resulted from living in apartments where plants were grown. Our green-houses are one mass of foliage, and I much doubt if any healthier class of men can be found than those engaged in the care of plants. But timid persons may say that the deleterious gases are given out only at night, while our green-house operators are only employed in daylight. This is only true in part. Our watchmen and men engaged in attending to fires at night make the warm green-houses their sitting-room and their sleeping-room, and I have yet to hear of the first instance where the slightest injury resulted from this practice. Many of our medical practitioners run in old ruts. Some Solomon among them probably gave out this dogma a century ago; it was made the convenient scapegoat of some other cause of sickness, and the rank and file have followed in his train. A belief in this error often consigns to the cellar, or to the cold winds of winter, the treasured floral pets of a household."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I received my first seed catalog. Like clockwork. I looked through it, glancingly, overwhelmed. Already? I am not ready to think about choosing what to put in the little beach farm. Every new offering seems to be sweeter, milder, faster growing, longer fruiting, more resistant, the new standard. Ack! As if growing new vegetables wasn't enough, we must also pursue new varieties of the same old vegetables. Which, of course, we want to do, especially to replace those that didn't perform. But wait, weren't those varieties described as solid performers, good for the beginner, reliable, easy to grow, disease resistant, standard in home gardens, widely adaptable, heat-resistant and cold-tolerant? Sometimes it is hard to see these descriptions for what they are -marketing.

Bella Rosa, two seasons back.

First things first, then. What seeds do I already have? Ahh. Look at that, a whole pile of packs.

I have Kitchen Garden Seeds (Scheepers), but they do not date their packs. Yes, yes, I could've dated them, but didn't, and now I will try to germinate them. I've a bunch from past years: Black Russian, Orange Pixie, Sungold Cherry, Bella Rosa, Milano Plum -all tomatoes, then Sugar Ann Snap Peas and Salad Bush cukes. 

Black Russian, two seasons back

I've a ton of Page Organic Seed (The Page Seed Co., based in Greene, NY) packs I got for next to nothing (maybe nothing?) at J&L last fall. If it's hard to think of vegetable seeds in autumn, it surely is worth doing so if your nursery has a supply they really want to get rid of. No one wants to store seeds nor sell last year's lots. I have new packs of Brandywine, San Marzano, Roma Bean, Wax Bean, Kentucky Pole Bean, Swiss Chard, Wisconsin cukes, Bloomsdale spinach, Cherry Belle radishes and Acorn squash. On top of these, a bunch of open packs from different sources and of questionable viability.

So, what will I order new? White or yellow cukes, Pak Choi, leek, turnip, white radish, carrot, poblano and red sweet pepper. Something else? Probably, but our 122 square feet is hardly enough room for a fraction of these. I wonder if we will find a way to expand? 

2008 pea seedlings near the cold frame.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The other day it snowed, but the new trees would have none of it, they acted as if it were raining.

The cat would also have none of it, couldn't even look.

Friday, January 7, 2011


It is after six, and the heat is finally on enough to kill the chill of my fingers and nose. The afternoon chill cramps blog writing, cramps sitting still, cramps thinking. I forget this -I want to forget this, until it happens the first time in winter, and that is now. It is winter in NYC. I returned just 36 hours ago, and I've already slipped and fallen on the ice. Oh, it's been a long time since I've done that, but I have a tender foot and knee to show for it.

Prospect Lake, morning.

I have been reading Robert Pogue Harrison's Gardens. Any one who considers themselves a gardener of anything -life, love, plants, soil, should consider picking up his book of essays.  He examines our relationship to the garden in order to see ourselves, and does this through the lens of literature, poetry, and gardens. His epilogue, appendices, and notes are delightfully (how often can you say that?) rich with additional insight.

I would love to quote his essays here, daily, but I've felt that way a few times, and would rather absorb those ideas into my thinking than present them ad pedem litterae. My particular favorite essays are The Vocation of Care, Eve, The Human Gardener, Men Not Destroyers, and The Paradox of Age. 

A tunnel with morning light.

Imagine that Eden is the curse, that God forces Adam to stay in the Eden that he secretly hates -but of course God knows this. Eve engineers an escape from Eden, and through it, man and woman are doubly cursed by God, and are now Godless, but are able to mature, to discover responsibility, to find care as a way of being, to fulfill themselves, instead of being passive receptors of the abundance of Eden. 

Imagine marriage within Eden, careless. Husbandry (I tried to deal with this ten years ago) is both to wife and world. Gardening is care, but not for the work at all, but for the love of that which we garden. Which need not be a garden, although the garden is possibly the most visible expression of it that we have, outside of love for another human being.

I'll always remember the older man, smiling broadly, while polishing the stainless steel escalator, at the Mitaka subway station near Musashino, Japan. That is an attitude of care. It builds a better world. I think we, as a society, have forgotten care as a way of being, see it as an expense, payable by exploitation of people. No matter how much care is present, it is not always seen -care is not always cared for. And we become less human for it.

Trash pail frozen into the lake ice.

Monday, January 3, 2011


New Year’s eve brought us a weather phenomenon. Ice pellets, sure, but these were round beads, fell hard like a heavy rain, then bouncing, rolling, collecting in piles at the base of roof junctions, and in tea cups.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


...when will they cease?

Once again, see what's happening in the Minnesota Big Woods.


Snow Ark

Snowmobiling is big, 2-stroke engines, motor oil-gasoline combustion, bvvvvewewewewew, cough exhaust. Leaving no softly laid snow untouched, it brings contrast to the landscape where before were subtle tones, shadow and refraction.

The motorized love the wetland portion of Rex’s dominion. They jump in just to the south of the drainage, next to the mat of sumac, in an ess curve, south across the tall ochre grass, then west to follow the utility lines. 

Driving down straight two laners, I’ve been outpaced at 60 miles per hour. Speeding along paved highways is never enough. The other day, on the evening news, was a picture of a snowmobile half submerged into one of the lakes. The ice has not been strong because of snow, an excellent insulator, yet the cold air convinced that it should have been.

Snowmobiling is undoubtedly fun, mad fun. Because it is cold, because we tend to be indoors, because I arrive too late in summer to see the obvious damage, I reserve my scorn for that other 2-stroke nightmare, the personal water craft, err, Jet Ski.

 Rime feathers on my personal snow craft, the van, floated down from trees from last year's rime event.