Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's April, Fool

If you're expecting snow this weekend in NYC, you'll probably be disappointed. The weather forecast is depending on evaporative cooling for it's snowfall, as temperatures near the surface are much warmer than freezing. Additionally, there'll be no cold air rushing in after the nor'easter type event, as is often the case. It'll warm up this weekend some.

Finally we're receiving some rain (radioactive as it may be), because, believe it or not, I've seen things drying out a bit -at least at the surface where the young'ns roots are. The beach farm broccoli and peas and leeks are just sitting there wondering why NYC weather is acting all average, all normal, instead of heating up nice and fast like we've been getting used to over the years. On the other hand, the freezing temperatures we've been having at night (although that's largely over) never did in any of my tender starts like it seemed sure would if it were November.

Of course, it's not November, it's about April and the sun is quite a bit stronger now, leaving much heat in the objects and ground around the plants to radiate all night. Speaking of the sun, you should see what it has been doing to my tomato starts. You should see them, but you can't because I haven't photographed them. They are cookin on our kitchen window seed starting shelf, and I mean that in the fast-growing sense. I cannot imagine raising them in their paper tubes for another month and a half -what, will I need to put tomato cages around them?!

I've recently taken up a new activity -one I've thought about for quite some time and finally signed-up. I'll report on it later, but I will say that it has to do with landscape, parks and hiking, and you can do it too.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Feathers Of A Bird

As I sit here I'm hearing the birds go spring crazy in the trees just outside the window. I opened it. I feel as if I am somewhere else. It's awfully quiet outside beyond those birds. Where is NY this evening?

Check out this website: The Feather Atlas
Could you cut this pork from the federal budget? I couldn't.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Undercover Sludge

On Sunday night I found myself watching the World's Friendliest Boss or whatever it's called on CBS. I can imagine the pitch to the companies, in fact, I can imagine that the companies are beating down the door to sign up for this program. It paints CEOs as ordinary people with problems too (but not too many), sensitive to the workers and their issues, and the workers are generally swell, deserving of more, and working 110 percent. But the real reason companies want to sign up for the show is the enormous amount of free advertising built into the program.  This week's company was Synagro, a producer of "compelling new modes." From their website:

"Synagro works with commercial and community partners to design and execute smart, efficient and integrated solutions to their unique waste capture and conversion needs. Our extraordinary team of technical and regulatory experts leads the field in pioneering systems that redirect the byproducts of civic and industrial growth into compelling new modes for achieving sustainable balance"

Characters in this past episode had at least two times made mention of Synagro's product, the 'new mode,' and that they use it at home on trees and plants and wouldn't you know it -the plants love it. What is their product? They make 'compost' out of the solid residues found at the bottom of municipal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities.

We already know that this product is used to fertilize farm fields in the United States and probably abroad as well. But what it leads me to wonder is just this: If we are already eating food grown with a composted "everything that gets dumped down a residential toilet, sink, industrial catch basin, and institutional trough," then why are we unwilling to use composting toilets at home and spread the wealth on our own gardens?

At least we could control much of what's in it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pharaoh Won't Read Your Emails

On Friday I went to a program at Cooper Union marking the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. My wife, Betsy, gave the opening remarks, as she works at CU and happens to be the president of the staff union. The program lasted three hours, a little long, but had a handful of outstanding moments.

My maternal grandmother and all her sisters were teenage seamstresses in this NYC, only one generation removed from the brave young women who went on strike, who took regular beatings from police, thugs, even prostitutes hired by the owners. Despite their struggle, Triangle was never unionized, and never made any safer, and then it burned in less than 30 minutes, while many were trapped inside, killing 146 (mostly women) from smoke inhalation, burning alive, and jumping from the 9th story. Most of the victims were teenage girls and women younger than 23.

I give Betsy a hard time about some union issues and I tend to think this is because I grew up in a union household (I.B.E.W. local 3) and largely wanted to rebel against it. Unions squash ambition I liked to think. Unions demand groupthink I liked to say. I was a member during my early years, forced into it, really, by the circumstances of the hard economy of the early 90s. What jobs were there for artists anyway. A man I used to work with, Walter from Ghana via England, used to ask me why I was a white collar guy pretending to be blue, to which my young shoulders shrugged.

He told me his story, how he wanted to be a finish carpenter in England, and was the rare black man in the carpenter's union there, but they would never let him out of rough carpentry, and eventually left for the U.S., where he ended up being a handyman for my bosses in an electrical distribution warehouse in Manhattan.

But how I seriously digress, and want to steer this back to my point, which is to show you the video I recorded of Cecil Roberts of the United Mineworkers of America, speaking on Friday night. My awareness of him was remote at best, but in seeing him speak, as a union evangelist, I must admit to getting spirited chills.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Beach Farm Checkup

I went to the beach farm today, so close after traversing the Verrazano. The broccoli's fabric tent was holding up, despite the prior snow and the winds. I found it quite warm under the fabric and, if anything, the soil is too dry and could use some rain. The water is still not turned on, which is reasonable given the frozen temperatures.

Earlier in the day I stuck my hand in my pocket for warmth, only to find a hundred spinach seeds that must have fallen out of a packet some weeks ago; seeds never planted at the farm.

There are three kinds of weeds flowering on the farm. Freezing winds, what weed shall care, it's flower time.

Florida Common

When you think of Florida flowers, you think of the neighbor's bougainvillea.

Or the Spanish moss (epiphyte) on another neighbor's oak.

But my eye was fixed on the minor blooms of the 'lawn', which I have little gumption for identifying, though always worth cataloguing.

This flowering tree was responsible for a heady scent as you drive the highways at night.

These are its fruit.

The lantana in the shrubs.

A closeup.

Down at the edge of the pond.

 A closeup.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tomato Seedlings

Snow Is Good

Consider the combination of high and low temperatures that is being reported we (and our plants) are about to receive: 

  • Today:           45 and 27
  • Friday:           41 and 25
  • Saturday:       41 and 25
  • Sunday:         41 and 23!

In New York City, the nearby ocean, the moist air, and certainly the time of year, influence the temperatures. When our temperatures are in the forties for highs, the sky cloudy, partly cloudy, rainy, damp, the fluctuation between high and low has been, from what I remember, not significant, maybe 10 to 15 degrees. In fact, the average for these dates run about 45-53 for highs, with lows around 30-37. 

Last year, however, March 27th (this Sunday's date) had temperatures between 44 and 29 degrees F. Although colder than average, this is within the 15 degree fluctuation and with a low that is less troublesome at 29 degrees. This Sunday's low of 23 degrees makes for a temperature fluctuation of 18 degrees, which as numbers go, is just a few more than the usual 15. But three degree difference means that our tender, young plants will spend many more hours freezing, and, by my classification, makes for an unusual temperature event.

I have already raked up the leaves, transplanted perennials, and planted frost-hardy vegetables.  Only now do I understand why a fabric row cover that provides only two degrees protection can become a highly useful tool in the field. So consider this -welcome any snow that falls and remains over the next several days. One, two, or more inches of wet snow will help to protect emerging plants from several hours of freezing much like a row cover does -but possibly better. 

Update: Weather Underground has been slowly upping the low temperature forecast, but also lowering the high, so that now the temps lie squarely within the average 15 degree fluctuation. No matter, they're now saying we have a low of 25 on Sunday, which, believe it or not, is considerably better than 23!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just In Time For...

...uh, thundersleet? Our flight was delayed, but only just enough to squeak us in before the heavy precipitation and lightning. It made for a turbulent final 40 minutes. The sleet was heavy on the corrugated roofs of the A train's outdoor platforms, and I was glad not to be out there.

Incidentally, I had looked up while we were crossing the F train Smith bridge and noticed that every single person on our moderately filled train was looking down at a little screen. Everyone. I believe this is the first time that I've seen such a totality of electronic immersion.

Anyhow, by the time I made it to Smith, the precipitation had changed over to dollops of wet snow. Yet I was pleased to see that little of anything had stuck in the untrammeled parts of the walk from my station further south. From 87 and sunny to 35 and thundersleet in 2 hours. That, my friends, is the magic of air travel.

Eating... words? Hard to say at this moment, because I am still in Florida (err, boots not on the ground). But still, nothing much will stick today. Tonight? Weeell, that depends. The marginally freezing air is being pushed down by a Canadian high and low, and is in place now -more typical for winter, not spring (although it's barely spring). So, maybe eating my words. Imagining it to be a wet snow, hopefully does not weigh down the broccoli tent at the beach farm. Perennials and bulbs will be fine. I'm flying this afternoon, hoping not to have delays.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

From My Perspective... 85 degree Florida, it will not snow in any significant quantity midweek. One reason is that I do not want my flight effed with, and the other reason is that the freezing temperatures the snowfall depends on are marginally so at best, with the colder air mass coming in after the precipitation, while dropping below freezing only at night. The likelihood of snow is quite low, and from my warm perspective, just amped up weather suggestion.

That said, the beach farm seedlings may be challenged a couple of evenings later this week. The daffodils? They'll be fine, in fact, better for the cold. Heat does those flowers in way faster than moderate cold.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Daffodils are blooming, I moved some perennials around the garden. Landlord told me not to get 'started' this spring for the windows and then the siding (how many years have I heard this). I told him it starts with or without me. Now I am off to Florida for a few days. Be back midweek.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Evening At The Beach Farm

I raced off to the beach farm after five to plant broccoli and leek starts, and further to protect the tender broccoli from the wind. I am glad that Larry had opened up the nursery this past weekend, so that I could pick up some seafood compost and cow manure (surf and turf) before leaving for the day. I'm a shopping thinker -this is where one finds solutions to problems on the store's shelf, and made short order of the wind problem at J&L.  Short bamboo stakes (gawdawfal green) save the day.

The winds we were expecting never materialized, yet there was a light breeze that wafted the agribon fabric, a spun polypropylene, like spider's silk. I purchased this fabric from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, who also sells the fabric clips, but they were too expensive for small plastic disks (a widget if I ever saw one), so I searched further, and found these not so bad replacements at Memphis Net and Twine for less than a third of the price. Why not so bad? The PVFS clip doesn't poke through the fabric, and are probably of higher quality, but for my purposes, MN&T 'plastic grommets' work.

As you can see, the clips have two ports for connecting -the central circle if you wish to tear the fabric and the side hoop. I used the side hoop, slid over the bamboo stake, and supported rather lazily by a horizontal stake tied to the vertical. The fabric can then be lowered or raised along the vertical stake if needed. A better system of supporting the fabric is one or two thoughts away, although likely to be unnecessary. As soon as the broccoli toughens up, the plants will be able to support the fabric on their own. As the broccoli grows taller, the fabric will ascend the stakes.

The agribon fabric is intended to keep off Small Whites -moths that lay eggs which in turn become cabbage worms. In my case, it's doing double duty as a wind break, so I have attached extra clips at the base and used my metal plant tags to anchor the fabric to the soil. Who ever has what they need on hand, but then who stops because they don't?

The little guys under their tent.

The utility of this fabric far outweighs its major flaw -it's unattractive. With row covers, you can also add a couple of degrees to the coldest night, and of course, it allows water, air, and 85% of sunlight through. I really like the idea of row covers, but this is my first attempt at using them. Ideally you have hoops and the row cover lays over those hoops, pinned to the ground. However, I hope my system holds up and keeps the small whites out, because I really like the idea of the row cover lifting on the stakes as the plants grow taller. But then, I suppose I shouldn't get too attached to any one idea.

I also planted two thirds of the leek starts in two trenches. I have about 2/3rds of the broccoli left not planted as well. I will have to go back on Saturday morning before my flight to plant those in another bed. All the mental designing isn't worth very much when you have an hour of light to get it all done, and by dark you can barely see the leeks. Quick decisions must be made, function is king in the race against time. 

Lastly, I planted the spring greens seeds, which should have made way into their spring bed a couple of weeks ago. Only the basics -arugula, and heirloom mesclun mix, and an asian greens mix and very happy about those because I have been eating a lot more salads lately.

Warm Two Days

Yesterday evening I was at the beach farm. It was night by the time I left, but the moon, waxing gibbous, fared well enough to light the scene. The air balmy, demanding that I linger even after all that could be done was done. I could hear the waves crashing on the shore, and the scent was brined, which is pleasant, although in the past, more so.

The temperature was quite warm last night, indicating how warm it will be in the coming two days. If you have plants under a cold frame, lift the lid, they're not going to need it. Enjoy the coming two days and thank the gods of daylight savings for giving it to us earlier than it used to be so those of us stuck in a building can enjoy at least a half hour of evening before dark on days like these.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I've planted my tomato seeds in their bond paper tubes, each 4 inches tall. There is only room for one group of seedlings on the window shelf, and so this action requires the broccoli and leeks to toughen up, to take to the outside -permanently.

It is March 14th, and on March 14th our weather history shows that the temperature could rise to 85 degrees F or sink to 6 degrees F. It could snow as much as 15 inches or rain nearly three. But on average, our temperature should rise into the high forties, stay above freezing at night by just a few degrees, and rain should be no more than a quarter inch, daily. Our NYC days are now nearing 12 hours of sunlight, enough energy to warm the soil and power the plants.

So my judgement is that I'm to leave them outside, in the cold frame, with a jug of hot water, each night. This Wednesday I believe I will put them in the field, where they will need to be brave because I will not be available to tend to them for 8 plus days after the moment they settle into that cool, damp soil. It's the wind that will challenge them, broccoli mostly, and I have not yet devised a good system for breaking it. I do have row cover fabric and must give that some thought before planting day.

In the vegetable garden the risk lies between this and that -at boundaries, but averages tell us it's gonna be alright. And so we do not wait, we accept risk.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Beach Farm Beginnings

It was pretty cold because of the bluster coming in off the ocean, but me and Betsy headed out early last Wednesday, before the big rains, to prep some beds for seeding and planting. Swiss Chard 'Rhubarb' seeds were planted, as well as more snap peas. We cleared beds of prodigious weeds (they do so well so early) for the coming spinach seeds, broccoli and leek starts. Minor thinking, also, about irrigation lines and a layout for the warm season vegetables. The cold and other must-accomplish things drove us back long before I was willing to finish thinking out the season.

The greens from last fall had survived the cold under the snow.

Last fall's late planted garlic is up.

The bond paper tubes deformed quite easily, in fact more easily that tp or pt roll tubes.

And so the snap pea 'Sugar Ann' were placed in their holes. Good luck, it's quite windy out there.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I snipped the leeks as the seed packet suggested. Little onion scented drops emerged.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Central Park Morning

I found myself walking through the southern tip of Central Park at 6 am. There were the aging mounds of grayed ice, even ice still on the little pond, but also water diving over the falls because of the rain. I saw the snowdrops dangling over periwinkle in dim light. The rain had begun to fall, but ever so lightly. I stopped to admire the belgian block curbs being installed, heard the schiff schiff schiff of foot dragging joggers and the roar and clang of  haulers. It was too early for breakfast, even though I had thoughts of a diner and a paper. I headed off to Columbus Circle, no bike peddlers, no tourists, not even commuters. The Starbucks had every seat available and only two people on line (as we NYers say). I picked up a banana and a coffee at the deli and a bran muffin at the cart, then moved on to work, where the building had just opened, lights still out.

I am not a morning person, making all the more powerful the experience of being out at an early hour. I would like to be a morning person, as that time, if out of the house, or even in it, can be a time of such great movement, things happen, early. Things just happen. But it takes discipline, to turn out the lights, remove ourselves from the glow of the monitor, at an hour conducive to rising early. But now that I am 41, just two days ago, I do begin to believe that it does make a man healthy and wise, if not wealthy. Imagine working 7 to 3, home by 4, dinner by 6 instead of home at 8, dinner by 9. That is the arc of our urban day, and I can't imagine it being easy to shed, but possible.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Beach Farm Twittering

Going to the farm this morning. Breaking soil. Planting some seeds. Thinking about layout, irrigation, and the coming weather. Not yet planting my broccoli or leeks, at least for another week.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March On

Today, in an indecisive mood, I found myself driving by the new Gowanus Nursery. I was a bit taken aback to see such a small footprint for the nursery -apparently located in the lot for a brick building that is being rehabbed and appears to be long from finished. It seems the owner, tired from having to move, has bought a building. The lot, however, is much smaller than the former, at least to my prying eyes. There were staff moving potted perennials around and construction workers in the building. I wondered how well things are going, how well they will go.

I lightly fertilized my broccoli and leek seedlings with liquid fish fertilizer tonight after bringing them in from the cold frame. I left the pea shoots in the frame for the night. Young peas are said to be hardier than the old and tonight I will test that information. I perused my National Gardening Association vegetables book (a fat book, with much info, that I don't believe is published anymore) as brushing up is useful for anything I do only once a year.

I realize I should have broken ground for spinach, chard, peas, cilantro, and greens already. What's up with inoculant for peas, never can find it locally, never have done it. I've no compost yet, and still want a truck load, not a bunch of overpriced bags. But it's looking like bags, patch at a time. Irrigation pipe sits on our floor, as well as netting and row cover fabric. Irrigation pipe should be laid before planting, yet the water is not turned on. Tomatoes need to be started, but at least the bond paper tubes are cut to size and waiting. All this and time soon to transplant perennials in the front yard. March named as such, on the march.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Start Dancing

The broccoli and leek starts are dancing in the warmer than expected weather.

The snap peas are up in the cut bond paper tubes. The roots come way out the bottoms.

Alright, just one, amongst the black mesh that keeps the cats from doing their business.

It's hard for me not to want to stop right here.