Friday, July 29, 2011

The Haul Returns

One way to look at it -with basket. Yes, we bought a basket. We looked at them in a Target in Minnesota, but they were not worth taking home and often smelled funny. Then, on a lone road in the driftless of Iowa, an Amish family was selling produce and baskets. Ours, made by Fannie, a 9 year old girl. Yup, it's signed on the bottom in blue ball point  "Fannie, Age 8, 11-12-10." And the construction -flawless, a very good basket.

Another view, exploded. Sungold cherry and orange pixie salad. Smaller cukes pickled. Everything else, just waitin' for a mouth.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer 2012

I will be offering limited quantities of Italian artichoke (softneck), Italian turban (hardneck), an American and German rocambole , an Asiatic artichoke (hardneck), a Georgian and American purple stripe, an American artichoke (softneck), and quite possibly, French grey shallots.

These will be grown and sold for eating, but do with them as you wish. Pricing is yet to be determined, but will be competitive with other well-grown and cured (hang-dried, one month) specialty allium available in NYC.

Monday, July 25, 2011

No News Is News

Very little to report, although many hot evenings have been spent at the beach farm. Tomatoes are now bird-netted. A handful of gardeners still don't believe it's birds, yet I haven't lost any since the netting. Not only that, but on Friday, at dusk, there were nearly 20 birds trying to figure out what has changed in our plot that made those ripe orange cherries and pixies unavailable. 

Yesterday evening, we arrived to find our garden plot neighbor watering our plants (overhead, ack). There was a starling on the net exactly where he was watering. The bird did not move. I said it was caught in the net. He said no. The bird then jumps down to the ground. My neighbor sprays it with the hose -not hard pressure, just the arcing glops of watering you expect from typical hose watering. The bird doesn't move. It just takes it. Never seen such a thing.

We had about 25 blossom end rot cases on our young plum tomatoes. I picked them all off. The same plants have leaf curl -environmental stress.  These plums were planted two weeks after all the others and may have taken longer to settle in.

The cukes are producing now so that we have three or four every other day. The beans are finally up and running. Chard cut hard. Carrots going for the final thinning, with edible results. Transplanted carrots look not so good. Bare spot waiting for fall broccoli probably could have been planted with carrots or beans. Peppers look mature. Same for eggplants -harvesting one or two every visit.

I am eyeballing two plots that the Fed gives me the runaround on. I may just work them this fall, or sooner, and see what happens. Meanwhile, my other neighbor's plot looks like a bunch of weedy burial mounds.

I met one of the chain link gardeners yesterday. He needed advice about his tomatoes -blossom end rot. Grapes definitely eaten by the birds, but he resists on the tomatoes. The space in that cage!

Late-leaving hipster asked where the nearest bathroom was. After a joke about the beach (see here), I sent her to the porta-potty about 150 yards away. Boy, she was disappointed. By the way, have you ever noticed the name of the porta-potty Royal Flush? Yeah, I think that's funny, so I came up with a new name for their competitor: Queen of Hearts. Say it fast and you'll get it.

At home, the yellow iris is blooming again with several buds. It smells wonderful and has been surprisingly resistant to wilting in the heat. Little else is going on, except that I wish it would rain. And isn't it lovely today after all that heat?

Addendum: Wish granted.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yeah, It's Hot, But It's A Dry Heat

We were working at the studio, the not-a-cooling-station studio, until 2:30. It may have been in the high 90s in there. Afterward, we headed down to the beach farm, somewhere around the time that my thermometer said 104 degrees F. We could catch some sea breeze and I needed to wrap those tomatoes with bird netting. And that's just what I did. Fortunately the wind wasn't blowing. Wait. What? The wind wasn't blowing, no onshore flow? Why not, it always blows when it's hot? Guess we must of equalized, but somewhere around 9 pm the wind did pick up, just slightly, and cooler, from the water. I drank cold beer, bbqed, and then watched distant fireworks. You should've seen the look on those birds' faces.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Usual Suspects

It was quite a scene, it really was. Gasps. Acks. Arrghs. All at once gardeners were cursing at the sky. 

Why, why! My tomatoes! Every ripe one. Every single one! Who, what, could have done this? Soon the voices of prejudice were calling out over garden boundaries, down weedy alleys, pitchforks were raised.

Rabbits. It was the rabbits. I know it was, my strawberries were nibbled in June. I see them here all the time.

At first I thought it was bugs, but could it have been the opossum? 

It's friggin raccoons, man. Raccoons are all over the place. They got little hands.

It's those people going to the beach, comin in here. All those hipsters from Brooklyn!
But they ate only part of the tomatoes, it wasn't people! -one gardener rebuked. I don't know -said another.

No one, this time, uttered rats, but I was waiting for it.

Everyone, please, try to calm down -today we lost a lot of tomatoes, and it hurts, we're in pain.

But we can't go throwing accusations around, can we? We need to think about what happened here. As upsetting as it is, we need to look at those tomatoes. What four-legger would do this? 

Rabbit teeth! No, I don't think so, look how the holes are uneven. Don't they look like ovals or diamond shapes? Like a bird beak pecking at a tomato? Birds, why would birds do this, why would they eat half a tomato? I don't know, but its hard for me to imagine an animal getting to every tomato, yet not plucking any from the vine. Birds have an eye for color and they can fly in, any height. 

It's true, I put up a fence after I noticed the damage on Sunday, and the fence wasn't touched at all. Let's observe the birds now that it's dusk. They're everywhere -Mockingbirds, Redwing Blackbirds, Starlings, Robins all about, appearing so innocent. We think they're here for the bugs and seeds, we don't even see them.

I stood utterly still, watching them watch me. They're smart -they would just sit there as long as I was watching. But, within a few minutes I found myself on the trail of a couple of Mockingbirds, hopping through my neighbor's tomatoes, looking for the ripe, the untouched. They noticed me, hopped, then flew around to my tomato plants. They spotted my pile of pecked tomatoes and attacked. Then, off to another plot, to reek more havoc where little survived the last two days of onslaught. Birds. Never given them much thought. And now, I'll need to buy bird netting, or pick every tomato at first blush.

They're pickin my zucchini I tell you! All those lousy people, from the ferry! One lady, she was in here, goin plot to plot, pickin whatever she felt. Sose I axed her, hey lady whatcha doin? And she says she's havin a dinner pardy, and needs some fresh vegetables. Getataheeuh!

Cool As A Cucumber

The beach farm, hitting its stride now, but with garlic pulled and chard starting to bolt. Green beans are late, thanks to me, and same with the basil, and peppers, because of my fixation on cool season vegetables. Don't look at the corn, which belongs to my neighbor, although it feels like it's part of our little allotment. Corn has a lot of presence.

Last weekend I built the cucumber trellis, with limited means and limited space. Its a V shape, with 6-inch netting stapled to it. Hard to believe the cukes are only four weeks old.

We have two varieties, which I can hardly remember now. Maybe Wisconsin pickling and Salad Bush slicer. So far, I think only the Wisconsins are fruiting, like the one above.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Garlic Daddy

It was time, maybe even a week late.

The bulbs, between 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 inch in diameter, were healthy, and a bit dirty.

Lined up for portrait.

Cleaned, mostly, and strung up for curing in the apartment.

The garlic did quite well. The bulbs are beautiful to look at, sculptural even, blushed mauve. I'm thinking of growing many more next year, with a selection for sale. Where or how, I do not yet know. What is the going rate for ordinary garlic bulbs in your neck of the woods? What is the going rate for fresh, naturally grown specialty garlic in your neck of the woods? If you don't have any idea, head out to a farmer's market or farm stand this month, where you should find them for sale.  What would someone pay, in these here NYC parts, for naturally grown, soil-tested, locally grown specialty garlic?

And finally, thanks to Meems, at Gardening in the Boroughs of NYC for selling me some of her families garlic late, late last season.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Much Desired Rain...

Did not materialize where it matters to me -the apartment garden, the beach farm.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Queens Of Compost

This is my kitchen compost. It lives in the corner of the side yard garden, is turned maybe once a month, and is full of detritus eaters. I use it around the flower garden. My neighbor hates it, she says it stinks up the air underneath her window. But that happens to be where she keeps her three trash pails. Sometimes we drop anaerobic stink in the pile, but I always bury it, so that it dissipates rather rapidly. Otherwise, the stuff smells like sweet earth. 

Three weeks ago I was at the beach farm and an old Bronco, 80's vintage, pulls up. Inside are three young ladies, clipboards in hands, sunglasses, hats, casual earthy wear. They exit the over sized vehicle, and beeline for the "compost" bins. They take notes. Afterward, they mosey over to me, ask if I am someone I am not, and then I ask what they are, I mean, as a group, what is this group? They inform me that they work for the Department of Sanitation as inspectors of community garden composting and intend to teach proper composting skills.

Then I think: just cause you're all excited about compost, doesn't make it something brand new. Realizing that my ego is too big to allow a bunch of youngins to teach me how to do anything I didn't ask to learn, I inform them that we don't compost properly at this site for several reasons, but maybe they would like to talk to another gentleman, over there, who's worked this acre for many more years than I. I cannot imagine what was said between them, however they departed shortly after, but not before I asked if they found what they were looking for. To which they replied that they would be back, maybe this fall, to teach us how to compost properly.

Can't wait.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Little Rain For The Garden


The plants really like that thunderstorm rain.

Seed Savers

On our return trip from Minnesota, we had a side excursion to the university in Iowa where I am mounting an exhibit this winter. Not far from the home base of Seed Savers Exchange, we decided to make a visit, although it took us longer to get there on the side roads than we had hoped, and arrived after closing. Their place was wide open, enough so that we felt comfortable taking a look around the gardens. 

Trial hollyhocks at the entrance.

Nearly an acre of trial/display gardens near the entrance and store. In extreme northeastern Iowa, a bit of high country, often well above 1000 feet in elevation, is known as the Driftless Area. It's a fascinating landscape, outside of the monotony of plateau farming, and worth exploring more thoroughly. I suspect it is somewhat cooler in certain locales, as the woods were emitting cool air as we drove by that afternoon, and many plants seemed younger than expected in these gardens. The region is listed as USDA Zone 4b.

Many, many individually potted tomatoes and peppers for sale -one dollar each. I, and the beach farm, were lucky to be too late to rack up a collection.

I was attracted to this tomato -Velvet Red. With its grayed pubescence, I thought it might increase drought tolerance, useful at the beach farm, or anywhere. Indeterminate, 80 days.

A potted, mature specimen of Velvet Red.

A very dark red lettuce and cut-leaf kale.

Major asparagus hedge.

More trial beds.

The odd and entrancing Nigella, or Love in a Mist.

Lamb's ears, digitalis.

This was our campground, or the backdrop to it, at the Volga River State Recreation Area. We stayed here one night. Brand-spanking new facility, smartly designed hot water showers, clear night skies, tent canopy removed. Next morning, wild black raspberries. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Say It

Don't Spray It.

One day during our visit to Minnesota, Betsy mentioned that a government official had stopped by to inform the residents that mosquito spraying would take place as soon as the weather dried out. They were concerned about a massive mosquito bloom after all the wet weather. Reasonable concern, but then I was concerned about aerial spraying of an unspecified substance at an unspecified time in an unspecified manner. Maybe I was overreacting? 

Two days later, when an extremely low flying helicopter was making neck-twisting passes over our woods and wetlands, I had to wonder what it was they were doing. I couldn't see any spray coming out and there was a good breeze blowing too. Why spray in a breeze and wouldn't we smell the chemical? I thought maybe they were dropping BT pellets, then, which would drop without much affect by the winds. Yet, I couldn't see anything coming out of the helicopter, which was just above the tree line, about 80 feet up. The whole episode left me with more questions than answers, and a certain degree of discomfort.

When I was a child, in the late seventies, we had massive outbreaks of gypsy moths and caterpillars. There was no government control that I was aware of at the time. Spraying, if you chose to do so, was the responsibility of landowners. We lived within oak forests that were highly infested with the moths and caterpillars. We got used to the sound of dropping turds hitting leaves and other surfaces, touching tree trunks moving with highways of caterpillars, seeing certain trees completely defoliated, the egg masses laid on every vertical surface. 

But, none of that excuses what also happened. Overnight, new gypsy moth eradication companies sprouted. Their business model was a tank truck, high pressure pump, and thousands of gallons of chemical pesticide. On summer weekdays, when the neighbors were at work, but school-aged kids were at home and outside, the trucks would show up, unannounced, and begin spraying high pressure jets up into the canopy of oaks. 

We stood there, watching, until the acrid chemical overwhelmed us and we ran inside. When they were done spraying, we went back outside to see what became of it. Amongst the dripping, sticky residue, so unusual on a sunny summer day, what we found were dead squirrels, birds, all kinds of insects, and, of course, dropping gypsy moth caterpillars. I can remember the pungent smell in the spraying's aftermath till this day, partly because it wasn't an isolated occurrence. It happened again and again over the course of three or four years, until neighbors began to realize that the Gypsy Moths weren't exterminating the trees and their spraying was costing them for naught.

Oak trees, Gypsy Moths' favorite, can survive the defoliation. We never lost one tree (all our trees were red oaks), and the oak forest that stood then, stands now, minus the ones cut down for neighbors' house extensions and pools.

So, what's with all the memory lane? I was reminded of all this the day after we arrived home. I sat in the van for a moment and noticed this trap hung from a street tree across the street from our apartment. It's a pheromone trap used to collect moths, which the USDA uses to infer gaining or lowering numbers of Gypsy Moths in an area, year over year. 

I have not noticed an up-tick in gypsy moth caterpillars in our area. Although, a few years ago, on our trip to Minnesota, I noticed a massive regrowth of young, bright green leaves off Highway 80 in Pennsylvania. On our return trip I noticed dead caterpillars everywhere at a rest stop and the attendant there told me they had sprayed. We didn't sit on any benches under the trees.

I googled quite a number of combinations of traps, Gypsy Moths, USDA, and New York City. The best I got was a recent article from a Washington state, local newspaper describing a similar trap and process in use there.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flight To The Beach Farm

What has changed in our two weeks away? The leeks have grown to need soil hilled around them, and the cucumbers, just sprouts three weeks ago, are now three feet long. They must be thinned and trellised. Some chard is bolting, as you see here shooting into the picture frame. The newly planted peppers, three weeks ago, yes, they must be weeded, seriously weeded.

But look at those tomatoes, how they've grown. Even the paste tomato starts, planted only three weeks ago, are up to the second row of netting. The netting is performing well, despite our vacationing hands. Only, without our active training, the prevailing winds have nudged the vines northward.

Tomatoes have been splendidly productive. So far, no blossom end rot either -the bane of the potted tomatoes. These are Bella Rosa, which were very late when I planted them in pots in our side yard. Here, they are earlier than most, and more productive.

These are, I believe, Black Russian, and are exceptionally productive. Two years ago I planted these in a planter and I think I got four or five tomatoes. There's more than that in just this one cluster -maybe nine all together.

Under the tomatoes tell another story: weeds and disease. This view under the partially-weeded German Stripe shows that the lower leaves have been yellowing, browning, shriveling.

And evidence of late summer's diseases are already apparent at the base of a Pink Bandywine. Also, skins of aphids are everywhere on the tomatoes (mine and my neighbors'). The aphids are not a major threat themselves, but the disease they spread is a concern.

Which leads me to remember these eggs on fine hairs? I was picking chard leaves and noticed them, sporadically, on the undersides. Then I noticed them on the grass blade, above, that I had just pulled. Then again on the picket fence. What gives, why so many? Is it not an insect egg at all, is it some kind of fungus? I don't think so, I'm confident it's an insect's doing. Turns out they are the eggs of the Common Lacewing -whose larva eat aphids. So, I shall accept eggs on hairs on chard so that Lacewing larva should devour the aphids. I think we call this balance.

I expected to find these, the Black Swallowtail caterpillar, and have more than one munching away on our parsley. No surprise to find them in our weedy paradise by the sea -plenty of Queen Anne's Lace if no one is growing parsley or carrots, and the nectar of milkweed and thistle for the butterflies is also abundant. Just stay off my carrots and we'll have harmony.

I've planted enough parsley for us all. Why not share? In fact, I had to cut the parsley back just to spare the young basil growing to its side. Parsley anyone?

Not all my green beans sprouted while I was away. I think old seed stock was to blame. I will reseed. Carrots have been thinned, and I've tried replanting the thinnings. I've harvested one garlic, and expect to harvest them all by next week. Fall broccoli has been seeded in trays (hard to believe I'm talking fall already). Any remaining greens will be pulled in favor of more herbs, beans, carrots. Looking forward to tomatoes, maybe by mid July.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Yellow, White & July

Early July seems to be the season of orange, yellow, white, cream. I've seen worse returns, as the garden held its own weight this time with simple tie-ups and dead-heading to do. Worst bit were all the yanked stems and cut lilies. Not present is its own dilemma.

Immobile, getting ready for the night's rest.

The side yard tangle, shifting every year, unrealized.

Lilies in the dark.

Have not figured out what happened here. Dicentra eximia, ferns, and forget-me-not obliterated while we were away. It wasn't the heat because it was not that hot and they did well in last year's record June heat. Was it feet or sleeping cats? I'm going with people feet, then sleeping cats. I'm watering, hope precipitate.

That was a horrible ending; encore presentation front yard.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shelf Esteem

The Chicken of the Woods, or Sulfur Shelf, or Laetiporus sulphureus, just two days before harvest.   

At first the weather was rainy, cool. Then it dried out, but cloudy. Then it got hot and humid (for Minnesotans). And then, although we thought we could make due without, came the violent thunderstorms on the evening of our last day . Under green-grey skies, oaks thrashing about, Betsy stood with short knife, at the ready. This was her find, and she felt responsible for its dry harvest, but the fear of windfall limbs in a rotting wood put a damper on feet raring to go. We watched radar and sky, waiting for the cleft between storms, and dashed into the woods. While Betsy cut, I scanned the treetops, listening for the creak and the crack. All the while she had the presence of mind to leave some of the L. sulphureus intact so that it could spore out. 

 The harvest under the eerie green of fluorescent lighting.

 A cut across the mushroom, a section, reveals an even, creamy yellow grain and brilliant orange skin.

Its yellow "polypore" underside helps distinguish this find from last year's L. cincinnatus, which has a white underside. Both are found on hardwoods (particularly oak) east of the Great Plains, but L. sulphureus is more likely to be found in an overlapping shelf formation on a downed log, as was this one. Incidentally, this Sulfur Shelf was found about 75 feet from last year's.

Hard to miss why it's called a Sulfur Shelf, although there's no telling its purpose. 

Laetiporus sulphureus is a wood decomposer, not a ground-fruiting mycorrhizal fungi enjoying a symbiotic relationship with tree roots. A Sulfur Shelf is known as a brown rot fungus, meaning it breaks down the cellulose of the tree, leaving the brown lignin behind. It is generally not good if you see one on a live tree, but necessary for the decomposition of a dead one.

I read that one should cook a Sulfur Shelf before it is eaten, but I ate quite a number of tender slices raw with no apparent ill effects. This one was not like last week's tender Shelf, having a thick stem appearing to make it more "woody." Despite this, we ate the whole cut, minus the actual wood. The shelves were tender, while the thick stems were quite edible too, but would have served better in a soup or stew, or even a cream sauce, to soften them up. We ate them sauteed on the day of cutting, with some left over. What remained, traveled with us to Iowa in a brown paper bag. I sliced garlic, sprinkled salt, and drizzled xv olive oil on the sliced mushroom. Then wrapped in aluminum foil, it was grilled on the fire at our campsite. Even better than the first night.