Saturday, March 31, 2012

Germinate This

All of my seed packets for tomatoes, from several different sources, say to plant the seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. Now, this year that could hardly make any sense, but even in normal weather years, if I was to put my tomatoes in starter mix in February I would have skinny ass tomato seedlings by April Fool's Day. And yes, I would be a fool for following those instructions.

I would not plant my leggy tomato seedlings out in the garden at the beginning of April. I still go for a not completely conventional May 15 plant date depending on how the cool weather crops are fairing. When those are done, the tomatoes can replace them as late as May 30 (the old-time conventional date). They will grow rapidly with the soil activity up because it has warmed properly. Even when the air temps are warm, the soil may still be cool, and your tomatoes will languish. Same reason you shouldn't put your cucumbers seeds or pepper starts in before May 15. I'm not saying you shouldn't try, but if you're new to this, best stick with matching your seed starting dates to real world planting dates.

I will begin seeding my tomatoes this week. Meanwhile the broccoli rabe and fennel will need to be transplanted to the beach farm (where it is significantly cooler). The lettuce I got in a bit late, so those seeds are just popping up now. With warmer weather approaching, those tomatoes seeds should sprout and grow pretty rapidly in their little pots. I will have to keep them in check to hold off planting until May whatever.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Other Fronts

Last week was spring break at school, but I took it as an opportunity to apply myself to new directions. Applications to two teaching posts, applications for painting exhibitions, applications for grants and free studios. As always with these things, you send it out, and forget. Hope springs eternal, but do not hold your breath.

Just today I sent out an application for an acre of farmland on the north fork of Long Island, in the town of Southold. There isn't a day that I think this isn't crazy, but the thought seems also an enormous amount of fun. It is rent-controlled, and programmed, with monthly Monday morning meetings. They're serious -I had to write a four page business plan!

On Monday I spent the hours with my friend John, a successful artist, as I see it, with a gallery for over ten years and sales in the high teens for his work. I read to his 2 year old son for an hour (books are like drugs for a two year old), and when he finally napped, we talked about opportunities for artists, what it means to succeed, the always out of sight 5-year plan, and studio problems. I even told him about the garlic.

I keep these worlds somewhat separate, mostly because I wouldn't want the artists to think I wasn't serious about my art, but the truth is that, for me, these activities are deeply intertwined. We both agreed it will be hard to do all the things I already do, plus something as intensive as farming. Blogging, beach farming, teaching, the day job, studio practice, and garlic farming and selling. We agreed it would be great if I could leave my position at school and also that I need to find better teaching opportunities in the area. We agreed that I must keep painting. Betsy and I agree that we should give the farm idea a shot and I cannot do that without blogging. I don't know what to do with the studio, as it is awfully out of my price range now. I have a few days to figure it out, make the next move.

In the meantime, the flowers have not frozen, the seedlings are up and back in their cold frame, the garlic is growing fast, and there are paintings yet unfinished. Come what may.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Last Stand

This may not be the appropriate place for this, but as my outlet for rants and opinions and general discourse on the nature of a gardener's life, I feel the need to place this here. NYTimes, I'm baiting you*. Write this story without real estate dreams dancing in your heads.

In the last thirty years, I've often wondered, if the creativity, the actual product, of the artist in NYC, is the aestheticization of neighborhoods formerly unseen. In terms of pure dollars generated, it appears to me that artists have been responsible for generating more real estate money, retail money, restaurant money, etc. etc. than any amount of dollars of actual artistic production. We make neighborhoods.

We see the aesthetic value in place first, driven to it possibly by lack of income, lack of an ability to pay for the already aestheticized spaces. As always, like with the paintings and sculptures, and videos, the followers come to it afterwards, after a critical mass has proven it's value. Artists preform taste-makers.

NYC does not care for its artists. Not at all. It exploits them. Artists are weak because we are expectant and unfunded. When NYC talks about artists, it talks about lofts and auction returns. I want to remind you, you who may have not given much thought to the visual arts and for that I do not blame you, that an art culture will not survive on the dead and dying arts of the blue chip. It requires youth and outsiders, left-fielders and mischieviants (my coinage). And those folks need a place to live and a place to work without moonlighting as a media executive.

Yet, us artists, we are all to blame for following in the footsteps of our predecessors. We imagine, still, a post-industrial wasteland, with copious money flowing from some unseen font like it had in the 50s, 60s, and even still in the 80s. All those spaces haunted by the history of labor are now ironically displayed on glossy magazine pages, new architecture aiming to elevate it to haute.

If people complain, 'why is art made of cardboard,' or 'why is art on the computer,' I challenge them to think about their floor plate, designed to support thousands of pounds of machinery now supporting the weight of their lifestyle. Artists need a place to work that costs little because we spend year after year expectant that one day our work will be elevated beyond the shelf. Ten years later, an artist in this NYC, might give some thought to the 6000, 8000, 10,000, 12,000 dollars we spend, year in and year out, on our work space that has never given us any financial returns.

My work space rent is about to go up, at the end of this month, 33%. All of 2009 I spent looking for a studio that wasn't 80 square feet for 375 dollars a month (I'm.Not.Kidding), after being forced out of another studio in Dumbo by an 80% rent increase. Before that it was a 20% increase in a dusty old warehouse with no windows and absolutely no heat in Red Hook.

Fifty artists on two floors of a building which has copious unoccupied floor plates of thousands upon thousands of square feet are being asked to accept rent increases up to 45% with only one or two months notice. Entire practices are being upended, shows delayed, storage considered, and the nameless, faceless landlord could give a fuck. Dust will settle and you, artists of NYC, are mere dust.

It's the old story, one which the media thinks of as a hero story, the artist myth, the struggle. Should someone ever ask an artist, they would tell you the dull truth -Art gets made under settled circumstances.

*NYTimes -the artists at Industry City -look us up or contact me:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Only Fools

Give in. Don't you know that weather is guided by a different god than mother nature? The god of weather is an antagonist. When March baahs in like a lamb, must it roar out like the lion?

It may feel that way, but only because it has been so extraordinarily warm for the last month. An arctic high has been able to slip south thanks to a change in the jet stream, but it won't be as cold as it feels.

In fact, it may not even drop below freezing in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and some of Queens. And if it did, it may do no harm to the less than delicate. It's windy, and with wind comes movement and a challenge to freezing. If it were completely still, you might see a dastardly freeze, but I am predicting nothing short of a close call. 

And while I like the odds against my seedlings freezing in the cold frame, I still lugged them in. Upstate, at the garlic farm, they predict 19. Must be still, but if it's not, I say 26. 

A Day At The Beach

Despite the warm temperatures in the city, or rather because of them, a strong onshore flow had developed. The temperatures at the beach farm were in the low sixties. A great day for hunkering down close to the soil.

Nettle, clover, and assorted grasses bearing down on garlic's wall.

The garlic is growing two or three inches a week now. I spread my remaining corn gluten (that's the yellow stuff) for its easy-going nitrogen, and had almost forgotten its seedling-suppressing ways as I began to sprinkle some onto my mixed green sprouts. Tragedy closely averted.

Speaking of seedlings, I have to mention how difficult cilantro always has been for me to grow, yet here it has self-seeded all over its quadrant of the beach farm. The white powder on the leaves is drift from last weekend's fish bone meal. It hasn't rained at all and there is still no water to wash the leaves clean.

A few swiss chard have survived the winter quite well.

The greens mix, scattered haphazardly two weeks ago. The only thing slowing it down is the lack of moisture.

These are the Allium vineale I pulled from the fields around the garden last fall. They've started to size up, but nowhere near the size of the vineale I see in the woods around the city. They curl in the open sun, unlike the woodland population.

And, on my walk around the greater garden I noticed this splotch of brown.

A closer look revealed the ants. They've been active quite early this year.

And so have the other community gardeners. I was visited by friendly neighbors and gardeners I've never met. Lots of complaint about the tilling in October, and opinions abound about all corners of our lot. I met, for the first time, the harborer of miracle-gro soil sacks by the dozen. She was fenced-in, much as her garden is, and had many things to lob over it. She blamed another gardener for the tilling idea, and then offered her strategic device for derailing it -tilling chops up the worms. I have at least a few good reasons not to till, but that wasn't one of them. Yet, she encouraged me to stick to her ploy, disparaged the idea of new pvc pipes (said they will crack), and said roofing rubber is the best thing ever to cover your plot with (she had tried tar paper!). I didn't worry her with the notion of pulling weeds.

Another gardener whom I've never seen, but has a plot two away from us came to complain about another's plot that he felt had too much garlic. He doesn't like garlic that much and simply couldn't understand why someone would grow so much. He belabored the issue, and I held my tongue. Ahh, community.  I couldn't organize this bunch with a baseball bat, and wouldn't even try. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Unusual Light

No, it's that there are more things in bloom and leafed out than there usually are when the sun is at this azimuth.

 In that light, the species tulips glow. I always prefer them closed to open.

And much like the daffodils near the park, these are gaining aphids. With so little soft vegetation for all those winter-surviving aphids to tap, they've been found in the less than usual places. Chrysanthemum stems, daffodils, and now the species tulips.

NYC Metro Region Plant Hardiness Zone Map

This map is a composite of parts of the latest USDA NJ, NY, and CT hardiness maps.

Click on the map for full size.

Even These

Will bloom before their time.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Is Needed

Some much needed rain appears to be on its way. It's been a seriously dry winter in the metro area. Can you remember a winter with so many stretches of sunny days? With the warm and dry soil, we could be heading into a drought. Lets hope not, and that things normalize. The rain shouldn't be heavy or long-lasting. In fact, seems to be drying out before reaching our area.

Friday, March 23, 2012


When I entered the foyer there was the scent suggestion of rotting fish heads, and by any stretch this is not so unusual in my building. But then I had the thought -had my fish bones arrived? Are they in our apartment? No, they weren't, and just as I passed our apartment door, I heard my neighbor opening hers. I looked outside and asked her, "Did you get a package, does it smell like fish?"

"Yes, yes, please come and take it," she said in her nightgown. Who could blame her eagerness to rid herself of it. I told her it was only fertilizer, and not to worry, but as soon as I put it in our place, its fishhead funk was so powerful that I had to return it to the hall, with a promise to put it in our van the next morning.

After reading about the interaction of phosphates and soil-bound lead in stories about sewage sludge, and then again in last year's article in the NYTimes about fish bones used, alternatively, to reduce the impact of lead in garden soils, I decided to do some research of my own. There must be a source of free fish bones somewhere in the northeast, right?

Well, I couldn't find any, but I did find the scientists working on the fishbone formula. They sell their own fishbone meal (Apatite II) for use in a lead abatement process. Further along, I noticed that many organic producers have shifted away from ruminant bone meal (mad cow worries) to fish bone meal in their phosphorous fertilizers. After reading, and then some more reading, I decided to go with a fish bone meal from an organic producer that came in considerably, considerably, less than the Apatite II sold by the ton. I do not know how much I need, but I know it's not a ton. I bought 30 pounds. For the record, the 'inventors' of Apatite II say you must use their product for real results. 

In as simple terms as I can concoct, the phosphates (they are negatively charged, so an anion) will bond to the lead ions (they are positively charged, a cation) and create what is called new 'phosphate phases' (Apatite, the mineral) that are stable, or highly insoluble. I'm no scientist, and my research, is, well, on the internet, so I am not here to claim some miracle cure for high soil lead content. However, it was worth the try.

I applied the fish bone meal to the beach farm last Sunday. Why the beach farm? Last autumn I had the soil tested, and received my results this January. The lead was higher than I would like, way under the residential limits, mind you, but high enough to leave me disappointed. A turning in of a slow-releasing, high phosphate fertilizer seemed the least I could do to try to diminish our exposure to lead. 

Where plants were already in the ground, I could only rake the meal into the surface. Young garlic takes well to a fine-tined leaf rake. The lettuce-then-tomato and other empty beds received copious fish bone turned into the soil to a depth of about 10 inches.

The odor was of decaying fish, but that seemed perfectly natural as the breezes blew in from the ocean only three hundred yards away. It was an enhancement.

The beds raked, I then went over to the large, now empty, paper sack. I looked it over as if, perhaps, I had missed something that would be entirely too late to correct. I found the finest of fine prints on the back of the sack, down toward the bottom. It read "Information regarding the contents and level of metals in this product is available on the internet at"

Yikes. I'm adding fish bones to my soil to improve the metals content, not add to it! When I got home, I went to the site. At first I couldn't find any useful information, but the site did lead me to another: On that page there is the startling information below.

"fertilizers that contain guaranteed amounts of phosphates and/or micronutrients are adulterated when they contain metals in amounts greater than the levels of metals established by the following table:

ppm per
1% P2O5
ppm per
1% Micronutrients3
1. Arsenic
2. Cadmium
3. Cobalt
4. Lead 
5. Mercury
6. Molybdenum 
7. Nickel
8. Selenium
9. Zinc

To use the Table chose one of the following three situations:

1. Fertilizers with a phosphate guarantee; but, no micro-nutrient guarantee:
Multiply the percent guaranteed P2O5 in the product by the values in the table to obtain the maximum allowable concentration of each metal. The minimum value for P2O5 utilized as a multiplier shall be 6.0.
2. Fertilizers with one or more micro-nutrient guarantees; but, no phosphate guarantee:
Multiply the sum of the guaranteed percentages of all micro-nutrients (as defined by AAPFCO's Official Fertilizer Term, T-9) in the product by the value in the appropriate column in the Table to obtain the maximum allowable concentration (ppm) of each metal. The minimum value for micro-nutrients utilized as a multiplier shall be 1.
3. Fertilizers with both a phosphate and a micro-nutrient guarantee:

A.  Multiply the guaranteed percent P2O5 by the value in the appropriate column. The minimum value for P2O5 utilized as a multiplier shall be 6.0. Then,
B.  Multiply the sum of the guaranteed percentages of the micro-nutrients by the value in the appropriate column. The minimum value for micro-nutrients utilized as a multiplier shall be 1. Then,
C.  Utilize the higher of the two resulting values as the maximum allowable concentration (ppm) of each metal. 

My fish bone fertilizer has a phosphate guarantee of 18%, but not micro-nutrients (#1, above). According to their information, I need to multiply 18 by 61 (for lead quantities) to reveal the parts per million of lead in my fish bone meal. WHAT? That is outrageous. This would mean that my natural fish bone meal has 1098 ppm of lead? What about cobalt? 2448 ppm! And remember, it says that the fertilizer is considered adulterated only if the amounts are actually higher than these.

This can't be right, yet this is where I found myself after following the link on the bag. So I sent Dr. Earth an email to ask about this, but guess what, the good doctor must be busy, because a week later he still hasn't responded to my concerns.

Today, I realized that the link given on the bag was incorrect (I've corrected it above). I found the site which it intended to link, which then lead to three western state agencies (why are they better at this?) that test fertilizers for certain heavy metals.

The Washington State results for my fishbone meal.
The Oregon State results for my fish bone meal.
The California results appear to be unlinkable, but their results can be seen by following the main link above the chart.

All three states had somewhat different test results. Washington had the most comprehensive test. The numbers are extremely low compared to the numbers achieved by the formula given by the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials or AAPFCO.

So where does all that leave me? Scratching my head. I will retest my soil in a couple of months to see if or how the levels have changed. 


Italians On Their Way

The fennels are up and the cima di rapa racing along.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Summer In March

I sit in my van, watching thunderheads rise to the west and the northeast over minor mountains, venti ice coffee in the holder, bottle of water at my side.

I broke a sweat today, felt the burn of the sun on my neck as I pulled the smallest of weeds and sprouts of grass from each garlic bed. All the garlic and shallots are up and growing. Half the straw mulch had blown to other gullies and beds. I replaced it as it appears to keep the soil cooler and moist on these hot March days. It will be in the 80s later in the week. No rain in sight but for these steaming vents blowing up over the mountains.

I applied corn gluten meal to rows both empty of straw and full of it. Seems to make no difference to its application. I am at the right time with it -warming, dry days ahead, early spring, just as the weeds begin to sprout. And garlic enjoys a spring hit of nitrogen that corn protein has in spades.

I received a speeding ticket on my way up to the farm this morning. Not a soul on the Taconic Parkway, I was lost in thought, and didn't even see the cop who pulled out in front of me, forcing me toward the shoulder. He asked why I was speeding and I said I was not aware if it. I was dreaming as one can do on a lonely highway. I hope it's not one of those 300 dollar fines. Twenty five years of driving and never a speeding ticket. Until now. I'll take the Thruway back because 70 is apparently okay west of the Hudson River.

In Search Of

Chicks at the Agway. No corn gluten meal, however. Off to the next Agway on my way to the garlic farm.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

What's Up?

The cima di rapa, err broccoli rabe. Up next, fennel of two kinds.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Grass Is Stinkier On The Other Side

Yep, I know, Parks -it's cheaper maintenance and it is always green, sort of. But, when the wind blows from the north or northwest, it stinks to high heaven like some kind of chemical bath. It's hard to imagine breathing deeply while playing soccer over this stuff. It's simply rotten.

I walk by this twice a day on my way to and from the train. Several blocks long and no escape from its hard-to-define smell. If you've ever lived with or near wet outdoor carpeting, its that smell. While it may be more expensive, and it may not survive the beating, I love the smell of cut lawn grass. Love it.

So, as I see it, Parks chose between rotten and love, and they went with rotten. Sorry to be so hard, I get your reasons, but there's simply no love there.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Other Things

The daffodills, yes. They are up and out and either dumb or tough, or both. Most other plants seems to be hanging back in my garden.

The veronica is always early. In this spot, within the mesh covered side yard where last year's fern and dicentra were smashed to smithereens by an unknown entity, the veronica has volunteered.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Less Grocer

More fancy market?

I went to our local C-town today because they always have a wide variety of meats. But something was different. The beers had moved, and this end cap -it had quail eggs?! I wrapped the corner and ah, I see, 1/4 aisle of organic and fancy. Well, kudos to C-town for adapting. Foodtown, at the other end of the hood, tried years ago with a renovation that simply grossed me out (dust everywhere, but store open!). I only go to Foodtown for the Murray's chicken and self-checkout -yes, I like to check myself out. Who doesn't? But check that out -quail eggs from Canada at C-town. Times they are a changin.

Mud Flap

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Of Lambs And Lions

You know it by now. This week, the only thing holding back the temperature will be the relatively cool waters around us. Upstate, where the garlic is undoubtedly growing, it's going to be above 70 degrees F for several days. I'd like to go up to weed, feeling like the super warm temperatures will lead to lots of sprouting, but I've work all week. With luck, the dry weather will hold out till next weekend.

By all means, get out and about this week!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dreams Of Nightmares

Last night I had dreams of riding a tractor, or trying to make whatever it was I was on behave like a tractor. Somehow, the dream shifted to the beach farm. The plots were mostly cleared, but mine was still in place. I walked away for a minute and by the time I got back all my garlic was piled and the soil all swept away. Underneath the soil were hardwood floors! Was this a dream about gentrification? There was a group of people, apparently connected to Ft. Tilden congregating around a woman. I cursed this woman loudly for not even having the courtesy to warn us before they swept away our soil. Then I woke.

Otherwise, I had a really nice birthday, yesterday.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Auspicious Times

Today I ordered my lunch salad as I tend to do. Healthy salad, for the newly minted 42 year old. When I got to the register they charged me more than the usual. They said I ordered six items, and the deal is for five. Whatever, sometimes I can't even name five, but on principle, I counted the items, and they relented.

When I got to work, I opened the salad and out crawled the sixth item. A ladybug! And probably upset with the balsamic pesticide they dumped on, too! I thought, oh, that is good luck, a ladybug in my salad -probably in there to eat all the aphids! Being the animal lover that I am, I had to concoct a scheme to put the red critter outside without leaving my open-windowless space. The best I could come up with was this:

I removed the pipe from the outgoing port, dropped the ladybug in, replaced the pipe to the port, and turned on the blower. It must've been quite a ride, and I do hope it was a success. If so, the critter would have ten stories to figure out it needs to open its wings. Maybe then it can find its way to all those young rose tips full of the aphid undead on Manhattan terraces. Good luck!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Comfort Food

Pork sauce, aka meat sauce. To some, ragu, but not us. Occasionally I buy pork at a large supermarket in the neighborhood with this meal in mind. They label it pork fat, but usually it has very little fat, and what it does have can be trimmed easily. And it is unusually cheap, always, as if it was a cast off that they couldn't sell (seriously, like 2.5 pounds here for about $3). It makes good pork sauce, and carnitas en salsa verde, too. Tomatoes added, later.

Incidentally, I do not need a recipe for sauce, but I do like to look at recipes for sauce. Last summer I was shopping around for fennel seed seeds (Foeniculum vulgare, Finocchio Sylvatico) and I found a source mentioned on a website devoted to Calabrian cooking. The author of that site, Rosetta Costantino, had a cookbook, My Calabria. Betsy got it for me for Christmas. This is her sauce, but I added the little portobellos. Her sauce is my sauce. Many of her Calabrian recipes are a stones throw from what my grandparents cooked, in fact it's the closest I've ever found to their cooking, including their demand for fennel seeds! I think I would be a better cook if I lived in Calabria.

Those fennel seeds have been planted in the start tray, outside, in the, ahem, cold frame. Let's just say that its going to be pretty toasty in there. I also seeded some Finocchio Romanesco, the "bulb-forming" fennel. And, lastly, for now, some Cima di Rapa Sessantina, or broccoli rabe. It's an Italian spring, I guess. I'm opting out of brassica this spring, waiting for the more ideal summer planting, for which I have broccoli Romanesco, purple cauliflower, and two types of typical broccoli.

I had little to do at the beach farm today, but I had to pay my year's rent. The garlic is growing quickly now, putting on a couple inches since my last visit. The plot looks good -weeded, wood chipped paths, things growing. There will, however, be no garlic here next year. The NPS will be tearing up the whole Tilden garden in October and it seems they will do what they can to keep us from planting over winter. They've shortened the season to April fifteen to October one. They've no idea.

Extra virgin olive oil
Three cloves garlic
Sea salt
Pork meat, your choice

Pan fry the meat first, drain fat, cut off extra fat. Olive oil in a sauce pan. Add sliced cloves, but don't burn the garlic. Add meat, add tomatoes, add basil and salt. Low heat for as long as you need. Sauce should be thick enough to stick to pasta.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Garden Gate

I will fix this garden's gate. No more will we climb over the fence to enter the side yard. Last autumn the lord of this land removed the last of his utility poles from this spot. And he said I should plant. Just don't tell the lady, he said. I wouldn't, her glance withers flowers.

The soil is pretty nasty, full of cat turds and semi-degraded garbage from the last 50 years. But then, so was the other side when I started in 2004. Was it that long ago?I will head to Greenwood for some free wood chip and leaf compost. I'm thinking something low growing for the new area, path-side. I miss that mass of spring bulbs from that first garden spring, 2005.

Rice Dumpers