Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday Farmer

Last Sunday I made my March trip out to the farm. I restrict these trips, costly as they are in time and gas dollars, and I would go more often if it were, say, outside my back door. This trip was necessary because there was work to be done, it was a beautiful day and the farm can be restorative.

My first task, a task that could have been accomplished on my last visit were I ready for the work, was to hoe a 6 x 120 foot row between the beds. This is a utility path and I have no desire to keep it bare soil. I was dreading the physical labor, but my new soil rake made short work of it -I finished in 20 minutes!

After leveling with an ordinary rake, I used a hand-held spreader to distribute White Dutch Clover, Trifolium repens. Won't grow too high, adds nitrogen, can tolerate foot and vehicular traffic. Go go clover cover crop.

Afterward, I inspected the rows more closely. The Saffron Crocus, Crocus sativus, appears to be doing quite well despite its already sprouting, two months late planting. There will be locally grown saffron come autumn.

If you are a regular reader, it's no surprise to hear from me that wind is one of the biggest challenges to growing near the ocean. The evidence laid bare on my rows, the prevailing winter wind's direction is marked on the soil by northwest to southeast striations.

But! What's this pale emergence? None other than December's very late planted cover crop on my other 60 percent. With luck this cover should be vigorous and dark green before June. Then we'll till it under to plant summer's cover.

My last visit, during the bluster of February, revealed much freeze burn on the eagerly growing Turban strains, but they are beginning to look better. Above is Thai Purple, with a good amount of raw heat, an early harvest and one of the earliest cured garlic strains to market.

Here we have Burgundy, one of three Creole strains I am growing this season. I'm expecting much from this strain -attractive crimson skins, sweet, and a very long shelf life, nearly as long as the Silver Skin strains. 

The smartest garlic I have in the field -Italian Purple, a Rocambole strain. I got my seed from Keith Stewart of Union Square Greenmarket fame, so these are the most local, most acclimated of any seed garlic I have planted. Despite its cold-weather intelligence, these have had quite a bit of late season heaving. In the photo you will see two phenomena -the cracked soil at the back and the soil lump just under the emergent leaf. To my mind this is the evidence of frost heaving of the planted cloves, not the other explanation, which was rapidly growing roots pushing the lightweight clove toward the surface. All my cloves were planted at least two inches below the soil line, yet many are now at or above the soil line. It's a big problem, and it can't happen again. Next season's planting requires much deeper tilling and planting in this soil. No cloves forced their way to the surface in last season's upstate farm.

Alfalfa meal has become this season's source for nitrogen and organic matter, both of which are lacking in my field. The cost of shipping blood meal and goose-eaten corn gluten meal had me resist both of these nitrogen-rich fertilizers. I need four times as much alfalfa meal as the two others (3 % vs. 12% available nitrogen), but Agway ordered it for me at $22 per 50lb sack and no shipping costs, which combined made it competitive with blood meal, with the added benefit of alfalfa's organic matter. 

Alfalfa meal is dusty, like most fertilizers, so you want to wear a mask if you're pouring a lot. All fertilizers have peculiar odors, but this one smells like a clean horse stall, which in my book ain't all that bad. The down side to alfalfa meal is the increase in quantity needing to be spread. There'll be four times as much spreading as corn or blood.

Into the hopper of my five dollar, used, elderly, Earthway drop spreader. A better deal there has never been. The rows were spaced such that I could walk the spreader over two rows at a time, although I may just make a spreader good for a four rows at a time, sometime down the line. Alfalfa's light weight and consistency make it easy going in a drop spreader, but I don't think I would try it in a broadcaster (lawn people know what I'm talking about).

Something about the alfalfa brought out the bees.

I made several passes over each row until I used 150 pounds on the entire plot. Given the wind and other concerns, I couldn't just leave the meal sitting on top of the soil. Tedious, yes, but I passed over each row of garlic with a leaf rake to stir up the soil and provide lodging for blown fertilizer. I also timed the spreading to be just before the coming rain, which came the next morning and not long after the wind had died down. 

I have another 150 pounds to spread before early May, considerably more difficult as the leaves will be much taller than the axle of my spreader. I don't like scraping the soil with the rake either. This must be given more thought for next season. In fact, I have a gallon of kelp and another of fish to spread with a pump sprayer and that may be the best way to go during the active growing season.

Preparing to leave, I headed to the van, blindly walking into a cloud of midges. You do know that nothing says spring like a swarm of mating midges, don't you?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Rosemary Canary

If there ever was a canary in our warming coal mine, it's rosemary. We all have them, and they don't die each winter any longer -even when in pots. Mine, ill-treated as it is in the side yard, happens to be flowering now. Those at the beach farm, in full sun, flowered 6 weeks ago.

Out Like A Lion

A dandy lion.

The cold and blustery days of March, complete with three snowfalls, put my onion attempt to shame. A shame made all the more goading by the boisterous growth of the dandelions. Hoop-house dreams I guess.

Now, let's put melancholy March to bed.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Limbo Farms

Traveling from Queens to western New Jersey last Wednesday, Betsy and I found ourselves with a spare half hour. We stopped in at the beach farm to see how things were going. The park and garden looks as it did the day after Sandy's inundation, although this was no surprise to me as I had been there several times since. As spring approaches the washed out garden is beginning to look a little to sad to bear.

There wasn't much growth in plot, with the exception of the garlic I planted in late November. It appears to be doing okay and no matter what happens with Tilden, I plan on harvesting.

It appears that the chives are making their best effort to come back. Maybe alliums have less trouble with salt, or maybe it just wasn't enough salt to matter all that much. Limbo means the loss of our Asian and mesclun greens season. I guess I could simply plant my new seeds, running the risk of being chased out or fined, but really, I'm too busy right now to live like that. We're supposed to find out by the end of April whether or not the Ft. Tilden Community Garden will be re-opened for gardening, and until then we wait, and start new seeds for the new season.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reminders From A Remote Location

I happen to be one part of a two-person exhibit called Nearer Than Eden, at The Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery at Providence College of Providence, Rhode Island. The opening (which is really a closing) is tomorrow, Thursday, March 21, from 6 pm until 8:00-plus pm. If you happen to live in the area, consider swinging by to see our work before the show comes down Friday afternoon. I think you'll enjoy what we've put together and there will be wine, free wine. Make a night of it, as this Thursday also happens to be the first Providence Gallery Night of the 2013 season, complete with gallery tour busses and guides.

Afterward, I'm shooting up to Boston to see a friend, sleep, have breakfast, shoot back down to Providence to de-install, then heading back to Brooklyn and with luck, time enough to make it to Fairway for some nighttime, congestion-free grocery shopping. Since I am in a student computer lab at the College of New Jersey (our internet has been out for a week, no reason given by Verizon), passing time before Betsy's curated exhibit, Value Added, opens, I only have this FB showcard image as a teaser.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How You Doin?

No, how you doin? Okay, well, better than these onion seedlings.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Interior Motive

*Our plot's soil was tested by SUDS, and appeared to have no elevated levels of arsenic or lead (I had already tested for that earlier on, fish bone meal applied) and is either not showing signs of PCBs or has not been tested yet. Now we wait for their tests, but I had planted garlic in late November, after Sandy, anyways. They still don't understand gardeners or gardens. Betsy will be upset about the beach closure because she loves the ocean, but I believe she will agree with me that the inundation was caused by people, not waves, and that it will be decades before the beach is properly protected by plant covered dunes. If the garden is not re-opened, there will be a deep hole in our lives, but not entirely unexpected given the Fed's general dissatisfaction with the garden at Tilden.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


I rose before 6 am so that I could pick up the eleven flats of onion seedlings languishing in the studio. I did not want to haul each down the 4 flights of stairs on Saturday; I wanted the elevator and its operator, Carlos, and that meant getting there early so I could still get to work on time. Carlos knows all about my ajo and cebollas, and his wife is a big fan.

The plan was to leave them in the van until tomorrow, sitting on top of 300 pounds of alfalfa meal, but I had a few spare moments to do today what needn't wait until tomorrow.

A couple went here, around the roses, the only spot new growth isn't seriously pushing up.

Most went in the side yard, a location that leaves me wary because it's the spot most often trashed by unknown (but sometimes known) feet. The weather is enough of a challenge, but the people, the wild cats, even a squirrel could do my trays in. Please, leave my cebollas alone!

Although my heart was in the right place, I ended up using some peat-based potting mix when I ran out of vermiculite. I will do better next year. Now, sun must do its part to make these guys stand up. I will feed with kelp and fish soon enough and plan to transplant by the end of March.

Other Migrations:

Three weeks ago, Betsy and I received notice that all artist tenants in our studio building will be, effectively, kicked out. Our leases are up in August, but they are forcing out those on the fifth floor by this April one. We were given until June, to which I replied that wasn't going to happen because of the harvest. Apparently the landlords are feeling pretty confident about our dismissal, despite the fact that most of us have new leases. They have offered to move us to another building, but at that building's new rate which is nearly double what we are now paying. Funny, I didn't see this coming because I thought they were satisfied with the 45 percent rate increase they demanded last year. If you want to know how this feels, read last year's complaint. I can't even give it any emotional energy. Simply put, it's over.

I do not know what we will do, or where we will go, or how this will change our art practices. I would like to mention an absurdity: I can rent an acre in The Hamptons, near the ocean, for 350 dollars a year or I can rent 140 square feet (1/300th of an acre) in Gowanus, near the canal, for 6300 dollars a year.

Update: less than 24 hours something already messed with my onion flats. Either cats were laying on them or a squirrel was digging in them, or more likely both. Bollocks.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Flowers For Fabio

Years ago, at night, me and my long blonde hair were in the shower, which abuts the stoop just outside the little, frosted bath window. With the bath light on, one could make out from the stoop that I was in the shower. A woman calls, then knocks on the window, "Fabio?" "Fabio?" "Fabio!"

The only Fabio that I knew was the one from romance covers, and me a vision of long blonde hair and all, what romance-minded woman wouldn't call for Fabio from our stoop? What could I do but slide the window open, dripping, shirtless. "Fabio?," asks the woman. No, no, Frank, says I. "Oh, is Fabio there?" No, says I. She didn't speak much English and appeared to be blind. That's how I learned that someone named Fabio, a Columbian man, lived on the second floor of our building.

Fabio and I became fast friends when I started gardening the sliver of soil outside our building. He enjoyed getting out of his steaming hot apartment on summer days, choosing instead to stand in the shade of a telephone pole on our sidewalk, moving slowly with it as the sun slid east to west, until the Yew tree cast its own shadow onto the sidewalk later in the afternoon. He spoke as little English as the blind woman who once knocked on my window, the woman I later learned was his sister in law.

He enjoyed the garden, most of all the flowers, and could often be spied from our windows with his nose buried deep in a rose or lily. I cut stems for him to bring up to his place and sometimes introduced new scents, like the pungent freshness of a geranium leaf or sweet fragrance of the native honeysuckle. We offered tomatoes, basil or cilantro from our pots when the side yard became our little vegetable patch.

Almost every day Fabio headed down Ocean Parkway on his very serious bicycle, all the way to Coney Island. Another opportunity to get out of his hot apartment, and be physical. Fabio was a vigorous, healthy man, a little over 6 feet tall, and lean. He would carry his bike down from his apartment, full riding gear on, head out and return a few hours later.

On a beautiful spring day, Fabio was outside, and we were pulling our bikes out of the apartment for a commute to the studio. Excited by our ride, he went up to get his bicycle. But he didn't understand that it wasn't a round trip for us and apparently he needed company. Demoralized, he returned his bike to his apartment as we rode off, a vision of harmony in the face of his own internal anguish. We often asked his wife, who we call Mrs. Rojas, how Fabio was doing and she would always say that he was okay. We had noticed he wasn't riding his bicycle as much, or at all. When Betsy would speak with him in Spanish, she could gather that he wasn't feeling as well, but had a hard time pinning down the problem.

Within a year's time, Fabio went from a vigorous, athletic man to a shaking, weeping, screaming man unable to dress himself, unable to care for himself, unable to communicate anything but stuttering gibberish. Out of fear and dementia, he would find himself on the landing without any pants on, as we tried to talk him into returning to his apartment. He would try to escape his apartment, or our building, half dressed, and upset. One evening, as I spoke on the phone with an artist friend, there was a knock on our door. It was Mrs. Roja's sister, who in broken English tried to explain that Fabio snuck out and because she was blind could not go to find him. I told my friend that I had to go.

Betsy went one way, and I went the other. There were kids on the street and I asked them which way did the old man go, to which they responded that way, hands pointed in opposite directions. I chose the path given by the oldest, a girl, maybe 13, and made my way to Church Ave, where I stood on the corner, looking in all directions. There! Across the street, trying to get on the B35 Eastbound, but he had no money. I called Betsy and she ran the few blocks and we lured him away from the bus stop. He remembered and trusted us (for a reason unknown to us he raged verbally about his wife). Taking his arms, we crossed the street, slowly walking him back to the building. We stopped in front of the garden, lilies in bloom. I plucked one for him, held it up to his nose, and he buried himself in it, orange dust now all over his face as he smiled.

It was easy to imagine a bad situation on the street, a raving man without pants (he simply could not lift his legs into pants any longer), a tazer, or worse. We weren't always around to help, nor could we be there because of work or otherwise. Sometimes he was cared for by a health aide, sometimes his blind sister in law, sometimes his wife, but there were times when he was left alone out of some necessity or a late train. This is when the police would be called, an ambulance arrived, and although we did this with some hesitancy, most often they were helpful, and sensitive, although they rarely had a Spanish speaker in the group despite my insistence that this was necessary.

Mrs. Rojas, a health aide herself, asked us not to call the police, and we could only presume this was because there was no health insurance available, or possibly for reasons of immigration, but there were times that we simply had no other options as we tried to convince Fabio to head back up to his apartment, tried to lift his legs into his his pants, his feet into his shoes, to calm him down. He appeared to like the ambulance, always relaxing within its box, under its oxygen, soothed by its questionnaire. His part-time aide was late in one instance, and she pleaded for his release from their care. I had to sign a form, holding the EMTs free of responsibility for his release. That was last spring.

This summer Fabio's son was getting married, and so came up from Florida to visit his father, to fit him into a tux. He told me he would get them out of NYC, move them to Florida as soon as he could. I hadn't seen much of him in ten years and wasn't sure if this was just bluster. Fabio couldn't make it to the wedding, it was in Columbia after all, and the day before we were to leave for Minnesota, Mrs. Rojas asked if I would look in on him while they were in Columbia. I wanted to help, but I had to tell her we were on our way out too, and wouldn't be around to look after him. His son was there, in the hall at that moment, and maybe that is when he realized that this arrangement, a hodge podge of aides, family, and neighbors doing their best was untenable.

We continued to listen to Fabio's wails from the apartment upstairs, opposite. Often Mrs. Rojas would come down to ask that I help lift Fabio off the floor, onto a chair or couch. It was sad, upsetting, but okay. And life went on like this for the months of autumn, through Sandy, through garlic planting and school finals. When we returned from Minnesota after Christmas, a trip mired in our own family's health and age issues, we learned that the apartment upstairs and opposite was empty. The Rojas had moved out, down to Florida. I felt terrible that we couldn't say hasta luego, Fabio. And we would do anything to have him upstairs, wailing and demented, over those who live above us now. A true neighbor.

Hasta luego, Fabio

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Not The Blog...

...That's the problem. It's everything else. I'd rather not have this place, a good place albeit full of critical thoughts, skepticism, and occasional melancholy, bear the weight of pure malcontent.

I simply won't write when all that is on my mind and plate is trouble of one kind or another. But there are a few good things and they deserve mention:

My wife. It isn't said nearly enough that she is the best part of my life. My friends and family whose support over the last 20 years has made everything possible. My art has kept me thinking and focused (in two exhibits currently). The garden, any, where lessons on how to live are masterfully rewritten.

Friday, March 8, 2013

When The Blog Wakes

Today is my birthday.

I'm at the studio listening to an episode of Science Friday on the radio. It's about time travel.

I've decided to take a class, again, at the Lower East Side Printshop. I want to make prints, monotypes specifically, because they can be made quickly, but are still beautiful.

As we introduced ourselves, encouraged by the teacher to tell as much, I delivered an oration of everything I am doing lately. Teaching two classes, managing the architectural model shop at school, painting, a community garden, a blog, a small farm.

A woman turned to ask if I had a time machine. I answered "No," in case you were wondering. However, I do not have kids and I have little to no social life.

Much is going on lately, some good, some not so good. I have a lot to say, but little will to write it. The blog, then, is mostly quiet.

Should the blog enter a coma, don't fret. I'm still alive and breathing, listening to what's going on, maybe even thinking or dreaming.

Only near spring can the forecast be for 50 after two days of snow flakes. Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Onion Seedling

From a distance an onion seedling comes up looking like a dicotyledon. But an onion is a monocotyledon; a single embryonic leaf emerging from its seed.

A day or two later, the illusion of a dicot gives way to the monocot as the tip emerges from the soil, a pronounced fold in its embryonic leaf. Other features of a monocot: roots are adventitious, flower parts come in threes, and veins are parallel. Lilies, bananas, ginger and grasses are monocots. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

But Not Before....

I finish this winter.

Deliver Us From Winter

The onion seed has delivered. Exactly one week after planting. Later than several seasons past, so has the crocus. Veronica, I see you're very good at this.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Memory Lane

After a short visit to the garlic farm last week I finally had time to head to my old neighborhood. I wanted to know what has happened to what anyone I grew up with would simply have called the farm

On a wedge of land between Oxhead Road and N. Washington Avenue, this property and the neighbors around it were largely a mystery to me and most of my friends even though it was only a half-mile away, as the crow flies. Sure, we went by it all the time, but never set foot, never interacted. I didn't even know, or do not remember that I knew, that the farmer was a black man, Long Island's only African American farmer. 

I was relieved to see that the triangle wasn't filled with new, plastic-sided homes, but something was different.

I rounded the pointy tip, the most acute corner I know, to read the sign which did its level best to explain. Hobbs farm, I had now recollected the name, was no longer in the family. 

The old barn had me thinking a church was involved. I could see that there was a a segmented garden -maybe a community-type plot.

And so I left it, glad to see the farm was still there, but sure that it was no longer as before. And since I was but a half mile from my childhood home, I decided to pass on by to see how it has changed since my mother was forced to sell it as part of her divorce settlement.

Maybe there is a German word for the feeling one gets when they see the shape of their childhood house dressed in different clothing. I know those oak trees like I know the back of my hand, I can walk around them in my mind, isolating lichens and patterns of bark. I know the scent of the thin soil, the patches where only moss will grow, the colonies of black ants. I do not know those cars, or those new shrubs, or how they've changed the orientation of the drive.  I don't know who is inside my room.

My school bus stop, down the road, between those pines. Remember the anxiety of your first time, wondering whether or not you're in the right place, or worse, that you had missed the bus entirely. Running for the bus, yelling wait! A bus from the south was always better than one from the north.

On our road, we lived at the pinnacle of what we called a hill. The drainage was poor here, so that after heavy rains, a large puddle would form. It seemed that all the town could do was to place what we called cannon balls on either side of the pond. I was fascinated by these sooty black orbs with flame atop. I cannot believe I never tried to take one home (or did I?). Standing water was not common to our stretch of the woods, so I was also in love with these puddles, several inches deep, which we had to skirt by passing through the yards in order to get to or from our bus stop. I was disappointed when a formidable puddle in the morning had drained by the end of a school day.

To the left I jumped a ramp on my bike and went over the handle bars. To the right I passed through at night, jumping the fence to get to friends. This is where we trick or treated until we switched to eggs. The house at the top of the hill, on the left, belonged to a man who burnt his trash. The house on the top to the right had a free-roaming dog named Randy who always managed to visit our barbecues. The house at the top belonged to a man who died in his driveway as he worked his chainsaw on trees fallen by hurricane Gloria.

Just a few doors down, behind this house, I rode my first horse. Led by a brunette in riding pants and boots, three times around, it cost only a dime. I may have been five or six.