Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dark Matter

Last Thursday Carlos told me that the whole 5th floor of our studio building (Flavor Street Studios, aka Industry City -a name I refuse) had been emptied of its occupants, leases or not, grievances or not. He asked if we were going too, and I can tell he is feeling bad about the whole thing. Aren't we all.

Peruse this article by one of the few dedicated to the dark matter of the artworld, a term I used to dispute, angrily, but now feel its gravity. The only press given to our studio problem resides here.

blurb about gentrification of Sunset Park. Of course, we don't consider ourselves gentrifiers -sure we have art degrees, but we're not of the landed class, have no savings or trusts, are not looking to convert work spaces into living spaces or move into the neighborhood. We simply want to work in industrial buildings -where people were meant to work. And these buildings had a lot, a lot, of empty space. I do not think pressure from gentrification is driving us out, but landlords who have never felt comfortable with artists, the casualness of our operations, the hard luck, and no-profit business model we employ (I've been castigated more than once by the landlord's representative). They also don't want to lose control and letting us be is losing control.

Maybe I'm giving them too much credit. They don't have to rent to artists and we don't have to rent from them. Either way, losing the studio in a month's time makes me not want to work at all. You feel like packing up to get on to the next place as soon as possible. Problem is, we've no reasonable place left to go in Brooklyn, and maybe all of NYC. I've been in four neighborhoods in ten years, so migrant artist might be the right term for the last decade. I'm doing hard research into some nearby cities destroyed by urban renewal and white flight in the 60s that have yet to turn it around. I'll let you know how that turns out.

When I searched for one of the linked articles above, Google provided this ad:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Inauspicious 2013

This is the pipeline being constructed right on the side of the road to Ft. Tilden. Animals, dead ones, are piling up along the barrier. They run across the road as they always have, meet a new dead end, then cars. If you want to read about this pipeline project traversing our national park, read Karen Orlando's blog.

The community garden at Ft. Tilden looks as it had the day after Sandy.

While the Fed hasn't asked for us to come back yet (I heard a rumor they will soon), and the park is officially closed, I've had access every time that I've visited since Sandy.

 Our plot looks fine, with considerably less weeds.

Except, the shallots I planted here are missing, which means only one thing -maggots. They were easy to find. I've been searching on the web for others having this problem. I saw no evidence here or at the farm of onion maggots at planting or in storage.

A positive sighting -cilantro seedlings are coming up. Apparently, cilantro seeds can tolerate saltwater inundation. And fennel seeds can too, as they are coming up everywhere (I knew I created a monster!). Also, daffodils, lilies, chard, elephant garlic, chives, and loads of field garlic. What appears to have succumbed? Strawberry, fig, thyme, oregano, and sage. We'll see how things look in a month.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Cool Days Hot Sun

I made mincemeat of my pepper seedlings after their first night out. Busy with an art application, I didn't go out to raise the lid until 11 am. Lost a good number to the hothouse under the glass, but still enough remain to get a good crop at the beach farm (should we get the green light). I'm headed there now to check on the garlic and feed them a kelp and fish liquid mix.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tragedy of the (Maggot) Commons

The plan was to begin work trips with two week intervals, but the onion maggot infestation was weighing heavy on my mind. I went on Saturday, no time like the present. The goal was to remove as many obviously diseased plants as I could find.

This is a sad sight. It's not only the dying plant at center, but all the others that aren't even there anymore. One month ago each and every clove I had planted was up and growing, but now several are simply gone (below ground they rot).

This is the culprit.

A most disgusting sight.

The maggots eat away the planted clove, destroying the young plant's source of energy and inviting bacteria and fungal infection. Yet, the garlic has substantial roots now and the growing stems can survive the initial onslaught. In pulling dozens of plants I hope to stave off the more damaging second generation of maggots, already a glimmer in the bulbous eyes of flies, that will come near the time of bulb formation. You may recognize in this problem what can turn a farmer into a pesticide user. A wise farmer is a polyculturalist, and dare I say it -a prudent applicator of pesticides, organic or otherwise.

I wonder how well my garlic could survive the maggot attack had the field been better prepared. Currently low in organic matter, not abundantly fertile, and low in pH, the surviving plants all have the appearance of plants under stress. Of course, I was ready to prepare this field a year ago, but as you know I didn't get on the land until after Sandy.

I pulled roughly one percent of my garlic, disposing of them in black plastic bags, toting these back to Brooklyn. Of shallots I've lost nearly 30 percent, so far, and I am on course to lose the entire crop. I also believe, although the plants were bearing it on Saturday, that a magnitude of my garlic is under attack by the maggot. The increase in sick plants in just five days was rather disheartening, the infestation spread to each and every bed. It's not only my garlic, a neighboring farm is showing signs as well. With two months until harvest there is good reason to question whether there will be any harvest at all.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Another Way Home

A mustard, Dame's Rocket (mine isn't near bloom), what? The leaves and color seem all wrong. Anyone?

Same building, eastern exposure, a large "lawn" filled with very healthy-sized weed (field, but so often under trees, (woodland garlic then)) garlic. I didn't pick, they were just out of my reach (the lawn is four feet tall and behind a retaining wall of brick).

 Off with their heads! shout the daffodil crowd. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Garlic Fields

It was cloudy at the farm, breezy, the air moist, still warranting a jacket. On my last trip, around the equinox of March, I saw growth in every row and was pleased. This trip there was still more growth, yet also signs of trouble.

Twenty two 40-foot rows of garlic and one row of saffron crocus.

Last season, at the upstate farm (below) growth was luxurious by mid April. Everything was grown in a bed of local compost. The season was also warm, all winter, and there wasn't much wind in this protected spot. Note how good the Griselle shallots look in the center row -lush, green, spidery foliage.

These are the Turban variety strain 'Thai Purple.' Like its sibling 'Tuscan,' these came up last December and continued to grow throughout the cold winter. Turban strains are earliest to harvest, and that explains their large size at this date. My experience suggests that the yellow discoloration of the leaves is due to winter damage.

At this point, most of the garlic looks healthy, despite the raw attitude of the bare soil, lack of compost and mulch. Above the Creole strain 'Burgundy.'

An Asiatic strain, 'Asian Tempest,' that I had some concern about was isolated from the rest. So far, so good.

The Purple Stripe variety strains, like 'Chesnok,' come up slow, with wider leaf angles than the other hardneck varieties. This strain did poorly last season, at the upstate farm, and I blame poor seed garlic. I hope this new supply from a better farm grows larger and healthier.

Now look at this. One of the advantages to planting in orderly rows is the ease with which you can account for your planting. Clearly this bed is in the red. Take another look at last season's bed of Griselle at the upstate farm in April. I didn't lose one of those -each and every one a perfectly healthy specimen. I lost none in storage, and had them tested for nematode, which came up negative. So this is a major disappointment. The soil is actually quite similar here to the soil at last season's farm (although that was amended with compost). The rain? No, shallots should be able to handle cold and rain over winter. Fertilizer? Maybe, although I did add slow-releasing organic fertilizers before planting and again in late March. Lime? Did that, too, in quite the same manner as last season's upstate farm (which had an even lower pH). Hmmm.

This strikes me as a generally healthy looking shallot, although less healthy than last season's specimens. Look at the one behind. Not so good. Unlikely that this is a fertilizer, pH, temperature, or water problem when one is good and its neighbor not good. That kind of irregularity tends to mean only one thing -pests.

An adjacent row of garlic, Porcelain variety strain 'German Hardy,' showed a few weak and stunted plants. Not good. I dug one up, careful to maintain an envelope of soil around the roots.

AACCKK! WTF? Oh, this could be very bad. I knew I shouldn't have planted anything from New York State farm sources, but I did. The seed was clean, in great shape, after last year's experience I knew what to look for, and the farmer looked me in the eye and said it was good. I thought I should have this strain and that desire could be the undoing of my entire crop.

First question -what is that black stuff? Fungus, yes? Also the white fluff? My first reaction was emphatically White Rot, Sclerotium cepivorum! It is the worst thing you can get in your garlic or onion field beside garlic bloat nematode, Ditylenchus dipsaci. White Rot favors cool and wet temperatures (check) but this black fungus seems a little large for the black sclerotia which is often described as poppy seed-sized. Have I grown a super White Rot? I pulled three stunted garlic plants, all from the same bed of German Hardy (and adjacent to the Griselle shallots) and inspected them, then disposed each in a trash bag brought back to Brooklyn.

I didn't want to leave the farm this way, but culling poor performers was my last task. 

Man v Maggot

The next morning I headed outside to more closely inspect the garlic I had tossed in the trash. I didn't want to do this on the farm for fear of spreading pestilence around. I shook the soil off of the plants, discovering that the roots were healthy and the black fungus was not a collection of orbs, but a sheet type, similar to lichen in form and almost rubbery. The black fungus was only attached to the old clove skins.

As I said before, the roots were healthy on all three specimens, but the clove was rotting from the inside. It's possible the black and white fungal matter were completely secondary and not indicating White Rot.

I scraped away some soil on the final specimen and found something. Movement.

Worms, or rather  maggots, Onion Maggots, Hylemya antiqua -a serious pest that is difficult if at all possible to get rid of. It was only then that I made a connection to my adjacent, poorly growing Griselle shallots. Where did they come from? Probably in the field already (they overwinter in the soil), or they migrated from a nearby field via tractor or even from wild onions or garlic in the grass alongside my field. So far the obvious damage is on the west side of my acre. Now I need to get back to pluck all the stunted shallots and garlic and dispose of them in trash bags. Once these maggots pupate and morph into flies they will be impossible to contain. There are no useful controls. Farming is hope in action. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Peas, Potatoes and Other Growings On

While I was at the farm for reasons garlic, and due to an exceptionally low number of weeds, I spent half my time there filling empty rows with other needs, wants, and experiments.

Pea greens. These multi-colored pea seeds belong to a variety which is known for producing quality vegetation over quality peas. I planted 80 feet of these, or about 2/5ths pound. If they do well, I will bunch and sell if you're interested.

I ordered three varieties of potatoes, choosing ones that I tasted last fall (all farmer market purchases). German Butter, Purple Viking, and Red Maria -all from Moose Tubers, a Fedco Seeds company, and all certified seed potatoes.  I cut them, probably later than is best practice, allowing them to begin suberization (form corky skins) for 36 hours. In retrospect, I should have planted the potatoes whole since I discovered that I had enough for one and two thirds rows and they weren't suberized at planting. I've never planted potatoes before, so this planting falls under experiments.

One row of potatoes. The light stuff all around is alfalfa meal.

I also planted patches of spring greens in all of my short garlic rows. Look at how tiny the Wild Arugula (also Roquette or Selvatica) seeds are. In addition to this, I planted spinach, regular arugula, pac choi (for salad), purple mizuna, and 'Ruby Streaks' Mustard. We were not able to plant at the beach farm this spring, so I decided to have a go with this personal crop at the garlic farm.

As for our tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and what else, I am waiting to hear about the beach farm's opening. I would prefer to plant those nearer to Brooklyn because they will come into fruit after the garlic harvest and when you want a fresh tomato, a half hour away is way better than two and a half hours.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pepper and Daffodil

In recent years these two have not shared time. I've started all late this year and the consistent coolness has kept the flowers. Soon the peppers will need to go out so the tomatoes can take their place on the starting shelf.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Moss Gathered

See the first part of this patio project here.

After laying another layer of landscape fabric, I spread and raked the bedding sand -the zen part of laying patio stones. For an area this size with irregularly shaped flagstone, there's little use for screeding the sand. That would be appropriate for laying bricks or cut stone with uniform thickness.

My willingness to smooth the bedding sand is extraneous. As soon as I start laying stones I will mess it up with my boots and knees.

Because I needed to match the level of the older paving, I chose to start here, in the absolute lowest corner. You don't want to start somewhere else only hoping to meet level of the lowest spot after hours of laying stone. 

When you are working with stones on hand, fitting the puzzle can be challenging. I tried to refrain from tearing out stones already laid, but it was impossible. Sometimes you must undo what's already been done in order to move forward.

Late in the day I had almost all the stones set, excepting some small internal pieces and the transition to the adjacent, sloped paving. Hosing down the stones allows water to settle the sand.

The next morning I bought additional bedding sand to fill in the gaps, set the smaller stones, and make the transition between the old and new. We also moved the big yellow stone in the back from the front of the house -Mr. Spinks has a thing for stones.

After pouring the additional sand on the laid stones, I swept it about.

Then I set the path stones, which were simply laid onto the soil. The owners want to use the spare stones to separate the garden from the path, something they will do later. Afterward, I hosed the patio down, then took to sweeping it again to remove any excess bedding sand, and once again hosed it down. Job done.

Conceptually, not much different than before, but with an extended patio from the stone seat (with the pot on it) backward and a low, stone retaining wall and step. There's a plumbing project to be done in the lower left corner, after which I may come back to set the stones behind the pot. And an arbor, maybe.