Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winter's Edge

Last Saturday, when the temperatures reached the high fifties, I made it a mission to get to the Beach Farm. I hadn't been in three months. The snow was still high in spots, bare ground in others. It was fun to think of how the wind and rain and objects colluded to mold the snow that had fallen.

Here, snow over a foot deep, sits in layers, a story of our winter's weather, a glacier on the rise.

And everywhere signs of November-planted garlic.

In the cool blue shadows, Allium sativum.

Where the sun has done its work, early garlic is proud.

Scanning the mounds and valleys, a pattern emerges.

Everywhere, garlic surmounts the crunchy snow.

 Upon quick inspection the crocus looked so neat, so orderly. Why?

Huh? Frost bitten? No.

Rabbits! Trimmed every set of leaves to the exact same height. Never even gave it any thought, the little buggers. Crocus sativus, tasty to rabbits with little to eat in the cold of winter. Good for rabbits, but not so much for next autumn's saffron.

Monday, February 24, 2014

February Farm Market

I go to the farmers' market in the depths of winter for the apples. I haven't purchased a grocery apple in a dozen years. Fuji is my go-to, winter apple .

Carrots, mounds of carrots -purple, yellow, and the obvious orange. I buy them all. If they were organic, I would appreciate them even more. The two organic farmers who sell at Grand Army in winter do not sell winter carrots.

Here's another reason. Flowers. Outside. In winter.

There are many more meat farmers at Grand Army this winter, but I do not partake. The price is usually out of my league. Ground pork at this stand was on sale, $6.50 -down from $9.50. I partook. Since my decision to buy only humanely raised and slaughtered meats (which usually means capital O, organic), I've been buying meat at the co-op on Cortelyou. We are definitely spending more, but we are still eating meat because I buy only the lower cost cuts, and the co-op keeps prices down by not sourcing hyper local and not using the smallest producers. Buying this way has limited my options just a bit too much.

A little over a month ago I decided I wanted to buy from a local, small producer of pasture raised meat. A whole steer would have been biting off more than I could chew, so I sought out a farmer raising hogs as well. When you buy a whole hog, the price is multiplied by the post-slaughter weight, what is called the "hanging" weight, which means you will pay for weight you do not eat. This is usually about 40 pounds, or put another way -about $180. Add to this my cost of gas and tolls for pickup and delivery, and the cost goes up another $60.  The remaining 140 pounds of hog will be butchered, divided into cuts, frozen fresh or smoked, labeled, and sent back to the farm.

I found six households to go in on the whole hog because who can afford $1000 for hog? More importantly, who can fit a hog in their urban freezer? Each household will receive about 28 pounds of cuts, and each will receive ham roast (smoked or fresh), shoulder roast, several ribs, several loin chops (1 inch thick), belly bacon (smoked or fresh), and ground pork. Based on the prices in the picture above, these alone should drive the cost well over each household's $170 investment. The remaining cuts, which include the tenderloins, extra bacon, ribs, and loin chops, hocks, smoked jowl, cheeks, ears, tails, organs, and leaf lard, will be haggled over by the group. We'll all meet at a central, Brooklyn location so the extras are divided as fairly as possible. I think we will see a price of about $7 per pound for all cuts, which is less than I pay for a pound of ground pork at the co-op.

Of course, the decision to do this goes beyond cost, but to do better, to treat animals and the land as best as we can. I do expect better flavor, but that is not my primary motivation. If all goes well, this will be our model, and possibly expand to include another six households to bring down the pickup and delivery costs even more. Maybe we'll venture into steer territory too, but let's not put the cart before the ox.

Update: I corrected the math above, bringing down the price a bit.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sights of A February Thaw

The neighborhood cats enjoy the sunny wall behind the safety of the thorny climber 'New Dawn' and trellis.

 The crocus are up. Bloom? Maybe two weeks. 

 The narcissus push through, too.

I don't need a groundhog, I've the climbing hydrangea buds to tell me when winter will let go. Not yet.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Peaking Olympus

Well, I've finally gone and done it. I bought a camera, and I did so with electronics shopping skill, waiting, watching, nabbing a good camera for a good price (and it's still available). Buying this way, of course, means that a newer model is about to succeed the current one, but I do not foresee too much in the way of improvements in this camera segment. 

Competitors include the G16 and S120 Canons, the P7800 Nikon, and the Panny Lx7. I went for the Olympus XZ-2, a risk (I'm familiar with Canons) that I was willing to take at this price point. The thing about these cameras, maybe all cameras, is that they all seem to exclude some feature I really want or need, include features I can do without, or have some nagging performance glitch. I begin to wish I can build a camera like we do cars, adding options for a custom build. Not yet (this guy is talking about it), so buying a camera is always a purchase with some compromise.

After using my phone for over two years, it takes getting used to sharing photos via download to computer, resize and retouch, and upload. The truth is, however, that mobile blogging has yet to meet its promise, and I can always use my phone for FB stuff. I will have the camera with me when the camera matters.

Here's what I like:

An articulating screen. The Olympus has one, albeit not the fully articulating screen of the P7800 (or Betsy's G1x). Anyone who takes pictures of plants wants to be able to get underneath them without laying on the dirt. A fully articulating screens allow you to do this in portrait as well as landscape, and that is awfully useful for plant shots. The Olympus screen compromises the portrait articulation, and this appears increasingly common on articulating screen cameras.

A bright lens. This is becoming more common on the newer high end, smaller sensor cameras. The Olympus is bright at F1.8-2.5, which I believe is only bested by the Panasonic. Better background blurring and better low light photography is the result.

Macro. The Olympus may have the closest macro of it's competitors. It's super macro mode can focus near one centimeter from the lens and that's great for someone photographing plants. The competition is also pretty good, and the Nikon glass might even show lower chromatic aberration. It's hard to go wrong with macro in this class of camera, and it is the macro functionality that drove me to fix on the small sensor segment as opposed to a large sensor Sony, for instance. I had a hard time wrapping my wallet around lens purchases (or $750 for a Sony RX100 II).

Customizability. The Olympus has it in droves. I can change parameters for nearly every function, including capping ISO in auto mode.

Fit and finish. The Olympus is an all metal camera, and everything feels tight and right. The zoom ring feels solid and secure (the ring on the Sony RX 100 always felt too loose and flimsy for a $750 camera).

Touch screen. For this one thing -tapping on a focus point.

Manual focus. I used to use that a lot on my last camera, the Canon A80. With that tiny 1.5 inch screen and button controls -what a chore. Now I can use the lens ring to manually focus as I would with an ICL camera. The lens ring doubles as a control dial with the flick of a switch.

Informative playback. The level of image information provided upon playback is amazing and customizable. To boot, there is an option for one second image review after each shot. Most bottom out at two seconds which I think is too long.

Good color and white balance. I don't go for the oversaturated colors of many point and shoots. Color is a function of algorithms now, and I like Olympus' take on the problem.

Fast Focus. Doesn't hunt for focus, even in lower light, and again, the touch screen focus point.

What I don't like:

Too small, too big. I think the Nikon P7700 (the earlier model, no viewfinder) would have been the ideal camera size or the Canon S120 for it's best-in-class pocket-ability (but no articulating screen). The hot-shoe is unnecessary (although I get it, really I do, however I would never mount a flash on a small camera like this, but thank you for providing a cover for it). The back right of the Olympus is a little cramped, especially with the screen articulated, the control dial is small and it's aggressive crenulations are wearing on the finger.

Zoom range. The Olympus has a range of 28-112 (35mm eq). I shouldn't complain about this because I understand size and sensor limitations. That said, I could have used the 24 wide (landscape) of the Panasonic and the 200 telephoto (birds) of the Nikon. My old A80 had a range of 38 to 114, so again, I shouldn't complain!

Panorama. The complaint is simple -it is not a Sony. Sony has the best implementation of panorama modes and no one can touch them. I use panorama, but I will use it less if its clunky.

Function 1. This function button has only limited functions that I can assign to it, while the front function 2 button has most functions assignable. Why?

Charging. Wish I could charge the battery outside the camera.

Sensor size. What? This camera segment generally uses the 1/1.7 CMOS Backside Illuminated type sensor. What's a 1/1.7 size anyhow? Well, it's a little more than a half-inch on the diagonal. The Sony RX, at more than double the cost, almost had me with its nearly 1-inch sensor and perfect panorama mode (but that dam flimsy zoom ring and high cost!). I would like to see Olympus make a compact, zoom lens camera with a 4/3 (1.33-inch) sensor. What a great camera that will be! Until then, 1/1.7 is the sensor size of the high end compact that isn't a Sony RX100, which I've stated again and again -costs too much (because it's the only game in town at that combination of camera compactness and sensor size).

I often read that Olympus charges way too much for its cameras in the same segment as its competitors. The XZ-2 listed for $600 when announced. Compare that to the P7700 and G16 at $500, the S120 at $450. Consider that the Olympus at just under half its MSRP right now, and it looks like a very good deal. 

I'm setting up my customizations now and looking forward to getting out to the beach farm and the garden soon.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Blessed, Wondrous Rain

I can deal with the snow, but I tire of walking on slush ice sidewalks like an old man worried about his hip. The cold tenses the muscles, well it does mine, as I make my way here and there. It has also made simple chores which require using the van more work. If I leave my well-groomed spot, it's lost, and then I am stuck with the glaciated mounds left by others. Then, the sound of tires spinning effortlessly on wet trash and frozen water, the chipping of grayed ice with my Spear and Jackson, and the blue smoke, the friction-burned odor of vulcanized rubber.

When I forced my way through the crowd at the cave exit of Columbus Circle, beneath that awful Trump gray atlas earth, I popped out my umbrella in smooth fashion while everyone else huddled, wondering what or how it could be. For each step, up and away from the station's cavernous maw, an umbrella extracted, velcro unstitched, a button pressed, and a graciously-sized tarpaulin extended. Alone, I topped the final step, in praise of this vigorous rain.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Deliberations On A Snow Day

 The snow is falling pretty heavily right now, say between three and six inches an hour.

The radar verifies, but also tells us the transition from snow to rain will be quick when and if it does. The snow is a little clicky on my windowsill, so it may already be doing so, but the wind is also picking up and quite gusty.

With school canceled, once again, I am faced with a day unto myself. Hmm. Brave the storm to get to the overheated studio or work on things at home and stay close to the electric heater? Tough questions. I think I may head out to the coffee shop, then venture the wind, the cold, and the bus ride to the waterfront studio in Sunset Park. That's a plan anyway.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Park Winter

Lamp lady, the garden siren, called me out of apartment doors today. So I made a trip for myself, walking the four mile or so round trip through the park to the Grand Army Plaza farmers' market, photographing along the way.

The park was busy with runners and sledders, but also photographers looking for charming shots. 

A squirrel darts from a tree to a phragmites stand to my right.

I became distracted by these two. That over the shoulder look? That's the look that asks, "is this okay?" His answer should have been no. 

Off they went, the girl shooting for the birds. I stayed because I was the only one around. I didn't like the odds. To the north was open water. Imagine me, with the red ladder on ice not able to support a girl one fifth my weight. Yet I did not vocalize my concern. Then, a runner in a safety orange shirt happened by lakeside, his protest just audible to me, and I agreed. "You shouldn't be out there!" he launched, after our exchange. To which the man said, "It has been frozen a month," in a tone more plea than defense and then slowly made their way back to the shore. Relief. 

By the Nethermead a sign proclaims "Caution!!" Falling limbs, icy pathways? No, ticks! I've never seen a sign in NYC parks warning of the nefarious blood suckers. In fact, a few years back I had been chastised for saying ticks were in Van Cortland Park, where I volunteered to work on trails (one had just been crawling up my shirt). Glad Parks is getting in front of it.

Isn't the water shut down for winter? That's what I've seen before, but the steady sound of moving, splashing water beckoned, and I braved the treacherous, icy path to see for myself. Yep, there it is.


I'm happy to have dried stems and leaves of Phlox in front of our place. They bristle at the slightest breeze, they crouch under the weight of snow, their haggard display a presentation of feelings about winter. 

Despite subway signal problems, slush ice sidewalks, the apartment's frigid floor and gelidly radiating walls, I've grown accustomed to winter, finding solace in the recess of growth and decay. As much as I think of a new season's garden, of tomatoes and greens, peppers and garlic, it's always too much. I aim to accept what can be done and what can be done, well.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Great White Way

I can't say I've ever seen the trees like this, after a snow, in front of my place of employment near Columbus Circle. A wet snow, clingy, and brilliant sunny day led to some dazzling scenes. Usually the wet snow comes with a temperature change and it melts quickly in the sun, glopping onto the street, or as happens more often, there is a wind after the cold front passes which whips the snow off the branches. Not this time.

I had imagined going into Prospect Park before work, to get shots for paintings with Betsy's new camera, but convinced myself that the sun and snow would be too bright for that purpose. When I came out of the station at 59th I was stunned by the grip of the snow on the branches and wished I had time for Central Park.

Crossing Broadway.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


This is first time I've heard of it or seen it. Have you in your neighborhood? 

From the website:
"In the fall of 2012, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) began offering curbside collection of organic waste – including food scraps, food-soiled paper, and yard waste – to select NYC schools, residences, and institutions. This service, called for in Local Law 77 of 2013 is a pilot program to divert organic material from disposal for beneficial use.

In 2013, DSNY began collecting organics from single family homes and small residential buildings, reaching over 30,000 households in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. In 2014, DSNY will expand the program to reach 100,000 households. See pilot area maps for neighborhoods currently receiving organics collection service."

Well what'd ya know. Now can they tell me how to keep the fruit flies down to a bare minimum?