Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer crops - beans, beans, beans!

Grow Journey's bush beans planted in-ground in 'the farm's' 120-ish square foot section of our Carroll Gardens backyard are painted pony (I still don't know if that's 'Painted Pony,' single apostraphe for a cultivar, or if it is the general name given to that spotty kind of bean...), which are plain green and very prolific, and 'Dragon's Tongue' - which produces fat white scarlet-striped bean pods.

You wouldn't think that a couple of four-foot rows of beans could produce a daily crop. Or maybe you would. If you are a seasoned bush bean grower. Which I am not. Our bean trellis in Harlem was my first personal attempt, and yes, those did well.

Once beans start they don't seem to stop. Better than $5 a pack at the local greengrocer.

The Frenchman claims that painted pony beans - above - squeak. But perhaps that is because I steam them till barely tender. I like to eat a bowl of hot, squeaking beans with some butter, salt and pepper.

When cooked the 'Dragon's Tongue' beans are softer than the squeakier ponies. We also have some climbing 'Trionfo Violetto,' grown from Harlem-saved seed, and a scarlet runner bean, planted very late, in hopes of luring a hummingbird or two.

I chill wilted hot-day beans in an ice bath to keep them fresh. 

Daily beans mean daily cookings. Above, a handful of beans was dry-roasted with cauliflower in a stove-top pan with olive oil, lemon juice and cumin. It was the substantial side to some small merguez-type sausages from the friendly Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Avenue (the purple things above are grapes, for the chilled ajo blanco in the jug). Beans also love soy sauce.

In hot and sticky weather a salad of raw red peppers, beets and grated red carrot is topped with steamed beans. Olive oil and lime juice as a dressing.

And don't forget the Niçoise.

Back in early summer, when roses were in their first flush (not overheated and eaten by leaf miners, yet), these crops were still just plans. Now they are dinner.

The most recent seeds-of-the month arrival I planted was exciting (especially for a forager): Chenopodium capitatum, known commonly as strawberry spinach.

When I log onto my Grow Journey account I read the following: "In spite of being native to North America, strawberry spinach, also known as beetberry, was rediscovered as a food plant in European monastery gardens that date back to the 1600s. This odd little plant is related to spinach, lamb’s quarters, orach, magenta spreen, and quinoa."

We'll see how the "odd little plant" fares against the weeds and the leafnipping birds while I am in Cape Town. The birds decimate two crops: summer savory (I have tried twice) and fenugreek, but will not touch basil or salad leaves like arugula or lettuce. The strawberry spinach is an unknown.

Stay tuned.

For a taste of how Grow Journey membership works you can always sign up for a free 30-day trial which will deliver either three or five packets of seed to you, depending on your garden's size. Dip your toes in the water.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Winter table the Constantia kitchen. All the yellow citrus (left and rear) are from the tree in the garden and have very, very pale green flesh, no seeds, and are tremendously juicy. My mom says they are limes, not lemons.

The quinces smell like quinces (in other words, wonderful) and are being used in a lamb stew that I will take to my cousin's house for a thing she calls a Slump - friends get together at the end of the week for a casual supper and are allowed to go home early, if they are tired. It sounds a bit like my middle of the week botanical drinks for plant-minded people.

I cook the quinces first for many hours so that they turn a ruby red - you must leave the skins and pips in the water, a trick I learned from my Turkish friend Bevan.

Not like New York winters at all, is it?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunbird central

I am at the southern tip of Africa. and in my mother's Constantia garden the sunbird population appears to have tripled since I was here last, almost a year ago. Slammed by stupendous jet lag I sat sleepless and comatose with camera and watched the birds for a long time in the morning. My pictures are not very good. When the Frenchman gets here he will do these delightful birds justice.

These pictures are all of lesser double collared sunbirds, very small, but bigger than the hummingbirds I hope to see back in Brooklyn later in the year. There are lots of winter flowers for them to feed on right now, like the Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), above. Also, the bird above is not panting, but singing.

Above: I have forgotten this plant's name. Anyone? I think South American. [Ah, got it: Cestrum 'Newellii' - hardy to Zone 9-ish, if you're in the U.S.]

And then there is the junk food drive-through: sugar water.

Some people dye it red but it is not necessary (and use beet juice, if you must). Spot all the sunbirds above?

This dainty female stuck to the prolific Cotyledon flowers.

In other bird news we rescued an Egyptian goose gosling - a very small baby - which is now in a box in a warm place. We named him Farouk, and tomorrow must figure out what to do with him. Or her. In which case Farouk will not do.  The big geese were scared off by a dog in the greenbelt and somehow Farouk landed up near the house stuck in a drain. He has a mighty peep.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A garden's story

While I have posted here on the progress of our 1st Place garden, I recently charted the 12-month process in one story for Gardenista:

Rehab Diary: A Year in the life of a Brooklyn Garden

We have been in Carroll Gardens for almost a year, and this July is very different from the frantic one we did not enjoy last year, looking at endless potential apartments with a wide array of outdoor spaces, packing, and getting ready to move.

As I type I look out of a window into the new garden and see at its farthest edge some sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus) growing eight feet tall. Yes, I measured them this morning. Superchokes. I planted them late last year for their edible tubers and late summer flowers, but also for some botanical privacy, as a leafy screen against an ugly fence. They seem happy.

Last night as we ate pizza (rare take out from Lucali's, nearby) we saw two raccoons trotting after one another along the white birch pole fence.

Bolted leafy greens have been taken out of the farm (the central vegetable plot), many more seeds been sown.

I will travel far south soon, to the southern tip of Africa. While I am away the Frenchman, and then when he joins me, two gardening friends (Julia and Kirstin) who live in the hood, will look after watering. But no one is expected to weed (frowned upon by the United Nations Agreements on Human Rights) and I wonder what I will find when I return. As the weather changes, new species of weeds emerge in waves.

In a brutal age (but would the methods of Genghis Khan, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, the First World War, Vietnam, be less brutal? - we had no social media then to broadcast everything to everyone in real time; humans are not worse, we are just connected) a garden - where sorrow and delight coexist on a botanical plane - becomes an even greater privilege and refuge.

If you can, find one, or help make one.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

High Line

The ever-changing flower scene on the High Line is a great New York pleasure. While I am often allergic to the Popular, here is an exception. Despite the tourist throngs and the slow walkers (I am a fast walker), I love seeing these plants, and feel lucky to be able to experience the change from month to month.

The pictures above and below belong to late May.

The Frenchman's iconic place of work, sticking out below:

Allium 'Everest,' below - a couple did well in my garden this year, but a few in the back rotted and turned out funny-looking. Probably due to bad drainage.

And June, below: Baptisia alba.

I had never liked astilbe until I saw these pink sweeps.

The beginnings of liatris, below, my new favourite flower in my own garden - tough, and effortless.

Echinacea and leadplant (Amorpha canescens):

Milkweeds. Asclepias tuberosa is the orange. A. purparascens, below

And beautiful bee balm, Monarda.

July and late summer are also very good times to visit, so if you're in town, don't skip. Afterwards, go to Chelsea Market and buy some impeccable fish at The Lobster Place, or just sit down and order sushi or lobster at the bar.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Rattes in a cage

Stupidly, I did not note when exactly I planted these potatoes, known as les rattes. Fingerlings. But it was late April. From potatoes that had sprouted. By early May the first leaves had poked up above the ground and I started mounding earth up against their stems.

I dug them up on the 4th of July (so about 8 weeks after planting) and we ate the first ones that night in a Niçoise salad, with quick-pickled beets, and arugula and lettuce leaves, purple basil and chives from the garden, plus the obligatory eggs.

They have a firm, waxy texture and very good, slightly nutty flavour. The second portion was eaten as a potato salad with mayonnaise and crisp celery heart (try and find organic celery - it is one of the most sprayed crops out there, as it is is a bug magnet), and I'll pan-roast the last batch. If I can stand to turn on anything that generates heat. It is very hot and very muggy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July report

Early July, and the Formosa lilies are open, with the 'Silk Road' close behind. And the gloriosas are in bloom along the fences. The single row of fingerling potatoes has been dug and we ate the biggest ones last night in a Niçoise salad. Arugula has bolted but I'm leaving the flowers for the bees for now. The painted ponies have needle-sized beans. Five tomatillo plants are flourishing, one is puny. The fennel has been occupied by eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars, and the sparrows are helping me with aphids.

I have sown more cilantro, and some fenugreek.

At night, the fireflies dance.

It is Wednesday and I am trying a new thing, cocktail hour for plant people. Botanical drinks, botanical bitching. Or perhaps we'll talk about football.

Yeah, right.

Or perhaps we will just melt. It is very hot: 100'F/38'C forecast for today.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Macy's Fireworks 2016 and the Butterfly Meadow

The most recently planted area of Brooklyn Bridge Park to open was the Butterfly Meadow, at the end of Pier 6. It's filled in well, and in May irises were blooming in the boggy bits.

I was there again recently and already the seasonal change is dramatic.

I must check the park's plant list to find out what the yellow daisies are, but the Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) has begun to open (so has mine, back on 1st Place).

And above, a bit of sleuthing and Googling over drinks (makrut-bergamot gin with tonic) at an inaugural plant persons cocktail hour at our place led to the identification of Filipendula rubra - the tall pink plumes in the background. I had never associated the name with this plant, an eastern U.S. native like a giant astilbe crossed with goatsbeard (Aruncus). Fantastic height.

We'll stick out noses in here tonight but it might be pandemonic: the 40th Macy's 4th-of-July fireworks show will be staged in the East River, this year. There will be a double barge of fireworks moored south of the Brooklyn Bridge and the whole of Brooklyn might be camped out, here (if you'd forgotten, Brooklyn would be the fourth largest city in the USA if it weren't a mere borough of New York City; so that's a lot of campers).There will be four other barges higher up, between 23rd Street and 37th. Go there! Also, parts of FDR Drive will be closed off for public viewing. Go there!

And may it be a peaceful night of nothing more explosive than pretty colours.
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