Thursday, April 28, 2016

Chez Mosquito - April update

26 April 2016

The concrete slab at Chez Mosquito is waking up. Slowly. So far, there are no mosquitoes.

Sssssh. Don't wake them. And, yes. It is still a lot of concrete.

We face north. Most of the slab is shadeland. Deep shadeland. Sun arrives first on the left side from the east (to the right of the picture) for a few hours in the morning, and then the tall townhouse casts its long shadow. The back, earthen part, is where most of the sun is in these spring and then summer months. In winter the sun does not clear the building and it is all full, full, utter, complete, intense, saturated shade (sound-of-razor-slashing-at-wrists).

4 March 2016

The beds around the edges of the central vegetable plot are planted with perennials and a few shrubs. The idea is to 1. make it pretty and 2. attract pollinators and beneficial insects. I have not amended these beds with calcium to raise the pH - the central bed is the one stuffed with crushed oyster and egg shells to sweeten the soil for crops (if you missed that drama, read this post).

I inherited day lilies, which I divided last year, as well as a magnificent clump of Solomon's seal, which I also divided, and ditto violets. The unwelcome volunteer seedlings are something else. They will have their own post.

To these edge-beds last fall I added the plants that moved with us from the Harlem terrace in August, 2015: blueberries, one of the black raspberries, asters, calamintha, Agastache 'Acapulco,' Heuchera villosa, nettles (!) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

Swamp milkweed shoots

Then I acquired - in an indigenous fall planting fit - ironweed (Vernonia novaboracensis), Veronicastrum virginicum, Anemone virginiana (thimbleweed), some Solidago and sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), and agastache from the nearby and inspiring Gowanus Nursery. I also planted some sunchokes/Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) rhizomes that I bought at Key Foods on Henry Street. They have come up (back, right - ugly fence and neighbor-privacy). And I was gifted echinacea, aquilegia, and clematis. And there was an impulse buy of angelica, for drama.

Ironweed shoots

This spring I planted (from Brent and Becky'sLiatris spicata, Lilium longiflorum, and gloriosa lilies for the back fence.

In the pots on the slab there are Callianthus murielae (peacock flower), lilies, hostas-from-Harlem, some dead hardy begonias, Heuchera villosa (which dates from Cobble Hill and the original 66 Square Feet, along with one of the blueberries and the black raspberries). And the other beloved black raspberry; both plants nearly died last year when we went away and they were not watered.

The pots on the slab need work. More shade plants. I'm thinking annuals. And I may try turmeric and ginger. A seven foot reclaimed-oak table will be on its way from Akron, Ohio, this Monday, and the stone-top table will move off to the side. A beautiful umbrella is waiting to be unpacked. It will help with dinner time privacy and morning sun. And I may gravel that path around the vegetable bed.

I haven't even mentioned the little sunny patch of garden on the south side, which owes a lot to GRDN and my local gardener-friends Julia and Kirstin, who gifted me garden thinnings. The view from the bedroom is so much better. And soon our third floor neighbor will start his stoop garden, again. So that will be pretty, too.

Hey. I could have worse habits. The garden serves as a lab and inspiration. And some of it is a genuine tax write-off: for my freelance garden writing I prefer to have first-hand experience of the subject and the more I grow the more I know (or realize I don't know). Any garden is a good mentor, and a better therapist.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Seeds of the Month club - dill

Thank goodness the mâche is bolting (above). If it weren't, I would not have space for my latest seed from Grow Journey.

I had forgotten about dill. I need dill (in copious amounts, for this potato-dill salad, which rocks the socks off early summer; and then there is the German potato salad - below, which is dangerously addictive).

So this afternoon the mâche comes out and the dill goes in.

I am keeping one mâche plant in a seed saving experiment. Grow Journey includes an empty seed packet with every Seeds of the Month package for exactly this purpose, with space for notes and plant name.

What will happen to the yanked mâche? Summer rolls for supper, with pickled shiitakes and marinated bamboo shoots. And a shrimp ceviche on the side, with the last of the ramp leaves.

Today I picked the very first of my spinach 'Verdil' leaves (above), planted in early March, thinned in the third week, and now flourishing beside four rows of fava beans. The notes in my Grow Journey member dashboard* said that the leaves of ‘Verdil’ would be more upright than other spinaches', and that seems to be true, which saves them from a lot of soil-splash, and makes cleaning easier.

* (As a member you have access to in-depth information about your seeds, as well as up-to-date and very helpful advice about sustainable gardening practises).

The baby spinach leaves made a beautifully simple side salad to what has become deeply fashionable avocado toast. This was lunch. On top of the avocado are the tiny little garden cress (Lepidium sativum) leaves that I received in January. They are peppery, and delight the forager in me, looking as wild as they often are.

Garden cress is also known as pepperweed, and we discover it frequently on spring forage walks, when their tiny white flowers are in bloom on tall, narrow stems. Their easy-identify sprays of seeds in early summer are a surprisingly good wasabi substitute, if you are patient enough to harvest hundreds of them before crushing them with a mortar and pestle.

What’s next? I have a seed tray planted with those surprise black nightshade/garden huckleberry seeds (above), and by the time they are mature enough to be transplanted, I think another cool weather green will be about to bite the dust, to make space for me to plant them out in warmer weather. Also, there is the garlic to harvest, and that will give me two more rows. Exciting.

You can dip your toes into the Seeds of the Month waters by signing up for free 30-day tria. There are no gags or gimmicks. Susan and Aaron, the wife-and-husband, duck-owning, organic-gardening, foraging South Carolinian couple who own Grow Journey, practise what they preach.

Happy gardening!

PS: My dill repertoire is limited to those salads, to gravlax, and to the notorious sat-upon egg tortilla which my friend Mustafa brought along on a picnic many years ago. He put it on a rock beside a stream, covered in a pretty cloth, where I mistook is for a nice cushion and sat on it. It felt warm.

What do you do with dill?

Friday, April 22, 2016

The native in the garden

Polygonatum biflorum - Solomon's seal, beginning to bloom here at Chez Mosquito (no sign of mosquitoes yet - sssssssh! Don't wake them up!). This is a Northeastern woodland perennial. I divided the large clump late last year and the Solomon's seal is now growing in three spots in the beds that edge the garden.

Because the clump was so mature I had the luxury of digging up some of the rhizomes and eating them. Very crisp and slightly sweet. Please don't do this in the woods. Eat your own. An interesting indigenous food.

Since it is Earth Day (isn't every day?) - I might as well drag the soapbox over and say: garden consciously. Make informed choices. Research what is invasive in your area. Just because it is pretty doesn't mean you should plant it. Your personal choices affect the bigger picture. Depending on where you live, dig out your loosestrife, ban the invasive barberry, toss the burning bush, do not plant those morning glories.

Plant more natives - they are well-adapted to your conditions. Ask for them at your local nursery. Demand them at Home Depot.

And while you're at it. Eat the weeds. The rest of my day will see me making garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) pesto and ground elder (goutweed, Aegopodium podagraria) and garlic mustard summer rolls. For tomorrow's wild foods walk in Central Park. See you there.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stirrings in the vegetable plot

The garden's vegetable plot of a mid April evening. It is a 10 foot by 10 foot square at the back of the garden, presumably situated there by the person who decided on the back yard's layout (one third soil, two thirds concrete) because it catches most of the sun in this north-facing garden.

I know. I must get up to the roof to take some scary (no railing at the edge) aerial pictures again. But, for now, we have in the back corner of the center plot (above), fava beans, spinach and mesclun. Not pictured? Upland and garden cresses, arugula, beets, fingerling potatoes, strawberries, garlic, peas, komatsuna (a mustard green), fenugreek, coriander and today's parsley, summer savory and celery (the celery will be used for its greens only - I love celery salt.  Celery is really hard to grow if you're aiming for the fat stalks, and what you buy in supermarkets is one of the most pesticide-soaked crops you can choose (alongside strawberries).

The weeds are going to drive me cruh-azy. I can feel it. I don't know what happened in this garden before, but I sense it was an insurgency that the weeds won. I remember the feverish hours I spent yanking them out in August and September, when we moved in. They made a thick mat, and many had already set seed.

The worst weed right now is one that resembles parsley - hundreds of tiny volunteers, competing with the stones and massive chunks of bark that I remove from the plot every time I am outside. But this plant has no smell. None. Something in the Apiaceae family (they make umbels - flowers like umbrellas, think Queen Anne's lace, but it also includes the deadly hemlocks). I'll post pictures, soon. I am stumped. I have left a few to mature - it must be at least a biennial because several overwintered.

There is much mâche, too. And in our last few warm days it has shown signs of wanting to bolt.

The few violets I kept have been blooming for almost ten days, and are very sweet. I have used them at the edges of the rear bed, which is on an incline, and where soil tends to wash over the retaining stones and onto the path. Hopefully they will help prevent this mini erosion.

And finally - this morning's garden inspection revealed a Silk Road lily shoot that had been neatly gnawed in half. That makes me very, very cross. You buy a $15 bulb, plant in fall, wait all winter, see it emerge after sleet and snow and a New York primary where the wrong person won, and then overnight it's someone's main course.

Someone will die. Tonight.

(I hope. Here, slugs, slugs, slugs...)


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ramps, loved to death

Save the ramps! Eat the field garlic!

I collected this bunch of the invasive onions - often called lawn chives - in Inwood last weekend. We ate them in a wild pasta Alfredo and in the pan juices of a roast chicken. Some of the greens will go into a loaf of cheese bread for a walk I am leading in Central Park this Saturday.

At Wholefoods in Gowanus I saw some sad, skinny, limp little ramps retailing at $11.99/lb. This was a week ago. The smallest ones were pencil-thin. There ought to be a minimum size requirement for ramps, like with fish and lobsters. Ramps (Allium tricoccum, an indigenous plant) grow very slowly, and are being overharvested in many wild areas. They are listed as vulnerable in NY.

The perplexing thing was that the sign said "grown in Massachusetts." Grown, rather than foraged from the wild? I know of no ramp-growing enterprise, anywhere. And one week ago it was too early to be finding ramps in MA, because they have only just appeared locally. Can anyone enlighten me?

The ideal way to deal with a patch of ramps is to harvest a leaf from each of several clumps - the leaves are packed with flavour, and very tender. And if you must collect a bulb, pick the fattest in the clump, and slice it just above the root. This takes more time for you, the ravenous forager, but it allows the rest of the clump to keep on trucking, rather than being rampocided into wild food memory.

About growing ramps: They are challenging to cultivate, as the seeds take months to germinate, but if you have humus-y soil, spring sunlight and summer shade (under a high cover of deciduous trees), then you're in business. My friend Steven Schwarz (Delaware Valley Ramps) sells bulbs in the fall as well as live plants in spring.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Walking on the wild side

A beautiful day for a private wild foods walk, yesterday. We gathered behind the farmers market at Grand Army Plaza, next to Prospect Park.

The trees are just beginning to leaf out. The best time of the spring year.

The women on the walk were enthusiastic about invasive edibles like garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

And dogged in their attack on stubborn field garlic (Allium vineale).

These couple of April weeks are prime Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) shoot season.

Aggressive but beautiful lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) made pretty posies.

We admired but left untouched the choice shoots of devil's walking stick (Aralia spinosa). Called tara-no-me in Japanese, it is a favourite of the spring sansai (mountain vegetables). I think this grove has been picked before, but it's not a plant whose harvest I encourage unless the land is private.

At the end of the walk we enjoyed snacks that included a garlic-mustard-stuffed tomato roulade, Vietnamese spring rolls (above) filled with fresh bamboo shoots, chickweed, field garlic and winter cress. The black things that look like slugs are not slugs. They are soy-pickled mushrooms (see the Momofuku cookbook for the recipe).

... and an olive oil cake flavoured with spicebush (Lindera benzoin), above. Recipe provided by friend and neighbour Julia Miller (I used the spicebush instead of orange zest). The cake has a beautifully fine crumb. And two cups of good extra virgin olive oil!

My next walk in Central Park is fully booked but there are still spots left for Dead Horse Bay, beautiful Fort Tryon, and Inwood Hill Park.

See you there?


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Winter cress

Winter cress, Barbarea vulgaris, waiting to be eaten, last night. I made a salad with Cara Cara oranges and thinly sliced red onion, and topped those with these beautiful and peppery early spring greens, foraged from the Red Hook Community Farm. The leaves are firm and the stems crunchy. The vinaigrette was fresh ginger, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and a drop of sesame oil.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Rolled tomato soufflé, stuffed with weeds

Occasionally I crave tomatoes. And if it is an April craving I have to sit on my hands and wait for the moment to pass. Because it is months till July, when the first field-ripened fruit arrive at local markets. After my home-grown tomato epiphanies dating back to an all-day sun rooftop farm in Cobble Hill (and also to Friend Frank's Fort Tilden community garden), I can easily resist the bright red hard things from Canada, sold day in, day out, in supermarkets and local deli's.

But it's a long, long wait.

That is why canned tomatoes were invented. And those are what we eat in the months from November through June. I used Muir Glen's organic tomatoes for the rolled up soufflé (like a jelly roll, but not like a jelly, roll, either) above that I took on the forage walk I led in Prospect Park yesterday.

Inside it was a pesto of cooked garlic mustard (above), pecans, garlic and parmesan. It was on the moist side, because I had made it the evening before. But the Frenchman, who wolfed the three slices that were his share, got quite excited about it. So I will make it again.

I feel guilty making the same snacks for my walks, because many of the walkers have been on two, three or more of my walks, so I am expanding the forage-snack repertoire. The Snack has to transport well - oblong and loaf shapes are good. Round is not. Small things that can go into containers are also good. Everything is layered in my backpack, and nothing may be squashed. Especially not a rolled up soufflé.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Urban foraging

When you forage in Chinatown:

Giant bamboo shoots ($3.39/lb), baby bananas and quails eggs  - New York Supermarket, 75 East Broadway, under the Manhattan Bridge.

Pork buns, $1/bun - Mei Li Wah Bakery, 64 Bayard Street.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Central Park Forage Walk

North Woods, Central Park
23 April 2016
1pm - 3pm

Late April is one of the most beautiful times of the year in New York's most famous park.

The northern wooded and wild part of Central Park park is home to invasive and native plants, many of which are edible.

We'll spot the destructive but delectable Japanese knotweed, an edible invader that has begun to make a shy appearance at farmers markets. But I have yet to see fat bundles of the juiciest, fattest, earliest shoots on sale in April. That will change.

In this very mixed up spring we will also encounter spring greens like dandelions, garlic mustard, dead nettle, and perhaps even early pokeweed and greenbriar, as well as indigenous plants such as spicebush and sumac, and a traditional Japanese mountain vegetable (hint, above).

Come along to learn to identify the edible and woodland plants that surround us, as well as the ethics of what to gather, what not, and why.

This walk is a ramble with gentle hills and dales, and a final steep climb to our picnic.

We meet at 12.55pm  at 110th Street and Lenox Avenue, the SW corner under the gingko tree.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bradford pears, so sue me

Perhaps I have grown more tolerant (cue explosive laughter from people who know me intimately).

The pears used to irritate me, too.

I hopped right onto the informed bandwagon of anti-pearism.

Bradford pears, callery pears - Pyrus calleryana - are an approved New York street tree. You can request one for your block. But they have weak crotches. That still makes me smile. Their limbs split. They drop onto cars and are ripped off by buses. Not good in high winds. Like the ones we had on Sunday. In fact when I heard the wind I thought I'd better post my pear pictures fast, before they are downed.

And people say they smell like fish. That is where I draw the line. They do not smell like fish.

These pears, above and below,  are all in our immediate hood. I have known them for over a decade. And now I like them (again). Let's not plant more.  But let's not despise what is not despicable.

In these days of Syria and Paris and Pakistan and Ankara and Belgium and Zuma and Trump and melting everything - railing against a non-native pear tree seems a privilege.

Sure. We could plant native trees in their stead. We could also be living in shacks made out of cardboard. I know. Not  a very intelligent argument. But it's all I've got. It's exhausting seeing every side of a thing. I'll be better tomorrow.

I took these photos over the last four days.

There. I have run out words three photos from the end. Now what?

Walk home along Court Street, I guess.

Happy to know where I am going to sleep tonight.

Under a shower of impossible petals.