Thursday, June 30, 2016

It's summer - time for beans and basil

The jungle. In the foreground is my row of Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, a forager's gardening experiment. 

It is just beyond midsummer, and the days are growing minutely shorter even as they grow hotter. We have had more sun than I had anticipated at this time of year, and I have been able to grow more crops than I had hoped. Like beans. Grow Journey sent me two different bush beans, part of my January and May seed-of-the-month membership. 

These Painted Pony bush beans arrived first, in January, when winter still had us in its very dark and depressing grip.Summer beans seemed like a fantasy, back then. But they were very pretty.

And then the sun came. The vegetable plot receives about six hours of sun right now, which is borderline for many vegetables, but I learned in Harlem that climbing beans can thrive in four hours of sun. So I planted the Painted Ponies in early June, after taking out the fava beans and the first sowing of arugula, which had bolted faster than we could eat the tender lower stalks.

I find bean flowers very pretty, so there is the extra, ornamental boost.

Dragon's Tongue bush beans, above, arrived next, and they are growing tall, already.

As always, if I forget something about my seeds, I log into my member dashboard on the Grow Journey site and can see previous months' seeds listed, as well as detailed information about how to grow them in my Grow Guides.

Bush bean-growing is new to me, although I remember my mother's very healthy bushes in Bloemfontein, when I was little. And the snap and itchy green taste of eating the beans right out of the garden.

Some beetle is eating holes in the Dragon's Tongue leaves, and I should get some beer again for traps, in case it's a slug, not a beetle. Aaron von Frank wrote a lovely tip-of-the-month piece about how to work with insects on the Grow Journey blog -  I have found it helpful. He quotes one of my gardening principles, which is actually part of the Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm.

Counter intuitively, the gardening industry is not very green at all.  From the thoughtless use of pesticides and herbicides, to overuse of synthetic fertilizers like Miracle Gro (not to mention their manufacturing process), from phosphorus runoff into waterways which causes dead zones in the ocean, to the mass production of plastic pots, to the destruction of peat bogs, to the planting of highly invasive species. 

What are we thinking? In short, many gardeners are not. Thinking, that is.

I am still surprised when gardeners tell me they do not grow organically (even as I am still learning more about permaculture practices and their benefits). Aaron writes in that article about the no-till method by comparing it to the effect a tornado has on a house, and how digging into the soil destroys the habitats of beneficial insects and microorganisms.

 AND I have just learned that firefly larvae live for two summers before becoming fireflies (we have dozens every night now) and eat insects like aphids! The adults do not eat.

Finally, the Thai basil is a small forest, now. I planted it in one of the shadiest spots near the house, in two gifted troughs from my friend Julia. I was not sure how it would do. But the plants are growing sturdier, and are now sharing space with some sprouting ginger plants, another experiment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


After a weekend away for work, visiting other peoples' gardens (in Buffalo), it was good to come home again, and find the Formosa lilies in bloom. And we still love our umbrella.

The garden is not there, yet, but it is so much more there than it was, when I first saw this space last August.

When I am impatient, I remind myself...


So, then this feels better.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

After the weeds

Above, last August, when we moved to our new digs, in Carroll Gardens.

DIGS. Get it?

Man (Wooman!), I pulled and dug a lot of weeds. While being strafed by stripy-legged mosquitoes. And there are still daily dozens of morning glory volunteers. Neighbors don't let neighbors plant morning glories.

Above, this morning's snap, into the sun, with arugula flowers in front, more arugula and mixed Asian greens to the lower right, an invisible row of bronze fennel (transplanted volunteers from last year's fennel that moved with us from Harlem), purple basil rows, lush upland cress still going strong (to my surprise), red-veined rocket (fancy arugula), and bush beans and tomatillos beyond. Potatoes (left) will be dug in a  few weeks.

No garlic to show you. We have eaten all the garlic.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Common milkweed recipe

My common milkweed bud lunch, yesterday, snarfed up with a pair of chopsticks. It was very, very delicious: salty, tart, a tiny bit sweet, luscious (if you have no common milkweed, broccolini would work very well, or young and tender green beans, for that matter). I needed some fresh pictures for my Gardenista article about milkweed (meals, myths, monarchs), so I prepped, cooked, shot and ate in quick succession. 

And then I started two liters of milkweed flower cordial, one liter of honeysuckle-lindenflower-elderflower cordial, two bottles of elderflower vinegar, and pickled two jars of field garlic flowers.

Happy Sunday, doing what I love.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The face at the fence

Meet Beeskwee (Biscuit), my occasional gardening companion, on the other side of the fence.

The fence is actually falling down. The rusted post at one end, far left, is loose, and it is kept propped upright by a concrete birdbath on Biscuit's side and a big stone on ours. I had intended a better fix but it's harder than we thought, because of rocks, rocks, rocks. The post in the middle (behind the birch pole) is very sturdy. No one knows whom the fence belongs to. The chainlink is ugly so in this case I am grateful for the existing English ivy.

I also planted tall North American natives Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus, far left) from store-bought tubers, Veronicastrum virginicum (in bloom, above), Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium pupureum, right) and a South Africcan gloriosa lily (Gloriosa supberba) to do more screening.

But Beeskwee still has this convenient gap where she sometimes sits and stares at me. She likes it when we braai meat, too. Sniffing appreciatively. Perhaps waiting for the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Gowanus Nursery

I was happy to be able to write at last (for Gardenista) about an inspiring place that is dangerously within reach: the Gowanus Nursery. Follow that link for more photos and the story.

What does its owner, Michele Palladino do every day? Water. For one-and-half hours. And then she works. She keeps a remarkable collection of plants in the nursery, and designs and plants and maintains gardens on the days when the nursery is not open. A lot of labour.

And the 'g?' Dutchman's pipe - Aristolochia tomentosa, a species with petite flowers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Black raspberries

The black raspberries change color almost by the hour, now. The plants - acquired from the defunct Liberty Garden Center in Red Hook (I began with one, it made more, some died in a drought last year) - have traveled from an all-sun Cobble Hill rooftop, to a Harlem terrace with four hours of midday sun (and a sweet crop),  to Carroll Gardens, where the hours of sun yaw wildly from full-shade winter to sunny summer, with about five to six hours of direct sun, now.

I met a formidable black raspberry the other day at the Gowanus Nursery, which is 10 minute walk away, over the pedestrian bridge that crosses the roaring eight-lane BQE. I wrote a story about the nursery and its owner, Michele Palladino, for Gardenista - many of her plants are rooted in our new garden:

Shopper's Diary: Gowanus Nursery in Brooklyn.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Market table

What became of them? Well, the drink was drunk (makrut lime-infused gin and tonic - it tasted a lot like the Rose's Lime Cordial that my grandmother used to take in her gin and tonic before lunch on Sundays).

Strawberries? Mostly just rinsed and eaten straight up, while I watched a movie. Others cut in half and doused with some black currant gin to sit for a few hours before being scooped up with cream.

Leeks: Vichyssoise. Of course.

Onions. Hm. What happened to the onions? Oh. Chopped finely and mixed with cilantro and lime juice as a dressing for super-fresh braaied bluefish.

Asparagus. Steamed. Olive oil and lemon. A bit gritty - I should have soaked them longer.

What is at your farmers market?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Sidewalk garden tour

Before they disappear from the June streets, a quick look at some nearby rose gardens within a 10 minute walk (I walk fast and have long legs) from home. Above, a block from the Gowanus Canal.

This (above and below) is Carroll Street again (it featured in a recent Gardenista story I wrote), the particularly garden-rich block just east of Smith.

And my old favourite, what I call the Gowanus Garden, started and still cared for by Kirstin Tobiasson.

Below, a perfect plant for naturalizing on a hardscrabble sidewalk where hand watering is a forgotten dream, Lysimachia punctata is beautiful but also invasive. Liatris in the background (left) will bloom soon, and the yucca spikes seem taller every year.

Dachshund point of view:

And the Gowanus Canal itself, a few feet away from the garden. White scummy stuff pouring from a pipe in the background is held back behind a floating pollution barrier. When I moved to Brooklyn that skyline did not exist. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Serviceberries are ripe

On my way home from a garden consultation in Prospect Heights (a neighborhood that I have not visited in about four years - when we looked at a very nice apartment with a waterless roofdeck, and which is changing so fast you can feel the whiplash) I saw a triangle of park dripping with ripe serviceberries. No one paid them any mind, not the birds, not the people. They were fat with purple juice. So I grazed for a while, cursing the fact that I had no nifty paper bag in my handbag. Bad forager.

I have never seen them at a greenmarket. But when I started writing about Japanese knotweed five years ago, I had never seen that at a farmers market, either. That has changed. It's now on the menu at Daniel, trickles in to greenmarkets and shows up in all sorts of wild food forums.

My message is: New York? Serviceberries are ripe. NOW! They are sweet, similar to blueberries in texture, but juicier, and with a flavor more like apples, And like marzipan when cooked. And very soon I must collect a bagful or two. I think I like them raw, best.

You're a New Yorker who thinks this fruit is dirty because it grows in a city? You grow in a city! You drink its water, breathe its air.

A surprising number of educated people have perplexing myopia when it comes to appreciating the course taken by the food they eat to reach their plate. Out of season blueberries, wrong-season raspberries and strawberries drenched in pesticides, often grown thousands of miles away, hold zero appeal for me. They are un-fruit. This is the real deal, ripe right now, and gone by next week.

Dig in.

Pop goes the rhubarb (better late than never)

Rhubarb pop, rhubarb soda, rhubarb fizz, rhubarb cordial. Take your pick.

Recipe next door, at 66 Square Feet (the Food)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Weltschmertz, welshrats

Nights are bright, as June slides beneath our feet, the summer snake that makes us forget the long black afternoons and sunless mornings. Celebrations at the new, long table are within the backyard bowl where we sometimes feel like goldfish, pursing our lips and blowing bubbles at the windows that watch and listen. That aspect of our tiny garret, upstream on Henry Street, I miss. Just being invisible. A private sky.

We watch, too. We have found two cats in the windows. No one pets them.  We see where the squirrels live behind the gutter, high above a house. We wait for Beeskwee to come out and stare at us through the fence. We follow planes and choppers, and the robin and the cardinal who take it in turns to carol from the highest fire escape. We hear the hoarse beagle barking breathlessly. We hear the rusty voice yelling at it.

The garden is oppressively green.

But, snapping out of it, the log above? The log is a chicken liver mousse, baked at low heat in a bain marie - with a sweetfern bourbon infusion. It is rich, and we ate one end of it; the middle section was sent to friends nearby for a birthday snack. They like such things. The relish was caramelized onions from the Borough Hall Greenmarket, cooked with autumn olive flower vinegar. Salad leaves from the garden.

Champagne because the Frenchman deserved it. And I don't mind helping.