Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Of Farms and Food, GrowNYC blog link

CSA farm sign passed along the road on bike trip to Saratoga from Brooklyn.

Searching for news on how area farmers are faring post-Irene, I came upon GrowNYC's blogpost about assisting Greenmarket Farmers effected by Hurricane Irene.

Over at Edible Manhattan, there's the same link and some information about one Greenmarket Farmer who's struggling with farm damage.

Yesterday's Wildflower

Daisy Fleabane, Erigeron annuus, Brooklyn.

It likes fields, roadsides and waste places and apparently so must I, because I keep seeing it. I've seen it described as a native weed, which may or may not be an oxymoron. Now I hope I have the species of Erigeron right, because it seems like there are many, but I've been trying to distinguish this species based on the fact that it doesn't have clasping leaves like some others and seems to be flowering at the right time. According to Brooklyn Botanic's New York Metropolitan Flora project, I see at least four species listed in the genus for the area, so it's not like I can be certain. The funny thing is that when I saw the plant, I thought I knew what I was seeing and yet again, I was on the hunt.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Garden Lesson Relearned and Something New

The lesson relearned today is that it only takes cutting through a few thick branches on a fallen tree, armed with only a saw and elbow grease, before the sound of a power tool becomes a delightful tune. That noise becomes the hum and the beat of the work getting done faster. Our community garden was mostly intact after the storm, but we lost a few willows.

The something new is a butterfly. Leminitis arthemis astyanax or a Red-spotted Purple, which rolls off the tongue just a hair easier. And guess what it likes for dinner along with some other decidious trees? You know it, willows.

Red-spotted Purple butterfly at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Something Dried on a Rainy Day

Lunaria annua (Money plant) seedpods.

In our neighborhood, the skies began clearing near the end of the day and our neighbor Katie's tomatoes hung on, though still swaying in the lingering wind up on the roof. Over at Shari's blog, there is a Starfish and Blue crab dinner in the Rockaways, (or possibly lunch). Click on the pictures for the sweet slideshow of the seafood buffet.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ride Before the Storm

Sunflowers, East NY, Brooklyn

We took the long way to the community garden, pedalling a thirty mile loop through East NY, Broad Channel and the Rockaways on the bright summer's day before the storm. If the weathermen weren't tracking Irene, you might have thought that this weekend would bring more bright sun and perfect conditions for a day at the beach. But we don't live in a time when the forecoming weather is a mystery, so we enjoyed the ride and the moment, knowing we wouldn't be riding or gardening in the sun today. We admired the lush green growth at the community garden on New Lots in East NY, imagining the gardeners there harvesting and tidying up before the storm just as we would be doing in our own garden plots, and took in the beauty of the clear waters of Jamaica Bay, which we're hoping doesn't rise far enough in the storm to flood the gardens at Floyd Bennett.
Jamaica Bay

Back at Floyd Bennett, we looked out on a pasture that grows on cement. Before the airport, much of this place was under water, or a series of small marsh islands, something to ponder. Then we rode the last ten miles home, paniers full of potatoes and other ripe produce. We live in the heights, (well, it's high for Brooklyn), so we will be home this weekend. Some of our neighbors at the garden, under mandatory evacuation in Coney Island, were still figuring out where they would spend the weekend. We hope for the best for our garden plots in the storm, but we can always rebuild if necessary. Our investment is slight, miniscule in comparison to the regions farmers and wineries. So we hope for the best for the new urban rooftop farms in Greenpoint and Long Island City and the farms and wineries out east in Suffolk county.
Cement prairie, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rainy Day in August Bouquet

What's Blooming in Brooklyn Bouquet, August

If the beginning of this season will be remembered as the time when it never seemed to rain, it's looking like this stretch will be remembered as the time when it rained too much. Still, there will always be the blooms of the moment to mark the seasons of the city by.

What's Blooming Bouquet, August

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another Day, Another Allium, Another Pollinator

Euodynerus sp. Wasp on garlic chives, Brooklyn

If you told me four years ago that if I started growing vegetables that I'd eventually end up spending half my time in the garden crouching, spying on wasps and half my free time at home researching the identities of said wasps, I might not have believed you. But when you fall in love with something, you fall hard and you want to know everything you can about it. The allium I know, but this is the beginning of the garlic chives bloom this season and it's in a family of plants that I love for the eating, the pretty blooms and for the pollinator watching. The wasp I had to research. I won't pretend that I understand the language in the key to identifying the Euodynerus species here yet, (I'm a gardener, not an entomologist) but I think I'm on the right track with Euodynerus schwarzi or Euodynerus megaera. I'll settle for genus Euodynerus, and call the day's garden studying done.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Remains of the Sweet Pea Vine of Spring

This spring's Lathyrus odoratus

I'm no Karl Blossfeldt, but I know there's always something to see in the garden if I just stand still for a minute.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On The High Line Now

with Susan and Pat in Mid-August, thinking about the plant families we ought to get to know better. We settled on the Lamiaceae (mint family) and Asteraceae (composite). With something along the lines of 30,000 species between the two, that ought to keep us busy for a little while. And it will give us a good excuse to take walks in beautiful New York City spaces looking at flowers and call it studying.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Rice Pot In the Sun

Rice cooking in a solar oven, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn

Here's one simple truth about gardening or walking in a public garden: you will see something amazing on any given day. Whether you are keeping an eye out for pollinators while weeding around the tomatoes, admiring the sweet potential of a flower bud about to open, or watching seedheads of certain perennials brown in the fall, no matter the season, if your eyes are open you will see something staggeringly beautiful. That may seem like an exaggeration, but any gardener or lover of gardens will tell you that it is not.

If you are lucky to garden in a place alongside other people, in a community of gardeners, you might even find yourself coming upon a pot of rice in the sun, cooking slowly in a handmade solar oven, and you may declare it the most amazing garden discovery of a bright summer day. Sue and Judy might not be done tinkering with the new oven and the process, but we tasted the rice and it was good.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Garden Visitors This Week in Brooklyn

Does the mark on the underside of the wing resemble a comma or a question mark? Yay for butterflies in the genus Polygonia named after punctuation.

And a bee, possibly in the Megachile, always welcome to spend some time in the garden.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Garden Fresh, A brooklyn garden that is

It's what's for dinner.

Trust me, the potatoes and leeks cleaned up nice, just like the gardeners. We made one of our favorite soups for this time of year, Cream of Tomato and Potato Soup, mostly following Elizabeth David's recipe in French Provincial Cooking, though we are apt to toss in a little more leek, butter and potato. More is more, apparently, as far as we're concerned. The major ingredients of the soup (the potatoes, leeks, tomatoes and parsley for garnish) were only a few hours out of the garden when all was said and the meal was done. Now if we could only rassle up a good Jersey cow, a salt mine and a greenhouse to grow the pepper vine in down at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, we'd really have it made. But still, growing what you can in a community garden plot in New York City feels like enough to celebrate.

On Two Wheels

The vegetable harvest (red frying peppers, red grape tomatoes, paste tomatoes and some herbs) tucked into the bicycles' paniers, the precious and delicate tomatoes wrapped in pants and newspaper to protect their skin from all the jostling of the Brooklyn streets. The flowers atop the bike rack wrapped in newspaper and little foil at the bottom to hold water.

There are easier ways to get your perishables home intact from the community garden, but they aren't as much fun as rolling on two wheels with the wind at your back.

For big fun on two wheels, a tandem bike ride across the country visit here. We met this lovely couple on the first day of their ride out of Manhattan at Bear Mountain and check in daily for inspiration, funny bits of roadside conversation and lessons in geography. It's a welcome break from all the negativity about cycling I keep reading about lately in the New York City tabloids and blogs and it reminds me of the most important reason to ride. For the love of it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Fruit of Phytolacca americana, Pokeweed, in mid-August, Brooklyn

Probably everyone has played the game of "how did this become food?" while eating dinner. Well, my guess about pokeweed is that people were looking at the pretty colors of this native plant, and at what looked like really gorgeous fruit (miniature dangling brandywines in the wild perhaps, that unfortunately contain toxins making them inedible for most mammals) for so long that they just had to come up with a way to eat it. Eventually, they ended up with poke salad with the young spring greens in the south, though even then the recommendation is for cooked leaves only and with two water changes to rinse out the toxins.

Peterson's Field Guide of Medicinal Plants describes pokeweed as a "coarse, large-rooted perennial" and if you've ever tried to dig this plant up out of a garden or yard, you know that's not an exaggeration. Its tremendous thick taproot is one of the features that make this American native a tenacious survivor. Peterson's describes one of the plant's medicinal uses as cathartic, which in this book doesn't mean that it was used to free people from their pentup anxieties, but rather that a trip to the outhouse was advisable in the near future.

My favorite random tidbit of information about this plant comes from wikipedia though:
-A rich brown dye can be made by soaking fabrics in fermenting berries in a hollowed-out pumpkin.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Much Do I love Thee (Monarda punctata)

It's hard to the count the ways (and most days its hard to the count the wasps and pollinators that visit this fantastic plant in my garden, but in this case these are all photographs of just one happy Brooklyn pollinator). This Monarda still stands and blooms. It lasted in a vase for a week for me, only getting prettier in its decline. It has introduced me to some of the pollinating species that visit and live nearby my garden, and when it blooms it looks like its sporting some kind of leapard print. What more could you possibly ask of a plant in the garden that you aren't going to eat?

There's a lot of attention these days on bees, both introduced and native, which is important, but the wasps (and flies and pollinating beetles) are in need of a little PR campaign too. They're not about to make you any honey and you can't raise them like they were your pets, but they will pollinate your plants and often eat your problem pests in one stage of their life. Recently, I've photographed some of the wasps in my garden with only my phone camera (no real zoom to speak of), which means I've had to get up close and personal with them. And knock on my garden's wooden post, I haven't been stung yet. (Sometimes I even get the feeling that they know that I'm happy to see them and mean them no harm, and that they would like to pose for a picture).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On The Way to the Show

On the way to our neighbor's show at the Fringe Festival, we caught the Goldenrain tree's second act of the season. Dangling papery seedpods. Well maybe it's the third act of the year I've caught for this tree. I did manage to see its leaves unfolding in mid-April walking home from work in the early evening spring.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An eye on the ground and an eye toward the sky

Fallen fruit of the Paper Mulberry, Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn

You don't always have to look up in the hunt for clues about the plant species you pass walking down the city street. There are clues at your feet too, on sidewalks beneath trees where you will often find fallen fruits, leaves and twigs that can be handy for identification purposes. Above, evidence of the Paper Mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera, considered invasive in parts of this country and others because of its aggressive growing habit, at my feet on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. And below, this bright red fruit up in the tree (though admittedly, not the best of pictures). As its common name suggests, the bark of this tree can be and was used to make paper in its native range in Asia and in the islands of the Pacific where it was introduced and used to make barkcloth (Kapa/Tapa).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A first-time Garden in the City

Rooftop garden, Brooklyn (New York City).

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The only thing sweeter than watching your own garden grow is watching someone else's. And a first-time garden is always particularly sweet. We grilled some peppers, zuchinni and onion harvested from our community garden plots on the roof this weekend and admired Katie's tomatoes growing in their buckets on the fence, looking out at the city skyline from Brooklyn. This is Katie's first vegetable garden.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What's Blooming Now at a New York City Beach

Jacob Riis

and by the side of the road down by the shore in Brooklyn and Queens? Camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris. And guess what? It's native, or in the words of the men who wrote this paper, is "a New World aromatic, pioneer species that rapidly colonizes disturbed, xeric habitats on temperate and subtropical coastal dunes." I like that as a phrase, a New World aromatic. When I was checking out this plant's fuzzy gray-green leaves at the beach near our garden a few weeks ago, figuring it for something in the asteraceae family, Joe told me to smell it (he's a sniffer) and indeed, smell is one of the keys for this plant. Its leaves depart a distinct medicinal aroma. I'm pretty sure we've been passing it by the side of the road for years now, but couldn't find an ID for it in our books. But I think this time around, I've got it. Eventually, it seems, if you pay attention to the world outside growing around you and keep paying attention, some things do sink in.

Camphorweed flower
Camphorweed (Heterothica subaxillaris) going to seed

And finally, Camphorweed as snack, by what I think is a Sulphur butterfly in the Colias genus.)

Labels: Native plants, summer

Friday, August 12, 2011

Joe's Beautiful Garlic (Take Two)

Garlic flowering in Brooklyn

Last year, I celebrated the beauty of Joe's recently harvested garlic bulbs. This year the harvested garlic is just as beautiful and delicious, but I'm celebrating the flowering head of some unharvested bulbs. (Joe left two scapes on and allowed them to mature.) Now, I know there are bulbils and they constitute most of the "bloom", but it does look like some kind of flowering parts are present as well, sterile though they may be, reaching out of the bulbils themselves. It reminds me a bit of the Walking Egytian Onion actually. I hear that you can plant these bulbils and eventually you will get some decent-sized garlic, but I'm not sure that I have the patience or space to dedicate to this experiment. It could take two or three years of planting, harvesting and replanting these tiny clones from what I've read. I have trouble just waiting from fall planting to summer harvesting.

Labels" Allium, Bulbs, Floyd Bennett Gardens Association, Summer, New York City, Garden

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Emma's Got Cucumbers

Photo by Emma's dad.

My six-year-old niece has got cucumbers in her new garden, and it's hard to tell if she's more excited about it or if her dad is. After all, her dad's the one who keeps texting me pictures of cucumbers. Now we just have to see if we can convince her to eat one. She must be under the impression that's she's a real farmer, that one, growing the food for someone else (in this case, her mom).

Emma's glorious garden. Photo by Paul.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In the Forest With Anne

And so I stood not only at the edge but a little ways into this 50 acre remnant of old-growth forest at The New York Botanical Garden with Anne today and counted trees, recorded species, and measured the DBH (Diameter at breast height) of native trees with callipers. It was a chance to test my ID skills and learn some new species from Anne, who's working in the forest this year as a gardener's assistant. When you get the opportunity to stand in the forest and still be in New York City among so many native plants (of course, part of the reason for taking the measurements is identifying what invasives are present and how the forest is changing over time), you don't say no. Thanks Anne. I'd put a picture here of the tiniest bit of forest we surveyed today, but it wouldn't begin to do it justice. You need all of your senses to appreciate some things.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

For The Future

Martha's Lemon Verbena dried by Joe for future tea and cooking

and to enjoy now...

Just the tiniest of garden rewards, Summer 2011, Brooklyn. (From my garden and Joe's, the pumpkin patch and from Martha, our neighbor in the community garden.)

Monday, August 8, 2011


The only thing that would have made seeing the tiny sweet flower of my soy bean plants today even sweeter is if my nephew had been here to share the sight with me. This is a new crop for me in the garden and for Joe in the pumpkin patch, and as my nephew knows, it's a crop that makes one ono-licious snack. (that's Hawai'ian for delicious). We harvested young soy beans for Edamame from the pumpkin patch today and all the volunteers who helped out got to leave with some.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Triepeolus lunatus or something close

Have I arrived at the correct ID for Friday's new pollinator? I'm not sure that I'll ever know. I think I've gotten close (I'd be happy with genus) and that's good enough for me for the time being. Is it listed on the Bees of New York State list? Yes. Does this Cuckoo Bee look a lot like the bees photographed here and here with similar wings and coloring? Yes. My first source though was the Peterson Field Guide, Insects, which sent me searching for bees in the Epeolini tribe because they were described as being relatively bare and wasplike in appearance and the drawing in the book looked a lot like the pollinator I had seen and photographed in my garden. Maybe when my camera is fixed or I graduate to a better model, I'll see this bee again and get to know it more closely. But sometimes even the less than perfect shots without zoom reveal details and angles that are useful. The real fun is all in the hunt, in the watching and studying, in the looking closely at these small creatures outside and searching for clues as to who they are.

For some really amazing photos of some other Brooklyn pollinators visit this recent post by Flatbush Gardener.

Zinnias and Oak Leaf Lettuce

I'm trying out the flowering heads of my bolted oak leaf lettuce as a filler in the vase this weekend. It's day two and they're still standing.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Work and the Garden

Some days you work hard in the garden and some days you sit around in the shade chatting half the day away on the topics of motorcycles, bicycles, sweet country roads and gnarly accidents, only to spend the rest of the day trying to capture your garden's pollinators with your phone camera. Yesterday, it was the latter for me and now I have a new pollinator to identify. I don't feel too bad about the slacking because the day before last was spent cleaning out and doing maintenance on someone else's yard, and because it's the days that I spend watching quietly in my own garden or talking with my neighbors that I learn and remember the most. I have the feeling that I will see this pollinator again. It seems to me that I have repeat visitors that must be nesting nearby. Right now I think it may be a kind of Cuckoo Bee that is wasplike in appearance, but further research is a must.

Luckily, I don't have to do any work identifying the butterfly below. It's a common buckeye, just like a tree I know and love. That Verbena bonariansis is at it again. Attracting pollinators like mad. Someday I may be sorry that I planted it and let it go to seed, but this year it wins first prize in the category of best garden volunteer.