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, one of Grow Journey's founders, has written 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.

Grow Journey offers a free 30-day trial (you pay $3.99 shipping and handling), and it's an excellent way to dip your toes into the waters of monthly seed packet arrivals.The biggest benefit for me has been trying new types of crops, and learning new methods of gardening. 

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.

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.

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