Monday, May 4, 2015

Life finds a way.

The jungle of tomato plants that my kitchen had quickly become,  had been for some time now, straining against the ever dimming light, as more leaves grew and the crowd of plants thickened and making quick work of the newspaper pots that suddenly looked pitifully small. It was time, I insisted, my plant babies insisted (shut up, they love me, I love them, DO NOT JUDGE OUR LOVE.) It was clearly time for them to fledged and go into the garden plot that I had spent the following week or so "clearing" (I act as if I felled trees and cut sod, there hasn't been native nature on this land for easily 150 years), preparing the soil and then building the trellis (do not fret friends, an exciting descriptive post about rebar and how I got hit in the face with a pipe is coming soon!) And Spring had finally sprung and you could just see the upward trend in temperature and good weather.

IT WAS TIME. And so I spent a lovely tuesday digging deep holes, plopping in 18 tomatoes and then tying them up. Yes it was a bit windy and I might've had a light jacket on, but these are hearty little plants! I had hardened them for days before and they were ready. READY.

Guess what happened next.

It was not time. Mother Nature laughed and we had 3-4 record low days, we're talking 38 degrees, Freeze warnings everywhere but the 5 Boroughs. It was a hot mess, but I guess actually a cold mess. To top this off when it wasn't windy and cold, it was windy and rainy. Wilted, wet leaves stuck together. Gah.  GUY COULDN'T CATCH A BREAK.

Everyday, shivering, I was out there tying them back up, trying to poke and prod them back towards the land of the living, swearing, pouting a bit and convinced that the months of having a mini-grow lab in my kitchen was for naught. This magical cost saving, grow everything from seed and get exactly what you want, was a misadventure if there ever was one.

Don't ask for a photo of the after. I was at points ready to just walk away and pretend I hadn't put so much energy into the sad pile of tomato-like things my plot had become and you don't make scrapbooks of things that make you cry. Or at least WASPS don't. We pretend they didn't happen, never could happen and that you're a damn liar for even suggesting the thought.

If not for my Dad, who convinced me to just wait a bit (something I'm admittedly awful at) and my plot neighbor who convinced me that it wasn't so bad and that life finds away, I'm almost certain I would've folded and at least gone and splurged on a bunch of plants for Home Depot or Lowe's and chalk it all up as shit happens. I guess a certain amount of credit goes to the tomatoes, those suckers are CHAMPS.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Search for a Trellis System.

Last year I planted 12 tomatoes, 4 rows of 3 plants each. I had this brilliant idea to use the Florida Weave method. It would be beautiful both for it's simplicity and more importantly the ability to break it down at the end of the season and store it in my hall closet. Yeah, I mentioned my garden shed is actually a quarter of my hall closet, right next to my Christmas tree, my laundry detergent and mop bucket. This is NYC, we make do with what we have. Anyway, back to the Florida Weave method. It basically involves putting to posts at the end of each row, and weaving twine in between the plants, alternating sides with each pass, so that each plant is caught between the string and held up and together, neatly and uniformly. Well, not to bash on it, but I really don't see how it works without re-bar or a cage system. The posts quickly started leaning towards each other as the weigh of the plants and fruit grew and eventually they were just a giant mess on each other. NEVER AGAIN FOLKS, NEVER AGAIN.

This winter I spent researching various ways to get my tomatoes standing tall.

My goals for a Trellis System were:
  • It should be cheap, cost effective. Yes, I could buy individual jumbo cages, but they're expensive for the number of tomatoes I want to grow.
  • It should be easy to assemble, something I can do, by myself, and keep all my fingers and toes, without needing a saw or needing to create a mini-workshop in my front room.
  • It should as compact and easy to store as possible, ideally in a hall closet, but push came to shove, behind my wardrobe or under my bed (what, do you not store garden equipment under your bed??)
  • It should keep the tomatoes upright, easily, without constant tending (as I'll be out of the country for 3 weeks) and shouldn't be unnecessarily fussy or labor intensive to maintain.
  • It should be strong and capable of holding the weight of the tomatoes. 
  • It should allow as much of a breeze as possible to pass, which'll help with disease. 
I found a few ideas, but ultimately the only one that really fit my needs was the Vertical String method with Electrical Conduit Pipe as support. First, the Vertical String Method involves tying a bowline knot around the base of the plant and then twisting like a corkscrew up the length of the plant, from there it goes to a Electrical Conduit Pipe which is part of a basic frame and attached there. As the plant grows you twist it around the string more and it grows up and up. The most important part of this is pinching back suckers, which is do-able and not super labor intensive.  For mine I built a shoebox shaped frame, with PVC pipe elbows and joints and ECP. If I decide to use this method next year, I'll use electrical conduit pipes that I've soldered joints together, for now PVC pipe joints and a helluva lot of gorilla tape to hold things all together. 

So far the Director of the garden has commented about the ambitiousness of my system and that because I'm right up front everyone's been looking in and wondering what I'm doing and whether it'll succeed. Gah, ambition should be made of sterner stuff. 

Next time: The Trellis, Tomatoes go in and the garden comes to life.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Putting a Question Mark after NYC.

It's been a tough winter. I mean not New England tough, but still, most of February was snow. And while I'm happy the shortest month was the month of snow, it got a little ridiculous. They closed the MTA because of the threat of snow (which later turned out to be JK RAIN/SLUSH/NOTHING). But still. Never before have I contemplated life further south and while a certain 9 month is certainly earning her inheritance from me with her cuteness, this winter had a huge chunk to do with me putting a question mark after NYC.

Really though, It'll be some time before I fly this crazy coop. What kept me sane through the blowing snow and freezing cold was the constant planning of the garden. The trickle in of seed magazines, the slow appearance of seeds and germination kits at Home Depot, how the dates crept forward, closer and closer to seed starting time. Mother Nature knows how to keep us hanging on with hope even when she's raging. 

I was determined to save money this year on the garden. Last year, in a fit of IT'S MID-MAY AND I NEED TO HAVE THINGS IN THE GARDEN resulted in buying almost all my plants at Home Depot, plants that weren't cheap let me tell you. This year would be different, I would inject some bucolic thrift into the city. So I went to all of the places where seeds exist, harried more than a few Home Improvement store workers and set out a plan. Do you know how many YouTubes there are about starting seeds? So many. And I've watched them all. Twice. Not that I'm really that surprised, but very quickly I had created a mid-sized grow lab in my kitchen that would make even the big drug kingpins jealous. All for my tomatoes.

I definitely over-planted, admittedly, I just assumed that since people can barely grow in a NYC apartment, why should I expect tomatoes to really grow. Well. Funny thing happened. Every damn peat pellet had seeds sprout, most of them had multiple seedlings. This is from February 20th:

There was a harsh Sophie's choice in the weeks to come. Seriously. These are from March 5th. How do you pinch back two of the three fully sprouted plants in a peat pellet?!

Currently I have two shelves full of tomatoes and kale and sweet peas and all sorts of flowers. And my kitchen is a ridiculous overgrown mess. This is from a few days ago. That's right 2 feet tall. On the left are my Early Girl, Mortgage Lifter and Cherokee Purple, on the right side are all San Marzano for sauce and jam. So if anyone is investigating mysterious abandonment of tomato plants throughout Brooklyn, it wasn't me, definitely not me, at all. Yeah.

With spring, finally having sprung, I've been in the garden for a week now, cleaning up a bit, constructing a somewhat ambitious trellis system and digging up boulders. Actual boulders. More on that later. For now, things I'm excited for: Rhubarb from the garden, a well planned garden and so many flowers!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A list of things.

  1. The average rate for a medium sized flat, in centrally located Amsterdam, a week ago was $75, today it's $85.
  2. The cheapest ticket you can get that won't have you transiting via Moscow, to Europe this summer, when you have to be in England on the 1st of August is $1,165, unless you want to fly Norwegian Air, in that case you won't have a checked bag, or a meal, or even a seat. I think mostly you get to be on the plane, or at least a chance to be on the plane.
  3. The ways to Amsterdam, from Berlin include a car, bus, ride-share, two different train systems, a boat out of Denmark, or a Plane. You could probably walk too.
  4. The best way to waste a day or two making a garter to be worn by the Bride on the 1st, in England, is to use braided cording. I'm pretty sure it could double as a cilice if one was feeling particularly repentant. 
  5. The price of plane tickets from New York's John F Kennedy to Raleigh-Durham jump significantly the weekend of June 27th, I assume everyone else in New York is also going there to celebrate my niece's 1st Birthday. The price of my ticket was $11.50. Thank you JetBlue miles.
  6. The 15.5 inch by 11 inch aluminum tray will fit 9 tomato plant seedlings, while the 11 inch by 19 inch tray will only fit 6, on account of higher sides.
  7. The standard Home Depot Metroshelf, in Chrome is $22, it has three shelves, holding 34 tomato plants, two Kale plants, three Sweet Pea vines, one Brussels Sprout plant, three Forget-me-not plants, two Black Eyed Susan vines, two pots of Black eyed Susans, a pot of basil, a sprig of mint and a whole mess of Leeks. This will still not be big enough for all my seedling dreams. Sigh. 
  8. The ideal wattage for a square foot of seedlings is 40watts, with a mix of 2700k and 5000k, providing both ends of the light spectrum, for both leaf and flower development.
  9. The current lighting for my seedlings are 8 bulbs, ranging from 60watts-120 watts. 
  10. The price of an immediately returned phone call from the Director of the garden is exactly 1 manual push mower, which, hereunto now has been sat in my from entry hall.
  11. The price also includes an invitation to the Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust meeting and finalized schedule for garden clean up and subsequent plot hand out, (April 4th at 9am and April 11th, time, unknown).

This has been how I spent my last 2 weeks. I'm so exhausted, but this summer is shaping up to be actually fantastic.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hello, again.

I am still alive. I swear.

I've been away for the last two weeks or so. I knew I couldn't compete with any Grandparents with baby snuggles time and so planned my visit to see my new niece a few weeks well after her due date. And so have been in NC since literally, July.

It was really awesome to get to see her and sit on my sister's couch with a little baby napping on my chest, binge-watching Long Island Medium. We might've watched all three season on NetFlix, twice. There might've been a dozen donuts from Rise Donuts polished off, which if you're ever in the Raleigh area you should go to, every day, twice. And eat everything, which I definitely did not do. Twice. There is literally nothing better than a 6 week baby smiling at you. Even if it's immediately followed with that same baby pooping everywhere. You can't find a better medicine than a smiley baby.

I even managed to get some gardening in. Trying to earn my keep and realizing that while they may be damn good at birthing pretty babies, my sister and brother-in-law didn't have much of a garden to brag about this year. I don't know what could've kept them busy the last few months, but don't worry I properly scolded them for their gardening laziness. I think a certain 6-week old wasn't pulling her own weight. The day I left they had green beans, Swiss chard, basil and spinach sprouted and their two new tomatoes looked happy, we'll see what late summer and fall gives to them in vegetables.

Here's a few shots of the garden today, the green beans have really taken off and I'm hopeful that with the cooler temperature they have been having, the tomatoes will set fruit (they wont over 80-85 degrees).

I've tasked my Dad, who lives near my sister, with watering it and keeping and eye on things just in case the 6-week old continues to shirk her gardening duties.

Meanwhile back at home, I I left my garden in the hands of no less than 5 people (because I'm neurotic) and came back to a zucchini bigger than my forearm. Don't get me wrong, I am literally indebted to my fellow gardeners and roommate and friends  for keeping tabs on things and picking things so the plants didn't die off after fruiting, but I might've overdone it because all the watering and rain left me with a wicked case of powdery mildew, which KO'd my cucumbers and made of feast of my Squash. Silver lining: one of my fellow members who I had told to pick whatever she liked while I was gone, surprised me with a quart of my tomatoes that she had picked and jarred after she saw all my Romas ripen. It really made my day!

There'll be more later in the week, detailing fall plans, the ridiculous amount of food I've brought in from the garden this summer and what I've done with it all.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Gods of Curb Finds.

Sometimes, I think to myself "How the hell did I get here". And I don't mean that in a geographical sense or anything like that. What I mean is "How the hell did I find myself dragging a wheelbarrow, half in the bag, down a block in Brooklyn, mosquito bitten,  to scavenge flagstone from a house reno?"

Let me explain. Today I had some running around to do, and briefly, while I was home, brought the dog out for a walk and while we were out happened upon a lovely pile of flagstones, they might also be called slate, but they're thick slate, not the measly stuff you slate things with, but the tough thick stuff that you walk the street in hooker heels with.  Sadly, neither without the time or any fellow gardener to snatch the stones and schlep them back to the garden I (foolishly) placed my hope in the gods of the curb finds and went on with my day, hopeful that I'd be able to dash back once I got home.

The Gods of the Curb Finds are a vicious and vengeful sort. They will not hold stuff, they will not give what you beg to find. They are fickle and they are cruel. They will bless you with the discovery of a gorgeous shelving unit ONLY when you have your mini schnauzer (who loves to stop and smell EVERYTHING) and they will laugh and enjoy the sight of you as you invoke your Momma Bear strength to carry said shelving unit with one arm while Miss Daisy smells every rock and tree and creature. And despite knowing how cruel the Gods were, after walking a friend who had come over to try some of the tomato jam that I spent 4 hours making, with some Hungarian Rose, I ran to the garden to borrow a wheelbarrow to ferry the stones back. WELL, as we enjoy collecting (hoard) dead plants and weeds, we also in the garden like to hoard wheelbarrows. Literally, there are 5 wheelbarrows in the back. None of them have inflated tires, one has an entirely flat tire AND NO HANDLES. I know. One day I'm going to drag them out to the curb. ONE DAY.

And so after all that, and doing a pretty damn good (horrible) job at walking (dragging) Barrow (yep, I shortened that, we're on first name basis after our ordeal) down the street, guess what was gone from the curb. Back on the list of curb wants goes flagstones. Sigh. I will go comfort myself (and my mosquito bite covered legs) with Camembert and Tomato Jam and Hungarian Rose. Life is hard.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

This post is brought to you by a giant glass of wine.

I found a body in the garden today.

No. I'm serious. I found a dead body in a plastic grocery bag in the front garden today, tossed over the fence.

What sort of body? The world will never know, unless of course one of you, braver souls than I or two other members of the garden and two of New York's finest, want to untie the tripled bagged garbage bag and open that sucker up.

I joked, and still do, that this community garden is straight out of the movie The Funny Farm. Last week, lightening struck a tree in the back, today I found a body or chunk of body, a hooker's arm, or maybe Fluffy. I really have no idea. I'm terrified what will happen tomorrow.

Basically, all week I've smelled a sort of sweet stench of decay, what I imagine (and now know) that death smells like. I first blamed it on the girl next to my plot. I knew she was (finally) convinced that she needed to fertilize her plants and figured (feared) she had gone the blood and bone meal route. Terrible idea mostly because both of those just draw in our furry rodent friends and they both (surprise!) smell like death, cause well that's how dehydrating blood and pulverizing bone works. I was absolutely convinced everytime the wind blew a cloud of death towards me that it was her. Absolutely convinced, but there was just something missing, a piece of the puzzle, missing, nothing near her plot smelled like death, I even smelled the dirt, nothing, yet still DEATH.

Well today I had to get into the garden and get some WORK done. Having sent my friend packing on her cross country road trip and the garden in desperate need of some LOVE, especially after yesterday's frenzied 'THE GREEN BEANS ARE DONE AND OVERWHELMING ME AND SO THEY MUST GO' fest, I got down to business. Almost immediately DEATH smelled everywhere and still convinced that my neighbor, in her imagined free love and crunchy granola ways, brought the smell of death into the garden, I just tried to get on with my day and breathe out of my mouth.

I'm not sure what caused me to look up, or how a bag buried in the branches of a shrub in the front garden caught my eye, but instantly I knew. I had found the source. Well, long story short after getting two other members who lived nearby to come help and then collectively having a moment of WHAT IF IT'S A BODY we called the precinct who told us it was definitely a 911 call. I think the 911 operator thought I was insane, "Yes, no it's in a grocery bag, but it's double bagged and smells like death, there are flies everywhere, so I assume it's something that's not alive anymore. No, I have no intention of opening it, cat or not a cat, but it could also not be a cat and in that case I'd feel guilty chucking someone's bits out without calling someone whose job it is to open bags of mysterious smelly things." She told us help would be on its way and to call back if things change. Sure Lady, if the bag starts coming to life we'll call you back and let you know the zombie apocalypse started. Right.

The police eventually pulled up and we were told to bag it and let sanitation take care of it. I decided not to suggest 'IT MIGHT BE A BODY' because it's never a good idea to suggest to the police that the bag that smells like death, could have a body in it, because it might and then you're suspect number 1 and well I still had a cucumber trellis to stake. Some surprises are better left un-had.

In other news, my tomatoes have fungus and my legs are covered in mosquito bites. Like I said, this post is brought to you by a giant glass of wine (and Nicole, thanks for the wine!)