Taking the Rapitest

So yesterday’s question was what I should plant, assuming I only have it in me to do one more this year.

Strawberries seems to be leading the pack (the only answer, btw, where are the other revelers – come back in from the garden and let us hear from you).  Okay, so I did try strawberries in a container last year in a bit of shade.  They got sun starved (I assumed, anyway) and their weak little stems and leaves pretty much just shriveled up and died (very similar to what my ivy is looking like on the upstairs terrace but I’m thinking maybe that’s the multiverse telling me there are better ways to find shade and privacy, and I should try instead just to love my neighbors not hide from them, and maybe a wall of ivy would block their sun and be a bug haven).  Ivy aside, I would LOVE to have some cute little strawberries to throw in a summer salad, so I think I’m gonna take Ralph’s suggestion and try, try again.

I checked in my handy dandy guide to gardening – “How to Grow Practically Everything” by Zia Allaway and Lia Leendertz (what great surnames for garden book authors) – and it makes no mention of strawberries being sunhogs.  It does recommend using slow-release granular fertilizer for container planting strawberries, though.  This gave me pause because I’ve generally shied away from the stuff  since I don’t trust it – not with good reason necessarily.  I typically put together my own soil mixture in a large paint bucket, comprised primarily of the $5.00/bag organic Hamptons Estate topsoil (whose price tag I’ve prematurely bitched about), PLUS a few large handfuls of no frills mulch, PLUS a few quarts of homemade compost (this batch is peepee free – I’m still cooking the human nitrogenized stuff), PLUS a few cups of peat moss if I have it, and/or a handful of Perlite.

Out of curiosity today, I tested my hodgepodge soil using a store bought kit, the “Rapitest.”  It’s a truly awful name, I know.  I felt like I was on CSI, Hard Core Unit.  It set me back about 6 bucks, give or take, at my local gardening store, and has the capacity for about ten tests.  The Rapitest told me that the batch I composed (which is pretty typical of what I usually put in my containers) was around a pH 6.5, “slightly acid.”  I was satisfied with that, and didn’t mess with it any further.  I consulted “How to Grow Practically Everything,” to find out whether I’d get a gold star for my person-made dirt composite but was disappointed to find that all they really say about soil is to know the pH, but not what to do about it once you find out, which, of course, leads me to my

QUESTION:  How do you know what a good pH level is generally?  Does it really depend on the plant?  On where you’re growing?  Do other gardeners mess with their soil to try to get it right?  Or do they just jump in, pH be damned?  How many of you pshaw with the pH testing as all a lot of fussiness?  Is it a damper on the revel spirit to engage in fretting over soil composition?  Or is a soil’s pH the necessary foundation for a garden?  Do any of you swear by testing?  Do any of you just go by feel?  If you’ve changed course and either ditched or adopted a soil ethic, tell me your story.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Ew, Gross.

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Since, here, we are kind of starting to drift off beyond the garden and into talking about trying to live responsibly, loosely speaking, I’ve been thinking lately about sponges. These aren’t real sponges but that’s what we pretend they are. And I know they’re filthy yet we pretend to “clean” our dishes with them. Here is the culprit, in the sink next to the dishwasher that rarely gets used because of my efforts, as I said, to try to live somewhat responsibly. That said, how responsible can it be to wash my dishes with a dirty sponge. Of course I rinse it out and squeeze it before using it each time but still I can almost feel the bacteria seeping through its pseudo-pores. My partner keeps a dish of soapy water next to the sink and uses that instead of wasting loads of water each time we need to clean dished. Even with that, I’m sure there’s bacteria that accumulates there as well. I used to put a drop of bleach in it to ward off the little bastards but now that I’m getting into the living somewhat responsibly, the thought of bleach, the plastic it comes in and all its nasty chemicals makes me shudder.

I’ve been on this earth, let’s just say, awhile now. And one of the things that continues to stump me is ….

QUESTION: what tis the best way to clean dishes (in a way that isn’t really just a foolhardy practice of moving germs around), without using nasty chemicals or wasting water? Also, does dish soap really do any dish or anyone else any good? Is a dish soap that’s marketed as an eco-friendly one either eco-friendly or effective? Go ahead (even though I’m sure there’s plenty already on my dishes) … Gimme the dirt!

What I’m Growing

It occurred to me I hadn’t shared with you what it is I actually put into the ground.  So here goes, by category, only edibles:

TREES/BUSHES:

  • peach tree
  • cherry tree
  • elderberry bushes (almost certain not dogwoods now)
  • Meyer lemon tree (in a container)
VEGETABLES:
  • tomatoes, four plant, purchased at a Saratoga Springs farmers’ market, all heirloom
  • cucumbers, eight plants, don’t remember where I purchased these but I think it may have been Shannon’s
  • pumpkins, from seeds, picked up at a restaurant in New Haven, CT, when we went to see my friend, Bill Demerit, who’s studying theater there.  I planted these and they shot right up.  I now have six plants (confirm).  Unfortunately, these are more the jack-o-lantern variety, but I figure they will give some nice color to the garden late in the season.
  • wild ginger, three plants, purchased from the farmers market in Saratoga Springs from a woman who was the only one with a plethora of native plants
  • carrots, multiple.  These are from seeds, which I didn’t really think would take off, since I’ve had difficulty growing carrots from seeds before but that was straight in the ground.  These are growing in a wooden box (like an apple crate) that I used to have hops from Six-Point brewery growing in (ever want to check out some good looking hops, pay them a visit by going to Rocky Sullivan’s in Red Hook – on the upstairs terrace, they usually have hops growing there).
  • beets, multiple.  These are also from seeds and, again, I planted more than I need, thinking they might not come up for the same reason – I’ve tried planting them from seed in the ground before with no luck.  In contrast, these little seeds [brand], which I put into the small plastic starter containers you get new plants in [name?] sprung right up.  I now have the dilemma of where to make their seasonal home.
  • jalapeno peppers.  These I picked up in a set of three starter plants from Shannon’s.  I had good luck with these plants last year and wanted to try it again.  I have them in a different location (south-facing upstairs terrace) than my north-facing backyard where they were before.  We’ll see if it matters.  They are in a couple planters with some other hot peppers (another jalapeno and cayenne, I believe) that I tried to maintain indoors over the winter but I’m not sure they’re actually going to produce again since they’ve remained essentially unchanged from last fall when I brought them in.
  • new addition: green beans (these seeds just went in the ground from my very most awesome neighbor friend, who is also growing green beans & sweet peas in a self-watering container)
HERBS:
  • sage
  • thyme (three types)
  • rosemary (not doing so great)
  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • mountain mint (got this from the Grand Army Plaza farmers market)
  • (will be growing: basil from the Triscuit box seed card & dill from same)
QUESTION:  what grows in your garden? Who’s happy this season?  Who’s not?

Oh Yes Friday Din Din

Thank you, farmers, real farmers, for bringing me truly really good food to cook and devour. I made dinner tonight (broccoli rabe & white bean penne) to the silky sultry tune of Krystal Warren, beautiful summer breeze traipsing in, and made a magnificent (yes I do say so myself) broccoli rabe w/white bean penne. Taking it easy this Friday night, kicking back with a glass of wine that found its way with a dear friend here last week to celebrate. A little exhausted from the week now behind us, I am nonetheless buzzing w/all I want to catch up with you on, including what Ted Danson has been doing lately with Oceana.org, and what precisely is aquaculture, and how my little rosebush thanked me for clipping its mildewy leaves and presented two happy flowers this morning, and new uses I’ve found for those pesky wild onions, and what’s growing out there in my still-just-a-baby native plant garden, and all these things and more to come, to come. For now, for you … a

QUESTION: what is one of your favorite ways to spend a Friday night in the summer, and ease (or jolt, depending on your fancy & frequency) into a summer weekend? Feel free to illustrate.  Oh, and now an interlude on our featured artist, just for your

LISTENING PLEASURE … (p.s. I just realized how hard it is to find this song online – Krystle Warren’s “I’ve Seen Days” from her album Diary … copyright stuff I’m guessing b/c it was removed from YouTube from what I can tell.  But the song itself is gorgeous.  Sorry I couldn’t find more than the little clip I’m linking you to here.  I saw her years ago at A Gathering of the Tribes in the LES.  Have it on video.  If anyone has news, post here.  A gem, she is indeed.

blogging resumed …

Also, so we can all be planning, what are some events coming up these sweet summer weekends that you are looking forward to? Invite guests! Send links! Let all the revelers jump in the partay. And, as always, … go ahead, gimme the dirt!

Ants on my Peonies

NPR did a piece on memories that resonated with me.  It reports that some of earliest childhood memories are basically wiped out, and considers why that may be.  What came to me immediately is that it is because we have no framework at that age in which to “set” our memories.  Everything is new, and mostly stunning.  (I do remember someone saying if you want to imagine what it’s like to be a young child, just imagine that you are visiting a new country everyday, with all new sights, smells and sounds, and some days it’s several countries in a day).

In other words, memories are stronger that have some association or connection, be it with words, emotions, or the general framework in which we view the world and ourselves in relation to it.  Memories set better once a person has a world view; and very young children have no such world view as yet – bless those little free darlin’s!.  Theirs is a world primarily of experience, and only secondarily of the organizing, compartmentalizing, and identifying patterns in and of the experiences they have.  I think it’s essentially the same reason many people have a hard time remembering their dreams: the dream images/subject are not set in a familiar framework from which we can recall them.  They tend to be random, abstract, separated from our everyday framework, yet still connected enough to “reality” that usually they are remembered in bits and pieces.  This may be the same reason that unusual experiences are easily remembered when those experiences occur when we are adults: we remember them as striking for what they are not – they are not are usual, everyday experiences (or part of our regular framework).

All this reminded me of one of my early, among the earliest, childhood memories.  I am standing outside our house, at the side of the house on Newfield Drive (yes, literally, isn’t that so literal?), staring eye to …  I don’t know what – not quite eye – with this ball of pink, tightly wound, … I have a hard time describing it, realizing only now that it’s a visual I have never tried to put into words … I have looked for this flower years later and believe it to be a peony.  Back then, there were a bunch of them at the side of the house.  It was a flower bush, but I watched only one little about-to-burst bulb.  It was swarming with ants, little busy ants.  They were light orange, each going every which way in no clear pattern, no matter how much I tried to find one.  It was fascinating.  I like the feeling even now just to think about it.  I visited that flower a lot.  I know if I were running a full circle around the house, I could stop, and stare at it.  It was right outside my parents’ bedroom.  I felt like it was mine.  Not mine, as in my owning it but mine as in — there for me to see.

I have a vague recollection of flower petals replacing that tightly wound bud where the ants crawled, but it’s vague at best.  Maybe I lost interest then.  Mostly, I remember those ants crawling.  So busy.  Going nowhere in particular.  I liked that a lot.

I also remember inadvertently being locked out in winter and having to use the bushes and my bottom being really cold.

I think I know why I like summer better.

QUESTION: do you remember the first time you came in contact with the earth, recognizing it as separate from you, and perhaps part of something else?  What is your earliest memory?

Do you remember the first time you saw and/or recognized a plant or other flower? Did you garden as a kid?  Did your parents?  Do you remember it?  Did you like it or was it a chore?

Do you know any particular flower that attracts ants like that?  Are they peonies?

Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

Glad to be Hunter-Gatherer

So the hunting is more about going to Foodtown to pick up some ribs for my partner to smoke (and are they good, and I mean damn good!) but the gathering part I’m also starting to really dig.  Right now I’m borrowing from my very-most-awesome- neighbor-friend the book Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places, by “Wildman” Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean, 1994, and trying to not get the pages too covered with pricey dirt or, earlier today, the really good Sunday Bloody Mary my hunter made for us.

Notwithstanding, I believe I am starting to get closer to the question of whether my three bushes out back (I think I described them incorrectly before as a single bush) are dogwoods or elderberry.  Knowing as you do now that there are three, not one, you can see why this question is ever so pressing, as Brooklyn garden space is premium real estate and I don’t want to waste it with something that might poison the kiddies who frequent the place, or my dog for that matter, nor am I sure I want to leave it if it isn’t behaving usefully, like giving me some tasty berries to make wine or jam, or hiding in its bark the secret cure for hay fever.  Sure, I am getting sold on the idea that native plants are good to have around in their own right and for the simple sake that they are part of an ecosystem that’s been messed with for too long but I’m still not 100% convinced on that matter.  Regardless, I like the thought of eating the stuff in my yard.

It must be on other people’s minds, too, because I found myself in my backyard Saturday in a group of people, all nibbling on these cute delicate little creatures with soft tangy leaves like clover, all trying to remember the name of this same thing that we knew from when we were kids.  Someone suggested ramps (which was way off as it turns out – I know because a good-old fashioned real-live farmer showed up later and went into how they found ramps behind their property in a swampy wasteland but now folks are flocking for them).  Ultimately, we grabbed the book (thanks neighbor!), and found that they were sorrels.  Yummy ones, too!

I’m definitely interested in eating more stuff in my yard and maybe your yard too.  But before I do, I think it would be responsible of me to get a little more educated on the subject.  Toward that end, I’m thinking about taking a tour with author and forager, “Wildman” Steve Brill, author of the book I’ve been devouring (not literally).  There’s one at Central Park on the 11th and another in our conveniently located Prospect Park on June 18.  Just wondering….

QUESTION: Has any one of you taken a tour with Wildman Steve Brill?  Would you recommend it?  Do you know other people doing these sorts of tours?  Any of you brushing off your gathering skills (it must still be in our DNA somewhere), and foraging for your own fare?  Any words of caution?  Words of wisdom?  Any stories of watching someone keel over after eating what looked like an elderberry but was really from a weird strain of dogwood?  Any anything?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

SCREEEEEECH!  STOP THE PRESS!!!  Okay, so I thought it would be nice of me to link y’all to sorrels on Wikipedia and when I did, I saw that they do not AT ALL match the description of what friends and I were dining on in my backyard Saturday.  Someone help me out before I kill us all … I will post a pic tomorrow in daylight and let me know if any of you recognizes it.  In the meantime, for those wanting to know what real sorrels look like, here ya go (then again it is Wikipedia, could be wrong?  Maybe?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorrel).  I also couldn’t find sorels in my handy dandy Edible Plants book, which leads me to another …

UPDATE as of 8/10/11: they were wood sorrels.  Wikipee was showing me a different type of sorrel.

QUESTION: Does anyone out there have any other recommended sources for checking out edibility of wild plants?  Anything more recent, anything forthcoming?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt on this one too.  Oh, and thanks!

Update on Dirt Cheap and Three Question Sets

So I went back to Shannon’s, my local garden supply store, because I needed to confirm the price of that dirt I’d been complaining about.  Well, I was wrong – wouldn’t be the first time but it also means I need to make sure I always get an itemized receipt there.  Not that I think anyone was intentionally trying to scam me but I do think I paid for a bag of soil I did not get.  The way it works there is that they ring up your order, then you go and pick up the soil you want.  Since I’m a regular there (or maybe they’re just trusting), they don’t usually closely examine the receipt that I hand to them – just a quick eyeball and they hand me my goods.

In their defense, it is a busy place and they’re quick with the transactions.  Still, isn’t it just good business practice to give an itemized receipt?  I remember when I was a kid in Beloit, Wisconsin.  We’d go to Shopko with my dad nearly every weekend.  He’d watch as the clerk entered each item in the register (yes, I think it was entering it, not scanning it back then), then when the total amount came up – cha-ching – he’d look at each item, counting them in his head, reviewing the receipt.  Then, when we were out in the car, all our goodies packed up and ready to go, he’d look at the receipt again, counting each item thrice.  If everything was right, he’d pull a Fred Sanford, “This is the big one, Elizabeth,” clutching his hand over his heart in homage to Redd Foxx, in mock protest.  If he found something wrong, though, he’d go into mode, his voice dropping a couple octaves and his brow growing into a little furrow.  More than once we kids found ourselves back in the store, with the manager standing next to Dad, reviewing the receipt again, and, almost inevitably, my dad would leave with his wallet just a little heavier than before.

All that aside, here’s a CORRECTION to my previous speculation that a bag of organic top soil at Shannon’s of Brooklyn costs $5.00.  I inquired and found out the following: Fafard Premium Topsoil (Organic), 30 lbs. bag is $5.00 [no price listed on their site], and Hamptons Estate Topsoil (Organic), 30 lbs. bag is $6.00 [also not listing a price on its website – this product is made by the Long Island Compost Co.].  Please don’t take my word for it – go somewhere and confirm for yourself.  I’m curious though, ….

QUESTION: What garden supply store do you recommend for a good deal on soil?  Keeping in mind that many of us (namely me) live in urban areas and may not have a vehicle to drive to pick up a bag, is there a deal that may not be near by but is good enough to bother a friend for a ride, or pay a willing car service to do the dirty work with you?  All of this leads me to another …

QUESTION: Can anyone tell me whether it’s standard business practice to give itemized versus non-itemized receipts?  Why?  Do businesses try to add products thinking the customer won’t notice?  Does a lowly clerk not care enough to bother?  What if it’s a ma and pop shop, and the clerk is the owner?  Do you think people are inherently honest or apt to get away with as much as they can?  Are they just sloppy?  Am I just paranoid?  Did I spend one too many days as a kid in a hot car while my dad counted and recounted our ShopKo supplies?  Or is it that people are no longer careful enough to watch their money, count their change and review receipts?  Have we become sloppy with our money, a hallmark of the credit card generation, and symptomatic of our debt acquiescence?  Do you ask for an itemized receipt when you don’t get one?  Do you ask for a receipt at all?  All of this leads me to another …

QUESTION: Why is it my local garden supply store, Shannon’s, is named the David Shannon Nursery & Florist if it has, as its site says, “been a family operated business for over 30 years by Joseph Perrotta and family.”  Joseph Perrotta, is there something you want to tell your customers?  And, which is it: 30 or 40 years?  Later the site says: David Shannon Florist and Nursery, is the leading florist, nursery and greenhouse in Brooklyn New York. Family owned and operated business for over 40 years by Joseph Perrotta and family.”  David Shannon, whoever you are, wherever you are, how bout you?  Do I smell a story here?

Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

Countdown to Armageddon: six days left in the garden

Okay, so we’re all wondering, right?  Will there be any fewer greenthumbs hanging around the garden on May 22?  Since most city gardeners are of the earthy paganistic ilk, doubtful.  But, still, living each day as if it were the last (and especially the next six days since they’re said to be the last for all the God-fearing girls and boys), let’s get right down to business: what’s the best activator for compost?  If I want my compost to decompose faster than Charlie Daniels can give the devil his due, I think it’s time to pull out all the stops on the baddest activator around.  That’s right, it’s time for the golden showers.  I don’t know what made me first start thinking about piss as a viable component of the compost pile I’ve been building for the last few years in my Brooklyn backyard … might have come to me when I was picking up another pile of dog poo, or wondering if there weren’t a better use for the two-year old bottle of vinegar in my cupboard, or who came up with the toilet that wastes so damn much water for no apparent good reason, or might have been just the process of elimination that got me thinking I should research whether piss on the pile could do any good at all.  And, of course, if a pissy pile of compost put beneath my bed of carefully selected organic greens just might make the Eternal Footman really bust a gut….  My research yielded mixed results, but fortunately it didn’t leave me totally high and dry.  Although I may still be swayed away from the practice, for the first time today, I dumped all my liquid eliminations on my mounding pile of rot, and saved an approximate 15 gallons of water in the process.    (For all those not in-the-know, wiki.answers.com estimates 1.6 g for “newer more efficient toilets” [apparently those kinds that now come without commas] but up to four or more gallons per flush for older models…my toilet being in a typical rowhouse built circa 1907 with a bathroom updated on the cheap in approximately 2006, I’m estimating I’m a three-gallon-a-flush girl, and was pretty flush today).

So, until I am convinced otherwise, I will piss away these last few days, and either leave behind some beautiful black gold to help all those poor souls left to fend for themselves when the last of the supermarkets are closed, or I may be right alongside them, wondering if I can’t taste something a little extra tangy in those carrots.

It’s the last call — six days left to weigh in for me putting my pee-pee on the pile or pouring it back in the porcelain water waster.  Answers?  Musings?  Links?   Go ahead – gimme the dirt.