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?

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.

Wood Sorrels Identified

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Many thanks to Awesome Bronwen for pointing out that these little delectables are wood sorrels (not just any-old-sorrels). I was able to find them in Edible & Medicinal Plants (available at www.wildmanstevebrill.com).

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.

Triscuit Seed Card – Moldy Oldy?

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And maybe these are oversoaked? Does anyone know? Can you over-soak a seed? I did go longer than the two to four hours on the instructions but I thought that would rather kickstart them.

QUESTION: should I use or toss this seed?  Anyone ever use the Triscuit card seeds on the back of the box? Anyone know whether they are trustworthy?  Where are these seeds from? What about the glue that keeps the two sides of the card together – harmless or heinous?  Do seeds grow mold?  Does it matter?  Should I use these seeds anyway?  Anyone see anything other than basil or dill on the Triscuit’s box?  Triscuit’s seed cards: marketing gimmick, good samaritanism, or terrorist plot?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

Whatever Happened to Dirt Cheap?

I went to my local garden supply store, around the corner – Shannon’s on Fort Hamilton Pkwy.  I wanted to buy a little soil and mulch since I used up the mulch so generously donated by newly known neighbor/friend, and the two big bins of compost I started out the season with are down to about half of one of those bins, and I’m trying to build up some soil in my backyard (literally, build it “up”) because I could not decide between planter boxes, planter pails, or the good old ground for the four heirloom tomatoes I picked up in Saratoga Springs, so I’m doing something kinda in between.  So I decided to buy some soil and mulch to help me out.  Two bags of topsoil, one bag of mulch and one bag of something else but it was, basically, dirt.  That, one pair of gardening gloves not more than $10 (I’ve worn my others out), and $8.00 worth of impatiens, and the bill came to around sixty bucks.  No lie.  That averages to about ten dollars for a bag of soil.  They’re big but they’re not outrageously big.  They’re organic and free of those nasty chemicals that self-water and self-feed and time release and all that junk.  But, still… am I crazy to think that’s a bit pricey?  Am I out of touch?  No, that isn’t my question.  It is….

QUESTION: How much is good dirt these days?   … AND … is it like other things where you might find a better deal online?  Did dirt go up along with every other useful item for living lately?  If it did, is it just to keep pace, to seize on the panic, or is there a real reason behind the increase?  Is it just that expensive here in NY?  Are gardeners elsewhere feeling the pinch too?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt, really, I mean it this time.  Give it to me, preferably for free or really really cheap.

Thanks Very Mulch, Neighbor

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If you are the person that says, “why?” when someone says, “garden,” I have an answer for you.  I have been living in this house in Brooklyn for eleven years now.  Most of my gardening over these years has consisted of growing vegetables in the back, and planting other things like a peach tree, a cherry tree, and what I believed (until today) to be elderberry bushes.  My frontyard gardening consisted of little more than putting in a couple hostas that a neighbor gave me when I first moved in.  Those hostas, with little care and no prodding, have gone forth and multiplied, as all good hostas do.  When I looked at them a couple weeks ago, I realized I was the only thing holding them back; they needed room to grow and since they’ve no feet, they needed me to move them.

So I have ventured to frontyard gardening and need both hands and feet to count the number of neighbors I’ve met since I started, barely two weeks ago.  Today, lo and behold, I met the son of my next-door neighbor, who answered in 30 minutes what might take me several weeks of posting these questions to accomplish: the elderberries I was going to begin harvesting for wine this year are, as it turns out, dogwoods (I still need to confirm this – will post a pic later b/c I didn’t think that dogwoods grew berries but I’m not really sure); my hostas are hardier than I thought and can probably survive that shady patch close to the house where no other plant could make it; the little flower bush which popped out of nowhere a few years ago is actually a non-native invasive plant (my jury’s still out on the degree of importance of native vs. exotic – at least in small time gardening like mine – and, if I have a native that’s growing on its own and still rather pretty, maybe I should just let it be — taking opinions on that one too).  Along with bits of wisdom that came from his own experiences as a prize-rose-grower and several years working for NYC Parks Dep’t., he also gifted me with some beautiful black gold, pictured above.  Most importantly, he introduced me to my across-the-street neighbors, his mother and aunt, an octogenarian and noctogenerian who keep their front yard more pristine and pretty than any probably any other on the block.  I’m not sure if it was the introduction from their kin that made me okay in their eyes or the fact that I was finally tending my – we won’t say neglected but rather left to nature – yard.  Either way, it occurred to me that the adage “love thy neighbor” is good, but you gotta know them first.

QUESTION: what are some of the fringe benefits of gardening?  If you garden, what have you gotten from it that maybe you didn’t expect at first?  If you want to garden, what keeps you from it?  If we were to start a campaign to encourage more people to garden, what benefits – both obvious and hidden – are there that might might sway more folks to dig in the dirt?  How does gardening make you a happier person?  Or doesn’t it?  Go ahead…gimme the dirt.

There’s No Turning Back Now, Folks

Welcome to the other side of the predicted Great Earthquake and concomitant (this-time-it’s-for-real) Judgment Day.  A sick side of me turned on the telly Saturday night to catch news coverage of fallen faces as the world, undeterred, insisted on existing, same as before, despite these guys’ predictions of the Great End.  Karma must’ve been wagging her fat finger at me, for I couldn’t find the coverage I was looking for on any of the usual suspsects: CNN, CNBC, or even Fox “News.”  I did find, to my delight, a channel on DirecTV that plays all the news all at once, letting you arrow over a box to hear the sound.  Just when my partner suggested I search online, I caught myself and stopped, thought better.

They’ll have a hard enough time of it, I realized, trying to get back the jobs they quit, the husbands and wives and – some of them – kids deserted on their quest to announce the end, the life savings they blew through like there was no tomorrow, quite literally, without all the rest of us nyah-nyahing them.   Besides, they probably did us prediction disbelievers a favor.  It’s not a bad thing to be reminded of our immortality, inspires us to update that bucket list, maybe pick a new plant to grow, really activate the compost, or perhaps even just appreciate that we’re still here.

My partner turned to me Saturday about 7 p.m. or so and said, “I’m glad you’re still here,” teasing me over this little obsession I’ve grown sort of fond of harboring.

Getting to a question, not so much gardening related but it’s been bugging me since I started thinking about it earlier today …. I wonder if news outlets have canned coverage for when/if the world does end.  I remember hearing that the BBC had prepared a broadcast many years ago after Orson Welles participated in the radio performance of H.G. Wells’ 1984 and it caused panic among audiences who thought it was for real, even getting some people so freaked out and, realizing it was theater, pissed off that they tried to storm the station.  I heard that folks at the station had to whisk Welles out the back and sneak him away to safety, kind of like a modern-day Justin Bieber but with the oddly adoring fans being an angry mob, and without the hair.  I also heard that the BBC prepared this tape which reassured people everything was okay, telling them not to panic, we’ve been invaded by aliens, or some other catastrophe had struck.  I heard that the most challenging piece for BBC to figure out was how to reassure people once the tape started to loop and then wouldn’t people REALLY start to freak, realizing it wasn’t live?  I also think they released the tape not too long ago, but I’m not sure with what/whether they replaced or updated it.

Hm.

I am wondering, do major stations in the States have anything like that ready to go now?  Do you think they did when all this Great Quake chatter started up?  If you know, divulge!  Give us all the dirt … tell us: is there a canned broadcast ready for the end of the world?  How about in print?  Do newspapers have a story ready to run in case the Great Big End begins?  How is the media preparing to tell the poor saps who are left what the heck just happened, and what to do next?  Who are the experts called in to comment?  Do they know they’re on deck?

“Um, Father Joseph, is it okay if we call ya if, like, if the pale horse shows up round here?  Can you, uh, you know, give some words to the peoples?”

“And what makes you think I’m still going to be here?”

“Well, you’s Catholic, ain’t ya?”

QUESTION: should I plant my tomatoes in the ground or in boxes on the ground?  If boxes, how deep?  And, please someone tell me if there’s a canned broadcast for the end of the world as we know it (yes, yes, granted every day is the end of the world as we know it, as is every moment but you know what I mean).  Are there pre-drafted articles for an alien invasion?  How about the Great Quake – is there another story ready for that one?  Go ahead…gimme the dirt.