Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Portrait


If you've ever wondered "what does this guy look like?" or have thought that I'm am just a bit anonymous (like they did), this post is for you. A couple of Fridays back, a New York photographer named Ben Hider, came to take my picture. He sent me a link to some of the shots, from which I selected the two below (all photos courtesy Ben Hider). Despite the mid-day, overhead sun, harsh shadows and my self-conscious avoidance of any lens, I think he did a bang up job.

Ben has been a customer of Hudson Clove for three years running, and last autumn he asked if he could take some shots of me out at the Amagansett farm. For one reason or another, that never happened, and of course this year I am growing in the Rockaways, and the garlic has been harvested. Good enough, said Ben, and he made the journey anyway, first on the A train from the Financial District where he is the official photographer of the New York Stock Exchange, and then a bus from the last A station. We spent two hours chatting and maybe twenty minutes on either side of the lens. 



Harvesting hundreds of small Roma tomatoes and on the phone answering silly questions about life on Saturn and what I could do with a paper clip that isn't clipping paper (these are creativity questions and I dislike them). Why? I (and another) was being focus-grouped. That lasted about 24 hours, after which I excused myself, having little to say about a Unilever shampoo from a gardener's perspective. Had they read this, they could've saved us all some time. Had I remembered that experience, I could have simply said no.



I even smile when asked nicely.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Cosmos




It took me over a week to pull the Democrat primary fliers off of the borage. This is my confession. Had I made time for maintenance, I would have noticed that the cosmos seeds had finally grown into their own and that the borage has come down. The dayflower may not have taken over quite as much as the chartreuse potato vine, and the pots, yes the potted plants would be just a little less, shall we say, tan. Of course there is little I could have done with the advance of shade on the front yard and the plants there are keen on a solution, and even less I could have done about the spraying of herbicide under the yew tree, terminating my mayapples, lilies, monkshood, phlox, and yes, poke and smartweed. If I were a more attentive gardener, the lord may have not concocted such a browning scheme. Shall I say a few hail Marys now?



And the Solidago has fallen over, making it less appealing to me, as to the bumble bees that fly right on by.



The Russian Sage has bloomed for months; a proud, successful transplant of a well-dug-in, tap-rooted perennial. White Gaura is its friendly neighbor.



Appealing about this sage is its pubescent, lavender-colored calyces that outlast the pale blue flowers, extending the appearance of bloom far longer than the flowers alone.



The bumble bees also find it quite appealing.



But not, to these bees, as appealing as the large Heuchera, with it's small, white flowers nodding behind the autumn marooning Primrose leaves.



 Around it, a swarm of bumbles.













Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Return To The Beach Farm




We made a bee line for the beach farm not long after we returned from Minnesota. August weeds had become September's monster and the order among the tomatoes had decomposed into a fermentative morass.



Anthracnose, Bacterial Speck, Late Blight, and the Wilts had infected tomatoes in the new plot. Any large tomato was infected, none of which were edible.




Many lay rotting on the ground, split, fermenting in the warm sun, fizzing spittle and stinking of solanaceous putrefaction.



Tarry-looking specks and alien pods grew on some tomatoes making them rather unappetizing.



Fortunately there were eggplants that only lacked for water.



And the chard that I did not pick. Cooler weather will inspire harvest. Of course, the fennel is a monster. I'm leaving it for the enjoyment of the creatures and my occasional nibbling of flowers.



Speaking of nibbling, there has been a good amount on the tomatoes in the lowest reaches, so it was no surprise to see this bunny making his rounds on a quiet afternoon.



 Despite all the disease, our mid-July planted, retail Roma starts, produced a bumper crop of little tomatoes.



On Sunday, quite a beautiful day here in the city, I processed enough tomatoes through the mill (Norpro) to make 8 quarts of tomato juice and pulp. Perfect.



Saturday, September 13, 2014

The End Of An Elm



Betsy came back from her run the other morning issuing a report on our English Elm, Ulmus procera, a tree I believe to have (or had), the greatest girth in Brooklyn. We have been passing this elm on the rather lonely walk between the Parks office/Secret Police and the Bowling Green for a dozen years now, but in recent years it has shown signs of distress. I decided to walk to the B train, detouring north toward Prospect Park, to see for myself.



The trunk is massive although a phone camera's distancing effect misrepresents this truth. My guess is a circumference of an easy sixteen feet. 



Dutch Elm disease? We thought Parks may be preparing to take this tree down because the fencing had been removed.



So often with trees, they sucker, even in death. We will miss this great tree!




Thursday, September 11, 2014

Saturday Must Do


I was all ready to sign up for this walk with Marie, had I not been reminded that it cuts way too close to Betsy's opening this Saturday in Greenpoint Brooklyn. I share this with you because I think everyone should go to both, or if half of you pick one and half the other because they do cut awfully close and are 31 miles apart by major highway which in NYC could be 45 minutes or could well be 2 hours.

Marie's foraging adventure is, I think, just the right way to think of it. You've probably not been to Staten Island and probably aren't sure what to think, although the news and SNL have probably carved a certain perception. In fact, even I haven't been to the southern reaches, having only staked out the central locations of the Greenbelt, high up, on the moraine. You never know what you might find. From Marie's blog:

This is an adventure. The urban kind. Plus lots of nature. In the biggest city in the US of A.
Seriously, where can you combine the big city, a sea voyage, a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty, a woodland walk, a grassland ramble and a shoreline visit in one day?



Now, if art openings are more your style, consider heading up to Greenpoint, where you will find Betsy's latest art at No Globe Exhibitions. She's been working with ceramic castings of lace and I think you'll love the compression of delicacy and strength into a single sculpture. There will be art, lots of interesting people, autumn weather, and plenty of beer. Hope to see you there!





Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stairway




Could a dying man's last wish be a new set of steps? In his slow decay is it trying or comforting to see rotten and skewed rebuilt upright? Is time best spent fixing the things that can be fixed? Our answer was yes, so Betsy and I spent the last ten days or so in Minnesota rebuilding the porch legs and constructing a new staircase with Rex's blessing. He and his aide sat porch side, observing, while we took to our work.


The porch was sinking in the northeast corner, evident at the junction of house and porch where a gap had formed over the years. It wasn't until we removed the porch steps and it's stock standard, 45 degree, three step stringer that we could begin to see the whole of the problem. The house architectural drawings indicated below the frost-line 12 inch concrete piers and 4x4 treated posts. The problem was that these posts were to some degree covered at the base with wet clay soil, not at all elevated above the moisture-holding concrete, and not at all anchored in any way to the concrete piers.  They simply rotted and moved from their original position allowing the porch to slowly pull downward. Although our intention was only to replace the staircase, and as is so often the case, when you look into it you realize the full extent of the work before you.


First, remove the old staircase, the lattice work under deck, then the fascia boards.


Old, rotten-bottom posts removed as we jack up the porch with a very old school jack. 


New treated posts installed with steel post-header ties (the old were toe-nailed).


Not choice, but available: plastic post bottoms to separate the new post from the concrete pier. Each is said to be good for five thousand pounds.


We also compromised on the anchor -galvanized steel angles at the back of each post, then each post backfilled with course gravel.


I found this blue-spotted salamander, Ambystoma laterale, under the plastic near one of the posts. Trying to get it out, it only climbed in deeper, so I let it be. I wonder how it keeps dirt out of those bulging black eyes.


After the posts were set and anchored we set about doing the staircase. The main complaint about the old steps was their steep incline and rickety railings (they had rotten) so we stretched the run to five feet from the porch. This changed the configuration from four, eleven-inch treads with eight-inch risers to six, twelve-inch treads with five and three quarter-inch risers.  The longer run had the structure landing on the concrete pad, adding concern about frost heave (which every one else was less concerned with). We compromised by designing the railings so that they are integral to the staircase structure but do not attach at all to the posts holding up the porch roof. This allowed us to remove the chance that frost heave pressure would be applied to the porch posts.


I reused as much of the original cedar risers as I could, but this also meant that I was limited by their length. We had wanted to overshoot the stringer sides by an inch or so but the old boards wouldn't allow it. We compromised by bringing the riser board to the top of the tread instead of behind it, and extended the tread board just a half inch on either side.


The treads were notched around the posts.


I fitted the post notch with a small piece of cedar to fill.


The different shades of cedar on a cloudy day.


While it was a marathon effort for him, Rex made the journey out to see the finished staircase. The following afternoon, I found him sitting on them.  I don't think I will get as much joy out of doing these projects without him there to appreciate it. Things need to be done, to be sure, but his glowing appraisal makes it worth the extra effort. As I had to leave to get back to work in NYC, not two days after I wrapped up the work on the staircase, I knew I could be seeing him for the last time. He said to me "you have value, remember that." Seems like such a simple thing, but it chokes me up. Rex was motivated to get the staircase rebuilt because his elderly friends were having trouble climbing the old set when they came to visit. I suppose, then, that a staircase could be a last wish. It's a way to extend oneself beyond the boundaries of life and death, a courtesy to those friends who will thank me for the effort and good work, at his house, soon enough.