Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fresh ginger


Every morning I spend about 10 minutes in the garden with a cup of coffee, looking at things and watering. Then I go back in and work. I have missed gardening as the new book has taken over my life. But today I had a good excuse: I needed fresh ginger for a recipe I was working on. The leaves in the two troughs nearest the house (where my Thai basil forest and curcumin also grow) are looking healthy and I could see the pale new rhizomes pushing out of the soil.


If you are used to tough, store bought ginger, as I am, fresh ginger is unbelievably beautiful.

I planted rhizomes that had begun to show small pale new sprouts (no leaves, just swellings), well after the last frost date, once nights were reliably above 50'F. These troughs have a couple of morning hours of sun for May, June and July, and right now they are in complete shade again.


The pink at the base of the culm (the botanical name for a grass stem) is gorgeous. The skin is transparently thin, and simply disappeared as I microplaned it into a filling for dumplings.

Next year I will plant more ( I think I said that last year...).

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Who dat?


At the stroke of midnight, as September arrived, an early autumn settled on the city. Also, the cricket (yes, there is only one) began singing.

August was absurd, in the best way, with low temperatures and air that did not feel like a suffocatingly wet, hot blanket. This is the first year where I never actually packed our duvet away. There were a few stifling nights this summer, but only a handful.

Then yesterday,  I heard a new sound in the garden. A sort of chip! chip! - like a cardinal with a cough. Later, as I worked at my laptop at my desk, which is really the dining table, I saw this little bird.


I love the fall migrants. Often tiny, somehow very at home and confident in a new place, but also unbearably fragile. They travel so far (and yes, you can read a lot into that). And to find them resting in a green space you have made is like a small blessing (not a word I use, easily - it is so overused and has become trite).


The photos are bad because they are taken through double glazed windows, and a set of wrought iron burglar bars, but I watched him/her for a long time, busily chasing down tiny insects, always remaining under the cover of leaves and flitting about beneath the plants. And s/he is still here today, bustling about in the rear of the garden.

Yet to identify the bird. Tell me if you know.

______________________



Friday, September 1, 2017

Autumn Wilds Foods Walk


Green-Wood Ramble
5 November 2017
12pm - 3pm
$45

Join me on an autumn ramble and picnic in the wooded hills and dales of beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery, where some of New York's most impressive trees grow. While we will be identifying everything botanically edible as we walk, this is also a chance to explore one of the most serene places in the city. 



While every year is unique in its timing, and leaf color and leaf drop will vary, Green-Wood is one of the best places to appreciate the changing season without leaving the city.



Green-Wood is home not only to Leonard Bernstein, but to mushrooms and acorns, beech nuts and sheep sorrel. I'm not promising mushrooms, just saying: You never know. If the conditions are right we may chance upon some late hen of the woods.




...and maybe a persimmon or two. 



The park-like space is also the refuge of New Yorkers like ground hogs, raccoons and opossums.


...and birds still making their way south. Green-Wood is a popular refueling and resting station.


And of course, there are the famous parrots. 


We will share a fall picnic of seasonal, wild inspired snacks which may include hen of the woods pâté, mugwort shortbread and persimmon spice cakes. And a cordial from a very good cordial-making year.

More info and meet up details will be sent to you in the week before the walk. Attendance is limited. See you in the fall!


Saturday, August 26, 2017

The red and black ones


Almost every morning, when I sneak into the garden with my coffee before sitting down to work, a monarch greets me. The Joe Pye weed offers plenty of nectar. And at six feet tall is bordering on unruly. I need a meadow.


They visit the common milkweed in the vegetable plot, and seem very restless, rarely settling for long.


And yes, the distinctive milkweed bugs did arrive. I don't who told them there was milkweed, here. Oncopeltus fasciatus, apparently harmless, so I leave them be. This one is sitting on the pods of Asclepias incarnata, growing in a pot.

In September I will be cutting the common milkweed back, very carefully. Those stems also rose to five and six feet, and happen to be planted over the row of diminutive saffron crocus, whose flowers should be emerging in late autumn. I am not sure if being shaded by the milkweed all summer (when the saffron is dormant) will have hurt, or not. Last year they produced enough saffron for one pot of bouillabaisse, which I thought was quite exciting.

I might order more.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hot roots



I grew horseradish for the first time, this year. It arrived from Johnny's Seeds (in the company of several seed packets whose contents failed to germinate altogether - I don't think it was Johnny's fault, but it was frustrating) in March. I planted it in long holes, dug at an angle. It took months to show signs of life.


But all five roots sprouted, and there they are, looking uncannily like yellow dock (Rumex crispus). I think we will be able to harvest some, conservatively, late in the year. Or perhaps I should save them, for next early spring, which is when the fat, rude rude roots start showing up in local stores for Passover. I can't help blushing when I pick one up (each one has two balls, plus, er...you you know). You harvest them by cutting of the large root and saving the side roots for replanting. Left too long they become gnarly and fibrous. All this is theoretical knowledge, for me, clearly.

Freshly grated horseradish is one of our favourite condiments, eaten raw, its sting going straight up the nose, rather than down the throat.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August in bloom


A quick peak at what the garden is doing. In the potted section, one of the best things right now, and for weeks past, has been the pineapple lilies. I have never grown Eucomis, before. My mom has them in her Constantia garden and they are native to the grasslands of South Africa's summer rainfall regions. This is Eucomis autumnalis, and it has been in bloom for eight weeks.


Much slower to begin blooming, which is good, because its season will be longer, is Eucomis 'Leia.' I will have to lift the bulbs for winter and store them in the longsuffering fridge (the Frenchman never knows what is going to attack him when he opens its door).


These are also a happy surprise. I have never grown dahlias before, either. I had no idea what to expect and thought they would bloom only late in the season, but this is 'Nuit d 'été' and it has been flowering since early June. The plants dislike very hot weather and the blooms shrivel in response, but we have been having a really mild August and they are thriving again. Thirsty plants. I water daily.

The pineapple lilies and dahlias above came from Brent and Becky's, ordered in February when one is grasping at horticultural straws and prone to shopper's remorse. But both are so healthy and long-blooming that I will get more, next year.


These little dahlias came from Lowe's. I ignore them in the side beds at the back of the garden and they keep on flowering. In general I cannot recommend bulbs from the giant emporium - they are mostly in terrible shape and stored for weeks in hot conditions so that they either wither or sprout and are not viable when you plant them. The dahlias made it.


The heuchera that keeps making more. I have lost track of its offspring. Low maintenance and drought tolerant and flowering late in the growing year,  I find it prefers being dry and squeezed in its pots. This plant (Heuchera villosa) and its children have moved all over New York with us.


The curry leaf trees that overwintered unhappily indoors are thriving, outside.


Inside their bird netting the figs are ripening, at last.


And there is a precious collection of makrut (Citrus hystrix) fruit. I hope they ripen, but it will be indoors, if they do. The skin is intensely aromatic. One tree is flowering and fruiting, while the larger one is not. It's odd. I use the leaves for drinks and cooking.

In wild foods cookbook news: I have reached the final lap: four weeks until deadline. I am now on the photo phase (choosing, editing). The manuscript itself stands at 142,000 words and change. There are still some more recipes to add, test and shoot. Today's testing includes a raised pie with elderberries and a spiced pawpaw bread.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The good things


This is a new cocktail I shook up with a fermented elderberry syrup (sweet, sour, lightly alcoholic), rum and early summer's honeysuckle cordial. It's not as sweet as it sounds. And elderberries are very interesting.

Name suggestions?

The glass is resting on my friend Stephen Orr's really good and very beautiful book, The New American Herbal (no the drink did not sweat on the book). I love dipping into it when I take a break from my own plants.

The parts of the weekend you do not see are the meltdown, the hair pulling and the gnashing of teeth. I was a little overwhelmed by the work still to do on my book, and then a serious camera glitch pushed me right over the edge.

The Frenchman weathered it, somehow. He also quietly ensured that within 24 hours a brand new camera was not only bought but delivered to the front door (the 21st century is magical in this way). Then he did the laundry, put it away, made the bed, bought two nights of dinners and cleaned the kitchen.

Now that. Is a husband. I feel quite small.

After the meltdown I made black cherry ketchup, elderberry soup and wrote 6,000 words.

Then we ate Trader Joe's pizza, and watched possums.




Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sit down. It's supper time.


July has ended.

Days are full. Very. Very full.

Evening is a pause. Stop. Breathe. Sip. Talk. Watch for possums (we have a baby again - tonight, after inspecting the garden, it walked on the wires, high above the back of the garden, with great confidence).

And now it is August. Five weeks until I meet a book deadline. With life insisting on happening, inbetween.

But we will always have supper.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Backlit Saucisson



Sorry, folks, this is a (not very) secret message. Regular programming will resume shortly.

(And sometimes a saucisson is just a saucisson. No bad puns, here)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The monarchs are here!


I walked into the garden a few days ago and saw...monarchs on the milkweed! Plant it and they will come. This is very gratifying.

The species above is Asclepias incarnata - swamp milkweed. I planted it first in Harlem and it moved with us. It is growing in-ground and is much less vigorous than Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed, the one I also eat), and I recently planted another in a large pot. This is an easier milkweed to control, if you are a neat gardener.


This smaller butterfly is on the common milkweed, which was planted late in spring 2016 and which came back very strongly this year. And not exactly where I was expecting it, either. If you have spreading anxiety in a very orderly garden, I recommend using a planting barrier under ground as a medium term control. I am not sure how it would work, long term. The runners are vigorous and shoots will appear many feet from the parent plant. Ideally, plant it in a wilder section or in a meadow. The pollinators - many kinds - will love you. Or, my top soapbox suggestion: Grow it as a farm crop. Because you can eat the shoots, young stems, tender leaves, buds, flowers and pods.

Or plant a different milkweed.


And this one is on the common milkweed pods. I may squeal with excitement if I ever see a caterpillar or even better, a jewel-like and green cocoon.


They also stopped on the Ligularia. (The milkweed is where they lay their eggs.)


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It's been ten years...


Early evening. One of my favorite times of day.

Two anniversaries: I started writing this blog in 2007. It is ten years old. In Internet terms that is about 1,000! It grew from my first not very good photos, taken with a series of small, much loved Canon point and shoots. Hi tech, in those days. But these pocket sized creatures led to an almost obsessive interest in digital documentation and to a level of confidence I had never felt until then. The cameras were somehow a screen and filter, letting me move through the world without worrying as much about what it thought of me. I created the blog in a year that had begun very badly for me, where I was so despondent that I was prescribed anti depressants by a shrink who should have known better (he said he would not treat me if I was not on them. I never went back and ditched the pills after four weeks - I'm not saying they are not important for some people, but they were not what I needed, then. I needed someone to listen). A few weeks later I began to write.

My interest in photography led, a couple of months after I began blogging, to the Frenchman, who was waiting and waving at me from the west coast of this huge continent, in Vancouver, BC. Our July emails set off an electrical storm that culminated in his touchdown at Newark Liberty International that September. Four months later we were married.

I know. It's an old story. But I like telling it.

This blog, and its offshoots, on Facebook and now evolving on Instagram, led to new friendships, locally and across the globe, and these have enriched my life in innumerable ways, personally and professionally. My work changed, my skills improved, I was and remain challenged and inspired by what comes to me via 66 Square Feet.

Happy birthday, blog. You saved me.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The time of the lilies


The day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva, the orange ones on the left) have just come to and end. We ate quite a lot of them! Very helpful for recipe testing. 


Now the Nicotiana mutabilis and agastache are flanking the big flush of July trumpet lilies.  On the right are 'Summer Palace' not liking the New York heat and humidity, I suspect. Their promised pink is quite washed out. June belonged to the elegant Lilium 'Regale' and also to the pure white Formosas (some are still blooming in pots)  - the latter were hit hardest by our early spring freeze and only a few survived. 


'Silk Road', so disdained the first time I received it as a bonus bulb from the peerless Lily Garden in Washington state, is now the flower I will always associate with my New York gardens. Our lease has just been renewed for another year (I was holding my breath), but there will be other gardens. Who knows where.


'Silk Road' is tough and striking and reliable and tall.


And she smells good.


These, above, are about six feet three inches tall.


The agastache escort. 


The delicate turks caps of 'Madam Butterfly' are lovely. I should have planted them in pots, I think, as they are a bit lost in the jungle of the side beds.


And echinacea - this one a gift, now well established, from either Kirstin or Julia, both neighborhood friends with green fingers.


These are...what? They have 'Ice Caves' written all over them but emailed orders yield no confirmation; I am going to have to scratch through my saved printed invoices to check. 


And 'Silver Scheherazade.' Tall and late blooming and needing some staking.

Like me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The June Garden


I skipped so many spring blog posts of the garden (tagged on Instagram as #1stPlaceBK) that I realized I'd better post something early summerish before August. It's not for lack of interest. I am just perpetually five items behind on my To Do list, and blogging comes very last, right now. It's an indulgence, timewise, which I miss. Today I managed to cross off bottling seven quarts of linden flower, elder and honeysuckle cordials, two quarts of flower vinegars, processing 10 lbs of serviceberries, staking 27 lilies (how is that possible?) and the tall nicotianas before a big storm front hit, and building a small bamboo trellis for the scarlet runner beans I planted (with hummingbirds in mind). Still five items behind. So I'm blogging. That was not on the list.


Early summer and the oakleaf hydrangea (above, center) is in full bloom, with the bees ecstatic about it. Honeybees and carpenter bees visit and can barely stagger away with their fat pollen sacs. The hostas have begun to flower. Their crisp, sculptural leaves are a lifesaver in the pots close to the house, where they receive some sun in the mornings in midsummer, but none later and earlier in the year.


One plant of Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo,' dating back to the Harlem terrace, has now filled five pots. It spreads quickly and is a very good filler for semi shady spots. It flowers prolifically from mid May to mid June. Beside it is a small-leafed Heuchera, which might be Heuchera sanguinea 'Snow Storm.' Behind them are Ligularia japonica, whose huge leaves add interest to the tricky western side of the garden dominated by the ivy wall. Very shady until late in the day when the western sun gives these pots a blast for an hour or two.


After I discovered a local cat in the garden I made a second birdbath nearer the house, between the ostrich ferns and the Rodgersia. The cat was staking out a more secluded one.


Bad cat! It climbed straight up and down the fence (I photographed it through the closed glass kitchen door). Yes, I miss having a cat of our own, very much. I spend a lot of time alone, and a cat companion is still my favourite kind. No, we may not have a cat. Them's the rules. End of story. So we watch for possums, instead.


This side of the garden faces east, with direct sun in the mornings, and also gets some western sun, so I have packed a lot in. As common as they are the two hydrangeas that I bought after we moved here give me great pleasure. They are full, easy to look after, and bloom for a very long time, staggered over months. And they take both summer's blazing heat and the Deep Dark of Winter. The so-called peegee (Hydrangea paniculata) blooms later - I don't even see buds, yet.


A late freeze in spring nailed some of my lily bulbs, which rotted after I had overwintered them carefully in peat-filled baggies in the fridge. But some regal lilies escaped harm and are looking beautiful. At their feet are some South African bulbs - pineapple lily, or Eucomis. They will bloom in late July, I think. 'Black Lace' elderflower on the right.


The fig (rear, above) that the Frenchman bought for me last year, and which the Gowanus Nursery very kindly delivered (it was very heavy) has fruit again - the main crop, on new growth. I am expecting a bird net to be delivered any day now, and then I will wrap it. I lost all the breba figs (on old wood) to some bird. or maybe the dang squirrel/s.


The Nicotiana mutabilis from Annie's Annuals turned out to be mostly lime green, but two were correct. Annie's sent me a gift voucher for the balance to make up for it, after I sent them some pictures and explained what had happened. Very good customer service. In the meantime, many Nicotiana volunteers have germinated in pots, and I have transplanted some to see what they turn out to be. I have grown N. sylvestris, alatus and mutabilis before, and they could be any of those. Again, hopeful hummingbird buffet.


The lovely thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) I planted the same fall that we moved in (2015). It has filled in nicely and has very tall threadlike stems and dancing flowers, each about an inch across.


The chartreuse Nicotiana don't look bad - I do like them. Especially as a backdrop for the complicated seedpods of Fritillaria raddeana (the frittilarias were a big success in spring).


Some grey sugar peas made it into the perennial beds. They are exquisite. The foxgloves bloomed this year for the first time - I planted them last year, also from Annie's. Unpromisingly named 'Polkadot Pippa' but billed to be everblooming. I'll deadhead and let you know.


And last, one of two perennials that predated our arrival - the ubiquitous day lily (Hemerocallis fulva), long limbed and useful to me because it is edible. And I love the flowers. I divided a massive clump and planted it in two spots.

Next post? Fruits! Or maybe vegetables.

We'll see.

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