Truck Farm!

a truck farm

This truck is always parked in my neighborhood. I tried to go to the website but it was blacked out so I just googled the words “wicked delicate”. I guess they’re a Brooklyn-based production company and there are a few shorts on youtube about the truck farm itself. Check it out. http://www.youtube.com/user/wickedelicate

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Shady Business

Here in Brooklyn I’ve been spoiled for the last three years with my south facing, relatively unencumbered, sunny garden. I’ve easily been able to grow vegetables and herbs and even an occasional fruit. But now, settled in the new place I realize there is a monster of a tree that will eventually blanket my yard with shade.  Some typical shade-loving perennials are hosta, ferns, brunia, hellebore, heuchera and hydrangea just to name a few. They are all pretty hardy and should come back each year depending on variety although i’ve found some ferns can’t take the cold winters up here and never rear their fronds again.  You should choose some shrubs and perennials for depth and texture and then add annuals for color and tone. Here are some great annuals for shade: Impatiens which will fare well all season long. Coleus which comes in so many amazingly colorful varieties nowadays. The Polka-dot plant is just plain cool and gets pretty tall.  Ipomea aka sweet potato vine is perfect for container plantings. Lobelia is a cute and delicate flower that is great for borders. And of course the ever-classic pansy or it’s little sister, viola, can be used to fill a window box.

I admit I planned on documenting the transplant of some of my old plants to the new apartment but I was so distracted and busy by the move I shirked my duties. Mea culpa. Here are some pictures of the current garden. A few are new additions but mostly old pals I couldn’t bear to part with.  It’s no where near complete but it is only April so there’s still time. On a side note, my computer display is broken so I don’t really know how this final draft is going to look. Here’s to hoping!

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Dirt: It Ain’t Soil

baby basil in amended soil

Let me reiterate. Dirt is not soil. When designing a garden bed you want to create a nutrient rich environment where your plants will thrive. Unfortunately it is often the case that the brown chunky stuff that’s been sitting in your little planting plot (if you’re lucky enough to have one like i am) is completely void of any of the good stuff that plants need and love. Of course there are totally hardy, tolerant plants that seem like they don’t need any TLC (you know who you are, sedum), but if we’re talking veggies and herbs you’ll need to do some vamping up.

What I suggest is cultivating the dirt so it aerates and mixing in bags of organic compost until it feels rich and soft. As you dig around, mind your wormy friends. They do wonders for your garden and we can’t afford any casualties.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to enrich your bed and in fact I found small bags of rich organic compost at the local dollar store. Or better yet, do your own composting and you’ll have the black gold at your disposal.  If you’re a little lazy like me, simply don’t clean your garden in the fall and all those leaves that have fallen on top of the dirt will not only act as mulch over the winter but come spring they will have broken down and the nutrients will have gone back into the ground. Voila, compost.  Additionally adding a soilless agent like perlite or sand is a good idea so that your soil achieves sufficient drainage.  If you feel like splurging, mix in a bit of time-released plant food like Osmocote.

Congratulations. You have now transformed your dirt into soil. Your plants will thank you for it with bigger blooms, better buds and incredible edibles.

Thank Goddess For Garlic

where it all begins

I love garlic. I’d eat a garlic sandwich if it weren’t for the inevitable “death breath” that garlic has habit of creating. As you can tell by looking at it, it is a bulb and therefore can be planted in the fall along with all of your other bulbs. Only with garlic, a single clove sort of acts as a seed rendering an entire bulb after maturation. This makes sense when you think about the garlic you’ve left unused for weeks and it starts to sprout a little pale green shoot. Now if you didn’t plan ahead (ahem) that’s okay too. Early spring plantings are just as good and you can yield a comparable harvest. The key is to sort of trick your garlic into thinking it’s in a dormant state by sticking it your fridge. And since I’ve never done this before i’ll have to roll the dice on the length it needs to be in there in order to be fooled. I’m guessing a week. Once your garlic is sufficiently sleepy break it up into single cloves.  A general rule about planting bulbs is to dig a hole double the size of the bulb. So with each clove i suggest planting about 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart with the fat part of the clove facing down. If you’re fortunate enough to have the space to do rows make sure they’re a foot apart. I’d say the trickiest part of growing garlic is the harvest itself.  You know it’s ready to go when the leaves start to brown and die off.  I suppose it’s better to err on the side of harvesting too soon where the cloves will be very small (and the skins tender and edible as well) rather than too late where the bulb will split apart. Now don’t forget garlic needs to be dried. Otherwise it will rot and then all your work for naught. Despite your desire to manhandle your produce after all that waiting, don’t mess with them too much and certainly don’t wash them off. Just hang them up in a cool, dry place and after about a week you can wipe off the dirt and reap your rewards.

Yes, Peas.

clockwise: sugar snap peas, baby spinach, heirloom chard, mixed greens, and cilantro.

Growing up in the hudson valley I always thought of myself as a “hardiness zone 6” girl, waiting patiently for the risk of hard frost to be done with so I could get my stuff in the ground. Well, imagine my shock and delight when I discovered that Brooklyn isn’t a 6, no, but a 7 on the hardiness scale, putting us right up there with Tennessee.  So this St. Patrick’s Day when you bust out the ole green peas for planting don’t limit yourself! If you like growing from seed this is also a good time to start those other cooler weather loving herbs and veggies like kale, chard, and spinach. Remember there’s no need to begin the seedlings indoors. They’re tough and they don’t need to be babied. Simply plop them in your soil outdoors whether it’s in the ground*, in a pot, or in an old shoe, whatever!  The best thing about these types of veggies is that you can have two harvests! Plant again in late summer and you’ll have yourself some delicious eatings the whole season through.

*On a side note, use caution when planting directly in the ground. As Brooklynites might recall, the Greenpoint oil spill was one of the largest oil spills ever recorded in the US. Over several decades between 17 million and 30 million gallons of oil and petroleum products have leaked into the soil from crude oil processing facilities. My suggestion beyond getting your soil tested, which you should do anyway for lead etc., is to replace as much as you can with an organic mix of half soil, half soil-less mix. Or just build your own beds and you won’t have to worry about it. More to come on that subject later on.