spring

Last weekend we had the first sunny and warm days of spring. I visited community gardens with my friend Katy and our phone cameras. We stopped by 6BC Botanical Garden first. This garden began in 1981 and is a lovingly cared for and peaceful place. In the book Community Gardens of the East Village, gardener Cary York says, “One thing they did design wise that was so important was that someone wanted to build the raised boxes, and Diana said “Don’t do it, don’t do it. Well, if you’re going to do it, do them on a diagonal.” So suddenly, the garden had this whole diagonal thing which is so nice because it’s against the grid. Little by little people started lifting up the boxes and letting the soil be in the soil.”

photos taken with the Hipstamatic app using John S Lens and Dixie Film

photos taken with the Hipstamatic app using John S Lens and Dixie Film

6BCgardenbrickpath

 

6BCgardendaffodils

Our next stop was the Sixth & B Garden. So many gardeners were out clearing the debris of winter and turning the warmed soil. I remember the group of mothers I used to hang out with when we brought our children to play in that garden. I ran into two of them that day. Even though we only socialized in the gardens, there is an intimacy to knowing someone that long and seeing their children now grown. I was interviewed by one of those children, a 20 year old named John, who I remember as a shirtless tow-headed toddler in baggy shorts, playing in the garden. He was doing a school project about community gardens. I was happy to see that the playhouse was still there.

Sixth & B Garden

Sixth & B Garden

flowerbed

 

the playhouse

the playhouse

 

the little garden that could

I’m very proud and pleased to present my first guest post: The Little Garden That Could, Guerrilla Gardening in the East Village, written and photographed by my dear friend,  Raquel Shapira, artist and neighborhood royalty.

1_SunflowerWBee

End of the summer, 2010

The city just completed their new traffic design along lower First Avenue introducing a new bike lane and crosswalk islands featuring a young tree on every corner of the crossing street.

Early September, 2010

A few sunflowers plants appear around the tree on the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street, which has 5 X 5 feet of soil surrounding it (the tree on this corner is Zelkova serrata or Japanese zelkova). A young woman, whose name I cannot remember, plants those, and disappears. It’s a dry month and the plants need water.

The obvious thing to do is to water the plants. However, there’s no hose or anything to connect a hose to. I buy a watering can from Saifee’s, a hardware and gardening store right across the street from the island. The Tile Bar, which is the closest establishment to the island, allows me to keep the can there and use their water. By the end of October the sunflowers bloom, changing the face of the block.

2_SunflowerWHeartSpring, 2011

Small sunflower sprouts begin to appear (all from seeds of last year’s sunflowers—the sunflower is an annual flower). A resident from the neighborhood plants an iris, a yucca, and a few other flowers. I notice he’s also been “weeding” the sprouts. I need a solution for protecting the sprouts. Here it is. Thank you Tile Bar for providing the cocktail straws.

3_SproutProtection

August, 2011

The sunflowers are growing 7 feet high and are ready to bloom.

One plant, on the south side of the garden, is nearing a full bloom, but on a weekend night some drunken idiot beheads it and breaks my heart. Fuck.

4_Note

A lesson learned. Having flowers in an open space, without high fence, a gate with a key is beyond challenging. As Amy Stewart eloquently said in her blog Garden Rant.

“Anyone who thinks that gardeners are naturally generous people, eager to share their bounty and always glad to see the neighbors enjoying the beauty and tranquility that their garden has brought to the neighborhood, has never been around my place in early spring. Sometimes having a garden can be so aggravating that I don’t know why I even bother. I am referring, of course, to the problem of flower theft.”

As the lower plants are flourishing, the sunflowers—one by one—are ripped off.

Summer, 2012

This summer is more of the same, although this year I do not include sunflowers. I plant a few coneflowers. The garden is pretty, but hardly lush.

Early summer, 2013

Wow. Finally after 3 years the yucca plant is flowering. What an amazing chandelier of white flowers. The Iris is looking pretty but the mini rose bush is sad-looking. A friend buys Celosia—some are doing great, others not as good. The garden is beginning to look lush. With the help of Tile Bar, we pay someone to build a fence. It’s a wooden white fence, which makes the garden somewhat more formal yet sweet.

Late summer, 2013

Arriving one Friday afternoon the garden is upside down. After 3 years, the city decides the cement that was used to build the islands was not strong enough. Millions of dollars are spent to re-do the islands. This is what I see.

5_brokenGarden

A week later

The workers are done. Island is re-built, and to my astonishment the workers erect the fence back, but most of the plants are gone. My friend Rose and I decide to get 40 mixed bulbs of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth and stick them in the ground. The show must go on.

Spring, 2014

After the coldest winter of my life living in NY, spring finally arrives bringing with it new, colorful life.

6_Tulips

Summer, 2014

I get busy planting new plants. A friend gives me “mammoth” sunflower seeds. The package says they should grow up to 10 to 13 feet high. Who would bother with those? I sow the seeds. You already know how that story ends . . . sadly.

I get an idea to experiment with growing vines around the tree. Saifee’s Gardening store only has Cypress vine seeds so I buy them and sow them around tree. Within a few months they begin to attach themselves to other plants so I buy a yard of chicken wire, place it around the tree and direct the vines to the wire.

Success.

7_vine

And that’s how it’s done in a nutshell. It’s all been a wonderful experiment. All you need is a watering can and good intentions.

Next year it may be a mix of wildflower seeds. We shall see.

8_GardenWGirl

the honor system vegetable stand

In New York City you must be ever vigilant for thieves. You’d better chain up your bike just so and don’t even think about slinging your handbag over a chair in a restaurant.

I am enjoying letting my guard down in the country where you don’t even have to lock your car in the shopping center parking lot. There are many vegetable stands that still use the old fashioned “honor system”. The stands are unmanned and the produce is set out with pricing on hand-written signs. Sometimes they don’t even have the pricing, they expect you to leave what is fair. There is a metal cash box for you to leave the payment in.

I get my corn from a dairy farm where they set out piles of just picked sweet corn and the metal cash box on a wooden wagon in the driveway. I like to buy vegetables and eggs from my friends and neighbors Martha and Richard’s stand. When you chop their kale, it smells as strong as wheat grass juice and your fingers are stained green. Martha says that sometimes she thinks the cash is a bit low when she goes to pick it up, but then the next day there is more money than expected. It is because the day before someone didn’t have small bills. That’s the honor system.

the roadside sign

the roadside sign

the mountaintop garden

the mountaintop garden

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the honor system vegetable stand

the honor system vegetable stand

for the birds

Deep winter. I walk the dogs at the start of the latest snowstorm. Soft wet snowflakes brush my face like the whisper of a child. The sparkly holidays lights are down and everything is just dark and grey and cold. Icy winds rake the skin on my forehead and frozen sidewalks chill my toes even through thick wool socks. The dogs want to hurry back inside. Seems like its been forever that we’ve been traversing slush puddles and blocks of grey ice while eternally wearing our snow boots.

After the first polar vortex I decided to set out a window feeder for the birds that inhabit the community garden outside my building. “They must be starving”, I thought. Over the years, the garden has become home to wilder species of birds outside of the rock pigeon, starlings and house sparrows of the urban landscape. We now see robins, thrushes, cardinals and blue jays. Occasionally, a red-tailed hawk will visit and swoop from tree to tree, teasing the squirrels and then perching on the fallen trunk of a willow tree to majestically survey the territory.

Backyard Boys Woodworking tray feeder.

Backyard Boys Woodworking tray feeder.

suetcageforbirds

I bought a window tray feeder because part of the fun was to see the birds up close. I did a little research because I did not want my window inundated with pigeons. I learned that pigeons don’t like black oil sunflower seeds and that it is a good high-fat, high-energy food for a wide variety of birds. I bought those and a block of suet. The songbirds need fat for energy in the winter because they don’t have insects to eat.

Mourning doves

Mourning doves

mourningdoves2

The tray with the sunflower seeds is dominated by Mourning doves. I’m a fan of doves and even have a pet one, so I enjoy seeing these guys even though they bully the smaller birds. Mourning doves are so named because they make a cooing sound like a lament and when they take off in flight they emit a whistling sound that makes you think, “this is what a helicopter would sound like if it were small and had feathers”. They have soulful black eyes and dots on their velvet brown cheeks. The suet block is visited by “cling feeders”, birds that like to hang from it to get at the seeds and suet. I have seen cardinals, blue jays, a woodpecker and something wild and brown that I couldn’t identify.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Female Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

The sameness of my grey winter mornings is ruffled and brightened by the feeding frenzy outside my window. I’m happy for that, because spring seems so far away.

mulchfest 2014

I almost didn’t want to take the Xmas tree down at all this year. It was the freshest and longest lasting one we’ve ever had. It still smelled piney everytime I walked into the house. This past weekend was Mulchfest, the annual treecycling effort in New York City and so, time to say goodbye to the tree. Chippers are set up in parks and people bring their Xmas trees to be turned into mulch for the city’s gardens and street trees.

This year, I made a couple of extra trips on my bike to Tompkins Square Park to get mulch for the street trees on my block. This is the second year that I’ve participated in Mulchfest and it feels like it will be an annual tradition that marks the end of the holiday season. Time to start looking at seed catalogs.

the chipper in Tompkins Square Park

the chipper in Tompkins Square Park

mulchfestnyc_3R

bags of pine mulch for the taking

bags of pine mulch for the taking

city gardeners

city gardeners

my cargo bike

my cargo bike

this year I was careful to not put too much fresh mulch around the bark like my friend Virginia advised.

this year I was careful to not put too much fresh mulch around the bark like my friend Virginia advised.

bokashi composting

I love making something out of nothing. So I really like to compost. It makes me feel good to make use of trash – I like the crumbly black compost it produces and how my plants love it. Frank made me this compost system at our rural homestead out of found pieces of junk. The previous land owner worked in a school cafeteria and we found lots of these dinnerware racks for industrial type dishwashers. The racks worked out well for the compost bins, allowing for air circulation while being strong enough to hold up through winter snowstorms. Frank added found scraps of fencing and made it all sturdy with 2 by 4’s and rocks.

my compost bins

my compost bins

My system has three compartments. One is for fresh scraps. That is the active one I keep adding to. Two is for compost that is cooking – that one I let sit till its done. Three is for finished compost that I add to the garden. When the finished compost is all shoveled out, I use that compartment to begin again as the active number one.

new section made of found materials

new section made of found materials

Last fall, I went to a workshop during the 1st Annual Harvest Arts Festival in the community gardens of Loisaida. It was a workshop on the Bokashi method of composting taught by gardeners at the Children’s Garden on Avenue B and East 12th St. They reported that they’ve increased their production of compost manyfold and are now producing tons of compost annually. They also told us that apparently rats hate the Bokashi waste and don’t come around their garden anymore. I was sold when they stuck a pitchfork into a random section of garden path and revealed black loamy soil teeming with earthworms.

Bokashi is a Japanese term meaning “fermented organic matter”. Effective Microorganisms (beneficial microbes) are inoculated into a medium such as bran laced with molasses. This inoculated bran is then sprinkled onto food waste in a bucket then sealed airtight for about two weeks. The result is the fermentation of your food scraps that are teeming with good bacteria. The Bokashi’ed food waste can be buried near your plants to fertilize and improve the soil or added to your compost bin in order to super speed up the making of compost.

bokashi bucket ready with fermented food waste

bokashi bucket ready with fermented food waste

This summer I started my Bokashi composting with a bucket system in my apartment. They say that you can add meat and dairy to a Bokashi bucket since the fermentation will pickle the waste instead of rotting it. I don’t choose to do that. We put in only vegetable and fruit scraps, leftover rice or bread and the occasional cheese rind. After you put in some scraps, you sprinkle on the inoculated bran and seal the bucket. I keep doing that until it is full and then I let it sit for two weeks. It does not stink. It has as sour, yeasty smell, but it is definitely not rot. I then add it to my compost bin. The microorganisms turbo-charge the making of compost. When I turn my pile, the smell of earth and fertilizing matter is rich and heady. Obese earthworms swirl around my pitchfork.

I got my starter kit of inoculated bran and Bokashi buckets from Teraganix. I like the plastic covers that come with the buckets because they are very easy to get on and off. Some folks say that you should have a bucket with a spigot in order to drain off liquid every other day, but I don’t do this and I don’t have an overly soggy bucket.

millie just loves to sit in the herb garden. compost gold ready to be worked into the soil.

millie just loves to sit in the herb garden. compost gold ready to be worked into the soil.

This past weekend I shoveled out my finished compost and worked it into the garden beds so that in springtime the soil will be prime for planting. Over the winter, I will bring my pickled food scraps to our community garden’s compost bins. And I will keep on making something out of trash.

Good resources for more information:

Teraganix has a blog and video in addition to supplies

Compost Guy – a great site for all things compost