Cool garden! Are you guys composting?

Chopping up garden waste for composting

This is the most common question I hear from friends. I think it might be because people who have gardened, or like the idea of gardening, or who have never gardened for that matter, have all heard of or tried composting. It seems to be a kind of romantic touchstone that people identify with building a greener planet, like recycling. Perhaps it is easier to envision throwing your food scraps onto a pile than it is to imagine digging in the soil? Not really sure why it’s such a popular question. Of course, we are fans of this process—composting is a wonderful thing.

Having said that, our composting operation is new, and very much contained, for a few reasons. First, we have a lot of pests in the area—raccoons, bugs, squirrels, etc… and we don’t want to attract them any more than we already do. For this reason we don’t compost food from the kitchen. If we lived in the country, it would be another matter.

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2015 Herbs

Chives, very early spring 2015

The chives were an early favorite this year, as they were the very first edibles to reappear in the early spring. Immediately we put them to work sprucing up our weekend brunches.

Anise Hyssop, Chamomile in background

We added one or two new herbs into the mix this year. Here is Anise Hyssop. It’s used as a digestive tea by some. Did fairly well out there, although we only used it rarely. Behind it is some Chamomile. This did less well, and the flowers used in tea only lasted a few days. Continue reading 2015 Herbs

2015 Veggies – August

Harvest, mid-August

By the middle of August, we were getting regular harvests of a wide variety of veggies. Although we got a few Green Zebras in the mix (one shown here), the plant had been diseased for a few weeks and we were losing the battle. Its fruit were few and small. Cucumbers were coming in great and we were careful this year not to let any grow too large to pickle in a pint jar. This was one of our goals for the year—to keep harvesting regularly and not let any fruit get overly large, so as to encourage our plants to produce new fruit. Also in this day’s harvest was a lone asparagus spear—many of his buddies’ first-year roots had not survived the harsh winter.

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2015 Field Trip to Riverpark Restaurant’s Urban Farm

I met the friendly and experienced Zach Pickens at Farm Beginnings, a 10-week course on the business side of farming, last fall. He’s already got a few years of urban farming under his belt at Riverpark, a restaurant perched on the east side of Manhattan which has its own outdoor area carved out for growing its own produce. Zach’s the man in charge of the farm, which is nestled between a high-rise office building and a very active helicopter pad, which is handy for scaring off the deer.

Zach Pickens and the farm at Riverpark, NYC

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2015 Mushrooms at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy

The good people at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy had approved the mushroom cultivation workshop I had proposed, and we had done a dry run at our own garden a few weeks earlier. As with our dry run at our home garden, sourcing the correct species of logs for the project turned out to be the main bottleneck. The logs have to be of compatible species with the mushroom species that inoculate them, and they also need to be a certain diameter and length. (Here is one mushroom/tree compatibility chart example.)

We talked to several different local arborists and city departments. Basically the larger arborists offered us plenty of prime oak, but the smallest limb they had was as big as I am… anything better suited to our needs they said was like a twig to them—they would chip it on the spot and not save it. City departments also said that they chip all the tree limbs they cut on the spot. The logs also have to be more or less freshly cut—partially rotting logs will be too infected with competing fungi to allow for the new mycelium to have a chance. Eventually we collected enough oak, birch, and linden to be useful raw material for a workshop of up to 30 people.

As with the garden dry run, we used the same suppliers—Fungi Perfecti, who kindly donated plug spawn (thanks PF!) and Mushroompeople for a few other supplies. I had a few notes I had taken from Paul Stamets’ recent lecture in NYC, during which he touched on a wide range of topics. He was wearing this same hat at the lecture– made out of mushroom, of course. I’d highly recommend checking out the lecture, the video of which has been kindly posted by the New School for Social Research where the talk was held on June 17, 2015:

Mycologist Paul Stamets

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2015 Corn Pollination

Gathering corn pollen, early July

We read up about pollinating corn. We saw the male flowers maturing on the tops of the stalks. With our small setup, we decided to hand-pollinate to ensure the corn cobs would fill out a full set of kernels. You only have a few days in which to do this, and a couple of hours each morning within those days. We placed some aluminum foil around the stalks, under the male flowers, in hopes of collecting some early morning pollen. Continue reading 2015 Corn Pollination

2015 Veggies – June

Sweet corn, early June

We decided to try corn again this year. I had tried it in 2013 and found that it didn’t produce much at all. This year we did a little more research and gave them a little more room to spread out in the rear beds. Although we sometimes sowed two or three kernels per spot, sometimes we got one, sometimes two, sometimes none at all. I doubted we really had the nutrients to support them, but was interested in giving them another chance. By this time, we had run our irrigation lines as well, as visible here.

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2015 Asparagus

I wrote in a 2014 post about the asparagus crowns that I had prepped beds for and planted. Before the winter of the first season, I covered them up with an extra layer of compost, and then put large bags of soil and peat moss over them to help protect the beds from below-freezing temperatures. It was a very cold, long winter, and I had my concerns about these guys in their new homes.

By late April, the first signs of life were appearing in the asparagus beds. Tiny little shoots.

Early asparagus shoot, late April 2015

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