hunkering down

August 27, 2011

As previously discussed, we made some preparations in the garden this afternoon. Inside we have filled pots, the tub, and sinks with water, taken in the upstairs air conditioner, checked on the tenants, covered the street cellar door, charged up the phone and laptops, prepared flashlights and candles, etc. But Fear here in Gotham is great, and at nightfall, a bunch of the little containers begged to be taken down to a little huddle together.

This afternoon:

This evening, everyone hunkered down:

Also, thanks to a suggestion from the brother-ship, we taped up the dog door so the wind and rain won’t blow in (as it does during snowstorms):

The yard done be closed.

cooking with figs

August 27, 2011

We are doing our best to batten down the hatches here in the path of Irene. Our block is Zone B, so it is not evacuated. Hoping the storm drains won’t back up? We’ve taken down the hanging plants, put some pots on the ground, brought in the ladder, and tucked the furniture away in the corner under the pergola. We are feeling pessimistic about the tomato harvest.

People are freaking out. If you go to the grocery store, people are almost panicking. But here we are making hurricane cookies with figs from the tree out back. This tree has been pumping out figs like crazy. It isn’t even mine; I’ve just collected figs that overhung into my yard and were falling off. The other day, there was tart (pic before glazing):

And some cibbatta pizza with fig, proscutto, and ricotta. The picture really doesn’t do it justice.


Today, we have hurricane cookies with fresh figs. Before:

Don’t you love that Kikuichi blade? These people made Samurai swords back in the day. When Japan opened up and the samurai quit, they turned to cutlery. Gotta love clearance sales at Brooklyn Kitchen. But back to cookies:

There is even a fresh fig “eye” lolz:

Let’s hope we get the last laugh on this one. If the homestead gets damaged, we are finished. St. Christopher, pray for us.

The weather has been unspeakable, and it has been hard to tolerate being outside for longer than it takes to keep things alive via watering. So I can’t say I’ve been enjoying the garden much lately. But, tonight it was ever-so-slightly cooler, so we had a little poke around at evening watering and discovered these modest news items.

The other clematis, which had protested its first location by trying to die, has revived in its new pot and is flowering.


Some purply pink flowers whose names I forgot have done all right in the heat.


Some late basil seedlings did not bake to death and are ready to go in the ground shortly.


The wisteria has developed a plan for itself. It has decided to blow off the grape arbor and go straight up the power line. Day by day it has been getting closer to its goal, and it looks like tomorrow or the next day it will reach the top.

Wouldn’t it be cool if it survived the winter up there and then blossomed in the spring?


Finally, the moonflower is producing its huge, nearly pornographic blossoms.


I’m particularly pleased with this number since it came from one seed I found this spring in a dried up flower on last year’s vine. These blossoms open in the evening and twist up again in the daytime. So very secretive…



death tolerance

July 3, 2011

One of the worst things about growing stuff is having to deal with the fact that some things die. It might be something you did, but just as often it’s the conditions or the location. If you’re going to enjoy the miracle of things making it through a winter like this:

Then you have to deal with things that you love failing to thrive. I do not like dealing with this. I think it is a swiz.

One of the most vigorous, prolific plants in my garden is the grape vine. M planted it as a little stick from Crest Hardware a few weeks before he died. Last summer it moved up onto a pergola some friends built for me.

Even in the burning heat of July 2010, it produced over 35 pounds of grapes–green, seedless, sweet, crush-against-the-roof-of-your-mouth.

This spring and summer, it has continued to go hog-wild, despite strong pruning.
Grapes appeared everywhere, to the point that I began to feel a little panicked about how I would harvest them all. Finally I decided I would have a grape-picking party and invite everyone I knew. People could bring containers, clippers, ladders, beers, whatever. Everyone would get grapes, and I wouldn’t have to do all the work. Now all I had to do was wait for the grapes to ripen. Problem solved!

Except two weeks ago I noticed that a few grapes had shriveled. I began to feel a deep secret dread that my grapes had some kind of rot. It took me almost a week to make myself go out there and actually examine them. Sure enough, they have a fungal problem.
Trying not to freak out, I consulted the internets, but most of what I read was targeted towards vineyards and thus was overkill for a one-vine home grower like me. Finally, I consulted the gurus at Crest.

Should I cut off all the infected grape bunches?! I asked. Guru Vincent didn’t think much of this idea. He suggested I just leave them alone and salvage what I could at harvest. It was the warm, damp weather, he said. Even if I cut off every bit of fungus I could find, there was nothing saying more wouldn’t grow if conditions favored it. But maybe, he said, the weather would improve, and then some grapes would make it. I’m a pretty lazy gardener, he confessed. I’d just leave it.

I consulted Guru Regina, and she concurred. You can’t fight the weather, she reasoned. I stood with Regina beside the gaffer tape and summarized: So, I said, you’re saying I should just let the grapes be, watching some die and hoping death won’t overcome all of them?

Pretty much, Regina said.

So, I clarified, this is a DEATH TOLERANCE exercise?

Pretty much, Regina said.

If I had know my garden was going to give me a Death Tolerance exercise this summer, I woulda… well I woulda told it where to go! I woulda kicked it with my boots and showed it who was boss! And then…! I guess it woulda done what it was going to do anyway.

in the middle of things

June 25, 2011

Few things in life have a definite start. As for chronicling a garden, where can you begin? Late winter, probably, with the garlic and chives that poke up even before the bulbs. But then, the things that come up in March had their start the previous autumn. Even the seeds you put in the pop-up peat pellets came from another year’s plant. As for the garden itself, what state would you consider tabula rasa?

When I first moved here in 1994, the backyard had no exposed soil, but the previous tenant (longtime, owner, lately deceased) had grown tomatoes in large wooden containers. It’s an Italian neighborhood, and the yard has a hot, Mediterranean southern exposure. At that time, some of the upstairs tenants (Poles) were growing flowers in boxes out back. They used to call in my kitchen window to me when they were out watering which was…friendly, if slightly invasive. A few years later, my husband and I bought the building and renovated the yard by digging up some of the concrete. The exposed soil was rocky, urban, and unpromising. My husband (M) tested the soil with a ph kit from the hardware store next door and announced that we had to wait a couple of years for the soil to rinse. When it finally came time to plant things, I thought it looked like some vacant lot. “Nothing is going to grow in that crappy soil!” I told him. He gave me his stern, English look and said: “Shush. Wait.” That season we had tomatoes, herbs, beans… was that the start?

I could narrate the evolution of the garden all day (and maybe in a later post I will), but we are living here in today. Today is the 25th of June, 2011. Today my husband has been dead 1,137 days. Today there are fifteen hours and five minutes of daylight. Today I ate the first tomato of the season, a yellow cherry. Today is the day the Lord made; in the middle of things, a kind of rejoicing, a shoot perhaps of glad.