Tag Archives: community gardeners

July Garden

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July can surely make or break a small garden. Because it’s July I have mustard greens, Swiss chard, rue, apple mint, begonias, a kiwi vine/tree, and black-eyed Susan all bursting out of a 2-foot by 2-foot section of garden. It’s a potential tangle that somehow works with something akin to forestry practiced on a tiny scale. The edibles can all be gradually harvested, and the big leaves of the Swiss chard and mustard greens keep the soil cool and shade the begonias. The pink and fuchsia begonia blooms peek out ever so sweetly among the reddish and purplish veins of the mustard and chard leaves. The mustard greens are starting to flower, and I let some of them go to attract pollinators. Not a typical sprawling garden mint, this apple mint grows fairly upright on thick stems and responds to being cut back by continuing to produce attractively woolly, rounded leaves that taste subtly fruity deep into the season. More slow-growing rue spreads its blue-green, delicate-looking foliage throughout. (I say “delicate-looking” because rue, Ruta graveolens, is one tough plant, tolerant of hot and dry conditions and harsh winters. Quite toxic when consumed in large doses, it has been used medicinally in a variety of ways. I first planted it to make a tincture for treating my cat’s ear mites. It can also cause skin blisters when touched. I’ve never experienced that in the many years I’ve grown it, but I try to touch it as lightly as possible.)

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Springtime alliums and columbines have given way to summer coneflowers.

On the other side of the plot, wild asters and purple coneflowers have lured painted lady butterflies and bees of all kinds into the garden. I leave the dried allium flower heads up as long as their stalks can stand. I like how their spiky globes contrast with the spiky disks and petals of the echinacea. The brilliant color of their spring is gone, inherited by the coneflowers.

Cleaning up July’s overgrowth has its drawbacks, as I was reminded this morning. Last week, I cut back aggressive plants, took some out, and tied others back, all in the name of offering more space, light, and air to half-hidden plants. But with more ground exposed, the garden was suddenly much drier. In its jungly state, the garden had resisted our streak of 90° days handily. I came back to wilting herbs in my opened-up garden. Luckily, I caught them in time to give them a good soaking, and we got a good two inches of rain over the last two days.

July is also having its way with the balcony garden, where things can get hot, dry, windy, and sometimes irresistible to pigeons. So, of course, I try to plant what likes these conditions—or doesn’t mind them. They all need extra water on 90° days, but as with the garden plot, placement helps retain moisture. The tropicals are good at shading the more delicate plants and the soil they’re in. The tough leaves of many of my current plants seem to have discouraged the pigeons for now.

Succulents, cacti, coleus, begonias, caladium, elephant’s ear, scented geranium, Dracaena marginata, and a saucer of mosses all do fairly well here, and I even have some seedlings going, an attempt at succession planting. I have no idea why the pigeons are leaving the seedlings alone. Maybe they taste better in the spring? With any luck, the bean plants will be producing in a couple of weeks, and some tender nasturtium leaves will add a bite of pepper to our salads.

The July garden is about eating for many gardeners, and for me though it’s not a standard vegetable garden, my plot and balcony do provide edibles that are usually ridiculously expensive or plain not available in the supermarket. These are things you don’t need in great quantities and taste best when picked fresh: greens, herbs, and ripe raspberries. Not a bad trade off.

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The July garden on a plate: A tender mustard green leaf cradles rice and beans with fresh-picked oak-leaf lettuce (above, right).

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Taking advantage of the range of shade to bright sun offered by a balcony corner. The wall offers protection to bean seedlings. Elephant’s ear and caladium below.

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Hell’s Kitchen Gardener Recommends: Books for Gardeners

This is the first entry in a new book corner for gardeners. img_3299

Life in the Soil
A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners
By James B. Nardi
The University of Chicago Press, 2007

Part guidebook, part natural history of the soil, Life in the Soil is an especially gratifying read for a composter-gardener and an excellent antidote for the tendency to view the plant world as existing primarily aboveground and the soil as material of use merely to hold plants in place. That tendency, in fact, could not be further from the truth. The author, a biologist and illustrator, characterizes the story of soil as “a marriage of the mineral world and the organic world.” “It is a good marriage; and as in all good marriages, the two partners work together in harmony. Each partner’s attributes are often enhanced in the other’s company.” From there, the reader moves through the breakdown of rock by weathering and acids to the work of the “pioneers” of rock, the algae, lichens, mosses, bacteria, and fungi, which make way for the plant roots that will eventually crack open rocks, creating more space for rock minerals and organic detritus to combine into the powerful and still-mysterious matter we call soil.

The last of three parts, “Working in Partnership With Creatures of the Soil” not only guides the reader in setting up and maintaining a compost pile but explores the science (cation exchange explained) and braids together the concerns that thread throughout the book: climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction.

There are diagrams and photographic plates, but Nardi’s illustrations of creatures, ranging from the microscopic to tiny to macro, are deliciously engaging. One of my favorites is the drawing of a daddy longlegs with hitchhiking mites. (Daddy longlegs take their passengers to new places they would never be able to visit on their own. While their long legs that serve as antennae lift their travelers above the fray, their ability to produce a noxious fluid when attacked keeps predators away.)

I often carry my copy with me to the garden or on nature walks and sometimes to the preschool classroom to help my young gardening students recognize what’s going on in our compost bin. This sturdy paperback edition puts up with all that travel and still looks pretty good albeit bristling with bookmarks and post-its and tinged with, well, soil.

Vote for Year-Round Food-Scrap Composting in Hell’s Kitchen!

Freshly made compost spills out of the bin, ready for the garden.

Freshly made compost spills out of the bin, ready for the garden.

Hey, Hell’s Kitcheners, Gardeners, Composters, and all the rest of you Earth-conscious folk:

We have a great opportunity to make composting happen on a larger scale and year round in our community. Projects to be funded by City Council District 3 Participatory Budgeting are up for a vote starting this Saturday. My committee, Parks & Environment, has some excellent projects (see 8 through 14 on the ballot), including my contribution, #11 on the ballot: A Community Composting Center in Hell’s Kitchen. This is a proposal for a larger-scale food-waste composting operation with at least two drop-off days a week. Gardeners have a special stake in composting efforts, and I hope our gardening community in particular will come out to vote for this project. All residents of District 3, 14 years of age and older, are eligible to vote, so you can bring your favorite teen with you and vote as a family. Voting takes place April 11 through April 19 with several locations, including Hartley House, right over on West 46th Street.

For more voting locations and information, please visit: http://council.nyc.gov/d3/html/members/pb3.shtml

One more thought: Earth Day is coming up on April 22. Your vote for this community composting center is a simple and effective way to care for our Earth. Please plan to vote with Earth Day in mind.

For a poster to share, click on:

PB Vote Week Composting Projectpdf2

Snow Days in the Garden

The spruce: A tree for all seasons and many birds.

The spruce: A tree for all seasons.

Gardening changes in the winter, of course, but it doesn’t stop. For community gardeners living in the heart of a big city, there is the pleasure—bound up with responsibility—of being connected with a piece of land year round. So when it snows, shoveling the sidewalk in front of the garden is our job.

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Looking north at the Clinton Community Garden.

It’s been snowing lately, and working side by side with other gardeners reminds me that the street side of the garden is one of the ways in which community gardening is different from the usually more solitary experience of backyard gardening. Community gardening offers solitude in an urban environment, but it also demands participation, which is not so simple a thing as it may sound, especially in the dead of winter.

 

Snow crew at work.

Snow crew at work.

Enter the snow crew. No winter-prone community garden should be without one. Without one, our community garden would be the bane of the neighborhood, forcing pedestrians to hobble through ice and slush. Instead, our flawlessly scraped sidewalk earns compliments from passersby, most of whom know we’re volunteers, and it gives us an excuse to be gardeners in January and February.

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Cutting a back path for gardeners. Only sand is used here for traction. Salt harms plants and soil.

 

Stark beauty of a honey locust in winter.

Stark beauty of a honey locust in winter.