Monthly Archives: June 2011


Ridgewood Queens GardenThe trellises are DONE, man.

TrellisesFinally – after two weekends in the making – we have a place for our cucumbers and melons to climb.

CucumberThe project taught me a very important lesson about gardening order of operations: your trellises should be in place BEFORE your plants start to grow. (Duh.) Untangling the delicate vines and tiny tendrils and training them to go up the net was a giant P.I.T.A. There were a few casualties – some broken leaves, two bent stems – but thankfully, no fatalities. Yet.

TrellisesThe actual structures were quite easy to build: each consists of a 4 x 5′ wooden frame. Stringing the orange nylon string to create the grid was a bit more tedious. To save time, we used store-bought netting to connect the other two sides once the trellises were installed. (Word to the wise about Burpee trellis netting: it is harder to unscramble than a Rubix cube. The entire net came packaged in a giant, frustrating knot that took 30 minutes to undo.)



Harry - my Harvest Helper - with Letuce and Turnips I am finding it a little difficult to keep up with all of my chores these days…if only I could quit my job and become a full-time gardener. Regular maintenance is fine, but I have some major projects that keep getting sidelined (still working on those trellises!), and getting out the door by 7 and home again at 8 or 9 has cut my garden time down to a precious 15-30 minutes a day.

LettucesOur harvests, however, have been really great. With so much arugula, lettuce and kale, I haven’t had to buy any vegetables in a little over three weeks.

Strawberries and Cayenne Peppers
The strawberries have been – I admit – a little puny and tart. But I grew them, so they still make me proud. The cayenne peppers are nice to mix into my breakfast egg tacos. I pick some green and let the rest mature to red.

Japanese Turnips
My first crop of Japanese turnips.

Japanese Turnip Pickles
I made them into refrigerator pickles.

The arugula has started to bolt, so we’ve been gobbling it up before it becomes inedible. Salads every day this week…

Killer Kale & Rogue Tomatoes

Ridgewood Queens GardenIt was a lovely weekend to be in the garden. We made some progress on our trellises. (Actually, my boyfriend made some progress on our trellises while I danced around and pestered him.) They should be ready to install tomorrow, which is good because my cucumbers are really sprawling.

Tuscan Black KaleWith no other major projects, I was able to focus on weeding, fertilizing and harvesting. Tonight we are going to eat this gigantic head of kale.

AffenpinschersMy two little garden helpers were also out and about. Harry and Lucy – our Affenpinchers (aka “The Beasts”) – love to trample through the flowers and dig in the dirt.

Rogue TomatoesAnd while doing my rounds today, I noticed at least five new rogue tomato plants that have grown from seeds left over in the worm castings taken from our vermicompost bin.

Rogue Tomatoes
I used the castings to fertilize the soil where I planted some flowers, and I thought the tomatoes were just another variety of marigold until today. But there is no denying it – they are definitely tomatoes. And now that they’re over a foot tall, I don’t have the heart to yank them out.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll outperform my giant tomato trees in the back planters. They’ll be getting a lot of help from the marigolds (a companion plant to tomatoes) a few inches away. I’m also really curious to see what kind of fruit we get.

New Blooms

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)While vegetables are my main focus this year, I also planted a few types of flowers to attract bees and add some color. There is no rhyme or reason to my selection and arrangement – I just tossed a bunch of seeds around to see what would grow. But once I get the whole vegetable garden thing down, I’d love to actually “curate” my flower beds.

Baby's Breath (Gypsophila)This is gypsophila – aka baby’s-breath – which came from a giant bag of Burpee Wildflower Mix (the Hummingbird & Butterfly edition).

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)Here is a California poppy.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)Their petals close at night and open up during the day.

Pink Flower - Zinnia ?This pink beauty is a mystery flower, though I think it might be a type of zinnia.

Purple Flower - Petunia And I believe this is a petunia, although I’m not sure where it came from. I don’t recall seeing it listed among the flowers in the Burpee mix, and I definitely did not plant any petunia seeds. But now that it’s here, it’s welcome to stay.

Morning gloryThis is a perennial morning glory – a left over from Hedwig’s garden or maybe it crept over from a neighbor’s yard. It grows fast, far and wide, and chokes everything in its path. I’ve already cut a few of them back.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)I had to relocate the nasturtiums twice because my dogs kept trampling their delicate leaves and petals.

ZinniasThese party colored zinnias were started inside under grow lights in February.

Forget-me-notsSo were these forget-me-knots

Lamb's ear
My dad gave me this lamb’s-ear from his garden in Pennsylvania. It suffered last summer (supposedly the hottest on record) and never blossomed, but this year it’s thriving and has already developed really tall stalks. The bees love it.

MarigoldsAnd finally, marigolds. Before I had a garden, I cast off marigolds as a “grandma” flower. But last year, on a whim, I picked up a packet of marigold seeds at the Associated on Seneca Ave and decided to give them a try. They blossomed into a giant marigold bush and won me over by virtue of being so easy to care for. I also discovered that their coloring can be much more complex than what I remember seeing growing up – not just “blah” yellow and orange, but lots of rich and variegated tones.

Finally, some tomatoes

Green TomatoesI think I have a break in the case of the non-producing tomato plants. Actually, more like a promising lead. The mystery is not solved, but I may be a little closer to understanding why I am not getting the crop I hoped for.

Green TomatoesWhile the twelve tomato plants in the planter at the back of the yard are still totally fruitless, the eight plants in POTS near the front of the yard have started to produce.

Tomatoes in Pots
(Back story: The 20+ tomato seeds I sowed indoors in February grew into 20 hearty plants. I offered a few to family and friends, but people were slow to claim them (or maybe didn’t want them!), and all of a sudden I had my very own tomato orchard. The majority went into a 3 x 4′ planter, and the rest are in 5 gallon pots.)

Green TomatoThe tomatoes in pots are the same mix of varieties as those growing in the planters. They are also in the same soil and are watered on the same schedule. I wonder, though, if having less space to develop long roots has encouraged the plants in the pots to put more energy into fruit-making. This, of course, is pure speculation…but it’s the only reason I can think of that could account for the difference.

As for the plants in the planters, I intend to fertilize them this weekend, and I might also prune them a bit, and maybe soon they’ll be as fruitful as their potted cousins.

Photo: Mark Bittman/The New York Times

Side note (while I’m on the topic of tomatoes): Mark Bittman has a really interesting and eye-opening column in this week’s NYT about industrial tomato farming. It’s actually a follow-up to a piece he wrote last month on the book Tomatoland, by Barry Estabrook, which chronicles the rise of the tomato in the modern world and the deleterious effects that the mass production of this fruit has had on the environment, our food supply, and – most notably – tomato workers.

While I knew that most of the tomatoes sold in stores today are picked green and then gassed with ethylene to promote the ripening process, the image above really drove home the wastefulness of this system. After the green fruit is harvested, the plants are killed to make room for the next crop, and any tomatoes that ripened naturally on the vine are “left to rot,” writes Bittman.

It just seems like big price to pay for a product that we don’t really need all year round. I’d rather have no tomatoes at all than the tasteless, mealy lumps available at most grocery stores.

Garden Update

It was really hot. Then it was really rainy. Now it is really busy at work. And, truth be told, I have been neglecting the garden. There are so many things that have to get done. And they need to happen this week!

I desperately need to build proper trellises for the cucumbers and melons. Then I need to focus, focus, focus on my tomatoes so they start producing fruit. And, last but not least, I need to figure out what I am going to plant to replace all of the greens and turnips I have been harvesting. I hate having “bald spots” in the planters.

My melons are taking off, which is really exciting. The kale and lettuce have been strong performers, too. My favorite so far has been the arugula. Last summer I planted it late and harvested it in July, and it was really bitter and almost impossible to eat without drenching it in dressing. This year, it is definitely sharp and peppery, but the flavor is not overpowering. We’ve been mixing it with a little lemon juice, some olive oil and slices of Ricotta salata.

I have a lot of ideas about what will replace these tasty crops, but no definite plans yet. For the fall harvest, I’d like to try broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, but I think it’s a little too early to start sowing them now. I might plant another quick batch of greens and maybe some radishes in the interim.

Strawberries & Classic Cars at the Onderdonk House

Onderdonk House Ridgewood QueensWe are lucky to live just a few blocks away from the oldest Dutch colonial stone house in New York City – the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House, at 1820 Flushing Avenue. (Our home, built in 1908, actually sits on land that was once part of the Onderdonk farm.)

View from from Troutman St. onto the Onderdonk HouseIt’s an incredible little spot – made even more so by the juxtaposition of an early 18th century building next to the gritty backdrop of factories and warehouses that line Flushing.

Onderdonk House Flushing Avenue If you can ignore the sounds of traffic whizzing by, you would think you had stepped right back into the 1700’s.

Onderdonk House Strawberry and Vintage Car Festival Today, the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, which owns and operates the house, hosted a Strawberry Shortcake and Vintage Car Festival. Not an obvious combo, but it was a lot of fun (at least, for me, the strawberry part.)

Onderdonk House GardensWhile my boyfriend looked at the autos, I wandered into the gardens that border the house.

Onderdonk House Chicken CoopThe Chicken Coop

Onderdonk House Bird's NestA bird’s nest.

Arbitration Rock Arbitration Rock – the stone that was used to mark the Brooklyn/Queens border in 1769, ending a bitter boundary dispute between the townships of Bushwick and Newtown that extended back to the 1600’s.  (Though whether this rock is actually the REAL “Arbitration Rock” is also a matter of debate.)

Onderdonk House Gardens
More gardens…

Onderdonk House Fence
After the last Onderdonk moved out in the late 1800’s and the adjacent farmland was sold off to developers, the house was purchased by Louise Gmelin, who used the remaining property for a number of different businesses, one of which was a scrap glass repository. To this day, remnants of glass bottles and discarded glass refuse from an old Tiffany Lamp factory in Corona still litter the grounds.