Saturday, September 4, 2010

From the Farm: Planting with a transplanter

Most of our farm veggies are raised using fairly primitive methods. We dig holes by hand, avoid all synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, and harvest using nothing more than a pocket knife. The only motorized tool we use regularly is a rototiller.

But occasionally -- and by occasionally, I mean once or twice a season at most -- we bust out the big guns. When I first laid eyes on our transplanter I couldn't fathom what it was used for. It's actually pretty simple. There's a large wheel that divots holes in the ground. Water gets poured in from those big yellow tanks. And four people trail behind on chairs dropping plants seeded in the greenhouse into the holes. The two small children sitting on top are optional.

It's kind of a comical scene, at least when we do it. Our tractor doesn't have a creeper gear, so we really have to rush to keep up. It's a lot like that scene from I Love Lucy in the chocolate factory, when Lucy and Ethel race to keep with the assembly line. At another farm I work at, the transplanter has a "six-shooter" -- sort of like a gun barrel where you throw the plants and they got shot into the ground, which helps move the whole process along smoothly.

But even having to stop for catch-ups pretty regularly, and some quick covering up after the machine passes, the transplanter still creates the most perfect neat rows, and quickly.

The onions planted in that picture went in the ground and at the end of May and we just pulled them up a few weeks ago. You can't quite taste the straightness of the rows they grew in, but they were still pretty tasty.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Down These Mean Streets

I haven't gotten around to the pickling project just yet, so today's post takes us on a quick detour from the lofty details of our rooftop garden and down into the streets below for a look at some of the local foliage.

Bushwick has had a rough time of it over the last 40 years or so... in the blackouts of '77 looting and fires ripped through the area, leaving ruined buildings and bombed out lots pockmarking an already depressed area plagued by arson and the drug trade. Abandonment, corruption, and crime took root, and commercial strips like Broadway and Knickerbocker Avenue were either half vacant or bloomed into open air drug markets. But in the last ten years city and state programs like the Bushwick Initiative, as well as the even stronger economic forces of gentrification have brought visible change to the neighborhood-- renovated housing, new businesses, fewer vacant lots.

This spring, a small but wonderful transformation of the streets occurred. Spurred by the organizing efforts of local gardening group Trees Not Trash, the MillionTreesNYC project actually excavated hundreds of pits on dozens of streets throughout the neighborhood, planting a variety of oak, linden, flowering cherry, maple, ginkgo, and other saplings. As I saw these young trees struggling to take root, I wondered how successful the experiment would be-- would they end up blighted, dried out in the summer sun, choked by trash, defiled by dogs, abused by kids unknowingly trampling their roots and pulling on their delicate branches?

But something so beautiful has been taking place over the course of the summer, when residents take to the streets and the blare of salsa mingles with the ice cream trucks and open hydrants form babbling brooks that rinse the baking gutters... all around the neighborhood little homemade fences have sprung up around the young trees, cobbled together from scrap wood scavenged from crates and old furniture and other mysterious sources. Some of the fences get painted and decorated, some surround lovingly planted flowers and trees and flags, some evolve over time. As I walk around the neighborhood, I find these crooked fences, these small acts of community ownership of living things to be incredibly heartening and endearing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tree Square, Redux

If you remember, I planted the little dirt space around the tree out front with various flowers.  They looked really great, and even made the old ladies up the street smile at me when they walked by.
Unfortunately, after a brutally hot July, a day or two of missed watering, and a few dogs who thought it a choice toilet, the flowers bit the dust.
I stopped by Sprout Home, a local garden store, to get some expert advice as to what plants would work well in such a place.  They needed to be hardy in hot weather, dog resistant-ish, preferably perennial, and hopefully green year-round.
They suggested an ivy plant in each corner that would spread over a few years time.  It'll stay green throughout the year and dig deep for water.  Well why not just fill the square with the ivy, I asked, thinking about how that would be an easy solution.  The answer - because it'll eventually choke out the tree, or at least take away too much of it's resources.  Huh.  Almost obvious, once I thought about it.
So, I ended up with some ivies, and a few other flowery plants and desert greenery that, while they won't last through the winter, will be ok with the heat and dryness.
Here's how it's looking:

It's not as pretty and colorful, but hopefully it'll last.
Now, if only I could find something to plant that would stop people from throwing their cigarette butts here...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Roots on the Roof: Where in the world?

Greetings intrepid blog fans! I was gone for a few weeks, way gone, in some places where very little grows. Just returned to good old NYC (doesn't look like the place got much sleep while I was gone, but at least the heat wave broke). My sweetheart and I spent a couple weeks checking out America, driving from Denver up to Montana, down through Yellowstone and Wyoming and Idaho and Utah and Nevada, finally winding up in California. We passed through some serious void, places like the salt flats in Utah, where a sticky white crust covers the earth as far as the eye can see, and rainbows and lightning battle it out on the hazy horizon and there's nothing to hear but wind. And maybe a little Pink Floyd if you're lucky.

But along the way, in between the hundred mile stretches of desert and dust, we saw some amazing farms, gardens, and greenhouses. People all over are planting something, folks. Up in Bozeman, Montana, my cousin Colmer's girlfriend Loren had singlehandedly planted an enormous vegetable garden in her backyard, which will soon be producing enough to feed the extended family and then some.

Out in Lake Tahoe, California, Sean's brother designed and built this brilliant greenhouse in his backyard. At an elevation of over 6,000 feet, and with an extremely short growing season, this simple structure now shelters thriving tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, herbs, lettuce, peas, squash, and more. The air inside was fresh and rich and warm.

And as for our own little rooftop experiment in vegetable production, we returned to find that our plants survived our absence and the heat and horrors of the city in August. This is all thanks to our very devoted friend Diane, who faithfully climbed our stairs twice a day to douse our plants with water. Much to our amazement, we've been harvesting big, fresh cucumbers, sweet little cherry tomatoes, and slightly scalded purple peppers, and there's more on the way.

So what now? If the cukes keep on coming I will be experimenting with pickling, and I am super excited about it. Didn't you always think that it took a long time to turn something into a pickle? Apparently, it only takes a day or two.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Tall Tale: A Plant Story 40 Flights Up - Part 3

Well, dear readers, I guess you didn't wish my plants enough luck because I've had to start over with a whole new set of plants.  
That's right.  
I fought the bug infestation and lost.  Remember how I mentioned that the dish soap/spray bottle concoction had killed the first type of bugs, the crawly ones?  Well, it proved powerless over the little flying bugs.  They would fly around all day and make me crazy.  Mostly, they would fly from one end of my office to the window end, where I guess they liked to go to die, because in the morning when I would come to the office my windowsill would be covered with little dead bugs.  Then, when I would go to dutifully spray my plants with the dish soap, I would notice that the soil from the Chinese Evergreen plant would be swarming with those little things.  I solicited the help of one of the secretaries who sits outside my office, who suggested that I upgrade the dish soap to something a little stronger -- alcohol.  And also, she noted, my Benjamin fig tree looked like it was dying.  That it did.  Its leaves were yellowing and every day more leaves would fall, leaving (ha) a sad little pile on the gray carpet.  
So you know what?  
Enough was enough.  I caved and called Richard.  This was on a Thursday.  Monday morning, Richard came and delivered a whole new set of plants to my office, so now I have three new plants that I intend to care for deeply.  I swear the fiasco with the others wasn't my fault....I was watering and giving sun and nurturing like only a pregnant woman can. 

But anyway, the good news is that now I have three plants!  And if Nakamura is to be believed (which he is) then three is a much luckier number than two.

Plant 1

Plant 2

Plant 3

Don't they just look gorgeous!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

keepin busy at the farm

Esteemed and loyal readers of this blog have probably been wondering why I haven't posted in two weeks (maybe three, I don't know). First, I want to apologize. I know that many of you depend on this blog for both practical gardening information as well as the whimsical musings of people who like to grow things, and I've let you down. All six of you. So please afford me the opportunity to let you know what I've been up to.

So the first session of camp ended, and we got a whole new batch of kiddies. One improvement we wanted to make was how we celebrate the harvest from our farm in the dining hall. So Rachel painted a lavish sign board, and everyday we update it with what came in from the farm, along with a full harvest basket. I found the baskets at an antique shop in Cold Spring, run by an awesome artist lady who is oddly obsessed with cats. Which is cool because Rachel's last name is Katz. It all comes together.

So here's a picture of the board, and another of me, somehow looking creepy in front of a basket of fresh veggies.

While our farm is booming, it's still not producing enough to feed the whole camp. So Andrew, the operations guy here, in his infinite genius, got us 10 CSA shares from Common Ground Farm, about 15 miles away. I've known the folks at Common Ground for a few years, and was excited that we were supporting them in such an awesome way. But I was even more excited when they came to make their weekly delivery in this bus. That's Tim, the head farmer, and his awesome food delivery device. He hopes to convert it to run on veggie oil this fall-we might help him out. After dropping off the food, he came into the dining hall, where he was greeted with a standing ovation from the campers.

It's good to be in a place that appreciates good food and the people who grow it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Colors!

How great to go outside in the backyard, push aside a few branches, and see the most incredible colors peering back at me.  There is something so amazing in general about the colors we see in nature, but to see these colors in my own few square feet of space, grown from tiny seeds or seedlings just a few inches long...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another Edition of Easiest Plant Ever!

I talked last time about the popular bamboo-looking plant, Dracaena Sanderiana. If you remember, it's a really easy houseplant.  Another one that's super-easy to take care of, and needs pretty minimal light, is the Spider plant, or Chlorophytum comosum.  It has long narrow leaves, about an inch or so wide at their widest and narrowing to pointy tips.  The leaves grow up and droop out and over the sides of the pot.

Here's one of mine:

 I have it as a hanging plant, because of a cool thing it does.  Over time, the spider plant sends out "branches" that grow what looks like a miniature version of itself at the end of the branch - those hangy things towards the bottom of the photo above.  You can then pluck these little plants off, put them in water and wait for them to grow some white roots.  At that point, you can actually plant that part in a new pot with some soil, and grow a whole new plant!
It's a great way to share plants with your friends, as well as to populate your home with lots of greenery.

Another bonus to the spider plant?  They've been proven (science!) to help clean the air and help with indoor air pollution.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Amazing kohlrabi

One of the things I'm beginning to understand since arriving on the farm are the difficult economics of growing vegetables for a living. Here at EST, we have a relatively small plot of tillable land, only a couple of acres, and so we make up for that by producing a modest line of prepared foods: hummus, veggie burgers, pesto, and more.

We also have to be strategic about what we plant, hence the abundance of tomatoes, green leafy things, raspberries, and the like -- stuff our CSA members love and that command good prices at market. The amount of space we can devote to unusual herbs or less popular veggies is, unfortunately, somewhat limited.

But we do have some fun stuff growing here, as I've noted before, and even some trendy greens like arugula. One thing I've grown to love here is our kohlrabi, a popular vegetable among the health-conscious that is increasing available in regular supermarkets.

Kohlrabi has the texture of an apple and secretes a little bit of juice when bitten, but the taste is far subtler, with a little bit of radish and some cabbage thrown in. We use it in salads mostly, but there's plenty of other applications. Over the last few weeks, ours have been in full swing and it feels great pulling these fully formed baseballs from the dirt.

But the thing I love most is its appearance. The variety we grow comes in an amazing shade of almost neon purple, earning it the nickname, in our fields anyway, of the Avatar vegetable. And the way the stems connect with the body resembles nothing so much as a human heart. It's smooth to the touch and sensually textured. I love just looking at it and holding it.

That it's edible too is, quite simply, the icing on the cake.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tomato, Tomahto - However You Say It

They still taste delicious.
Each day, a few more luscious, ripe tomatos peek red-faced from around the dense green walls.  I reach in and pluck them from their stems and, if I can bear to wait, wash and eat them.  If I can't wait? Well, a little dirt and acid rain residue probably never killed anyone.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tall Tale: A Plant Story 40 Flights Up - Part 2

To recap, I am a fan of plants and a fan of office-decorating and now a firm believer that plants are mood enhancers, which I definitely need at work.  This means that, of course, I absolutely must have plants in my office.  So when we moved back to New York City from Mexico and I went back to my desk, the first thing I did was call Flowers by Richard, because I know they deliver plants to offices.  Not only that, but the last time I had a plant in my office, I damn near killed it.  Luckily, Flowers by Richard came to my office with a watering can, scolded me for overwatering my plant and gave it a new plant basket.  Point is, I am pretty sure I'm going to need Flowers by Richard to come and check on my plants when I almost kill them again.

I explained my plant incompetency issues to Richard, and asked him what plants I should get.  His answer was some version of "it sounds like you're pretty much going to kill any plant we give you, so just choose ones you like." So I chose the "Benjamin Fig Tree" and the "Chinese Evergreen Plant."  And here they sit in my office:  
Benjamin Fig Tree
Chinese Evergreen

But the day after I happily received my plant delivery, I noticed these little black bugs that would appear out of nowhere - on my computer, on my desk, on the carpet.  So I called Richard, expecting him to offer to perform plant-surgery immediately or replace my plants or something.  I even worried that the bugs were bedbugs, because, hey, this is New York City, but Zack assured me they probably weren't.  Anyway, Richard told me not to worry, that I should just go Duane Reade and purchase dish soap and a spray bottle.  I was to fill the spray bottle half with warm water, half with dish soap, and then spray the plants.  So, always eager to take a break from work, ride the elevator 41 floors down to Times Square and spend time examining the relative merits of different face creams, shampoos, and -- this time, dish soaps -- I dutifully followed Richard's instructions: 

I sprayed the plants' soil morning and night until the bugs disappeared.  And now they're gone!  I actually had a little bit of a bug resurgence with a different kind of flying bugs emerging from the Evergreen, but I sprayed it down with more of the magic dish soap spray bottle and now the new bugs seem to be gone too!  Hopefully they're gone for good. 

I'll be back with "learning how much water is not enough and how much water is too much when watering your plants" because I'm having problems figuring that out right now.  Wish me luck as I try not to kill my plants and wish my plants luck in staying alive! 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

From the Farm: Tomato Season

As Ellie noted earlier this week, it's tomato time in farmland. Here at Earth Sky Time, tomatoes are our cash crop. They cost us much in time and labor and greenhouse to raise, and yet we manage to sell our gorgeous tomatoes by the truckload.

We've had fruit for nearly a month now, but in the last two weeks, the greenhouses have exploded. Nothing else on the farm compares in terms of sheer variety and abundance. Green zebras that shimmer in their lime green stripes. Brandywines and Paul Robesons and Cosmonaut Volkovs. We have heirlooms rippling into mutant shapes and enormous bright red sumptuous softballs of juicy bliss.

And then there are the sungolds, the crown jewel of our modest tomato kingdom. How I managed to never notice this incomparable plant before this year eludes me. These yellow-orange cherry tomatoes explode with the sweetest nectar of any tomato I've ever had. I routinely tell people at the farmer's market that they are magical creations. I have no idea if they believe me or not, but they always buy them.

It's not hard to understand the appeal. Tomatoes are bright and colorful, juicy and sweet. Their appeal is instantaneous, but also unsubtle. We have many unique vegetables growing here, but like a Tolstoy novel or a Radiohead B-side, they take a little effort to appreciate. Tomatoes do the work for you.

Which is not to disparage my beloved sungolds. They bring me ample pleasure on a consistent basis. But having read recently that Americans consume less than one percent of the foodstuffs available to them, it's probably best to spread the wealth around a little.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tall Tale: A Plant Story 40 Flights Up

I am the opposite of a farmer.  I am a corporate lawyer.  I spend my days (and many of my nights) in a flourescent-lit office with gray carpeting, mostly looking at my computer screen, with the occasional glance out over the Hudson River.  It's a pretty nice office, don't get me wrong.  And I do love to decorate it, since I basically live in it. 

Anyway, I love plants.  I'm terrible at taking care of them, but I love them.  Mostly I like how they look.  And I like the color green.  When Zack and I were in Japan for our honeymoon, my older brother booked a tour guide for us as a wedding present.  The tour guide was named Mr. Nakamura, and he was like a fountain of zen wisdom.  He wore a finely pressed suit in the merciless heat and drove an immaculate town car with doors that opened by themselves, which he kept stocked with moist towelettes for our comfort.  (If you have plans to visit Kyoto, let me know and I can put you in touch with him!)   Nakamura advised me to change my computer screen wallpaper to a photograph I was taking of this amazing green moss. 

Here's the pic (let me know if you want a higher resolution copy for your desktop):

 He said that looking at green things is a natural mood enhancer and that it was good for the eyes, which would help to balance out the eye damage caused by staring at the computer.  He also said, mysteriously, to avoid the number two and always go with three, but that's neither here nor there.

Needless to say, I took the Nakamura very seriously.  I am extremely impressionable.  But I also think it makes sense that it's good to look at green things, right?  Plants and humans complement each other with the whole oxygen-in, carbon-dioxide-out thing, so this is another iteration of that concept....except I guess humans also kill plants a lot (on purpose, and by accident, like me) so I guess there's a limit to the perfect order of the universe. 

Check back in a few days to find out what happened when woman and nature collided high above mid-town Manhattan!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Wild Urban Garden

For the past six and a half of years I've had the privilege of living in a 100 year old house in West Philadelphia. Earlier this summer the owner informed us of his decision to renovate and sell the house, and over the last few weeks, in between times up here at camp, I've made trips home to clear out. The house has been good to me-home to many wonderful people, travelers passing through, and long-term roommates. We've hosted dozens of potlucks, a handfull of workshops, dance parties, and cuddle puddles.

Every year since I've lived there we've kept a garden out front. The space isn't huge, but we've packed a lot in there. At last count, there were over 25 varieties of herbs and vegetables, including tomatoes, corn, basil, sunflowers, rosemary, amaranth, nasturtiums, and crab apples. For the past two summers, I've been away for July and August. I've put in a lot of effort into getting things rolling in the spring, only to disappear in the heat of the summer. My sporadic returns always lead to a surprise revisit to the garden-as I approach the house I wonder what awaits me.

With regular travel, I've taken a fairly hands off approach to this garden-often allowing volunteer tomatoes and sunflowers to take root wherever they happen to appear. Last August when I returned home I was tempted to start weeding and cleaning out some of the beds. After 10 seemingly useless minutes I had the distinct thought that August is a terrible time to try and tame a garden.

Last week I came home to get the last of my things out of the house. I was excited to see what was growing and what had survived the drought we've been in. I was pleased to see the Blue Hopi Corn was doing well, as were some volunteer sunflowers. Most of the tomatoes had died, but one was giving off fruit. The perennial herbs had survived the dry spell and the scaffolding of the contractors, and I clipped them to take cuttings to my new home and farm.

The moving out has been a little hard. I love this house, and had always envisioned moving on with more grace than the current situation is allowing for. So I snapped a few photos of the garden, and felt good about leaving this home with a 12 foot sunflower out front.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The first tomatoes.

This week brought the first tomatoes of the season. That sentence should look more like: THE FIRST TOMATOES!   It is probably the single most incredible farming experience to spot that first red fruit amidst all of the green leaves and green tomatoes yet to be ripe. And then the scent of it. Holding the soft fruit to my nose, the tomato smells of earth and rain. The joy of this actually gives me the chills. It seems that tomatoes also hold childhood in them -- the feeling of summer and freshness and something young.  The giddiness I have for the first tomato is a re-experiencing of how it felt to be a kid with joy for the simplest things.  Behind these sensory experiences, lies all of the hard work that has gone into each tomato plant -- seeding them in February, potting them up in April, planting them in the field in May, trellising them in June, mulching and pruning them in July. They start out as tiny seeds and as if by magic they are six feet tall heavy with pounds of fruit, full of potential for sweetness and tartness and the slight acidity they will leave on your tongue. They have names like poetry -- Aunt Ruby's German Green, Black Prince, Cherokee Purple.

I ate a slice of my first tomato this evening-- a Pink Brandywine, split open at the bottom with all of its juice.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Roots on the Roof: The Sunscald Conspiracy

Alas, we've run into one more snag... our little pepper plants, which are decidedly dwarfy but producing lots of veggies, have been getting mysterious brown patches on otherwise perfect looking specimens of young pepperdom.

I found this fact sheet on "pepper disorders" online from The World Vegetable Center, which I was most drawn to because their logo suggests some sort of Dharma Initiative creepiness. I'd like to think that there is some sort of massive conspiracy behind the brown spots on my peppers, and that by pushing a button every 108 minutes or so I can vent whatever electromagnetic buildup is causing them to spontaneously rot on the vine. But alas, the
World Vegetable Center would have me believe that this is actually a phenomenon called sunscald, in which our peppers are essentially getting sunburned from exposure to intense sunlight and temperatures. Again, the roof is a frying pan! Our peppers are getting destroyed by their leathery tans, aging prematurely. We may try to introduce a little artificial shade up there, or perhaps more sunblock and visors.

On a side note, I was so taken with the logo for the World Vegetable Center that I did a little research on other logos connected to international vegetable initiatives, and found that they generally are suggestive of global creepiness! Here are just a few, for your paranoiac viewing pleasure... Just another reason to grow your own.

Tune in next week when I try to get to the bottom of the real difference between a fruit and a vegetable!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dispatch from the SF Photo Dept.

If you're ever in San Francisco, you should make it your beeswax to check out the plant shop Flora Grubb.

Why? The most jaw-droppingly novel arrangements of plants I've ever seen. I recently made the trip out to Bayview (which also contains one-third of San Francisco's toxic waste) to explore the garden. To my delight, Flora Grubb has plants growing out of bicycles, sinks, and cars, and a "vertical garden" out of which colorful succulents sprout.

Some eye candy:

More of a crafter than a gardener myself, it inspired and reminded me to think of plants not just a means of nutrition, but as living entities that can be used in unexpected ways to beautify spaces and objects.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Boy oh Boy! Backyard Garden!

As the summer goes on, and the sun is just blasting away, I can't help but get more and more excited.  Not with the 2 to 3 times I have had to water each day and not with the constant staking and re-staking of my insanely huge tomato plants (see photo below) do you do it??  I can't imagine dealing with hundreds of these beasts. Mine are on their way to being well over 6 feet, and show no sign of stopping.

What I'm excited about is that upon closer inspection,  the rewards start showing themselves...much like lots of things in life, I guess.

There's at least 20 green tomatoes of various sizes and plenty more on the way.

That's the first green pepper of size to show it's lovely face, and my mouth is just watering thinking about biting into it's crisp coolness.

From the Farm: The Mysteries of Kale

Some years ago, before the obsession with all things local and organic became a full blown national epidemic, I was at a dinner party in Cambridge, Mass., when our hostess emerged from the kitchen carrying a platter of a limp-looking green vegetable.

"Mmmmmmm," murmured our table filled with right-thinking progressives. "Steamed kale!"

Only in Cambridge, I thought, could a relatively obscure and much-maligned leafy green elicit oohs and aaaahs when paired with nothing more than salt and vaporized water.

Today, I've grown to love kale, so much so that its very name has become synonymous with my own farming enterprise. When folks would ask why I was leaving New York for Vermont, my deadpan response was, invariably, "To grow kale."

Still, making the green taste as good as it feels -- kale scores virtually off the charts on health benefits, protecting against everything from lung cancer to arthritis -- can be a challenge. It's tough to the touch, occasionally bitter, and breaking it down into more digestible format without destroying its nutritional qualities takes a bit of kitchen savvy (though really only a bit).

So I was amazed to discover this week purple kale that is amazing to eat raw. Seriously, I chewed it right out of the ground and it was delicious, no prep necessary. You don't even have to massage it. The secret? Pick it young, an option you'll most likely have only if you grow your own.

Ours is perfectly ripe this week -- luxurious, green-stemmed, soft to the touch, antioxidant-bursting kale. No steaming necessary.

Take that, Cambridge.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Family Shamrock Update!

The luck of the Irish must reside deep within this here shamrock.  With the beating sun, lots of water, and just a little bit o'luck, it's growing like I've never seen. 

The little pink flowers open up wide during the day, and as soon as the sun starts to sink over the building-created horizon, they close up tight.  It's so great to see this awesome resurrection of an all-but-dead plant.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Party on the Farm, Party on the Farm!

Monday was the first ever Farm Festival at camp. We announced it to the campers the previous night, sparking a 10 minute, camp-wide, "Party on the Farm" chant. The day was awesome, and included stations where the campers learned about harvesting and social justice, weeded beds of radishes and squash, made beautiful vegetable signs for the farm, and helped to build more beds in the calendar garden. After all campers rotated through, we held the first ever Farm Olympics Relay, where the entire camp worked together to set a new world record. Events in the relay included "Synchronized Grazing," "Farm Haiku Writing," and the perennial crowd favorite, "Compost Cycle Challenge!"

But the day had started on a more somber note. Monday was Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar. We marked Rosh Chodesh Av by placing a giant rock in the Av bed of our Jewish Calendar Garden. We spoke about the month of Av, and the long history of devastating events during this month, historically as well as in the modern era. We also shared how after the 9th of Av, when we commemorate the burning of the Temple in Jerusalem, the energy of the month shifts, and we embrace the growth that can follow destruction. We used this special moment for the practice of Genizah, burying documents containing the name of God. Each camper placed one of these sacred pages into a giant hole in the Av bed, and then we slowly covered them with soil. As we move through the intense heat of the summer, when we stand in awe of the destruction in the world today, we must always remember that beneath the soil, there lies the potential for renewal.

Oh yeah, and we also had a parade through the farm with one camper wearing a giant carrot costume.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Roots on the Roof: Feelin' hot hot hot...

The last couple weeks have been hot. Not your regular late June, early July introduction to sunshine and summer, but a sweltering heat wave that's turned our un-air-conditioned loft into a soupy Bikram studio for unhappy cats. Really brutal record-breaking heat, the blazing sun in a cloudless sky, air still and thick and everything sticky and clinging. And our roof, with it's full exposure and slightly reflective surface, has been doing a pretty good impression of a frying pan. We've had to double the amount of water we give the plants, finding them wilted and fried at the end of the day. But everything is hanging in there, for now, we all just look a little worse for wear.

One side effect of the heat: our arugula plants, which had been producing a steady stream of spicy little leaves which we would pick and add to salads, started bolting in a hurry. Apparently higher temperatures will cause the arugula to send hard stems and flowers skyward, after which the leaves become much more bitter and less tender. (We all put it out there in the summer, don't we?)

So we went ahead and harvested what was left, pulled up our fried and embittered stems, and sowed a new batch of lettuce seeds.
Hopefully we'll see some fresh little green leaves sprouting soon, and maybe it'll cool down just a little. There have been some breaks in the heat, but it looks like we are in for a long, hot summer.