Tag Archive | gardening

It’s Time to get all Israeli on our Water

.Tal-Ya Water Technologies (Tal means dew in Hebrew) developed reusable plastic trays to collect dew from the air, reducing the water needed by crops or trees by up to 50 percent. (photo from israel21c.org)

While gardeners and farmers feel the drought first, it won’t be long until we all feel it. No one, not even your neighbors who keep watering their lawns despite the news that more than 50 percent of the country is facing a drought not seen since the 1950’s is immune.

This summer has been brutal on our water supply. Newspapers and media reports are full of the plight of the farmer as they watch crops wither because most are at the mercy of rainfall for water.

But perhaps this drought is waking us up to appreciate the most precious resource we all take for granted. And it may be time to rethink and apply some extreme agricultural practices as the earth heats up.

In times like these, we can take a lesson from Israel.

Israel is one of the driest countries on the planet. On average, it receives only 19.4 inches of rain annually. Yet, thanks to cutting edge technology, and even more, the stubborn willingness of a people who know that in order to practically live in Israel, you have to believe in miracles, Israel blooms.

A lustrous display of pomegranates in an Israeli market.

This tiny country has learned to efficiently use every drop of water that falls from the sky in the summer or coats the mountains in the north in winter to grow some of the most beautiful produce in the world. Check out this photo of huge greenhouses growing vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes and peppers in the Negev Desert. Check out this photo courtesy of Daniel Lawrence’s blog:

Hundreds of greenhouses line the Negev Desert and grow crops year around. The greenhouses are completely computerized so as not to create any error in the cultivation the plants. Peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes are the main crops grown here.

Israel not only makes the desert bloom, but it has developed technology and methods that the rest of the world can use to reverse and prevent desertification, as noted in this post from israel21c.org. Israel21c.org is an online magazine that offers topical and timely reports on how Israelis from all walks of life and religion, innovate, improve and add value to the world.

So here are a few tips we can learn from Israel to conserve our water resources not only during times of drought, but for the long haul:

  1. Stop Watering Your Lawn. Right Now. – You! Yes, you, the suburbanite! Fuggetabout your lawn. (okay, fuggetabout it is technically a Brooklyn/New Jersey and not an Israeli term, but let’s get back on topic) Israelis don’t have silly things like lawns. Lawns are nothing but vanity.  I’ll say it again: STOP WATERING YOUR LAWN NOW. Your brown lawn has gone into dormancy and watering your lawn artificially just puts more of a strain on its root system. It will come back soft and green when the rains return.
  2. Use drip irrigation – Did you know that agriculturalists in Israel invented drip irrigation technology? Instead of wastefully watering your garden through a sprinkler, where most water evaporates into the air, use drip irrigation to deliver the water right to where the plants need it – the roots.
  3. Save that H2O from your A/C – As shown in the photo above, Israel has developed technologies that draw humidity out of the air for irrigating crops. On a smaller scale, you can do the same by catching water runoff from your central air conditioner (my hose empties into the slop sink) to water plants and vegetables
  4. Less Wasting Water at Restaurants –  When you sit down at a restaurant in Israel, don’t assume that the waitress will automatically fill your glass with endless glasses of water. No way are they just giving water away if it’s not asked for.  You have to ask for the water, sometimes twice – in two different languages, until the waitress gives you a glass of water. So, next time you dine out, if you are not going to drink the water, tell your server not to pour, or refill your glass.
  5. Selective Flushing – Here is a picture of just one type of toilet flush in Israel:                                                                                                                                  The flush mechanism is divided into a big section and a small section.  If you are reading my blog, you are indeed a very intelligent person, so I’ll let you figure out what purpose each section serves.
  6. Shower Shorter, or Shower with a Friend – a drought is a great excuse to share your shower.
  7. Rejoice in the rain: Finally, instead of getting all bummed out when your ball game or picnic gets rained just be thankful. Think of the farmers who need the rain for their crops and livestock (a.k.a. your food, right down to that box of Cheerios and glass of milk at the breakfast table). Any event, even a wedding, can have a postponement, a change of venue or a rain date. But there is no substitute for the blessing of rain.

The Garden that Ate the Community Garden

It’s been more than a few weeks since I’ve written about my garden. I’ve had to pack the kids for camp. I was away visiting family and friends in New York City.  There are several writing deadlines I must complete before the end of next week. And the family is in a bit of transition. More on that in a later post.

But, at the beginning of the summer, I said I would post about my garden, and I’ve got to get back on track.

Since early May I have been tending a 10 x 10 foot plot in my town’s community garden. I have been watering diligently

through this very dry summer.

When I was away,  I left my garden in the care of some  friends who have a plot  adjacent to mine. They have a garden that is not only well cared for but is sealed like a fortress against any critters that may want to feast on their crops.

After a week of being away, I was tempted to drive out to the garden the night we arrived home. But there were kids and suitcases to unpack and get into the house. The garden would have to wait.

No one can tell me that there isn’t a time difference between New York City and Rochester.

Maybe its just the pace of time that moves faster “downstate” because when we returned from our week away in good ‘ol NYC, I was exhausted and slept until after 8 that morning.

I tried to push some energy into my voice when the phone rang and woke me at 8:15.

It was my gardening friend.

“Have you been over to the garden? I didn’t wake you?  Did I?”

No, of course you didn’t wake me, I said, faking a wide awake tone into my voice. But, considering I just got home at nine the night before, and my garden would not be visible in the darkness.

I thought, is she mad? I’m still in downstate jet lag…why don’t Rochesterians get that there exists jetlag when returning from New York City? And you don’t even need to fly to get it!

“Well, you should get over there soon. Your garden is becoming known as the Garden that Ate the Community Garden!”

Indeed. In just one week’s time, my garden had exploded.

Now, compare my community garden at its humble beginnings back in May:

My garden when it was no more than a patch of weeds.

I cleared it and planted tiny seeds:

And now:

Sunflowers have grown taller than my tallest child.

Both the sunflowers – and the children

– have some still to grow:

Pumpkin vines are creeping everywhere. I’ve actually received gentle reminders from my garden neighbors to please retrain my vines back into my garden plot and out of the common garden paths.

And, unlike a sun deprived pumpkin vine, not only am I getting blossoms that have been host to a number of pollen-intoxicated bees, but I actually have 5-10 pumpkins taking shape. I’ll need to make a lot of pumpkin pie this fall.

Not to mention a lot of tomato sauce:

The full sun of the garden has produced such strong leaves on my tomato plants, it looks like they’ve been going to the gym.

There have been some failures, of course every garden has them. My eggplant plants were eaten first by beetles and then strangled and overgrown by the invasive pumpkin vines.

The basil seeds I sprinkled never made it in this dry summer without a good daily watering.

But so far, this experiment in community gardening is paying off. Harvested my first crop of purple beans for dinner last night:

Grow, Tomato, Grow!

Long ago, in another state, the Garden State, my neighbor Joe, a retired chain-smoking fireman, chided me as I put a tall tomato cage around the tiniest tomato seeding in my garden.

“Yeah right, like that’s gonna grow,” he said with smile as he pulled the waistline of his polyester pants over a plaid short-sleeved shirt.

Two months later, I teased him right back.

We were up to our ears in cherry tomatoes. Picked ’em by the basket. And beefsteak tomatoes too. I had so many cherry tomatoes I had to give them away, and my city-dwelling co-workers in Manhattan gladly took some of the perfectly ripened produce  off my hands. And of course, I gave some to Joe and his wife Pat because I was a good sport.

This year, I could have purchased some tomato plants that already had flowers or, heaven forbid, green fruit, and stuck them into the ground in my spot in the community garden for instant gratification.

But it’s far more satisfying for me to know that from seed to ripened fruit, I grew a tomato all by myself. When you grow from seed, you can control the variety and are not at the mercy of whatever is sold at the local greenhouse or big box hardware store. It’s also a lot cheaper.

So, once again, I plant a tiny tomato seedling in the ground:

RUTGERS tomato, started from seed in my basement. It’s got a long way to go before I get a tomato.

And, by putting that big metal cage around this tiny seedling, I am saying “I have faith that you will grow and by summer’s end, provide a bumper crop.” And that’s what you call a real homegrown tomato.

Adventures in the Community Garden: Day One

This will be the year.

This is the year when I, as a gardener, who has lived for over a decade trying to eek out a ripe tomato or a proper cucumber vine in the dappled sunlight of my backyard, will finally understand what full sun means.

This is the year that this gardener becomes a farmer.

For $25, I signed on to care for a 10’x10′ foot plot of earth in The Town of Brighton’s Community Garden. I’m hoping not only to reap some great crops of vegetables and flowers for bouquets all summer, I’m also looking forward to the people I’m going to meet and the stories I will learn from them.

But when I made my first visit to the community garden, located along Westfall Road in Brighton, I wondered what I’ve gotten myself into.

This is the third or fourth season at the garden and many of the plots have been cared for by some pretty seasoned green thumbs. There are plots adorned and accessorized with fencing systems to keep out critters,

neatly divided quadrants, and well-built support systems to grow climbing bean and pea vines. There are plots that have strawberry plants and leeks sprouting up that were planted from the year before:

Some caring gardeners have even designed  a scarecrow:

Then, I located my plot. Plot D-4:

Weedy. Messy. Nothing much to look at. But, hey, I signed on to this, and this little plot of land was mine for the season so I got to work.

It took little effort to pull out the weeds from the soft, loamy soil. The most delicious feeling soil I have ever worked compared to the clay-laden soil in my backyard garden. Did I mention that my neighborhood was built on a former brick making quarry. ‘Nuf said about the quality of the soil.

But out here: The Brighton Community Garden sits on a former cow pasture that was home to  a century’s worth of dairy cows. You guess it, this soil is blessed by 100 years of blessed cow poop.

I weeded and I tilled, the only sounds I heard were the swallows and red-winged blackbirds that swooped and sang overhead.

I did bring along my iPod for company and listened to music on its tiny speakers. And, even though I was alone in this sunny field, I still kept looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was going to run off with it. There are some habits from New York City that don’t die.

After a few hours, my plot looked like this:

Not bad for a first day’s work.

Next up: I’ll install a fence and start planting some seeds.

Ick. My Kid had a Tick. Here’s what to watch out for this Spring

Any time I get a call from the school nurse,I know it’s not good. I’ve gotten calls about broken arms and feet. Pink Eye and broken eyeglasses. But perhaps the scariest call was one I got just last week.

The school nurse at the school where my youngest child attends called with the news that a tick had been removed from his neck.

As my head reeled from the news,  the nurse said that the good news was that it was not embedded, they got the whole thing out, and the tick in question was waiting for me to take to the pediatrician’s office.

Well, thank goodness for small favors.

I answered the nurse’s questions.

No, we don’t have a pet.

No, we have not been wading through any fields with high grasses. So, where on earth could my son have picked up a tick??

When I arrived at school shortly after the dismissal buses left, the circle of teachers hanging about outside the nurse’s office chattering about things like “Lyme Disease” and “they’re running rampant this year” were not comforting words to encounter at all.

“Emm, hello? I’m the mom with the kid with the tick,” I said, trying to drop the hint that the teachers should watch what they have to say lest an extremely freaked out neurotic parent happened to be in the hallway.

Once in the nurse’s office, I found my son happy and not freaked out at all but seemingly fascinated at the tiny parasite that had tried to suck his blood. The tick was safely contained within a prescription medicine bottle. The child was actually concerned for the tick’s well-being. Was he lonely or hungry in there? Would he run out of oxygen? Apparently, my son was under the impression he  had acquired a new pet.

According to an article in yesterday’s Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, tick season will come on earlier this year and be more severe than in recent years because of the warmer weather. And, as the earth heats up, more severe than normal tick seasons will unfortunately become the norm.

Tips to avoid ticks include:

  • Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts when walking in wooded and grassy areas. (The only thing is, my child got a tick simply by being out on the school playground).
  • Use an insect repellent with DEET
  • Those with long hair should tie it back when hiking or gardening.
  • After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks.
  • Stay on trails when you hike. If you leave the path, wear long pants tucked into your socks.
  • If you find ticks, remove them immediately. Pinch the tick near its mouth and pull it out slowly in a continuous motion. Don’t twist the tick because doing so may leave mouth partsembedded in the skin

The good news for my son and for those of us living up north:

My son’s tick friend was a common Dog Tick or Wood Tick. These ticks do not carry Lyme’s Disease.

Deer Ticks, the Lyme’s Disease carrying variety, are less common in Northern areas like Western New York and there are very few cases of Lyme’s Disease.

So, enjoy the outdoors this spring and summer, but if someone (like my son’s classmate) says there is a small bug on you, don’t take it for granted. Let’s be safe out there!

Lilac in the April Snow

How can this be? Last week, exactly last week, it was nearly 90 degrees. I went for a walk with a friend and we couldn’t seem to drink enough water. Stopped on my way home for an iced coffee, worrying how my kids would make it through their track practice. This is how: I had about five kids making a water break stop at my house along their running route.

Last week, I picked a bouquet from my garden that looked like this:

And today, we pulled out the parkas and boots one more time. I had to go digging under the car seats for the snow brush that I hardly used this virtually snow-free winter.

How can this happen? I’ll tell you. I live in Rochester.

Rochester, where lilacs rule supreme in late April and May. Rochester has the country’s largest lilac collection and we celebrate this each year with our annual lilac festival.

This year, in spite of their very early bloom and the damage to 10 percent of Highland Park’s lilac bushes, some of them 120 years old, the Rochester  Lilac Festival is set for May 11-20. It is one of Rochester’s most popular events, attracting thousands of visitors.

But this morning, my lilac bush looked like this:

Those lilac branches yesterday were reaching up to my second story window. I can’t imagine what the rest of spring and then summer has in store this year, can you?

Everything’s Coming Up .. too soon

The warmth in March, and everything that goes with it is coming at us all too soon. The last few days of March have behaved normally, reminding Rochesterians what a Rochester March should really feel like. Sunny but raw. Windy and cold. But last week’s weather was the talk of the town here in Ra-cha-cha. […]

October in New York: East Hill Farm/Folk Art Guild Open House

Last Sunday morning, though I could have slept in, I woke up early. I woke up my family too. I told them we were about to take a trip into the country. No, we weren’t going through a corn Maze.No, there would be no pumpkin catapult contests. But I promised them, they would enjoy it. They were going to have a good time. Because I SAID SO!

Life has been way too hectic lately. I feel like I have barely seen my three children since late June. It seems like no sooner did my older son and daughter return from sleep-away camp and I washed all their laundry, the summer ended and so began the school grind. Homework and tests.  Track meets and band practice.

But last Sunday morning, we had this glorious sunny perfect day. And we had no school and no work. I just wanted one chore-free day of me not nagging anyone spent out in the country. One day of me not badgering anyone to stop texting friends while I am talking to them or stop playing games on the computer.

So off we went.

The ride along Canandaigua Lake had the whole family, plus a friend of my son’s, singing along to “American Pie” on the radio and marveling at the colors of the trees that dotted the hills

as we whizzed past withering cornfields.

To reach our destination: the East Hill  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm and Folk Art Guild in beautiful, Middlesex, NY. There, we got a chance to see where our vegetables were grown all summer.

East Hill Farm is a project of the Rochester Folk Art Guild, a nonprofit organization and community of craftspeople and farmers. Since 1967, they have grown food and produced handmade practical folk art on a 350 acre farm. East Hill Farm uses old fashioned, chemical-free, hands-on organic methods to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs, pigs, and chickens for the community and for sale through our CSA and markets.

For the past 20 weeks, our family took part in a great experiment of owning a CSA share. Each Friday since mid-May we were presented with a portion of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers organically and lovingly grown by a group of young entrepreneurial farmers.   Whether it was spring’s excessive rains or July’s excessive heat, we shared in the farmers’ risky dance with Mother Nature.

The farm had limited cell phone service so we got a chance to sample the simpler, slower style of life. We actually got a chance to catch up, share and talk as a family. How many times are family members distracted from each other by screens: laptops, DS games, cell phones, iPods?

Well, on this day in October my teen-aged daughter actually sat and talked to me.  She sat and reminisced with me about the first time she used  a pottters wheel this summer at camp as we watched a master potter throw and mold a clay jar before our eyes:

How many toys, clothing, dishes do we buy that are made of cheaply made mass-produced?

At East Hill Farm, in the woodworking shop, bare-footed craftsmen showed off their lathes.

And my kids played with real wooden toys.

Made in the USA.

Then, in the weaver’s studio, my son got to try his hand at a loom, using wool that was dyed by an apprentice, the same young woman who brings us our week’s worth of vegetables. Thank you, East Hill Farm farmers. It’s been a great summer.

Yes It’s Hot, even in Rochester

Think cool! Rochester skyline on a wintry day

A few months ago, were we ever really complaining about the snow and cold?

A few months from now,  will we long to feel as hot as it will be today?  

When I visit friends and family “downstate” New York, I get a lot of jabs about living in Rochester.

“So, it’s June… has the snow melted yet?”

“You know what the two seasons are in Rochester? Winter and July 14.”

“Do you get snowed in all the time and how do you go grocery shopping to get food in the snow?”

But guess what, folks? We really do get summer in Rochester, and it’s just as hot as anywhere else, especially this year.

Today, if temperatures reach 100 or above, as forecasters are predicting, it will be the hottest recorded day on this day in Rochester since …..  1894

One of the many advantages of living in Rochester – less traffic, one of the nation’s most affordable housing prices, and great cultural resources – is our pleasant summer. Usually, after a brutally cold winter, our summers are pleasant and comfortable.

Since I moved to Rochester in 2000, we have had summers where the rain fell more than the sun shone.  Some summers, the temperatures barely climbed out of the 70’s. Some summers, we feared we would never get a summer.

Right now, I am glad that I did not sign up for a spot in my community garden, as this has been the driest summers in some time.  There, gardeners must haul water in cans to quench their crops. I’m content with my little garden that is watered with several yards of irrigation tubing. 

Instead of hauling buckets in the heat like a peasant woman, all that is required is connecting a hose and turning a spigot.

So far, I’m getting  plenty of tomatoes – though still green,

a few pumpkins

and some peppers.

Most summers, I complain about the limited hours of sun my garden receives. This year, it is getting just the right amount of heat to grow and the limited sun is preventing it from completely shriveling up and dying.

The only thing, or person, I’m worried about shriveling up or wilting in the heat is my son, who is on his first overnight at day camp. I slathered him up with sunscreen, slapped on his white, sun reflecting hat, packed his frozen metal water bottle, and will hope for the best.

“Mom, is this the hottest summer of my life?” The seven-year-old inquired at the breakfast table.

“Yes” I said, popping his Eggo waffles in the toaster.

“Will summers get hotter than this even?”

For that, I don’t have an answer.

So, besides sweltering day campers, what will most Rochesterians do? They will survive just as they do in the winter:

They’ll duck inside a mall, movie theatre, or museum, if not a chilly office

At camps, they will stay inside and play board games, do lots of arts & crafts. And only brave the heat for a dip in the pool.

But in Rochester, we’ll take the heat.  After all, the burn of summer’s swelter is better any day than the bite of winter’s wind chills.

As for me, I finished writing and filing my two newspaper articles for the week.  I’ll catch up on some summer reading and spend time with my oldest son, already packed up for summer camp. Then, I’ll settle down for a long summer’s nap.

What’s that Purple Thing from the CSA and what do I do with it? – CSA week 4

Joining a CSA Farm is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get.

The adventures of my first summer with a CSA continue. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  • Don’t expect to live on what you get in your CSA share. In spring and early summer, you’ll still have to supplement your local produce with things like peppers and other salad vegetables
  • Locally grown produce from a Northeast CSA will not include summer plums and peaches and berries, so you will still have to buy that at the supermarket
  • Expect to get a lot of Kale.  Learn different ways to prepare it, you’ll be surprised how much you like it.
  • Don’t expect vine-ripened tomatoes until at least late July

This week, like last, we received  a bunch of sugar snap peas.

They can be prepared in stir-frys and salads, but my family likes them best raw. Easy enough.

We also received some beautiful purple basil which I shredded and used as a topping for pasta. It’s also good in Thai cooking.

But last week, after getting back from a great trip to see the family back in NYC, I went to pick up our family’s half of the share from our friends. They took the basil because they knew I have a ton of it in my own garden.

What they gave me was this:

This weird, bulbous thing is called Kohlrabi. It’s pronounced: Call Robbie. It looks like it could have grown on futuristic farm on Venus. Just the sight of it made my sons laugh. I have never had Kohlrabi, neither did our CSA partners, so they let me be the brave one and try it first.

So what to do if you encounter Kohlrabi in your CSA share this summer:

  • First you peel the purple away. I thought this was a bit disappointing because it was the vegetable’s purpleness that made it so intriguing to my kids. Underneath, you will find a white flesh, like a turnip.
  • Slice it thinly with a sharp knife. Kohlrabi is tough!
  • Toss it with Olive oil Salt & Pepper and place it on a single baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees. It has a sweet taste and the texture of roasted potatoes
  • Make a Kohlrabi Green Apple Slaw, as featured in A Veggie Venture 
  • Make a Kohlrabi puree, as recommended by Farmgirl’s blog 

I will wait patiently for the mounds of zucchini and tomatoes we’ll get in our CSA share. But in the meantime, I’ll have fun with this strange vegetable that looks like it was grown on another planet.

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