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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

      Showing posts with label vegetables. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label vegetables. Show all posts

      Thursday, June 7, 2012


      I've been picking a crop of lettuce that self-seeded when I failed to rip out the tired plants July 2011. The lettuce went to seed, germinated and produced small leaves by Sept., then wintered over. It's a special treat to have free salads now.
      A River Birch has just turned its fall color, beautiful in October, but in June. One of my hydrangeas was also crying out "LN, LN". Investigation showed that the tap to the automatic drip system had been shut off by person or persons unknown. The tap now has full body armor and the birch has started to drop all of it's leaves. I'm hoping it will re-leaf to get it through the rest of the summer.
      One of my three Montauk daisies, usually the last perennial to bloom in my garden each October, is bursting into full bloom. It probably thinks that the pathetic season we went through in January and February was spring. After it finishes blooming I'll cut it back and hope for re-bloom in fall. Something strange is also happening in my boxes of annuals. Yes I knew my Calabrachoa had over-wintered for the first time in history, but now strange leaves are appearing both here and in the base of the flowering plum trees. My best guess is that a stealth gardener has planted pumpkin seeds. I'll leave them alone to see what happens.

      Saturday, February 11, 2012


      On May 30, 2011, I had the pleasure of cutting some small leaves for a salad. I enjoyed the irony of 'Wine Country Mesclun' advertised as "straight from the Napa Valley" growing in a container on my roof in Manhattan. I once lived in California 30 miles from the Napa Valley and I know that Third Ave. it ain't.
      That same spring I planted 'Monet's Garden Mesclun' from seeds I'd also been given to try by Renee's Garden Seeds.I don't use any dressing on my salads so I taste the flavor of the pure ingredients. Both of these mescluns were DELICIOUS and ridiculously easy to grow by just broadcasting seeds in containers and covering with 1/4 in. of soil.
      By mid-summer, the lettuces had gone to seed, as they do in full sun and high heat.
      Partly because I'm the laziest gardener extant, partly because I'm thrilled with nature's ability to replant without needing a gardener, I left the old stalks where they were. Ugly, right?By Sept. 30 new seedlings had emerged from the soil and I had visions of a second crop before winter. But these guys didn't seem to grow, just muddled along though the holiday season and our extraordinarily warm winter. Today in a light dusting of snow they're slightly bigger, and I hope to have a harvest in March.I keep watching; better than a Broadway show. Of course not so beautiful as lettuces in the Louise Loeb Vegetable Garden at the NYBG, laid out in neat rows, but MINE, ALL MINE. (O.K., not all mine, I must share with others in the building, but you know what I mean.)
      This season I'll be trying Renee's Wasabi Arugula for it's spicy leaves and edible white blossoms. Visit: Reneesgarden.com for their selection of 20 lettuce varieties with planting instructions for each.

      Wednesday, September 28, 2011

      Martha Stewart's Harvest Show

      When Martha Stewart decided to do her first harvest show ever, she put out a call for audience members to bring baskets full of their home grown bounty. Colleague Kathy Jentz (Washington Gardener Magazine) requested three tickets, then invited us two Ellens to come along.

      (ESP & KJ)

      A line of eager gardeners reached halfway down the block in front of Martha's Chelsea studios. Some baskets were truly impressive, others just confusing. (Like the guy who brought leaves and seedpods of Ricinus communis. Really? Sure, they're pretty, but also deadly poisonous. He didn't seem to have a clue.)

      Kathy brought a bumper crop of okra, tomatillos, and ground cherries.

      O.E.'s basket overflowed with herbs and photogenic rose hips.

      Mine was fully foraged: mushrooms, sumac berries, crabapples, dandelion greens, silverberries, houttuynia, bayleaf, and a demi-bouteille of lilac wine.

      Alas, the subtleties of my wild edibles were lost on Martha's minions. They fell for the gardening equivalent of the blonde cheerleader with big boobs: overflowing baskets of corn, squash, tomatoes, and peppers. We smart girls with great personalities were relegated to the upper reaches of the studio audience.

      I was able to interest Emeril with my wine as he walked through the audience looking for ingredients to use. He took it, but didn't end up using it in his dish and never gave me an on camera nod. Yes, that bugged me, but it was my own fault. I shouldn't have brought something I wasn't willing to part with...I just expected an appropriate thank you in exchange.

      Once I recovered from the unanticipated agony of flashbacks to the cattle calls of my twenties, I was able to sit back and enjoy both the bounty and the message. Baskets overflowed with gorgeous edibles, Martha and Emeril whipped up two vegetarian dishes (sans wine!), and we watched a special remote segment on the recent National Heirloom Exhibition in Sonoma, CA.

      It was great to see heirloom vegetables, seed saving, and non-GMO crops get the press they deserve from someone with a platform as far-reaching as Martha's. I've admired her for years and was pleased to see that she is as strong, articulate, and quick on her feet as I hoped she would be. So kudos to Martha for celebrating the harvest with her television audience. And next time pick one of the smart girls. They're way more interesting.

      Wednesday, August 10, 2011

      potato update

      I could have waited a little longer, but curiosity got the best of me.

      Following directions, I mounded soil around the potato plants several times as they grew, until the potting mix was within an inch of the top of the container. All told, I added 6 - 8 inches of soil over the first 6 weeks of growing. I only stopped because the container was full.

      I waited. I don't usually wish for leaves to turn yellow, but since that's the visual cue for potato readiness...these yellow leaves made me very happy! I tugged on the first yellow stem and was dismayed to find a few, fingernail-sized tubers attached to the roots. Surely this wasn't my entire crop. Yet each subsequent stem yielded the same, measly harvest.

      Not willing to accept failure, I stuck my hands into the soil and rooted around up to my elbows. Eureka! First one, then another, then another. So I learned something: potatoes are heavy enough to break away from the roots when you pull on the stem. Did you know that? It may seem obvious to you, but to us first-time-potato growers, it was not.

      So there you have it: potatoes from a container. It couldn't be easier (well it could, but it's still pretty easy) and it took up very little space, making it an excellent crop for small city gardens. at all. If I had a little more room, I might keep the container as is and re-use the potting mix next year. Since I don't, I'll dump the mix, fold up the grow bag, and store it away till next spring.

      Handy, useful product (thanks, Gardeners Supply) & home grown potatoes. Two thumbs up!

      Thursday, April 21, 2011


      Last month I gave a lecture on vegetable gardening in containers and in preparation for said lecture I contacted our friends at Gardeners Supply Company for an image of their very cool grow bags. Why so cool, you ask? Unlike containers made of wood or fiber glass, these grow bags fold down to nothing when the growing season is over, making storage a breeze. Plus they come in some very pretty colors.

      In addition to the image I received an offer to trial a grow bag and since containers are my thing I said Yes! God! Yes! Actually, not wanting to be greedy, I humbly requested a single, tomato grow bag. Marie (@ GSC) generously offered me a potato grow bag as well.

      As much as I love tomatoes, I'm EXTRA excited about the potatoes because I've never grown them before. Let the grand experiment begin!

      1) Unfold groovy double layer polypropylene grow bag. It's water permeable, so excess water flows out the bottom and sides. And because the bag is porous, the roots are well aerated, which is also important.

      2) Add favorite brand of potting mix: Jolly Gardener.

      3) Place potatoes on top of a 3-4" layer of soil. I probably should have only used 4 seed potatoes, but I had 5 and so, you know...waste not...want potatoes.

      4) Cover with another layer of soil (3-4"). Once foliage appears, I'll mound up around it, burying the lower leaves.

      5) Wait patiently. It's been 4 days and nothing's showing yet. Michael reminds me that these are not instant potatoes.

      Stay tuned for potato progress reports. If this goes well I see the roofs of New York City covered in grow bags...a potato in every pot...

      Sunday, September 26, 2010


      Some people collect 17th century French porcelain; I collect farmers markets. Whatever country I visit, whatever state or town, if there's a farmer's market, it's at the top of my must-see list. Even if I'm staying in a hotel room far from home without a fridge, I find something to purchase. Last week in Dallas TX it was ripe heirloom tomatoes that I could snack on out of hand between symposium sessions.
      In late summer in the US every market seems to offer sunflowers, tomatoes and peppers. While I love those, when I travel I seek products that are characteristic of that area, products that I may not see in my NYC Greenmarket.

      In Canterbury NH, pop. 2297, the market is under individual tents in Town Center, between the Town Library and the Town Hall. Here I can replenish my stash of Jill's delectable maple sugar candies. The Saturday market in Concord is sited next to the gold-domed State Capitol. It seems like a perfect statement: New Hampshire supports its farmers. We bought sweet corn for dinner and I reinforced the message of the Worm Lady who was trying to convince skeptics that worm composting was easy to do.In Santa Fe NM the market is in the old railroad yards, complete with quintet playing country & western.I saw both hot and sweet peppers roasting in front of a gas flame, in a cage hand-cranked by the farmer, and hot pepper powder in bags large enough to last a week or two.

      In Raleigh NC, both yams and peanuts seemed right at home. while kids on a field trip tasted testing the fresh apple cider. Last week in the sheds of the Dallas Farmers market, I was somewhat startled to see a stand that sold only Texas Longhorn beef bones, slow roasted for dogs, advertised at 1/2 the calories of regular beef, 80% less fat, and 30% less cholesterol....What a Wonderful Town
      Back in New York City in my favorite market at Union Square I was searching for true NYC flavor. By 8:15 am when I arrived, the chefs in their white coats, trailing disciples with baskets and hand carts, had already departed with their selections.

      Then I spied it, the Lower Eastside Ecology Center Compost stand. New Yorkers bring their garbage, dump it in containers; the ecology center makes the compost, then bags it for resale at the market. Garbage! It made me proud to be a New Yorker.

      Wednesday, August 18, 2010

      fly like an eagle

      The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. A farm? On a rooftop? In Greenpoint? That's right. You heard me.

      Founder Annie Novak gave us a guided tour of the 6000 square foot growing space and explained the farm's philosophy. Her realism was refreshing. Annie has no illusions that NYC rooftop gardens can feed NYC. Instead she sees her urban farm as an opportunity for education. The farm supports a CSA, supplies several local restaurants with VERY local produce, and partners with Growing Chefs ("food education from field to fork") to bring city-dwellers closer to their food source with a range of educational programs.

      Financed by Broadway Stages (the sound stage located beneath the green roof) and designed by Goode Green, the base system is comprised of polyethelene, a drainage mat, and retention and separation fabrics.

      They start all their own seeds and grow everything in a mere four inches of mix. No, it ISN'T soil. The growing medium is a combination of compost, rock particulates, and shale; it's lightweight, retains water, and provides good aeration. Annie top-dresses the garden with compost made on site, and rotates the mobile chicken coop to spread chicken manure throughout the garden.

      Now in its second year, Annie collects data on what grows best in these unusual circumstances. One of this year's big winners is hot peppers. Tomatoes, salad greens, kale, and chard also perform well. The Biggest Loser: winter squash. (Sorry, winter squash!) She refines her crop choices based on performance and market value.

      In addition to a carefully chosen palette of vegetables, Eagle Street harvests honey from three (now legal!) apiaries and includes occasional eggs from its six resident chickens in their CSA shares. There are also some very cute bunnies on site (in cages, where they can't munch freely), which are NOT being raised as meat, I'm told. Mmm...rabbit... I'm just saying.

      Saturday, July 10, 2010


      So it wasn't an ocean voyage; it was one free ferry ride from the tip of Manhattan across New York Harbor to Governors Island. Embarking from the historic Battery Maritime Building (above), we sailed under the helicopters, next to the mammoth Staten Island Ferry and within sight of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. (Free ferries also from Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and by Water Taxi for a fee.) A federal military installation since the Revolutionary War, in 2001 half of Governors Island was designated a National Historic Site and in 2003 the other half turned over to NYC for parkland, recreation, and the arts.

      Below, newly restored Commanding Officers Quarters built in 1843, open to the public, now used for exhibits and events. My ostensible reason for going was to visit the organic farm established by Added Value, a Brooklyn non-profit supporting urban agriculture, but we first stopped to admire the view of steamy lower Manhattan from the shade of the Island.At Picnic Point, a lone farmer works 40 hours a week to tend both flower and vegetable crops in raised beds with drip irrigation. Island-made compost for the farm is supplied by the Earth Matter Compost Learning Center directly across the road. The farmer hopes to have produce available for sale at a farm stand later in the summer, but some plants like the squash and celery here were still waiting to go in on July 2. Behind the crops, overlooking the harbor are half units of shipping containers, each open on two sides, housing a picnic table and benches for family groups. When you double click to enlarge the image below, note that some clever designer has added large wheels to one end of each bench, to enable visitors to move and park them in the best positions.Ride a rental bike (one hour free on Fridays), play free miniature golf with each hole designed by a different artist, hear a free concert on some summer weekends, walk around the island and capture your favorite view of a favorite lady (also free), take a free tram ride for a guided tour with unlimited on-off privileges, fly a kite, enter one of the historic buildings and see the work of artists in residence, learn about the military history and visit a fort, walk out on a pier into the East River, and if you get too exhausted from all of this playing, refresh yourself with some of the best homemade cart food you'll find in the city. Carts are scattered all over the 110 acres of public open space. Here's what Fauzia had to offer the day we were there.
      You may not find any mango-pineapple lemonade left because Gary H. drank three. I saw him.

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