Snow!

IMG_2387The snow is starting to really come down now. For friends and family in the path of the snow…stay warm and enjoy the show. School is cancelled here for tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll be sending some sledding photos your way.

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Pruning Workshop

IMG_2374_2Yesterday I attended a pruning workshop given to gardeners at Brooklyn Bridge Park. It is an exciting place to be a gardener as everything is so young. When trees are young, your pruning is crucial in the shaping (or destroying) of the trees. Mistakes you make now can cause weak limbs, and even the eventual death of a tree. The more acute of an angle the branch is to the tree, the weaker it is. The more branches you prune affects how the tree is able to photosynthesize and feed itself. The way you cut a branch can affect how it heals. It was clear that they take this responsibility very seriously and limit who is allowed to prune trees (no volunteers!). It was also clear that they love the fact that they haven’t inherited old trees with years of possibly bad pruning practices.

After the lecture portion, we went outside to look at some trees and assess what issues we saw that should be addressed, or left alone. Many of the trees are still suffering/recovering from Hurricane Sandy. There is also a tremendous amount of large-scale building going on down there, which is shading out some trees. And of course large delivery trucks parking often break branches facing the street.

Another factor that I hadn’t really considered before is the psychology of pruning in a public space. Leaving tree limbs that you would normally prune to block people from entering a bed. Or pruning a branch in a way that makes it uninviting for kids to grab on to and swing on. And of course pruning branches that are about eye-level in pathways.

The photo is the view of the sunset through the classroom window.

Urban Gardening

Finding unusual things while gardening today.BBG 1_15-1Like this skull. I was cutting back herbaceous perennials today and stumbled upon this. No body attached. Probably a victim of Santeria. Likely a lamb. I’ve heard of people finding roosters nailed to trees in Prospect Park, but until this haven’t seen any sign of animal sacrifice.BBG 1_15-2And I found this unusual egg case/chrysalis/whatever strung between branches of an azalea. Any idea what it might be? There were a couple and they all had a long tightrope with the case somewhere towards the middle. Not terribly well camouflaged. The size is less than an inch.

Heron Watching

bbg-heron small-2This lovely great blue heron decided to stop for a rest on the railing in the Native Flora garden at the BBG today. He stayed for quite a while, which was fun to watch.

The pond doesn’t have fish or frogs in it, so he was just hanging out enjoying the warm sun we had today. Maybe he had just eaten a nice, juicy koi out of the Japanese Garden and was stopping to digest a bit.

Chinese Quince

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Last week one of the gardeners I work with gave me these two beauties. They are about 6″ long, are a greenish yellow and are heavy for their size. They are also quite hard. I had no idea what they were when he first showed them to me.

Chinese quince, or Pseudocydonia sinensis, is a beautiful smallish tree that has bark which looks a bit like army camouflage. The flowers are a delicate pink and are quite fragrant. The fruit ripens in late fall and also has a lovely scent.

Quince used to be much more common in the US because it’s high amount of pectin made it useful for making jams and preserves. I think the product most people know is quince paste, which is usually sold in fancy cheese stores.

I’ve been trolling the internet to find a good quince jelly recipe. I’ll let you know what I come up with.

Making Vanilla Extract

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I’m not sure exactly how making vanilla extract came on my radar. It probably came from buying some at the store and experiencing sticker shock. I do a lot of baking, so I go through it pretty quickly.

I poked around the internet for recipes and mostly found ones on sites that sold vanilla beans. I suspected that the amount of beans they called for was pretty high because they had a product to sell. I am able to buy vanilla beans at my wonderful import shop Sahadi’s.

I decided to begin with a small (200ml) bottle of Tito’s vodka and 3 vanilla beans, cut in half lengthwise and again widthwise. I started that on 8/4 and put it in a dark cupboard to steep. After a month and a half I realized that I had been too cheap with the vanilla beans and bought 3 more. I cut them up the same as before.

It’s now 2 months later and the scent of the vanilla extract is heavenly. You can get into which type of vanilla beans you want to try. For now, here’s a basic recipe.

1 small bottle (200ml) of vodka

6 vanilla beans cut lengthwise and widthwise.

Drop the beans in the vodka and let sit in a dark cupboard for 2 months. Re-bottle into small cute bottles and share with your friends. Or horde it yourself and share your baked goods.

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Soaking in the color

Our fall foliage has pretty much come and gone. The days are getting shorter and colder. I can still find bits of color here and there and am trying to soak in as much as I can before the monochromatic days of winter. Here are some photos from the Osborne garden this week.

How to Make Felted Acorns

felt acorn-1The next time you are taking a walk in the woods, and the ground isn’t covered in snow, you might want to gather some acorn caps to make felted acorns. It’s a quick and simple project and looks nice on a little dish, or tied to a present, or even as an ornament. I thought they would be fun to make into a garland, but haven’t engineered that just yet.

To make the felted balls, you will need either wool roving or a rustic-style of yarn. The more processed the fiber, the less likely it is that it will felt. Think itchy wool, and you’re halfway there.

You will need a bowl of warm, soapy water. I used dish soap. Make a loose ball of yarn or roving about the size of a peach pit and dip it into the water. Squeeze the excess water out and start to roll the ball between your palms in a circular motion. Keep going until you can see that the ball is beginning to felt, which should happen in just a minute or two. Roll the ball until it is the perfect size to fit in your acorn cap.

Wait for the balls to dry and then glue into the cap with a little fabric or craft glue.