Monarchs

sept 2014-2Today I was gardening at Brooklyn Bridge Park up by Jane’s carousel. There is a very tiny, but pretty garden there that is a rain garden. There is a lot of swamp milkweed in the garden, which is one of my favorite milkweeds. But in addition to being very pretty, it is also a host plant for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies.

sept 2014-3While I was weeding I noticed a monarch caterpillar. I was very excited because monarch butterflies are in decline. It was wonderful to see that the monarchs found a perfect spot filled with their favorite (and only) food. A minute later I noticed another one. sept 2014-4Aren’t they beautiful? And then I noticed that this garden was filled with these beauties. sept 2014-5There was a monarch butterfly flitting about as well. But it was teasing me and I never got a photo of it. I just enjoyed watching it dance happily over all the milkweed.

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Still here

IMG_1854A lot has been going on with my volunteer gardening at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Besides working one day at the Osborne garden, I am now working one day in the Native Flora garden. It’s a nice mix of formal beds and action-packed nature. The Native Flora garden attracts all kinds of insects, birds and butterflies, that it’s almost as much a study of animals as plants when I’m there. Below is one of the many praying mantis I saw one morning.IMG_1842

IMG_1838Earlier in the summer, when I was in the Osborne garden, I noticed bright red fruit on one of the trees. The tree was a cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) tree, which is actually related to dogwoods and not cherries. As many of you know by now, my first question was, “Are they edible?” The answer is a hesitant yes, unless you are from Iran, in which case you get a hearty yes. I read that you could make jam with the berries, so I got permission to gather a bunch that had fallen to the ground. The ones on the trees aren’t quite ripe.IMG_1839I followed a recipe I found online for jam, which I can’t say was a complete success. The taste was wonderful. Cooking the fruit took out the mouth-puckering tannin feel that the raw fruit has. The recipe I used called for way too much water. My preference in making jams and preserves is to cook the fruit as little as possible. What I ended up with was a delicious fruit syrup. Perfect for pouring over yogurt or ice cream.

Next year, I will stick with a more traditional jam recipe. If you run across one of these trees, do give the fruit a try.

Summer tomatoes

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Just got back home from being away for a few days. The backyard was a bit crunchy, but look at these beautiful cherry tomatoes. They are all from volunteer plants from the compost, which gives all different sorts of varieties. This year there’s one kind that ripens when it’s still pink. That keeps throwing me off because I think they aren’t ripe yet and then they split.

Our apples are getting ripe and it looks like my ground cherries are ripening.

Summertime

Hope everyone is enjoying their summer. The flowers, fruit & veg and amazing mushrooms. I love it!aug 7 2014-2 aug 7 2014-3A white chicken of the woods mushroom. This beauty weighed over 2 pounds.aug 7 2014-4Black trumpet mushrooms are my favorite. We found an amazing amount of them.

aug 7 2014-5And we even found a few chanterelles.

Fruit fly control

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We seem to have gotten some fruit flies setting up camp in our kitchen. In the past we’ve made traps with glasses of beer and plastic bags. These work well, but are pretty ugly to have on the counter.

This time I thought I would try something different. The shop at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens sells carnivorous plants. I’ve never had much luck with Venus fly traps, so I thought I would try a pitcher plant this time.

Insects are lured into the funnel-shaped part of the plant, but can’t work their way out because of tiny hairs that point downward inside the tube.

Wish me luck on this little experiment.

Tired, hot, but happy

I mentioned in my last post that gardening in the full sun during July has been a challenge. I have been working out what to wear to give protection from the sun and branches, while being as lightweight and breathable as possible. I am also trying to figure out how to still look like me with tools clipped to my waist and a hat on my head. It’s been a work in progress and not all days are winners. IMG_1830This photo is from my first day wearing my tools, which pulled my pants down just enough to get this lovely sunburn.

IMG_1822I am not a big “sweater”, but rather turn an alarming shade of magenta. With things being as hot as they are, I both turn red AND sweat. That, combined with the dirt on me makes me look deranged. Would I trade what I’m doing to sit at an air conditioned desk? NO WAY!

Gardening at Brooklyn Bridge Park

IMG_1828One of the fun things about gardening at Brooklyn Bridge Park is all the different spaces. There are fields with regular grass and trees, wetland areas, tidal pools, bamboo thickets and native grass meadows. These photos are from when I was weeding in one of the native grass areas. There is a walking bridge above connecting Brooklyn Heights to the park. This particular area is filled with native grasses and sedges, which was a good challenge in identification for me. I had to pull the weeds and invasive grasses, but leave the native stuff. It was really tricky at first, but eventually I was able to really see the differences in coloration and blade texture.IMG_1829When I got home I ordered a copy of the book Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast. It was recommended to me to help in weed identification. And if that doesn’t prove my nerdiness, check out these cool “bird’s nest” mushrooms I saw while weeding. IMG_1827It’s a lousy phone photo where I was trying to get too macro, but if you squint you can see them. There are a few light orange circles that are the mushrooms. When the mushroom wants to spread its spores, the top comes off to expose them. They are the tiny black disks that look like bird’s eggs sitting in a nest. C’mon, you have to admit they are cool!!

Budding Horticulturist

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I’ve been doing some volunteer gardening work at a couple of different places here in Brooklyn. Two days a week you can find me in the native plant gardens at Brooklyn Bridge Park. One day a week I’ll be digging away at the Osborne Garden, which is in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and pictured above. I am learning a lot about native plants vs. weeds. I also feel a bit like a home cook amongst chefs. I am used to gardening on a much smaller scale, so I think I’m a bit too precious when I’m weeding. It will be interesting to learn tips on how to speed things up.

Don’t Pick Up That Baby Bird!

baby birdEvery Spring, I hear about people finding “abandoned” baby birds. They “rescue” them, bring them home and care for them until they inevitably die. Here’s the thing. Those birds aren’t abandoned! They are fledglings. They fly out of their nest and spend a few days on the ground learning how to forage. They haven’t been abandoned by their parents. Imagine the poor parents watching a giant human carrying their baby away!

The Wild Bird Fund in NYC gets inundated every Spring with these baby birds. Take a peek at their pdf below for what to do on this topic. In case you haven’t heard of the Wild Bird Fund, they are the first wildlife rehabilitation center in NYC. Take a peek at their website to see the cool things they are doing.

I had this post all ready to go out (minus this really helpful diagram from the Wild Bird Fund) and then I found my own fledgeling bird today. It was on the sidewalk calling to its parents. This sidewalk is extremely busy with foot traffic, dogs being walked, strollers, etc. The parents weren’t going to go down. They were calling to the baby, which was making the baby hop towards them. Unfortunately it was hopping into traffic on a very busy street. I scooped the little guy up and put it back on the sidewalk. It kept hopping into the street.

Now I was attracting passersby, who were adding their helpful comments. “It fell out of the nest and can’t fly”. Not true. It’s a fledgling. “Don’t touch it, the parents are going to smell you”. Also not true. Gah!

I knew I couldn’t stay there all night to keep scooping the baby out of the street. There weren’t any trees nearby to put it in. I noticed some starlings peeking out of a cornice *way* up in a building. I knew I could never get the baby back up there. There was an abandoned lot across the street, which had wooden boards all around it. It’s been neglected for so long that ailanthus trees are growing in it, and the wooden boards are sagging. I figured that if I could catch this baby, I could fit my hands through the boards and it would be in this lot and unable to hop back into the street.

It took a little bit, but I was able to catch the little guy. He was hunkered behind the tire of a parked car. Fledglings aren’t particularly afraid of people yet, so that made things much easier. I got him into the lot. He let out a big shriek, so his parents were able to hear him and see where he was going. I’m feeling very hopeful about his survival.

That’s him in the top photo. I love his grumpy, yellow mouth! And just for the record, I wouldn’t have touched him at all if he wasn’t in imminent danger of getting squashed by cars or strollers.

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Postcards from the Cloisters

On Saturday we went to visit the Cloisters. We had a beautiful Spring day, which was perfect as the gardens at the Cloisters are as stunning as the museum. The medieval artwork was a great mix of stunning and creepy, with several reliquaries to tip the scales towards creepy.

We lucked out and went on their Garden Day, so we were able to hear about one of the lovely gardens. That particular garden was divided into sections including a culinary and household bed, an arts & crafts bed with dye plants (weld, madder, woad, indigo, nettles), a magic bed (deadly nightshade, dragon arum, mandrake), a brewer’s bed (licorice, hops, ground ivy, costmary). In the center of all of these beds were 4 lovely quince trees, and there were espaliered pear trees along the outside walls.

Of course there were the famous unicorn tapestries, but one of the most amazingly detailed piece was this rosary bead. How the artist carved such detail boggles the mind.

The view from the garden shows the protected Palisades.cloisters-1 Dragon Arum. This bud was getting ready to open. It was about 2 feet long, and when open smells like rotting meat. It was considered an aphrodisiac based on it’s form. I may be more pure at heart because I thought that the bud really looked like a dragon’s tail.

cloisters-2 Espaliered pear treecloisters-3 Quince treecloisters-5 Hops growing in the brewing bedcloisters-6 Another espaliered pear treecloisters-7 cloisters-8 I love this water pitcher. Check out the little man in the dragon’s mouth.cloisters-9 These ladies were reliquaries of saints. The shape of the relic often depicts what it contains. So I guess we’ve got 3 skulls inside. The carving and painting was stunning, but I think their expressions are wonderful.cloisters-10 One of the unicorn tapestries.cloisters-11 Rosary bead.cloisters-12 I thought this depiction of Jesus made him look as though he could actually be from the Middle East.cloisters-13 View from the Cloister’s gardens.cloisters-14Seed packets in the gift shop.