Patch Mystery

Also on Friday Doug and I noticed something. One of the granite blocks had been moved! It might be hard to see in the photos but this middle block (pictured) has definitely been shifted. It shifted so much so that the crack plants fell deeper into the crack. We puzzled over this situation for a while. We also noticed that the two back blocks seemed to have shifted very slightly as well because there are shadow-like marks left from where they once were. These blocks are really heavy. I think the guys that helped install them can vouch for that. It's hard to believe that they can be shifted without the aide of something. They were originally nudged into place with a forklift. We decided that perhaps a car or some other vehicle may have accidentally backed up into the two rear blocks which caused the other block to shift.
If anyone saw what happened let me know.

Sweeping up around the patch

Part of my maintenance routine includes sweeping up around the patch. There is something relaxing and satisfying about a nice patch sweep. On Friday my friend Doug volunteered to help out. He also harvested the last decent ear of corn. I think now the total ears harvested comes to 12. You can see the corn and maybe even eat some too on the afternoon of Sept 12th at the Farm City event at the Invisible Dog and all along Bergen Street.


Beans, victim of their own success?

Abby had been warning me about the beans. But like Cassandra's prophecy of the fall of Troy, the warnings went unheeded. Abby told me a couple times she thought the beans were dangerously over-running the corn and exerting too much pressure on the stalks. With my deferential attitude toward the three sisters I preferred to just let them do their thing. However the Lenape beans ran themselves clear up to the end of their sisters' short stalks. Lacking anything to climb onto to they were left with no choice but to reach out to each other. Their twisted embraces also entwined their companion corn's tassels. The corn, like the bamboo sticks from a couple weeks ago, have started to bend over from the pressure of so many entanglements. I'm also a little concerned that some of the tassels got caught up in this chaos before they had a chance to fully open and release their pollen. Is this garden becoming a victim of it's own remarkable success?
A man named Carl came up to say hello today. He lives across the street. He told me that he's been watching me and the garden since the beginning. I wonder if he saw me that cold raining day in May when I was digging in the mounds and pulling up bloated non-germinating seeds. We both agreed happily that the garden has come a long way.
(Pictures above of two methods I'm trying to get the beans off the corns back. I coaxed some onto the gate, and other I tied up to a long albeit flimsy stick. Will it work? Also pictured -- the very first Lenape beans to sprout. yay!)


A Canarsie Evening by Abby (gardening helper)

This is a post from Abby who has been helping with the Canarsie garden since Isak left for grad school. Above is a picture of Abby showing a visitor around the garden.


While I was weeding in the Canarsie garden on Thursday evening, the man who stopped by last week visited again. When I met him for the first time, he expressed his deep appreciation of the garden and told me, nostalgically, that he had a similar garden at his home in Ghana. He expressed his belief that growing one’s own food was much better and much more “economical” than buying it at the supermarket. On Thursday he repeated his earlier suggestion that less corn should be planted in a narrow garden lot. As Christina and I have discussed, perhaps lack of space, excess of shade, and/or the mediocre quality of the soil have hampered the growth of these corn. How strange that corn, squash, and beans are a traditional planting trio and yet the corn seem to flourish in a different environment than the squash and beans. Maybe Christina has some thoughts on this?

On Thursday, the garden was also visited by a group of four children between the ages of seven and ten; three of the four were Muslim immigrants from Yemen. Their curiosity, desire to help, and eloquent questions impressed me. They dreamed of planting their own gardens and tried very hard to remember the names of the beans. While I worked, a brother and sister described to me a beautiful home in Yemen surrounded by luscious trees and topiary. I love how an Indigenous garden can become the connecting point for so many people of different ages and nationalities.

I highly enjoyed clipping yellow leaves off the white bush scallop squash vines! Upon removal, their huge stems leak a stream of water; after they have been emptied, I found that I could blow into them and make music!


Dwarf squash on Smith St.

So the stunted little squash is starting to flower. Will I get mini white bush scallop squash?


What's that on the corn?

Quick trip to Canarsie to restake the beans. The beans are going nuts and toppling from their own weight. Some are starting to flower too! Can't wait to see what happens. While I was there I had a nice patch chat with a woman named Beverly. She's a teacher and she has a garden going at her school (flowers only). I gave her some sunflower seeds. Also took a picture of an interesting development on the top of a corn ear... what's that?


Meanwhile... back in sweaty downtown BK

Today I gave the squash and beans a dose of compost from my worm bin. Will it help or is this just a lost cause? I harvested one ear of corn and counted 4 more on the stalks (including the one pictured above). I think two have gone missing. But I'm not sure. Hey, a squirrel's gotta eat. Or a raccoon. If a person took one and bit into it he/she would likely be disappointed. This corn's not sweet.


La Serenissima Canarsie

One day maybe I'll write something about my ride to Canarsie. It's been the reliable pleasure of this summer of 2010. It's a smooth long ride past the multicolored shingled houses in Flatbush (look for the parrots' nest). I know I'm close when I pass the overloaded seltzer truck on Ave D, and then the last right onto E 93rd street. On the corner of E. 93rd is the house with the trellised vines that marks the entrance to La Serenissima Canarsie. The "most serene" gentle ride down E. 93rd.
Today I arrived to a garden with squash gone wild. The plants have spread their tentacles out into the "meadow" and are trying to climb the wall. They've reached beyond the garden and are exploring the area behind the school perhaps on their way to the parking lot. The cornstalks are still shorter than I am but they are a deep, dark green. Many of them have long, slender ears fattening on their stalks. There was one opened ear of corn. It was a long ear but only four rows of kernels had developed. We'll see what we get. The beans leaves are large, flat and dark green. So different from their pale, whithering relatives in Boerum Hill. Some have begun to flower. This garden in Canarsie was so hard to get off the ground. The garden on Smith Street, on the other hand took off in a flash. But the Boerum Hill garden burned brightly and fast. Now it's winding down early. The squash and beans never got off the ground. Canarsie, after a slow, unpromising start is just hitting its stride. There is a lesson to be learned here.
Thanks to Marika for riding with me, taking pictures, and having some plantains with me at Footprints "the home of the rasta pasta".


Corn on the stalks in Canarsie

In the meantime here's a snap from the Canarsie garden taken by Abby. She did double Canarsie duty this week as I wasn't able to get down there. And I have to say I missed going there this week. Abby said on Thursday a man from Ghana came to talk to her about the garden and how much he liked it. He said it reminded him of his garden back home.

A patch chat with Oscar

This morning at the garden I met a guy named Oscar from Sunset Park. He was sitting on beside the corn drinking his morning coffee. He's originally from El Salvador where he lived on a farm and he has experience with the three sisters plantings. I really wish I spoke Spanish to have been able to understand everything he wanted to tell me. But what we managed to discuss was that in his opinion it was too hot on the corner. That the relentless sun from morning to night along with the stones and sidewalk which retain and radiate heat made it hard on the plants. He said something I didn't fully understand about the soil being too strong and the corn grew too fast (there was a word he couldn't find in English). He has been watching it this summer and how fast it grew. I showed him the beans and squash and how they just seemed to stop growing at a certain point. Again he said it was too hot. This has been a really hot, dry summer. By contrast in Canarsie the plot is verdant and crawling with squash and beans. The corn, though short is still dark green. One big difference is that Canarsie plot is shaded for part of the morning. It's also watered in the early morning (5am - on a timer). And because the sun comes over the garden around 11am, the ground stays damp after a water and the moisture doesn't evaporate. Anyway, I'm still learning with each garden and these are simply the things I've observed. But even so we are getting some nice ears of corn on Bergen St. I harvested a couple more ears today and there are about seven or eight really fat ones still on the stalks.


Golden Years

The stalks are now moving into their golden years. After this hot, dry summer... looking forward to the change in season. Soon.


Bike Map

You can download a work-in-progress version of my Maize Field map on the project's website: http://brooklynmaize.org/maps.html I'm still working on it but I think its at a good point now to share what I've been doing. If you'd like to give me some feedback or take a ride to Canarsie with me send me an email.

It is no Longer in the Milk

I harvested four more ears of corn today (I guess I'm in my harvest dress again). I braided them and hung them to dry in my studio. I've been waiting until the husks lose their color and become yellow before I harvest.
Tony, the heirloom farmer who donated the Lenape seeds (for the Canarsie garden), explained: "After the milk stage (like sweet corn when it is picked) it then goes into the "dough" stage where it thickens but is not hard. Once you are into the latter part of the dough stage but has not dried yet, it is mature enough to harvest. I try to wait until husks yellow before harvesting"

I've come across a book online about Iroquois uses for maize. Here is an English translation of the process from the Seneca language:

She plants
It is just forming sprouts
It has sprouted
The blade begins to appear
The blade has appeared
The blade is already out
The stalk begins to appear
The stalk is fully out
It is beginning to silk
The ears are out
It has silked out
The tassels are fully out
It is in the milk
It is no longer in the milk
The ears are beginning to set
The kernels are setting on the cob
They are husking (indefinite as
to method)
She is braiding
It is braided
It is hung over a pole
It is strung along a pole


Canarsie Squash Flower

A picture of a squash flower by Abby Savitch-Lew. She's helping me with the Canarsie garden this month. Today I was on Governor's Island checking out my new studio space for an artist residency there that will go on through December.


My Favorite Garden in Brooklyn

The Three Sisters are all over this beautiful spot. I love this sprawling community garden. West 22nd and the Coney Island boardwalk. Fantastic -- with roosters too! Look how tall that corn is! It's twice as tall as me!


First Harvest, Smith & Bergen

I noticed today at the patch that a couple of the ears had turned yellow. So it seemed like a good time to harvest them. They are now hanging to dry in my studio. From now on it's a waiting game between me and the squirrels...


I propose a Kings Highway Heritage Bike Path

(the picture above Cortelyou & Schenectady)
Usually, to get to Canarsie, I take Bedford Avenue to Clarendon. This route roughly follows parallel to the the old Indian pathways that ran along what is now Flatbush and Cortelyou. Today at Bedford and Cortelyou I decided to ride down Cortelyou (which doesn't have a bike lane. Clarendon does). Cortelyou was once called Canarsie Road -- and the route it follows was the Indian pathway to the planting lands in Canarsie. What a nice ride. A quiet road (even has speed bumps). It's a road until Schenectady where it becomes a little lane / driveway. This got me thinking. How great would it be if the DOT laid down bike lanes on roads or sections of roads that were once Indian pathways? Why not? And they could even paint these lanes in a different color from the green lanes. They could become our heritage bike paths.
Many of our main roads were once Indian pathways: Fulton, Court, Atlantic, Kings Highway, Flatbush, 4th/3rd Avenues. I propose they start with Kings Highway. It runs east - west across the belly of the borough. The Indians called this path Mechawanienck "the ancient pathway". The settlers widened it into a carriage road an renamed it King's Highway in 1704. On the NYC Cycling map much of Kings Highway is designated "planned/proposed route" so it seems a logical step to lay down a heritage bike lane. They could eventually come up with a system of bike lanes that followed the old paths. These heritage bike lanes would make roads safer for bikes and pedestrians. The historical component would enrich the experience of moving around the borough and has the potential help us connect us more deeply to this place.


Hey what's going on here?

Rode by the plot at 11am on my way to an appointment. Wonder when this occurred? A bunch of dirt dug out of the plot from around a sunflower and the sunflower top missing from its stem. Looks like the work of an animal. If not an animal then that's kind of disturbing. Still if it is an animal it's a little worrying. I know squirrels will go for the corn but at the same time the ears should mature on the stalks. Birds like sunflower seeds and the tops of my sunflowers at home have been getting their heads snipped off. But the digging around the base and throwing dirt doesn't seem bird like, does it? Weird.



I was on my way to get a coffee when I ran into a guy I know who said he saw me quoted in New York Magazine saying that I was surprised the corn hasn’t been vandalized yet. I wonder where they got that quote because I never spoke to anyone at New York Magazine. However, I will admit that it's true I’m pleasantly surprised that the worst thing I’ve found at the plot is a half eaten dominos pizza tossed in among the stalks. Last winter a blogger posted a story about this project and promptly received several negative comments including the ominous threat: “I’m going to let my dog pee on it”.
In Canarsie the garden is actually surrounded by a fence. Fences figure into the colonial history of the area. One translation of Canarsee is actually “the fenced place” And according to the book, The Algonquin Series, Vol 2 (Tooker) – European farmers as early as 1624 started leasing land in the area from the Indians until there were “twelve to twenty cultivated portions all enclosed in fence.” And the 1665 land grant states “a fence shall set at Canarissen for the protection of the Indian cultivation.” Fences were tools of the colonists in the sectioning land into parcels that could be bought and sold and owned. However the Indian concept of land ownership was different from that of the Europeans. An good book on this topic is Changes in the Land: Indians, Colononists, and the Ecology of New England by William Cronon.
There have been a lot of surprises during this project besides what has or has not been vandalized. I hadn’t counted on stray cats in Canarsie or a summer without rain. And I wonder why the beans and squash are flourishing in Canarsie while they are struggling in Boerum Hill. I’m surprised that the Lenape blue flour corn so short and the Gigi Hill blue flint corn is taller than last year.
But the lack of “vandalism” at the Boerum Hill plot keeps coming up. One person asked me recently how I keep people from taking the corn.
I don’t.