Monday, July 24, 2006


As many of you may know from the news, large chunks of Northwest Queens, including my own Astoria, have been without power for a week now. Following New York City's annual mercury ride into the high 90s early last week, massive thunderstorms arrived. The combo of those storms, the high temps, and the strain on the Big Apple's ancient infrastructure sent about half of the local feeder cables on the fritz.

Our power was out for two full days, and if you'll allow me to whine like a child, I'll tell you it sucked: rotten food, sticky & smelly air, boredom seeping like an infection as reading, writing, television, music were all eliminated (I know what you're thinking, and we went down that route . . . more than usual; but it gets you through only so many dead hours, and like I said, it was very hot & sticky). Now I'l stop whining like a child, though, because I realize that a goodly portion of my neighbors have gone seven days in the same circumstances.

If a time ever comes when oil & natural gas are at such a premium that few of us can afford to pay for them, it's gonna be ugly. Real ugly. We're spoiled rotten, just like the food we'll toss out of our freezers. We're unprepared for whatever may come. Oh well.

And what does this have to do with Urban America's Favorite Backyard Garden, the crowd asks? Perhaps I'm struggling to make some larger point about self-sufficiency, and reducing dependency on energy. I suppose. But mostly I'm offering excuses for why the garden hasn't continued to climb in the international rankings.

You see, as of last week our little patch of earth continued to set the gardening world on fire, one-magazine-after-the-other declaring our Green Urban Miracle the best they've seen. But last week, first extreme weather, and conditions leaving the world of expert gardeners "in the dark" to our progress conspired to keep us glued to our Third Best Garden in the World status. Tough on the soil, tough on the plants, tough on my ego. This week will be the greatest test yet. Versailles, look out.

So was the week a total washout (washout, get it? You know, heavy rain and . . . never mind)? Almost, but not entirely. We continued to harvest the tomatoes we planted in late April. Bright orange, slightly soft, and very juicy, they were perhaps slightly overripe, even water-logged from the storms. But they were very fresh, very clean tasting, with no trace of acidity or any cloying & unnatural sweetness. I'll reitterate what I've said regarding all our vegetables: they taste different than store-bought. Less sweet, less sour, more naturally bitter for the leafy greens, cleaner for the tomatoes and peppers. Fresh tomatoes, barely off the plant, with a light sprinkling of course-grain salt made a refreshing summer snack. Nice.

In the famous flower bed, the excess water & heat caused a terrible week for the impatiens, and my yellow begonia seems to have gotten too much water. I fear for it's future. But the marigolds and petunias did well somehow. As I've said many times, I'm still new to this, and I'm learning on the fly. From what I've seen, gardening is the ultimate "learn as you go, repeat the good, eliminate the bad" activity. Right or wrong, the plants tell you what works, what doesn't. And they tell you quickly. Try something new? You'll know soon enough if it's effective.

Close to 100 degrees heat waves, followed by scary thunderstorms ain't too good for most plants. Gardeners distracted by the loss of their power? Definitely not good. Back with a (hopefully) happier report next week from New York City's favorite temporarily pre-industrial outer borough.


Blogger DED said...

I was wondering if you'd lost power. I'm no stranger to power outages. Although I'm in the middle of a neighborhood, I'm at the end of the line for a run of above ground power lines. If something goes off down the line, I'm affected. Fortunately, the power is typically restored within a couple of hours. There have been a couple of instances where the power is out for 12-16 hours. We have alternate sources of light, heat, and cooking equipment, but not water, refrigeration, or power. That's still on my "to do" list.

Glad to hear that your garden survived the first (and hopefully, last) heat wave of the summer. My yard is too forested to have much luck with growing vegeys (we're trying a potted tomato plant as an experiment) or flowering plants. We strive to get the latter to work but we're often disappointed by the results and need to focus more on "shade gardening."

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

How's the tomato going? Out tomato plants are potted, and they've been pretty good.

My yucks notwithstanding, the amount of soil space out back is too small for anything bigger than annuals.

But don't knock shade gardening. From what I've seen, impatiens, begonias, coleus, and a few others thrive in minimal light, and look damn good for the effort.

12:11 PM  
Blogger DED said...

I've got 2 green tomatoes still on the vine. The plant looks a bit weak. Still trying to figure out if it's too much or too little sun. Depending on where one stands on my deck, you can either can get full sun or just a couple hours worth.

I don't know shade gardening, it just seems limited, though maybe it's just my knowledge that's limited.

Impatients do well here. My wife picks them out each year for our collection of annuals. Haven't tried the others. Phlox was a disaster, but it might've drowned in all the rain we had this spring. I thought that my Hydrangea had died over the winter but it appears to be making a comeback, though it hasn't flowered. It's a banner year for the rhododendrons though, both the Catawba and the Rosebay. They flowered like mad, even the scrawny one.

Well, that's probably more than anyone wanted to hear about my horticultural experiences.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...


Between tales of rhododendrons and a nascent punk band with the word "penis" in its name, you've been a gutsy storyteller here.

And for that I thank you . . . and recommend professional help.

I'd put in one of them smiley faces here so you know I don't really mean it by bsuting on you. But I'm not leaving a smiley face on my own blog. Just ain't happening, so you'll have to trust my good nature here.

That's right, trust my good n ature. Like I said, professional help.

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Donna said...

Damn! I was going to drop you a line and see if you were caught in the power outage, but then I thought, if you were, you wouldn't get my email, right? Sorry you've been hot & sticky. You're right--it'll be ugly when this happens to large masses of people. Lansing/East Lansing was on the extreme western edge of the blackout of 2003, and I recall the traffic jams--the hugest, most astounding traffic jams I've ever seen, stretching as far as I could see, as we lined up at the big crossroads with the dead stoplights, and people went through one at a time. Took me 50 minutes to go less than one mile to the freeway. My main thought trying to get there was "Thank god everyone's behaving!" Scary to think of what'll happen when people get nasty.

I hope you all get back to normal soon out there! Keep us posted--it's very interesting to hear how people are doing.

Your garden produce sounds delicious. Now I'm hungry.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Alan P. said...

I should have planted romas but I tried some new variety I'd never heard of. They died from heat and fungus. Replanted straightneck squash but the heat is hard on them too. The jury is still out. Only got a few beans. I'm beginning to think that my previous garden successes were pure luck. For some reason I keep trying. Sorry about the power outage. Sounds serious this time. Something about a pervasive overloading and frying of transmission lines from what I've read. Hope the power is back on soon. I guess the power at your work is on, lucky you.

6:47 PM  
Blogger DED said...

Between tales of rhododendrons and a nascent punk band with the word "penis" in its name, you've been a gutsy storyteller here.

And for that I thank you . . . and recommend professional help.

LOL! Glad that my tales are appreciated.

12:31 PM  

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