A recent chat with our upcoming summer issue’s featured expert, Lee Reich has got me thinking outside the box. Listening to Lee talk about the joys of low maintenance gardening, and how to increase the productivity of your plot, while decreasing the amount of work you put in has made me start to question the old and rigid ways we are taught to garden. Like in straight lines… And perfect squares.
Without a doubt one of the ceaseless draws of gardening is the calculated control you can exert over your space, but does it have to be so impractical? Take the vegetable patch, for example. Everybody likes neat and tidy rows of obedient greens, or the clean, contained angles of a set of raised beds, but if space is a limited resource for you, you’re better off sowing in a circle. A popular design in permaculture, the keyhole garden allows the gardener to access all points of the bed from a single point in the center. This means less soil compaction, less motion on the gardener’s part, and better use of space. If you want, the bed can even be raised to waist height to eliminate kneeling altogether. Especially if you’re an urbanite, this design makes some serious gardening sense!
“Olivier Theyskens is a dreamer, a man whose wandering mind has found inspirations in the world of botany, in the subtle curves of the human form, and in the myths and fairytales of centuries past. The opening story in his magazine NºD is a dramatic, sensual recognition of this fact – diving deep into the Belgian forest to capture the journey of a young girl as she hurries through the hazy, verdant fields.”
My favorite series are the posed flower portraits set in the forests surrounding the Château de la Hulpe, just outside of Brussels. These flower vignettes were created by with Theyskens constant collaborator photographer Julien Claessens for NºD.
“The bouquets of freshly-cut flowers were ‘styled’ by Olivier himself, spewing forth with sickly vibrant citrus yellows and oranges or a barrage of stark white punctuated with deep, royal blue.”
I’d love to find a back issue for my very own. If you have one, let a lady know?
Wilder Quarterly interviews the urban farmer, beekeeper and founder of Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply, Megan Paska. Paska talks to us about bee-keeping, gives us advice on growing in Brooklyn and speaks to her exciting plans for the future.
By Lena Vazifdar / Photo of Megan shot by Patrick Lamson-Hall. All other photos are from Rory Gunderson.
Blogger, bee keeper, urban farmer, educator and business owner, Megan Paska, is a modern-day polymath. She started Brooklyn Homesteader, a blog about her urban farming experiences a few years ago. “The blog is mostly focused on the bees but there are a few here and there about my garden, my apiaries and my chickens,” she says.
Megan’s love for farming started at an early age, visiting relatives in rural Virginia during summer vacations. “They have about 450 acres outside of Lynchburg and when I was a child they grew tobacco and corn and grain for feed,” she says. “That lifestyle impacted me in a big way. It just seemed ‘right’ and from then on I knew that I wanted to work for myself and that it would involve food, animals and being outdoors.”
Along with her colorful Brooklyn blog, Megan hosts popular educational classes like her backyard homesteader boot camp and beekeeping workshop. Her lifelong love of urban farming also lead her to a new Brooklyn venture, Hayseed Farm Supply, where you can find everything from beekeeping supplies, locally adapted heirloom seeds to books and poetry.
WQ: What is your gardening/growing history?
MP: My grandfather and grandmother always had a vegetable patch with onions and cabbage and tomatoes. My mom liked growing flowers and tomatoes. I think it’s a common story, most people have gardeners in the family. I’ve been gardening for about 10 years, beekeeping for 4, keeping chickens for about 4 and just started raising rabbits this year.
WQ: You recently opened Hayseed Farm Supply. Could you please tell us a bit about the store?
MP: My partners at Brooklyn Grange and I had been talking about providing affordable urban farm supplies to Brooklyn for some time. I had been putting organic, soybean-free chicken feed orders together for about a year and coordinating pick up at Grange. We wanted get the best products for a fair price and figured we couldn’t be alone in that desire so we started putting feelers out for the right situation.
I met the gals from Domestic Construction last year when they started their garden plot and asked them if they’d be keen on hosting an urban farm pop-up shop. They said yes and countless emails and meetings later here we are!
WQ: What do you think are the best things to grow in the Brooklyn climate?
MP: We have a slightly longer growing season than upstate NY because of the atmospheric conditions of the city. There isn’t much you can’t grow here with the exception of maybe long season crops like peanuts. Growing things like corn and wheat is tough just because you’d need a lot of space to get a yield that is worth it. I think a person could keep themselves stocked in greens year round with small garden space.
WQ: Do you have any tips for a novice urban gardener who wants to start their own garden at home?
MP: Start with short season crops like lettuces, radishes and pea shoots. There’s a low rate of failure rate and a low time commitment. If you do manage to fail at that, you still have ample time to try again … and again. They are forgiving crops and a great way to get acquainted with gardening. They are also highly productive in small spaces, making them worth the effort.
In my concerted attempt to be a woman who cooks at home rather than a woman who eats out at a restaurant more often than not, I’m pleased to announce that as of last night, I have moved beyond Mark Bittman’s fabulous book on the basics and into Ian Knauer’s The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food. I’m a new fan of Ian Knauer although the cooking community has loved him for years. He spent 8 years in the test kitchens of Gourmet magazine and the last year, on his family’s Pennsylvania farm laying down the recipes for this book.
Last night, I made his Pennsylvania Dutch-Style Green Beans that sit in this truly delicious dressing made up of milk, vinegar, brown sugar and some other great ingredients. I paired it with some from scratch cornbread (thanks to Bittman again) and I’m feeling pretty much like a champ. I highly recommend you get Knauer’s book. In the mean time, try out this amazing green beans recipe.
1 pound green beans, trimmed and halved
4 slices of bacon
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or white distilled vinegar
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
- Cook the beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 6 minutes. Drain and transfer the beans to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, and drain again.
- Cook the bacon (or meat substitute) in a large heavy skillet, turning, until it is crispy, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain. Reserve the fat in the pan.
- Cook the onion in the bacon fat over medium heat until it is golden, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Whisk together the milk, brown sugar, cornstarch, mustard and salt, then whisk the milk mixture into the skillet with the onion and cook, stirring, until it comes to a boil. Boil the sauce until it is thickened, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the vinegar.
- Place the beans in a serving dish and pour the sauce over the beans. Crumble the bacon. Sprinkle the bacon and egg over the top and serve.
In his most recent episode, he visited urban farmer Jimmy Ng who started The Growing Experience, which provides public housing residents access to community gardens and just as importantly, paid job training for the multi-million dollar “green industry” that has sprung up in the past decade. It’s worth a watch.
Here on the east coast we got the first drenching rain in over a month last night. The only thing that’s been holding steady though spring’s parching drought, strangely enough, is my lawn. But my lawn is no ordinary lawn. When I first moved into this house I gave it an appraising glance, cynical, skeptical- why does it look so scruffy? I’m not one for neatness- I was charmed by my lawn’s bedhead- but the texture of it threw me. Carex pennsylvanica, or Pennslvania sedge, grows in low neat tufts, rather than in seamless verdant sheets. It tolerates deluges, droughts, and guess what? It even blooms. Sure, your average lawn grass does too, but it’s not much to look at. This April my sedge lawn has been a sea of golden, wavering flower heads, underpinned by its indestructible green foliage. What’s more, Pennsylvania sedge grows in shade, and only requires mowing 2-3 times a year. So with climate change happening right here, right now, think about the ways you and your garden can adapt. And for other ideas perhaps more suited to your area (because whoever said all our lawns have to look the same?), go here
I’m happy to be posting this music video from Last Days of 1984 called “River’s Edge.” Directed by Sophie Gateau, the video is a visual delight of still life’s, disassembled flowers, shapes, colors and bouncing boys. Odd little music video, but a lot of fun.
Remember a couple of weeks ago when Celestine posted about her freaky knotweed invasion? She called me up, all curious, and I had to break the bad news to her: THIS PLANT IS SATAN. I even ventured so far as to suggest the unspeakable: “you might want to try herbicide, Celestine.” Thing is, that was before I learned about knotweed pie - strawberry knotweed pie, that is. A few days ago I was delivered a piping piece of this totally tangy, sweet and succulent pie and I am hooked. Not only is it delicious, but with each forkful you’re continuing to fight the good fight, and helping keep these invasive beasties at bay. Get the recipe here.
Remember, there’s a season for this harvest, too. Knotweed shoots should be cut in earliest spring, before the leaves uncurl. The stems will be soft and flexible, like asparagus. Which reminds me, they can be steamed, rolled in salt and butter, and eaten like that, too. Bon appetit.
If you live in a city, chances are you have pollutants in your soil. Decades of human traffic builds up levels of unwanted chemicals and heavy metals, like lead, which eventually make their way into resident garden plants. Luckily, there’s a pretty nifty, green (literally) solution. Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) has been show to take up considerable amounts of heavy metals over the course of the growing season, rendering the soil healthier, cleaner, and ultimately more productive. The only catch is you have to dig up and throw out your mullein at the end of the year- poor payback for its help. But then again, another moniker for the plant is indian toilet paper. Maybe you could give those downy leaves one last task before you toss them.
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