Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Missing Glimmerglass

"Even if I knew tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."
--attributed to Martin Luther

I first worked at the Glimmerglass Festival in the summer of 1999.  I had become disillusioned with the place I had worked for the previous two summers and was looking for a new summer home where the workers were valued as an asset, not used as cheap labor.  I found that at Glimmerglass, and have stayed there for every season since.

I would have started my 22nd season last week. 

My summer begins in December with hiring phone calls and seed orders. 

I've returned to the same company housing for most of my time at Glimmerglass, and have been lucky enough to garden there for nearly twice as long as I have had a home to garden the rest of the year.  I solidified my commitment to Glimmerglass the day that I planted asparagus there.

The paper tag identifies these as the seeds for Cooperstown.

And so, as I organize my seeds, place my orders, and plan my garden in the dead of winter, that planning always includes summer at Glimmerglass.  Springfield and Cooperstown have become a second home to me.  I have figuratively and literally put down roots there.

My ~10 week contract, starting right around our last frost date, favors plants that grow quickly from seed to maturity, and perennials that can take care of themselves for most of the year.  Below is a pot of a top-setting onion variety called "Egyptian walking onions" that I planted last fall.  They multiply by forming lots of small bulbs at the top of the greenery that drop down to the soil and "plant" themselves at a little distance from the mother plant.  Thus the "walking."  By bringing some of the top-sets indoors for the winter, I had a source of fresh scallions for cooking.  My plan was to then bring the pot to my summer housing (from here forward referred to as "the farmhouse") to plant now and let them multiply so I would have an onion supply that took care of itself and was ready to harvest from the day I arrived.

Egyptian walking onions, indoor onions about to leave the pot and joint their outdoor sblings.

Instead, I've planted the potted ones into the patch here at home.  I'll try a new batch next year to plant at the farmhouse.  I was happy for the winter supply of scallions, but it's clear that by spring the potted ones aren't as vigorous as those that stayed outdoors.  I am curious to see whether they "catch up."

My other experiment for farmhouse growing this year was with peas.  

Kevin Espiritu of Epic Gardening has grown climbing peas in a hanging basket to take advantage of his light situation--an area where there isn't enough light to grow veg at ground level,  but there is at eye level.

I borrowed his idea to take advantage of my seasonal situation.  I am home when it is time to plant peas, but at Glimmerglass when it is time to harvest and eat them.  I've tried starting seeds at home and transplanting them into the farmhouse garden, I've tried planting seed late at the farmhouse.  Neither was very successful.  So this year I planted at home, both in my garden and in a hanging basket for travel.  I've found an unexpected benefit...while something (probably deer) has eaten half of my garden pea plants, the basket is hanging out of reach and un-harmed.  Next spring I expect I'll be planting two baskets, one for my husband at home, and one to travel with me.

Snow peas and snap peas safe and sound above browsing height.

Like any good relationship, the plant exchange goes both ways.  I love having plants that carry memories of people and places dear to me.  I just transplanted asparagus from the bed my father planted 30 years ago to begin a patch at  home.  I've brought plants from home to Cooperstown, both to my housing and 
to the two gardens I was given permission to plant around the Glimmerglass costume shop.  I've also brought plants home to have a piece of Glimmerglass to enjoy for the rest of the year. 

Years ago we realized that there were iris leaves growing in a shade garden at the costume shop, but they had never flowered.  We transplanted them to the sunny side of the shop, and not only did they flower, but they have multiplied to the point where I had to thin them.  I spread the thinnings to other iris plantings around the Glimmerglass campus, and still had extras to give away and to bring home.  These pale purple iris bloom earlier than other colors.  They are always part of my first weeks at the Festival, but for now I am glad to enjoy them at home.

An iris transplated from the Glimmerglass costume shop to my home gardens in Wheatfield

Back in December, I prepared for Glimmerglass.  Even as a summer season looked less and less likely, I continued to plant and plan and nurture for an unsure future.  It's how I live in the world.  Using the present moment to plant and tend food and flowers for the (never guaranteed) future makes sense to me.

I miss my Glimmerglass family.  I miss the challenges of high quality professional work.  I miss working with my team, and spending days off with my closest friends.  In my loss, I also have opportunity.  I will finally see what blooms in my own garden in June.  I can experiment with container plantings that need too much watering to abandon for 10 weeks.  I spend time with my husband every single day.  

I can't visit my favorite summer places, but I can raise an Ommegang right here on my back porch, while I watch a father robin lead his fledgelings around the garden for the first time.

Next year in Coopertown, Glimmerglass family.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Accessibility in the Age of Corona Virus

Set-up for teaching hand sewing by video conference.

I think about accessibility a lot.  Maybe because I work with clothing, and I know for sure that "one size fits all" is a lie.  Maybe because I'm left handed.  10% of the world's population is left handed, and yet I challenge you to go to any event, class, whatever, where scissors are provided for the participants and check whether 10% of those scissors are left handed.  I bet more often than not none of the scissors are left handed.

We can erroneously fall into thinking that accessibility is only about disability.  Making sure that our built spaces work for people with legally defined disabilities is important--those laws ensure that public spaces include notices in braille, that TV shows are captioned, that businesses have accessible parking near the entrance with clear space to load and unload out of a side door.  But accessibility is so much broader.  For one thing, the only reason that any built space doesn't accommodate someone, is because it is just that--a built space.  Human designers made it, and at some point made choices that work for a few bodies and minds, but not all.  There is no problem at all with the person who the space doesn't accommodate, the problem is with the design plan that didn't take everyone into account.  Like my brownie troop leaders who didn't buy a single pair of left handed scissors...in three years.

"One size fits all" is a lie.  There is not one way to build a space that is fully accessible, and another that is not.  The stairs are best for some, ramps for some, elevators for others.  Providing multiple options to the same goal tends to be the best way.

That's not to say that accommodating everyone is easy, or obvious.  Here's a mistake I made:  among other things, my job includes teaching students how to sew at a sewing machine.  I am just a bit over 5 feet tall.  One of my tall students was having real difficulty learning to use a sewing machine.  He figured out, and then pointed out to me, that the tables our sewing machines are built into were too low for him.  His knees banged against the front of the table when he tried to reach the pedal.  At my height, it had honestly never occurred to me that this would be a problem for someone with long legs.  I asked him to let me think on it.  By the next class I had gone to the book store and bought the risers they sell to prop up your dorm bed so that you can shove more crap under it.  They worked perfectly!  

Even though I solved his difficulty pretty easily, I felt awful, because not only had I failed to see the problem myself, I knew I had had students his height in previous classes, who must have struggled just as much.  They hadn't spoken up, I hadn't noticed, they had to struggle for no reason other than that the sewing machine tables were all the same size, but people aren't.  I failed to imagine that what fit me comfortably wouldn't fit everyone.

The solution wasn't to raise all of the machines.  It's no good to go from only accommodating the shorter half of the class to only accommodating the taller half.  the solution was to provide a wider variety of heights, to better accommodate a variety of people.

So yeah, access is important, and easy to miss.

And now that schools at all levels across the country are teaching remotely, there is another layer to access.  All of us experience the world with different bodies and different minds, but now we are also experiencing it with different equipment and internet speed.  

I am seeing so many assumptions that "what's on my screen must also be what's on your screen" or that video is the only way to conduct class.

What assumptions are we making about what students have access to at home?  What assumptions is the school making about what teachers have at home?  How do these new access issues stack on top of any student's current access issues around their ability to see, hear, or read print?

Internet speed is different in different locations, especially rural vs. urban.  I know so little about "computer stuff" but as I understand it some forms of internet are slowed down by how many people are using it.  I was chatting on video with one of my students while we were waiting for the rest of the class to enter the meeting.  She was in one room of the house video conferencing for our class, she had two parents both working online from home in other rooms, and a sibling somewhere else in the house also taking class online.  I bet this is pretty common for students, whether they are living with family, still in the dorm (some of my students are) or in an apartment with other students.

So I'm trying to keep my eyes open, question my assumptions, and vary the assignments around different platforms.  I love getting on video and seeing my students' smiling faces, but I can't assume that video is the best answer for every student, or for every lesson.  So I'm doing some video, some discussion forums where we type to each other during class time, some written assignments that can be done in their own time and turned in on the day of class.

Finally, here's the big win for accessibility that we could all pull out of this.  All of this stuff we're learning, like how to broadcast a class or meeting while it is happening, we can still do when we are back to meeting in person.  So for a student or employee whose attendance is affected by illness, whether something long term like chronic fatigue, or short term like a non-pandemic flu, they can stay home and I can put the class online in real time.  At home, I've been doing this by mounting my tablet on a tripod. I can do that on campus too.  And that student can either follow along in real time or watch the recording later.  It may not be as good as being in attendance, but it's way better than getting notes from a classmate, and it protects the rest of the community if that student has something contagious.

And yes, hopefully lots of businesses are realizing how many of their employees can work from home, and how that opens those jobs up for people whose disabilities make reporting to a work space a lot harder than working from a home work space.  

There is a lot that is hard about what we are doing right now, but with some creative thinking we can pull a lot of good from it to carry with us into the future.

Are you working remotely right now?  are you teaching?  I'd love to hear what you're trying, and what's working to accommodate your students across so many different levels of computer/internet access.

Monday, January 06, 2020

My first year growing luffa in a cold short season (zone 5b)

Note:  if you are hoping for sure-fire how-to information on successfully growing luffa in a short season, look elsewhere, or come back here in a few years.  If you are experimenting, and want to read about how my first year of experimenting went:  wins, losses, and plans for next year, then read on!

My primary goal is to grow enough mature gourds to supply luffa scrubbers for my own bath and dish scrubbing needs, plus gifts.  If up until this moment you thought the natural luffa in your shower was a sea creature, not a plant, don't feel bad--that's what most people think.  Luffa or loofah is a vining gourd related to cucumbers.  They grow in more tropical parts of Asia, which is why learning to grow them outside of Buffalo New York will be a multi-year challenge.

I started from seed.  After reading lots of conflicting information about how far ahead to start the seed indoors, I decided that experiment #1 was to determine the best indoor start time.  I started the first plant in mid January, the second mid February, and the third mid March.  My final frost date is May 15th, so that was 4, 3, and 2 months before the first frost.  For all three plantings I nicked the side of the seed with a nail clipper and soaked overnight before planted in a peat pot filled with potting mix.  I kept the peat pot on a heat mat and under a clear plastic dome until germination.  Once the seed germinated I moved the peat pot off the heat and directly under flourescent light.  I had 100% germination.  Success #1!

I followed my usual routine for planting out into the vegetable garden.  I mulch all of my beds heavily with chopped leaves in the fall.  By spring that layer of leaves has gone down quite a bit, usually to 2-4" of mulch.  For the luffas, 3-4 weeks before planting I raked back the leaf mulch to help the bed warm up in the sun.  2 weeks before planting I spread a 2" layer of screened compost on top of the bed.  I don't work anything into the soil and I don't till.

I planted out all three seedlings in an 18" diameter x 5' tall tomato cage a week before my last frost date and then re-mulched with the fall leaves.  The forecast showed no more frost for the next 2 weeks.  This was mistake #1.  All three plants shriveled, turned brown, and nearly died.  Clearly these tropical plants need more warmth than just a lack of frost.  While they did survive, they were stunted and didn't get any bigger for at least a month.  Planting out early put them behind.

They did eventually grow and start climbing up their tomato cage, and across the neighboring bean cages.  They made beautiful, short lived yellow flowers that the bumblebees loved success #2.

They seem to make male and female flowers like zucchini do, with the male flowers growing first and just being flowers, while the female flowers eventually grow a little gourd at their base.  The little gourds got a little bigger, and a little phallic.

they got a little bigger and less startling...

As we got closer to the fall frost--mid October here, it became clear that there was one fully mature gourd, a half dozen that might become mature, and another half dozen medium sized gourds that were to small to become bath sponges.  Happily, luffa is edible!  I searched online and found several thai recipes for stir frying luffa with fish sauce and eggs. 

I picked all the smaller gourds and followed the recipe.  They were delicious!  This was definitely success #3--a tasty meal from the garden.  They have a mild flavor and a satisfying texture.  The meal was filling and yummy served over rice.

According to the internet, at the end of season the gourds will dry and turn yellow brown on the vine.  When the first true frost came, even the largest gourd was still green.  So I left them.  The plant died after the first light frost.  So based on that and mistake #1, its safe to say that this is a plant that does not tolerate cold.  That's conclusion #1.

At this point I ran experiment #2.  I cut two of the almost mature gourds off the dead vine and hung them in a mesh bag in the basement, but left the fully mature gourd and 3-4 almost mature on the dead vine to compare the two drying methods, indoor or out.  Once a month or so I peeled one of the almost mature gourds on the outdoor vine.  There wasn't a sponge inside, just a dead slightly overgrown cucumber.

By Christmas both the outside and inside gourds had browned and dried, and seemed to have stopped changing significantly.

Here's how the big guy looked just before Christmas:

Close up of the skin.  Is it dry or rotten?  Only one way to find out.

On the left are the two that dried in a hanging mesh bag in the basement, on the right the final two that dried outside on the vine.  They all feel fairly dry and crispy on the outside.

The less mature gourds were a pain to peel, and didn't yield anything useful.  Yes, they were old fibrous gourds, but they weren't fibrous enough to be sponges, just sort of rotten.

But the big guy should work.  It isn't as lovely and fine grained as the luffas I've bought, but I sent it back to the basement to dry some more without it's skin.  The seeds inside looked mature until I remembered that the original seeds I planted were thicker and black.

So here's what I learned and how I'm going to use that knowledge going forward:

conclusion #1 Luffa can't take any cold.  Waiting until hard frost is over isn't enough.  Next year I need to plant them into warm soil, like I would do with tomatoes or peppers.  Last year I had great success planting out my tomatoes and peppers early, but inside water cloches (like Kozy Coats, or Wall-o-Water) so I will try doing the same, and at the same time with the luffas.

conclusion #2  Planting 3 luffa in a tomato cage with other climbing apparatus nearby seemed to work well for them.  They only took up 3' x 18" of planting space in the bed.  That's worth it even just for the one meal and one sponge I got this year.  I will give them the same amount and kind of space next year.

conclusion #3  No conclusive data on best seed starting date.  The most mature gourd came from the February start date, but the January seedling had been damaged early on by spider mites and everything else about the three vines seemed pretty equal for most of the growing season.  I will run experiment #1 again next year using the same parameters.

conclusion #4  Once the vine was dead, there wasn't much difference between the gourds dried inside and those dried outside.  The goal would be to make the right changes next year so that several gourds can fully mature and dry on the vine BEFORE the first fall frost.  Which leads to:

conclusion #5  I suspect that even if everything else goes perfectly, my season may be too short to reliably get this variety to fully mature and dry on the vine before frost.  As I looked through my records I see that I planted a 120 days to maturity variety of Luffa.  Looking through this year's seed catalogues, I found a 90 day variety offered.  So I am going to plant that variety next year.   I realize that changing the variety is crap science, effectively negating the other conclusions, but I contend that my crap science is still decent gardening.  So I am putting experiments with this variety on hold to start over with the new quicker maturing variety.  I'll run experiment #1 again on this variety, keeping my seed starting technique the same.  I'll plant out into warmer soil with more protection, as it's very likely this will benefit the new variety as it would have the old, and I'll learn from there.  Perhaps the next experiment will be to plant both varieties in the same year and compare them side by side.  I can even do a taste test!

Monday, March 27, 2017

What Survives the Winter

I love snow drops.  They are the earliest blooming flower I know of that grows in my climate.  They bloom so early that they often have to poke up through not only soil, but also snow to make their first appearance.  You may measure by day length, temperature, or the return of the robin, but for me these little flowers deliver the promise that winter will end, and spring is coming.  I have made it through another winter.

My yard is full of signs that winter has really finished, and we can truly believe that spring is here.  Lots of plants are sending up their first shoots or forming their first buds.  

These alien red knobs will grow into clusters of rhubarb leaves.

On the left, the leaves and flower buds of my Lenten Rose.  It has 3 more weeks if it's going to open those flowers during lent this year.  On the right are the first flower buds to turn white on my pieris japonica.

I've been playing with techniques to extent my vegetable harvest into the winter.  My ultimate goal is to be able to keep harvesting fresh veg throughout the entire year.  Much of what I grew undercover this year we ate for Christmas dinner.  Some of what was left succumbed to the cold, but there were some survivors.  

The lettuce I grew in a cold frame only survived until Christmas dinner, which was my goal for it.  Most lettuce is too tender to make it through my zone 5 winter, even in a cold frame, and I hadn't planted winter hardy varieties, just a general mix.  Even so, it was a delight to open the frame and find that from that mix one arugula plant and what I think is frisee, have survived.  I gave them compost and then planted new tender lettuce greens around them.  While the soil in the exposed parts of my garden is still much too cold and sodden for planting, the soil inside the frame is ready.  The rest of the garden will most likely not be ready like this until the middle of April, so even though there isn't exactly a meal in here, by leaving the cold frame in place all winter I'll be harvesting baby salad greens from what I just planted by the end of April.

I also covered one garden bed with a mini hoop tunnel for the winter, and filled it with hearty winter greens.  Interestingly all of the arugula in here died in January or February, as did the tatsoi and some of the kale.  My favorite cooking green, red giant mustard, did great this winter, as usual.  It's the green and purple leaves in the front of this pic, with some of the kale (yellow brown around the edges) in the background.

This is the hoop tunnel with the plastic pulled back for planting:

I raked back the leaf mulch from fall, spread an inch of compost, raked back the mulch and planted rows of early greens, with mulch mounded between them.  The trick now is knowing when to cover the tunnel fully with plastic to keep the seedlings warm, and when to vent or even fully uncover during the day so that they can get full sun.  On a warm day the tunnel will get too hot and fry all the little seedlings inside, or so I've read.

This is only the second winter that I've used the tunnel, so I am still experimenting with varieties, hardware, and planting times to optimize my late fall and early spring growing.  I have big plans to expand my veg production through next winter and to make it easier to harvest in snow.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Erica's Science Corner: Grow Lights or Proof I Should Have Listened to My Dad In The First Place

For me, starting seeds indoors has had a steep learning curve.  I've improved my soil mixture, watering techniques, and started sterilizing my pots in bleach  before using them, all of which led to a moderately successful batch of seedlings last year.

My father advised me to use shop lights and regular florescent bulbs like he does, but not having the time or tools to build a wooden stand for the lights, I thought I would save myself the trouble and buy really expensive grow lights that come with their own stand.  They haven't been everything i hoped for.  My seedlings seem smaller than they should be, and the lights fall off the stand every third time my arm brushes up against it.

Since starting, I've seen some great set-ups online using wire utility shelves to hang shop lights above rows of plants.  I wanted to double my growing space this year, so I bought a utility shelf, a shop light, and LED bulbs for less than half the cost of those fancy grow lights.

I still worried that the shop light wouldn't work as well as the official grow lights, and had no idea if LED was a good idea, so I set up an experiment.

Two identical flower pots, with equal amounts of the same potting mix and a teaspoon of micro green seed mix planted in each.  I like using micro greens when I'm testing a new procedure or potting mix because they germinate quickly and grow well.  Plus I can eat them any time of year.

I was careful to keep the lights at the same height above the pots and to water equally.  The only variable was which light each pot was under.

The pot on the left was under the grow light, the right was under the LED shop light.

It isn't night and day, but there's a distinct difference.  The shop light with the LED bulbs is the clear winner.  Science has proven that I should have listened to my Dad (the science teacher) in the first place.

Anyone want some used grow lights?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

These are protein packed and satisfying vegetarian stuffed peppers.  Leave out the cheese, or use a substitute and they can easily be made vegan.

Preheat the oven to 375.  In a small casserole dish (about 6 x 9) combine
  • 8 oz package of tempeh, crumbled
  • 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tempeh is brown with crispy edges.  Leave the oven on after removing the tempeh.

Meanwhile, rinse
  • 1/3 c quinoa
  • 1/2 c brown lentils
Add to a rice cooker along with
  • 2 1/2 cups water
Cover, and cook the quinoa, lentils and water in the rice cooker until finished.  Coat a 9 x 12 casserole dish with olive oil.  Remove stems and cut in half

  • 4 bell peppers
place the halves, cut side up, in the oiled casserole dish and set aside.  In a large pan, saute until transluscent

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, about 2 cups, chopped, or 15 oz can of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 C fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook, stirring often until the tomatoes have softened and the mixture has become juicy.  Add the tempeh and the mixture from the rice cooker when they are ready and stir well.  Turn heat to low and stir in
  • 1/4 grated parmesan
Remove from heat and spoon mixture into pepper halves.  For some extra cheesy goodness, get
  • 8 ciliegine--tiny balls of fresh mozzarella
poke one into the center of each stuffed pepper.  Bake the stuffed peppers for 20 minutes, or until they are heated through and the pepper cups have begun to soften.

Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Portobello tempeh Rueben

In order to improve my health and lose weight, I've changed my diet following the guidelines in the book "Always Hungry?"by Dr. David Ludwig.  I'm eating whole foods with more fat and protein than I was used to, low glycemic indexes, and no sugar or sweeteners.  I feel great and love what I am eating!

I love the tempeh Rueben sandwich that they serve at The Autumn Cafe in Oneonta NY.  This is a way to combine all of those great flavors without the bread, and to do it on a grill in good weather!  In winter, just do the same thing on a baking sheet in a 350*F oven.  Year 'round tasty-ness.

Use 4 or 5 large portobellos when serving these as a main course.  Use smaller portobellos to serve as an appetizer or side dish.  These are very filling!

Serves 4 as a meal, more as an app or side

Preheat grill or oven to 350*F.

Cut into thin strips

  • 8 oz tempeh
In a cast iron pan heat
  • 1 Tbs olive oil

Spread the tempeh strips in a single layer in the pan and fry for 5-6 minutes, until the underside has browned.  Then turn and fry the second side until brown.  Add more oil to the pan if needed.  Drain on a paper towel and set aside.

Brush both sides of
  • 14 oz portobello mushrooms, stems removed
Brush surface of grill with olive oil, or if using an oven, line a baking pan with parchment paper.  Once grill/oven is up to temperature, place mushrooms gill side down on grill or baking pan and place pan in oven.  Grill/Bake for 5-8 minutes, or until the mushrooms begin to soften but still hold their shape.  Turn mushrooms gill side up and top each one with
  • scoop of sourkraut about 12 oz total
  • sliced tempeh
  • Russian dressing (I use close to the whole recipe for 14 oz of mushrooms)
  • sliced Swiss cheese 8-10 oz total
Grill/bake until the toppings are hot all the way through and the cheese has melted.  Another 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your mushrooms.