Everybody Loves the Sunshine

With the construction guys gone and the funk of 100 degree summer days creeping into knee pits everywhere, I finally had some time to get Panthy’s up to speed. And in case you’re wondering, daylight was not a limiting concern. It’s time to grow son! Ask yourself: if not now… when?

But before I put in those post-work-day hours on the ruff, I headed up to my ancestral homeland of Massachusetts to hang out with my mother, eat some of her world-famous ham cups and of course, enjoy the pre-requisite lobster with a side of violent coastal storm.

My neighbor growing up owned a gas station and always seemed to have a lot of cash in his greasy pocket. He referred to anything over a twenty dollar bill as a “tucky.” Maybe because you “tuck” it away, far away from the prying eyes of the Feds. Anyway…. I dropped a few tuckies at the garden center, rolling out with this cart of summer sweetness. Gray Feather, Lambs Ear, Strawberry Seduction Yarrow; all full-sun perennials that love the abuse my roof can dish out.

The burbs have us beat with their gardening centers, it was nothing short of a motherlovin’ Garden of Eden in there.

I skipped the cement frog with the iPod. Did not skip the free lilies my mom let me hack out of her garden. 

With my three best friends, I tore out a bunch of root-bound, past-their-prime, ugly-ass, strawberries and planted up the new jams, dolling out scoops of compost like chocolate ice cream. Or, shit if you’re less of an optimist.

The new additions look good! The whole garden looks good! I hope to God my new acquisitions remain as fly as they are today.

We shall see. In the meantime, give this jam a listen, and stay cool folks. 

Congratulations!

You’ve made it to yet another gripping installment of What the Fuck is Happening Up in Panthy’s Garden! Here’s your trophy, send me your address, I’ll mail it to you. 

Whoa buddy, how come you so salty? Well I’ll tell you. Get a load of these guys. ALREADY. These little bastards usually don’t turn up until mid-summer, and yet here they are, tiny black aphids getting their start on the underside of my nasturtiums.

In time, their sugary excretions known as “honeydew” will coat these leaves and a train of ants will begin somewhere in Queens, marching all the way to Panthy’s Garden to harvest it. 

My crop of tomatoes and everything else will become a wilted embarrassment. Every two weeks I’ll pull off a horrible, disfigured tomato and fling it as far as I can onto the street below. Green Zebra my ass. 

Last year, I ordered up an insect cavalry of lady bugs to handle this problem. It was amazing watching lady bugs eat the faces of aphids. I literally sat for an hour, at night, with a headlamp, like a creep, watching ladybugs slowly massacre aphids. And I have noticed a few of these guys, who I suspect are aphid eaters…. 

But I’m feeling a bit more urgency, this cluster says to me “infestation.” This needed to be handled TODAY. 

Hose: on. I adjusted the nozzle adjusted to the fearsome FLAT setting typically used to hose vomit off sidewalks. Leaf by leaf, I blasted them into oblivion with a powerful jet of water.

The unlucky aphids that wound up on my hands got the finger smoosh. If I didn’t think I’d hose down my iPhone in the process I would’ve done a better job at capturing this but take my word for it, it was awesome. 

Apparently, this is a viable solution to the aphid problem, at least according some person on the internet. I’m not into pesticides, and my solution of soap and mineral oil was really only partially successful. And who doesn’t like blasting the enemy with brute force? The world is built on it.

Sure, I enjoy the carnage. Maybe too much. But it’s in service of a higher cause: FREEDOM. No, actually, it’s in service of eating of fine, homegrown, pretentious, heirloom, hipster-ass, Brooklyn, tomatoes. Like these little beauties…

Re-Charge n’ Plant

With the tools of the trade in hand, I got down to bid-ness getting the garden up to speed and planting my beastly starter plants. 

Appropriately enough, I met one of the Beastie Boys earlier the same day. A story for another time. 

This here orange bin contains the latest homemade ‘post, made from the finest leftovers from restaurants of Brooklyn NYC, ready to be taken down a notch and repurposed as plant food.

Not so fancy now panko-crusted free range chicken and jasmine rice! 

There’s no need to fully replace your containers with all new container mix. Just give the dirt a proper re-charge. I prefer to keep it natural and hit em with a solid dose of compost.

Seen here are my sub-irrigated planters filled with this recipe:
- 2/3 parts LYPM (Last Year’s Potting Mix)
- Healthy dose of compost (6 or 7 trowels full?)
- 1/3 part NPM (New Potting Mix)

I was going to make a gross analogy about how gardening with gardening gloves on is like showering with a rain coat on, but I’ll spare you.

The garden is still sequestered in the corner as work (doesn’t) continue on the other half of my deck. But make no mistake, it will not be stopped! 

Starter Plants: Beasts and Midgets

What’s the difference between these starter plants? One set is the extremely slow, meek looking batch of sprouts that I planted myself, the other are robust, ready-for-action beasts I got from the Farmer’s Market. I’m a terrible person.

In real terms, it’s been spring for roughly three months now and I can’t really afford to wait any longer to get the goods planted. Phase one: the beasts. Phase two: the midgets.

This strategy may have a hidden benefit. If some horrible blight hits the beasts, a later, additional planting might avoid it altogether. See what I did there? I’m not so bad after all!

In this batch of beasts: Black Prince and Green Zebra tomatoes, “Classic” eggplants, and some fancy cinnamon and osmin basil (which is so flavorful, it’s purple). 

Tool Review - Garrett Wade Has the Goods

No sooner than I reminded the world of my fondness for gardening-related gifts did I receive a box full of perhaps the most legit gear ever to arrive at Panthy’s Garden.

My friend Craig over at Garrett Wade sent three jammies, a British Army Knife, a Professional Gardener’s Digging Tool and a Dutch Hand Cultivator. I won’t lie, my first impulse was to find something immediately and impale it. Turns out, a tissue box got the business end of the Digging Tool. Effective.

The Army Knife is made in Sheffield, England, the UK’s answer to Pittsburgh I’m told. It’s simple, roundish, and looks like it could live well in a pocket, unlike my Leatherman which is like having a giant heavy metal rectangle in your pocket. That’s heavy and metal, not Heavy Metal.

It’s got a can opener, a spike and a straight blade. I originally thought the spike was for impaling an enemy but the website says it’s for rope work. Rope work. I need to use more ropes now. It’s beautiful and simple. (And it can handle rope work.)

The name “Professional Gardener’s Digging Tool” is really a kind way of saying Garden Impaler. It comes with a scabbard if that tells you anything. It’s got a serrated edge, a very pointy tip and if I could guess, was probably originally used in the trenches of WWI. The only thing missing are some brass knuckles over the handle. 

I put it to work breaking up the soil blob that is the dirt from last season’s planters. This is what a sub-irrigated planter looks like dumped out. 

The digging tool was so effective that I accidentally punched a hole right through the side of the container. Guess my stabbing was a little too vigorous. Good news is, it made very short work of loosening the compacted dirt. I almost felt like it needed a more worthy foe.

Its pointy tip was precise enough to scoop up these mystery grubs, which no doubt, will blossom into some horrible insect that will destroy my crops. With a quick flip of the wrist, those squirming horrible creatures were sent sailing over the railing to the street below. 

The Dutch Hand Cultivator sounds, well, cultivated. But it’s no bullshit design is completely hand made and it’s actually a bit scrappy looking. Its solid construction gives the impression that it will be around for perhaps longer than my garden or me, maybe winding up in the Brockland Center for Historical Studies in the year 2962. ”Hipster Garden Tool - c. 2012”

It’s great at raking around dirt and pulling out large root clumps. I found it nice for spreading precious compost with the round side, or generally fussing up the dirt with the sharp side. 

I suspect that once a man has tools like this, he becomes dependent on them. The tools become an extension of the man himself even! And naturally, he winds up getting a giant, corny belt to hold them all. Guess I’ll see if those guys have a belt. 

There Are a Million Roofs in This Town, This is Just One of Them

My buddy Isaac has known I’m into rooftop gardens for well… as long as I’ve known him. So I’m not sure why he neglected to show me the goddamn enchanted oasis on the roof of his parent’s place in the West Village. I’ve only been over there a thousand times, practically high-fiving the doorman, using the bathroom and sitting in his dad’s very comfortable lounge chair, but was never invited to see the roof garden. No big whoop Isaac. 

Finally, we made our way up there, garden-rule-compliant Solo cups in hand. Experience has taught me that roof gardens are best enjoyed with a drink. Wild Turkey 101 was maybe overkill.

The garden is funded by the residents of the building, and maintained by garden nuts like myself who live there. It was pretty obvious that they were not new to this game. Dude, look at this place.

My friend Heather tried out one of the enchanted nooks. 

I stood mesmerized by one of the many cartoon topiary bushes.

I may have also sampled some of the berries. 

They had it all up there. Even some U.S. of A. solar powered lights. 

The child-proofing could use some work, but peep the water manifold! The entire garden was set up for drip irrigation, which dutifully watered everything in sight.

I suspect they could sport some sub-irrigated planters but like I said, they know what they’re doing. See these flowers?

When you’re in such an amazing garden it’s easy to look down (literally and figuratively) on the surrounding roof decks. With prime location, the use of rooftops, or lack thereof makes judgement swift.

This roofdeck gets a D + (and only because a D+ is slightly more hurtful than an F). The only thing you’re doing with your massive, finished deck, is drying your gross bath robe? Shame on you.

This spot, however, gets an A.

Two workers at this office have sourced just enough junky chairs to really utilize this illegal space without drawing too much attention. I suspect the City of New York is somehow paying for this, but let’s focus on the positive: they got chairs out there for chilling and they’re awesome for doing it. 

My pal Jonah pointed out a clear example of the current economic disparity happening in our country. WHERE IS THE JUSTICE?! He did point out that the 99%er garden on the right had a microwave. What’s up now 1%?!

There are a million roofdecks in this town and only a few are really being used well. You’ve got a roof on your place right? Get up there!

The Field Lab

"When I moved to Manhattan I was 22 years old. I thought I was the shit, I became a fashion photographer and I loved it. And then after a while of being in the super fashion world I was like, there’s a lot more to life than what the new black was gonna be."
John Wells - Off Grid interview

About a year ago I read about John Wells, an ex-New Yorker who sold his home, paid off all his debt, and moved to 40 acres of newly purchased desert in southwest Texas. His mission? To live a simpler, happier life, with a lot less stuff.

In its third year, his grand experiment focuses on equal parts lifestyle and practical science. How does one live a meaningful life without all the clutter of modern society? How do you do it comfortably in one of the most inhospitable (but cheap) localities in the country?

He calls his home and proving ground the Southwest Texas Alternative Energy And Sustainable Living Field Laboratory. It’s a long name with a potentially problematic acronym (SWTAESLFL) which is probably why he generally refers to it as the “Field Lab.”

Initially, the Field Lab was this very modest, hyper-efficient home which, according to his site, was constructed for a mere $2,400. He’s spent his days quietly expanding the compound, which has now grown into a much larger home built from four shipping containers and a polycarbonate dome roof which spans a courtyard greenhouse. It’s nuts. And he built it himself. 

But he also makes time for things like an RC car cattle chaser for bovine visitors, or a giant flamethrower to light up the night sky. Just cause.

Online, he’s captured the concrete stuff: the building, the planning, the progress. But that he bothered to record a strange and beautiful sonic resonance that rings through his roof says something more. There’s something beautiful about doing nothing but quietly working on projects and having the presence of mind to enjoy and document their unintended side effects. 

And it’s all there on the internet for us to enjoy from our uncomfortable office chairs. 

On his site he quotes some like-minded friends of his:
"Every day, we get up, have coffee with the early morning, do chores, then get on with whatever project we have going… there’s often a choice. We go to bed tired, but very happy and peaceful."

Sounds pretty good to me.

Read more about John in the New York Times or visit his blog see more his great photos.

Pincer Movement

Sitting on the couch enjoying New York 1 and some two-day old coffee I heard a ruckus on the roof. The clatter of claws and the weird yodeling of a pigeon suggested an animal face-off. I flung the door open to see both a squirrel and a pigeon looking at me like two kids who just got caught punching each other. I wish they had been punching each other. Being barefoot and in boxer shorts didn’t stop me from hurling chunks of wood at the invaders, and chasing the squirrel around the roof for ten minutes.

Confirming reports from my neighbor that a squirrel was using the fire escape to access the garden, I chased the little bastard around until, quite skillfully, he descended a LADDER and escaped with his life and a story that he’ll soon forget because he has such a tiny, stupid brain. (Not that stupid apparently.)

I’ve let my guard down. While there’s not much to eat up there now, there will be.

It’s official, the Panthy Defense Shield (P.D.S.) has been initiated (cue robotic sounds).

The two pronged approach uses my robotic owl S.T.E.V.E. intimidate pigeons ON SIGHT and a non-lethal trap to capture the squirrels. If you’re familiar at all with WWII tactics, you might also know this strategy as a pincer movement.

It’s going to be a little sad seeing that squirrel in the trap. Until of course, I ride him on my bike over the Gowanus Canal, to the relatively peaceful, industrial environs of Red Hook, where no doubt, he’ll live out his days molesting someone else’s garden. Can’t wait.