Welcome ...

Welcome to the Clifton Place Block Association Community Garden. Since 1991, the garden has been a green oasis for many in this corner of the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. As is the case with so many New York City community gardens, the Clifton Place Block Association Community Garden developed from the community's need to reclaim and transform a garbage-strewn city-owned lot into a place of beauty and an asset to all in Clinton Hill and surrounding areas.

In its years of existence, Clifton Place Garden (short) has served as a place where neighborly bonds are strengthened, the passion for gardening and nature is shared, friendships develop, and neighborhood children learn. Through its open door policy, Clifton Place Garden has endeared itself to the community. It is not uncommon to hear someone passing by compliment its beauty and express pride and appreciation for what the garden does to the surrounding area.

Going forward, Clifton Place Garden will seek to continue strengthen its ties to the surrounding neighborhoods through composting programs, children's workshops, and unique arts events. And we hope to connect, via this Web Log, to other gardening enthusiasts, and to share the excitement of our urban gardening experience here. Hopefully, this site will be a favorite place you will keep returning to, and if in the neighborhood, you will stop by to enjoy the pleasure of our small, flourishing retreat.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Expanded Composting At The Clifton Garden

One project The Clifton Place Garden was able to accomplish this season was substantial improvement to our composting system. With help of gardener Melanie Skrzek, who attended classes on composting offered by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, we have expanded our composting capacity 3 fold. The Clifton Place Garden now maintain 4 distinct composting bins: three for hot composting and one for cold composting. The expanded composting system enables The Clifton Place Garden to produce high quality organic compost that is re-used during the gardening season for fertilization of planting beds.

Given our increased composting capacity, we expect to invite non-garden members of the surrounding community to compost with the garden. This should be of immense benefit to apartment dwellers interested in composting. Methods on how best to accept material from the public is being worked out. Likely, the garden will setup a receptacle at the front fence where contributors can dumps food scraps and other compostable materials. When all logistics are figured out, announcements will be posted on this Blog and at the garden.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Planting Smart To Control Pest ....

This year, it seemed that conditions were ripe for an attack of White Flies at the Clifton Place Garden. Over our years of existence, we have had mild aphid infestations. But nothing to the extent experienced this year with white flies.

Liz, one of our gardeners, realized a wonderful yield of Kale in her plot. But her success was greatly overshadowed by a persistent fight to rid the plant of the infestation of white flies. Because The Clifton Place Garden strive to maintain a pesticide free garden, Liz's option to fight the problem was limited to washing the plants regularly with water and installing sticky pads. Ultimately, Liz would lose the battle. Like most of our members, she is not at the garden often enough to wage a determined battle against the little creators.

What we should have done was companion planting. Companion planting is the long practiced organic growing technique where beneficial insect-repelling plants are grown with other plants to fend off insects they attract. In Liz's case, for example, we could have planted, together with the kale, nasturtiums and marigolds to repel the white flies. Were we to have had an infestation of aphids we could have grown garlic, mint, or catnip. (more info: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp7j7xj_0dx6v2fhc)

There are other benefits that are gained from companion planting. Beyond the benefits of pest control companion planting can help with nutrition and moisture management of the soil. Some crops concentrate nutrients in their tissues. Others move nutrients from the subsoil to the above ground parts, that in turn is made available to subsequent crops upon decomposition. Some plant increase potassium levels, while others (particularly legumes) gather unusable nitrogen in the air and convert it to usable nitrogen. This is probably what the farmers at the the Stone Barn Center for Food & Agriculture in Westchester, NY, have in mind when they choose to plant corn is plant together with beans and squash, and melons are allowed to grow in grassy fields. (More Info: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/ecogardening/complant.html)

We have used organic principles in the way we grow at The Clifton Place Garden, but our white flies problem prove that there are some techniques we need to make standard practice. Going forward, companion gardening will become an integral part of our growing methods to both manage pest and ensure quality yields. Given that the average size of a gardener's plot is 4' x 6', with proper planning and companion gardening, a greater amount of crops can be grown in a season. Realizing greater results through natural processes is clearly smart planting.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Watermelon-Papaya Salad

Every one is accustomed to fruit salads – usually made of some combination of a number of fruits in a sweet preparation. But fruits are wonderful when used in savory recipes. And here is a recipe that combines two wonderful fruits (watermelon and papaya) in a salad that is sure to please. And given that August is the height of watermelon season, its the perfect time to give it a try.

1 cup Watermelon
1 cup Ripe Papaya
Green or Red Onions (green onions finely slice and red onion cut into small cubes)
Juice of 1 Lime
¼ cup chopped Pistachio or Walnut (toasted)
2 Tbs Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Salt (to taste)
Hot Sauce (to taste) -- I prefer Sriracha for its balance of heat and sour.

1. Cut watermelon and papaya into 1/2” cubes and combine in a bowl.
2. Cut green onions into fine slice or red onions in small cubes, add to fruits.
3. Juice one lime and add juice to other ingredients.
4. Add Olive oil and combine all ingredients.
5. Add chopped nuts.
6. Add salt, combine, taste, and adjust as needed.
7. Finish with hot sauce of choice. Add hot sauce to give a sense of heat but not to overpower.

This recipe is exciting to almost all areas of the palate. The watermelon and papaya provides sweetness, yet the papaya bring in a bit of sour that his heightened by the acid of the lime. The onion provides savory flavoring. The nut provides crunch to contrast the smoothness of the watermelon and papaya. The salt ties everything together and hot sauce brings about the last bit of magic needed to make the recipe complete.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Fall Gardening

The end of August and the shortening days tells us the end of summer is soon approaching here in NYC. And for many community gardeners, the gardening season will soon end. In many of the plots the summer vegetables are plentiful. There are tomatoes of all varieties, squashes, okra, melons, and assorted herbs and green leafy vegetables add lusciousness. But the cooling days hints that the window is closing on summer and with it goes the joys gardening in the summer months bring.

But should the fading daylight and cooling temperatures mean an end to gardening? No. The approach of fall should be just as exciting as that of spring, as it is both a time of transition in seasons as it is for planting opportunities. As the harvest from summer staples such as tomatoes, corn, and lettuce diminish, it is time to clear plots and prepare to extend gardening into fall and early winter. For some vegetables, such as collards and lettuce, growth in cooler climate yields a better product that lacks the bitterness summer grown vegetables can develop. Hint: pick summer vegetables before they reach full maturity.

Here is a list of vegetable that are appropriate for fall gardening:

  • Beets
  • Brocolli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mustard
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

  • This list consists of large numbers of hardy plants that will require little or no frost protection. Use of burlap or any other material supported by stakes will work in creating a barrier between the plants and frost. Root crops such as carrots and radishes should be harvested or heavily mulched to protect against hard freeze. With mulching, the harvest of root vegetables can extend well into spring. And a mild winter might result in harvests from all crop through spring.

    At The Clifton Garden April 15 – October 15 is the official gardening season. But we encourage all members to take full advantage of the garden to grow crops year round, if possible.

    Friday, August 8, 2008

    Mint, More Than Tea.

    Mint. For many it for tea (iced or hot). For others, its a weed that should be destroyed at every sighting. But in actuality mint is a herb that lends itself to very complex uses and should be viewed as favorably as basil and parsley from a culinary perspective.

    Mint pairs very nicely with many food items. From cucumbers to watermelon, soups to risotto, mint will always enliven a plate. Unfortunately, American cuisine rarely take advantage of mint in recipes. In contrast, many south Asian dishes depend on mint for authenticity in flavor. Whether it is Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, or Laotian cuisine (to name a few), these cultures often reach for mint to freshen the taste of dishes. What would a Vietnamese spring roll be without mint?
    Here are a few way you might incorporate mint in your cooking:

    1. As a salt. Huh? That's right, as a salt. You can dehydrate mint in a microwave and blend it together with salt in a spice-blender to create Mint-salt. The Mint-salt can then be use to flavor, for example, a watermelon-tomato salad, a piece of pan seared salmon, or a vinaigrette.
    2. In sauces. Creating mint tea is basically the infusion of water with the essence of mint. This process of infusing a liquid with the essence of mint can be applied in making sauces. For example, you can make a wonderful cream sauce that will go nicely with a mushroom stuffed ravioli. Saute 2tbs finely chopped onion in blended oil (olive/canola oil) till translucent. Add the juice of one lemon and reduce till syrupy. Add 1 cup of cream and handful of mint. Reduce cream by 50 percent of until sauce coats the back of a spoon. Do not reduce cream more than 50 percent. Strain sauce to get rid of mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

    3. In soups. There are many soup recipes that utilize mint in a prominent manner. Here is a unique and healthy recipes that you can easily make. Cold Green Peas and Mint soup is ideal for summer. Bring about 2-3 cups of water to boil. Once boiling, turn fire off. Take about a cup of green peas (fresh or frozen, if frozen, thaw) and blanch them in the hot water for about 2 minutes. Add blanched peas, add about a cup of mint leaves, 1 small red onion, 2 tbs white wine vinegar , and two cup of cold water in a blender. Blend all ingredients, season to taste with salt and pepper, and adjust vinegar taste, if necessary. Voila! A healthy, nutritious, and delicious soup. You'll get sweetness from the peas and the mint works to heighten the freshness of the peas. The onion and vinegar is there to balance everything out. Add cream or sour cream if a little fat is desired.
    4. In salads. Here is a salad that is pretty boring without mint. It is an Orzo, Feta, Tomato, and Mint salad. Orzo, is a Mediterranean pasta shaped like rice. To prepare, bring 3 cups salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add 1 cup Orzo (When cooking pasta, always add pasta to salted boiling water, else it will clump and stick to the bottom of the pot.) Cook pasta till cooked. Pastas are usually cook when they begin to float, is firm to the teeth, but do not taste raw(floury). Do not overcook. Drain hot pasta into colander, run under cold water to stop cooking, then toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking. Cut Feta cheese into small cubes, wash either cherry or teardrop tomatoes (use whole). Chop mint leaves finely. Add all ingredients to large bowl. Make a vinaigrette with 2 parts oil to 1 part white wine vinegar, 1-2 tbs maple syrup, salt and pepper. Add vinaigrette to ingredients in bowl and gently toss to incorporate. That's it! Bon Appetite.
    5. As a substitute for other herbs. Mint is an excellent substitute in recipes that may call for cilantro, in particular. But it can also be used instead of parsley or any herb whose addition primarily is for freshness.

    So hopefully you get the sense that mint is for more than tea and dessert decoration. With a little experimentation, you too can come to see the many possibilities of mint in cooking.

    Thursday, July 31, 2008

    Kids In The Garden ....

    The Garden as a Learning Environment….

    Urban gardens like The Clifton Place Garden can be indispensable learning environments for children. Growing up in a place like Brooklyn, where buildings come close to outnumbering trees, and green spaces are few and far in between, community gardens go a long way in exposing children to nature. Without the garden many would not experience seeing tomatoes on a vine or the pleasure of picking and eating vine ripen strawberries. At The Clifton Place Garden we try to engage children in as many aspects, as possible, of our projects. And given the natural curiosity of children, it is never hard to get them to take interests in activities. Plus they have fun!

    But beyond having children plant plants or water plots, the time spent with children in the garden can become a time of additional learning. Inevitably when working with children they will ask many questions. They often pepper you with the ubiquitous “What is that?”. A great thing to do is combine your answer with a bit of learning reinforcement. For example, during preparation for a fund raising event, the local kids came and wanted to help. As we bundled cut lavender and potted lilies, we engaged the children in counting exercises. When answering the “What is that?” question, we had them spell words using the phonics method.

    So, The Clifton Place Garden give local kids a green place to play, be exposed to and learn about nature, and learn through nature. From the gardens beginning, children have been a key part of its fabric. We see the short-term impact exposure to the garden have on the kids who can’t wait to see the gates re-open. In the long term, hopefully their time in the garden makes lasting impressions that help them grow into productive citizens. This is another way urban gardens like The Clifton Place Garden makes a difference in the lives of its community.