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Mar 312011

Here are the wildflower seeds that will be planted in the tiny meadow. I got these from the incomparable Łukasz Łuczaj, who not only sells handpicked mixes of Polish wildflowers but also conducts a very great Wild food workshop in Bieszczady in Southeast Poland. To prepare the seeds, I took some sand and water and mixed in the seeds. Unfortunately I can’t remember the exact measurements, but it’s something reasonable. Let them sit in the refrigerator for a day and then put them in the freezer. (These are Lukasz’s directions.) Each quarter of the bowl contains about 50g of seeds for about 6m2 of land. When I’m ready I’ll take them out, mix with more sand, and broadcast.

Preparation of wildflower seeds

Preparation of wildflower seeds

This particular mix is called meadow flowers or cornflower annuals (kwiaty polne). It contains the following flowers:

Wildflower seeds - close

Wildflower seeds - close

  • Złocień polny (Chrysanthemum segetum) – Chrysanthemum
  • Mak polny (Papaver rhoeas) – Poppy
  • Maruna bezwonna (Tripleurospermum inodorum) – Mayweed
  • Rumian polny (Anthemis arvensis) – Chamomile
  • Chaber bławatek (Centaurea cyanus) – Cornflower
  • Wyka brudnożółta (Vicia grandiflora) – Vetch
  • Wyka ptasia (Vicia cracca) – Cow vetch
  • Kąkol (Agrostemma githago)- Corncockle
  • Poziewnik (Galeopsis speciosa, G. pubescens i G. tetrahit) – Hemp nettle

This mix can potentially produce flowers in the first year, and although some of them are annuals, it seems like a good idea to get something going as quickly as possible. I have another mix called Dry Grassland (Kwietna Murawa), which takes a little longer to get going. I’ll try those somewhere else.

Mar 292011

I found a place for the first tiny meadow. It’s on Wołoska and Madalinskiego in Mokotów, Warsaw, Poland. It’s a silly little slab of land, where there was once a tree. From the looks of the stump, the tree didn’t make it very far before it was chopped down. I remember a friend of mine speculating on why the trees in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn never seemed to grow. We figured as soon as one started to die, the city came and took it out in the middle of the night and replaced it with another one that looked exactly the same. That way the trees always looked healthy, but they also never grew. Looks like someone dropped some breadcrumbs for the birds.

A little piece of not much

A little piece of not much

Today I dug it up. I’ll let it sit for  a few days, and then turn over the dirt again. Then repeat every once in a while until I plant. I’ve heard this is a natural way to get rid of weeds because the digging disrupts them from taking root. Best to do this in the spring, when they are trying to grow. It’s a funny idea to kill some weeds, whatever is here, and replace them with other weeds.

Mar 282011

"Nie mam domu."

Today I met Bogdan. Enter the garden and there he stands stoking a noxious fire. He’s burning electric wires. He’s small and sort of hunched into himself, his only protection. I figure he’s the one who started the last fire — I’d seen ashes on the day after it snowed last week — and that he’s doing it to stay warm. I’m an idiot.

I tell him it’s toxic, not good for the health.”Why not burn wood?” I say, pointing to the mounds of sticks all around us. Then he explains it to me — and it takes quite awhile for me to understand — that he is burning the wires to get the copper out of them. To sell. Oh.

He has no money. He has no home. I had a wife, he says. He spent 4 years in France. He did renovation work. I think he said that he came back in 2005, but can’t be sure. We talked about the owner of the działka — dead, he says. But I’m not sure if he KNOWS that the owner is dead or if he means the owner is “probably dead”. The place has been empty for several years, he says. I think he’s surprised that I talked to him like a regular person. I asked him how he got in and he pointed to a sagging part of the fence. After he was done burning, he went to leave the same way, by creeping. Please, for christ’s sakes, use the gate! He did.

This is what I was thinking: he has the same right to use this place as I do and even though I don’t like the toxic smoke, I hope he feels like he can come back and that he does. It’s great to finally see how the space is being used, to understand what people need it for. So far this is what people need it for:

1 – A place to drink, to sit and rest while drinking

2 – A quiet place to have a phone conversation (typically while walking in circles)

3 – A place to burn things to get something salable out of it

4 – A place to break bottles (on the railway)

5 – A place to dump garbage


Mar 232011

I have a lot compost experiments planned. Slow experiments, fast experiments, shallow and deep, green and brown, living and dead. I built the slow dry compost bin already, consisting of leaves and greens in layers, held between the garden fence and a homemade wattle fence. Now today I built what I hope to be a faster wetter compost in which I put kitchen scraps mixed with leaves and soil. I’ll turn this one regularly and in general pay a lot of attention to it.

Regular Compost

Regular Compost

I have some limitations. First, I have no tools, or rather no money just now to buy them. All of my tools–shovels, spades, hoes, rakes, hammers–are back in the States and that’s where they’ll stay for a while. I do have one small pathetic hammer and a saw I borrowed from my father-in-law. Second, I have no motorized vehicle in which to carry anything I might find, such as wood palettes to build a compost bin with. But, under Garbage Pile Number 3, I found dozens of concrete chunks, each with a weird metal rod sticking out. What are these things? I don’t know but I’m using them to build a wall around the compost bin. They don’t work so well on account of the weird metal rod sticking out, but they work. It’s about 1.2 m (4ft) across.

I also found a shovel head buried in the ground and built a shovel out of it with a stick.

Tools - DIY Shovel

Tools - DIY Shovel


Mar 212011

"Polska jest chory kraj."

I don’t speak Polish well. In fact I can hardly speak it at all. What’s worse is that my ears reject it as a barrage of consonants: “chishshkrchshiz”. It’s like a grinder in my head. After a year of struggling I have to admit that perhaps I am just one of those unlucky people who have absolutely no talent with languages. But I learned something new today: I actually can have a conversation in Polish so long as my conversational partner is a drunk. Not a person who is drunk, but a person who is always drunk.

Roman, tipsy at 10am, was weaving down the garden path as I rolled up on my bike. He warned me about the drinkers (pijaków). Under the circumstances I found this quite charming.

Roman asked for my name. I gave it to him but of course the name “Jodie” is not easy for the Polish mouth and he couldn’t manage it. I told him to call me Baltazar. In Polish this is pronounced Bal-TA-zar and you have to roll the r. But he didn’t want to call me Baltazar because ‘that’s a boy’s name,’ he said.

When I took out the key to open the gate, he became very animated. He asked if the garden was mine and I said, “It is now.” He seemed to understand what this meant. We talked about where I live, where I’m from, etc. He said that either he or his brother lived in the blok nearby. I’m not sure which. He left after I went in but was soon back with sausage and buns — one set for himself and one for me. He asked if he could come in. I refused the food, but he thought I was refusing him entry. Once I understood the misunderstanding, I invited him in. I kept telling him I didn’t want the food, wasn’t hungry. Why? I don’t know why! Well I gave in pretty quickly and took the food. A cheese and pickle sandwich! It was awesome and delicious!

Roman is a short fellow. Perhaps as tall as me. He’s not very old — in his early 50s, I’d say. He has a wide face, neither distinguished, imploring, or even curious. Just a nice (red) open face. A cute face. He told me he used to be in the army (wojska) near the sea. Maybe he said the navy. Maybe I heard wrong. We started talking, in very general terms, about trouble in the world. I must have seemed like a goofy optimist to him because I was saying or trying to say that there’s always something that can be done — we can always make things better. At some point he said, “Poland is a sick country.” I’m not sure what he meant specifically and I didn’t have the language skills to find out, so I told him that it’s the same everywhere. All countries are sick. Aren’t they?

Mar 182011

Today I got 20 bags of leaves from my kid’s school. Hurrah. I wonder if people will think they’re full of garbage and so throw their garbage there too. Garbage begets garbage. Why is that? Why is it easier for someone to throw garbage where garbage was already thrown?

These are great for compost, although having to no way to shred them, it might take a while. The only reasonable idea I found is to put them in a bag and stomp on them.

Bags of Leaves

Bags of Leaves

Mar 142011

There’s this great thing called a wattle fence. It’s great because of what it is (a fence made entirely out of sticks) and also because of the word W-A-T-T-L-E. I like to knit and there’s nothing better than knitting with gigantic tree branches. Technically it’s weaving, I suppose, because basically you brace some vertical poles (the warp) and then weave in the horizontal ones (the weft). Here’s a wattle fence for dry compost I built from Hazel trees (which at the time I thought were Alder trees). The many-trunked hazel trees are visible on either side of the wattle.

Wattle fence for dry compost

Wattle fence for slow dry compost

This compost pile is an experiment in slow motion composting. It has whole dry leaves in alternative layers with fresh grass or leaves .

Wattle fence for dry compost - Close up

Wattle fence for slow dry compost - Close up

I also used some vines and smaller branches to wattle a hole in the fence. Wattling in this way takes an waful long time.

Wattle for a whole in the fence

Wattle for a whole in the fence

Here is a wattle in progress. I’m trying to block a cat hole at the bottom.

Wattle in progress

Wattle in progress

Mar 132011

It’s difficult to identify trees at all, but especially difficult in winter. It’s March so obviously there are no leaves. I start with the easy ones. I’ve figured out that the one in the picture below must be a walnut. There are a lot of walnuts on the ground for one thing, but also the walnut branch has a very unique chambered pith inside the branches. There are three of these fellows. Huge, healthy looking things:

Walnut tree - Orzech Włoski

Walnut tree - Orzech Włoski

There are also three fruit trees–I think either pear or apple. This being Poland, most likely they are apple. One looks pretty healthy although in desperate need of pruning. The other two don’t look so good. In fact half of one of them is on the ground. The other one is half missing. They are all full of dead branches, crossing branches; they look miserable.

There is also a mystery tree. I think it might be a plum because I found some pits under it, but the pits are few and look like they’ve been there a long time. Maybe it no longer gives fruit. Some vines are strangling it.

There are also trees that I think must be cherry–cherry pits on the ground, dark peeling bark. But what kind of cherry? Two choices: wild cherry (czereśnia) or regular cherry (wiśnia). Three look pretty healthy and two are completely dead.

Cherry Tree - Czereśnia

Cherry Tree - Czereśnia?

There are also many small alder, which is great because they improve the soil, and many ash trees, some of which will be removed because they block the southern exposure and are crowding the only healthy apple tree. There are a few other trees I can’t identify yet.

Mar 122011

Some people put their garbage in a bag and take it out to the bin. Others put it in a bag and take it to an abandoned lot and bury it, or if they’re in a hurry, just toss it over the fence. Thanks to these people I get to see what the inside of a garbage bag full of garbage looks like after 15 years.

What I see is always the same: dirt with chunks of metal, glass, and plastic in between. The metal looks the most natural–it’s often mistaken for a root or a worm. Glass maintains its integrity, its form, unless some joker smashed it first, not an uncommon occurrence. It’s the plastic that drives me nuts. Little shards, smaller than my fingernail, calling attention to themselves with their bright colors pink green and blue. The only way to get it out is to pick it up between two fingers. I’ll be picking up these little useless pieces for years.

In the last week I removed about 150 bags of garbage and recycling. Fortunately there’s a garbage bin and recycling bins very close. Inventory: 3 cigarette butts, 1 condom and 1 needle, both used, 100 aluminum beer cans, 50 plastic bottles (juice, soda), 5000 beer bottles. I’ll let you draw conclusions about what this might reveal about my neighborhood.

Purple Lady

She: What are you doing, lady?

On my bicycle, I can carry two bags of garbage at a time. The neighbors must think I’m crazy, but so far only one person has said anything. She was in her 50s, dark purple hair, dog. This is how it went. I think. (My Polish isn’t very good.)

She: What are you doing?
Me: Cleaning.
She: In the garden?
Me: Yes. It’s very dirty.
She: [Satisfied? Says nothing.]
Me: [Keep walking.]

Anyway, the garbage is of the dumped variety; that is to say it didn’t accumulate gradually, but rather was dumped here in bursts. Digging through it I start to reflect on the devastation and destruction of materiality. Everything ripped to shreds. Japan was just hit by an earthquake and tsunami and I’m thinking: all of Japan looks like this działka. Obviously the destruction of human beings is devastating, but I keep thinking about all the non-living matter that has been reformed and reorganized so carefully and purposefully, and then ends up as so many useless little bits. It’s amazing to me that it’s the living things that end up as useful bits; that is to say, as soil.

I put all the big useless bits, the ones that are heavy and awkward, and set them aside. I don’t when I’ll have the strength to move them.

The leftover leftovers

The leftover leftovers



Mar 072011

A hearty man was perched up in a tree in early March, trimming his tree. On account of this I could see him. The first time I’ve seen a human being in this patch of gardens! I’m with a Polish speaker today and so doubly lucky. We inquire about the działki in the area. How do you find out who owns them? Tree-Trimmer tells us that he bought his działka four years ago for 100 złotych — about 30 dollars. From who was unclear. He says these działki will be paved over in three or four years to make room for a highway. They are Pracowniczych Ogród Działkowy or Worker’s Garden Allotments, given to railroad employees years ago. They don’t have water pumped in. Most of the workers are long gone or getting there. The działka I have my eye on is nearby. We ask Tree-Trimmer if he thinks it would be O.K. if we just starting digging there. He seems to think it’d be O.K. That’s all the encouragement I need.

Here is what the działka looked like before I started:

Dzialka Day 1

Besides the debris that is littered all over the place there are three awful piles of garbage. Garbage Pile One is hard to see. It is a simple lump covered with blackberry canes. Under the canes are bags of garbage. In the bags of garbage are glass bottles and plastic bottles. In between the bags all manner of curious things are lodged: television casings, television screens, styrofoam blocks, a chair, weird foam tubes, carpets, crumpled wires:

Garbage Pile One: The lump

Garbage Pile One: The lump

Garbage Pile Number Two was a simple little matter of dozens of beer bottles. This was the best pile because it was the smallest:

Garbage Pile Two: only a few dozens of beer bottles

Garbage Pile Two: only a few dozens of beer bottles

Garbage Pile Three is a terrible site. It seems to go on forever and ever. There are dozens of concrete bricks, a rusted barrel, more bottles, a thousand shards of pink, blue, and green plastic, broken glass, pipes:

Garbage Pile Three: The forever pile

Garbage Pile Three: The forever pile

Mar 052011

It’s pretty easy to tell when a działka is neglected, but harder to know whether it’s really abandoned. In early February I went looking. I found several promising spots, but only a few that could be entered without breaking into them. This one had a beautiful thick layer of grass. It was like a matted head. The idea of digging it up made me feel faint. There was something sinister about the office buildings and chic apartment building looming over it. Lords of the new.

Abandoned działka - Warsaw Poland - 04

Abandoned dzialka with grass fur

On the other side of the działka was a structure that looked like it used to be someone’s home. Not too recently either.

Abandoned działka - Warsaw Poland - 07

Someone's old home

Another działka looked beautiful. It had good southern sun exposure. The fence had fallen over — always a good sign. I look around. It seemed abandoned to me, but later a man told me that someone still worked on it.

Abandoned działka - Warsaw Poland - 06

Looks abandoned but is only neglected...

Finally,  I found a działka that looked like it hadn’t been worked for years. It was strewn with garbage and everything was overgrown. It was a “Cryptoforest” of sorts, if a tiny one. Dozens of glorious trees, a big open space facing south. It seems like “the one”. There is a huge gap where the fence is gone. I walk in.

The działka for me? No fence

East side of działka

It’s a double-sized plot. It’s huge. About 30 x 30 m, I’d say. There are two areas divided by what look like old and dying fruit trees, not to mention a massive dump of garbage.

The działka - 01

West side of działka

In the back of the działka there is a fence as well. It still stands. The fence has a gate wrapped in a chain but there’s no lock. I like this. I like the idea of tying a chain, as if to fool people into thinking its really locked and protected. I think this is the działka for me.

The działka has a gate and a chain but no lock

Gate and chain but no lock