Monthly Archives: September 2014

Know Your Soil

Knowing your soil and knowing what grows well in your environment is key to getting illustrious crops year after year.

Shortly after moving to a 2500ft elevation in the Catskills, Michael Urbanski was advised to plant berries, among other crops, and they are thriving in the rocky, mountain soil. The berries have literally gone wild, growing underneath the garden fence and into the neighboring field and overtaking neighboring raised beds. They were started with a few reeds and, despite extensive winter pruning, still return aggressively every year yielding abundant crops well into October.

You can see the two original wooden raised beds in the image below:

The two original raised beds: blackberries on the right, raspberries on left

The two original wooden raised beds: blackberries on the right, raspberries on left, dog in the middle…

The blackberries overtook the bed to their right and went underneath the fence and out into the wild:

Blackberries growing underneath and into the next bed on the right

Blackberries growing underneath and into the next bed on the right

A similar pattern occured with the raspberries growing in the left bed. In the picture below, they started in the bed on the right and over time spread into two adjacent beds and out into the main garden area.


Says Michael: “I’m curious to see if the reeds growing beyond the fence will produce next year, and if so, if they’ll survive the local scavengers long enough to be harvested. They are prolific growers, and require very little maintenance except for an annual prune. Be warned though, never plant these things anywhere near other projects that you have because as you can see they will quickly spread and overtake a large area if left unattended”. With minimal effort, these garden berry crops are yielding at least two to three pounds of fruit a day over the Summer season and into the Autumn simply because it’s an ideal location for them. Plant food that thrives in your particular environment and trade with neighbors.

copyright J.N. Urbanski

The afternoon’s haul after half the crop was picked.


copyright Michael Urbanski



Saturday Shopping: Local Sugar

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copyright J.N. Urbanski

There are plenty of maple syrup producers in the Catskills. It’s worth paying more for local sugar and seeing how it’s made. It’s one of the fussiest and most complicated ways of harvesting a pure product. The machinery and equipment used gets more sophisticated and expensive every year. Farmers and producers use miles of tubing to collect the sap that sometimes get chewed by bears and squirrels, at which time somebody has to spend all day walking miles around a forest to find the leak. You have to condense, by boiling, 50-60 gallons of maple sap to yield one gallon of syrup. It’s completely organic.
Continue reading

A New Kind of Gallery

Tractor in Field, watercolor by Alix Travis

Tractor in Field, watercolor by Alix Travis

Coming soon to Margaretville… Alix Travis is opening the Commons Gallery in Margaretville, “a gallery for artists”, meaning an actual gallery run by and for the artist. The gallery will exhibit Travis’ work when not in use by other area artists who wish to curate a show or showcase their own work. Travis says:

“The idea grew out of frustration of my having a series of paintings that were community inspired and not having a venue where they could be shown in entirety and easily accessible to my community. The series had been exhibited beyond our area, but I wanted it here.”

The Commons Gallery is not a cooperative and will only charge reasonable rent, not commissions, allowing artists the freedom to have solo or group shows whenever they want and based on whatever subject matter they feel like exhibiting.

“Galleries frequently have a particular focus which is limiting,” says Travis. “I felt the absence in our area of an attractive space with Main Street exposure at a reasonable expenditure for local artists who wanted to show their own work, or curate a show of other’s work: that is a creative activity in itself”.

Travis states that the other real plus is that the Commons building now has several artist’s studios and is becoming a real community of artists and artist creations: a destination.

Camping Basics: Compressed Towels

copyright J.N. Urbanski

copyright J.N. Urbanski

The ultimate space saver, this towel expands from the size of a tablet (bigger than advil, but much smaller than a champagne cork) to the size of a face cloth. Throw a handful in your backpack and then simply dunk one in water with a drop of soap for a convenient outdoor bath.

Hops: The New York State Revival


copyright Michael Urbanski

In 1976 the New York State legislature passed the Farm Winery Act, a law that allowed small wineries to sell their products directly to customers for the first time. The success of Finger Lakes Wine Country in the 30-odd years since that Act had legislators pondering if they could do the same for the state’s beer industry and in 2012 they passed the Farm Brewery Law. The law took effect in January 2013.

The Farm Brewery Law allows for the issue of a new Farm Brewery License. Supported by New York State Senator David Valesky, it’s designed to provide an incentive for farmers to grow hops and other agricultural products associated with the production of craft beers and cider. Continue reading

Amish Furniture

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On Saturday September 21st, there was a march in New York City for Climate Change. The Amish were not noted for their attendance, but they’re the ultimate environmentalists. Quietly and unceremoniously saving the planet, they’re still riding horses to work, making furniture,  raising barns all on their own and getting none of the credit.

It would make sense to support these stoic, pastoral custodians and buy a piece of their furniture.

Weekend Links: Art, Food & Conservation


copyright J.N. Urbanski

“Master, Mentor, Master: Thomas Cole and Frederic Church” until November 2nd, 2014 at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, N.Y. For more information: or 518-943-7465.

Don’t forget to see the gorgeous paintings of “BREATHE: Plein Air Paintings of Delaware County by Sandy Finkenberg” at the Catskills Center’s Erpf Gallery in Arkville, New York until October 24th, 2014.

Alice Waters at the Blue Cashew Kitchen Pharmacy in Rhinebeck, New York on September 28th 2014.

23rd September at 11am, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development are breaking ground on the site of the new Maurice Hinchey Interpretive Center, a center where tourists can learn more about the wonderful Catskill Mountains. The ground breaking will be followed by a hike.


Daily Catskills: 9/20/14

The day began dewy and misty with an enigmatically cloudy sky emanating a metalic glow over the landscape that reminded me of a photograph taken 100 years ago. 52F at 9.15am. The day remained enigmatic until mid-afternoon when it brightened up considerably, but the cloud never quite seem to shift from Belleayre Mountain. Sunny and 65F for most of the afternoon.

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copyright J.N. Urbanski


Saturday Shopping: Tea

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copyright J.N. Urbanski

Tea is a thoroughly British custom imported from China via India in the 16th century. It’s a ceremony; a ritual designed to soothe jangled nerves, break the ice or refresh a visitor, usually coupled with a digestive biscuit.

Most flavored teas leave an alien, chemical-like film on the tongue. You can usually taste the distinctly artificial flavoring, but not so Organic Traveler’s Tea, a locally blended brand based in the Catskills. The best flavored teas, like Harney’s Paris, taste like black tea and leave a hint of aroma in the nostrils, their flavor as delicate as water in the mouth. Organic Traveler’s Tea is comparable with Harney’s, using only organic additives like lavender, ground vanilla, coconut and flower petals. Afternoons at Upstate Dispatch are spent with a Hobnob and the Earl in Paris.

It’s more expensive than regular teas at $10 for a 1.5-ounce bag, but worthy of the price because it’s organic, fair trade and you can dry and steep the leaves again like you can with gunpowder green.

The price of most tea brands is kept artificially low. According to the BBC website, tea pickers are leaving the industry:

rural workers are moving en masse to cities in search of higher wages and a better life.

Traditionally, wages have been low in the tea industry, with many workers struggling to survive on less than a realistic living wage. The attraction of service-sector jobs in the city can be hard to resist.

Climate change is also forcing some farmers to move away from tea to other crops. Because of this, Tea 2030 was born with corporations who produce tea collaborating to save their industry. Tea might once more become the luxury it once was.

Side Note: Country Life


copyright J.N. Urbanski

You’re walking your dog. You’re 100 feet away from your house and you’re hearing a low rumble.

“What’s that noise? What’s that noise?” you ask your dog. He looks at you riveted, with his head cocked to the side, thinking: “any minute now I’m going to suddenly understand what she’s saying”.

You walk slowly back your house, saying “is somebody having work done?l”

As you walk up to the front door, the noise gets louder… and you realize…it’s your hot water heater kicking on.

After a while, the fridge will wake you up at night and you will start needing earplugs like you did in the city.


Autumn in New York

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copyright J.N. Urbanski

The I love NY tourist website has a handy interactive guide to “leaf peeping” upstate. They issue “Fall Color Reports” every Wednesday.  We have myriad pockets of red here overlooking Belleayre Mountain in Ulster County, so the next few weeks will be optimum Autumnal leaf-viewing.

Freelancing: 4 Essential Tips

1569_sm_acornsIf you want to move to the country, it helps to take a business with you; something to pay the mortgage while you’re acclimating. This is why the Catskills is bustling with artists, freelancers and business owners. It’s a tourist haven for the arts, products, hospitality, sports and crafts. In three very difficult and monumentally life-changing steps, here’s how it’s done:

  1. Start side business.
  2. Quit full-time job to focus on side business.
  3. Move to country.

Upstate Dispatch’s mission is to help you conquer these three steps, starting with the side business. Here are four essential tips for the young businessperson starting out and the fledgling freelancer.

Pay quarterly estimated taxes. Your employer used to withhold taxes from your periodic salary payments. You are now responsible for paying your taxes instead of your employer with the added bonus that you are now responsible for all of your social security and medicare contributions; as a W2 employee your employer paid half of your social security and medicare contributions. You need to pay quarterly estimated taxes based on your income less your business expenses. Continue reading

Daily Catskills 9/15/14

46F at 7.51am, quickly climbing to 52F by 8.39am; thick, slowly moving fog nestled in the mountain crevasses. Brilliant sunshine, gorgeous t-shirt weather, tiny pockets of red dashed around randomly. Another update will be posted this afternoon. Update: it remained similarly glorious for the rest of the afternoon.

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copyright J.N. Urbanski Bellare Mountain to the right 8.13am

Daily Catskills 9/13/14

50F at 8.30 this morning, chilly with a light breeze. We have pockets of red in the trees here at Upstate Dispatch and in the surrounding mountains. It started raining late morning but stopped before lunchtime. Midday temperature hovered around 50F. Update 9/14/14: it rained for most of the afternoon too.


copyright J.N. Urbanski 10am 9/13/14

Forest Management


copyright J.N. Urbanski

If you’ve bought a parcel of land with forest, there are plenty of things you can do to maintain it. You can sell trees or use them for firewood.

If you have dead trees on your property, you can tell that they’re dead now by observing that they have no leaves. Before Autumn rolls around, right about now, you can go through your forest and paint the dead ones, so that when all the leaves are gone you have a reminder of which ones are dead. This gives you time over the winter to fell, chop and season the wood. (Only paint them green if you’ve run out of white spray paint and need to get the job done today.)

First Person Dispatch: Camping in New York


copyright J.N. Urbanski

It all starts innocently enough. One uniquely New York City 105-degree scorcher during which the breeze sears your face and you contemplate frying an egg on the sidewalk. Freckles pop up on your cheeks in real time. Someone suggests camping again and this time you don’t laugh in their face. Now facing another blazing, humid weekend without air-conditioning, you’re ready to click together your ironic Mary Janes and chant: “there’s no place like the forest!”

Camping is one of the best activities America has to offer. Stunning scenery and plenty of room for everyone (including kids, pets, gear and cars) combine to provide a thoroughly refreshing alternative to the city. Camping is the “gateway drug” to country life, especially for those who work remotely. If you can work anywhere, why not a bolt-hole in the woods? You can’t find out the temperature by popping outside in your underwear in New York City.

Camping relaxes even the most hardened city folk. Just the first few gulps of fresh air on the Taconic State Parkway have you thinking you can taste green. As you drive up Route 87 with the car window down, you can feel the remarkably hefty burdens of the city fly off into the wind like jettisoned cargo. As you pull into the campsite at dusk, you wonder what all the fuss was about back in the Big Smoke: a big fuss about nothing. Your editor was once an inveterate city girl but this is how you get turned. Continue reading

The Catskills As Art


copyright J.N. Urbanski Watercolors by J.N. Urbanski

While a mild country summer closes and another spectacular Catskills autumn steals in over the mountains drawing its vivid hues, here at Upstate Dispatch we have our binoculars trained on another intense winter approaching in the distance. The farmer’s almanac predicted it, and the moderate summer. However, let’s not go there just yet… It’s not winter until your watercolors freeze.

Up here, you’ll still find En Plein Air groups nestled in the sunny mountains, painting hemlocks for the Catskills Center’s call for artists. The hemlock tree is endangered up in the Catskills by the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. The Catskills Center for Conservation and Development is running a program to save it and they are publicizing the issue by running an art competition and exhibition on the subject.

It’s been a fine summer for Plein Air groups and watercolorists alike. Visit Sandy Finkenberg’s stunning oils at the Eprf Gallery at the Catskills Center until October 24th 2014.

Fall in the Catskills is art itself and it’s just beginning.

Welcome to Upstate Dispatch.


copyright J.N. Urbanski Watercolors by J.N. Urbanski