Saturday, April 21, 2018

Snakes on a Plane or Field of Nettles

 For our back-up Earth Day work day, we found even more snakes and had more people at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden on Saturday than we did last week for our Earth Day Celebration or for our Opening Day.  Of course, we accomplished loads of work and started on some beautification and capital improvement projects.  The gardeners who finished their work equity (i.e., 3 hours of back-breaking labor) last week or today also started on preparing their plots for Spring planting.  I beat them there, having already planted a row of spinach and lettuce, onions and peas.  I added kale, cabbage, broccoli and brussells sprouts today.  Rumor has it that our long winter is finally over.  I am hoping that we get at least some Spring before jumping into Summer. 

Amy and I were at the SACG alone on Wednesday evening.  She started where Rayna had left off weeding our strawberry patch.     The weeds are so well entrenched (since it was neglected last year by the gardeners who had been assigned to water and weed it) that virtually everything had to be dug out and the berries replanted.   It seems to be going well enough that Mike Hogan, OSU Extension Agent, who stopped by on Friday complimented the work.    Carly came to put in her work equity today and I started her off by watering all of the strawberries.  We had enough strawberries to put in a raised bed so that I can repot them next week to either sell or give away to another community garden.  And, Hilary’s last work equity task of the day was to take some of our extra berries and plant them in the strawberry pot by the shed.  While Amy weeded, I weeded another two rows in my plot, moved a trellis and planted a row of snow peas and a half row of potatoes.  I also tried out our new compost thermometer, but it said that our compost bin was on 45 degrees.  I was worried that it was broken, so I took it home and ran it under some hot water.  It works fine; our compost, however, is not composting.  It needs a nitrogen fix.

On Friday, I met Ava from the Greater South East Communities United Garden at Gethsemane UMC and I got together and drove over to Trudeau’s Fence to pick up some scrap cedar which Trudeau's was generously donating.  Trudeaus has been a generous supporter of the SACG since prior to our breaking ground in 2009.  They not only donate the cedar, they load it for us and helped Ava with a few other pieces, too.    Ava has volunteer union carpenters  coming next weekend to build her two gates for their community garden.  I want to improve and straighten our southern fence to look more like the amazing fence around the new north Bexley Community Garden.   I teased Ava because she was running around a lot for her garden on Friday, had rented a U-Haul moving van and had lots of supplies.  Those trucks are exhausting to drive.
This morning, one of my cats caught a mouse in my kitchen (hiding under the bookshelf holding my cookbooks).  She dropped it, though, when I put my foot out to keep her from taking it into my office and to redirect her to through the back door to my patio.   I was upset that I couldn’t stay to help her re-catch it because I needed to hustle over to the Garden to meet another volunteer group.  Sadly, the dead mouse was not waiting for me when I returned at 3 this afternoon.  I have to start thinking about laying some trarps. . . . 
Amy came to finish weeding the strawberry patch and then moved on to some of our southern flower beds.  She also brought warm blueberry muffins.  Yum.    I finally put her off to start tending her plot.   She found another snake while she was weeding under the brick paths and brought it into the Garden for us to see.  Zion went nuts and started carrying it around the Garden. I had to take it from him and set it free near the fence line so that it could find a new place to hibernate.

Phil came to finish his work equity.  I had him fill in thin places along the exterior fence where we had aggressively pruned raspberries last week and to pull more gooseweed/cleavers and ragweed from the fence line while we still can.  He also edged and mulched one of our cherry trees and then weeded and mulched around the sign.  We then picked a plot for him and he aggressively weeded and prepared the soil in his plot.  It looked amazing.  That particular plot has 
not gotten a lot of love over the last decade so I had him work in about a cubic yard of compost that the OSU students had liberated from our compost bins on our Opening Day.  He plans to start planting tomorrow.

Sabrina came with her youngest, Finn, to start tending her plot.   (Zephyr had an overnight boy scout camping trip).  She weeded and hoed away.  Her plot was our three sisters plot last year (with corn, squash and beans).  When we returned in 2018, it was a field of purple nettles.   We are mystified.  Mike said that nettles will take over any disturbed ground, but makes good compost.  Sabrina has also discovered that it is edible and used in ointments.   While she was weeding around and under the landscaping fabric that Rayna left behind when it was her plot, she discovered several snakes that had been hibernating there.  Sabrina HATES snakes.   I have to remind everyone that they eat bugs. Good snakes. 
Marcel came with her two boys and aggressively weeded her plot.  Boys LOVE to dig and Zion is no exception.  He also loves to run around and yell.  At this time of year, he cannot do much harm because very little is in the ground.    He found a baseball and I told him that he could keep it.  So, he played baseball with an imaginary team and occasionally catch and batting swings with Taylor.  Marcel got her onions planted before they departed. Alyssa and Taylor came to weed some more and plant onions and lettuce.
Our community volunteers were a group of OSU students.    We accomplished a lot.  As always, there was a lot of mowing to be done.   I discovered, however, when showing one of them around that someone dug up the bee hive that had been across the street from us.  Who would do such a thing?!!!  One of the ladies varnished our signs.  A gentleman painted most of the rain barrel.  (The paint I had picked up did not match the paint from last week, so I made sure that they did not throw this can away so that I can buy the matching shade this week and get the job finished and maybe also paint the compost bin to match.   One lady took my special dandelion tool to dig up dandelions in our lot and next door.  Two of them started painting the boards that I had picked up on Friday.  Two of them dig a great job weeding the southern fence line and area just south of the Garden.  Carly and Hilary also weeded under the benches and raised beds and in that area. Carly also watered in our newly planted flower pots and strawberries.   All of them started digging up our wood chip paths (which now are about a foot taller than the soil in the plots) and moving them to our two empty compost bins.    They also weeded a flower bed and watered our new trees and elderberry bushes.  Leigh Anne stopped by to take photos and give me some tips on where I could find inexpensive peach trees on sale.  While they did this, I planted and watered in some pansies into our flower pots and vegetables into our neighbor bed and answered questions from the gardeners.   Then, we all emptied and repacked the shed.

Our neighbors at Kimball Farms were also very busy this morning.   They weeded all of their beds (and in between) and filled them with new soil and surrounded them with mulch.   Near the end of the day, Taylor came to tell me that the spicket on our big tank was malfunctioning and had fallen out (spraying water everywhere and making a small pond at Kimball Farms).  Sh*t!   I asked the gardeners to not use it again until I had emptied it with a hose (to create a temporary pond next door near our flower bed) and Ken glued it back the spicket back in securely.   

It is always something.

Next week, we will work some more on clearing out the wood chips and spreading mulch donated by Ava and Keep Columbus Beautiful.   We’ll also top off the raised beds, etc. and work a bit on the southern fence before we are prevented from doing so by the growing raspberry crop.  We also have a lot of strawberry and raspberry plants to pot and sell.    I hope to also plant some leeks and garlic and to start planting greens in a food pantry plot.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Looking on the Brighter Side of Life for Earth Day 2018

It almost always rains on the Earth Day Celebration at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  After all, April showers bring May flowers, so they say.  We had fabulous weather in 2009 and 2010, but in 2011 it started raining within an hour or so after we picked up 14 bags of litter.  This year, we were very lucky and it did not start raining until almost 2 p.m., permitting us to accomplish most of our tasks with a great group of gardeners and volunteers.  Unlike last week, there was no snow on the ground and we had a nice breeze to keep us cool.   Although there were a few hiccups, I’ve decided that I want to look on the brighter side of life.  We planted three fruit trees and two elderberry bushes, and got a lot of weeding accomplished.   We also raffled off a bicycle that had been donated to us by Strader’s Garden Centers through the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition.

Saturday was the culmination of our major fundraiser this year.  In February, we won a door prize at the GCGC meeting of a sweet Schwinn Signature Series bicycle.  The Board decided to have a raffle to raise money and each Board member was required to sell at least 20 raffle tickets (although I provided them each with 40 raffle tickets).   One Board member sold all 40 tickets to his breakfast group at the Bexley United Methodist Church and they each agreed that if any of them won, they would hold another raffle of the bike at BUMC to raise more money for the SACG.  So, for weeks, that’s who I hoped would win the bike.  Some Board members sold more than 40 tickets, which was a achievement because, with the weather as cold as it has been, no one has been in the mood to buy a bicycle.  Sabrina and I camped out in front of the Bexley Public Library this week with the bike and sold over $100 tickets. 
A lot of people (including several Board members) donated money without filling out any tickets.  Some folks told me (and Taylor) to give the bike away or give their tickets to someone else.  For instance, I put the name of Zion (a boy whose mother gardens with us) on two tickets that were purchased by one of the Garden’s neighbor landlords.  One little boy came by on Friday and only had a quarter, so I put his name on a ticket and let him keep his quarter.  A lady who lives about 3 blocks from me bought a ticket and so I briefly wished that she would win because it would help me get the bike out of my garage sooner than later.  One of our Board members put in the name of a neighbor who has done a lot for our Garden.  (I wish that I had realized that before the raffle and I would have filled out all of the unassigned- but-paid -for raffle tickets with his name, but I didn’t go through most of tickets until after the raffle).   So, without further ado, the winning ticket was Barbara who bought 5 tickets Friday afternoon and plans to give the bike to her husband.   We had little Zion pull the winning ticket out of the bucket (which we raised so that he could not look inside for his own name).  She could not be more excited.

Last Sunday, I went over to Strader’s and purchased a peach and plum tree for us to plant on Saturday.   Ken picked them up on Thursday and delivered them yesterday.    I'm a bit worried about our peach crop for this summer because -- as you can see -- the peach trees are in blossom (with bees and everything) and it's predicted to snow on Monday, probably killing  the blossoms and our  peach crop this year.  Keep Columbus Beautiful also donated about 50 bareroot native trees to GCGC, so Ken went over and picked us up some elderberry bushes to plant as well.  We had wanted to also add 2 serviceberry trees, but they were taken before he got there.  Melissa gave him redbud trees to compensate, but our orchard is ONLY for fruit trees, so I sent them back.  He then came back with black cherry trees and so we planted one of them and sent the other home with Rayna.  I grew up with a black cherry tree in my back yard, so I know how tall that they get and don’t want them taking over the entire lot.   Elderberry has become increasingly popular and wild/black cherry is often used to flavor jams, syrups and brandy.   This is the information that Melissa sent along about our new “native” trees:
Elderberry:  Sometimes propagated as an ornamental shrub, the elderberry bush attracts birds and butterflies and can be pruned back every few years to keep it looking good in a landscaped garden. This deciduous shrub produces a fruit that, in recent years has become very popular. The white flowers transform into dark purple fruit late summer. Although the flowers and berries are edible all other parts of this bush are poisonous containing toxic calcium oxalate crystals. This shrub has soft, smooth, gray-brownish bark with corky bumps. There is spongy, white pith inside the twigs and branches. The elderberry bush produces showy white umbel flowers in the spring. Edible purplish-black fruit ripens in drooping clusters late summer. Elderberry prefers moist soil but tolerates dry soil as well. It grows best in full sun. It is native to a large area of North America, east of the Rocky Mountains.  The berries and flowers are edible. Flowers can be tossed into a salad. Elderberries tend to end up as pies, in pancakes, jams, jellies, and in wine making.

Black Cherry:  Black cherry is an attractive deciduous tree that reaches heights of 50 to 80 feet at maturity. The tree is somewhat drought-tolerant and grows well in sunlight or partial shade and well-drained, loose soil. Black cherry is valued for its many ornamental and practical uses. Also known as wild cherry, black cherry displays fragrant white blooms in early spring and reddish-black berries in summer. The large, dark green leaves turn yellow, orange and red in autumn. The bark of young trees is smooth and reddish-brown, maturing to an interesting scaly texture. To minimize cleanup, plant black cherry trees away from sidewalks and other paved areas. Lumber from black cherry trees has been in high demand by cabinetmakers, fine furniture makers and other woodworkers since Colonial days. Although the wood is relatively hard, it holds screws securely and is easy to saw. The wood is also used for veneers, flooring, wall paneling, interior trim, handles and toys. The tart fruit of the black cherry tree is an important source of nutrition for many animals, including deer, rabbits, foxes and squirrels. The fruit also provides sustenance for a large variety of birds, including sparrows, mockingbirds, chickadees, woodpeckers, robins, bluebirds, cardinals and bluejays. The leaves provide food for the caterpillars of butterflies such as red spotted purple, painted lady and viceroy butterflies.

I stopped by Keep Columbus Beautiful on Friday to pick up supplies (like snacks, litter grabbers, safety vests, trash bags, lawn waste bags, etc. and volunteer rewards (from Jeni’s and Chipotle, etc.).  Ken picked up mulch and soil donated by Ohio Mulch.  As always, I made some chocolate no-bake cookies for the volunteers and picked up some donuts.  I also soaked and cooked some chickpeas to make some hummus (with fresh carrots) for lunch. 

I started off the morning running over to Lowe’s to pick up tree soil for our new trees and then l loaded up my car.  When I arrived to the SACG at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, Rayna was already there weeding the strawberry patch (which I had started to weed last Saturday).  She remained there for about five hours and got half of it weeded.  She eventually concluded that the weeds (including ragweed and mint) were so well entrenched, that it made more sense to simply dig everything out and replant the strawberries.  Because it had been predicted that we would receive two inches of rain over the next two days, that seemed like a good plan.  However, that prediction was then cut in half.  I  may need to go over and water them in some more in a few days.  Both of our tanks were empty yesterday (since we did not get any rain this week after I connected the big tank on Saturday).   She still had a whole bucket of seedlings left to replant when we were chased out by the rain and we didn’t have time to do anything with them, so she said that she’d take them home and put them in some water until we figure out what to do with them.  We sold a bunch of strawberry plants back in 2010 or 2011 and raised $110, but that was before Four Seasons City Farm also started selling their extra strawberry crowns . . ..   We also give them away to other community gardens (like Highland Youth, Kimball Farms and Morrison Hill) who are looking to start their own strawberry patches, so any community garden should contact me asap if you want some strawberry plants.  Rayna hopes to find time to come back and finish the rest of the strawberry patch. (I hope that she does because this requires a certain level of skill and gardening experience and I'd like to focus this week on planting the neighbor beds and possibly a food pantry plot).

New gardener Phil came to put in his work equity to join the SACG.  He lives just a few blocks from the Garden.  I showed him around and then set him on finishing what the OSU students started last week – weeding out around the compost bins before they become overtaken again with weeds.  That took him most of the morning until he had to leave to referee a volleyball game.

Bill Dawson – the Growing to Green Coordinator from Franklin Park Conservatory – stopped by to wish us well.  His van was well stocked with supplies that he was distributing to 20 different gardens in all quadrants of the City.  He applauded us for starting early before the rain. He brought us another Garden fork to turn our compost and a compost thermometer so that we could see how hot it getting in the middle.   I never would have thought about buying one of those.   One of our gardeners, Alyssa, took a six week course at the Conservatory over the winter and plans to start her own compost bin at home.  She had the opportunity to get one of those thermometers, but turned it down, silly girl.  I can’t wait to try it out.  I’ve always been curious (and a little dubious) whether our compost piles get hot enough to kill microbes and seeds, etc.  Now, we’ll be able to figure that out.  Rayna reported that she planned to start vermicomposting with her special needs class with their lunchtime food scraps.  Bill’s an old hand at that and so they chatted a bit about different approaches (with different price points) that she could consider.  Alyssa had been asking about a particular weed which had popped up in Sabrina’s old plot, so we asked Bill to identify it for us. I had no idea, but observed it showed up where there used to be potatoes.  It was wild parsnip. 

Alyssa and Taylor came to put in their work equity.  They anticipated our usual chore of distributing wood chips, but instead, I put them to work digging up volunteer raspberries all around the inside and outside of the Garden that were more than two feet from the fence.   They had quite the time with that.  They also sanded the peeling rain barrel and Alyssa painted it until we ran out of paint.   Then, I had them weed some other areas.  Marcel came with her new baby and Zion and I put them to work weeding the south side of the Garden (which is a challenge to do when they both want your undivided attention).  Zion did his best to distract all of us from our work.  Taylor had to give him chase a few times;-)   Neighbor Rose stopped by to see the baby, chat with Marcel and I caught her weeding, too.  She then gave them shelter on her front porch when it began to rain. 

Leigh Anne also sent us four volunteers at 9:10 a.m. to help with some major projects.  One lady picked up litter in the neighborhood for four hours.  Ken picked up a little, too.   One of the gentlemen mowed our lawn and the two block watch lots.    He also finished up weeding around the compost bins after Phil left.  He and two other gentlemen also finished emptying out the compost from two of the bins and put it in our neighbor beds (along the alley) as well as with some of the soil donated by Ohio Mulch.  Two of the gentlemen dug the holes and helped me to plant the fruit trees and elderberry bushes.  When I discovered that we were not going to get the service berry trees after all, I had them refill two of the holes.  They did such an exceptional job that you couldn’t even tell that there had ever been a hole there.  Then, they had to re-dig a hole when Ken returned with a wild black cherry tree.  After lunch I had them to begin weeding the paths inside the Garden, which is what they were doing when it started to rain.

I ran around to keep everyone engaged, etc. and managed to finally weed two rows in my plot and get some lettuce, bok choy, spinach and onions planted.  I also distributed some seed potatoes and seed onions to Alyssa and Rayna.  I also connected the tall rain cistern. 

When I turned around, I found a volunteer had veered off the path and into an unassigned plot, where he was digging up giant weeds. I walked over and redirected him back to weeding just the path.   About ten minutes later, however, he had again veered off the wood chip path and had started to dig up the flowers in the center flower bed, including tulips, daisies, salvia, bachelor buttons, irises, etc.  I had been tending that bed for three weeks now (even before we broke ground last Saturday for our 10th growing season) to weed, transplant and thin it.  I NEVER assign unskilled volunteers to do anything in any of the flower beds because they
Wild parsnip weed
rarely can tell a flower from a weed.  It is an understatement to say that I freaked out.  It was the screech heard in Licking County as I screamed for him to stop what he was doing and get back on the path.  Realizing that I was displeased as I ran towards him, he then instead decided to try and fix his mistake by digging new holes and to possibly replant some of these items.  I screamed louder for him to stop and get out on to the lawn and away from the flower bed.   Stay there I said.  I cannot fix tulip bulbs that had been split in half and separated from their stems.  Some root systems were separated from the plants.  Hours of work down the drain.  No amount of rain today can bring back some of those flowers this season.  I sat there on my knees as it started to rain and tried to fix what I could.  Rayna tried to take charge of the situation and redirect the volunteer.  Everyone spoke in whispers for the rest of the day because I was in no mood for anything after that.  I had no interest in going out and putting that volunteer to work on anything else, so Rayna had him pack up my car with everything that was still laying around.  

This is not how I would have liked to have finished out an otherwise fabulously productive day.  I did manage to compliment all of the volunteers on all of their work before they left, but I didn’t get the keys or codes distributed because of the rain.   There’s always Wednesday. . .  . .  It’s going to rain all day today and, groan, snow flurries on Monday.

Meanwhile, Urban Connections had a volunteer crew of 48 folks show up at 1 p.m. to pick up litter, etc. for their Earth Day celebration.  Just in time for the rain.   They hoped that our crew wouldn’t pick up all of the litter, but to be safe, Doug had scoped out nearby areas that had lots of litter to pick up and took them South of Main to clean up some seriously neglected alleys.  Closer to the SACG, Cathy 
supervised a crew of middle schoolers to mulch the areas around the Ministry House.  Their group leaders said that they would be happy to work in a warm drizzle like we had yesterday, as long as there was no thunder, lightning or downpour.  (Meanwhile, I learned during last night’s CSO concert that the Nature Conservancy was postponing until June their planned nature walk today).

There’s still work left to do, of course, at the SACG.  Three of our gardeners will be starting their work equity this week and Phil will be finishing up his.  We still have a few plots available for anyone brave enough to join us.  I’m unlikely to screech again if you stay away from digging up established perennial flower beds.  My rule of thumb:  don’t dig it up unless you KNOW what it is.   If you only recognize dandelions, then that is the only weed you should be digging up.  Otherwise, ASK ME FIRST;-) 
Today, I hoped to try and head back to the Garden and water in the new bareroot trees because I doubt that we have received enough rain to soak more than an inch or two into the ground.  (I had planned before my meltdown to dump the water left in my 10 gallon orange thermos into the trees).   I also need to check on whether the rain cisterns are collecting any water (because the gutters or downspout strainer might be clogged again).  We will need to water in the seedlings and seeds that will be going into the ground next weekend.  Or, if I look on the brighter side of life, I might find that they are collecting water dandily and are full to the top. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

What Kind of Omen is Snow on Opening Day?

 You may have noticed that it snowed this morning.  Actually, there was about a half inch on the ground before I went to sleep last night and I hoped (vainly it turns out) that it would melt before the morning.   This morning, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden broke ground for our 10th growing season.    I would have postponed the opening until next week (when the temperatures are supposed to almost hit the 70’s), but I had already recruited two volunteer groups to help us back in February when the average temperatures were 5 degrees above normal.  This month, the temperatures have been 5 degrees below normal.    The last time we had snow on Opening Day was in 2015 when we were scheduled to open near the end of March, but the snow caused us to postpone and a few of us ended up attending the funeral for Desiree Stewart (our long-time neighbor who suddenly died earlier in March not long after I had distributed the neighborhood newsletters).   Although our daffodils have been in bloom for a few weeks, none of our tulips are in bloom and that is very strange.   Anyway, a group of sturdy and extremely good natured Ohio State University students from the Pay-It-Forward Program came to help us despite the weather.  To keep them warm, I had them turn and distribute compost from our bins.  Then, they wanted  to weed.  I think it’s a first for the SACG to have a group of volunteers who asked to be assigned weeding chores.

Today is either April 7 or the 97th day of January.  You decide. 
I started off last night packing up my car and making chocolate no bake cookies.  This morning, I made a half gallon of hot chocolate and a quart of coffee.   I arrived at the SACG around 9:20, unlocked a few things and took some photos of the snow-covered Garden before too many footprints messed it up.  I tried to turn on the big rain cistern, but the switch was frozen in place.   The OSU ladies arrived and I gave them a quick tour and then gave them gloves and shovels and put them to work.    I tried to pick up litter, but it was covered with snow and difficult to find until the snow melted.   Instead, I transplanted the two clematis flowers that Betty Weaver had planted in her plot back in 2009.  They get overtaken now with the raspberries, so I put one next to our arbor gate and one next to the shed.  (I’ll have to bring over one of my trellises so that it has somewhere to grow.  
Two of the students helped me to put up our sign.  I had repainted the back, but it hasn’t been warm enough yet to varnish the front (which must be done every year to retard its fading and chipping).  We’ll take it down again next weekend or the following weekend to do that.

I then put them on digging out all of the flowers and weeds growing in the eastern plots along the fence line.   Then I asked them to pull out as much gooseweed as they could.  Then, they turned to weeding the area between the Garden and the blueberry bushes.  While doing that, they dug up volunteer brambles and put them in pots so that we could sell them during our Second Annual Black Raspberry/Tart Cherry festival in June.  I managed to pick up some litter and then Mari came and picked up the rest.  Whew.  
Sabrina had to go home and get me some wool socks because my toes were killing me from the cold this morning.   She also dug out two of the overgrown bunches of oregano in our herb garden and a bunch of the volunteer daisies that had turned up in one of last year’s food pantry plots and weeded the interior flower bed.   She then helped me weed and edge the front flower beds.   I then turned to the strawberry patch.  I thought it was looking great but realized as I worked that most of the green plants in the patch were weeds, not berries.  Mari said that she might return over the week and weed it.  We have volunteer berries showing up outside the bed, so we can transplant them back into the bed.

I could not have been more pleased with my OSU volunteers this year.  They dressed weather appropriate and already knew how to properly weed without me having to tell them.  They dug weed out by the roots instead of just pulling what they saw above ground.   Thrilled I am. 
The second volunteer group apparently went to the wrong garden.  I tried calling them, but I only had their office phone and they tried calling me, but only had my office phone.  Curses.    They will return next Saturday.   I had wanted them to mow all of our lawns, but I forgot to refill the gas can and there was an inch of snow on the lawn until almost noon.  It eventually melted, but I suspect that the grass was probably still too wet to mow when I left around 2:30.   

Cathy again loaned us her wheelbarrow (and her husband pumped up its tires last night).  She was also going to bake the pizza I had picked up for our other volunteer group, but I just retrieved it from her instead to use another time. 
As the OSU students worked to straighten up our curb, and to pull gooseweed, they kept coming up on hibernating garten snakes.  Students in the past squealed,  but not this group.   One snake stayed put until they replaced the brick.  However, one snake decided to slither under the next stone instead of waiting to find out what she had in mind for it.

I also had the opportunity to show them where our praying mantises lay their eggs.   After they left, I was able to finally turn on the big tank.  However, I’m a little worried that the spicket may not be tightly attached. 

New gardeners Hillary and Jake stopped by to say hello.  I gave them a tour, but was way too tired to stick around another few hours for them to put in their work equity.  I could barely speak in complete sentences by that point.

Despite our freezing and wet hands and cold toes, it wasn't all frigid.  One neighbor and one of the neighborhood landlords stopped by to tell us how much they appreciated our work (and, frankly, to laugh at us for gardening in the snow).   

This upcoming week, Sabrina and I are going to be making an extra effort to sell raffle tickets for our sweet Schwinn bike.   The drawing is Saturday, April 14 and the tickets are only $1 each.   Cathy and I also will be picking up a peach and plum tree to add to our “orchard” next Saturday.  Then, on Saturday, this is what we have planned:

1)      Picking up litter in the neighborhood (at least the litter that we get too before the Urban Connections volunteer group finds it).

2)      Weeding gooseweed, dandelions, and ragweed.

3)      Weeding the strawberry patch

4)      Digging holes and planting a peach and plum tree (and maybe some elderberry and service berry)

5)      Connecting the western rain cisterns

6)      Transplanting volunteer daisies to gardeners own plots or to send home with volunteers.

7)      Mowing the lawns

8)      Varnishing the signs (or next week or the week after)

9)      Sanding and repainting the rain barrel (if it is warm enough)

10)   Transplanting volunteer raspberries and potting the rest so that we can sell them in June at the Berry Festival

11)   Bagging sticks and stem that are everywhere

12)   Tidying the curb along the alley

13)   Finishing up weeding the outside of the fence and along the alley

14)   Measuring and marking plots.

15)   Starting digging out and composting the wood chip paths so that we can level out the paths with the plots.

16)   For those of us who put in 3 hours of work equity, we can start cleaning out our plots and even start planting.  I picked up seed potatoes and onions at this month’s GCGC meeting. 


This is also when we will be celebrating Earth Day and I would tell you what rewards are in stake for our volunteers, but I have not yet heard from Earth Day Columbus about when we are supposed to pick up our supplies.  Cathy was worried because Urban Connections had not heard anything yet either and they have 28 folks coming to help them on Saturday.   But I know that all of you want to come and participate in the raffle for this great bike!  Many hands make light work:-)   One way or another, we will have fun rewards for our volunteers next week and I don't just mean my cookies and donuts. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

SACG Opens for 10th Growing Season on April 7, 2018

In like a lion and out like a lamb?  Let’s hope that this morning’s rain  means that March will go out like a lamb because the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden is opening for its 10th growing season in just over five weeks on April 7.  Gardeners who are interested in reserving their own plot to grow their own vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers should complete, sign and return an Application/Agreement along with $10/plot (preferably by check made payable to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden).  Families in the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood are eligible for a full scholarship if the fee presents a financial hardship.

Gardeners’ participation is subject to the SACG Garden Rules as well as some rules by the City of Columbus (prohibiting, for instance, being in the Garden at night, and bringing alcohol onto Garden property, etc.). Gardeners are also encouraged to donate a portion of their produce to area food pantries and shelters, like Faith Mission, Lutheran Social Services and the Salvation Army.  To date, we have collectively donated over 4,300 pounds.

We will start working at 9:30 a.m. on April 7, 2018.    The more the merrier because many hands make light work. You need not reserve a plot if you would just like to volunteer to help.   Refreshments will be served (and you should feel to bring some yourself to share).

Joining the SACG is not terribly time consuming, but Gardeners should are required to help set out the Garden on Saturday, April 7, 2017 (with a rain/make-up date on Saturday, April 14, 2018) and to close the Garden (on Saturday, November 10, 2018). Gardeners must also volunteer for three chores to perform for one month over the summer (like watering flowers, tending the food pantry plot, pulling weeds in the paths, mowing our lawn, picking up litter, supervising community workers, etc.)     Between the chores and keeping your plot planted, weeded and watered, you should plan on spending on average an hour each week at the Garden during the growing season.

Gardeners may begin planting as soon as the plots are staked out on April 7.   Pepper and eggplant seedlings have already sprouted, and within the next week, kale, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and flower seedlings will be started as well.  I always share any extra seedlings with gardeners.

So, if you or someone you know likes to get your hands dirty and grow your own food, you are welcome to join us at the SACG.  Plots will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, with preference being given to gardeners from last year who volunteered at the opening and closing work days.   Snooze and you lose.  When the Garden is full, we will put names on a wait-list (and we ALWAYS have people drop out by June).

AND ICYMI, we are raffling off a sweet new Schwinn Signature Series Obit MX bicycle for $1/ticket.  The tickets will be pulled around noon on Saturday, April 14, 2018 at the conclusion of our annual Earth Day work celebration.  You can purchase tickets from me or any other Board member.  More details are available on our website:  I hope to
attend next month’s Franklin Park Civic Association meeting to also promote the SACG and sell raffle tickets.

Friday, February 16, 2018

SACG Raffles Sweet Schwinn Bike

At the beginning of the month, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden won a bicycle.  Not just any bike: A sweet looking, brand new, flat black with red accents and cup holder, Schwinn Signature Series Obit MX bicycle.    It was donated to the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition by Strader’s Garden Centers (which also has sold bicycles for a long time at its Riverside Drive location).    And now, we are giving YOU the opportunity to buy a $1 raffle ticket for a chance to win this sweet ride.

The raffle will be held at noon on Saturday, April 14, 2018 at the SACG.  Not so coincidentally, this is also when the SACG will be holding its annual Earth Day work celebration.  So, you can come and help us that morning plant vegetables in our food pantry plots and neighbor beds, maybe plant some fruit trees and to pick up litter in our neighborhood and leave with an Earth Day friendly mode of transportation.  Or not.  You need not be present to win, but you must take the bike by April 30 if you win or it will be given to the next ticket drawn.

Did I mention that the bike is brand new?  You will be getting it as we received it (although we will pump up the tires for you). 

This would be a perfect gift for the young-ones in your life – or the young at heart.  If you already have all of the bikes you need, we will not stop you from donating it to the bicycle library of Urban Connections, our good faith-based neighbor which keeps a supply of bicycles on hand for the neighborhood kids to borrow.  Or, if you prefer, we could give it to a deserving neighborhood or gardening child who writes a convincing essay about why he or she should receive the bike.   

Proceeds from the raffle will benefit the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, which is a 501(c)(3) public charity located on the near east side of Columbus, just a half-mile west of Bexley.  We provide inexpensive garden plots where anyone in Central Ohio may grow their own fruits, herbs and vegetables.  To date, we have donated over 4300 pounds of fresh produce to area food pantries and Faith Mission’s Homeless Shelter. We also grow strawberries, raspberries, cherries and peaches that our gardeners and anyone in our urban neighborhood may help themselves to for free. We also keep a Free Little Library stocked.   We are always looking for volunteers to help maintain the SACG, so you should feel free to stop by any Saturday morning when the mood hits you.  Many hands make light work!

Contact the Garden Manager or any member of the SACG Board if you would like to buy some tickets.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Preparing for the 2018 Gardening Season

Although Spring is still a few weeks away and there is still some snow on the ground, February is always the beginning of the community garden calendar if we intend to get off to a productive start in April.  Also, it’s a good time to look back and clean up some loose ends from the prior growing season.  So today, I will report on the City’s Land Bank Community Garden held last week, the GCGC meeting held on February 1, the SACG Board meeting held on Sunday (where I served the pictured pie to the SACG’s faithful volunteers), our February seed starting and my learning experience at last year’s We Dig Ohio Conference for community gardens at the Franklin Park Conservatory.

We Dig Ohio: The Conservatory holds an annual community garden conference in March, which brings attendees and speakers from all over Ohio.  Last year’s conference was on March 25.  Clara Coleman was the keynote speaker and much of the focus was on four-season agriculture.  Margaret Ann from Four Seasons City Farm had an extra ticket and generously offered it to me at the last minute, so I missed the first presentation (while I tried to get some paying work done).    I have to admit that I had never heard of Ms. Coleman before, but her presentation was riveting.   She grew up in Maine and enjoyed eating fresh vegetables year round (even when there were several feet of snow outside) because her father had some sweet-looking cold frames where he could grow greens and root crops.  She then moved to Colorado (which also has cold and snowy winters) and she expanded upon what she learned as a child.  In particular, they had some hoop houses (like the ones popping up all over Columbus pursuant to a federal grant administered by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank) on wheels.  They would keep chickens in them in the winter and move the hoop house across the field so that the chickens could forage on the ground (while also spreading their special fertilizer). 

She went into some detail about specifics of being successful with high and low tunnels.  She talked about what materials she found more durable for hoop and high tunnels.   I was surprised to learn that greens will do well inside a high tunnel with little more than row covers on top of them.  She discussed and showed photos of washing stations inside the hoop houses and how far along the seedlings should be before winter comes (because the plants grow very little once it gets cold).  I took many notes, but now cannot find them.  Drat.   However, by the time she was done talking, everyone wanted a hoop house, which made it convenient when the Mid-Ohio Food Bank announced that it had secured federal funding to supply one to any local community garden that wanted to install one.  Kimball Farms (next to us) took four of them.  Highland Youth Garden also installed one last fall. 

OSU also supplied some speakers, so I headed off to the Plant Pathology and the Basics of Plant Diagnosing.  This was very interesting as well because the professor discussed all of the different ways that plants can become sick, from viruses, to bacteria, to bugs and nutrition.    Some of these issues can be more easily controlled than others.  The plant diagnosis clinic in Reynoldsburg can help when you get stumped diagnosing the problem. 

There was also a lovely lunch (with Jim Budros again giving us freshly made pizza from his portable stone oven) and a tour of the community garden campus at the Conservatory.  I was particularly interested in the apiary (with the bee hives), but I also liked the giant stone planters where different varieties of mint are grown (to avoid them spreading and taking over the garden).  One of the attendees told me that she could make them for us if I were interested.

The conference was very well attended.  Our Sabrina also attended and already posted an article here about what she learned.   This year’s conference will be March 24, 2018 and is focused on Growing the Next Generation (i.e., youth and educational gardening).

GCGC.  I attended this month’s GCGC meeting on February 1 at New Beginnings Church on Williams Road, south of Columbus.    Straders donated approximately 25 bicycles to GCGC and I realized that we could cover our $40 annual GCGC dues if we raffled off such a bicycle.  GCGC gave them out as door prizes and the SACG scored one when my name was pulled from the proverbial hat.  Neighbor Pastor Norman Brown offered to transport it to my house in his truck because it was unlikely to fit in my Jetta.  (He told me not to drive too fast, but then he passed me on Route 104, that trickster).    Derek from Helping Hands community garden also scored one for his garden.   I reminded everyone that it is time to start pepper seeds because they take so long to germinate and you will want them to get larger before you transplant them in May. 

A few days earlier, I had stopped by the Growing to Green offices at the Conservatory.  They receive lots of donations of seeds and every community garden can get 50 packets of free seeds.  I inventoried the SACG seed stache and picked up seeds that we were low on, such as carrots, greens, some herbs, and lettuce.  I reminded the GCGCers that they should go over there as well.    You need only to contact Bill or Erica and schedule a time.   They have so many seeds this year that they have a separate container for the type.

GCGC is also trying to organize a plant swap for those of us who start our own seeds and then have extras to trade with other community gardens.   They also promoted OSU’s INFACT program.  Free gardening classes will be held each month and families with children can raise their own food and sell the excess to OSU to raise supplemental cash for their families.

Starting Seeds.  Sabrina and I got together the first weekend in February to start our pepper and eggplant seeds.    I use Scott’s organic potting soil because it has the best success rate with pepper plants (which, unlike tomatoes, do not germinate as reliably with regular potting soil or peat moss).  The eggplants and one pepper started sprouting this week, and so I moved the seed starting tray from the top of my kitchen cabinets (the warmest spot in my house) to the growing shelves in my basement (where I hang grow lights and also use regular heating pads to keep the soil warm to a good germination temperature).   We will start tomatoes, herbs, greens, lettuce and marigolds, etc. in March and then maybe some squash and cucumbers in April (although squash tends to grown pretty well and fast when started from directly-sown seeds).  Sabrina brought a bottle of Ohio-grown wine to make this festive.  We had fun planting poblanos, bells, marconis, jalapenos, cayenne, serranoes, passillas, etc. 

I also decided to force some crocus bulbs (i.e., trick them into blooming early inside my house before Mother Nature brings them into bloom outside).   I had purchased a bag in November, but never got around to planting them (because my squirrels love them so much and will dig up my yard and all of my planters looking for them).  I kept them in the garage and then planted them into pots that I brought into the house.  One of them has started to poke through and I should have pretty fresh flowers by the end of the month or early March.

Land Bank.  The City of Columbus Land Bank held their annual community garden meeting at their lovely offices on Parsons Avenue.   They had several speakers, including President Charles from GCGC, the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, Broad Street Presbyterian Church’s food bank, and Com-Til (i.e., the City’s solid waste recycling/composting program).   
There had been a lot of discussion at last year’s meeting about how and where community gardens could donate extra produce to feed the local hungry population.   The Mid-Ohio Food Bank in Grove City takes donated produce during business hours on week days and on Saturday mornings.   The BSPC food pantry has more restricted hours. The MOFB encouraged gardeners to call them at 614.277-3663  to get details of  food pantries closer to their gardens if Grove City is too inconvenient.  They are also going to post this information in the MOFB website. (I asked that they distinguish between pantries that take fresh produce and those that do not because not all of them have coolers to store the produce).    I pointed out that some gardeners cannot take the time to battle the I-71 traffic to Grove City or time off from work to deliver donations during business hours. (The last time I tried to drive down there, someone rear-ended my car at the 70-71 split).   Thus, Faith Mission’s Homeless Shelter is an alternative because it is open seven days each week until 5:30, making Saturday afternoons and Sunday’s an alternative for gardeners who hold day jobs and are busy tending their gardens or children’s soccer games on Saturday mornings.    I wish Lutheran Social Services would make arrangements to get some of this produce to their food pantries, but maybe Faith Mission uses it all. . . .  
However, the highlight of the meeting for Sabrina and me was the Com-Til presentation.    She gave a powerpoint presentation and went into great detail about how Com-Til is created, why it is safe and how much it improves the soil.   It is regularly tested to ensure that it is safe from heavy metals, etc.  That being said, it is not certified organic because of the solid waste issue.  The City provides 10 free cubic yards to Land Bank community gardens.  This year, we are even allowed to pick it up ourselves in pick-up trucks or trailers.    The City also offers free group tours of the facility, so I will have to arrange one.   I am not the only fan.  Leigh Ann from the Miracle Garden also weighed in on the magic black gold that is Com-Til.   If you have ever used it, you do not need much convincing after seeing how much bigger the plants are with Com-Til than without.   We put a couple of inches on the SACG in 2016 and a few times before that as well.     Other gardeners can purchase it at Kurz Bros, or Ohio Mulch in bags or loose.    Com-Til also accepts lawn waste for free, but is fairly picky about what you leave.  You can, for instance, leave branches and leaves, but not tree roots, lawn waste paper bags or grass clippings.    Contact me if you would like to go with us for a group tour of the Com-til facility and I will circulate some possible dates. 
Seth announced that although there may be some budget cuts, he was hoping that the City would again offer the tank re-fill service and a Lowe’s voucher.  It was anticipated that new Land Bank gardens would be charged $50, but that existing gardens could still renew for $10/year.  They would also be looking into long-term leases.
SACG Annual Board meeting.  The SACG Board met at my house on Sunday for our annual organizational meeting and to plan our 10th growing season.  I baked them a tart cherry pie with cherries that I canned last June from our own cherry trees.   We added a new Board member, Taylor, who has gardened with us for two years now.  
I reported that we will need to spray our tart cherries this year.  The flies have become a problem.  I have never done this before, but plan to research it.  The cherries will be sprayed twice after the blossoming period, but well before they ripen.  The flies plant eggs in the fruit and then over winter in the dropped fruit in the ground beneath the trees, to hatch again in the Spring to start the process over again.  Cathy volunteered that she has a sprayer that she could loan us.  I may reach out to Lynd’s Fruit Farm and/or OSU to find out what the best spray would be. 
Opening Day. Easter is April 1 this year, which rules out March 31 (when there will be area Easter egg hunts and busy families that will not have time to volunteer at the SACG).  So, we are looking at Saturday, March 24 (our earliest opening day ever) or April 7.  We opened on April 1 last year.  I thought snow was too much of a risk with a March 24 opening (and would conflict with the Conservatory's We Dig Ohio conference) and so we opted for April 7.  Taylor and Amy will be unable to come before April 21, so Priscilla promised to hold lots of work for them to do.  Registration for plots will begin, as in past years, on March 1 when I will post the information and agreements, etc. here and email former gardeners and others who have expressed interest. 
Volunteers.  I contacted both OSU and Capital University to see if we could get volunteers like last year.  Capital has not planned a Spring work day, but is looking into providing us with volunteers for either April 7 or 14.  OSU is still holding is Spring into Service on March 31, despite the Easter holiday, but is also looking to see if it could recruit volunteers for us.   
I was contacted about possibly taking groups of non-violent offenders who have been sentenced to community service.  Most of them want to work between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., but some might be able to volunteer on evenings and weekends.  They can pick up litter, water, weed, etc.  I’m thinking that we may want to rake out all of the wood chips (because our paths are higher than our plots) before we add more wood chips this year.  We can add the existing chips to our compost bins.  Amy and Sabrina volunteered to help supervise. 
Earth Day in Columbus is April 14 through 22 (and its website opened for work site registrations two days ago).  While I would have preferred April 22 as our official celebration, if we have it earlier, we get earlier supplies and longer to use the rewards, so we’re having it on April 14.  I suggested adding another peach and plum tree to our “orchard", if Barb/Block Watch agrees (since many of our trees on the Block Watch lot).  One day, I hope to actually pick a ripe peach.  We simply have to grow enough peaches to outpace demand, although we are always at risk for losing a year’s crop from a late frost. 
Fundraising.  The Board agreed to support a raffle of the bike generously donated through GCGC/Strader’s.   The tickets will be $1/each and we will pull the winning ticket at the conclusion of our Earth Day work day on April 14 (or April 22 rain delay).  We should easily raise $200+  if someone doesn’t want the bike, they could donate it to Urban Connections or we could donate to a neighborhood kid based on an essay contest or something.  That would mean each of us selling $20 worth of tickets.  We raised much more than that when we raffled off the garden cart in 2010 [at $5/ticket when Board members sold $50/each worth of tickets and we raised $345].  Anyone who wants to buy some raffle ticket for a special child in their life (or themselves) should contact me.  Obviously, I will post more information here shortly, but it is a brand new Schwinn Signature Series black bike with a cup holder.   I have attached some photos -- which you will see again J.   
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act doubled the standard deduction, so fewer people will be itemizing or making year-end charitable donations as a tax planning device

Newsletter, Agreement and Rules.  Updated newsletters, agreements and rules were reviewed, discussed and approved.  They will be distributed in the neighborhood the first weekend in March and Board members should feel free to volunteer to help distribute them.  Amy and Sabrina both helped last year.

Security.  Mari had revealed that one reason that she dropped out as a gardener was because of the hassle of negotiating all of the combinations and locks.  We discussed and agreed on simplified security measures.

Opening Day agenda.

·         Mow the lawn

·         Spread compost or wood chips

·         Hook up the tanks

·         Pick up litter on the lots

·         Mark the plots

·         Hanging our sign

·         Turn compost

·         Top off raised beds

·         Restocking free little library – the Bricker & Eckler law firm’s staff has donated boxes and boxes of books and magazines for us

Old Business. Marcel emailed Priscilla that she plans to return this year and her husband has recruited a young friend/mentee that will want her old, small plot.

New Business.  Cathy reported that two of our long-term families have moved away.  The property values have greatly increased in the neighborhood. A duplex that was listed for sale for $5K just five years ago is now listed at approximately $300K.  This is going to make it too expensive for some of our long-time families to remain in the neighborhood as the rents rise.   Fairwood Commons is supposed to open in July.

We weren’t the only CG Board meeting this weekend.  Four Seasons City Farm also met on Saturday at noon to eat pizza, plan and start seeds.