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.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

SACG Thanks You


Every year, I write a letter to those who provide material support to the SACG for helping to make our efforts possible.   Community gardening is often exhausting, frustrating and relentless because it always involves a lot of work and challenges. We could not accomplish all that we do without the community's generous support. Gifts to the SACG are tax-deductible because the Garden is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt public charity.  With the advent of winter, we wanted to share some of our great memories over last summer.

We broke ground for our 9th growing season in early April with the help of a large group of OSU and Capital University students.  In addition to our typical opening day activities (i.e., spreading wood chips and picking up neighborhood litter), we also added a plum tree to our “orchard” of peach and cherry trees and reconstructed a compost bin.  It was great to have so much help on Opening Day because we had very few volunteers show up for a very, very cold celebration of Earth Day when we planted two grape vines along our new trellis gate, mulched the flower beds and turned compost.    Our cherry trees  - which we planted in 2012 and 2013 - looked particularly spectacular this year and fed lots of bees.

In May, we had help from neighborhood teenagers courtesy of Urban Connections.  They weeded our food pantry plots and along the alley even though it was extremely wet.   In June, we benefitted from a national gathering of Alliance Church leaders, who picked up 20 bags of neighborhood litter, helped us plant, weed along the alley, turn compost and mow.  We also held our first black raspberry festival (when there were still lots of tart (pie) cherries and a few strawberries available to pick).  Although it’s always free to pick berries and cherries outside our fence, we also requested donations from berry and cherry pickers and for items from our bake and plant sale.  We raised $135.  (We bought some tools to replace ones that had broken or been stolen).   If we had more funds, we would plant more fruit trees and possibly be able to pay some of the passerby, unemployed potential volunteers to help us out from time to time. 

Sadly, June was not without its problems.  After we had planted all of our extra tomato seedlings next door at Kimball Farms, someone dug up and stole all of the tomato plants that we had planted in our neighbor plot along the alley (where anyone can help themselves to fresh produce for free).    We had to search and transplant “volunteer” tomato plants from the Garden, which – not surprisingly – mostly turned out to be cherry tomatoes instead of the wide variety that had been planted in the neighbor bed.  We also had some malcontented new gardeners ditch their mandatory chores (i.e., mowing the lawn each week), creating more work for me.
In July, we had a bumper peach crop, although we still cannot keep pickers from waiting until the peaches are truly ripe.  I have yet to pick a ripe peach yet even though we planted the trees in 2012 and 2015.  We also had a bumper corn and squash crop this year with all of the rain.  We also had a ludicrous amount of poison ivy along the alley growing up with the bind weed, despite our best efforts.   (My scars have healed nicely, thank you).

In August, the OSU Pay-It-Forward program returned to help us construct a picket fence to compliment the trellis gate that we installed last year and we weeded two beds next door at Kimball Farms.  This was supposed to be a relaxed year after our capital improvement projects last year, but the picket fence project turned into a major undertaking and ended up costing us about $400.  Students volunteering with the Capital University Crusader Day of Service in September helped to finish the fence.   In November, we had our coldest closing day ever.

Just two days ago, a downtown attorney friend of mine emailed that she had collected three boxes of young adult books, cookbooks and magazines for our Free Little Library.  It just keeps coming.
We had the fewest number of gardeners this year in our history.  However, we also apparently had lots of new neighbors move in who have expressed interest in joining us next year.   But, with so few gardeners and plots taken, most of the Garden was devoted to growing food for area food pantries.    We set a new personal best in terms of the number of pounds of fresh produce which was grown and donated. 

I am also particularly grateful that I am still vertical.  That has not always been a given this year and two other community gardens are suffering from the loss of their leaders:  quite suddenly and unexpectedly last week of one of Marie Moreland at American Addition/Tray Lee Center and another, much younger leader learned last month that he has brain cancer.   We should keep all of them in our prayers.
We are only able to overcome our various challenges because of the generosity, well wishes and material support from generous folks like you.   Thanks again and feel free to stop by and mock us while we work. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Scrambling to Keep Warm on SACG’s Closing Day


This may not have been the coldest Veteran’s Day in history, but it was the coldest Closing Day for the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  It was 22 degrees when we started working this morning.    However, it was sunny and there was no wind, so it was not as bad as it could have been.  And, let’s face it, it’s easier to clean up the Garden when the plants have died back than when they are thriving.   Nonetheless, we were moving a lot to keep warm and that helped us get our work done in pretty short order.  And, of course, it being Veterans Day, we had the help of two veterans:  Bob Seed and Ken Turner.


As faithful readers know, we accomplished most of our Closing Day tasks last Saturday when Alyssa, Taylor, Carly, Sabrina, Bob, Rose and I cut back and bagged the brambles, mowed the lawn, and cleaned out some of the plots.  I worried that no one (other than Sabrina) would show up this morning because it was so cold.   I had stopped by on Thursday to rescue the lettuce and chard because I did not think that they would survive the freezing temperatures.  Amy was already there when I arrived this morning and had brought some homemade pumpkin nut bread.  Yum!  I brought hot coffee (and discovered to my chagrin that my Bailey’s Irish cream had expired 10 years ago and so I couldn’t supply that extra hazard pay for my faithful volunteers this morning). Sabrina showed up when I did and Rachel was only a few minutes behind.  Then, Bob Seed came back and brought hot chocolate.  Cathy dropped off another few dozen of her homemade chocolate chip cookies and then we got lucky when Casey and two of his fellow OSU student volunteers showed up to help.

Amy started on cutting back in the flower beds. She was joined by Bob and Rachel.  I attacked the Butterfly Bush and emptied the rain barrel.    Sabrina was tasked with cleaning and reorganizing the area around the shed and the shed itself.  She excels at this.  She pulled out all of the stakes, sorted out the rotten ones, organized everything and then put it in its place.    She then emptied the shed, swept it out and then put everything back in a very strange order, but it all fit.

After cleaning out the flower beds, Amy and Rachel  dug out and bagged the forest of chocolate mint that had taken over the center of the Garden.  They were then joined by Bob and were tasked with cleaning out the remaining food pantry plots and deciding what was still edible (and thus donatable) and what would be bagged or composted.     Our carrots were not mature enough (and the soil in the raised beds was frozen solid, so that I could not pull out those carrots).  We weren’t sure when we arrived and everything had a layer of frost on it whether anything would be edible, but most of the crops were cold hardy.  

Casey wanted to turn our compost bins (because that was our most physically demanding task du jour and could be counted on to help him generate body heat).  I worried about him being over there by himself, but when I checked on him, he had found lots of compost and had managed to turn all four bins.   His friends were assigned the three sisters plot to clean out.   I pitched in on various teams and even took a garden fork down to the bins, but no one seemed to really need me today.

Ken showed up to pick up our lawn mower because his assigned task was to clean and winterize it.  He had already been to a Veterans Day breakfast and was off to another event, so he took our mower with him to clean at home before bringing it back (emptied of gas).   Bob agreed to drop the OSU volunteers back at campus (to save them an hour-long bus trip) even though it would mean facing game-day traffic (since we have a noon kickoff).

We have two Volunteers of the Year:  Sabrina and Ken.  Ken took on some of our biggest projects and Sabrina helped out at least half of the weekends (and with a few of our group volunteer days).   This is Sabrina’s second year as a Volunteer of the Year.

Despite this being our coldest Closing Day, I think it’s one of the first when we accomplished everything on our to-do list.  And, unlike last year when we finished an hour late (i.e., around 1 p.m.), we finished on time (early actually).    Cathy stopped by a second time as we were packing up to volunteer to take all of our lawn waste bags to the curb on Monday night/Tuesday morning.  (It made me remember the time that she and I had to carry two dozen lawn waste bags to the curb in two feet of snow a few years ago).    However, it means that I do not have to return on Monday. Yipee!

Sabrina and I had lunch where I had made black bean soup and a butternut squash and roasted poblano pepper quesadillas.  We wondered what we are going to do on Saturdays for the next few months.   (I know I have a lot of house cleaning, organizing and purging to do).   We also took all of the produce to the LSS food pantry for our final weekly donation.   We were at 750 pounds for the year, a record for the SACG.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Leaving It On the Field


Finally getting a hard frost has finally made it easier to clean out the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden for the season.  It’s always heartbreaking – even impossible – to pull out a beautiful vegetable that is still green and bushy.  However, pulling out a plant with slimy or dead leaves is par for the course for this point in the gardening season.  And the hard frost means that our kale has gone from tasting bitter, to tasting sweet.  On Saturday, the SACG had seven volunteers come and help clean out the garden a week in advance of our traditional closing day on the second Saturday in November.


I picked up donuts and apple cider on Friday for the volunteers and Cathy baked a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies.  When I arrived (ten minutes late), Carly was there weeding the strawberry  patch. She had planned to visit her parents in Iowa over the three-day weekend next week, so she wanted to make up early missing our Closing Day work day next week.   Alyssa and Taylor pulled in right behind me.  They are heading to Canada for the three-day weekend.  They then spent most of the morning pruning the raspberry brambles on the outside of the fence and along the food pantry plots inside to about knee height, and then bagging all of the brambles.  This is dangerous work because of all of the thorns and the Garden looks completely different without our thorny fence rows.

James Brown may have been the busiest man in show business, but Robert Seed  -- the volunteer coordinator for Keep Columbus Beautiful -- is the busiest man in Central Ohio beautification.  He showed up again to help clean out the Garden before running off to his next engagement in Franklinton.  I gave him a few options and he chose to mow our lawn for the first time in about a month, and then he picked up a bunch of litter in the neighborhood before grabbing a few cookies and hitting the road.

Neighbor Rose wanted to join the party, so I asked her to clean out Joy’s plot and told her that she could keep any salvageable produce that she found along with some of Rachel’s lettuce. This took her most of the morning and she ultimately donated most of the produce that she found (although I think that she left some carrots in the ground when they didn’t pull easily).

While I cut back the leaning and dead cosmos flowers, harvested leeks, peppers and kale for our weekly food pantry donation, cut out weed trees, and cut back the brambles along my fence row in my plot, Sabrina arrived and basically cleaned out the rest of the area.  She cleaned out the summer neighbor bed (of spent cucumbers, peppers and cherry tomatoes), the raised beds and the African marigolds growing in the food pantry plots.  We ended up exhausting our entire supply of yard waste bags, so I hope that I am able to find some at Lowe’s later today.  One year, all of the home improvement stores ran out and I had to buy them (at twice the cost) at Target.
We always find surprises when cutting back the brambles.  This year we found two birds' nests (one of which was in my plot) and I found two praying mantis egg nests.

After they finished cutting back brambles, Allyssa and Taylor worked on cleaning out their plot.  We can keep hardy vegetables in our plots beyond Closing Day because some of us keep coming back for small harvests for several more weeks.   They had experimented with blue potatoes this year, but those suckers  -- like all potatoes  -- take a lot of space and are difficult to find -- particularly when they match the soil.  They were still  trying to find all of their potatoes and also found more sweet potatoes when they decided to thin and transplant some of their bok choy and arugula. 

All of us have been disappointed with our Fall pea crop.  It was just too warm too long for them to flourish like they usually do.  I have only harvested 4 pea pods so far this year, but they are still flowering . . . .  Rachel's the only one who had luck with a Fall lettuce crop.  It's been a long and strange trip this Fall.

One of our mysteries, though, was that someone emptied our large rain cistern.  I had planned to empty half of it yesterday and the other half next week.  But when I arrived, it was bone dry.  I hope that it has not sprung a leak.  No one would take responsibility for having drained it early.  As a result, when Alyssa transplanted some of her winter crops, she had no water with which to water them in.  Sigh.

When I say that we are “pulling plants,” we are really just cutting the stems to the ground.  We try to leave the bottom of the stem and the complete root system in tact in order to feed the soil microbes and hold the soil in place over the winter.  Unless the garden gets covered with a blanket of snow, leaving our soil exposed over the winter means that some of it will blow away during winter storms. I probably have to return sometime today to rake debris off my plot, though, to keep bugs from overwintering under dead leaves.  I thought/hoped that the hard frost had killed all of the harlequin beetles (that have killed about half of our kale and collards), but I saw some return in the afternoon.  Nothing except rain and insecticidal soap seems to kill aphids.

Next week, we still have a lot to accomplish to close the SACG for the season:

1)      Prune the remaining flowers, including the pansies and salvia and butterfly bush.  I can never decide whether to cut back the cone flowers because I like to leave their seed heads to feed the birds over the winter, but I also do not want to leave a mess for our neighbors to look at.  We will leave the pansies and mums behind.

2)      Harvest the rest of the kale, collard greens, chard, lettuce, cilantro, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, and possibly carrots and cabbage (which have not really matured yet) for our final food pantry donation for the season and cut those plants back to the ground.  (I think there’s a song in there somewhere . . . .)

3)      Empty and turn over the rain barrel behind the shed.


4)      Cut back the mint up front and dig up and bag as much as the chocolate mint that we can growing in the path and food pantry plot.

5)      Clean out the area around the shed, and reorganize the stakes, cages and trellises.

6)      Clean out and reorganize the shed.

7)      Turn the compost bins (i.e., shovel it from one bin into the other to promote decomposition and the formation of compost

8)      Take down and store the sign for the season.

9)  Clean and winterize our lawn mower (if Ken comes to help).

We are scheduled to start at 9 am, but Sabrina suggested that we start at 8.  I can't imagine starting that early (even with the time change), but now that I know that the MSU game starts at noon, I'd like to start at 8:30 if we don't receive any strong objections. . . .

Of course, we will have refreshments.  Many hands make light work.  The more, the merrier are welcome.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Long and Winding Road to Season’s End


The long and balmy summer at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden has finally come to an end.  Like last year, we will be having a “late” frost – i.e., after mid-October.  It might come within the next week or, like last year, in November.  So, I still have fresh zinnias for vases at my house.   In the last 10 days, I have finally pulled almost all of the tomatoes, basil and beans from the food pantry and my plots.  Weather permitting, I may pull the rest of the winter (butternut) squash this weekend and harvest most of the rest of the peppers.   This is usually a sad time for me, but I’m actually looking forward to some time off to clean and organize my house and get to some home improvement projects that I never have time to finish during the growing season.


Last year, we were blessed to have help from an OSU sorority to pull out most of the food pantry tomatoes.  That was an ordeal, so this year I planted half of the tomatoes plants that we often plant and opted for a co-op plot of corn, winter squash and pole beans (i.e., the three sisters).    Sabrina cleaned out most of the co-op plot.  This year, no sorority came to my rescue, but Robert Seed from Keep Columbus Beautiful called me on Tuesday afternoon wondering where I was because he was willing to spend an hour helping me to break down the Garden and put it to bed.  I only go to the Garden on Tuesdays for emergencies, but he came back on Wednesday and helped to clean out the tomato food pantry plot and cut down all but two of the remaining corn stalks.   He then showed up again on Saturday morning (before I arrived and while I was washing my car down the street) to wreck more havoc.  I explained that we won’t be pulling out much more until after a hard frost (or our Closing Day(s), whichever comes first).    I told him about how we save seeds for the next year’s season and he started to tell me how organized the Linden area community gardens are with saving their seeds. 

To preserve the soil microbes and to keep the soil from blowing away over the winter, I strongly encourage the gardeners to cut the plants back at the ground instead of the easier action of pulling the plants out by their roots.    Because we are typically still growing food until November, we usually don’t have time to plant and establish a cover crop for the winter.   I’m also thinking about scavenging some shredded leaves from Capital University again to cover some of the plots over the winter, but I worry about those leaves protecting the beetles as well as the soil.  Our kale and collard greens were decimated this Fall by harlequin beetles.   Their damage has been so extensive that I’m not sure that we’ll have much of a final harvest when we close for the season on Saturday November 11.

On Saturday, I was there for most of the day.  I needed to clean out my own plot of two rows of tomatoes and a few eggplants that never produced much of anything (because, among other things, they were overly shaded by the tomatoes and zinnias).   Like last year, I decided to save vines which still had some good sized tomatoes on them.  One of my experiments from last year really paid off:  if you hang the vines in your garage, the tomatoes will continue to ripen.  While they do not taste quite as good as summer tomatoes, they are similar to grocery tomatoes and can be roasted.  Unlike last year, I only had one hook from which I could hang my tomatoes this year, which will impede air circulation.

In addition to spending a few hours cutting back, composting and bagging tomatoes, I had to rescue the tomato ties (to use next year), stack cages and trellises, paint the last portion of our new fence, harvest for the weekly food pantry donation, cut back three additional food pantry tomato plants (in other plots), clean out the rest of the tomatillos, harvest about 8 pounds of volunteer potatoes that came up in two plots from unharvested potatoes from last year, clean out some collards and kale plants that the beetles had killed, water some new flowers, cut back and bag some spent cosmos, empty the tall rain cistern, disconnect both rain cisterns, etc.  Sabrina was batching it this weekend because all of her men went on a cub scout camping trip in the Hocking Hills.  She watered all of the food pantry greens and peppers, kept neighbor, Rose, company, cleaned out some of her tomatoes, helped me with the rain cisterns, harvested a lot of peppers, etc.

There were lots of bees looking for food on Saturday (which was very warm).  I felt bad for them.  There were still some flowering basil, marigold, zinnias and cosmos.   In other words, there is not a lot to choose from these days.  When it gets cold, I always find bees that got stranded in a flower because they can apparently only fly when it is very warm.    Usually, I find them at the end of the season in my African marigolds, but this year, I found some in my basil.

I finally upgraded my cheap blender.  My new one is ridiculously expensive, but it makes kale smoothies that are a smooth as silk.  I finally found a reliable use for my bumper kale crop.  I often make  Tuscan kale (i.e., sautéed with anchovies, garlic and olive oil), kale chips, kale sautéed with Italian sausage and mushrooms, but there’s only so many times a month that you can force yourself to each the same recipe.

My garden experiment this year has been lemon grass.  I saw the seeds at Oakland Nursery in the spring and planted it at home and, I think, at the Garden.  It really looks like an ornamental grass and likes warmth and sun.  I think that I must have weeded it by mistake at the Garden, but I had three large clumps in my home herb garden next to my patio.  It’s a beautiful plant.  However, the bulbs did not really get big enough in one season to use in stir fries.   I found a youtube video that showed how to over winter it in northern climates to replant in the Spring (as well as how to harvest it).  On Sunday, I saved the smaller stalks to replant in the Spring and the rest I harvested to try and use  in recipes.  The grass leaves are razor sharp (and I have the paper cuts to prove it).  I am drying them to use in teas and broths.   The cut stems are already growing again, which is freaky.  I put two pots in a southern window and one pot will go in the basement (to see if it will go dormant and revive in the Spring as promised in the video). 

One of my prior experiments was saffron.  I replanted my crocus bulbs a month late this year, which I hoped would not matter in light of the weather.  However, they have only recently started to poke through the soil and I worry that they won’t bloom in time to avoid frost damage.   I had to order these by mail about five years ago and was surprised to see them now on sale at Oakland Nursery.  They look like regular crocuses, but bloom in the Fall instead of the Spring.  Then, you let the leaves be over the winter and they finally die back in the Spring (when it gets warm), when I dig them up again.   Like regular crocus bulbs, you have to plant them under chicken wire or other barrier to keep the squirrels from digging them up.    Some farmers plant them along side another crop that dies back in the early Fall, but I cannot do that because of those pesky squirrels and the need to use chicken wire.

We have set a new personal best record for food pantry donations this year.  With three weekly food pantry donations left to make in 2017, we have already exceeded last year’s record donation.    Whoo hoo!  That is, of course, largely a reflection of the fact that we had so few individual gardeners this year and, thus, lots of empty plots to use for our food pantry donations.   I’m hoping that with all of the new neighbors moving into the neighborhood and the expressions of interest that we have received so far that we will have more new gardeners next year and fewer food pantry plots.

Our next door neighbor Kimball Farms constructed a high tunnel next door and, I’ve learned, three others on three other plots that they have elsewhere on the Near East Side.  In the past week, they also topped off their raised beds with top soil.    I was speaking with Seth at the Land Bank about the SACG taking title to our lot and he tried to convince me to add a high tunnel to the SACG.  I really need my winters off dude.  Really.  I told him that Betty Weaver and I had considered adding a high tunnel over the middle section of the Garden back in 2010 or 2011, but Betty thought it would be ridiculous to trudge through knee high snow to get to the Garden.  I could not disagree.  We tried using low tunnels over the kids raised beds back in 2012 or 2013, but someone stole our tarps within a week after we installed the hoops, etc.  Those clear plastic tarps are very useful as tents and blankets for the area’s homeless population.  While I can’t say that I blame them for taking them, it killed my appetite for trying winter gardening outside my own back yard (where I occasionally still use a cold frame or low tunnel to extend the growing season for my kale).  However, last winter was so mild (and I expect this winter to be much the same) that ALL of my kale and most of my swiss chard from 2016 survived the winter and are still producing in my back yard. 

Our Closing  Day(s) will be Saturdays, November 4 and 11.  On November 4, some of us will spend
three hours between 9 and 12 cutting back and bagging the raspberry brambles.  There are also lots of volunteer raspberry bushes which we will be digging up and transplanting, so volunteers can take some home if they would like.   We will also probably cut back the remaining pepper plants (depending on the weather forecast).   From 9 until noon on  November 11, the rest of us will clean out the rest of the Garden, clean out the area around the shed where we will then re-stack and store our stakes, cages and trellises, empty the large rain cistern, conduct our final food pantry harvest for the season, (send some herbs and, if wanted, seeds home with our volunteers), etc.  Refreshments will be provided on both days.   Unlike last year, we will not have any capital improvement projects (like moving raised beds, etc.).

Feel free to join us.  Many hands make light work. 

Finally, our Free Little Library seems to be falling apart.  I hope to have time to reinforce it before the season's end.  (It was made with particle board, which is not the most durable material for an outdoor library).   A mysterious and unidentified volunteer (or volunteers) has been keeping it well stocked this Fall with books.  That is much appreciated!