Thursday, July 12, 2018

OTENA Tour to Include the SACG

This Sunday, July 15, 2018, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden will be one of 14 stops on the Old Towne East Neighborhood Association’s Historic Home and Garden Tour.  We are one of two community gardens on the tour and there is also a church.  This is a very popular annual event in Columbus and will this year focus on the Franklin Park neighborhood, which has had many changes in the past couple of years.   The tour begins at 1 p.m. at the Franklin Park Conservatory’s Education Pavillion (off Franklin Park South) on its community garden campus and ends at 6 p.m.   Tickets cost only $20 until Sunday, when they will be $25.  The tour is expected to take approximately 3 hours.  Half of the stops are on Franklin Park South (on the south side of Franklin Park Conservatory).  While most people will walk (despite the predicted heat), there will be a shuttle and food trucks along the way.  The SACG -- which is at the tour mid-point -- will have pink lemonade and mint tea.

Most of the SACG gardeners were very busy last night polishing the SACG to get ready for the tour, but we will be far from perfection.  I think that our flowers peaked last week, although you can see from the photos that I took last night that they still look pretty good.  I expect that all the blooms will fall off by Sunday.  One of our giant sunflowers was knocked over last week.  Sigh.  We have not had the time nor volunteers to get the paving stones installed as I planned either.  Double sigh.     One of our neighbors pretty much cleaned out our neighbor bed of the collard greens and beautiful and giant cabbages.   That’s what it is there for, but it would have been more considerate to have taken the collard leaves, instead of breaking off the stem, so that the plant would continue to grow and produce more collard leaves for the next person.  Triple sigh.  I will plant some kale seedlings in the bed tonight, but they will look pretty pathetic for a while. 

You can get a sneak peak of some of the homes on the OTENA’s Facebook page.  There should be a link to purchase tickets there, or here.    While I will stop by periodically at the SACG during the tour, my shift does not begin until 4. 

In preparation for the tour, one of our neighbors on Fairwood installed a new native plant flower bed right at the corner of East Main and Stoddart Avenue.  The plants have not yet been there a week, and so will not be in flower.  The bed was prepared by Andy Buss from Applied Ecological Services and the plants were donated by Restoration Nurseries.   Our neighborhood block watch donated soil and mulch towards the project and we contributed compost (which had been donated to us by the City of Columbus).  Block Watch Barb and I have been keeping them watered in for their first week until they get established in this heat. 

We have been very blessed to not have any thefts or vandalism in a couple of years at the SACG.  However, just a week before the OTNEA tour, our front gate was attacked last Friday night/early Saturday morning. Someone bashed the heavy duty latch in order to dislodge it from the gate and enter the Garden.  We’re not exactly sure why.  No one has reported any obvious theft or vandalism and the person could have climbed over the gate without having to destroy the latch to get in.   I had to replace the upper latch already and so did that last week and Ken repaired the heavier latch yesterday. 

The food pantry deliveries continue to be an issue.  I am finally resigned to the fact that we will have to deliver them late Saturday afternoon to Faith Mission.  We tried to get to Redeemer in time last Saturday morning, but it did not work out.  I got there before 11 am. (after emailing them on Friday that I would be bringing them a bunch of zucchini) and that was 30 minutes earlier than the week before.  However, they had already closed up shop when I arrived with beets, zucchini, beans, and eggplants, oregano, basil, etc.   So, while Sabrina was waiting for me at the SACG, I had to turn around and drive downtown.   Also, one of the reasons that we are working with the Community Service volunteers is so that they can help with the food pantry harvests.  It typically takes an hour, for instance, to pick a couple of rows of green beans.  They do not even arrive until 10 a.m., which is too late to help with the food pantry harvest if we try to make it to Redeemer, or BSPC or Community Kitchen, etc.   Because of the OTNEA tour, this week I will harvest on Sunday evening and deliver it the next morning at Salvation Army. 

Despite the heat and lack of rain over the past week, the SACG is very green at present.   Half of our corn is in tassle and the winter squashes are spreading through our three sisters plot as planned.  The weeds should be kept to a minimum.  After Sunday, I’ll try to kick back for a few days before we get ready for our next big project: to have a water line installed.  This will involve cutting back a bunch of brambles and fence to make room for the equipment.  But that’s next  week. 

Last week, I attended the monthly meeting of the Great Columbus Growing Coalition at the  Greater Southeast Community United Community Garden at the Gethsemane United Methodist Church. (I took my roasted eggplant, onion and pepper salad with orzo and quinoa).  Last April, I helped Ava with getting cedar wood donated for two gates that they needed at their community garden.  Trudeau's Fence in Hilliard again showed their tremendous support for the local community garden movement by donating scrap cedar lumber that is simply not good enough for their paying customers.  Ava and I drove over to pick up the wood last April (and I picked up some wood for our fence straightening project as well).     The local Carpenters Union did a fabulous job last month constructing the gates for Ava.   When I left the GCGC meeting (to pick up more free seedlings that had been donated by Strader's Garden Center), there was a double rainbow waiting for us.   

I also won a baby apricot tree sapling which had been donated by GCGC officer, Andrew Proud.  I planted it at the SACG orchard on Saturday.   Most of our peaches are gone.  I picked one myself (for the first time since we planted the
trees in 2012) last week.  It was not quite ripe.  It was hard like grocery store peaches.  But it was quite tasty.   We checked the peach trees last night and the Contender yellow cling peaches are all gone.  The Red Haven peaches have not filled out yet and probably won't for a few weeks. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Going Out with a Hot Bang

As you know, it has been a very wet June.  Unlike the last couple of years, the rain has been spread out over each of the weeks, which has in many ways made it easier for us to garden at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  We haven’t had to spend a lot of time watering our plants, but have had to spend more time weeding.  Because we are trying out a pilot program with the Municipal Court to use community service volunteers (very few of which have ANY gardening experience), we have been delegating more to volunteers than we usually do.  However, this has proved fatal to our kale and collard crops because some of the volunteers weeded them along with the lambs quarter and pigweed.  Sigh.  The com-til donated by the City and all of the rain has made everything grow into giant versions of themselves, but it also left a giant bare spot in our front lawn just weeks before a the Old Towne East Neighborhood Association Historic Home and Garden tour.

Some of the volunteers have been great.  Others not so much.  Some are stoic and some never stop whining.  Wayne returned last week after a month’s absence and helped to finish off the com-til project for us.  It's too bad (for us) that it was his last week of community service.   I imagine that most of them thought their community service would involve picking up litter and were surprised that they were given weeding or shoveling duties at the SACG.  For two weeks, they did nothing but shovel and dump com-til.  Usually, it also involves some mowing, picking up litter and weeding. Yesterday, we spent half the time watering and then the rest weeding along the alley and the street curb as well as the west fence and a raised bed and some paths.   In the past month, we even had a volunteer that grew up on a farm in Albania.  Yesterday, a neighbor gave one of our volunteers brand new tennis shoes just because he had the right size of foot.  
It was so hot yesterday, that Cathy and I picked up some ice cream sandwiches and popsicles and Cathy brought them down for our volunteers, as well as Sabrina, Amy and myself and offered some to Frank and Barb across the street who were tending the Block Watch lot. 
As faithful readers may recall, I have faced a crises this year since Lutheran Social Services closed its southside food pantry earlier this year and that is where I typically donate most of our fresh produce.  Since that report, LSS has re-opened that food pantry but not on Saturdays.    Sigh.  So, I reached out to some other gardens (who had been as surprised as I to learn about the closure) and I still do not have an early Saturday afternoon location to take fresh produce.    This is highly inconvenient for me
(since weekdays are a non-starter), but I guess that it cannot be helped.   I still go to Faith Mission when we are running late or have to make a Sunday delivery because it is the only place in town which is open 7 days each week until 5 (and serves three free meals a day to anyone who shows up).   I have had to make arrangements with my Board to cover for me at the SACG on Saturday mornings (so that the community service volunteers have a responsible supervisor) so that I can make Saturday morning produce donations and it has not gone smoothly.    Here are the locations that take fresh produce on Saturday mornings: 
1)      Broad Street Presbyterian Church pantry – but only Second Saturdays -- until 10:30 am

2)      Community Kitchen 640 South Ohio Street, but only until 10:00 am

3)      MOFB Kroger Pantry in Grove City 9-1 (if you are not as terrified as I am of the construction, traffic and potholes when driving on I-71 South)

4)      Redeemer Lutheran Church (at James and Scotwood) from 9 until 10:30 a.m.  [Editor's note:  They told me noon and I  delivered July 1 at 11:30, but I showed up at 11 a.m. on July 7 and they had packed up and were heading home even though I had emailed the day before that I was bringing squash.  So, don't bother to come if you can't get there before 10:30 a.m.]

I’ve been going to Redeemer, but yesterday did not arrive until around 11:30 when they were winding down and only had one van there.  

Aside from our strawberries, our fruit has not done well this year.  We only had about a quarter as many cherries and raspberries as usual.  We only have about 5% of last year’s peaches.  I was speaking with Marge at St. Vincent de Paul’s Community Garden and she estimated that they will have virtually no peaches this year (after 120 pounds last year from a single tree) because of their late May cold snap.  
We had our second Black Raspberry Festival last week, but could not promote it at the Bexley Farmer’s Market because we got rained out (with two inches of rain in just a few hours).  What few people arrived to our Festival  ended up fleeing in short order because it rained on us twice.   

Nonetheless, Amy made some brownies and muffins for our bake sale before she left for  Kentucky for the weekend.  Cathy baked some awesome chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting (which I did not think was even an option).  I made tiny black raspberry pies (complete with lattice or spiral tops) by cutting out circles from regular pie crust and then baking them in giant muffin tins.  They were yummy if I do say so myself.   I also sold perennial plants (like ferns, bee balm, cone flowers, garden phlox, and yarrow) from my yard.  Daniel from Four Seasons City Farm came by and mocked me for not also arranging for a live band and other entertainment.  Sorry buddy, I was busy directing visitors and volunteers.   

I was hoping that the grass on our front lawn would recover quickly once we removed the com-til, but I think most of it is really, really dead.  A couple of days after the com-til was finally taken off the front lawn, I kinda aerated the patch and spread some grass seed.  Because it, of course, stopped raining about then, I have been going to the Garden each night to water that giant patch by hand with watering cans.   This, I know, is probably a fool's errand when the daytime temperatures are routinely above 90 degrees.  I am a wet sloppy mess by the time that I am done. 

I also planted a few flats of flowers that Straders Garden Centers donated through GCGC.  They also have to be watered each night until their roots spread out and become better established.   I am not going to thank the thief who came by and dug up and took home the dozen begonias that I planted in the southeast bed (just a few days after I planted them) along with our strawberry pot filled with petunias.   This is the first theft we have had in a very long time.

Sabrina came by and weeded half of the co-op plot on Saturday and returned last night to water and weed her own plot.  I have been getting mocked a lot about the corn.   Last year, we planted 6-8  twenty-foot rows all at once.  We then planted pole beans a few weeks later among the corn and planted winter squash along the west side of that plot.   Some of you may know this as the Three Sisters.  Naturally, the corn ripened all at once, which is a bit inconvenient.   The beans did not grow up their assigned  corn stalk and made it difficult to walk between the rows, let alone find and harvest the beans before they went to seed.  This year, we planted four twenty-four feet rows.  The second two rows were planted a few weeks after the first couple of rows so that we can space out the harvest.  This is a form of succession planting.  I also decided to only plant beans along the outside rows of corn (even though the whole point is to fix nitrogen in the ground) so that we do not have so much trouble walking in the rows when we are trying to water, weed and harvest.  After all, we have had com-til this year to supply the depleted nitrogen.    We planted quite a few winter squashes along the northside of the plot and they are starting to spread.   Again, their planting has been spread out so that the squash doesn’t ripe all at once.   We will have butternut, delicatta and acorn squash.   

Speaking of squash, despite my best laid plans, the squash bugs and borers found my zucchini.  I had used the wrong sized row cover on them and it never  completely covered them.  Two of the plants have died already.   We have a whole 100 square foot food pantry plot growing zucchini and the bugs are there, too.  So far, I have not found any hatchlings, but it is only a matter of time.    Between the rain and the com-til, those plants are the size of a small car.   When they die, I’ll replace them with bush beans.  I’ve had my best crop of bush beans ever. 

The lack of a real Spring this year has had some weird results.  As mentioned, we lost a lot of fruit.   However, the tomatoes and eggplant have loved the weather. I already have red San Marzano tomatoes and the cherries are not far behind.   I harvested four Asian eggplants on Saturday.   That is just crazy.  We have also had giant peppers on plants.     I had to pull the rest of our lettuce out yesterday, though, because lettuce goes to seed and becomes bitter in hot weather.  Sabrina pulled out most of her romaine a couple of weeks ago and gave me a full basket of it.    She offered me even more last night, but I still haven't eaten the rest of what she had already given me. 

The flowers have looked very good this year.  I think that they may have peaked early, though, instead of mid-July as we would have preferred.  Hopefully, the sunflowers will be in bloom for the ONTENA tour.  We actually had an offer to sell our flowers, but I always decline such offers.  If someone picks our flowers, the neighbors and bees would not get to enjoy them.  Our bee balm has been especially pretty this year.  We have a large patch of it on the northeast and southeast corners of the Garden.  I think that this Fall or next Spring, though, I will dig out the day lilies  and replace them with a large plant with tall pink spikes, like an Angelonia.   I have some in my back yard and my neighbor has some, too.  Capital U has a LOT of it this year as well. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Now You Tell Me

As faithful readers know, we grow a lot of mint of various kinds at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.    It is pretty, and hardy, and deters mice and insects.  I pretty much use it as a ground cover in my plot.  However, as most gardeners know, it is very invasive and can take over your garden.   It takes a couple of years (but only a couple of years) to become so well established that you have to dig it out with a shovel.  It has taken over much of our front flower bed and invaded the strawberry patch (so Amy had to dig up a lot of it this Spring).      Within the last couple of weeks, I have begun pulling it out of my non-squash rows because it has gotten very tall and I don’t want it to compete for sunlight and water with my tomatoes and peppers and kale.   However, last week when she dropped off 3 community service volunteers during our Raspberry Festival, Leigh Ann (from the Miracle Garden in Linden) asked me for some mint for an interesting project that their Community Garden is pursuing to help sex trafficking victims  and Somali immigrants develop a form of income by growing, making and selling herbal teas.

As Leigh Ann explains it, their goal is to create an Urban Farming Economic Development Plan (which they have been working toward since the garden began in 2014) where they can have a women’s empowerment program for the women who have been trafficked and prostituted or victims of domestic violence as well as the Somalian women who have been culturally devalued.  They also hope to create an urban 4H and FFA program for kids that the women can help run, and this summer they will be launching a farmer’s market at their Westerville Rd location complete with an EBT machine, which they also hope to eventually have the women and the youth help run in order for them to learn marketable job skills.  They also have mentored the community garden at Capital Park, which is across the street from their Fern Ave garden since 2015.

They are also attempting to work with the Columbus Out of Darkness Program to offer the tea-making program to some of their beneficiaries.   Out of Darkness (which has taken over Hazel’s House of Hope near Parson’s Avenue) has offered its garage as a place to dry out the mint.  The Olive Branch Restaurant on Gender Road has offered to sell the teas at its cafĂ©.

So, last week, our volunteers dug up lot of chocolate mint from the co-op plot and some lemon balm (which I am told also makes an excellent tea) from a food pantry plot and we put it in leftover hanging baskets which Straders Garden Centers had donated to GCGC this month.  However, Leigh Ann was going for simplicity and put it all into a giant trash bag. She seemed disappointed to have so much chocolate mint and no spearmint.    Then, on Tuesday, her interns and volunteers replanted the pruned stems and hung the rest to dry to make tea.  She is very excited and re-thought her prior reservations about chocolate mint and lemon balm.  They actually took on another Land Bank lot just for this project (instead of just a few raised beds as they had initially envisioned).   She now has a lot of space to fill.  Yesterday, I filled another bag for her with spearmint from my plot (which I had to dig out with a shovel), as well as more chocolate mint (which pulls up rather easily).   I told her that I could fill another such bag next Saturday if she wants (just from the mint in my plot).  I have a LOT of mint.

So, I’m happy to see our mint go to a good cause.  We could have given them so much more a couple of months (or even weeks) ago . . . . if we had only known.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


On Saturday, June 23, from 9 until noon (or until supplies run out, which may not be very long depending on how many people come), the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden will be having its second Black Raspberry Festival.  Because non-gardener pickers are limited to the berries growing on the outside of our fence, there is, of course, no charge. Those berries are free to all every day.   However, we will have baked goods and some plants for sale and will accept tax-deductible donations.  The SACG is a 501(c)(3) public charity.   We have 120 feet of black (and gold) raspberries to be picked.  They don’t last long and new berries ripen every day.
Amy and I are baking.   I will also have many plants and seedlings available, including ferns, coneflowers,  white garden phlox, butterfly bushes and  purple bee balm 

We need to raise funds this year to purchase more fruit trees to fill out our orchard in the Fall and to defray the cost of running water which we expect to have in early August. We so need a gas or battery powered edger/weed wacker.  Also, we have lots of berries ripen every day in June and not enough people pick them.  I hate to see them go to waste.  They are great in pies , cakes, ice cream, jam, cobblers and crisps.    The neighborhood kids like them in smoothies or just to pop in their mouths.   

We could also use more help picking berries for our weekly food pantry donation because it takes about an hour to pick a pint (due to the thorns).  I will give you pint containers and if the outside berries are already picked over, and you seem like a very careful person, I will let you pick from inside the Garden in our food pantry plots where there are berries.   That is a special privilege granted to very few non-gardeners.

As readers know, black raspberries are among my favorite foods on earth and they are highly nutritious. Their dark color makes a great dye (and was used by the USDA to stamp meat) and is associated with high anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and other beneficial properties. Among other things,

  •  Studies at Ohio State University showed a 60–80 % reduction in colon tumors in rats fed a diet with black raspberries added.
  • Studies at Ohio State University showed an 80% reduction in esophageal cancers in mice fed a 5-10% diet of black raspberries.

I won’t deny that the berry brambles are covered and filled with weeds in some places. (I pulled a lot Monday night on the south side).   Pickers should feel free to pull weeds when they find them because there are often ripe berries behind and under the weeds (in my experience). 

We did not have an extensive tart cherry crop this year, but there are still some left.   Feel free to bring a ladder because none of us have reached the high cherries yet. Of course, you pick at your own risk.

We would also be happy to send you home with as much spearmint and chocolate mint as you would like.   Those plants are prolific at the SACG.  I’m not too aggressive with them because their pleasant smell deters certain bugs away from our squash.

If you come, feel free to bring some books for our perpetually under-stocked Free Little Library.  

You will need to bring your own container for the berries that you plan to take home with you to eat.  We assume that you will eat some as you pick.  At least I hope so.  Too many city dwellers don’t know the joy of picking a berry and putting it immediately in your mouth.  Yum. Yum.