Sunday, May 20, 2018

Turning a Corner

After all of the work we accomplished on Thursday at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, yesterday was almost like coasting to the finish line.   Although I was able to leave by around 4 p.m. (instead of after 6 p.m like the rest of this month), I started earlier than usual in order to miss the traffic cones in Bexley for a 5K race there in my neighborhood.  Our community service volunteers came later than usual, but I tasked all but one of them to neighborhood issues because we did not have much left to do at the SACG.  I have A LOT of extra tomato seedlings to share with anyone who stops by and will save planting our raised beds for when the Ohio After-School All-Stars visit us on June 4.

I started early yesterday in order to get out Dodge fast.  South Bexley was closing off my entire neighborhood at 8:30.  (They actually started closing the streets earlier than that.  Grrr).  I finished weeding my plot and got the rest of my pole beans planted.  I am a bean freak, and grow lots of heirloom beans, including Christmas lima beans, dixie speckled lima beans, taylor horticultural beans, goat eye beans, pink half runner beans, asparagus beans and, then of course, Kentucky Wonder and edamame.  I used to also grow  my own black beans, kidney beans and romano beans, but I just don’t have the room.   I also planted a few basil seedlings before I left for the day.

My other belated achievement was to get  my row covers in place for my greens and in the food pantry plot.   We have a massive flea beetle problem at the SACG and, later harlequin beetles will attack them. They eat our bok choy, arugula, kale, cabbage, broccoli, etc.  Although we use diatomaceous earth to sprinkle on our greens and beans (until the beans flower), it gets washed off when it rains.  I also plant garlic, onions, leeks and shallots near them to deter bugs.   A few years ago, I invested in 3 row covers that I purchased online at Amazon.  They are freakishly light weight and do not require any framing because they can rest right on the plants.  Water can seep through them and they can be re-used from year to year.  I hold them down with softball sized rocks and unfold them back periodically to weed and water my plants.  I let out more slack as the plants get taller and require more fabric.   I also use them to cover my squash plants to keep squash borers from laying eggs in the stems of my zucchini and winter squash.  I remove the row covers from my squash once they start to flower so that the bees can find them and pollinate them.  Because my squash has not yet germinated and/or formed true leaves,  I loaned a cover to Sabrina to try out until she gets her own.
Amy also came by for an hour or so.  After taking care of her plot and transplanting volunteer sunflowers, she turned to weeding the strawberry patch.  It can be a challenge to pull the weeds without also damaging the strawberry plants.   And, she deadheaded some salvia for me. 
The Community Service volunteers got a late start.  Leigh Anne called first to see if we were going to cancel because of the forecasted impending thunderstorms.  Ha!  It NEVER rains at the SACG.  Indeed, those storms passed to our northwest.  Others formed just east of us.  We are back to our regular rain pattern.  Because our big tank still has not re-filled since Ken fixed the spicket, I have begged the City to give us our free annual re-fill early.    I usually want to wait until September and sometimes never use it, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  
As soon as our volunteers arrived, I immediately tasked one with mowing in case we were surprised with rain.  We ran out of gas after mowing our lot and most of the Block Watch lot next door.  The Urban Connections folks re-filled him so that we could fimish mowing the corner lots.  One good turn deserves another, so I had another volunteer mow UC’s vacant lot (where the neighborhood kids play red rover, etc.)   I also had this volunteer weed a flower bed and weed around our fruit trees and to re-mulch some of those trees.  He also restacked our mulch bags to make room in the raised bed area.  He was quite enthusiastic and had met our urban agriculture hero Will Allen.

I assigned the other three volunteers to plant strawberry plants next door at Kimball Farms.  They had purchased the strawberries a few weeks ago from Four Seasons City Farm, but had not gotten them planted.  Our strawberries are already fruiting and turning red.  GCGC forgot to tell Kimball Farms that it had been assigned volunteers from the United Methodist Women international conference on Thursday, so I felt bad that they missed out on a critical volunteer activity.  To help compensate, I offered to plant a bed full of our extra tomatoes and to get their strawberries planted.  Pastor Brown uncovered two beds, but one of them was where we had planted tomatoes last year.  I wanted to put the strawberries there, but he didn’t.  So, we planted a row of broccoli down the middle, red cabbages to the south and white cabbages to the north.  The volunteers then watered all of the newly planted strawberry plants and cold crops.   (Later, we received .2 inches of rain around 7 p.m.).
After they finished at Kimball Farms, we worked on shrinking our wood chip pile along the alley.  Urban Connections has a small raised bed growing area for the neighborhood kids.  Cathy did NOT want me to weed it because she wanted the kids to do so before they plant in them in a few weeks.  However, she was ok with us weeding around the beds and spreading wood chips.  So, that is how the crew finished their day. 
It got warmer than anticipated.  I sent the volunteers home with volunteer tomato seedlings (for home gardens, and for one of them for his grandmother).  One of the volunteers wanted to return for her assignment next week and Leigh Ann agreed.   I was pretty wiped out and never got around to taking a group photo.  Oops. 
After they left, I turned to watering a bit in my plot, transplanting gladiola bulbs, and weeding out the herb garden in order to plant some basil and parsley.   While I was finishing up, Phil stopped by to check on this plot and plant a few tomato plants.  I also gave him a few volunteer sunflowers (because they make great cut flowers.  Just don't let them shade too many of your plants).   I also inventoried our fruit trees.  Only one of the cherry trees has many cherries to speak of.  I think that is weather related because they did not all flower at the same time this year.  There are only peaches on one of the trees and one of the trees has a lot of dead branches, which I should prune.  I am hoping that is weather related, but a volunteer pointed out some issue with some of the leaves, too.    We have no plums fruiting this year, but it is only the second year for one tree and the first for the other.  
So, this week, I need to add the mosquito dunks to the big tank and our rain barrel to avoid becoming a breeding ground.  I also need to napalm more poison ivy that has shown up.  The Block Watch lot across the street is again a forest of it near their water cistern.  Kimball Farms has its own extensive crop behind its hoop house, around its porch and growing 15 feet up the walnut tree by our rain cistern.  At Pastor Brown’s request, I sprayed the ivy near the porch and tree, but didn’t have any round-up with me when Sabrina pointed out the extensive crop behind the hoop house (along the chain link fence).   We will also be planting and transplanting winter squash and cucumbers and, hopefully, some collard greens.   Of course, there will be lots of watering and weeding to do as well.   With any luck, I will be able to leave by 3 p.m. next Saturday.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Sow All You Can

Before they started working
Yesterday, eleven volunteers from the United Methodist Women’s international conference helped to sow seeds in the food pantry plots at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  As reported in today’s Dispatch, the UMW are celebrating 150 years by meeting in Columbus, where its first conference was held 77 years ago.  The SACG had volunteers from Korea, Alaska, San Diego, Florida, and Iowa.   They had not been told in advance where they would be volunteering, and so most were not dressed or prepared for hard work in a community garden on a hot day.  Bill Dawson from Franklin Park Conservatory came by for some selfies and to drop off lettuce and beet seedlings to support our effort.  Cathy from Urban Connections also pitched in during a crises to refrigerate the UMW’s boxed lunches and open the UC Ministry House for restroom access and a place to eat out of the sun. 

Our irises were donated by the CG at the Epworth UMC
On Wednesday evening, there was almost a full complement of all SACG gardeners when I brought my extra tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings for distribution.   I was able to plant a few peppers in my plot and start on my asparagus beans, as well as transplant a dozen or so volunteer sunflowers.  However, I discovered to my horror that despite receiving an inch of rain on Tuesday, very little of it made it into our rain cisterns.  The hard rain washed a lot of tree pollen into the gutters and clogged the downspout strainers.  So, I left my seedlings at the SACG overnight so that I could return on Thursday morning with my ladder to clean out the gutters (again after already doing it once on Friday).  

After they finished working.  Photo courtesy of Adam Cairns
Luckily, the UMW volunteers were running late, so I was able to clean out the gutters and get everything unlocked before they arrived (as well as transplant a few volunteer cosmos).  I was supposed to be sharing 25 volunteers with another community garden, but they were not sent the memo and did not know to arrive.   (I checked the email later and it was never addressed to my neighbor).   Good thing for the SACG, though, because only 2 volunteers arrived for the SACG and this meant that I got to keep all 11.  (Never fear, I contacted the other garden leader to let him know and he didn’t mind that I kept them all).    But, it meant that I had to call for help with refrigerating their lunches, etc.  Cathy – always my angel in such emergencies – was extremely supportive. 
Sabrina also came to help and brought her two-year old son, Finn.  The ladies gushed over him and his blonde locks.    I took a team of the women and tasked them with weeding and then digging lots of holes in our tomato plot.  While they did that, I dug out some trellises (extra wire fencing) and wood stakes that we store next to the shed.   We hung the trellises and then planted more than a dozen tomato plants in the plot.   We put cages around the plants that were not trellised. 
We tasked another team with weeding and then cultivating a row every two feet in the root crop plot: carrots, turnips, beets and sweet potatoes.  I usually plant more closely together, but with the Community Service volunteers coming to help water these plots over the summer, I wanted to make sure that there was enough room between the rows so that they could walk down them without stepping on any plants.   
Sabrina led the effort in the vining crop plot: zucchini, melons and pole beans.   They weeded it and then created mounds for the squash and melons.  I helped to hang a trellis for the beans and then they planted beans on both sides (I hope).   
Meanwhile, I tasked another lady with planting the lettuce seedlings between our rows of broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage.   Bill explained that the seedlings came from the Mid-Ohio Food Bank by way of the Franklin Avenue Community Garden.   He was trying to stop at all of the local community gardens having a work day to share the extra seedlings.  
We also took some of the lettuce seedlings over to the neighbor beds along the alley and planted some extra lettuce there.  I then took a group over to the neighbor bed and we hung a trellis and planted six tomato plants and then a dozen pepper plants. 
After lunch, I marked off four rows where we will plant corn for our co-op plot and we cultivated two such rows.  Fittingly enough, our Iowa volunteer then planted two rows of corn.  All of the plants and seeds were then well watered in as we finished up before waiting for their bus to take them back downtown.  While we were watering and collecting the tools, a Dispatch photojournalist, Adam Cairns, noticed all of the orange shirts.  Curious, he stopped by to take a few photos and interview the women.   He was a good sport.  Before taking a group photo with his own super camera, he took lots of cell phone shots for the women. 
While gardening, I was able to chat with a couple of the women. One lady grew up in Pyongyang (now in North Korea).  Her mother had a vegetable garden during World War II, and so she developed a love of fresh food and flowers.  However, when she got married, it was hard to get fresh food or flowers for her wedding.  She remembered that someone showed up with a bouquet of daisies, so she was delighted with our daisies.  I wanted to send some home with her, but wouldn’t you know that my wine bag full of daisy seeds was in my basement at home!  The daisies we have in bloom were not quite ready to produce seeds yet, or I would have sent her home with seed heads for her own garden.  She also loved our peonies, but wished that we had some pink ones in bloom.  Maybe next year.  I would have loved to have had more time to chat with her.  She worked pretty hard.
The lady from San Diego was so delighted with our efforts that she called her sister to see what they were growing at their community garden in southern California.  It was hysterical.  About the only item we had in common were watermelons.  They are still suffering from water restrictions there, so gardening is the subject of debate.  The Alaskan lady told me that their food pantry won’t accept much fresh produce, so they invite the patrons to stop by their garden for items, such as fresh dill.  They also cannot grow corn up there.
I had told the UMW volunteers that I had been raised as Methodist (and was wearing my United Methodist Mississippi Relief shirt from Hurricane Katrina relief).  John Wesley has a number of famous sermons and sayings, including:
Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.
And these women put that into practice yesterday by sowing all they could to help the SACG raise more fresh produce for area food pantries and Faith Mission’s homeless shelter.   Big THANKS to the Great Columbus Growing Coalition for arranging for the UMW to assist the SACG and the following community gardens yesterday:  Linden Garden Association, Bible Skipway CG, Franklin Avenue CG,  St. Vincent DePaul Garden (at Christ the King Catholic Church), CMN Memorial  Garden, Lincoln Park Education Garden, Southside Head Start Children's Garden, Fresh Town Farms, Four Seasons City Farm (with Old  First Presbyterian Church), and Garden of Communion. 
So, tomorrow, on Saturday, I will try to get the rest of my pole beans planted, work a little more on prettying up the path edging, and finally turn my attention to our herb garden, etc.  I told our neighbors that if they uncovered one of their raised beds, we would fill it with tomato seedlings (because I have a LOT of extra seedlings).  I also told his teenage volunteers that I would loan them a hoe and teach them to use it because they have been weeding plots by hand.   One of our neighbors is improving the landscaping along the alley, so I promised him some supplies and, to properly thank UC for helping us out today, we will weed around their raised beds and fill it with some of our extra wood chips.   Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.  
Our strawberries are coming in gangbusters, so I hope that we get lots more rain (after I leave at 2:30) so that they also get much bigger.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Three Season Gardening?

It is official.  There will be no Spring in 2018.  We have gone straight from winter to summer at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.   Our berries are forming, despite the late start, but we have not had bees to pollinate our cherries or strawberries, so I am not seeing many.  The raspberry branches have not had time to grow taller than my waist, but they are already forming berries because of the heat.   My beans sprouted and formed seed leaves in mere days.   Meanwhile, our volunteers are wilting by lunchtime.    Nonetheless, this is the busiest time of the year and this week was no exception.

Late Sunday night, Cathy texted me about the Big Tulip Dig at Franklin Park Conservatory being the next morning.  We went two years ago, but last year it was cold and rainy.  Although I had real work to do, I love digging up and replanting beautiful tulips.  So, we went over Monday morning and dug up tulips for an hour.  Actually, Cathy dug and I pulled and bagged.  We should have stayed another hour (as Cathy wanted to do)  because there wasn’t much of a crowd and there were many more tulips left to dig.  I planted a few at home, but most of my share went to the SACG.  Amy helped me to plant them in our front and south flower beds.  I planted a few more in the center flower bed.  I think the pink tulips will look exceptionally pretty in front of our new, grey picket fence.

On Wednesday, I started planting in my plot with tomatoes.  Sabrina came and was able to snag a few extras (like Brandywines, celebrities, beefstake, Ohio Belgian, etc.  On Saturday, I also put in my eggplant and some peppers and a few more tomatoes, as well as my cucumbers, zucchini and winter squash.  Tomorrow night, I plan to finish with 3 more tomatoes and peppers and pole beans.   My earlier plantings are not doing well.  That is probably because I cannot remember where the rows are . . . . .   Former gardeners Stan and Jeannie both stopped by to say hello, but I could not twist their arms to stay and garden  . . . . 

Amy came for a while on Saturday and helped weed the center flower bed.  I then got to mulch it and the south bed.    I should have worn sun screen because I got a sunburned farmer’s tan after being at the SACG for 10 hours on Saturday.  Ron at Ohio Mulch even mocked me about it on Sunday.  Gee whiz.  One neighbor stopped by and asked about taking some wood chips for his house.  We got him shovels and offered to help him. He wanted to get his wheelbarrow tire pumped and to do it when it got cooler.    Another neighbor came by and asked to have flowers for her mother for the holiday.  I was exhausted and loading up the car, but what’s a girl to do . . . .  She got her flowers.  I was too dirty and hot for a hug.

Our four Community Service volunteers arrived with bells on.  One lady was psyched to pick up litter in the blocks around the SACG.  She brought back four or five bags.  She commented that it was one of the cleaner neighborhoods that she had been in and she found everyone – including Pastor Brown next door – to be very nice.   One gentleman mowed our lawn and the Block Watch lots, helped me with the fence straightening project, and trimmed around the flower beds and blueberry bushes, etc.  One lady (who also volunteered with us last week) weeded one of the neighbor beds and a pantry plot.   And, she said that she wanted to come and help me again so that she can learn even more.  (She used to work at Strader's last year).  Another girl weeded and weeded and watered our new trees.    It’s been a dry month at the SACG.  As in the past, most of the storms that hit Franklin County pass us by.  (This excited our sole gentleman because he HATES rain).    I wanted to get the Garden tidied up because a professional photographer was coming by to take pictures for the Old Towne East Home and Garden tour brochures. 

Sabrina came by on Sunday and used the debris that Hillary and Jake dug up to plug holes in chain link fence in case that groundhog returns.  She also tidied up the path edging so that it does not look like we just threw rocks around.    Amy returned on Monday to carry out the lawn waste bags to the curb.  They are always over-filled and often break (requiring us to get another bag and re-fill it).   She wasn’t really dressed for that at the time.

Today, I drove to Bethel Road for the annual Half-Price Books children’s book drive give-away.  A few years ago, the cars were lined up for over a mile to get two large boxes of free books for our Free Little Library.  The last couple of years, however, I have not had to wait even one minute.   There was no line at all.  You have to pay attention to the HPB emailed ads for when they announce the give away and to register in advance.  Any non-profit and school is eligible for the free books.  The Half-Pint Library give away is usually at their warehouse in Hilliard, but this year it was at the Bethel Road store in a strip mall.  We are extremely appreciative.

We received lots of good news this week, but I cannot share it all at this time.  Right now, I am enjoying a rare extended rain storm.  Whoo hoo.  I had just called Seth at the Land Bank this afternoon inquiring about getting a free refill of our rain cistern because we are out of water!  That’s why it’s raining now;-)   We have 10 volunteers coming on Thursday from the United Methodist Women’s day of service.  We plan on planting the food pantry and neighbor plots with tomatoes, peppers, root crops (like carrots, beets, and turnips), beans, melons, and squash, to assemble and tidy up our herb garden, hopefully divide some overgrown lilies that are growing into a rose bush, maybe plant some corn and possibly weed the strawberry patch.   There is always a lot to do and I’m glad that Sabrina is coming to help, too.  
The Columbus Landmarks Foundation identified one of favorite photography subjects as one of the 10 most endangered sites in Columbus:  the former Holy Rosary Church and school, now known as Rock of Faith Baptist Church across the street from the SACG.  The Rectory was an 1840's farmhouse that was part of the Underground Railroad.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

On Your Mark, Get Set, . . . .

We have gone straight from winter into summer at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.   This week, we were all very busy getting our plots ready to start planting summer crops next weekend.    We may have one evening dip into the 40’s this week, but after that we will probably start planting squash, then peppers, and then tomatoes and then eggplants, etc.  We are close to finishing getting the Garden prepared, with a lot of mulching, weeding and spreading of wood chips this week.

On Monday, Cathy and Amy helped me to haul a dozen or so lawn waste bags to the curb.  They were very heavy (because some were too full of soil).  Two of the bags broke and had to be re-filled.  Sigh.  Hillary had also topped off a number of the over-stuffed bags with stones from her plot.  I removed them and put them back in her plot.  Grr. (The City bans rocks from the lawn waste bags, which I think would be self-evident, but obviously not).   On Wednesday, Amy and I spent some time weeding.  As I was rushing out, Sabrina came by with Zephyr to water their plot.    We talked about what kind of edging to do with our plots and what to do with all of the debris that Hilary and Jake dug out of her plot last weekend.   One of the pieces begs to be a statement piece somewhere.  The rest would probably do well to plug the holes between the chain link fence on the west side of the Garden to keep the groundhog from re-visiting us this year.   It is too bad that this debris only got dug out last weekend.  In 2015, we received grant funds from the City to haul and lawfully dump literally over 2 tons of similar debris that we had dug out of the Garden in the prior six years.  I think all of that digging must have worn Hillary because she hasn’t been back to her plot since then.

On Friday, Tree King generously donated and dropped off a couple tons of wood chips for us to distribute in and around the Garden.  It was really more than we need and it blocked a bit of the alley.  I arrived on Saturday to find Amy already hard at work.  I watered and weeded my plot and started to weed and mulch the northeast flower bed.   I also tried to shovel some of the wood chips out of the alley. Sabrina came for a few hours to tend her plot and teach one of our volunteers how to weed and to move and re-place our benches during the wood chipd project. 

The City Municipal Court sent us 7 community service volunteers this weekend, which was great.  What usually takes us 3 hours to accomplish on our annual opening day they finished in two hours.    We borrowed wheelbarrows from Kimball Farms next door and from Cathy.   They distributed wood chips on the paths in an hour and then around the fence lines in another hour. 
One lady used the rest of our spray paint to make part of the spinning compost bin to match the nearby rain barrel.   A couple volunteers weeded under and around the picnic table and raised bed.  One gentleman mowed our lots and edged a bit.  One gentleman dug me another post hole for our fence straightening project.  (He had more luck than the hard-working fellow last week).  We could have dug another, but I was concerned about irreversible harm to our brambles this season.  One volunteer watered our bare root trees and bushes (black cherry and elderberry, which are all leafing out).  Two weeded a couple of flower beds, after assuring me that they knew something about landscaping.  One cut back our sadly dead lavender bush.  One weeded a few food pantry plots.  One straightened up and tidied up the alley. One dug up dandelions for a while.  One weeded and mulched a portion of the strawberry patch.  One leveled up the compost bins.  One weeded and spread donated soil in the kids’ raised beds.  And so it went from 9:30 until 2:15.    I even left them help me to plant a few broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprout plants in the food pantry plots because we got so much done. 

After they left, I spent another four hours weeding my plot, and picking up mulch from Ohio Mulch for my own house while it is still on sale.   I let chickweed take over my plot every winter.  It is generally very easy to pull out, but not always.  Sometimes, I just roll it up like a carpet to make room for new plants.   Sometimes I pull it.  I also have a fair amount of mint in my plot because it deters beetles.  I planted some Xmas lima beans, edamame and contender green beans.  I think I stepped on my lettuce seedlings, so I replanted it.   I also found and replanted a bunch of garlic among my cold crops and spread some diatomaceous earth to deter flea beetles.   I also placed and put up my tomato trellis and squash/cucumber trellis and planed some zinnias in my front row cutting garden.  (I have a lot of daisies coming up that I will probably have to dig up soon).    Weeding is not always depressing.  After pulling away some chickweed, I found some romaine lettuce and cilantro in my plot that I had planted last Fall.  Yippee.

I also found some volunteer sunflowers and put them in more appropriate places (like flower beds or along the south side of my plot) where they can be enjoyed by everyone over the summer without shading my key vegetables.  I also gave Sabrina one before she left.  I had to bricks around some of them to keep from inadvertently stepping on them while I worked, and twigs around them elsewhere so that no one else would step on them or dig them up like weeds.   
While I was weeding and placing trellises, Christina and Alex from the Old Towne East Neighborhood Association stopped by.  They were giving a trial run to the tour path for this year’s Historic Home and Garden tour in July.  This year, it will actually be in the Franklin Park neighborhood (our  neighborhood), which has changed considerably in just a few years. (In fact, one of Ms. Dee’s nephews stopped by this afternoon and could not get over the change in the neighborhood since she died just a few years ago).   They introduced themselves because the SACG will be a stop on the tour this year.    I’m glad that the first time that they saw the Garden was when the lawn had been mowed, chips had been spread and most of the flower beds had been mulched.

As readers know, I never miss the Kentucky Derby.  We even grow lots of mint to send home with gardeners to muddle with their bourbon. However, this is always one of the longest gardening days of the year and I could not tear myself away.  It was also Cinco de Mayo, but it was too chilly and cloudy for margaritas.  (I’m sure that you never thought that you’d ever hear me say that;-)

Rose stopped by with a pet carrier containing three tiny kittens.  A nearby lady was feeding 3 stray cats who all had kittens.  She was about to take them to the pound, but Rose brought them home instead.  I worry about them because Rose tried to take care of Ms. Dee's cat and we ended up sending her and her kitten to Colony Cats up on Sawmill Road. 

I finally managed to empty the big tank yesterday so that Ken can repair the spicket.  The tall tank is running out of water, so I’m a little concerned.  We only received about a half inch of rain in the past week and the tall tank is not an efficient collector of water. 

Kimball Farms was also busy working in their hoop house yesterday.

On Wednesday, I hope to plant some squash and then mulch the remaining two flower beds.   Next weekend, I’ll start planting and distributing peppers and tomatoes.  On May 17, we will have volunteers from the United Methodist Women to plant our food pantry plots and prune some flowers.

We have lots of extra wood chips in case anyone wants to stop by and fill a bag or wheelbarrow . . . .   Just help yourself to what is along the alley (as long as you don't make a mess or dig down to the soil). 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

ISO Stolen Bees

Our cherry trees are blooming on time and look almost as spectacular as last year.  One thing, however, is missing: The bees that pollinate them.  Last year I took lots of pictures of bees in our cherry blossoms.  However, there is nary a bee in sight this year.  Boo hoo.  The reason?  Someone dug out and stole our bee hive (which had been in the Block Watch lot across the street under a former garage).     So, even if our blossoms survive two cold nights in a row, it will be for naught without bees.  Sigh.

It’s been a busy week at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.   Phil and Marcel wasted no time in preparing and planting their plots.  Sabrina covered most of her plot of purple nettles with lawn fabric and planted about half of it in with potatoes, beans, greens, lettuce, etc.  Amy, Alyssa, Taylor and Carly have all prepared their plots and partially planted them as well.  Me?  Well, I’ve been busy with capital improvements and visitors.  All I managed to get planted this week were a few leeks, garlic, cold crops, and beets and some collard greens in the neighbor plot.   I was not able to do very much weeding or get any start on the food pantry plots or to start my annual herbs.

On Sunday, I stopped by for about an hour or so to start draining the big tank so that Ken could fix the spicket.   I visited Cathy while I waited, but barely made a dent in the tank.  I’m using a cheap hose from home and it apparently is bent in a few places, which restricts the water flow.  I tried again for a couple of hours on Wednesday, but managed to only get half another 100 gallons or so drained.  Gee whiz.  Even six hours yesterday only got it down to about 200 gallons.   At least we are not creating any more ponds at Kimball Farms.

We had a large crew around on Wednesday.  Amy arrived first to weed and plant in her plot before she returned home for dinner.  Then Sabrina came byt o put lawn fabric on her plot.    The fabric is supposed to deprive the weeds of sunlight, thereby killing them.  I think it would have been cheaper and faster to simply cover it with a cheap black plastic tarp, but that’s me.   Alyssa and Taylor came by to prep and plant some brussells sprouts.   I formally measured and marked off the northern plots with stakes.   I couldn’t, however, find twine to tie from the stakes to the fence.

We had a couple of visitors.  Daniel from Four Seasons City Farm finally stopped by for a tour.  He drives by and waves periodically, but he’s never stopped before.  He was dropping $75 of beautiful strawberry plants off at Kimball Farms (as a fundraisers for FSCF).  He was intrigued by our reluctance to till.  Taylor and Sabrina talked to him about when and why we till and why we generally do not.   (I planted some collards while they discussed this).  He admired the quality of our soil, made some suggestions, observed that our raspberries were planted too close together (which made me laugh), and teased me about our disgruntled neighbor.   He was fascinated that I like to keep weeds in the plots (with some exceptions) until I plant.  (I like to feed the microorganisms in the soil with live roots, etc., particularly chickweed).  He was admiring our flowers and suggested that I divide them (and give some to him). Someone keeps stealing all of FSCF perennial flowers and then stole a whole stack of t-posts that they need for their fence.     I offered to dig up and give him some of our extra early daisies right there on the spot, but he demurred.  He had already started Shasta daisies, but I explained that they have different blooming time.   

I also explained that nearly all of our perennial flowers come from my backyard and I could probably divide some more for FSCF.  In fact, that is how I spent my Thursday evening, potting quite a few coneflowers, as well as some purple bee balm and some white garden phlox, etc.    But then I was too tired to email him.  I also explained that we were planning a fence straightening project on Saturday.  If it went well, I might have some t-posts for them.  (Most of ours were previously donated by Lowe’s, grants, Trudeaus’s, etc.)

Daniel relayed to me that Growing Power had closed six months ago because of its mounting debts, and my hero Will Allen’s operation had failed financially.   His famous book, the Good Food Revolution, was required reading for all OSU freshman just a few years ago.  This did not surprise me (considering all of its operations, staff size and ambitious plans), although it was very disappointing.   When he was here in 2011, Allen had been pretty candid that it was virtually impossible to turn a profit in agriculture.  He had only succeeded because he turned his farm into a non-profit (i.e., tax free), and could accept donations and grants, particularly educational grants to teach young people.   The Growing Power website is still there but no longer has any content.    I grew up in farm country and I don’t know any farmer who doesn’t have a full-time (or almost full-time) job on the side that pays a salary and subsidizes the farm.  My grandfather worked for Columbus Southern power, for instance.  One of my best friends from high school actually commutes to Grove City to work full-time every day to subsidize his farm.  The Wall Street Journal  reported in February that even big commercial farms rent their large trucks out during after the harvest season.   While farming can provide a nice supplemental income, hardly anyone gets rich, let alone breaks even.  It’s very labor intensive and/or expensive to get land, water and equipment.  Only the Amish seemed to be breaking even and they have large families on small plots of land with, obviously no modern equipment.  I think President Trump must finally be getting the message because last night he mentioned that he plans to protect and maybe even expand the farmer guest worker program.  (Nothing in the past two decades has struck me as more absurd and counter productive than to criminalize the folks who plant, pick and process our incredible cheap food for mere pennies per pound).

On Friday, I picked up some lumber and other supplies at Lowe’s.  I needed to cut down the boards from 8 feet to 6 feet, but my circular saw wouldn’t work.  (It turned out not to be the saw, but the ancient extension cord which was faulty).   Luckily, former SACG gardener and long-time neighbor Mike was out in the alley playing with his youngest child and he has a table saw that made quick work of my project.

Saturday, we had a group of 7 Community Service volunteers.  I baked them some blueberry muffins and Amy donated boxes of granola bars to keep them energetic.  Because the Columbus half-marathon had taken over downtown, hey reported directly to the SACG in their own cars.  It was colder than expected and the wind chill didn’t help.  Of course, this is pretty typical April weather, so I was dressed in layers.  Several of the volunteers were not and a couple of them complained about being cold the entire time.  I gave them plenty of sweaty work to generate body heat, but only a couple of them used it to their advantage.  (One smart lady even stripped down to just a t-shirt for a while because there was sufficient work to do to keep warm if you made any effort at all).  Two of them spent most of their time picking up litter in the neighborhood. They hit a few alleys and Main Street down to Berkeley. They explained that a vacant lot down there can now be mowed due to their efforts. 

Two of them painted the lumber I had picked up the day before and finished painting our rain barrel (to match the shed).  Three of them then returned to the wood chip project we had started last week: raking up the wood chip paths and composting the wood chips so that we can narrow our ever-widening paths by a foot or two and, thus, expand the size of each plot by approximately 10 square feet.  As I expected, we ran out of compost bin space, so I asked them to focus only on digging up the edges of the path, straightening the edging and moving the edging in a bit.  

When we have a group of volunteers, I usually have them also mow not only our lot, but also the neighboring Block Watch lots because I know our neighbors – like most of us – could make other use of their spare time if they did not have to mow those lots every week.   However, this week they beat us to it and apparently had already mowed all of them – including ours -- on Friday.  Those slackers.  So, that was one less task for our cold volunteers to do.

After about an hour, I grabbed the strongest looking volunteer to help me straighten our southern fence.  In particular, he dug three post holes so that we could upgrade our fence posts from wood stakes and t-posts to treated 2x4s that had been painted to match our front picket fence.   The first one was not so bad, but the others involved digging out raspberry bushes and a lot more stone debris.  It was a messy and time consuming project.  I don’t think that we’ll be able to return to it until next Fall because the brambles will begin to grow gangbusters as the temperatures rise and will be less and less able to survive being dug up and replanted.  I had hoped to get six posts set, but we only accomplished about half of that.   We also could not dig quite as deeply as we needed to, but it will probably be sufficient.  Then, we added top boards to keep the wire fence straight (as opposed to sagging between posts).  Nonetheless, we then had to saw the tops off of the posts to level them with the fence.   

The northern fence probably sags more, but it does not get as much traffic as the southern fence (which faces Main Street).  In a couple of weeks, the entire fence will be covered in raspberry brambles and no one will notice anything until we cut them back again in the Fall.  If we get some more lumber, we could have it painted over the  summer and then have the project ready to go for our final two or three weeks of the year.

I had told them that we would be turning to weeding and planting a food pantry plot after lunch.  However, the fence project took all of my time.  (While the posts were being dug, I managed to weed and mulch the southeast flower bed).  We also had another visitor who was interested in possibly joining the Garden, so I gave her and her daughter a tour.  One of the ladies made sure to keep busy and then reloaded the shed with all of the tools and implements.   She also watered in the brambles that we had replanted.

Carly and Sabrina were there to tend their plots.  Sabrina planted onions and potatoes, etc. and helped Carly while I was busy with our volunteers.  I released our volunteers at 2, but told them that they did not need to leave because I had more work if they wanted to stay.  They jumped into their cars  and then I turned to my own plot.  However, my post-digger hero (who had two blisters from his work, one of which I had to bandage) returned to ask if I needed more help.  He didn’t want to leave me “high and dry.”  I laughed; I could be here 24-7 and still not catch up on everything.  Run while you still can!  After he left, I weeded one more row in my plot and planted garlic, beets and leeks.  I also watered in my crops, noticed that my lettuce and spinach had germinated and retrieved the hose from the tank before calling it a day.   

I went back to the Garden tonight to make sure that Hillary’s plot was still marked off.  (I forgot to check if the volunteers had moved the stakes where I had marked off the plots.  They had, but had moved them into the plots without me even having to ask.  Good job).  Hillary was there with her boyfriend, Jake, who formerly managed a campus garden in Toronto.  (Could he finally be the replacement Garden Manager I’ve been waiting a decade for?  We shall see).   They were busy digging trenches in her plot.  He explained that they were just going to double dig, but ended up digging out a couple hundred pounds of construction debris that was still in her plot.  They piled it in front of a food pantry plot.  I just laughed and laughed.  I had dug out much more than that in my time.  She was lucky to have Jake there to help her, because I was generally dependent upon the kindness of strangers passing by in the alley.   I’m thinking that we might want to use this new debris to plug the gaps in the chain link fence on the west side of Sabrina’s plot to make sure that the groundhog does not return. The smaller pieces could be used as path edging. We had already obtained a grant in 2015 to haul the prior six years’ of construction debris to a dump and it will be a while before we do that again.   Jake asked about getting some more compost for her plot because he was not as impressed with our soil as most people.  Sigh.  I told them I would be getting more in a few weeks to a month, but they could grab a couple of the bagged soil or go down to Ohio Mulch off Fairwood.

Next weekend, I hope to have had new wood chips delivered.  Our volunteers will be spread new wood chips on our narrower paths, etc.  Hopefully, we will get the rest of the flower beds weeded and mulched.  If not, we have a crew of United Methodist women coming on May 10.  I have announced that they are going to be weeding and planting all of the vacant plots (i.e., our food pantry plots).  So, anyone wanting a plot at the SACG had better arrive by this Saturday to put in their work equity, etc., because we will not have any vacant plots after May 10.   After May 10, will return to automatic pilot and will be focusing on weeding, watering and harvesting, etc. and I will be able to focus on my own plot.