Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Corporate Community Gardens Can Improve Morale, Health and Reputations

The Society of Human Resources Management website contains an interesting article about how employer-sponsored community gardens can benefit a workplace in a number of ways. First, it creates teamwork as the employees volunteer to work together on the garden (which is generally less stressful than regular work projects). Second, it exposes employees to healthy food (which could reduce employer health costs in the long run when the employees learn to eat healthier food). Some employers harvest food from their gardens, bring it into the employee break rooms and let employees take home as much of the produce as they want for free. The thought is that they will eat fresher and healthier food and appreciate a break on their food bill. Preference is usually given to employees who worked in the garden, but not always. Finally, the garden can contribute to the greater community when produce is donated to area homeless shelters, soup kitchins and food banks (like through the Plant a Row program).

The article highlighted that start-up costs were reasonable and decreased after the first year. Some employers actually hire and pay part-time Garden Managers to maintain the garden when the employees lose interest (like during the hot summer months). Another alternative could be to partner with another community garden to develop a win-win solution. The non-profit community garden could help with the employer's garden in return for financial support from the employer.

[Editor's Note: The May 5, 2011 edition of Columbus Alive highlighted a new local business which will help any company create a gardening program (even in containers) and coach your employees into helping. Check out Green Thumb Revolution if you want more information.

You can read the article for yourself at SHRM's website.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another Sunny Day: Packed Up for the Season











This morning, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden volunteers cleaned up and packed up for the season. Mitch, Rayna, Beth, Betty, Dwain, Jeannie, Maxine & her daughter, Barb and Frank came and we got a lot done:

  • Cleaned the remaining folliage out of the plots;
  • Picked up the litter;
  • Planted tulips and daffodils;
  • Spread 11 cubic yards of compost over the plots, the flower beds and the raspberry bushes;
  • Leveled out two of the compost bins;
  • Stacked up the stakes;
  • Packed up the scarecrows;
  • Dug out even more construction debris;
  • Took down the signs and gates; and
  • Emptied and stored the rain barrels.
We started at 9 a.m. wearing sweatshirts and jackets and were pretty much done by 1:30 p.m. in shirt sleeves. We never would have gotten so much done so quickly without so many dedicated volunteers. We would have finished an hour earlier if we had another wheelbarrow and garden rake.

I brought some donuts, apple cider, apples, water and tea and Rayna brought some walnuts to keep our blood sugar up. We all chuckled when Florida-boy Mitch admitted that he had never tasted apple cider before. (Welcome to Ohio!) :) We loaded up Frank's truck and Mitch's car and transported our items to winter storage. Hopefully, the fence will survive in place.

We all marvelled at Rayna's beautiful lettuce and rosemary. We thought we might make a salad to celebrate the end of the season, but we were a little tired and dirty to be cooking at that moment. (We're also a little curious how much longer the lettuce will thrive in November). Maxcine and her daughter harvested bags and bags of mustard greens to serve on Thanksgiving in a few weeks. (Greens can be frozen in bags after you have fried them up). Another elderly neighbor stopped by with her dog as we started our work to share in our final gleaning of the year and, surprisingly, asked for the extra chili and jalapeno peppers.

Registration for next season will begin next February or March and we plan to break ground again for early planting the weekend after Easter in April (weather permitting). We discussed trying to get some blueberry bushes donated this Fall to plant along the north fence so that we and the neighbor children might have blueberries to harvest each Spring.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So This Is What 10 Cubic Yards Looks Like




In anticipation of the winter, we are preparing to add some more compost to the Garden so that we will still have super soil next Spring. This morning, Shane Yokum of Grove City delivered 10 cubic yards of Com-Til Plus compost from the City's facility on Jackson Pike. The City gave us this compost for free and Yokum Trucking gave us a 33% discount off his normal delivery fee.

This afternoon, Build the Bridge of Ohio, Org generously gave me a check to cover the morning's delivery fee. Isn't life grand? (I'll be helping BTBO with a pilot gardening project for its new Moms on the Move program (for single mothers and their children) next Spring).

Now, this is what 10 cubic yards of compost looks like. And we get the joy of spreading this on Saturday morning, beginning at 9:00 a.m. We will need as many wheelbarrows, shovels and garden rakes as can be mustered. Unlike last Spring, we will not also be spreading mulch and only have half as much compost to distribute.

I will also have lots of apple cider, hot tea, donuts and apples to keep up the blood sugar level of our volunteers. We will have lots of sun and -- unlike last April -- it will NOT be hot and we won't get sunburned. Everyone should feel free to come and pitch in.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

SACG Winter Clean Up Is Saturday, November 14.

SACG Gardeners should be completing the process of cleaning out our plots. On Saturday, November 14, 2009, we will be tearing down the Garden and storing everything for winter (including scarecrows, benches, gates, signs and possibly the fence). We will begin at 9 a.m. so that we will be done in time for the OSU-Iowa game. Of course, there will be refreshments and I will have gifts for my champion volunteers (which I hope raises your curiosity). I'd also like to hear from our SACG gardeners about what bulk seeds I should try to get for us for next year (so that we can share . . . . . . ).

It has been highly recommended that we spread compost on top of the Garden to further improve the soil further over winter. The City of Columbus agreed to give us 10 free cubic yards -- or 1-1/2 inches) of Com-Til Plus, but I have been unable to find anyone to pick it up and deliver it for us and we don't have anything in our budget to pay for the delivery. (Remember, we are a free garden:) It would cost us $80-$100 to pay for the delivery -- so if everyone chipped in, I could arrange to have it deliverered this week in time for us to spread it on Saturday.

Plant a Row. I've added another food pantry (i.e., NNEMAP in the Short North) to our March 20, 2009 Plant a Row a Row list.

Composting. I've also added some good composting sites to this website. The City of Columbus is no longer picking up yard waste (although the City of Bexley still does this for us). Our Stoddart Avenue neighbors could see this as an opportunity to begin their own backyard composting of leaves and kitchen scraps. Next year, they could have fabulous compost for their own gardens or to donate to the SACG. While it's tidier to compost inside a bin, my father has inadvertently composted for years by simply raking leaves into a corner of his backyard. Whatever you do, please do not put them in the gutter or they will wash down the storm drains into Alum Creek and kill our nice fish . . . . . .

The OSU composting site also contains information about the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of composting items. You want a good mix of nitrogen, carbon and potassium. Wood ash from a fireplace are a good source of potassium, but will raise the pH of the compost. Grass clippings, food waste and manure are a good source for nitrogen. Straw, sawdust and leaves are a good source of carbon. To get an ideal compost, you want to mix all of these ingredients (or as many of them as possible).

Speaking of nitrogen-rich manure, you can get free horse manure in Franklin County at the following locations (although you will have to haul it away yourself): Bentwood Equestrian Center on Litholopolis Road in Canal Winchester ((614) 832-8042 or e-mail at equine4000@aol.com); Grove City ( sale-bcugj-1428273934@craigslist.org); Old Oak Farm in Marysville (Denise at oldoakfarm@earthlink.net or http://www.oldoakfarm.net/) or another horse stable in Westerville (call Shelly at 614.598.1868 or email at shelley@guilfoos.com). I got my manure compost from the Westerville farm last Spring and it was nicely composted, but had to be dug out of the ground where it had been dumped 6-8 months earlier (and had some weeds, etc.) However, I just added it to my compost bin. Today, I drove about 15 miles to Canal Winchester where I picked up lots of fresh manure (mixed with enriched sawdust) kept in a very nice and clean shed. If you bring a truck, they will load it for you with their earthmover.

If manure makes you quesy, coffee grounds are also an excellent source of nitrogen and pose less risk of smell and pathogens. Here's a really good article about composting coffee grounds: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080707171641.htm. Also, Starbucks gives away its coffee grounds to community gardens across the United States. http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/compost.asp. (Hint: in case anyone wants to pick up some coffee grounds for the SACG and add them to any of our three compost bins):)

Field Trip. For my nice trip to the country this afternoon, I stopped by Faler's Feed Store at the corner of Lithopolis and Cedar Hill Roads and picked up some wild bird seed on sale. Even better, they gave me a baggy of free curled mustard green seeds (for us to use next year at the SACG). I then stopped by Smith's Market on Winchester Pike to get some more fire wood (and free chocolate fudge). Sale Alert: they are selling large winter squash for $1/each. They will store well for many weeks. Coincidentally, I'm making stuffed squash tonight (from an untested recipe). If I like it, I'll share the recipe tomorrow.

Cleaning Up. I'm a little concerned about the number of rotting tomatoes I've seen in the SACG. While I'm grateful most of us have not been throwing them in the compst bins, leaving those tomatoes in place over the winter guarantees that we will have volunteer tomatoes by the boatloads coming up next summer and, more importantly, rotting tomatoes are a good place for bad insects and diseases to spend the winter and infect our garden next year. Please scoop them up into plastic bags and pitch them in the trash.

Anyway, the OSU Exension Office has a nice article on steps for winterizing a garden and I include it here so that our gardeners can see what they should be doing for their own plots for the winter. You can read it for yourself at http://bygl.osu.edu/ :

GARDENING IN THE LAND OF NOD. No, this article isn't about gardening in your sleep, although many of us continue to dream about ways we can improve our gardening methods. Now that a hard freeze has officially ended the 2009 growing season across Ohio, it is time to begin the task of putting your flower and vegetable gardens to bed. Dave Goerig and his fellow BYGLers would like to mention a few things you may want to do if you haven't managed them already.

First things first, harvest any vegetables left in the garden like onions, radishes, potatoes, or squash. In the flower garden, dig up any tender bulbs, rhizomes, corms and tuberous root flowers left such as dahlia, gladiolus, and cannas. Store these items in a cool, dark environment such as the basement. Keep an eye on them throughout the winter months to insure they are not drying out. If you are a seed collector, collect any seed that has been produced in your garden. Seeds from plants like sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, and marigolds to name a few flowers, as well as heirloom vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and squash can all be sprouted next spring. Remove the seed heads or fruit from these plants and bring them into the garage for processing.

Next, remove all the hardgoods that were installed and used throughout the season that helped support your growing efforts. Remove stakes, cages, sections of wire fencing, rain gauges, twine, plant labels, watering devices, scarecrows, slug bars, and stepping stones. These items came in handy earlier in the season and no doubt they will be needed next year. Gather them up and store in the garden shed or garage. Continue closing your garden by using hand pruners or a hedge shear to cut off all dead foliage of any perennial plants. This task is garden specific as some people prefer to leave certain herbaceous ornamentals such as stonecrop,and tall grasses uncut to enjoy their winter look. Vegetable gardens may also have varieties of hardy plants that should not be cut off either, such as horseradish, and garlic.

Once this is done you are ready to remove all annual plant debris left in the planting bed. Do this by pulling these plants out of the ground with the roots included. Once out of the ground shake the soil off of the roots and inspect for disease symptoms. Some insects and many diseases overwinter in the host plant debris. Cleaning your garden of plant residue is the first and most important step in disease and insect pest management. Bury, burn, or compost this debris in sites away from the garden. If composting is the method you use to process dead garden plants, be sure your compost pile heats up sufficiently to destroy the pathogens that may be on the dead plant tissue. If this material is not properly composted before it is reintroduced in the garden you may be spreading the disease and insect problems back onto your soil.

Putting your garden to bed in this manner is just as important as any other growing chore you perform throughout the season. Other end-of-the-season activities you could consider in a vegetable bed would be fall tilling, sowing a cover crop and straw mulching. In ornamental beds, you may want to divide certain perennials now, mulch in new perennial introductions, and work on that edging. In any event the little things you do now will pay big dividends next season.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reminiscing Over the Past Summer


















































It's always one of the saddest days of the year when I have to harvest all of my basil before the bushes turn brown. It seems to have happened unusually early this year. I've also been packing up my 55 tomato vines (and their fruit) as well (to minimize the number of volunteers next year). My gardens are looking a little barren, so I thought it might be more cheerful to reflect on how nice the Garden looked in June, July and August.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Govenor's Green Halloween This Saturday

At the last FBCG meeting, Diane announced that the Heritage Garden at the Govenor's Residence on Parkview Avenue was having quite the Halloween Party on Saturday, October 17, 2009 and she wasn't kidding. I just received the brochure (which you can review for yourself at
http://www.governorsresidence.ohio.gov/GreenHalloweenPoster.pdf).

The Friends of the Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden are sponsoring a FREE shindig which includes:
* The Governor’s giant pumpkin patch (probably more successful than my pitiful patch at the SACG);
* Instruction about growing your own garden;
* Decorating (and keeping) your own pumpkin and/or gourd;
* Instruction on why ladybeetles, bats, worms and other earth creatures are so important to our environment;
* Demonstrations on composting and recycling;
* Guided tours (on-the-hour) of the Heritage Garden; and
* Yummy bison burgers and cider

For security purposes, reservations for the event are required. Please RSVP to paigebilotta@gmail.com or 614.644-7644 x5 to identify all that will be attending. Photo IDs and bags will be checked prior to grounds entry. Event takes place rain or shine.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Food for Thought: Are localvores really green?

I'm a big fan of eating local and prefer fresh food from my garden to food harvested last week being sold at the grocery. That being said, Newsweek and a few other publications have been publicizing a new book by James McWilliams, a Texas history professor (not an economist or agricultural expert), that points out that organic gardening does not always make sense and is not always energy efficient. For instance, we use gas to transport manure to our plots and there are simply not always effective organic solutions to viruses and blights, etc. He also points out that it takes more land (read: deforestation) to raise grass fed beef. (However, if you've seen King Corn and have done his research about feed yards, you'll become a vegetarian like Professor McWilliams).

Just food for thought. You can read some comments about McWilliams' new book,
Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little, Brown), at Newsweek, Forbes, and The New York Times.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Peaches to Die For


Last year -- in August -- I discovered the peaches of Legend Hills Orchard at the Bexley Farmer's Market. http://www.legendhillsorchard.com/. Eating those peaches was as close to a religious experience you can have outside of a fox hole. My Louisville friend Mary agreed. We each bought our own pecks before heading to the B uckeye game. The next week, I drove all the way to Utica -- and did not stop for ice cream -- just to buy a peck of those peaches and can them. I even saved the pits and tried to grow my own tree this Spring. Why? I put them on my morning oatmeal (or when I'm feeling self-indulgent in the evenings) and ran out before New Year's.

Imagine my horror when I discovered in late July that the Licking County Peach crop had been wiped out with our early Spring and regular frost. I had planned a mid-August peach picking trip for the Stoddart Avenue Gardeners, had invited the youth group from nearby St. Luke's Baptist Church to join us (and planned to invite the lady knitwits from my church) and had to cancel because there were no reasonably local peaches to pick (at $19/bushel -- a bargain). However, Jacquamin Farms -- also at the Bexley Farmer's Market - bought peaches from a farm in Chillecothe that did not lose their peach crop. Beth and I drove down in July, bought a peck and a half and made jam and fuzzy-naval marmalade and canned them. However, although I felt good about buying local, these peaches were not the religious experience I had come to expect. We were also deprived of the whole u-pick experience.

Well, pardon my ignorance, but there are a lot of varieties of peaches. I couldn't even begin to list them all.

On Friday, in my monthly study, the ladies began discussing the peaches and apples they had bought a week earlier at Lynds. http://www.lyndfruitfarm.com/. I've lived in Central Ohio for almost 15 years and have never been to Lynds. It's hard to believe, but true. I was told these peaches were so good, Joy's husband ate them before she could can them. (Yes, I'm still getting over the shock of the thought of Joy in the kitchen;) These were peaches I simply must have. They assured me that Lynds also sold seconds (i.e., flawed, bruised and older peaches).

On Saturday, I drove and bought a peck of seconds (for $7) and a 1/2 peck (for $8) of their best yellow freestone peaches (as well as a few of those freakishly expensive honeycrisp apples since the girls had been raving about those as well). Oh nirvana. These are amazing peaches. It should be criminal to sell peaches other than these. They cannot be bought at a mere grocery store. They are juicy to a fault and will prompt you to forget every other peach you've ever eaten.

I canned 11 pints of peaches on Saturday and Sunday, froze 1-1/2 quarts of peaches (to use in smooties) and still have 8 peaches left. Oh joy. What to do with them in the brief time I have in the evenings . . . eat them . . . can them . . . freeze them . . . . stare at them . . . . more fuzzy naval marmalade . . . . give two of them to Beth and Mike who are too busy starting at 8-day old Lucy Grace to go to Lynds for themselves? Maybe IcedTea Latte would like one . . . .

Now, unlike other canners, I do not make a sugar syrup for my peaches. I freeze them straight on cookie sheets and put them in freezer bags. For my mason jars, I squeeze a tablespoon of honey into each jar (before filling the nooks and crannies with scalding water from my tea kettle). Processing peaches is a lot like processing tomatoes, except that you have to cut them in half, remove the pits, and then drop them in a bowl of water (where I have previously dissolved a large vitamin C tablet (also known as asorbic acid) which keeps the peaches from turning brown before you eat them).

Unlike last year and even this July, I managed to avoid turning my kitchen into a haven for fruit flies. I left the peck of seconds outside on the patio table (because it was not too hot). I also tossed the pits in my trash can and the skins into my compost pile as soon as the jars began boiling.

As for my hopes of starting a peach orchard at the SACG, my peach pits never sprouted (even if my lease permitted it). Bummer. I guess I could try again with this new batch. Mary, however, had more luck. She won a raffle at a church bazaar in Louisville. The prize was from an urban farming group which plants fruit trees in people's yards and then lets them keep a portion of the fruit ( -- nice of them --) while the rest goes to sustain their urban farms and food pantries. Last I heard, she was considering a peach tree. Note to Mary: make sure it's a yellow freestone peach tree.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SACG and Bexley Gardeners Attended GTG Awards Ceremony and Harvest Festival.



Last week, Barb, Barb’s sister, Betty, Joe and I attended the Growing to Green Awards Ceremony and Harvest Celebration at Franklin Park Conservatory. We were joined at our table by Betsy Johnson from the ACGA and a FPC volunteer. Barb has attended in past years and explained to us in advance the importance of bringing a substantial side dish since there would be a lot of people there who forgot to bring food. City BBQ catered and all of the food was delicious.

Before the ceremony began, Joe, Betty and I toured the new community garden campus that had opened the prior evening.

Bless his heart, the Mayor wanted us to nominate the Bexley Garden. I nominated the SACG for an award (because I need the money to build more raised beds along Cherry Street and to convert the SACG to a non-profit and won’t qualify for any grants since I am not a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization). Of course, I had no realistic expectations that the SACG would win an award because I’m not blind to the fact that when I make our weekly 12 or so pound produce donations to the LSS Choice Food Pantry and/or Faith Mission I often follow a 90 pound donation from the Four Seasons Farm. I figured that one of the Four Season Farm gardens or one of the twelve new gardens in the University District (which has been working with youth groups to establish urban farmers’ markets) would be prohibitive favorites.

Jim King from the Scotts Miracle Gro Company was the keynote speaker for the evening. He talked about his gardening experience from his youth and how Scotts was the market leader in every country in which they conducted business.

The awards:

Neighborhood Improvement Project of the Year. This $250 award (sponsored by GreenScapes Landscape Company) was to be awarded to the park, gateway, streetscape, school, or other community beautification project which did the most to benefit the surrounding community. It was awarded to Family Life St. Vincent de Paul Pantry Garden on Livingston Avenue. Most of us know this as the community garden at Christ the King Church – which received the Outstanding Community Garden of the Year last year in 2008. Its representative (probably Marjorie) explained how unexpected it was to receive another award in only the Garden’s third year of existence. She explained that the Garden had received a ten cubic yard mountain of top soil last year and it had become an eyesore because it was so tall and they did not know what to do with it. In the Spring, they decided to create flower beds surrounding the Garden and as they began to plant, neighbors spontaneously brought them seedlings and divided plants from their own gardens. See Christ The King Church Has Community Garden on Livingston Avenue near Bexley.

Education Garden of the Year. This $500 award (sponsored by the Hinson Family Trust) was to be awarded to the top garden at a school or other organization that utilizes garden projects for educational purposes. It was awarded to theYWCA Family Center Growing Home Community Garden on Harvey Court. Some people may know this as the successor to the Interfaith Hospitality Network. The representative explained that she had been hired to coordinate the gardening program even though she had no prior experience in gardening. She created five different edible gardens with a theme based on different geographic cultures. There was an asian garden, hispanic garden, african garden, etc. She would work with the children to explain about different foods grown and eaten in various parts of the world. The children – a different group of which circulates every 90 days – helped her plant, harvest and cook the food. Earlier in 2009, Scotts had awarded $2500 to the YWCA to establish this garden.

Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award. This $250 award (sponsored by the FPC Women’s Board) was given to an outstanding youth gardener (18 years or younger) to further his/her education and interest in gardening, or to make improvements in his/her community garden. It was awarded to Sedrick Dessin of the Highland Community Garden. His nomination explained that he helped a lot with planting and making zucchini bread. He was very, very cute.

Community Garden of the Year. This $500 award (sponsored by The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company) was to be awarded to the top neighborhood gardening project for beautification and/or food production. It was awarded to the Hilltop Highland Community Garden (at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Floral Avenue). Dan Downing (the Garden's leader) explained that this had been a true grass roots movement that began in response to the City closing the area recreational center. Like the SACG, they are located on an abandonned lot, but unlike the SACG, Dan rented heavy equipment to dig out the endless supply of construction debris. They hope to put a similar garden on every block in the Hilltop area. As mentioned below, Jim King spontaneously jumped up and increased the amount of the award by $2500 in product and funds from Scotts Miracle-Gro. (Scotts had earlier in 2009 awarded $2800 to Friends of the Hilltop to support community gardens through the Columbus Foundation grant application process which began in October 2008). They brought a large and joyful contingent with them to the awards ceremony.

Community Gardener of the Year. This $250 award for the community gardening project (sponsored by Chase Bank) was to be awarded on account of a person who is exceptionally dedicated to his/her neighborhood garden and/or the movement of community gardening in central Ohio. It was awarded to Kelly Hern of the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church Community Garden, which is on Mill Run Drive in Hilliard. The nomination explained that the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church Garden had donated approximately 1700 pounds of produce to area food banks. That’s a lot of zucchini and a lot of trips to the pantry. I figured that was probably 150 pounds of produce donated each week. Jim Smith was so moved that he jumped up and offered her $25 in product and funds from Scotts Miracle-Gro. (We know he meant more than that and he got up later and clarified that he meant $2500). Scotts had earlier in 2009 awarded the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church $2500 to establish its community garden to support the Hilliard Free Summer Lunch program and provide hunger relief programs for the Hilltop area.

Of course, I’m sinfully envious of the enormous Upper Arlington Lutheran Church, and its three campuses, large tract of vacant land on Mill Run in Hilliard, their large number of volunteers, their insurance coverage and how they did not have to constantly dig out an endless amount of construction debris. (Of course, I don't have to worry about deer, either). It’s hard for a suburban garden to win one of these awards.

The program had been scheduled to run from 6-9, but really only lasted from 6:30 until 8:30. We left behind a produce donation for the Plant a Row Program and took an herb seed packet donated by Foertmeyer and Sons Greenhouses.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Franklin Park Conservatory Opens Its New Community Garden Campus
















The Dispatch reported this morning that the Franklin Park Conservatory opened its new community garden campus last night and has activities planned all weekend. Tonight is the Growing to Green Harvest Celebration and Awards Ceremony. Tomorrow is a field-to-table fundraising dinner (which is sold out). There will be classes and seminars, etc. on Saturday and Sunday as listed in the Dispatch.
Be sure to check out those water spickets in my pictures. We can only dream of those in Bexley:)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Community Garden Soil Testing by OSU Chem Student

Rebecca mentioned to me about ten days ago that the Bexley Garden could get a free soil test from someone in the OSU Chemistry Department. We will definitely need this as we expand the Garden eastward. (We've had some soil testing already as reflected in a June posting here). Today, the Columbus Community Garden blog featured free soil testing for Columbus community gardens by an OSU Chemistry student. A coincidence? I don't know. But, here's more information about this student's great project. (I hope that she's getting classroom credit for this): OSU student garden soil testing website.

Soil testing is extremely important. Lead in particular can infect root crops (like my onions and potatoes) as well as herbs, spinach and lettuce. Fruit crops (like beans, tomatoes, watermelon, strawberries, etc.) are less at risk. A community garden in Buffalo, NY which had been in operation for more than 20 years discovered to its horror this summer that its soil had unhealthy levels of lead.

The City of Bexley had the Bexley Garden soil tested in April and May. I also sent soil samples from the Bexley and Stoddart Gardens to the University of Amherst in Massachusetts in June. See Garden Soil Test Results. However, that test did not test for arsenic.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Vegetable Frittata: A Weekend Harvest Breakfast



Since it’s a holiday, I decided to make something special for breakfast which incorporated a lot of the harvest sitting in my refrigerator (and some herbs from the garden and onions from the onion cellar):

Ingredients:

2 eggs
A few sprinkles of salt
½ cup milk
4 sliced mushrooms
½ cup diced zucchini
1 diced small red bell pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
A few sprigs of stripped thyme
1 chopped scallion (or half of a tiny white onion)
1 chopped small potato
A few generous squirts of lemon juice
¼ cup of shredded parmesan cheese (on sale this week at Kroger)

1. In a personal omelet pan, sauté over medium high heat the mushrooms, zucchini, potato, garlic, thyme, garlic, and onion in the lemon juice until the vegetables are tender and the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated.

2. While the vegees are sautéing, mix the eggs, milk and salt in a large cereal bowl. Set aside. Preheat the broiler on your oven. (You can step away from the kitchen for a few seconds).

3. Scrape the vegees into the egg mixture and stir in the parmesan cheese.

4. Spray the omelet pan with nonstick vegetable coating. Pour the egg/vege mixture into the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for about two minutes (i.e., until the m mixture begins to separate from the side of the pan. The top will still be uncooked and runny.).

5. Remove the pan from the stove and put it in the oven under the broiler. (Not too close unless you’re in a hurry and plan to watch it like a hawk). Cook until evenly brown.

6. Remove from the broiler and slide a rubber spatula around the underside of the frittata to loosen. I cut mine into four pieces, but then ate two of them. I save the second half for tomorrow’s breakfast (or you can serve it to the rest of your household).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Freeze Marinated and Grilled Excess Vegetables For a Gloomy Winter Day




This weekend my bell peppers finally started to turn red. Barb has warned me that this is also a sign that the pepper is about to rot off the plant (and I discovered she wasn’t wrong). So, I’ve even started to take half-red peppers and let them turn red while sitting in a bowl of tomatoes in my kitchin. If you don’t catch the pepper just as it turns red in its entirely, chances are it will be too late for you to eat it. I’ve already lost a few peppers this season because I didn’t notice it until too late. (We also have the problem at Stoddart of nocturnal visitors stealing our green bell peppers before they turn red or yellow).

In any event, I’m writing this as an excuse to post a marinade for grilled vegetables. My friend IcedLatte has been begging me to post the recipe and I can refuse her nothing. There is a story behind this recipe, however. The Montrose School in Bexley held a fundraiser a few years ago and neighborhood kids always hit up the gardening-fool for sales of all types because I obviously am not going to buy things from children of my own. One of the things I bought was Backyard Entertaining, which is cookbook for all things grilled. Lots of nifty recipes. You all should buy one if a Bexley student hits you up this Fall.

Anyway, this is the recipe for Grilled Vegetables al Fresco:

2 large red bell peppers
2 medium zucchini
1 large eggplant

Marinade:
2/3 cup white wine vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons minced ginger (although I often cheat with ginger powder)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 large cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

Seed and cut the peppers into quarters. Cut the zucchini into ¼ inch strips. Slice eggplant into ¼ inch rounds.

Combine the marinade ingredients in a 13x9 baking dish.

Place the veges in the marinade and toss well.

Cover and refrigerate for 2-24 hours. (I’ve sometimes marinated them even longer than that.).

Turn occasionally.

Gill the vegetables at least 4 minutes each side. You can also broil them, but I’ve never tried that.

The marinade keeps for subsequent rounds.

The best part: once they’ve cooled, you can freeze the leftover grilled veges and they will taste almost as good when you reheat them months from now. Especially roasted red peppers. Of course, I rarely have leftovers when I serve these to guests. (I won’t tell you how many IcedLatte had when she visited).

You can visit IcedLatte’s blog at http://foodiemamas.blogspot.com/.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What to Do With Overflowing Tomatoes? Can Them or Make Salsa for a Cold Winter Day!



Last year I taught myself to can tomatoes. I was a little intimidated because – as my Aunt Libby was only too happy to tell me at a cousin’s wedding in June – botulism is a painful way to die. However, I am happy to report that I have lived to tell the tale to the rest of you. Also, my friend Mary from Louisville told me about her aunt who last year bought her first can of tomatoes in 44 years of marriage. Seeing as how I am a task and goal oriented kinda girl, a dream of not buying another can of tomatoes for 50 years has become my latest obsession. Trust me, this will reduce my salt intake considerably since I use at least one can each week to make pasta sauce or as a base to soup.

I tried to find the bible of food preservation: Ball’s Blue Book of preserving, but, alas, last year it could not be found. I had to order it directly from the company and it took six weeks (or more) for delivery. (I had the same experience when I bought a copy for Mary at Christmas). In the interim, I bought The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food by Janet Chadwick via Amazon.com. This is a very good book, but it only covers freezing and hot water canning (which covers tomatoes, jams and fruits). There are no directions for using a pressure cooker (which is necessary to can non-acidic foods, like green beans and soup stocks). Happily for all of you readers, Kroger’s now carries Ball’s Blue Book on East Main Street in the seasonal aisle for a whopping $6.50. There are also lots of good websites.

Anyway, last year I canned tomatoes, pickled peppers (via directions from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UC Davis and from the Maryland Cooperative Extension), green beans (via directions I obtained on the internet from Kansas State University) and peaches as well as making strawberry preserves and fuzzy-navel marmalade (via the UGA recipe at www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_07/peach_orange_marmalade.html). For that matter, a good website for this sort of information is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia at www.uga.edu/nchfp, which also sells its own book on the subject. Finally, I froze a lot of green beans and zucchini via directions from The Ohio State University Extension office on Human Nutrition at http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/pdf/5333.pdf. This OSU site has great information for freezing all sorts of food, from asparagus to potatoes, to tomatoes. See http://ohioline.osu.edu/lines/food.html#FOODP.

On Wednesday, Mary asked me how many pints of tomatoes I had “put up” this year in 2009. I finally counted last night: 33 pints of tomatoes, plus 1 pint of pasta sauce and 6 pints of salsa (plus at least a dozen pints of green beans, a dozen pints of peaches, plus lots of fuzzy-naval marmalade, raspberry jam, blueberry jam and strawberry preserves). I still have at least a month of tomato harvests to go this seasonJ

You should get detailed instructions from a book, but to give you an idea of what is involved with “cold packing” tomatoes, you will need to sterilize the mason jars in a large pot of boiling water. (Do not sterilize the lids in boiling water or you could jeopardize the integrity of the wax seals. Merely soak the lids in seriously hot water until you need them). I use the same pot to sterilize and heat the jars that I will ultimately use to process the filled mason jars. You will need another, smaller, pot of boiling water to drop tomatoes into for about 1-2 minutes (depending on the size and ripeness of the tomatoes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes from the boiling water to a large bowl of ice water. Then, you will remove the core and rub the skins off the tomatoes (which is very easy if the skins have already split).

You have two options now. I usually chop them up, but it is faster to can them whole or in quarters. Then put the tomatoes in a fine wire colander (over a nice bowl) and smash them a bit to separate the flesh from some of the juice. Take your slotted spoon and scoop the tomatoes into the hot mason jar. (In the meantime, collect the tomato juice and make yourself a Bloody Mary cocktail with vodka, Worchester sauce and tobasco while you complete the rest of the process so you won’t resent the rest of your family for hanging out in cooler parts of the house watching television. Save the rest of the juice for tomorrow’s breakfast or freeze it for later use).

Before the jars and tomatoes cool down, fill the mason jars and smash them down a bit to remove air bubbles. Depending on the amount of natural juice you left with the tomatoes, you may need to fill the jar (to no more than 1/2 inch from the top) with boiling water from your tea kettle. You will also need to add at least 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint (and 2 tablespoons to a quart) in order to increase the acidity of the jar. Make sure that the lip of the jar is squeaky clean and not specked with tomato juice or parts. Put on the two piece lids (i.e., the top and then the screw on-part). Once you have exhausted your supply of tomatoes or mason jars, you will then put the filled jars into the large pot of boiling water. Make sure that the water covers the jars by at least two inches. You will boil the water and jars for 45-90 minutes depending on how you filled the mason jars (i.e., with boiling water or natural tomato juice). Be sure to have a grate in the bottom of your pot to keep the jars from breaking or exploding. You may also need to turn down the heat a bit if the boiling water gets a little crazy and starts popping the lid off the pot.

Note: I recommend keeping lids on the pots of boiling water to cut down on the steam in the kitchin. Also, while the jars are processing in the boiling water, this is a good time to make that cocktail I mentioned, clean up the giant mess in your kitchin and run all of those tomato skins to your compost bin.

After the requisite time has passed, turn off the heat and remove the jars from the boiling water. This can be tricky if you don’t have a special jar lifter. If you drop any of the jars before they cool, you will have damaged the seal and may need to reprocess. Let them sit there for at least 12 hours before moving them. Remove the screw on part of the lid and put the jars in a dark, cool place until you’re ready to cook.

I prefer canned food (in glass mason jars) to frozen because I don’t have to plan too far in advance (i.e., to thaw out the food). Some people add a little citric acid or salt to each jar in order to preserve color, etc., but I do not. Some people also remove as many of the seeds as possible, but I do not because I like the flavor they add. (Although this is a great time to harvest seeds from your favorite tomatoes so that you can plant them next year. I put them aside in little jars and then rinse them in the fine mesh collandar when I'm done canning or even the next morning. (If you don't rinse them, you risk mold). When the seeds have dried out, I put them in little coin envelopes and label them).

When you’ve harvested as many tomatoes as I have (with close to 50 tomato plants in my three gardens), you have to get creative. I have also made my favorite pasta sauces and then canned any excess (which keeps perfectly until I need it again a year later). This year I also learned to make and can salsa. It turned out so much better than expected that I will share the recipe with you. I’ve already started opening mason jars of salsa because I found the salsa to be addictive.

Spicy Salsa

Onions: Take a medium sized onion or lots of small onions (preferably from your garden), chop them and then throw them into a medium sauce pot. Do not turn on the heat yet. Red onions are recommended, as are scallions, but any will do in a pinch.

Lime Juice: I pour ¼ cup over the onions to marinate while I process the rest of the ingredients. I prefer more lime juice than vinegar, but you can decide how much of each you want.

Cumin: Sprinke to taste over the onions.

Tomatoes: I process the tomatoes like I’m going to can them and then throw them whole or in quarters into my blender until the blender is filled to the top. I then coarsely chop them and pour them into the fine wire mesh colander (which, of course, is set over a bowl in order to collect tomato juice for cocktails and breakfast).

Jalapeno and other peppers: I canned a lot of peppers last year. This was lucky for me because I somehow forgot to grow any jalapenos this year. When you pickle a variety of different peppers in the same jar (which I did last year), they all become a little spicy. I puree the peppers in the blender after processing the tomatoes. For the first batch of salsa, I used about 5 jalapeno peppers, but last night I used a pint of a variety of picked peppers from the same jar (including bell, banana and jalapeno). Yum Yum. You can decide how spicy you want your salsa. Note: bell peppers have a lot more vitamin C then other peppers.

One handful of corn kernels.

One handful of black beans.

¼ cup of fresh chopped cilantro (or as much as you really like).

¼ cup of cider or red wine vinegar.

2 cloves of chopped garlic.

Sprinkle on red pepper flakes to taste.

Bring your salsa mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and then simmer for 10 minutes. Fill your mason jars, leaving at least ¼ inch headspace. Process in a boiling hot water bath for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the jars and let them sit for at least 12 hours before you put them in a cool, dark place.
Makes 2-1/2 pints

Enjoy!!
Editor's Note: FYI. Kroger's is now liquidating its supply of mason jars. As of Labor Day weekend, a dozen wide-mouth pint jars were only $3.00. I can't turn down a bargain like that.

Friday, August 28, 2009

SACG Loves Our Bees















This is really just a shameless excuse to post some cute pictures of bees and sunflowers from the SACG and my back yard. However, we love our bees at SACG and planted lots of flowers in April and later months in order to roll out the welcome mat. We believe this contributed to the fantastic productivity of our garden (and all of the goodies we've been able to harvest, from strawberries, to beans, to tomaotes and zucchini).










Some of the flowers also attracted golden finches to the SACG, but they do not sit still for pictures like gorging bees.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

SACG Welcomes Cats to Our Garden






Visitors to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden are likely to notice that there are a lot of cats who live in our neighborhood. The very first time I visited the snow-covered Garden in February with Farmer Bill, a black kitten tried to adopt me. When we broke ground on the Garden on April 18, a mother kitty was moving her kittens from the building next door (presumably because we made so much noise). Many of the neighbors have two or more cats in their household.


Some of the cats like to sneak under the Garden gates and sleep in the relative safety of the Garden - particularly in my corn or under Alysha's tomato cages.

The Dispatch ran an article this week about how to keep cats out of your garden. I can sympathize because my own cats like to sleep on flat dirt and don't really care about my seedlings which they end up crushing during their cat naps. They've also turned some garden beds into litter boxes. However, at Stoddart, so we haven't had any unpleasant "surprises" in the Garden and we welcome the cats (which presumably keep down the rodent and bird population). Although they like to hunt butterflies, they also hunt pesky grasshoppers.

One kitten in particular lives next door and is unusually friendly. She loves to be petted -- even by children. Alysha's daughter, Sarah, even lies down with the kitten in the shade. She (the kitten) cries when she is not receiving our undivided attention. Very cute. It followed me around when I mowed grass on Saturday. Another beautiful black-and-white tuxedo cat spends a lot of time with us, too.

Last night, while I was watering our pumpkins, I heard someone ask if I was the Garden Manager. I looked up and found my friend Mary from Louisville. She had been in town on business and surprised me by showing up at the Garden unannounced. (Mary was the one who had the idea for the pumpkin patch). I showed her around the SACG and the Bexley Community Garden and she was duly impressed with what we had accomplished in just a few months. Like everyone else, she fellin love with Alysha's crazy tomatoes (and grows crazy heirloom tomatoes of her own in Louisville). I would list the names (if I remembered them), but some of them are obscene:)

Alysha brought Max and the irrepressible Norah with her last night to help water and harvest. (This can be a race this time of year with it getting darker earlier and earlier each night and we have only received 1/2 inch of rain for the entire month of August). As you can see from the pictures, Norah really enjoys her mother's garden plot at the SACG.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Too Much Garden Bounty? Ratatouille to the Rescue!

If you have ever found yourself having too much of a good thing at the same time (i.e., tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and eggplant), then ratatouille can be the gardener’s best friend. While tomatoes can be canned or frozen, peppers can be pickled and zucchini can be frozen, it can be difficult to successfully preserve eggplant. However, ratatouille – a vegetarian stew popular in the Mediterranean region of Europe -- freezes very well and can be a welcome surprise on a cold winter evening.

In my Ohio world, my Mediterranean eggplants do not ripen until September – months after my zucchini has given up the ghost. However, asian eggplants taste the same and ripen simultaneously with zucchini. Then, it’s only a question of whether any of my bell peppers turn red in time (or I have to cheat and buy them at the grocery).

I have four different recipes for ratatouille, from The Silver Palate to Moosewood, but here is the gist:

Equal parts chopped eggplant and zucchini (although some recipes call for more of one than the other. You can use your discretion). On Monday, I used 8 small eggplants and then chopped up an equal amount of giant zucchinis from my refrigerator. Some recipes call for cubing the vegetables, but I like them in strips.

Other Ingredients:
Two green bell peppers, sliced.
Two red bell peppers, sliced.
Olive Oil
Garlic
½ cup chopped Parsley
¼ cup chopped Bail
4 tablespoons chopped Oregano
Medium Onion chopped
6 cups of chopped tomatoes
Red wine (optional everywhere but my house)
½ cup Tomato paste (although I usually omit this because I hate the thought of not making it from scratch).

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium high heat. (I use my giant wok since I make so much, but you can use a smaller pot if you make less). Add the wine if you’re in the mood.

Add the eggplant, stirring occasionally to keep it from burning, until it is soft. (Try not to let it disintegrate or you can lose that eggplant flavor and texture). Some recipes call for baking the eggplant first, but what’s the point of dirtying another dish when this works as well? I usually chop up the zucchini and peppers while the eggplant is softening in the pan.

Add the chopped peppers and stir.

Add the chopped basil, parsley and oregano and stir. (If you grow majoram, I find it adds a nice je ne sais quois to the stew).

Add the zucchini and stir (which can be a challenge if your pot isn’t big enough).

Chop the tomatoes while the stew sits there and softens.

Add the tomatoes and stir until warmed through. Word of advice: if you don’t strain the tomatoes first, your stew will get very soupy.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Turn off the stove and serve over rice.

I usually serve myself one portion and then -- after I’ve had my dinner and the stew has cooled down a bit -- divide the rest among 6 plastic containers and put it in the freezer for a winter dinner or lunch when I don’t feel like cooking. (You can add the rice to the bottom of the containers now or wait to add it after microwaving your stew in the winter).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bexley Area Community Gardens Welcome ACGA Visitors on Saturday



On Saturday, community gardeners from across the nation visited four Bexley area community gardens as part of the American Community Garden Association national conference being held at nearby Franklin Park Conservatory. The ACGA hosted several garden tours for its visitors, including tours of new community gardens and nearby church gardens.

The New Garden tour started at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. Alysha, Betty and Maxcine joined me in welcoming about fifteen visitors in the morning from places as diverse as Anaheim, California; Camden, New Jersey; Burlington, Vermont; St. Louis, Missouri; and Atlanta Georgia, as well as their guide, Christine Nohle (owner of the former Urban Gardener in the Short North). The tour presented an opportunity for experienced community gardeners to advise new community gardeners through their early growing pains.

They were extremely friendly and supportive of what we had accomplished. Like many other visitors, they were fascinated by the height and shape of Alysha’s tomatoes (especially the beefstake tomatoes). Some of them each took a tomato with them in order to harvest the seeds for their own gardens next year.

At Stoddart, they asked about the following issues and provided the following suggestions:


* Suggested that we attach a 500-gallon water tank to the downspout of a nearby vacant building to collect rain water which will sustain us through the dry season (especially if we were to expand). It could be decorated with graffiti from neighborhood artists and kids.
* Asked about our policies and procedures for expelling gardeners;
* Suggested that we begin charging at least a small fee from each gardener in order to create a fund to buy more compost and to give them a feeling of ownership in the Garden’s success;
*Suggested that we increase the size of the raised beds for the pumpkins and to add compost to where the tentacles grab the ground;
* Suggested that we apply for grants in order to purchase common tools for the neighbors who do not own their own;
* Suggested that we apply for a grant to pay for environmental pollution testing;
* Asked about whether I keep regular “garden” hours so that gardeners know how to reach me;
* Asked about our many sunflowers;
* Discussed the pesky construction debris lying immediately under the soil.

At Bexley, Barb, Mike and Mike’s girls welcomed them in the morning. They discussed how to overwinter the garden, adding compost, allocating work, children’s gardens, the lovely new benches and planting more flowers to attract bees.

After the Bexley Community Garden, the new garden tour then visited the new garden at the Governors’ Residence. The Church Garden tour included the Christ the King garden on Livingston Avenue.

I wish I had a better picture as they toured each part of the Garden, but they kept me so busy that I was unable to take a picture of anything other than the first two visitors coming off their bus in front of the Stoddart Garden.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Stoddart Garden Welcomes New Gate Sign




As previously mentioned here, the Stoddart Avenue Garden has been extremely blessed with the support of many creative and hard-working gardeners and other supporters. When I arrived last night, I discovered that Dwain had finished painting a new sign for our front gate and it greeted me when I pulled up my car to the Garden. Although Dwain wasn't around to pose with his latest creation, it's a very nice addition to the Garden -- just in time for the ACGA convention starting this week. It's certainly a vast improvement over the sign I painted in April (when I couldn't find another most artistically inclined volunteer).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bexley Area Gardens Clean Up For ACGA Convention.



On Saturday, at least two of the Bexley area community gardens cleaned up in anticipation of the annual national convention of the American Community Garden Association. Three Bexley area Community Gardens (Stoddart Avenue, Bexley and Christ The King Church) will be visited during the convention as well as the new garden at the Govenor’s Mansion. (You can read more about the Christ The King Garden in the April 22, 2009 posting here at Christ The King Church Has Community Garden on Livingston Avenue near Bexley ).

At Stoddart Avenue, Alysha, Beth & Mike and I weeded the paths and pulled weeds from some of the plots (as well as our own) beginning at 9 a.m.. Mari weeded the fence rows and I weeded the alley (and better organized the stone curb). Mitch will be planting a Rose of Sharon bush. I brought donuts and Alysha brought coffee.

As reflected in the picture, a significant number of the Bexley gardeners -- including Alysha, Ginny, Barb, Amy, Lisette, Rebecca and Don (and their minions) -- helped clean up the Bexley Garden starting at 10 a.m. They refreshed many of the mulch paths and pulled weeds out of the abandoned plots. (In fact – for those of you who did not show up -- we reassigned the abandoned plots to gardeners who were there). Don used Alysha’s gas-powered weed-wacker and cleaned up the fence rows. Since I had already refreshed the mulch paths around my plot last week, I created a new map of the Garden reflecting the assignment of plots (to the extent that this information could be re-created). I’ll post the map soon on the Garden’s Message Board. Everyone should contact me to fill in any blanks and first names, identify ASW, and to identify the mysterious DAL who has abandoned his/her tomatoes and peppers to weeds.

While we weeded the Garden, our aspiring Eagle Scout was building our benches. The Bexley Garden will receive its first four benches later today. Anthony Murdock built and financed them as part of his Eagle Scout Project. We will have a seating area in the shade on the west side of the Garden (which will make a good place to hold meetings) and one on the east side of the Garden.

For Bexley gardeners who missed the clean up party, there is still work to do. You still need to replenish the mulch around your plot. (There is a shovel and wheel barrow in the Garden for you to use and the mulch pile is on the northeast side of the Garden). You should weed your plot (and the paths around your plot). If you have bare spots, consider planting beans in your plot. Beans sprout quickly and will put needed nitrogen into the soil. Free seeds are under one of the containers at the east gate.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Harvesting and Preserving Herbs the Quick & Easy Way







One of the best things about a garden is the ability to grow and eat your own herbs – sometimes within hours or even minutes of harvesting them. Over the years, I’ve stayed with the basics and easiest to grow: basil, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, dill and sage. This year, I’ve also branched out to parsley and fennel. I tried to grow some cumin, but it died within a few days of transplanting it.

Typically, I harvest my basil as I eat it and then the rest in October, when I freeze it. Last year, however, I had way too much to freeze, and so I made and froze pesto from some of it and dried some of it (which I then grind and store in jars like you buy in the store). The pesto was outstanding (and I substituted easier-to-find and less expensive walnuts for pine nuts).

For myself, I store many of the dried and frozen herbs in regular zip-lock storage bags. However, dried herbs also make nice gifts during the holidays, so it’s a good idea to find some nice herb jars. I have had trouble finding jars this year, but then happened upon some $2 herb jars at Crate & Barrel in June. (While they’re a little bigger and expensive than I’d like, they are very cute). Let’s face it, you can buy dried herbs for $1 at Big Lots, so how you packaged your dried herbs will matter if you want to create a thoughtful gift. If you know of a good place to get inexpensive herb jars, please let me know.

Basil. The best way to preserve this is to freeze it and then throw it into the recipe (for pasta sauce or soup) at the end. I typically wash the branches, shake them dry, pluck them off, toss the loose leaves in a colander and then freeze them on a cookie sheet before filling a plastic bag. One nice thing about basil is that you can stick the stems in a glass or pitcher of water and, if you break the stems off only at the main joints, the stem will sprout new roots and live for weeks in a glass of water placed in direct sunlight. (I've even seen basil flower in the my kitchin and form seeds).

For pesto, I puree four cups of fresh leaves with about 1 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of chopped slightly toasted walnuts, 6 chopped garlic cloves and 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese. Add more oil if it seems too thick. I then spoon it into the tiniest of Tupperware/plastic storage containers (like ¼ cup sizes) and freeze until I need it. This thaws quickly by putting the container in a bowl of warm water or even in the microwave. For a quick meal, I mix it alone with pasta or spread it over white fish (like tilapia) before putting it on the George Foreman grill for a few minutes.

For the remainder, I hang it upside down in a place shielded from direct sunlight where it will get lots of air circulation. I gather the braches into a small group, put a rubber band around the tip of the branches and then run a twist tie (like you find on bread packages) through the rubber band. I hook or twist the tie around the rod. Once it dries, I pull the dry leaves and run them through my herb mill into a cereal bowl until I have enough to fill a jar or bag.

Finally, I also prolong my basil harvest by pinching the aspiring and actual flowers twice a week until mid-September. Then, I let it go to seed and let the unsightly brown seed pods dry on the plant. If you harvest the seed pods, you will find a few (maybe 5-10) tiny black basil seeds inside each pod. I save those tiny in small coin envelopes for next year.

Pretty much everything I’ve just written about basil applies equally to Parsley. (I’ve never made pesto from parsley, but I’m told you can). Parsley is best preserved by freezing and I dry the rest for grins & giggles and for gifts. Since this is the first year I’ve grown parsley, I have no tips for preserving seeds.

Cilantro. After years of simply drying this, I learned this year that the best way to preserve it is to freeze it. Unlike basil, I don’t bother with freezing the leaves on a cookie sheet. I just wash it, shake it dry and then pluck the leaves and put them in a freezer bag.

I still dry a little of it for old time’s sake. I tried a different method of drying this year: putting the herbs in a brown paper bag before hanging them from a rod.

For the seeds, I split them between seeds for next year’s cilantro crop and storing the rest to grind as coriander.

Finally, if you like Thai or Asian food, it is good to wash and freeze some of the roots and stalks to use to make, among other things, curry paste.

Dill. I always have too much dill. It’s pretty much taken over my back yard and I weed it like crab grass. Before it goes to seed, I harvest a lot of it, wash and shake it and then hang it until it dries out. I then pull the dried leaves into the herb mill and process.

To preserve dill seeds, I wait until the seeds turn brown on the plant and then bring them inside and dry them inside a paper bag (which will catch any falling seeds) like I described above.

Sage. The best time to harvest sage is before it flowers, but you can harvest some without the flowers if you look. (There are not many leaves left on a branch after it flowers). I hang the sage upside down to dry and then process through the herb mill as described. Sage smells so good and has such a fluffy texture, I often think I am doing my recipient a disservice by processing it before putting the leaves in a jar.

Thyme. I usually process this at the end of the season (like basil). Most of my thyme survives the winter and so I am judicious in my harvest. The leaves are freakishly small, but you can hang them to dry like other herbs and process through the herb mill. Ditto for Rosemary (although I have not had much luck in the last three years with my rosemary surviving the winter).

I’ve heard rumors that you can bring herbs inside for the winter. However, I’ve never had much luck keeping my basil or rosemary alive more than a week or two – even with a grow light and southern facing window.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Local Upward Bound Youths Volunteer at Stoddart Avenue Community Garden


















Yesterday, a group of college-bound high school students from The Ohio State University’s Upward Bound Program stopped by in the afternoon (just as a downpour began) to volunteer to weed, dig up and spread mulch, and build another storage bin for the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. The youths are students from East, Briggs and Walnut Ridge High Schools. Although some of the teens were acquainted with gardening from their parents’ backyard gardens, a few had never seen food “in the wild” or outside a grocery store.

After I explained to them (while we waited on the bus for the rain to stop) how the Garden was formed, the group was given a tour of the Garden. The youths were split into three teams. Team 1 did an excellent and speedy job of weeding the east-side flower beds and making substantial progress on weeding the row of raspberry bushes on the south side of the Garden. Team 2 made a substantial dent in weeding the Garden pathways (particularly in front of my plot and in the front gateway area). Team 3 excelled at digging up the wood chips from where they were dumped in April and replenishing the mulch along the front flower beds and in the front gateway area. Team 3 also discovered a small garter snake and found it a new home and helped construct from our recycled pallet collection a new storage bin for wood chips (or possibly another compost bin since our first two bins are now full).

Gardener Jeannie (or Ms. J as she was known by the youths) stopped by and helped us finish the storage bin. After the teens left, Ms. J also helped me transplant Shasta daisy, Gloriosa daisy and coneflower seedlings into the front flower bed. (Alysha already planted some blanket flower seedlings last week). Rayna stopped by to work on her plot and was so inspired by all of the afternoon’s work and weeding that she ran to Lowe’s to get $.50 marigold six-packs to plant around the front scarecrow. Dwain stopped by while the youths were there and loaned his shovel to Team 3.

We are extremely grateful to the teens and their two leaders who helped us on Friday afternoon. I was particularly pleased that the day ended so well because it wasn't always clear it would end that way. When I arrived, Columbia Gas was already there and had dug a a huge pit in Cherry Street to plug a gas leak in the alley right next to the Plot of the Unknown Gardener. I had to twice move my car to accommodate their vehicles. Then, it began raining cats and dogs as soon as the OSU bus pulled onto Stoddart Avenue. However, as the Bard put it: All's Well That Ends Well. The rain actually made the weeding easier.

OSU’s Upward Bound Program has been around a while. It has been federally funded since 1965. As explained on the OSU website:

Upward Bound offers students the opportunity to excel in not only high school, but also in college and beyond. By accepting students into the program in their 9th or 10th grade year in high school, the Upward Bound Program lays a strong foundation in preparing them for college. Mathematics, Science, Language Arts, and Foreign Language classes are taught and provide academic enrichment for students. Additionally, students take an enrichment course that focuses on topics such as Financial Aid/Scholarships, Preparing an Academic Resume, Choosing a Major/Career, ACT/SAT Preparation, and Study Skills. The enrichment course also focuses on other life skills topics such as Managing Relationships, Etiquette, and Leadership.

The mission of The Ohio State University Upward Bound Program is to instill and foster the necessary skills, talents and motivation needed for each participant to successfully graduate from high school, enroll in and complete their post secondary education. Each student will be encouraged to take full advantage of their Upward Bound experience while continuously improving their level of preparation for the next stage in their academic career. The Upward Bound Program is intentionally designed to empower students to take a proactive role in their education and excel far beyond their idealized potential.

Beyond, having the opportunity to partake in a positive, motivating, college focused environment, members of The Ohio State University Upward Bound Program family receive intensive year round academic preparation, tutoring services, and test preparation for the Ohio Graduation Test, ACT and SAT. Furthermore, students are afforded the opportunity to participate in college/cultural tours and personal/career development activities and workshops during Saturday Academy sessions and the Upward Bound Summer Institute.

In addition to services provided to students, The Ohio State University Upward Bound Parent Association (UBPA) serves as a venue in which parents are provided the opportunity to learn more about the critical steps needed for their children to successfully graduate from high school, enroll in and graduate from college. The UBPA also enables parents to network, find support, and provide assistance for one another as their children successfully transition to college.







Friday, July 17, 2009

Danger Will Robinson: Late Blight Tomato Contagious Fungus Rears Its Ugly Head in Ohio.









Last week, the OSU and Franklin County Extension offices and The Dispatch reported that there was a concern that the light blight tomato fungus – which is highly contagious, can infect potato, eggplant and pepper plants, and was responsible for the infamous Irish potato famine as well as millions of dollars of commercial crop damage in Ohio – had reared its ugly head. This fungus particularly likes our current weather: cool nights, warm days and moist.

As reported by the OSU Extension Office:

Symptoms

Late blight appears on potato or tomato leaves as pale green, water-soaked spots, often beginning at leaf tips or edges. The circular or irregular leaf lesions are often surrounded by a pale yellowish-green border that merges with healthy tissue. Lesions enlarge rapidly and turn dark brown to purplish-black. During periods of high humidity and leaf wetness, a cottony, white mold growth is usually visible on lower leaf surfaces at the edges of lesions. In dry weather, infected leaf tissues quickly dry up and the white mold growth disappears. Infected areas on stems appear brown to black and entire vines may be killed in a short time when moist weather persists.

On potato tubers, late blight appears as a shallow, coppery-brown, dry rot that spreads irregularly from the surface through the outer 1/8-1/2 inch or more of tissue. On tuber surfaces, lesions appear brown, dry, and sunken, while infected tissues immediately beneath the skin appear granular and tan to copper-brown. When tubers are stored under cool, dry conditions, lesion development is retarded and, upon prolonged storage, lesions may become slightly sunken and desiccated.
Secondary bacteria and fungi frequently enter late-blight lesions, usually resulting in a slimy breakdown of entire tubers.

Late blight can also develop on green tomato fruit, resulting in large, firm, brown, leathery-appearing lesions, often concentrated on the sides or upper fruit surfaces. If conditions remain moist, abundant white mold growth will develop on the lesions and
secondary soft-rot bacteria may follow, resulting in a slimy, wet rot of the entire fruit.


Causal Organism

Late blight is caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans. Unlike most pathogenic fungi, the late blight fungus cannot survive in soil or dead plant debris. For an epidemic to begin in any one area, the fungus must survive the winter in potato tubers (culls, volunteers), be reintroduced on seed potatoes or tomato transplants, or live spores must blow in with rainstorms. Disease development is favored by cool, moist weather. Nights in the 50's and days in the 70's accompanied by rain, fog or heavy dew are ideal. Under these conditions, lesions may appear on leaves within 3-5 days of infection, followed by the white mold growth soon thereafter. Spores formed on the mold are spread readily by irrigation, rain and equipment. They are easily dislodged by wind and rain and can be blown into neighboring fields within 5-10 miles or more, thus beginning another cycle of disease.

Infection of potato tubers arises from spores that develop on foliage. Tubers exposed by soil cracking or erosion of hills may come in contact with spores washed down rom infected leaves and stems by rainfall or irrigation. Tubers infected during the growing season may partially decay before harvest. Tuber infection may also occur at harvest when tubers contact living spores remaining on infected vines. Little if any tuber-to-tuber spread of late blight occurs during storage if tubers are kept under cool, well-ventilated conditions.

Besides potatoes and tomatoes, P. infestans can infect only a few other closely related plants. Occasionally peppers and eggplants are mildly infected, as are a few related weeds such as hairy (but not black) nightshade. Since 1990, there have been severe outbreaks of late blight in commercial and home garden plantings of potato and tomato in both the U.S. and Canada. Much of this has been associated with new strains of the late blight fungus that have spread to many areas. Some of these strains may interact and form a type of resistant spore that can survive for long periods in soil. Others are insensitive to a systemic fungicide (metalaxyl) that has been widely used in late blight management. The protectant fungicides commonly used to protect plants from late blight remain fully effective with all known strains of the fungus.

Management

Infected cull potatoes are a major source of spores of the late blight fungus and must be disposed of properly-DO NOT MAKE CULL PILES. Cull potatoes should be spread on fields not intended for potato production the following year in time that they will totally freeze and be destroyed during the winter. If this is not possible,
they must be destroyed in some other way such as by complete chopping, burial,
burning or feeding to livestock.

Plant only certified seed potatoes. Use of "year-out" seed or seed saved from local crops is asking for trouble with late blight. Seed sources should be selected very carefully to avoid bringing in late blight on seed potatoes, especially new strains of the fungus. Look for the characteristic coppery-brown discoloration of the potato flesh under the skin of seed tubers.

Infected tomato transplants also can be a significant source of the disease. Use only obviously healthy tomato transplants free of dark lesions on leaves or stems.

Volunteer potatoes and tomatoes can be a significant source of spores of the late blight fungus. All volunteers should be destroyed as quickly as possible by herbicides, chopping, or cultivation.

Growers should scout fields regularly to look for late blight. Special attention should be paid to early-planted fields because that is where the disease is likely to develop first. Scouting should be concentrated in low-lying areas, field edges along creeks or ponds, near the center of center-pivot irrigation rigs, in areas near woodlots or any area that is protected from wind where the leaves tend to remain wet longer. Any area where it is difficult to apply fungicides such as edges and corners or under power lines if using aerial application should be examined. Scouts should look for large, black or purplish lesions on stems or leaves and the telltale cottony, white mold growth, usually on the undersides. Be sure to check leaves and stems under the crop canopy as that is where the disease is most likely to begin.

Use of a good protectant fungicide program is necessary to fully protect any crop of potatoes or tomatoes. For current recommendations consult your local county Extension agent or the Ohio Vegetable Production Guide (OSU Extension Bulletin 672).

With potatoes, make sure that vines have been completely dead for 2-3 weeks prior to harvest. Fungicide applications should be continued until vines are dead. When foliage dies, spores of the late blight fungus that remain on the foliage also die. This practice will prevent infection of tubers during harvest and development of late blight in storage.

The Dispatch reports that gardeners should: