Sunday, November 14, 2010

SACG Fall Work Day Gets It Done

I don't know why I ever worry about whether we will get it all done. Earlier this week, I worried about the weather, which called for wet and chilly. Yesterday morning, I woke up stressed about whether anyone would show up and how long the volunteers would stay. I needn't have bothered. The weather was beautiful; like last year it started off cool, but warmed up to t-shirt temperatures by lunch-time.

As soon as I went out to my garage to begin loading my car with the utility wagon, water thermos, refreshments and gardening tools, Beth came right over to get my wheelbarrow (to load in the back of her station wagon) and to help me load the wagon into the back seat of my car. Frank and Barb already took down the garden gates earlier in the week.

When I arrived at the Garden at 9:30, Charlie was already there pulling weeds and dead tomato vines. I told him that I was certain there were sweet potatoes on the north side of Nykkel's abandoned plot if he cleaned it out. That was enough incentive for him. Sure enough, there were 3-4 large sweet potatoes and a few smaller ones. We put them aside (along with an onion and few other vegetables we found while cleaning up) in case anyone stopped by asking for food. When no one did, we distributed the booty among the hard-working voluunteers.

Beth, Rayna, Betty and Mari then came. Betty cleaned out the plot tended by Brianna and Priest as well as pruning back the front perennial flower bed. Mari and Beth helped me pull pole bean and tomato vines. Rayna concentrated on raking/picking up the rotting/rotten tomatoes in Dwain and Maxcine's plots. Jeff came and pulled vines out of Maxcine's plots and volunteered to take all of our non-compostable vegetative waste down to Kurtz Brothers on the back of his trailer. His machete came in handy cutting down our row of sunflowers. Then, we were delighted that Mike Watkins (from the Cougar Group) came and helped us pull vines, etc.
I cleaned out two of the community plots.

Once the vines and weeds were pulled, we turned to distributing compost throughout the Garden (although the distribution became more generous as we progressed). The City of Columbus donated 5 cubic yards of Com-Til Plus to the Garden (and all other community gardens in Columbus who think to ask and arrange for its delivery). Shane Yokum picked it up and delivered it to us this week at a discount price (which was paid for courtesy of the grant we received from the Scotts Miracle-Gro Fund at the Columbus Foundation). Without the neighborhood boys (who moved away following all of the neighborhood crime wave this summer) to shovel the compost for us, I had to pitch in and shovel compost for the first time with help from Charlie, Jeff, and Mike. Mari, Beth and Rayna spread the compost in each plot as it was distributed.

We then broke for 10 minutes to hold our first annual meeting. Mari, Mike Mattes and I incorporated the SACG in July and elected our first three trustees (Beth, Rayna and Frank) shortly thereafter to 15 month terms. Yesterday, we elected our next three trustees to a 2-year term: Jeff, Mike and Charlie. I gave a brief report about our financial status and discussed needs and priorities for the garden in the upcoming year. Then, a group picture and back to work.

We emptied the rain barrels and tank and stowed the barrels. We then emptied the shed. Barb and Frank came to finish off everything: organize and pack up the shed, take down the signs and plant the daffodil bulbs I picked up last weekend. They were the only people left at 1:04 p.m. Frank indicated that he was also going to reinforce the garden latch.

Something I probably should have photographed: the ridiculous height of our three compost bins. The bins are 3x3x3, but we have them stacked at least six feet high.

See you all next year!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

SACG Fall Work Day Welcomes You

One of the things I love most about the SACG is the enthusiasm of our core group of gardeners for hard work and our work days. Between you, me and the fence post, I could survive on one work day in the year – in April. Everything after that is just gravy. However, the SACG gardeners believe if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. So, we put the garden to bed in mid-November. We pull errant plants and weeds, spread donated compost, plant bulbs, prop up the fence to survive winter storms, empty and stow rain barrels, pick up and dispose of litter, and dis-assemble the gates and sign. This year we will also have the joy of organizing our new shed. If we have enough volunteers and energy, we should also try to flip the compost bins.

Of course, no army works well unless it is well fed – so there will be goodies to keep your blood sugar up.

Last year, we started in sweatshirts and ended up in t-shirts as the temperatures rose during the day.

Volunteers should bring gardening gloves and a rake. Wheelbarrows and wagons would be great, too, but they are hard to transport.

Like us, the Bexley Community Garden has had trouble with gardeners losing the gardening passion over the summer and abandoning their plots to weeds and rotting produce. They have a lot more space to clean up than we do. So, in lieu of a Fall Garden Clean Up day, they are researching the possibility of renting goats to eat up the weeds and tomatoe vines. Maybe we'll borrow them when they are done:) Check this out in the Columbus Dispatch.

The SACG festivities begin at 10 a.m., but feel free to come early and get a jump on the work if the spirit moves you. We will be done by 1:30 or earlier if it starts to rainJ

Be there or be square!!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Garden Experiment Pays Off with Sweet Potato Harvest

Although much of my experience at the SACG has been one experiment after another, I have also experimented in other ways. Sometimes, I try planting something way outside my comfort level (i.e., seedlings purchased at a nursery or seeds purchased through a catalog with lots of handy directions). Generally, the most adventurous I've been in the garden is to plant a new variety of bean, tomato or flower. However, this year, I tried something really wild. I planted sweet potatoes.

Last year, Jeannie and Beth both asked me for help planting sweet potatoes. I'd never planted them before and was already getting crazy by planting regular potatoes for the first time. I'd never considered planting sweet potatoes and didn't know where to get the seed potatoes or anything.

Over the winter, I started reading blogs and other information on the internet and learned that sweet potatoes grow differently than regular potatoes. For one, they don't grow off seed potatoes. You can buy things called "slips" at some nurseries. Second, they are a tropical plant and are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures. Third, the potato is a root and not something growing off the roots, like regular potatoes.

One blog said that I could start a slip simply by buying a regular sweet potato at the grocery, but gardening sites advised against this. I chose to experiment anyway. Beth lacked my faith, and asked me to buy her a slip at a reputable nursery.

Beth harvested lots of sweet potatoes from two slips I purchased at DeMonye's Nursery near the airport. I harvested the sweet potatoes you can see in the picture. My way was less expensive.

According to the blog I read, you can do the following to grow sweet potatoes.

  1. Put a sweet potato in a mason jar filled 1/3 with water in your kitchen window or other reliable light source. Although it will take a while, the potato will form roots which will take over the jar.
  2. Leaves will begin to sprout from the sweet potato after a few weeks. When the leaves get big enough to form a stem and a couple of companion leaves off the same stem, snap it off at the base and put the base in some water. (I used a shot glass in my kitchen window).
  3. When the stem forms its own roots after just a couple of days, plant it in potting soil and put in a sunnier (or better lit) location that is protected from cold drafts. Sweet potatoes grow quickly, so don't skimp too much on the size of the container.
  4. When the plant gets at least six inches long, and the outdoor temperature is reliably above 50, plant in the ground. Mounding is recommended, but I did not do it this year. Our ground at the SACG is well tilled.
  5. Rumor has it that they need six months to grow. However, I planted mine around Memorial Day weekend and harvested them this weekend. I did ok.

I recommend putting a marker of some sort where you plant so that you know where to aim when you water. The roots grow underneath and the vines spread, so it can be difficult to know where to focus your efforts.

I planted mine with zucchini and squash, so they did not get much sun until the squash bugs killed all of my squash plants by the end of July. Unlike regular potatoes which grow vertically, the sweet potato vines spread along the ground. If the weather cooperates (with rain), they will form roots at various locations along the vine (and form additional sweet potatoes). I only planted two slips in my plot this year and harvested all of the potatoes in the picture (and one more which is not pictured). I found this to be fabulous considering how little sun and rain they received until August and how little rain we've received since August (i.e., 2 inches).

My single root potato was the source of many slips and I finally just pitched it into my compost bin (where it continued to grow like crazy). I started 2 slips for my SACG plot and at least one slip each for Nykkel, Priest, Martha, Jeannie and my backyard. Each planted slip yielded at least 3 sweet potatoes if planted earlier enough and received enough sun.

This was an easy and fun gardening experiment. I've read it will work in most climates. One of the visitors to the SACG this year recommended starting slips off clippings from our garden, but my clipping has not rooted even though it's been in water for over a week.

Monday, October 18, 2010

SACG Harvest Celebration Brings Tidings for Next Year

On Saturday, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden held its first (hopefully annual) harvest celebration in the early afternoon. Jeff and Mari organized the event, which brought several regular gardeners, some new neighborhood children and some potential new gardeners. Mari's husband John helped her set up. We had donuts, punch, carrots, freshly harvested cherry tomatoes and dips. Betty used the opportunity to do some weeding in her plot (as did I). Rayna has started harvesting and drying gourds. Jeff brought his daughter and some new neighborhood kids stopped by for refreshments (which is good because every single youth who helped us in April has already moved away). We were joined by a neighbor from Seymour Avenue who wants to garden with us next year. Frank and Barb missed the event because of a feline emergency, but stopped by afterwards. Beth and Mike were kept away at the last minute by a fender bender on I-71 (those pesky drivers on their cell phone who failed to maintain assured clear distance behind Beth can be thanked for that). Another neighbor stopped by afterward to inquire about joining us next year (now that we've shown we have a freakishly productive garden for the last two years).

We swapped gardening stories and how we found our individual way to the SACG. At the end, Jeff and Mari presented me with a plaque. Wasn't that sweet?!

Afterwards, I began pulling tomato vines out of my own plot (because it will be too cool for tomatoes to properly ripen), eggplant vines harvested a crate of peppers (all of which are very small because of our drought).

Mark your calendars. We'll be cleaning out the garden and spreading compost on Saturday, November 13 beginning at 10 a.m. There will be refreshments and we'll be done by 1 or 2.

Friday, October 15, 2010

SACG Harvest Reception: Be There or Be Square

What are you doing this Saturday between 2 and 3? Why not stop by the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden for vittles, gardening stories, free produce and light-hearted ribbing? Jeff and Mari have organized a get-together for the greater Stoddart Avenue neighborhood at the SACG. This is, by no means, be a vegetarian gathering. We will have donuts and cider. I promise not to put anyone to work (but I'm not going to stop anyone from pulling weeds.J

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On September 15, Franklin Park Conservatory held its fourth and final (for this season) gardening workshop at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. We focused on extending the gardening season after frost and putting the garden to bed. First, we discussed composting our garden waste. Then, we talked about bringing some plants indoors to continue them into the winter. Leslie explained that we could pinch off part of a basil plant, put it in potting soil and it would develop roots and continue to grow inside our warm homes after the chilly nights have finished off our regular plants. We then each got to plant a clipping of basil into a pot she brought for us. She also encouraged us to bring in small pepper plants.

Charlie brought his neighbor Louise who explained to us that sweet potatoes take six months to mature and we could start plants for next year by cutting off clippings, putting them in dirt (in a large container) and keeping them well lit inside.

Jenni's Ice Cream donated empty ice cream containers to be used to pot cuttings and to bring pots indoors. I put some extra in the shed.

We also got to taste a variety of raw and roasted vegetables.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

SACG to Eat Healthier After FPC Workshop

On this wonderfully beautiful and temperate evening, a small group of gardeners gathered at the SACG to learn about the nutritional value of fresh produce from Jenna, an intern from the Franklin Park Conservatory. Jenna reviewed the new food pyramid by each type of food group and gave us each a color chart to show the proportion of each food group which we should try to incorporate into our daily diet. She also gave us a color chart showing how food portion sizes compare to regular household items, like batteries, baseballs, playing cards, computer mice.

Jenna also gave us a chart of what vitamins and minerals are in types of garden produce and how those vitamins and minerals help our bodies function. For instance, Vitamin A helps our eyes and protects against infection and can be found in melons, carrots, tomatoes, etc. Potassium is necessary for heart health and to lower blood pressurre, and can be found in sqaush, leafy vegetables, yams, etc.

Then, Jenna -- as always -- put a lot of preparation time into preparing for our workshop and had assembled samples of food for us to try. Everyone complimented the roasted and grilled vegetables she had brought to the last two workshops. This week, she brough fresh, frozen and canned samples of various food (like corn, beans, etc.) for us to compare. She also brought some homemade hummus (made from chickpeas) and gave us each a typed recipe. She also brought some vegetables grown at FPC's community garden (like peppers, turnips, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, etc.) which we could dip in the hummus.

Finally, we discussed the relative benefits of buying organic foods and locally grown foods.

Next week, our last FPC workshop will cover how to preserve food beyond the growing season (and tricks for bringing some of our food plants inside) as well as tips for cleaning up the garden. Yes, we will be talking about cleaning and gleaning. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at the SACG on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

FPC Scavenger Hunt Brought Much Fun and Food

Tonight, Leslie and Jenna from Franklin Park Conservatory came back to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden to hold a scavenger hunt for neighborhood children and gardeners. They hid items which did NOT belong in the SACG (like cereal boxes, French fry boxes, pickle jars, jelly jars, etc.) in the Garden for the kids to find. They explained to the kids that foods can be processed (with parts of natural food in them) or whole (like fruits and vegetables). Some processed food still have food grown in our garden. Cereal has corn; pickles come from cucumbers, jelly comes from strawberries, etc. They were given a questionnaire with hints about what was hidden in the SACG plots. Afterwards, the kids and the adults were able to taste raw and cooked fruits and vegetables. There was corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers, sweet potatoes, etc. There was also salsa (with a combination of the foregoing and cilantro) as well as roasted vegetables for the kids to try. They loved all of the food and went back for seconds and thirds.

Bexley Barb came with her grandson and husband as did Diane, Ms. Jeannie, Betty, Lance, Priest, Shay-Shay, Nay-Nay, Nykkel, Daniel, and Jaden.

We also saw that the radishes we planted last week had already sprouted.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Learning Something New at the SACG

Tonight was our first gardening workshop held by Franklin Park Conservatory at the SACG . Leslie and Jenna came to talk to us about extending the gardening season by growing crops which are more tolerant of cold and using cold frames. One tip we learned was to plant seeds twice as deep as you would in the Spring because the soil is cooler when it's deeper (and these seeds prefer cool soil). We also learned about using cold frames made of coat hangers and plastic to extend the season into January. Every layer we use will provide an additional layer of protection.

Rayna, Betty, Charlie, Dwayne, Briana and I were joined by some folks from the Bexley Community Garden (Barb, Diane, Trae and Michael). Leslie gave us some seeds (which we planted in Rayna's plot): carrots, lettuce, arugula, radishes and spinach. She also gave us some turnip and beet seeds and a chart to show us when to plant certain seeds based on how many weeks are left to a killing frost.

We discussed how to overwinter a garden. Last year, we pulled up all plant life and spread an inch of compost over everything (so that the freeze and thaw cycle would work it naturally into the ground. Leslie's not a fan of pulling everything out. She prefers that we cut the plants at the soil line and leave the roots to rot and improve the microbiology of the soil (and so that it doesn't all blow away). We also talked about planting an oat crop which would then die back in November and hold everything in place until we till it next Spring.

Everyone took turns preparing the soil, using Leslie's swisher hoe (which I must now buy) and using the handle end of the hoe to mark rows. Jenna brought us samples of fall crops for us to taste raw, in a salad and roasted. I had absolutely no interest in eating beets. I just picture canned beets and go "YUCK!" However, I tried a raw beet and really liked it. I also liked her mixture of roasted carrots, beets and turnips.

It was a great success. We helped them load up their car (particularly our big strong man, Charlie) and were done by dusk (with time for a few of us to harvest tomatoes from our own plots). Of course, Charlie is still looking for some advice about how to crow cauliflower and a few of us still need advice about when to harvest our sweet potatoes.

On the sad side, we learned that the only effective way to avoid losing another crop of zucchini and squash to those d*mn squash bugs is to not plant any zucchini or squash for the next three years so that the bugs starve to death in the next two seasons. Yikes! (You should have seen Mike and Beth's face when I told them this later in the evening;-)

Next week, we will have a family oriented scavenger hunt.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Franklin Park Conservatory to Hold Gardening Workshops at the SACG for Next Four Weeks

Franklin Park Conservatory is holding some free gardening workshops at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden over the next four weeks:

  • Extending the Season

    Wednesday, August 25th 6:30pm-8:30pm

    Come learn how to extend your growing season into the cooler autumn months! Learn about planting second season crops and utilizing cold frames, etc. This will involve watching both greens and root crops being planted at the SACG.


  • Garden Scavenger Hunt

    Wednesday, September 1st 6:30pm-8:30pm

    In this class, families will search the garden for what belongs and what doesn't. Along the way, we will discover how new and familiar vegetables grow.


  • Nutrition in the Garden

    Wednesday, September 8th 6:30pm-8:30pm

    Learn more about the benefits of eating fresh, local fruits and veggies.


  • End of Season Gleaning and Cleaning

    September 15th 6:30pm-8:30pm

    We will explore ways to harvest and store garden produce so that we can enjoy the fruits of summer long after the killer frost.


The Workshops are FREE and open to the public. Bring a friend.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SACG’s Own Nykkel Wins GTG’s 2010 Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award

Nykkel, Danielle and I attended the annual Growing to Green Community Garden Awards at Franklin Park Conservatory tonight. Brianna and Jaden really wanted to come to, but Brianna had not arranged for me to check with her mother first in time to get there for our free dinner. Last year's ceremony was held in the Conservatory proper in September and this year it was held on the community garden campus on the south side of the FPC property under a tent.

We dropped off our contribution to the potluck and found some seats with volunteers from Scott's Miracle-Gro and the Yoga on High community garden (which raises thousands of pounds of produce in its garden for the pantry at a nearby Seventh-Day Adventist Church which supports 90 families).

Because I couldn't not get off work any earlier, we missed the early parts of the ceremony. Governor Strickland announced that the following week will be Ohio Harvest Days. Jim King from Scotts Miracle-Gro also made some remarks (which were quite memorable last year). Bill Dawson mentioned to me that Scotts will be donating 500 pounds in product to winning community gardens.

Bruce also mentioned that fresh produce makes up 20% of the food which the Mid-Ohio Food Bank delivers to pantries these days. Keep up planting a row for the hungry and donating garden produce to your local area pantry.

Bruce Harkney (the FPC's Executive Director) got up to explain that these awards are the Central Ohio community garden equivalent of the Oscars. Then someone piped up that they should be called "the Greenies." Anyway, the awards:

Neighborhood Improvement Project of the Year was presented by First Lady Frances Strickland. This $250 award goes to the park, gateway, streetscape, school or other community beautification project that does the most to beautify the surrounding community. It went to Plant Pride on Parsons for organizing 300 volunteers to pick up litter, and create individualized flower planters up and down Parson's Avenue between SR 104 and Livingston Avenue. It might be easier to list who and what is NOT involved in this project, but it included Ganther's Place, Children's Hospital, the City of Columbus, United Way, etc., etc., etc.

Education Garden of the Year is presented and sponsored by the Hinson Family Trust. This $500 award is given to a school or other organization that utilizes garden projects for educational purposes. It was given to the Granville Schools Sustainability Program. This started when a student asked why the school couldn't maintain a sustainable agriculture project. The students were not satisfied, however, with one raised bed. Instead, they have 26 beds (with over 420 square feet of garden space), a water garden, composting and a fruit orchard with 14 trees. Very Very impressive.

Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award is presented by the Franklin Park Conservatory's Women's Board and presents $250 to the youth (under the age of 18) for use for his/her community garden or his/her education in gardening. It is presented to an outstanding youth gardener. (Did I mention that Paul Redman and I were in the same Leadership Columbus class?) IT WAS AWARDED TO OUR VERY OWN NYKKEL!!! It came with a beautifully engraved trophy, a beautiful book on gardening from Paul and a personal letter from Paul. Nykkel even shared the stage with her sister, Danielle, for helping her with her garden plot. The Women's Board was impressed by the ambition she showed in her garden with so many varieties of vegetables and fruit. This was Nykkel's first garden and she spent a lot of time there. I also heard a lot of awwwws in the audience when Bruce read how she wanted to grow flowers for her mother's birthday and a "that's right" when he read about her first time cooking yellow squash in butter. Lots of people came to congratulate her, including Maggie Samuelson from Four Seasons City Farm & Friends of the Alum Creek Tributaries, Kojo from the Linden community garden project and New Harvest Cafe, Bruce Langer the Development Director from the City of Bexley and Ms. Pepper (who visited a few weeks ago). We're very excited for Nykkel and I shared our good news with a Dwain, Barb and few other of the Stoddart Avenue neighbors when we returned after the ceremony.

Community Gardener of the Year This $250 award for the community gardening project (sponsored by GreenScapes Landscape Co.) 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. This year it went to Glen Demott from the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church (not to be confused with Kelly Hern of the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church who won last year). Glenn organized some early Spring planting for the garden this year and increased the amount of food donated to LSS Food Pantry, the Faith Mission and a few other programs by over 1000 pounds.

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 went to the Franklinton Gardens. Started in 2007 as a single plot of land leased from the City of Columbus land bank for $1, it grew to a patchwork of gardens in the Franklinton area. Then, when the City began taking back the lots for economic development, they began to lease land and accepted a donated plot. They now have 4200 square feet of urban farms and one community garden plot area (for families). They also began a community garden farm stand (which accepts food stamps) and is open at least 2 hours every day of the week. This is an area of Columbus that has no grocery stores and depends on corner markets and gas stations to supply all of their food. Like the Granville project, they have also started their own fruit orchard with 14 trees and harvest 1000 gallons of rain water to support their garden (to compare to the 750 gallons harvested by the SACGJ. Very impressive. Lots of idealistic young people in Franklinton folks.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

SACG Hero of the Day

You don't have to be a gardener to be Hero of the Day at the SACG. Neighbor Ron doesn't want to garden, but still helps us out from time to time. This morning while I was picking beans in my plot, he showed up with a lawn mower and mowed our grass. And Ron is one of those guys that if there's a job to do, it's worth doing right. He didn't just mow our grass, he mowed the portion our neighbor's lot, too, and mowed the weeds growing in the curb and then trimmed the rest of the weeds growing in the curb and near the light pole. Needless to say to our loyal readers: it was very hot again today ladies and gentlemen. So, my gardening hat's off to Ron today.

Ron's mother, Mrs. D, also helps us out. She keeps an eye on the garden (and the neighborhood children), has her own plot in the back of her apartment, and protected our two lone pumpkins last year from near certain destruction. Every year, several gardeners request to have the plot next to her. Her husband, last year's Volunteer of the Year, Dwain, is one of the handiest guys I know when you need something done in a pinch.

Brianna came by to check on her plot and found several ripe tomatoes and even more green beans to pick. Brianna took over an abandoned plot near our front gate. Her mother came and hoed it back into submission in 92 degree heat. I wasn't sure that the beans would recover from being overrun with weeds, but they came back with a vengeance this week. There were so many, we couldn't fit them all into Brianna's shirt.

We were supposed to go pick peaches at Legend Hills Orchard this morning. However, I think the freakish heat has intimidated people from climbing ladders and fighting bugs (not to mention the two-hour car ride). So, Beth, Cozy and I cheated and drove to Lynd's this afternoon to buy yellow peaches from its farmer's market. They're on sale: $12.50/peck. How many pecks of peaches will we buy? I'll make fuzzy naval marmalade this evening and can the rest of the peaches to eat with oatmeal (or by themselves) this winter. I have no doubt that Beth will bake a peach pie. Afterwards, I gave Cozy a tour of the Garden.

We had also planned to have a canning demonstration this afternoon, but scheduling conflicts have lead this to be postponed by two weeks (assuming we still have a bumper tomato crop then). Contact me if you're interested in learning to can tomatoes on Saturday, August 28.

BTBO was having another brunch for its Moms on the Move program today. I stopped by to give them a garden tour, but they were too excited going to through the clothes which BTBO had collected for them and it was too hot outside to tempt people to leave the air conditioning. I was also too dirty to stay for lunch. If you didn't know, Mrs. Anthony is one of the best cooks I know. She fed us some outstandingly memorable chicken, beans, etc. Memorial Day 2009. Even Orlando stopped by this morning with his very cute nephew to say hey today.

Our Plant a Row program has really picked up steam this year. I think we're actually ahead of where we were in donations this time last year (not including Maxcine's donation of 50 pounds of zucchini one night in 2009). Betty came by this morning to put ice in the cooler she keeps in our shed and there were already two bags of tomatoes which had been put there this morning before I arrived around 9 a.m. We collectively donated over 25 pounds last weekend. I collect what I can from the abandoned plots (and my own plot) and Betty collects what folks put in the cooler over the weekend and then she delivers it on Monday to the Lutheran Social Services food pantry on Champion Avenue. It's a team effort.

Speaking of abandoned plots: We have three this year. They all have tomatoes in them and some have lots of other goodies as well (like beans, sweet potatoes, peppers, etc.). If you still want to garden, we have a plot for you! All you have to do is weed it, water when necessary, harvest what's ripe and plant something new if the spirit moves you. (Yes, there's still time to plant bush beans, zucchini, lettuce, spinach, etc. We also still have lots of seeds to share with new and existing gardeners.) A new family stopped by just as Cozy and I were leaving this afternoon and may be interested in one of the plots. . . . . . Let's keep our fingers crossed about adding a new family.

Finally, on a completely unrelated note, there is a new radio station at 103.5 which plays my favorite music from my wayward youth and is commercial free for the next few weeks. Check it out.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Making Food From Thinnings

The single most common question I get from the SACG gardeners and neighbors does not involve gardening, weeding, bugs or flowers. It is this: Are you a vegetarian? No, I am not. While I do not eat a lot of meat, I enjoy a thick barely browned steak (so rare that it moos when I cut into it), chicken and fish. I've been on a sardine kick recently, so feel free to share any recipes.

Yesterday, while chatting with Miss Jeannie, she saw a fennel bulb in my harvest tub and asked me what it was. On Wednesday, a few of the neighborhood boys asked me about the bulbs, too, and their pretty foliage. I let them taste the leaves. For the uninitiated, fennel taste like black licorice or anise. (It was funny listening to elementary school boys announce that they like anise). So, I've decided to blog about it.

Anyway, for the past three years I have tried to grow fennel and this is the first year I've had any success. The first year – up in Dublin – I got lots of plants, but no seeds or bulbs. Last year, I got plants and seeds, but no bulbs. This year, I learned that you must plant fennel very, very early (like in April). Then, you must thin the plants so that they are at least 2-3 inches apart. Anyone who gardens with me knows how much I hate to thin. It seriously pains me – like I'm killing my children or something. It's rare that you can do something with the thinned plants you've sacrificed for the good of the order. However, fennel is different. I look for reasons to thin my fennel so that I can make fennel chicken which is just one of my many favorite Greek-inspired recipes. You can make this from an adult fennel bulb too (as I did this afternoon), but I made this a few times earlier in the season just from the fennel I had thinned from my plot. Enjoy.

Single Girl's portion:

1 large chicken breast (sliced into one-inch chunks) (Today, I used 2)

¼ fennel bulb (chopped) (or use 2-3 thinned bulbs) (Today, I used a whole bulb)

2 chopped cloves of garlic (or more if you like it)

1 tbsp chopped rosemary

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped red onion (Today, I used a whole, small one)

1 tsp chopped oregano

5 chopped green olives (Today, I used 10)

2 tbsp lemon juice

8 oz sliced mushrooms

  1. Throw all of this into a skillet and sauté it until the chicken is browned. Really. (I usually start with the oil, garlic and onion, add fennel and mushrooms, then add chicken, then the herbs, and then squirt a lot of lemon juice before throwing in the olives, but there's really no magic to it).
  2. Serve over couscous (like I did today), or a thin pasta, like orzo (like I did in June). Both cook up quick. Yum. Yum.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

SACG Continues Bountiful Harvest

Not much new at the SACG this week. The weather was a lot better than last week. I thought that I could get in and out in two hours this morning, but it took me twice that long because I ended up harvesting from a few abandoned plots to collect food for the LSS food pantry and ran into Miss Jeanie for the first time in over a month. It turns out that she was growing okra and donated some (as well as butternut squash, greens, zucchini and tomatoes) to our Plant a Row program. She also mowed our grass for us this week because she wanted to master using our new reel mower. Keyante and Dionte moved away last weekend and left a lot of beans and tomatoes in their plot.

The squash bugs and borers have done their job on our curbits. I hauled a number of plants out to the dumpster with bugs in tow. (The bugs have moved on to climbing up my beans, peppers and sweet potatoes, but I doubt that they will eat them). The pumpkins are pretty much done for. I have one zucchini plant and one yellow squash plant left, but was delighted to discover I have a butternut squash plant hanging on as well (as well as the squash growing into my plot from Mike and Beth’s plot next door). I cleaned out the row of chickpeas and harvested a scad of bush and pole beans and reinforced with stakes some tomato cages that had fallen over on top of my precious peppers.

The neighborhood kids keep messing up the shed while trying to take seeds to plant at home. After I cleaned up the shed last week, boxed all of the seeds and put them on a shelf, I found them scattered around on the floor, in the cart and outside the shed. One of the neighbors stopped by to tell me that he had chased some kids away last night trying to break into the shed. Both of our very nice trowels are missing. No one under the age of 18 is supposed to be in the garden without an adult in the garden. I had to have a few parent conferences this morning about this problem and a score of unopened seed packets were returned (but, alas, no trowels as of yet). As Miss Jeannie and I discussed this morning, the garden is not a playground:-)

The birdhouse gourd plant is still going gangbusters, but Rayna told me that a number of the gourds (particularly the ones I photographed last week) have been cut from the vine. Do they know that the gourds are not edible?

The storm knocked over our pole bean teepee on Wednesday, but Keisha helped me put it back up. However, it had fallen again by the time I got there today and I put it back up. The one in my backyard has had similar trouble staying upright, but it has spread onto my climbing roses and Rose of Sharon bush, so those vines keep it from going too horizontal.

I’m going to try and finally schedule the tomato canning class next weekend. Another nice lady from my church’s knitting group mentioned that she has a lot of mason jars she could donate. I know that Barb and Miss Jeannie are interested in learning to can their abundant tomatoes.
Our flowers seem to get prettier every day. I was kicking myself for forgetting to bring sheers to cut some flowers from my plot to beautify my kitchen (and possibly my office).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Birdhouse Gourds and Open Fire Pit Cooking

Well, Rayna’s enormous birdhouse gourd plant has finally began producing giant gourds. Whatever she did to prune the plant last week certainly bore fruit this week (as you can see from the pictures).

Mike and Beth returned from a week long Wisconsin vacation at 8 a.m. and wasted no time in getting back to the garden that same morning to harvest what had grown in their absence. They’ve made pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread and pumkin cookies, but need new ideas for their bumper pumpkin crop – particularly because my nemisis – the squash bug – is taking its toll on their pumpkin patch.

Mike – from Four Seasons City Farm – stopped by to admire the garden and our new rain tank
We’ve also had some nocturnal raccoons visit to try out our small corn crop and a few items in Charlie’s plot.

I took some additional pictures to share with the rest of you. My shelled bean crop and squash are probably reaching the end of their useful life. My peppers have been affected by the extraordinary heat (by not setting fruit). However, I’m in the height of canning season and have canned lots of tomatoes, salsa, pickles, and pasta sauces (when I’m not shelling black, kidney, pinto, pink half-runner and red peanut beans and marinating and grilling squash).

On Friday – while finishing up my evening constitutional – I stopped by Cozy and Jay’s house to say hi and then stayed for a cocktail which then turned into an extraordinary cookout. Jay is quite the open fire chef. He has a collection of cast iron skillets which he puts on a grate over his fire pit to cook. Their neighbors participate in a CSA and share extra vegetables with them (along with the harvest from Cozy’s backyard garden). He fried up some potatoes and grilled brats and cheeseburgers. But the piece de la resistance was what he did with kale. I’ve never really liked kale and just took some to be polite, but he sautéed bacon in the skillet and then added chopped kale (along with chopped mushrooms and onions) and topped them with a vinaigrette. It was to die for. I had two servings. I simply must get that recipe;-) Great way to end a Friday.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

It Is Seriously Hot at the SACG

A few hardy souls got up extra early this morning to harvest produce from the SACG before today's 96 degree temperatures arrived with a vengeance. We have NO shade at the SACG, so it always feels hotter than it is. We are so lucky to have our rain barrels and tank to collect rain water off the BTBO roof because it hasn't rained since Sunday and it's been seriously hot.

On the plus side, the tomatoes are finally starting to turn red and I'll probably spend the next six weeks canning in my kitchen.

This morning, Beth, Mike and Lucy beat me to the Garden and were harvesting pumpkins when I arrived. We start them young at the SACG and Lucy was doing a great job watching the pumpkins so that they would not roll away on their own.

Betty came by to weed and put some ice packs in the cooler in the shed to preserve any extra produce which gardeners want to donate to an area food pantry when Betty makes her weekly delivery on Monday. I started her out with several squash which I harvested this morning.

I spent some time killing my old friends -- the ugly squash bugs -- and then harvested some tomatoes, squash, a cucumber, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, turtle beans, peanut beans, pink taylor beans, pinto beans, green and beans, lettuce, arugula, and flowers.

This is my first year making pickles and I couldn't be more delighted. I used garlic and dill heads from my back yard garden (as well as chili peppers I dried and saved from last year). I had difficulty accepting that one pickles cucumbers at room temperatures, but old hand Beth put my mind at ease. I hated my grandmother's homemade pickles when I was growing up, but mine taste nothing like hers. I've gone for the kosher dill from a barrel taste instead of whatever it was she was trying to make (probably sweet pickles). Now, if only I could grow cucumbers in sufficient quantities to satisfy my new pickle cravings . . . . . . .

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Huck Smooty, Weeding and Buttered Squash . . . . Oh My!

Tonight was a very busy night at the SACG, but I didn't have my camera to prove it. Brianna greeted me at the gate and wanted to get busy weeding her new plot and planting seeds. Weeding comes first per the harsh Garden Manager (although I did help her weed a bit and pound in the tomato stakes blown over in last weekend's storm and tie up overgrown tomatoes). Rayna was there pruning her impressive bird-house gourd plant (which has pretty much taken over the entire western fence of the Garden). We're still waiting for a gourd to make it past the two-inch phase (so please share any suggestions). Nykelle was there with Danielle and their brother. I had several giant squash in my plot (which were NOT there on Monday morning), so I gave her one. (I've got five more in my fridge that I'm behind in cooking). She had never eaten squash and asked me how to cook it. I suggested that she slice it, and fry it up in butter or oil. About 30 minutes later she returned to tell me that she made it for her dinner and loved it fried in butter. (Wasn't that thoughtful of her to come back and tell me). As you may recall from last year, one of my favorite way to cook zucchini and squash is to slice it, marinate it and grill it. It freezes well this way, too.

As you may recall from last week, the FPC Women's Board visited. Ms. Pepper wanted to come back to share her "huck smooty" with the kids. I've never heard of such a thing and was both a little intrigued and dubious. I was glad that she did not get there before me. She makes a smoothie concoction with fruit and vegetables (with some herbs thrown it for a nice kick). It had banana, watermelon, greens, etc. It's yellowish green. She helped us make home-made cups out of 8x11 pieces of paper and poured the smooty into the cups. Believe it or not, it was a huge hit with the kids, Rayna and me. AND very nutritious. We drew quite a crowd of neighborhood kids. I don't think we've had so many kids there since our last work day.

LaKeisha and Sedricka came over to take over an abandoned plot, weed and tie up tomatoes (wearing much too much nice shoes). The Garden Manager wears her oldest and rattiest clothes to the Garden because I always leave there covered in dirt;-)

Bless Jeff's heart. He missed the smooty, but he was there tonight to mow the grass. Gotta love that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

FPC Women’s Board Visits the SACG on Bastille Day

This morning, the Women's Board of Franklin Park Conservatory visited the SACG as part of their annual tour of area community gardens. It was a much larger group than I expected and they were extremely nice – even giving us a Lowe's gift certificate. (Yea!) Keyante, Dionte and their cousin Daequan stopped by to answer questions about their work at the SACG and their family's plot and pose for a few pictures. Nykkel arrived in time to answer a few questions, pose for some pictures and show off her plot, too. Then, Orlando stopped by (all dressed up in a suit) and was able to tell Bill Dawson about the raised bed "man gardens" behind the BTBO office (as well as the women's garden next to the BTBO office).

Of course, most of the SACG gardeners worked very hard over the weekend and on Tuesday evening to spruce up their plots and the garden for the tour. Barb put extra effort into cleaning up the front flower bed; Frank mowed and Jeff moved the extra mulch and compost. Mari, Nykkel and I weeded and pruned last night. It's been tough finding time to garden when we have received 4-1/2 inches of rain in the last five days.

The kids explained the challenges in getting their peers interested in helping with the garden and thought the heat and weeding were the hardest part about working at the SACG.

The principle quality that makes the SACG special (in my opinion) is how we have recycled debris we dug out from the Garden and other items which were donated to the garden (like lumber, pallets, wood chips, etc.). I also told them about how the SACG had benefitted from the generosity of a number of businesses and volunteers:

Several of the ladies were concerned about our benches and wanted to think of a way that we could preserve them better (such as using wood conditioner and a stain to protect them from the elements). We welcome their suggestions and help!!! :-)

Of course, the Women's Board members commented how charming our garden was. They were especially enchanted with Rayna's birdhouse gourds which seem to be taking over the entire western fence (and forming a pictureque back gate area). Unlike a lot of community gardens, we actually plant in the soil instead of relying exclusively on raised beds. I cannot overstate how much work was involved in digging out by hand (using only shovels and our fingers) all of the debris left behind when the former apartment building was demolished on our site. I pointed out our make-shift curb of concrete debris – all of which was carried down to the alley/Cherry Street by the gardeners (especially Dwain). (In fact, if memory serves, Keyante was the one who lined up all of the debris we first dug out of the garden on April 4, 2009 and it was 70 feet long by April 18, 2009). We also had enough debris left over to build platforms for the rain barrels, a platform for the tank (which is also supplemented by cement blocks), and line the paths in the Garden. There is still a lot of debris left in two of the plots and there is some debris left in all of them. I fear we may still be digging out bricks for another five years;-) However, I think our garden benefits from planting directly into the soil because we have a gazillion worms. It also lets us grow bushes and to use the fence as trellises to support beans, gourds, and melons. I also had the soil tested last year for lead to ensure that it was safe to grow things here.

Before coming the SACG, the Women's Board had visited the Growing Hearts & Hands Community Garden on Oak Street (which they had staged a work day a few months earlier). After visiting the SACG, they then visited the Franklinton Gardens and the Highland Community Garden on Highland Avenue (in the Hilltop area and which won Community Garden of the Year in 2009) before having boxed lunches at the Community Garden Campus at the FPC.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy Independence Day from the SACG

Betty created a patriotic display for her plot and I'm sharing it with the rest of you along with some thoughts about gardening from our founding fathers (and a few others).

Thomas Jefferson:

  • "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it's liberty and interests by the most lasting bands."

  • "Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth."

  • "Cultivators of the earth are the most virtuous and independent citizens."
George Washington: "Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved.
John Adams:
"I long for rural and domestic scenes, for the warbling of Birds and the Prattle of my Children. Don't you think I am somewhat poetical this morning, for one of my Years, and considering the Gravity, and Insipidity of my Employment? - As much as I converse with Sages and Heroes, they have very little of my Love or Admiration. I should prefer the Delights of a Garden to the Dominion of a World."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Squash Bugs From Hell Can Be Killed

Some people might be deceived into believing from reading this site that all is always rosy at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. However that is not true. We only have four rose bushes. Moreover, we suffer from some of the same travails and challenges as other community gardens. Some of them perplex me beyond distraction. One of them has become an obsession: squash bugs.

Your faithful Garden Manager only began gardening in earnest in 2008 when I joined the Redeemer Moravian Church Community Garden in Dublin (which is a far piece from the Bexley area). That was only the first or second year I had grown zucchini. I started with four plants and they kicked butt until mid to late July when they wilted and died in the course of only 7-14 days. I was shocked. They had been so healthy, large and prolific. As they shriveled away, I noticed that they were overrun with a gazillion grey creepy bugs. I dutifully covered them with sevin powder, but they could not be revived. I planted new plants to replace them, but they died as well. I was disappointed and assumed that they had just run their course. I had lots of other food to harvest, so I moved on.

Then, last year I had the same experience even though I had eight prolific and gigantic zucchini plants. I noticed that everyone at the SACG had the same problem: their zucchini wilted and died to reveal a gazillion creepy grey bugs. (Some of the plants also had issues with powdery mildew). Then the bugs moved on to attack our pumpkin patch and it disappeared within two weeks. Mitch asked me about it and I told him it happened about the same time every year and it was probably just nature's way. I was surprised to learn elsewhere that it is possible to maintain a zucchini plant until Fall. However, I also began conducting research into the creepy grey bugs.

These bugs have a name. They are squash bugs. They resemble stink bugs and will stink if you squash them (which I am too squeamish to do). They multiply quickly and you will literally have thousands and thousands of them in a short period of time if they find food in your garden. They prefer zucchini, but they will eat yellow squash, pumpkins and other squashes and curbits (like cucumbers and melons) in a pinch. They travel large distances quickly and can overwinter in your garden under almost anything (which is why it is vitally important to clean out your garden every fall to remove any place where bugs can hibernate).

Sadly, there seemed to be no reliable way to kill them. Few books or websites address the problem because they cannot recommend a reliable solution. My Rodale's Vegetable Garden Problem Solver (i.e., the organic bible that I got for Xmas) had no practical solution. It described them as the "worst pest of squash-family crops" and recommended checking the undersides of leave for the copper-colored eggs and small yellow flecks on leaves (as an early sign of squash bug feeding). The bugs suck out the sap, wilt the vines, pit the leaves and fruit and prevent fruit from setting. To prevent them, Rodales suggested planting as late as possible to allow time for the bugs to emerge and move on to another neighborhood or starve before your squash plants emerge. I do not find this a satisfactory solution. It also recommended handpicking off the nymphs (i.e., baby bugs) and adults (YUCK!!), cutting off severely infected leaves and destroying leaves where eggs have been laid. Finally, it suggested spraying insecticidal soap or pyrethrins to kill bugs and nymphs and suggested that Neem may also be effective.

I did not find the OSU information pamphlet to be useful either. However, Kansas State's website contained some very useful information and pictures. Finally, I found a message board on the ivillage Garden website which had some useful and gross tips. I've tried a few of the ideas and will share what little wisdom I've gathered in the last 10 days.

  1. No solution is easy. They are all relatively time consuming and some of them are gross.
  2. Carbaryl is the generic name for Sevin. The powdered form is useless, so don't even bother. It is an ingested poison, which means the bugs have to eat it before it will kill them and they aren't particularly interested in eating powder when there is so much squash sap everywhere they go. I applied it on newly emerged plants as a preventative (since there was no risk of killing beneficial insects at that stage). However, Sevin also makes a spray. I sprayed it on eggs and a few adult bugs (which did not die instantly, if at all. They ran and hid, so I have no personal testimonial).
  3. The eggs are very noticeable, so you won't have to look hard for them. They are a copper color (both dark or bright depending on their age). They are almost always on the underside of the leaves in nice neat rows of about 25 or so eggs along a vein (often near the stem). Sometimes, they are laid on the top side of the leaf and occasionally along a stem. You will not enjoy looking under each leaf because the stems are prickly and they all look alike after a while. I've read that eggs are impervious to pesticides, so you spray them only to make yourself feel better. I read somewhere that you could remove them with masking or duct tape, but that did not work well when I tried it on Saturday. You could also squish the eggs, but I'm a girl and that's gross. Instead, I recommend ripping off that leaf (or portion of the leaf) and destroying it far away from your garden. Most sites recommend dropping the eggs into a bucket of soapy water, but I don't carry around such items in the back of my car. I stomp on the leaf and then dump it far away. This is the time to be looking for eggs because the adults became active in June. A plant can have several leaves with eggs, so don't stop looking after finding your first batch on a plant. I've read the eggs will hatch within two weeks, so check your leaves twice each week.
  4. The easiest time to kill squash bugs is shortly after they hatch and are in the nymph stage. They will look like small spiders with grey bodies and black legs. They hang together in a group on the back of the leaf where they were hatched. They are too stupid to run when you pick up the leaf, squeal at the sight and then drop the leaf in disgust. They will still be there when you pick up the leaf again and spray them with whatever is in your other hand. However, some of them may have dropped off the leaf when you dropped it in disgust, so it's a good idea to spray the ground underneath the leaf to get any strays. You could also pick them off by hand and squish them, but that's gross and even more time consuming.
  5. Adults are hard to kill, run and hide quickly upon discovery and stink when you squash them. However, I read on the iVillage site that someone somewhere had great success spraying them with soapy water. She claimed that it suffocated them. Whatever. I took a spray bottle that I purchased at a hardware store, filled it an inch deep with generic dish soap, put in another inch of concentrated Neem Oil and then filled it with water. Those squash bugs died very quickly after a few well aimed shots of that concoction. I could not be more delighted. I tried the soapy water without the Neem Oil on Saturday and the bugs did not die instantly. There is also the risk of the next day's hot sun scorching the leaf, but I think that's a small price to pay to save the entire plant.
  6. I've read that Neem is relatively organic. It is an ingestible insecticide that seems to work in a variety of mysterious ways. I have no special insight. Maybe it makes the leaves stink so that bugs don't eat them. Maybe it fools the bugs into thinking they aren't hungry (and then they starve to death). It supposedly will not affect ladybugs or bees because they do not ingest it and are not fooled by it. I have not used it as a preventative. I use it to kill squash bugs and nymphs on contact with soapy water.

Feel free to share whatever tips or wisdom you have. The more the merrier. I also purchased some permethrin/ pyrethrins powder on Saturday, but haven't tried it yet.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

SACG Whimsical Windmills

While we waited for Sammy Scarecrow to arrive, Betty saved us from being completely devoured by birds by bringing some colorful and whimsical pinwheels to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. There are a few in most of the plots. Not only do the pinwheels turn in the breeze (and, thus, scare birds with their movement), but urban legend has it that they also deter moles because the vibrations caused by the turning wheel also scare the moles. The kids like them, too. Two youngsters came by last night – despite all of that heat and humidity -- and blew into each pinwheel to get them to move. The gentle breeze helped, too.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

SACG Loves Our Raspberries

By this time last year, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden had the scrawny beginning of a raspberry patch. We had been blessed that Gardener Rayna had visited her mother for Mother's Day and spent some quality time together in the woods on their farm digging up black raspberry bush seedlings. (Apparently, they had quite the patch the year before, but had mowed it down before realizing that we needed and wanted them). She planted around 12 seedlings along our south fence and we even had about five black raspberries to harvest last year. We realized that the bushes would grow and spread and hoped that they would take over the fence line (thus creating an effective and edible barrier against vandals, etc.). Rayna and I did our best to keep them alive last year during our dry spell and they grew and grew. When we broke ground again for the 2010 season, Rayna even found some new volunteer bushes in our lot and transplanted them into our south fence line.

This year, we had lots and lots of black raspberries (as you can see from the pictures). We'll probably have even more next year. I have extremely fond memories from when I was growing up of scavenging for black raspberries behind the Highland District Library with my best friend Susan when we would go swimming during hot summer days (and by myself from my own backyard). I don't know if we ever harvested enough to bake a pie, but we often picked enough to fill a tin. I have been encouraging the neighborhood kids and our volunteers to help themselves to the berries (and, trust me, I've helped myself every time I visit the SACG). The kids have been a little dubious about our home-grown delicacy, but our older volunteers have needed little encouragement because they have similar memories from their youth.

Our black raspberries have only whetted my appetite for all things raspberry this month. Kroger is having its annual red raspberry sale and I used this opportunity last year and last night to make raspberry jam (which is soooo much easier to make than strawberry jam). Not counting the cost of the jars (which I recycle every year) and the pectin (which I get on sale at the end of the season), I made 7-½ - 8 half-pints (or cups) for only $1/jar. You can't buy commercial jam for that price. Even if you figure the cost of buying new basic jars (because you're new at it or because your friends and families failed to return the empty jam jars from the yummy home-made goodies you gave them last year) and had to buy new pectin at retail, the cost is still only $2.25/jar – a bargain by any measure. (It will cost more if you buy uber-fancy jam jars, like the ones made in Germany or sold at Target). Best of all, it only takes about 90 minutes to make from start to finish (because you don't have to trim all of those strawberries).

Step 1: Get your super-tall stock pot, put in 8 jam-sized jars and fill it with enough water to cover the jars by at least 2 inches. Put the lid on the pot (to control the steam) and put it on the stove. Turn the heat on high. Continue on with the next steps while the water comes to a boil.

Step 2: Get 1-¾ pints of berries. Rinse your berries & shake them in a colander. Pour them back into your giant measuring cup. (Mine hold 2 quarts). Mash them a bit until you have 1 quart of smashed berries.

Step 3: Get a large stock pot (preferably one with a heavy bottom). Pour in the berries. Then pour in 6 cups of sugar. (Yes boys and girls, there is almost twice as much sugar as berries in jam. Be afraid). Throw in a tablespoon of lemon juice for good luck. Mix the berries and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar is melted. This will not take long. (By this time, the water in the tall stock-pot should be boiling. Turn the heat to low and when it stops boiling throw in the lids to the jars).

Step 4: Cut, rip or stab open a package of liquid pectin (while simultaneously stirring the jam with your third hand). Squeeze the contents into the hot jam mixture and stir well. Bring to a rolling boil and stir crazily (without burning yourself or getting burned by splattering jam) for 1 minute. Do not let it boil too long (i.e., more than 2 minutes) or the pectin will turn the mixture from a pretty red to a less attractive brown. (It will taste the same, but who will want to eat it?). Turn off the heat (and consider removing the pan from the burner if your kitchen is big enough). (As a test of the jam, you can put a tablespoon of jam on a small plate and put it in the freezer. If it jells quickly, you're good to go to the next step. You can also just act on faith and see where that gets you). If you have a lot of foam at the top, you should probably skim as much of that as possible off with your mixing spoon. (I save the foam to eat later when I'm cleaning up).

Step 5: Pull the jam jars out of the tall stock pot with tongs or a jar lifter. (Leave the hot water in the stock pot). Get a ladle and funnel. Put the funnel in one of the jars (which you will only be able to handle with a towel wrapped around it because it is HOT) and then ladle some hot jam mixture into the jar until it is filled to ¼ inch from the top. Remove the funnel and put it in the next jar before it starts dripping all over your stove. Inspect the top of the filled jar (and clean off the rim if necessary with a clean white cloth). Using a magnetized lid lifter, pull a lid out of the tall stock pot and place it ever so gingerly (because it is HOT) on top of the filled jar. Screw on the band (the rest of the two-piece lid) and set aside (using a towel to handle the jar because it is HOT). Repeat this step until you run out of jam. If you have some jam left, but not enough to fill most of a jar, then put it in a small storage container and put it in the freezer or refrigerator to eat tomorrow and the next day, etc.

Step 6: Carefully using your tongs or jar lifter, place the filled jam jars back into the tall stock pot (filled with hot water) and turn the heat back on high. Put the lid back on (to control the steam which will otherwise fill your already hot kitchen). When the water reaches a rolling boil, set your timer for 10 minutes (and consider turning down the heat a bit). Start cleaning up the mess you've just made of your kitchen (or, like I did last night, go watch the news and lick clean the spoons, ladle, funnel and stock pot used in making the jam and filling the jars).

Step 7: When the timer goes off (telling you that the jam jars have been boiling for 10 minutes), turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner. Ever so carefully lift the jam jars out of the hot and steamy water using your nifty tongs or jar lifter. Place the jars someplace where they can sit for 24 hours without being disturbed. The wax on the lids needs to harden and the jam will jell, etc. Put the lid back on the tall stock pot (to control that pesky steam) or, if you have really long arms and long oven mitts, empty the water. If, like I once did, you drop a jar on the floor, you will need to replace the lids and reprocess in the boiling water bath for another ten minutes (or put it in the refrigerator to eat this month).

Step 8: After 24 hours has passed, remove the bands and make sure that the lids are on securely. If so, put the jar somewhere safe (and darkish) until you need them. I have an unheated room in my basement where I store all of my canned goods. If the lids are not secure, put it in the refrigerator and eat this month.