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.