Sunday, April 22, 2012

There’s Nothing About a Chilly and Cloudy Day That Can’t Be Fixed by Speedy Bean Soup

After tricking us into believing an early summer had arrived, Spring has returned with a vengeance this weekend and forced my seedlings back inside. Chilly, cloudy, damp and brrrrr. However, I put ¾ bag of dried white beans in my mini slow cooker last night before I went to bed. And when I returned from church, I heated up some olive oil with 2 cloves of chopped garlic in a sauce pan, added 12 ounces of cooked beans, topped it with chopped rosemary and freshly ground pepper, added a cup of chicken stock (that I made in December), brought it to a boil, simmered for 10 minutes and then pureed the soup with my magic wand. Oh nirvana. Just what the doctor ordered. Fast and hot. Makes 2 servings of 200 calories, 6 grams of dietary fiber and 16 grams of protein (but 19 grams of total carbohydrates).

I’ll marinate the rest of the beans in a Dijon vinaigrette and mix with artichoke hearts, black and green olives, and roasted red peppers and then add it to a lunch salad (of romaine and spinach) later in the week. Who can notice the clouds with cheerful and versatile beans on hand?

Of course, I’ll be planting beans like these in another week to 10 days just to ensure my continued happiness when winter returns next year.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: SACG Expansion Proceeds

For the second year in a row, Central Ohio has had a gloomy and damp Earth Day work experience. Last year, we picked up litter in the neighborhood for 90 minutes before we were flooded out in a deluge. This year, while Bexleyites were picking up litter, etc., we planned to expand the Garden to accommodate some new raised garden beds. Although Friday was beautiful and tomorrow is predicted to be so as well, the weather forecasters were predicting doom and gloom with intermittent showers for Saturday. They understated the matter.

But first thing is first. We have been blessed over the years to have the support of the Home Depot store in Canal Winchester. It was Home Depot which made it possible for us to have such a fabulous fence around the Garden to keep out rascals and to support our raspberries, peas, tomatoes and pole beans. So, when earlier this Spring, we had gardeners for all of our plots, we had a waiting list, I was thinking about assigning our food pantry plot to a gardener, and we realized that we needed to expand to accommodate raised garden beds, I again turned to Home Depot to help us out and it did not disappoint. Yesterday, I picked up 50 feet of fence and enough fence stakes to permit us to push out the Garden another 575 square feet.

Also, we are very fortunate to be located so close to the Rebuilding Together Tool Library (at Fourth and Morris). On Thursday, I headed over there to borrow – for free -- a 10 pound sledge hammer and fence cutters. We’ve had trouble in the past with driving the fence posts into the ground and I wanted to improve our chances.

However, as the weather forecast became increasingly pessimistic, I started to hedge my bets. I let everyone know we would proceed with the work day unless it was raining hard. A little mist or sprinkle wouldn’t hurt anyone who dressed appropriately. We weren’t going to plant, so there was no chance of hurting our plants or soil. Nonetheless, even though I stocked up on refreshments for the volunteers, I decided not to bake brownies like I always do because I did not want to get stuck with all of those calories if there were leftovers. I also decided that I would wait to see how far we got on the fence project before bringing over the lumber to build one of the raised garden beds that I and Mike had sawed on Friday.

When I got up on Saturday, I did not know whether anyone would show up to help me with the fence. Two new gardeners had told me that they would be coming, but then one of them emailed me in the middle of the night about a change of heart (or, rather, a change in priorities). Two of the gardeners from last year missed our opening work day and only one of them – a grandmother -- had told me she would be coming. Several of the gardeners who had already put in hours and hours of work over the last two weekends said they could not come, but then another told me on Friday afternoon to my surprise that I would see him. When I arrived to an empty garden and a grey sky, I started to plant cabbage seedlings in my plot.

But then, Tom arrived. Yea! We started to attack the gigantic wood chip pile in order to clear the way to move the southwest fence. Then, Betty came and joined us. Although it rained for about 15 minutes at 10:10, it quickly stopped and we continued working. However, Tom needed to leave and I did not think that Betty and I could alone move the old fence (i.e., pull out the fence posts, dig up the raspberry roots, drag the old fence 90 degrees to the west, re-install fence posts and bury the roots of the bushes). I was thinking about maybe planting flowers instead when Mr. Reliable himself, Charlie, arrived to save the day.

It turned out that moving the fence was relatively simple. Charlie removed the fence posts and I dug up raspberry bushes. Then I pulled the fence over and Charlie banged the posts in with the handy sledge hammer. I pulled our new fence out of my car and unrolled it. Betty held up the fence up while I held the post and Charlie banged the fence post in. After about six of these, I finally remembered a viewer trick I saw on This Old House: Use the handle of a shovel to steady the post while the other person bangs it in with a sledge hammer so that you don’t risk getting hurt if the hammer misses the post. You just put the shovel handle over the post and slide it down. (Imagine the handle is the needle and the post is the thread).

At some point, a neighbor (who helped us pick up litter this weekend last year) came over to ask advice about starting a flower bed and unclogging a gutter downspout. Then, it started to rain in earnest. This was no scattered shower; it rained steadily for most of the rest of the day, which is a blessing. Then Betty had to go and I moved to bury the roots of the raspberry bushes and check on the rain barrels. Charlie went through seeds and came over to show me something new. We returned to the tools to the shed and called it a day just before 1 p.m.

Of course, since some of our new gardeners did not show up for either work day, we now have two plots available. (No work; no plot; no excuses about how much busier you are than the rest of us). One is 10 x 10 and the other is 6x8. A new neighbor indicated that she might be interested in one and Charlie would like me to turn the other into a shared plot (particularly for corn) that the rest of us could share. Nothing is set in stone yet, so interested gardeners should contact me as soon as possible if they want to join. I’ll find something positively gruesome for you to do to make up for missing all of the hard work we’ve put in so far this year.

We have several big projects coming up the first week in May. Scotts has generously donated over a hundred bags of mulch and soil that we need to pick up from Franklin Park Conservatory on May 3 or 5 and get back to the Garden. We also will be building and then filling some raised garden beds in our new annex on May 5. I have a couple of volunteers for the second project. Barb and I are still working out the details for the first project. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 13, 2012

GCGC Learning About Fixing and Creating Good Soil in April

Last night, the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition met at the New Harvest CafĂ© in Linden. Of course, I was late again. When I arrived Derek was making a presentation about the Helping Hands Community Garden on Medary Avenue. They regularly meet on Sunday afternoons in the summer. He was followed by a presentation from the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District about the Green Spot Green Spot program, which you’ve already read about here. The barrels are only for homeowners, not gardens or tenants. The Conservation District is looking for GCGC and/or a community garden to hold storm water training sessions (which would be financially supported by the District). Then, the Evergreen Gardening Ministries made a presentation about their six gardens (in three counties) with a sweet video of all the kids and produce they grow. They also shared lots of seeds with the rest of us. Then, the main event: Dr. Darragh from CLC Laboratories talked about how to test and improve soil. (As summarized here, you may recall Dr. Darraugh also spoke to GCGC last year. I sat closer this year so that I could read his charts).

Dr. Darraugh used to work for ChemLawn developing fertilizer and studying grass. CLC is located north of I-270 off Route 23, but tests soil samples from all over the world and right here in Central Ohio.

According to Dr. Darraugh, plants grown in soil with correct fertility will outgrow insects and diseases. Too little or too many nutrients will stress plants. When dropping off a soil sample, be sure to indicate what you plan to grow so that you will be provided with fertilizer recommendations. Different plants have different needs and recommendations cannot be made in a vacuum.

In general, Central Ohio soil has lots of lime because of all of the limestone left during the ice ages. Lime consists of calcium carbonate, which is alkaline (i.e., with a high pH). Eastern Ohio and Franklin County have more acidic soil than western Franklin County. Central Ohio soils are likely to be deficient in Phosphorus than Nitrogen or Potassium. Accordingly, he spent most of his time discussing Phosphorus (P), which is a controversial component of fertilizer and responsible for algae blooms in Ohio lakes.

Phosphorus is banned in many states unless you have a soil test showing that your land is phosphorus deficient. Phosphorus is critical for new plants to develop roots and for the plant’s metabolism (so that it can develop fruit, etc.) However, lawn grass does not need equal amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, so low phosphorus fertilizers are perfectly sufficient. Excessive phosphorus runs off into storm water (see the tie-in with the Conservation District presentation?) and contaminates our creeks and lakes, so gardeners should be circumspect. Good sources of phosphorus include bone meal (6-12-2), turf seed fertilizer (20-27-5 OR 18-24-12), and the materials used in the infamous pink slime hamburger, etc. It can be difficult to effectively raise phosphorus level in soil, so it should be done gradually over a few years.

Dr. Darraugh explained that plants also need oxygen, which they absorb through their roots which are exposed to air in the spaces in dirt. Accordingly, water-logged soils fill those gaps with water instead of air and suffocate plants. That is why it is important to have good drainage and to not use too much compost (which holds onto water more than regular soil). Conversely, clay soils are too compact and don’t hold much oxygen, so it is important to mix it in with compost. Oxygen is needed to help the plant absorb nitrogen.

The amount of nitrogen (N) in the soil is constantly changing with rainfall. If you have too much nitrogen, you’ll have more plant than flowers or fruit with your tomatoes. Accordingly, start withholding nitrogen from your tomatoes when it starts to flower. In contrast, peppers and leafy vegetables can tolerate high amounts of nitrogen. Good sources of nitrogen include Ammonium sulfate (i.e., percentages of 20-0-0) is also a soil acidifier and can be found in packages that promote azaleas. Urea (46-0-0), and Blood meal (15-0-0) are also good sources. will tell you organic sources of fertilizers.

If your soil is deficient in Potassium (K), you can get some through muriate (0-0-60) or sulfate (0-0-50) of Potash, green sand (0-0-3) or sunflower seed ash (0-0-12).

Many plants (like red maples, oaks, holly, etc.) are deficient in manganese, not iron. You can improve the Mn level through Main Event Manganese (that is available locally at Advanced Turf Solutions or High Manganese Combo (which can be purchased through John Deere Landscape Stores). Apply the liquid to the soil and not the plant (which should be washed with clear water if you splash some on the plant).

You can increase the amount of Magnesum (Mg) through Espsom Salt.

Dr. Darraugh believes you can have too much organic matter because it can lead to water-logged soils. He doesn’t recommend peat moss because it does not degrade and has no nutritional value. (I, however, like it because it inexpensively lowers pH). He pointed out that horse manure is high in potassium, weeds and salts.

CLC will also test for lead if asked for an extra fee. It normally costs $45, but he will charge a community garden only $28. Nutrient soil tests were $15 last year. CLC Labs is at 325 Venture Drive in Westerville. Dr. Darraugh can be reached at 888-1663.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

SACG Impromptu Work Marathon or Boys and Their Toys

We did not schedule a work day yesterday at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, but that doesn't mean that a whole lotta work did not get done. Much of that work involved power tools and was mostly a male-bonding kinda day.

Earlier this week, a slew of neighborhood kids came by, helped me water new flower seedlings and to pull winter crops out of the ground.

On Friday, Frank and a friend worked on stabilizing our front and back gates. The Box Family worked on moving wood chips and flipping compost. Then, Fred and Frank planned to till the Garden yesterday.

On Saturday, I got there first and began weeding the front flower bed. Then Fred and Frank got there and got to work. Tilling the Garden takes about two hours and is positively exhausting. No one has wanted to do it two years in a row. (Just ask Bill, Ted and Charlie). I wish they'd each just till an hour. When the Garden is freshly tilled, the soil is all fluffy and it's like walking on a sandy beach.

Rayna came to dig her winter crops (i.e., leeks, garlic, onions, oregano, etc.) out of the way. I then moved to saving more raspberry seedlings to transplant along our north fence. Rayna and I then began transplanting raspberry seedlings. Adam came and took over my job weeding the front flower bed. When Fred was done tilling the Garden, I watered in seedlings and began measuring and marking off the plots. That's when I realized that my blood sugar was too low to be rational and I went home to eat something. (Rayna beat me to this decision by an hour). Fred moved on to till the backyard garden of Mrs. D who was at the time trying to use her hand cultivator to break the hard ground.

Frank came back and was joined by two non-gardening friends who helped him rebuild the front and back gates. (Last year, some "creative" produce thieves unscrewed the latch out of the back gate when they couldn't unlock it. Yet Frank is more clever, removed the latch, and fixed it so that the sliding mechanism now goes straight into the wood support beams).

Mari and Charlie came by (and Fred returned) to go through our newly donated seeds. Rayna went through them as well. Mari and John then bagged up some of our excess wood chips for their house. They had help from some neighborhood boys who love shoveling so much that they routinely create excuses to shovel the chips – even just to move them from pile to pile. I was also able to convince John (and artist) to repair our lovely, yet flaking front sign. Sadly, the original artist, Dwain, has moved back to the East Coast along with his beloved dog. Then, I lined the path around my plot with bricks.

Rayna and I then moved to replant items (like cilantro) that we had moved out of the way during the tilling process. Gladys stopped by after church. When I showed her where her plot would be, she seemed overwhelmed. So, I told her about the new platform raised beds we would be building. She was so excited. I then showed her what work she and her grandsons could do before our next work day.

Rayna and I discussed building some raised beds for the kids and the 4-H club and making the small bed near the front gate an herb garden.

Barb came by before and after the Block Watch meeting to add moral support. Frank and his crew had just finished the back gate and were breaking for "lunch" when I left around 4.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Seeds Glorious Seeds or What Could Have Been a Bad April Fool’s Day Joke

Faithful readers are aware that yours truly Garden Manager is a faithful Knitwit at CLC. In addition to improving my knitting skills during the non-gardening season, one of my fellow Knitwits has generously donated every April two garbage bags full of packages of last year’s Botanical Interest seeds. This has made gardening oh so much more fun for us at the SACG and our many friends because we can inexpensively experiment with new varieties of vegetables and flowers that we might not do otherwise. This is, for instance, how I found Tuscan Kale and Endive, asparagus/yard-long beans and a wide variety of lettuces, peppers and tomatoes.

On Sunday, the chief knitwit informed me that there would be no Knitwits in April. My jaw dropped. Surely, you jest, said I. Surely, this is an April Fool’s joke, I said in horror. She was surprised at my distress and then realized it was not the knitting I would be missing so much, but Linda’s seeds. Yes, said I. Happily, Linda had not left church yet and I was able to make alterative arrangements with her for the delivery of our seeds.

Well, the seeds are safely in my possession and are taking up a large part of my living room. They will be distributed as follows:

  1. To the SACG gardeners and other volunteers who helped get the Garden in shape on March 31;

  2. Starting April 14: To the SACG gardeners and other volunteers who help get the Garden in shape on April 14;

  3. Starting April 21: To the watchful, patient and understanding neighbors of the SACG;

  4. On May 3, what seeds remain will be shared at the GCGC meeting.

  5. Then, they will be kept in the SACG shed for any gardener to help themselves or for anyone else to stop by and ask.
We never get the same assortment from year to year. Some years, we’ve had lots of lettuce seeds and other years we get lots of different carrots. This year we have an abundance of tomato and pepper seeds. There is also a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And always something new.

I will be at the Garden during my regular schedule (i.e., Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings) for the foreseeable future.

Of course, we grow certain things that are not covered by seeds, so yesterday I went shopping at area stores for onion sets, seed potatoes and seeds that some SACG gardeners wanted and which were not in this year’s allotment of Botanical Interest seeds. Readers should know that Oakland Nursery has been having a fantastic 33% off seeds (i.e., Botanical Interest, Livingston, Burpee, etc.) and have shallot sets. However, they are out of most seed potatoes. Dill’s has lots of seed potatoes and onion sets, 4-inch ground cover perennials at 10 for $10, but no seeds on sale. DeMonye’s is having its annual perennial sale the weekend of April 14 (but good luck getting there before me). I think the best deals for seed starting sets (i.e., those peat pots and mini-greenhouse/seed starting kits) are still at Lowe’s and Home Depot, though. So expect to shop around for the best deals because they are rarely at the same store. One of my gardeners has complained about Sunderlands on Nelson Road closing because it always had seriously cheap seeds.

Finally, you all know how much I love getting surprises in the mail. Well, this morning’s mail contained another mystery package wrapped in brown. My crafty, busy and generous friend from Louisville sent me more heirloom bean seeds! AND a beautiful Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide. She’s been encouraging me for years to get seeds from there. Little did she know, that I already had a couple of months ago. I purchased some cannellini and Sangre de Toro beans . . . . but she just sent me Eye of the Goat and Vaqueros beans. How pretty! I spend the Fall, Winter and Spring making bean soups and bean salads and spreads. And my prolific bean planting also improves my garden soil as I rotate my crops every year.