Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Story About Daisies and Saving Seeds

If you have been by the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden this Spring, you will notice that we have a lot of daisies. A lot. Several of people even stopped by to ask if we were selling them. No, but you can take a couple for free. How did we come to have so many daisies this year? Funny you should ask.

Let me take you back to1998, the year I bought my house. There was a legal secretary who lived behind me (where Beth & Mike live now with Louis, Lucy and Peter). She had a little dog and lots of daisies in her back yard. When I told her that I was interested in gardening, she came over with some dead daisies and just crushed the flower over my flower bed. There, she said, you will have daisies there next year. She was right; I had a lot of daisies. You see, the seeds are in the yellow center. I returned the favor when Beth & Mike moved into her house.

When the petals die back, all you have to do is to make sure that the center of the dead flower hits the ground or to crush it between your fingers to spread the seeds over where you want them the next year. The problem is that they can form foliage pretty quickly (which will overwinter in your garden) and that will prevent later season flowers (like cosmos) from growing. (It also runs the risk of dying in a drought). So, I usually prune the dead flowers, put the daisy centers into brown paper bags, label them and then spread them in the Fall (like November after all of the other flowers have died back) or in February (before other flowers start growing and while I can just see the outlines of the mounds of other perennials).

I apparently went a little crazy with daisies last Fall or in February because they were not just growing in our front flower bed, but also in most of my plot. (Even the most gentle breeze can carry their light seeds). No matter, Rayna dug them up from my plot and transplanted them into our middle flower bed during our opening work day. Although I thought they were dying, they bloomed just fine.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

SACG’s First Fairy Garden

Our faithful readers could not be blamed for thinking that nothing happens at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden without the involvement and/or leadership of your somewhat burned-out Garden Manager. That is only because I am the only blogger and control the flow of information. However, there are things that happen at the SACG without my knowledge and some of them are worth sharing with the world (or at least as worthy of sharing as anything else I impose on you). This week is one of those times.

Last night I received an email from one of our new gardeners (i.e., new to the SACG, not new to gardening). She is one of the gardeners who took our platform/elevated raised garden beds (affectionately referred to as Grandma beds). Barb is an OSU certified Master Gardener, is a retired school teacher, has volunteered from time to time at the SACG and has over the years provided us with pretty flowers from her home garden (such as the lilies growing between our blueberry bushes along Cherry Street and the Jupiter’s Beard on the west side). I met her when I used to be involved with the Bexley Community Garden. Barb is an extremely committed community gardener, which makes her perfect for the SACG. (It also doesn’t hurt that she faithfully reads this blog). Tragically, Barb suffered a serious fall in February and broke her neck.

As you can imagine, this accident has very much limited her ability to garden since she cannot bend, etc. and has sapped her formerly boundless energy and enthusiasm. Luckily, she has been steadily recovering and Trae (from the Bexley CG) and her grandsons have helped her from time to time at home. (I cannot claim to have been so helpful). I did, however, build her a Grandma bed so that, after her doctor relaxed her many physical restrictions, she could garden without having to bend. (I’m not so heartless as some people would have you believe and I’m only too happy to steal her away from the BCG just as I have stolen Kelly away from FPC). I am not alone. When Barb expressed concern with navigating our uneven and unfinished brick path to the SACG annex (where the raised beds are located), our Board President, Rayna, immediately remedied the problem.

Anyway, I received an email from Barb last night. She had previously promised me that she had something unusual planned for her Grandma bed. (She wanted me to be concerned, but I am too burned out to be worried . . . . ). Last night was the great reveal. As she explained it:

I wanted to do something different and fun for all, but especially for the children. So, tonight I started a "fairy" garden in my 3' x 6' bed. I had the help of 5 lovely neighborhood children (can't remember all their names!). I was given a 25% discount today from DeMonye's garden center to purchase succulents, cactus and succulent mix and a little fence for our "fairy" house.

Due to succulents needing significantly less water and special soil, we put the plants in little pots and embedded them in the soil. Since fairies like wooded areas, we put bits of wood around for them to hide behind if they need to and there is a nice rock path for them to walk to the house.

Also, a small pond which has marbles to attract them (and maybe butterflies too).

Feel free to add features to this garden if you wish. I would like all to have fun with it.

. . .

I told the children last night it is fine to touch the plants gently...that is O.K. with me. If they want to bring a little plastic animal from home to put in the garden that would be fine with me. And, I said I would ask their advice later about putting up a little sign naming the garden.
To say this was a hit with the neighborhood girls is an understatement. They want Miss Barb to come every day. They want to know why I wasn’t there. They wanted to play with it and water everything. (I had to explain that cactus really don’t need to be watered every day). I shared with them tonight that Miss Barb will be back to read them stories about fairies, too.   They will be adding to the fairy garden over the summer and who knows what it will look like by Labor Day.

So, not everything we do at the SACG is serious and meaningful. Some of it is silly.  (There was, after all, Betty's whimiscal windmill invasion in 2010).   But that makes for great childhood memories, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss the 2012 Strawberry Season

As I reported at the May GCGC meeting, the strawberries at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden began ripening before Mother’s Day. Like everything else this year in Central Ohio, the strawberries seem to be coming two weeks early this year after our extremely warm (even hot) Spring. So, I realized that I had better get a move on or I would miss fresh strawberries this year if I wait (as I usually do) to the first or second weekend in June. I don’t think the berries will be around that long this year. (I saw lots of ripe berries and only a few flowers and even fewer white berries).

Here’s an update of this year’s strawberry pickings (since the neighborhood kids eat all of the strawberries at the SACG before we can get to them):

a. Hann Farms 4600 Lockbourne Road has u-pick strawberries this year at $1.59/pound (a nine cent increase over last year). This is the closest u-pick farm to Bexley and your least expensive option by far, but the trip there is a little tricky (through an industrial district in Obetz, etc.). You can pick 10-6 Monday through Saturday and 12-5 on Sunday. You must pay with cash or check. Call 491-0812 for more information.

b. Schact Farms, 5950 Shannon Road in Canal Winchester, $2/pound (a penny more than last year). This is the next closest to Bexley and is pretty easy to find. They had 15 rows of strawberries (that are several football fields long). They are a lot more organized this year; the rows are numbered and the staff can tell you in advance where the best berries are. They even had a sign explaining picking etiquette, picking tips and storage points. (Later in the year, they also have an extensive pumpkin patch and tomato u-pick operation). They accept cash, credit cards and WIC. They are open 9-6:30, but are closed on Sundays. Call 833-1932 for more information and to ensure that the ripe berries were not all picked the prior day.

c. Jacquenmin Farm, (between Plain City and Dublin), $2/pound (a dime increase over last year). I visited here several years ago with my nieces and it is very quaint and very close to Dublin and Sports Ohio. They have a nice system of having you leave a flag where you left off so that the next person knows where to start picking in their three acre strawberry patch. They have big plans this year for strawberry season. If you call to schedule in advance, they will entertain organized groups of children (or 10 or more). The strawberry field trip costs $4 per child and includes 1 quart of strawberries (picked by the children, of course), an educational coloring book about berries, and an ice cold slushee to cool down with after the picking is done. They are open weekdays 8-5 (but stay open late until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays) and Sundays 1-4 p.m. Call 873-5725 for more information.

d. Doran Farms, 5462 Babbitt Rd. New Albany, $1.79/pound (a dime increase over last year). I've never been there, but have heard good things about it. They opened on Saturday and will be open from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day until the strawberries are gone (with temporary suspensions while the ripe strawberries catch up with the pickers). Call 855-3885 for more information.

e. Circle S Farm, 9015 London-Groveport Rd west of Grove City. They will not be opening for u-pick for another few days (at least) and reported the recent cold evenings had delayed their strawberry crop. I went here a few years ago with my oldest niece and it's a nice, large farm, but is way, way out in the country. They will not provide information up front about pricing (which I find extremely annoying, and so do not recommend that you drive so far out without knowing this in advance). They say they will entertain groups and classes of children if you call in advance. Good luck with that.

While you can get strawberries for $2/pound at Kroger’s without a lot of bending, driving, sweating or walking, they aren’t as fresh or ripe or flavorful as the ones you pick yourself. Strawberries should be red all the way through, something you rarely find at a grocery store. Be sure to wear sunscreen and bug spray. I highly recommend going first thing in the morning because it is supposed to get very, very hot over the next 10 days.

I freeze most of my strawberries (to use in cocktails and smoothies), but also use some to make ice cream and jam. (The problem now, however, is that I’ve pretty much eliminated bread from my diet and have nothing to spread the jam on . . . . ). I think I ate a pound of strawberries yesterday with short cake and whipped cream. So much for that low-carb diet . . . . .   What we do for our art:)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It’s Dry Out There Folks

It's very hard to plant when the ground is bone dry for inches and inches. No matter how much we water, the moisture drains away.  Even my perennial black-eyed susan flowers are wilting in this mini-drought.  I'm glad I planted my tomatoes with my home compost.   It's time to pull out the straw mulch, folks. It's only going to get hotter and hardly any rain is in sight.  Of course, on the brighter side, this dryness is hard on weeds, too.

Yesterday, Joey, Charlie and I planted pepper, eggplant and squash seedlings. However, those seedlings were not happy campers within just a few hours.   Joey and I then turned to building another 5x5 raised bed with cedar donated by Trudeau Fencing and he unloaded all of the bags of soil from the back of my car. One of our neighbors ran into one of our platform raised beds (aka grandma bed) with his pickup truck on Friday morning and spent the rest of the day emptying and repairing it.  (There's a reason I used 5-inch deck screws on that bed and it paid off with the relatively minor damage it suffered after being moved four feet in the collision).   Joey and I then refilled it yesterday. Then Joey and I borrowed Frank and Barb's tape measure to mark the location of our new cherry trees. To get all of this done, Joey missed his nephew's play and I missed my niece's soccer tournament.  How sad, then, that I forgot to pack the no-bake cookies I made for everyone on Friday.

Barb, Susan and Frank worked across the street at the Block Watch lot to mark and prepare new flower beds.

After Joey and Charlie left, Kelly and Sandy came. Kelly and I dug four holes for our new cherry trees. What Kelly lacked in enthusiasm, she more than made up for in execution. Her two holes were wider and deeper than mine and completed in a fraction of the time. (Tree holes should be as deep as the root ball and twice as wide). She also made nice, neat piles of dirt next to the holes. We never could have completed the project without the small pick axe (aka the "chick pick") loaned by Barb and Frank. We haven't had to use it since breaking ground in 2009. The ground at the SACG was full of bricks and glass. The two holes we dug in the Block Watch lot were horrible. There is nothing but gravel and aggregate just one inch below the weedy lawn. After Kelly and Sandy left, I brought over the large bags of mulch that had been donated for this purpose by Scotts-Miracle Gro. (Why didn't I think of asking for help before they left?)

Mari came by to work in her plot. After leaving a flat of tomato seedlings for everyone, I headed home to shower and cool down. I watered other flats of seedlings. Then, it was off to Lowe's again to get more top soil for the kids' beds and tree garden soil for the new trees.

Mark from Oakland Nursery then delivered our four new cherry trees around 6 p.m. They were a lot bigger than I recalled and I had to widen and deepen our holes a bit. One of the neighbor guys helped me carry the heavy bags of garden soil (which he just threw over his shoulder). Neighbor Rose helped me get the trees out of their containers. I scored the roots, watered in the tree soil, tapped it down, covered it with the rocky soil we had dug out and then covered everything in pretty mulch. We planted two Montmorency cherry trees in front of the SACG and two Eastern Bing cherry trees in the Block Watch lot across the street. I thought it would be nice to have cherry trees near Cherry Street. (The SACG is at the corner of Stoddart Avenue and Cherry Street).

Mark did not stay for any of this. I gave Mark a quick tour of the SACG. He liked the grandma beds, made no comment about the abundance of blueberries we are growing this year from the bushes he donated to us in 2010, but fixated on one of our most popular features: our strawberry patch. He could not believe how many plants we had from the dozen crowns he donated to us in 2010. (I didn't tell him that we had actually thinned them last year and sold seedlings to raise $100). He then fled before there was any chance that I might actually ask him to help me plant the trees.

It was important to plant the trees as soon as they arrived because I cannot leave them unattended for long.  On Thursday, I spent the afternoon working to replace our shed lock because it had been damaged in another break-in attempt.  Luckily, the thief was unsuccessful in stealing our tools, but he rendered the lock unusable.  After Frank let me know, I borrowed a bolt cutter from Rebuilding Together and purchased a stronger lock.  Then, one of the kids convinced her older brother to cut our old lock (which would no longer open) off the shed (because Ms. Puniness here doesn't have the upper body strength to cut anything).  That wasn't how I thought I had planned to be spending my Thursday afternoon.
Barb and Frank then returned to do more work in the Block Watch plot and I went home at 8 p.m. for dinner.

Friday, May 18, 2012

GCGC: No Trespassing Signs Deter More Than Unwelcome Guests

On May 10, GCGC met at Christ Lutheran Church in Bexley. It was a sparsely attended meeting, but there were a few points worth passing on.

First, I gave a presentation about the SACG, complete with picture slides. I pointed out that our strawberries are already ripening and I had eaten one the night before. I’ve included a picture of some of the neighborhood girls which came by to poach strawberries. (When I left last night, the boys had only then discovered that the strawberries were ripe. If they spent more time at the Garden than on the basketball court or skateboarding they would not have missed out on a week’s worth of berries). Now, all of the children’s questions are focusing on when our blueberries will be ready to eat . . . .

Second, Roger announced that Local Matters was offering some seminars on backyard gardening for residents of Weinland Park and the Near East Side. (I haven’t been able to find any more information about it on Local Matter’s website to link here. I’d like to know the boundaries of “near east side”). You can sign up on Local Matters’ website or email questions to

Third, there was a discussion about the website which some volunteers at Otterbein College are putting together for GCGC. Volunteers are needed to help develop content for the new GCGC web page.

Then, it was announced that Roger was stepping down from the steering committee after two years. Anyone interested in joining the steering committee should contact Peggy.

Next, Roger made a presentation about liability issues facing community gardens. He had help from retired attorney, Louise Annarino. Very few of us (if any) had posted no-trespassing signs at our gardens because we think they are ugly, unwelcoming, and would deter neighbors and potential volunteers from approaching gardeners. However, a few good points were made about the benefits of a no-trespassing sign. First, the police are unlikely to do anything about trespassers or loiterers without a sign. Second, if a trespasser gets hurt on garden property without a sign, it is more likely that the garden could be held liable than if a sign had been posted. Generally, a landowner owes no duty of care to a trespasser, but you have to show the person is an unlawful trespasser. (This is difficult to do without a sign or locked fence/gate). A duty of warning of latent dangers is owed to individuals, like guests, who are invited onto the property. A much higher duty of care is owed to individuals with a business relationship with you.

Roger then led a discussion about what kinds of rules gardens should adopt and how those rules should be adopted. He felt that the neighbors should have input into the rules. He also raised a good point about the need to keep MSDS (i.e., Material Safety Data Sheets) at the garden which contains information on all of the chemicals and agents used at the garden (including organic products like blood and bone meal). Someone could get something in their eye or mistakenly ingest or breathe something and require emergency medical assistance. Having a binder onsite with information about the contents and dangers of all such chemical and other agents would be important to have in a crises. He also raised a concern with using blood and bone meal from cows which could have “mad cow disease.”

Michael (from Kossuth Garden) volunteered to arrange for a standard sign that community gardens could use for rules and no-trespassing.

I passed out a general risk management assessment worksheet and a handout about risk management issues involving volunteers.

There was a discussion about places which sell seeds in bulk. There was a strong recommendation for Zettler’s downtown (i.e., at Third Street and Main). I pointed out the Oakland Nursery and Dill’s also sell seeds in bulk. I’ve also found them at some rural feed stores (which might volunteer to donate some seeds at the end of the season if you start telling them about your community garden, etc.).

I then made available to the attendees the Botanical Interest seeds which had been generously donated to the SACG by CLC member, Linda. This may have been a small group, but they pretty much cleaned us out and very few seeds were left by the time I kicked them out at 7:50 (so that I could rush home to watch the second-to-last showing of the now-cancelled Missing). There will lots of happy planting in Central Ohio this year. A gentleman from a new community garden near Rome-Hilliard Road also brought a flat of vegetable seedlings to share. Patrick, Derek and I divided them up:)

The next GCGC meeting will be at the community garden at Epworth Methodist Church on Karl Road on Thursday, June 7, 2012. Food was on everyone’s mind because I didn’t feed anyone. The next meeting will be a simple networking and social gathering. Everyone is asked to contribute to a potluck dinner and you can bring whatever you like. There was also a discussion about having a seed swap of sorts.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Giddyup – Stirrup Hoe Makes Shuffling Off Weeds Way Easier

Today was a busy and long day at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. We built three raised garden beds for neighborhood kids with cedar fence boards generously donated -- AGAIN and AGAIN - by Trudeau Fence Company.   Russ and Mike are absolutely AWESOME for saving flawed cedar boards for me to use at the SACG.  These cedar boards may not be good enough for their customers, but they are extremely valuable to us at the SACG since we use them to build gates, tomato stakes, fence stakes, and raised garden beds.  We gardeners hoed, hoed and hoed some more today to stay on top of the weeds and some of us got some planting in before tomorrow’s forecasted rain.

First things first. Two years ago, we had some nifty gardening seminars at the SACG organized by the Franklin Park Conservatory.   One of them dealt with second season crops and the leader – Leslie -- strongly recommended that we buy a shuffle hoe. She demonstrated it for us. While impressive, I didn’t feel like spending the money at the time. However, new gardener James came by last Saturday with a second-hand one and I saw the light.  It made hoeing the pantry plot a breeze (after two inches of rain the day before). I bought one for the SACG yesterday and everyone (i.e., Frank, Barb, Mike, Beth, Rayna, Sandy, Kelly and me thought it was THE BOMB). It whips right throw those small weeds with ease. You just keep running it back and forth over the ground (instead of raising it up to chop like a regular hoe). If you keep it in place, it just goes deeper and deeper. Cathy came by and was very excited to see it. She called it a stirrup hoe, which makes more sense because the bottom looks like a stirrup. She’s been looking for ages to buy one. It only cost about $15 and your gardening life will not be complete without it. It makes hoeing between rows a breeze. I may never go back to using a regular hoe. Really. I cannot strongly recommend that you immediately buy one of these before you plant another seed. Really Really Really. Really.

I got there around 9:30 this morning. Charlie popped by first. After working the night shift, he had hit some yard sales and the Clintonville Farmer’s Market. He had a great poster of all things peppers. I gave him some tomato seedlings and he was on his way.

Then, new SACG gardener Kelly and her mother, Sandy, came by. Sandy planted Kelly’s plot. Then she came and helped Kelly and me build raised garden beds for our neighborhood kids. I shoveled our excess wood chips out of the way. They stayed and worked until my drill battery died. We built two beds and put them in place against the west fence.

Barb and Marvin came by to see Barb’s new elevated garden bed.

Orlando stopped by. He helped to finish the second raised bed with his personal drill after my drill battery died. I then put him to work helping me fix Barb’s raised bed. (Be sure to use deck screws on the side braces. We didn’t on her bed and the three-inch screws were not strong enough to hold up the bench). Unfortunately, one of the BTBO air conditioning units had been stolen the night before. I believe I took a picture of one of the thieves a few days earlier scoping out the unit. We spoke with the police. I also provided some seedlings for the BTBO “man garden.” Veronica stopped by and we commiserated over the theft.
Beth, Mike, Lucy and Peter came by to hoe out their plot and do ALL of their planting.   They even had nifty brass-like plant markers this year.  Lucy and Peter got bored, so Mike walked them all the way back home to the east end of Bexley. That blows my mind. Have you ever seen a plot so free of weeds in your life?  They live behind me and know this is the perfection I expect:)

Frank and Barb came by to plan the second flower bed in the Block Watch plot across the street. They agreed we could plant four fruit trees in the Block Watch plot and I volunteered my personal chain saw to clear out weed trees. Frank brought me his drill to complete another raised bed.

Then, Joey came by after volunteering at Heritage House serving meals. He hoed his plot with the stirrup/shuffle hoe and planted tomatoes. Then he helped me build another raised bed.

Rayna came by to hoe her plot and transplant raspberry seedlings. Kenaya popped over a few times, helped Mike and Beth plant, and read us (Rayna, Joey and me) a story about Franklin the Turtle who is afraid of the dark. Peanut came by and shoveled wood chips for a while and helped Rayna with the raspberry seedlings.

Cathy came by to chat. Her kids helped clean out the last raised bed where Peanut had raked up wood chips.

Ms. Gladys stopped by to talk about scheduling.

I planted 18 tomato plants, showed a few people around the garden (and tried to recruit neighborhood gardeners for our three vacant plots), planted some fennel, two rows of heirloom beans (courtesy of my sweet friend Mary) and some plants in the neighborhood plots and hoed and hoed and hoed. I also dug up some volunteer potatoes. Some of them are just babies, but one was bigger and firmer than my fist. Go figure.

Frank and Barb came back to hoe more of their plot, mow grass in the Block Watch plot and who knows what else. They were still there when I finally left after 6.

At home, I watered seedlings and made myself some Genovese Chard (i.e., sautéed in anchovies and olive oil) with swiss chard that I planted at home last Spring. I am whipped and very sunburned (on my arms).

Did I mention also that my neice Rachel scored FIVE goals this morning in soccer?  She has a tournament next weekend, so who knows how much gardening I'll get done . . . .   You go girl!!!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SACG's Fourth Growing Season Brings New Sign and Logo

We are blessed at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden in many, many ways. For the past three years, we have benefitted from a beautiful sign painted by a former neighborhood gardener, Dwayne Penny. We have loved his folksy sign, which reminds me of an antique cross-stitch design one might see on a home-made quilt. From time to time over the years, a car would stop just to take a picture of our sign. One photographer told me that she was from New York City and was taking the pictures for a college class project back East. I have convinced myself that pictures of Dwayne’s sign are hanging in some New York Gallery. However, the weather has not been kind to our beautiful sign and the paint was beginning to peel. We had hoped that Dwayne would be able to repair the sign by touching up the paint. Unfortunately, Dwayne has moved back to the East Coast where he has family and a better job as a brick mason.

What to do. What to do.

We have another extremely talented artist whose wife gardens with us. John often joins us on strawberry picking expeditions, came last year to help us clean up the Garden and came this March to set it out. No good deed should go unpunished. When I realized that Dwayne would be unable to repair our sign, I impulsively asked John if he would do so. After all, John had painted the gigantic mural now hanging in COTA’s paratransit facility. He’s a well-known professional. How difficult could it be to repair our simple and small sign?

On Saturday, while Tom and I were building raised garden beds, John and Mari dropped by with our new sign. Ta Da! John created a brand new sign and logo for us that still has elements of our old sign.  It is as bold and playful as our former sign was quaint and sweet. Not only is it stunning, but it is also computerized. This means that we can create t-shirts and bandanas and reusable grocery/tote bags with it. Ahhhh. The possibilities. That’s what happens when you ask a professional graphic artist for a favor.

I hope that you will as excited about our new sign as Rayna and I are. With any luck, Frank and Barb will be able to hang it over the SACG front gate within the week. (Then, I will try to get a picture of John next to our kick-butt sign).   Let the photographers come:)

Thanks John! 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mother’s Day Comes Early to the SACG With Platform Raised Garden Beds with Benches

While the rest of the country celebrated Cinqo de Mayo, Derby Day and the Columbus Half-Marathon, Tom, James, Cathy and I brought Mother’s Day early to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden by building raised platform garden beds with benches. Last year, I noticed that Betty – one of our charter members -- was not bending to pick up weeds she had just hoed and figured out that it might be her last year at the SACG if I didn’t figure something out. So, earlier this year, I applied for a grant from the City/County Community Garden Fund at the Columbus Foundation to build three raised platform garden beds (i.e., Grandmother beds). We found out on April 9 that our grant request had been funded. However, leaving nothing to chance while I waited to hear about our grant, I also sought out corporate in-kind donations and was blessed that Lowe’s Home Improvement Store on East Broad Street – just 2 miles from the SACG – agreed in early April to donate the seriously expensive cedar lumber to build our raised beds. Of course, when I saw the shock on the staffs’ face about how much lumber that would take, I immediately scaled back my request to lumber for two beds so as not to take advantage of their generosity and burn bridges for other community gardens in the future. They even cut down the lumber for me to build the 6x4 raised beds and helped me to load all of the lumber into my Jetta.

I researched other similar raised beds at other community gardens on the internet and decided on a design. However, during one of my evening constitutionals, I again walked by Jim Z’s house. Outside his wood shop was a sandbox he had built for a grandchild that was now being transferred to another friend (or I would have snagged it for our first raised bed). I liked his design so much better because it came with a built-in bench. I ran home to get a camera and took pictures of it at various angles before it began to rain. He must think I’m a freak.

Gardeners Beth & Mike live behind me in Bexley. Mike has his own wood shop and cut notches in the boards for the legs. I started to put the first bed together on my patio last Sunday before realizing that I might not be able to get it out of my backyard, let alone into a vehicle and over to the SACG if I finished the project there. So, I fit what I could into my Jetta (as funny as that sounds) and took it over to the SACG, where I finished assembling it on Monday evening. I have to admit there was a lot of profanity involved as I tried to assemble it by myself when the wind kept knocking it over while I screwed in pilot holes, etc.  As you know, I had to wait until Thursday for Justin from CleanTurn to flip it over for me to finish. I bought the rest of the lumber from Lowe’s for the third bed. (I’d like to say it was from the East Broad store, but they had sold out of the required size of cedar and had to send me up to Weber Road on Friday). I wanted to save Mike the trouble of cutting the notches for the legs and checked out a jig saw from Rebuilding Together, but it did not come with a blade. When I called Mike to borrow one, he ended up just cutting all of the lumber down for me on Friday evening.

Saturday was much, much easier. Tom met me at my house at 9 a.m. to pick up the lumber for the second and third bed. Orlando (from BTBO) stopped by to give me a jovially hard time about leasing our second lot (next to BTBO) and helped us move the first bed into its final location. Tom and I then assembled the second bed when I discovered to my horror that I was missing one 12-foot board. I knew the East Broad Street store was sold out, so we headed for Weber Road, only to meet with the closure of I-71! How did I not know this!?? Then, we ran into the Half-Marathon traffic. Ugh! Back to East Broad to get a narrower board. Tom even bought me lunch. We finished the second bed and made substantial progress on the third bed before Tom had to leave at 1:30. As we were eating our lunch tailgate style, Mari & John stopped by with our new gate sign. (More on that in a few days).

Also Dr. Jim from the Morrison Hill Community Garden stopped by to introduce himself (after Cathy from Urban Connections suggested that he do so) and I encouraged him to thin our strawberry patch out for the benefit of their Garden.  He came back with his two young sons and did just that.   Neighbor Rose also came by to make sure I was wearing enough sun screen.

Meanwhile, I had already learned with the first bed that my cordless drill’s battery was insufficient to complete the project. So, I checked a drill out from Rebuilding Together, only to find that they have no cordless drills!!!! Frank and Cathy loaned me their cordless drills. We burned through my drill and Frank’s drill and, shockingly enough, Cathy’s 24-V drill lasted the rest of the afternoon. She stopped by, briefed me about the block watch meeting and helped me finish the third bed and put it into its correct place. I whined so much, she agreed to come help me out on Saturday mornings.  (I won't hold you to that promise made under emotional duress:)   Ms. Anthony also stopped by to say hello as well. Then, some neighborhood girls stopped by to see our project progress. Then, Miss Gladys stopped by after church to see and select her new bed and pose for pictures. She was so excited, she wants to plant at least one of everything.   That made everything worth it for me.

Shortly after Cathy left, James came to do some gardening. Boy, did I love his shuffle hoe. When he saw me lifting the soil bags, he immediately stepped in and insisted on doing that for me. We then filled the second bed and the neighbor plots (along the alley) when Margaret Ann from Four Seasons City Farm stopped by with our grant check. (City Farm is our fiscal agent). I showed her around. She loved the new beds and our new sign. She couldn’t believe we had accomplished so much in so little time.   What a positive life force she is.

I should mention that James is quite a character.  He is one of our new gardeners.  He lives on Berekely.  In addition to growing something on every inch of his lot (like chard in the median), he also mows the grass of the abandonned house next door with his reel mower.  He reads Mother Jones and has been doing some creative gardening in his SACG plot.

Anyway, by this point, I had lost the ability to think or communicate with anything other than a grunt. Even though the beds had not been filled or donated soil completely distributed, I headed home and collapsed into an incoherent puddle just in time to see the Derby.  I then ordered a pizza and ate the whole thing as I walked home. Craziness. I woke up this morning with every muscle in my body aching and aching. I’m too old for this.

I had been concerned that the middle was not strong enough to support the weight of wet soil, so this afternoon, I cut down and installed braces and then filled 2-1/2 beds. Rayna helped distribute more soil in the neighbor plots along the alley and I began planting in them (with lots of help from the neighborhood girls). The beds have become the new gathering place for the girls because the benches allow them all to sit and chat among themselves. Rayna just loved it. They wanted to break down all of the large clumps of soil and giggled when I poured in bags of manure.   Truth is, they want me to build tiny versions of these beds for them.  Fat chance, girls:) Then, the kids just hovered over the blueberry bushes and strawberry patch predicting when the berries would be ripe enough to eat. 

For those of you who want to seek similar grant funding and build your own grandparent beds, the lumber cost around $200 and the 30 bags of soil $50. 

The next phase is to build regular raised beds (with cedar donated by Trudeau Fence Company) for our youth gardening program near the grandmother raised beds. Gotta love intergenerational gardening.

For those of you who are interested, all three of the grandmother beds may be spoken for, but one of the ladies has not turned in a signed agreement yet.  (Miss Gladys had her grandsons satisfy her working hour requirement by spreading wood chips a couple of weeks ago and signed her agreement the instant she saw her new bed).  If you want  one of the beds, let me know.

We also have four regular plots available to any hardworking and serious gardeners who will come next Saturday to help me build regular raised beds for the kids and a new compost bin.  We really need another gardener with a truck or SUV:)   Many hands make light work.

Thanks again to the City of Columbus, Franklin County, the Columbus Foundation, Lowe's Home Improvement, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Home Depot (for the fence) and our wonderful volunteers, gardeners and neighbors for making the grandmother beds possible.

Now, I will let Rachmaninoff play me off to sleep . . . . . 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hot Day in the FPC Corral: City-County Community Garden Grant Awards Cause Fainting

Yesterday was an exciting day for the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. First, Bexley electrician Mitch Stewart fixed the grouchy Garden Manager’s 25-year old air-conditioner in less than ten minutes – a new personal record – and a godsend on a day that reached 90 degrees. (Thanks Mitch!) Then, over 100 bags of mulch, top soil, garden soil, and hummus donated to the SACG by Scotts Miracle-Gro was delivered by Justin and Juan (as promised by CEO John and scheduled by Jimmy) from CleanTurn International LLC. Picking up, transporting, unloading and stacking all of those bags would have been very difficult for the SACG team on the tight schedule provided by FPC (i.e., only Thursday afternoon or Saturday morning), so we are extremely appreciative that CleanTurn volunteered to pick up and deliver the Scotts Miracle-Gro donation for any community garden that asked. We are also appreciative of the fact that FPC permitted CleanTurn to start their deliveries in the morning because there were so many gardens who received similar donations. (In fact, my orange-clad Juan and Justin CleanTurn team had been working since 8 a.m. and had been to the American Addition community garden off Joyce Avenue before coming to the SACG). As hot as it was when Justin and Juan arrived at 11:40, I’m sure it was much hotter later in the afternoon when the rest of the gardens received their materials. We were also blessed that new guy, Frances, was strolling around Build the Bridge of Ohio next door and jumped in to help Justin and Juan unload the truck.

As a personal observation, that Justin is one strong dude. On Monday, I had built a 4x6 platform raised garden bed out of cedar. However, it was still upside down and I did not have the strength to turn it over without damaging it so that I could finish the last side and add the bench seats. Barb and Cathy both stopped by the SACG on Wednesday and offered to help me, but I didn’t think we could do it even together. I figured the CleanTurn guys would be strong enough and suggested to Justin that this garden damsel in distress needed some help. Instead of waiting for Juan to come back with the truck, Justin pretty much lifted the entire bed with one arm, twirled it over his head and then set it down on all four legs facing the correct direction. Ok. I’m exaggerating a bit. But he flipped it all by himself without breaking it. I have been reduced to an all new level of puniness.

Then, it was off to beautiful Franklin Park Conservatory for the award ceremony of the community garden grants collectively awarded by the City of Columbus, Franklin County, 5/3 Bank, the Columbus Foundation and Franklin Park Conservatory. There were approximately 200 community gardeners and other officials (like Dr. Teresa Long, Ms. Seckler, etc.). According to the official press release, there were 76 applicants (all of whom generously received requested product from Scotts Miracle-Gro) and 43 of the applicants received funding.   I walked in with some teachers from Lincoln Park Elementary School who had received a grant to upgrade their school garden. There were a lot of other school teachers there, too, from Whetstone and folks from Otterbein College and Southside Settlement. There was a long line to check in (because, if you did not arrange for CleanTurn to deliver your product, you received your donated Scotts Miracle-Gro materials in the order you checked in).  It quickly became apparent that this would be a hot and sunny day, so I put on my garden hat to hide the fact I was melting into a very bad hair day. Peggy was graciously shuttling between the refreshment line and the check-in line to make sure we were all hydrated. (Thanks Peggy!). Bill Dawson was also on hand to personally greet every garden leader and ask detailed questions to show-off his memory of all things personal.

The SACG received a grant to build platform raised garden beds, start a fruit orchard, support the Block Watch garden across the street and replenish our neighbor plots. I’ve attached a picture of the very pretty Certificate of Honor and Recognition for the SACG signed by Columbus Mayor Coleman and City Council President Ginther. Of course, all of the gardens in attendance received one. I ran into the Growing Hearts and Hands Community Garden leaders en masse (i.e., Pepper, KT and Richard) and heard about all of the different groups and organizations that send them volunteers to help with their program. The Rebuilding Together Tool Library team also has an impressive produce garden in front of their warehouse and was in attendance (having shut down for the afternoon to pick up their donated materials). I also picked up a snazzy water bottle from the Columbus Health Department and an apron and useful fan from 5/3 Bank.

Speaking of 5/3 Bank, they had dozens and dozens of volunteers on hand to handle check-in and keep things moving. The ceremony was scheduled for May 3 because it was, after all, 5/3 Day.

Then, there was a very formal ceremony. The podium was in the hot sun and there were small tents for the VIPs (in suits and ties). The rest of us (in much more casual and comfortable clothing) struggled with finding a shady spot that was close enough to the podium to hear the speakers.  I stayed close to the Epworth Methodist gardening goddess.   The 5/3 volunteers were clearly not used to working in such heat and stayed up front and close to the podium while we hardened gardeners flocked to the back (and the shade). FPC’s Bruce kicked things off. He announced that the American Public Garden Association conference would be in Columbus in June and explained that the American Community Garden Association had relocated its headquarters to FPC because of the wide community support for community gardens in Central Ohio.

Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady credited the public-private partnerships in Central Ohio for making the grant awards possible for so many local community gardens. He was particularly excited about the partnerships which include UWCO, Franklinton Community Garden and others for making fresh produce available in local food deserts. He said “good things grow together.” Catchy.

City Councilperson Priscilla Tyson then spoke. I have to admit that I could not hear much of what she said. She talked about the beginnings of the community garden grant program and began thanking supporters by name. There were some people in the back (and I knew each and every one of them) who were conversing loudly because they assumed that if they could not hear from back there, they wouldn’t be disturbing anyone. Of course, that wasn’t true and those of us ten feet closer to the action had to shush them. Really people. However, the real excitement of the afternoon came when one of the 5/3 volunteers – bless her heart – fainted soon after Mrs. Tyson stood up. She was quickly helped to her feet, but I had to practically pull her back into the shade b/c she didn’t want to be any trouble. (People suffering from heat stroke cannot be expected to exercise good judgment). Other 5/3 volunteers found a shady place for her to sit, formed a fan brigade around her to create a cool breeze and others brought her water to drink. Not to be outdone, Peggy found really cold water for her. After the ceremony ended, Dr. Long sauntered back to check on her, too. I bet she never forgets this 5/3 day:)

There were some boys who looked like the Jonas Brothers talking about their garden. Then, Bill Dawson closed the ceremony by making all of us come up for a giant group picture and the gardening O-H cheer: O-H-I-Grow. He also explained how the distribution of the materials would work for those organizations that did not arrange for CleanTurn to deliver their donations. There was some grumbling from some of the gardens about not knowing about CleanTurn’s offer (to which I explained that they should have attended the GCGC meeting at the Columbus Foundation explaining the process and CleanTurn’s offer and then told them when and where the next GCGC meeting would be). There were a lot of organizations who were then going to have to spend that hot afternoon loading and unloading heavy bags. They were very lucky to have lots of 5/3 volunteers on hand to help them because the groups picking up their materials on Saturday were not going to have any help. I, on the other hand, sauntered back to my car and my air-conditioned house to prepare for the next phase of the day.

I picked up additional supplies at Lowe’s and then returned to the SACG to finish the first platform raised bed (built entirely with seriously expensive cedar lumber that was donated by Lowe’s Home Improvement Store on East Broad Street). Gardener Mike had cut notches into two of the boards to make room for the legs. Two neighbor girls stopped by while I was applying glue around the joints, stapling garden fabric in as a lining (with a stapler borrowed for free from Rebuilding Together) and then emptying five bags of top soil into it to stabilize it. (Did you know that the Scotts top soil also has peat in it? No wonder it’s more expensive than generic). Again, I am so puny. A second grader can carry and empty a bag of top soil all by herself and even I find that to be an effort. Oh well.

On Saturday morning, we will be building two more of these raised platform beds: One with cedar lumber donated again by Lowe’s and one with lumber purchased with our new grant and all filled with donated Scotts Miracle-Grow products.   We will also be building some regular raised beds for the kids in our fledgling 4-H program and maybe a compost bin (built with cedar lumber donated by Trudeau Fence Company in Hilliard).   We could always use more volunteers to help make these projects go faster:) The work is not that difficult, as evidenced by the fact that I could do it by myself with the help of a second-grader and kindergartener.  But many hands make light work.