Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New City Program Will Loan Rain Water Tanks to Land Bank Community Gardens

We are finally getting a real rain storm for the first time since May. Whoo hoo! We have had a difficult time keeping our produce and flowers sufficiently watered at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden with the light and infrequent rain we have received this growing season and the freakish thefts of our rain water from our tank and barrels. On Friday, I added a bibb lock to our tank and one of our rain barrels (to keep anyone from taking water through the spickets). However, Richard from Growing Hearts & Hands Community Garden last week told me that the City was in the process of giving away more tanks. This caused me to call Leslie Strader in the Mayor’s office to see if we could get a second tank to increase our storage capacity (in light of the drought and water thefts) and to support the Block Watch flower gardens (because they have been transporting water from home twice each week). Leslie then sent me to the Rebuilding Together Central Ohio Tool Library, which had been contracted to administer this new program.

Julie from Rebuilding Together called me yesterday and here is the low-down:

1) Councilperson Priscilla Tyson is the brainchild of this program.

2) The City will loan produce community gardens located on City Land Bank lots a rain water tank and other equipment. There are two sizes of tanks (i.e., 330 and 550 gallon). All of the tanks are black. The City will retain ownership of the tanks and equipment. Community gardens located on private property are not eligible for this program. Flower gardens are also not eligible. Eligible community gardens must be in at least their second growing season; first-year community gardens are not eligible to apply.

3) The equipment being loaned includes a solar-powered pump, hoses and a bibb lock. This will mean that we can run a hose from the tank directly into the garden and will no longer need to haul watering cans back and forth from the garden to our tank. Is that cool, or what? The equipment needs to be returned to Rebuilding Together at the end of each growing season and can be picked up at the beginning of the next growing season.

4) The tanks will be labeled as City property and that the water is non-potable (i.e., not safe to drink).

5) Three members/officers of the community garden must sign-on as responsible parties. This will involve providing your drivers’ license number.

6) Gardens must complete and submit a non-profit organization application to the Tool Library.

7) Gardens must also provide a soil sample, which will be tested by OSU for, among other things, lead. (In other words, these gardens will receive free soil testing as part of this program). The details of this are still unclear.

8) The program will only cover 30-35 gardens.

9) Rain Brothers will be providing and installing the tanks and equipment.

10) This program will also pay for Rain Brothers to fill the tank one time. In other words, you don’t have to wait for it to rain before the tank will be filled for you at no charge.

11) There will be some delays because of how the City is reimbursing Rebuilding Together, but the program will be administered over 2012 and 2013. They hope to start delivering tanks to eligible gardens by the end of July.

12) Questions and inquiries should be directed to Rebuilding Together at 258-6392.

13) A formal press release will be coming.

It’s possible that I have forgotten some details, but you can obtain the information for yourself from the Tool Library. Happy watering!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Weed Dating is the New Speed Dating and Brings Volunteers

This morning, while reading my morning news, I came across an article on the NBC website that cracked me up, but could be useful to community gardens (particularly communal gardens).  A few farms have recruited volunteers to help them weed by turning them into "weed dating" events.   The ladies are assigned to a row or "bed" and taught how to tell the difference between a weed and, say, beans or lettuce.   Then, the men are rotated among the beds and rows every so many minutes to weed with the different ladies so that everyone eventually gets to meet everyone else (of the opposite sex).  

This is a benefit to the weed daters because they already have something in common with their fellow weeders or they wouldn't be there.  They also already have at least one topic of conversation because the lady has to communicate information about the plants and the weeds.  Granted, not everyone will be in the desired age range, but then you get to widen your circle of acquaintances.

Shy folks are provided with the opportunity to leave a note in a mason jar for other daters if they are too shy to communicate directly about an interest in meeting elsewhere for a less dirty activity.

So, go forth and organize your next weed dating event at your church garden.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Counting Our Blessings during the Freakish Heat and Drought

As most of you know, we do not have an irrigation system at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. This means that we fill our watering cans at our rain tank and barrels and then walk them across our second lot to our plots. When the temperatures are regularly above 90 degrees during the day and the rain has been sparse to non-existent, our plants require watering two to three times each week. I am routinely spending 90 minutes during each trip to the Garden just watering vegetables and seedlings.  While I am usually a sweaty, flushed and frizzy mess after just a couple of trips, and this exercise has deterred our older gardeners, I have noticed that my arm muscles are much more toned this summer than in the past. 

The thirstier plants have benefitted from our water bottle system, straw mulch and extra compost. For those of us who have nurtured our plants, they have survived well enough to set and produce fruit. In fact, my eggplants actually seem to be enjoying this weather. The rest of my vegetables and fruits, however, are shorter than in years’ past and are producing smaller fruit. The beans and corn are taking this weather particularly hard (although the beans may also have suffered from having a fire hose turned on them by a well-intentioned, but misguided demolition worker). Some plants lost their flowers (and could not, therefore, set fruit) during the last heat wave.

Nonetheless, we persevere. The kids think watering is fun and often volunteer to help (although they are not strong enough to carry a full watering can from the tank to the Garden). We have also had volunteers stop by to help water on occasion. Last night, for instance, Cathy, Jen and the kids helped me to water most of the Garden (after we spent quite some time hunting squash bug eggs and reading a chapter out of Seed Folks). Barb helped me last Wednesday before heading across the street to water the Block Watch flower garden.

But this summer has not just been about our freakish weather. We have also benefitted from generous donors in the last few weeks. Mike Watkins from the Cougar Group (which donated our precious rototiller in 2010) donated a brand new lawn mower to us at the end of June when he learned that we desired one. (Our last lawn mower was stolen in August 2010). While we obviously have not had to mow the crunchy grass much this summer, having our own lawn mower again means that we no longer have to rely exclusively on our neighborhood gardeners – like Barb and Frank – to mow the lawn and can assign that chore to anyone. (In 2009, I used to transport my own lawn mower to the Garden in the trunk of my car and Joey did that a few times in April this year). Of course, this lawn mower is too big for our shed, so we are storing it at a nearby undisclosed location under several locks and chains until it rains again someday. Isn’t it pretty?

Then there are random acts of kindness. On June 30, the McClellan family donated a number of our Wish List items. They had heard through Christ Lutheran Church that we had a wish list and they are fans of community gardens through their acquaintance with Local Matters and Jonathan from Rain Brothers. Out of the clear blue sky, they tracked me down, introduced themselves and asked me to let them know what we needed. They tried to have it all delivered (including compost, but I had to explain that no one would be willing to shovel and distribute compost in this weather). The entire family came to deliver the items in 95 degree heat. They had already assembled everything before bringing it over (saving me from having to do so in this heat). So, we now have new gardening gloves, tomato cages, tomato stakes, two additional watering cans, a patio umbrella, and a tumbling compost bin.  Every community garden should be so lucky to receive such support.

Thus, despite the adverse weather conditions, I try on occasion to remember to count our blessings, particularly those that will last beyond this growing season.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

These Shoes Were Made For Walking

Today was the community garden open-house for the dirty dozen hub gardens supported by Franklin Park Conservatory’s Growing to Green Program. Ok, it wasn’t 102 like yesterday, but 90 degrees is still too warm to entice most people to stand in the hot sun looking at frazzled vegetation.

As usual, we benefitted from extraordinarily dedicated volunteers.  The Conservatory’s Women’s Board sent Subha and Joanne to help us out at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden for the entire duration of the tour. Shifts were also taken by Fairy Garden Barb, Kelly, Joey, Frank & Barb, and your faithful Garden Manager. Cathy and her kids also hung around for most of the tour to sell lemonade to raise money for our youth program and were ably assisted (with sales art work and serving) by Micayla, Giorgianna, and Kenaya. Cathy also helped me to pack everything up at the end.

Barb also put together some charming planters that visitors could buy for their own fairy gardens (or simply to decorate a bare patch in their own gardens). Beth donated a pair of Lucy's baby shoes.  Charlie and I scoured garage sales.  We have a few left for only $8/pair. First come first served. Just email me if you are interested. The proceeds will support our fledgling youth program.

We had the benefit of the patio umbrella donated last week by the McClellan family and the extra shade umbrella loaned by Fairy Garden Barb. (Otherwise, there is no shade at the SACG for the volunteers or visitors).

We showed our visitors the strawberry patch, the blueberry and raspberry bushes, the neighbor plots, the raised beds for seniors and youth gardeners in the annex, the fairy garden, the herb garden, the rain water harvesting system and our existing and new compost bins. I always highlight the scarecrow our youth put together too. One of the visitors asked to see the chore chart.

Most of our visitors were from other community gardens looking to see what we do differently in the event that they might incorporate something new into their own gardens. Our last visitor wanted us to work harder than we already do and to use our wood chips as mulch. Sigh. Bill stopped by with the new Growing to Green van.

After I set everything up this morning, I noticed that Rayna and Barb were up to something suspicious. They denied any conspiracy, but I was not convinced. When I returned, I told Cathy that I was pretty sure that they had put something in my plot. We walked over there, but didn’t notice anything. Oh well. Later, as we were packing up and I was throwing a milk carton into my plot that I need to plant tomorrow when it’s not so hot, I jumped about three feet when I turned around and saw a GIANT grasshopper hanging off my bean trellis. Funny girls.

 Just in time for the tour, the magic garden gnome has also reappeared in the Garden to guard the plot of last year’s tidiest gardener.  We hope that he doesn't walk off. . . . .

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Heroes of the Day: Franklin County Master Gardeners – The Sequel

This morning, five more Franklin County Master Gardener interns (including their fearless leader) returned to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden to help us prepare for tomorrow’s FREE Growing-To-Green Open Hub Garden Tour (from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.). They continued to weed our food pantry plots, around the fence line and in the annex. They also planted and watered in a lot of pansies and dusty millers (donated by Strader’s Garden Centers) in our front flower beds. Finally, I sent them across the street to deadhead flowers in the Block Watch flower gardens. You cannot imagine how much help they have been.

We started extra early this morning. Cathy and I got there around 7:45 a.m. in a feeble attempt to beat the heat. We spent the first couple of hours watering the food pantry, neighbor, flower plots and my plot. I also weeded my plot a little bit. I’m afraid my potatoes have all died from insufficient watering on my part. Sigh.

Hope came and watered her garden. Kelly and her mother stopped by to water and weed for a few minutes. New neighbor Jacquelin stopped by to introduce herself, offer her assistance and watered our corn and Ms. Gladys’ raised bed. Jen stopped by to water Keyante’s bed and the cherry trees. Mr. McClure stopped by to say hello and comment on the gaping hole next door.

Finally, as I started to wilt myself, I picked greens, kale, turnips/greens, a cucumber and our first red tomato for the food pantry and kicked everyone out by 11 a.m. (when it was already 93 degrees). It was too hot to build a compost bin. I had hoped to get in some fertilizing (in the hope of spurting flowers on the plants so that they could turn to fruit during next week’s expected seasonal temperatures), but it got too hot to stay in the Garden one second more. Maybe tomorrow. . . . .

On my way back from the food pantry, I stopped by Four Seasons City Farm to see how they were doing at “the big garden” at Mound and Carpenter in their preparation for tomorrow’s garden tour. That garden is enormous. There were still four or five people there working. Craziness. They would have liked to have help from Master Gardeners this morning . . . . . Bless their hearts, they gave me a slice of watermelon, which was much appreciated.

The importance of fertilizer during a drought. I learned on the OSU website this week how important it is to fertilize during a drought. First, the very controversial phosphorus helps the roots to develop sufficiently to grow deeper than usual. Second, the plants only take up nutrients when the ground is damp. As the top layers dry out (with evaporation from the extraordinary heat and lack of rain), the plant is unable to absorb the nutrients typically found in the top couple of inches of soil. Thus, it is not just the lack of water that stunts their growth during a drought, it is the inability to absorb nutrients in the most fertile part of the soil. I’ll write more about this later.

 Sunday’s Garden Tour. Twelve of the best community gardens in Central Ohio have been working their butts off in the past ten days to put their best faces forward during tomorrow's garden tour despite this very frustrating drought and heat wave. This community garden tour is free and is open to the public.  Very few people are likely to visit all twelve gardens Sunday, but you can always visit a few to get a sense of the diversity of efforts. I will have information to distribute about the SACG and information about the other eleven gardens (including a map of the tour) available for free to the first thirty people who visit the SACG tomorrow. We will also have some water and lemonade for sale in case you forget to bring your own, as well as items for your own fairy garden. Luckily, it will not be anywhere near as hot as today. It might even rain. (A girl can dream).   I'll be at the SACG between 1 and 3 p.m.

You can print out your own copy of the map of the garden tour here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Heroes of the Day: Franklin County Master Gardener Intern Volunteers

We’ve had quite a bit of excitement at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden over the last few weeks. Last Wednesday, one of our brand new sour cherry trees was intentionally killed by a three-ton backhoe – only a month after Kelly and I sweated in great heat to dig a large hole in very dry dirt where we could plant that tree, after weeks and weeks of hauling three gallons of water to it twice a week and just a few months after we received the grant funds to purchase it.  (As Cristen put it, "that is seriously messed up.").  I went home, cried, and questioned if I had just invested too much of my time and soul into this Garden when it was so callously vandalized. Maybe it is time for me to move onto do something else with my time. And right then, my cell phone pinged with an email. It was from the Franklin County Master Gardener program. Angelic Yolanda from the Weinland Park Community Garden gave them my name and suggested that I needed some volunteers to help. I cried again. The email could not have been more timely.  The gardening version of the calvary was coming to the rescue.

Tonight, eight volunteer master gardeners came to the SACG during record-setting heat to help me weed and to plant flowers so that our community garden could look cheery during this drought for the Hub Garden Tour on Sunday, July 8. (Have you noticed that the national news is just now starting to pick up the story of our serious drought and realize the effect on food prices?). They pruned and planted flowers, cleaned up the strawberry patch, weeded pernicious morning glories from our paths and fence, helped Tom to weed his overgrown plot, started weeding the food pantry and neighbor plots, and started weeding in the annex. We filled up our new tumbling compost bin (donated on Saturday by the McClellan family – along with watering cans, gloves, tomato cages and stakes) as well as our four other compost bins.  AND they brought several flats of flowers donated by Strader's Garden Centers.  AND they are coming back on Saturday morning for more of the same. God bless them!

All of the activity brought lots of kids to come to the Garden, too. Cristen -- despite her legendary aversion to weeding -- finally did a spectacular job of weeding one of the children’s group plots.  The rest of the kids helped to water in the new flowers, the corn, the childrens' group plot, the boys' plot and Ms. Glady’s bed. Other kids visited the sandbox.

Needless to say, the kids and our volunteers also got to learn something last night.  The squash bugs have returned to the SACG.  I was able to show the interns what squash bugs and their eggs look like and demonstrate our magic neem oil/soap concoction that will kill the bugs on contact.

 Then storm clouds and thunder came at 8:20 p.m. and everyone scattered.  (After Friday, no one wants to take the chance of getting caught outside in another freakish storm).  Sadly, the "storm" lasted all of ten minutes and dropped very little rain.

This is not to say that we haven't received other help, too.  Cathy Alexander beat me to the Garden on Saturday (after the freak storm on Friday).  She purchased several bags of mulch and mulched the front flower beds all by herself -- in the rain.

The Garden looks so much better than just a week ago -- with the exception as Cristen noted -- of the very dead cherry tree on our front lawn. 

And the demolition continues on the former eyesore next door. As you can see, they have made a lot of progress since knocking the building down on Friday. Now I’m getting lots of questions about what will happen to the lot. We shall see. . . . .