Sunday, November 18, 2012

What a Difference a Week Makes

 I stopped by the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden to finish a few odds and ends which I had been too tired to complete during last week’s closing day.  There were things to put away, tulip bulbs to plant, herbs to harvest, etc.  It’s amazing how different the Garden and the neighborhood look now compared to the start of the season.    The eyesore building next door has been replaced with a grassy field and fruit trees.  The overgrown lot across the street has been replaced with raised flower beds, cherry trees and a general brush removal.   Our overgrown, shoulder-high rose bushes have been pruned to knee height.

When I left last week, the volunteers from the Ohio Youth Collide Conference of the Church of God were still busily working under the supervision of their youth leader, and Cathy & Doug from Urban Connections to remove all of the brush and leaves from the lot across the street.  It’s positively breathtaking how much work they accomplished in just a few hours on one Saturday afternoon.  I only wish the youth and youth leader from my church felt moved to improve a neighborhood less than a mile west of our church.  These Collide youth volunteers had spread out among the City, but two of the crews were assigned to help improve the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood and made a huge difference in just one short afternoon.

With the help of the Collide volunteers, we moved three compost bins last week to the north side of the Garden so that they will not be such an eyesore to the drivers and pedestrians on East Main Street.  Frank and Barb removed our gates and sign to protect them from the winter weather.  I watered the bins and carried some of the ripe compost over to give the bins a good start.   We hope to polish their appearance a bit next year.

Despite the drought and freakish heat this year, we set a new personal best for food pantry donations in 2012 with over 500 pounds from our lot.  While our squash suffered from the drought and bugs, and our greens were attacked by late season aphids, our peppers exploded and the tomatoes were quite respectable.  Sadly, we never would have had so much fresh produce to donate this year if so many of our gardeners had not become discouraged and dropped out in May, June and July.

Of course, I have put my newfound free time to good use cleaning up my own house, cleaning out gutters and raking leaves.   It seems that my house began falling apart around my ears over the summer and I’m so relieved to now have some time to deal with it.  It’s been very helpful to have so much food put up over the summer to save time cooking.   And, believe it or not, I’m still putting up food.  I’m drying herbs (like dill, parsely and the basil I still have growing in my kitchen window), making italian farmhouse and bread-and-butter pickles out of green cherry and roma tomatoes, harvesting kale, freezing  pumpkin and drying pumpkin seeds.  Whew.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Calling It a Year: SACG Cleans Up with Help from Collide

  Another year.  Another beautiful closing day.  The weather could not have been lovelier than it was today when the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden cleaned up to shut down the Garden for the winter.  God blessed us once again.

I picked up refreshments last night thinking that I might be lucky to have four people show up to help.  (I think that every year and every year I am pleasantly surprised to be wrong).  I wished I had packed sandwiches or brought a frozen pizza for Cathy to bake for us.  We ended up with almost 20 volunteers today.

I started this morning at 9:30.  After pulling out the major tools from the shed that I knew we would need today, I started bagging up the remaining tomato and other plants from the kids’ beds and the neighbor plots.  I also started to drain the rain tanks.

Rayna came. After helping me move a compost bin from the south to the north side of the Garden, she spent most of the rest of the day pruning raspberry bushes from the fence rows along three sides of the Garden.  I think she filled 3 yard waste bags of canes.

Beth came and bagged up the rose canes that Barb had cut back last Saturday and then she pruned all of the flowers in the front flower bed.

Mari came and picked up litter, harvested produce and raked up beds.   She mentioned that the entire neighborhood seems to be sprucing up.
Margaret Ann came from Four Seasons City Farm with two little A’s.  She pruned the yellow rose bushes and cut down our sunflowers from the center flower bed.  She also added to our refreshment table and hauled away recyclables.

A boatload of neighborhood kids came, harvested turnips and beets and then raked and engaged in general digging.  And then eating and drinking us out of house and home.  And then de-stuffing and composting our scarecrow.  And then putting the spilled potting soil back in the bag for me.  

Frank and Barb came.  They disconnected our second rain tank, moved a compost bin from the south to north side of the Garden and transported compost and garden waste from the old location to the new compost bin location.  Then Charlie joined them and built a third compost bin along the alley  out of cinder blocks and landscaping stones, and moved more garden waste to it.

Charlie also reinforced our fence with help from one of the new neighborhood boys. And he hauled the bags and bags of yard waste (i.e., thorny canes and tomato vines) to the dumpster.

Tony LaRosa stopped by to tell us about his experiences in guerilla gardening in Weinland Park.  Ms. Anthony stopped by and said hi.

We didn’t really have much of a lunch break and I didn’t get a chance to read off all of the announcements about our achievements and challenges over the past summer.  Oh well.

Without much ceremony or fanfare, I was able to give Cathy Alexander her picture collage marking her as our Volunteer of the Year for helping with the youth program on most Monday evenings, helping me water on most Wednesday evenings, recruiting neighbors for our letter-writing campaign to get the eyesore next door demolished  and arranging for volunteers in June and today.    Our traveling garden gnome award for tidiest gardener(s) went to Barb and Frank for 2012.  Charlie seemed pretty disappointed to not win it two years in a row.   Sigh.

Then, we were flooded with lots of energetic teenagers from the Collide Youth Conference of the Ohio Conference of the Church of God.  The teens assigned to the SACG came from the Alliance Church of God.    We were very blessed to have them because they helped move our compost and garden waste to the new northern location for the compost bins, gathered, stacked and covered our tomato stakes and cages, neatly stacked our surplus lumber, tidied up the south side of the Garden,  harvested a couple pounds of carrots, and raked up garden beds.   They were even more help across the street where they raked leaves, chopped down scrub trees and removed a discarded fence row in the Block Watch lot.

Rayna and I reassembled the shed and got everything packed away.    We also emptied and stored away the sand box and patio umbrellas.

 It was now down to the four SACG Board members: Rayna, Charlie, Frank and me.  We held a pre-scheduled Board meeting about the future of the Garden.   Cathy Alexander was elected to replace Mike Watkins on the Board.  (We have one extra slot in case anyone out there is interested in joining our Board . . . .).   Charlie was voted to a second two-year term.   I am stepping down as the Garden Manager, and so we will need a new one.  Anyone interested should contact me or Rayna.  In the absence of expressed interest, we will be creating a job description and seeking an intern.   Next year, new gardeners will be limited to very small plots or one of our raised beds.  They can graduate to a larger bed once they have demonstrated a season of commitment to gardening and the Garden.  We’ll also be scaling back the Garden to our original lot (which will involve moving our new raised beds to the garden beds on the south side of the Garden).

Frank is coming back tomorrow to mow the grass, take down the sign and gates, and maybe haul away some/all of our excess lumber.   I have to return as well to fix something I forgot.  Oops.

Then, I went home, weighed the 32 pounds of produce we harvested today and, because it was after 4 p.m., took it to Faith Mission.

I am soooo tired.  Really.  I can't believe that we got so much done.  We were so blessed to have such fabulous weather again.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Volunteers Needed to Help Bring an End to 2012 Growing Season

2011 Closing Day Volunteers -- Blue Skies and Sunshine
We all know what an awful year this has been for weather.  Extreme Heat.   Drought.  Early frost and early snow.  We had above average temperatures until September, and then we had two months of below average temperatures – until, that is, the last week of October.  And then we had a tropical superstorm with wind and rain.  But you know what?  We always – AND I DO MEAN ALWAYS – have PERFECT weather for our opening day and closing work day on the second Saturday of November.  This year will be no different.   We will have a balmy and dry day in the 60’s on Saturday, November 10 AND there will be no football game to rush off to because it’s an OSU bye week.

2010 Closing Day Volunteers -- Notice the blue skies?
Every year, we close the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden the second Saturday in November.  This is when we clean out our flower beds, fill up our compost bins, clean up the shed, prune the perennial flowers, raspberry bushes and roses, rake up the garden and neighbor beds, put away the tomato stakes, plant tulips, empty rain tanks, and make our last food pantry harvest of the year.    We will also conduct our annual members' meeting.

Because so many gardeners dropped out in May and June with the heat and drought and weeds, we were able to donate more food than ever in 2012 despite the lower productivity/plot.  We might even hit the 500 pound threshold next weekend when we pull out the remaining collard greens, kale, chard, carrots, herbs, and turnips that are still growing.  You can see from the chart below how we have donated the 465 pounds of garden produce harvested to date.

Although we won’t have Tom’s famous BBQ this year, we will lots of refreshments for volunteers, beginning at 9:30 a.m.  We should be finished by 1:30, depending on how many people come to help.   If we’re lucky, we’ll have enough help to move the compost bins so that they are not such an eyesore to folks travelling on East Main Street (now that the eyesore building that used to be south of the Garden has been demolished).

So, please come and help us put the Garden to bed for the winter.  Many hands make light work and it’s about the only time that the gardeners get to meet and see each other.