Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gardens are not made by singing:--"Oh, how beautiful!" and sitting in the shade

I am delinquent in posting about this year’s Volunteer of the Year.  I really thought I would get around to it last week while I considered what I am most thankful for this year.  But you know what they say about best laid plans.  On our closing work day, Susan gave me some lovely and thoughtful presents and a card which quoted a portion of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem about gardening, “The Glory of the Garden.”  I recalled two lines from the final stanza (quoted below), but had not noticed until last month the very appropriate lines about how much hard work goes into creating and maintaining a proper garden.  Her thoughtfulness and appreciation make all of my other friends pale in comparison.

Susan Tomlinson is the SACG Volunteer of the Year for 2014.   She is the epitome of someone who lives like she was dying.  Every single day I’ve known her she has been a giant and positive life force, is always self-effacing, helpful and cheerful, volunteers all over Central Ohio, works full time, and still finds time for joy rides and dinners with her friends.   I should really introduce her to Margaret Ann Samuels.  For Susan's superlative efforts at the SACG, she received a collage of pictures of her gardening at the SACG (which is also what we gave prior Volunteers of the Year).   Susan came to the Garden several times each week and always seemed to be helping with something extra beside her own plot and her own chores.  Granted, she had a smaller plot to tend that prior award winners, but we all greatly benefitted from her extra assistance this year.  This is just a summary of her help:

·        October: Pruned back flower beds and raked up food pantry plot

·        September: volunteered with Litter Pick It up

·        Helped tidy and secure the Garden after produce thefts in August and September

·        Pruned and weeded herb garden several times

·        Brought a friend who helped me plant tomatoes in food pantry plot

·        Donated tomato cages

·        Cleaned out the food pantry plot at the beginning of the season

·        Helped water the flowers

·        Did her chores without being nagged

·        Pruned roses

·        Regularly sent me emails asking for extra chores

·        Helped tend Mari's plot for a while during her recuperation
·        Has already recruited new gardeners for next year

·        Helped weed the strawberry patch in April.

 She also makes a mean apple cake. 

Of course, the SACG cannot be maintained without help from others in addition to Susan and me.  Frank and Barb have also – as they have been since we broke ground in 2009 – very helpful.    Virtually everyone who gardens here contributes to the continued success of the Garden and are much appreciated.

As the pictures reflect, the Garden looks very bleak and brown these days.   It was very different just six weeks ago.  I keep my fingers crossed that our frigid temperatures are killing those pesky squash and stink bugs, but are sparing our praying mantises, bees and ladybugs.  I am also grateful for all of the help in cleaning out the Garden every year.

Over Thanksgiving, I visited my childhood best friend who celebrated her half-century this week.  She's got a few years of gardening experience on me and a much larger garden (seeing as how she lives on a proper farm with cattle, burros, dogs, horses and two Eagle Scouts). A great deal of our conversation focused on growing sweet potatoes.  As I left, she gave me two potatoes so that I could grow white sweet potatoes next year.  (I didn't even know there was such a thing).

Gardening is easy, but is also very hard work.   It teaches the gardener that you cannot control everything (like the weather) and to be appreciative of even small victories.  As Kipling noted a century ago:

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees

That half a proper gardener's work is done upon his knees,


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Winding Up for the Year at the SACG

Our hardworking SACG volunteers
As faithful readers know, every year I think that noone will come to help clean out the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden at the end of the season.  I tried recruiting new volunteers through NextDoor (without luck).   I emailed Cathy on Friday that I thought there might just be three or four of us this year.  Every year, I am delighted to be wrong (although I noted the repeated and conspicuous absence of Neal, Curt and Charlie).    We had a great turnout today, accomplished a lot and donated over 50 pounds of produce to Faith Mission AND the Lutheran Social Services food pantry.

I borrowed six loppers and hedge trimmers from the Rebuilding Together Tool Library on Thursday.  Yesterday, I made some chocolate no-bake cookies and picked up some supplies from Lowe’s. Our new neighbor emailed me Friday morning that they would be installing a chain link fence along our western border and it would affect our rose bushes. 
      This morning, I dressed in six layers, made some coffee (which no one drank), loaded the car (with tools, goodies and apple cider) and hit every single traffic light between my house and the Garden.  I was a bit frustrated when I pulled onto Fairwood. But when I arrived on Stoddart, Susan, Sabrina, Tom and Zephyr were already at the Garden working.  Susan even brought a box of Starbucks coffee (with cups and everything).   
I turned Susan loose on pruning the front flower bed, Sabrina on harvesting the remaining produce in the Garden while Tom and I turned to relocating the knockout rose bushes.  While I pruned back the rose bushes, Tom dug their new holes and then dug out the bushes (which is much easier said than done).    I brought an ax to disconnect the deep tap roots (based on prior experience in relocating rose bushes).  I helped to plant one and then watered both of the bushes in.
Lea and Zion arrived.  This was the first time that Zion and Zephyr (who are roughly the same age) had a chance to play together all year.   Lea cleaned out Charlie and Curt’s plot since they apparently will not be returning and didn’t care about leaving rotting produce or a mess for the rest of us to clean up.  Mari came and helped her.    It was great to see Mari working hard in the Garden because there was a time in the Spring when we thought that she might not be able to return.  I helped her to locate more of her Irish potato crop since I knew that it had been more productive than she believed.   She also lopped off and composted our broccoli plants after I harvested the spears that remained.

Barb contemplating a rose bud
Rayna came with Joseph and Audrey.   They brought candy and donut holes.  I turned Rayna loose pruning the raspberry bushes.  Susan joined the task on the south side of the Garden.  Lea and Joseph bagged and bagged and bagged.  Tom trimmed and bagged. Audrey dug out Rayna’s giant carrot crop and bagged kale.   I emptied and disconnected the rain tanks and pruned some brambles and bagged.  Then, I turned to harvesting.  Susan helped me harvest and compost.

Frank and Barb came.  They had taken down and stored the gates yesterday and took down the sign today. They also tidied up the area near the shed with our tomato stakes and cages.  They also loaded their truck with the dozen bags of garden waste to take them to Ohio Mulch on Fairwood.  (That leaves only four or so bags that I’ll have to return and take to the curb in 9 days on the city’s yard waste pick up schedule). 

Cathy came (because class let out early) and brought some plastic bags for our food pantry harvest because I ran out a few weeks ago.  (Luckily, Sabrina had also brought me a lot of bags).  Urban Connections donated a giant turning compost bin to us and delivered it yesterday.  I never realized how big it was, but it is as tall as our shed.  Its door is missing, but her father will be fixing that. 

We have three stationary compost bins and two turning bins.  We put most things in the bins, but we can’t put certain garden waste in the bins because they do not generate enough heat to kill everything bad.  For instance, we don’t put tomatoes in the bins because their seeds would create volunteer tomatoes when we eventually spread compost.  We also don’t put sunflower seeds or cosmos (or other seedy weeds) in the bins.  I also discourage putting sick tomato plants or sick tomato straw in the bins to diminish changes of viruses being transmitted later. So, if a tomato plant died back early from any number of viruses that tomatoes get (like wilt, blights, etc.), we put those plants and the straw that mulched them into bags instead of into our bins.  We also do not compost things that will not decompose within a year – like thick stalks of our sunflowers or corn.  That being said, all of our bins were full.

By lunch time, we were all tired and I had promised them a short day.  We gathered our collection of tools and returned them to their assigned places.   The kids carried the bags of produce to the front curb and they were loaded into my and Rayna’s car around 1:30.  We had kale, collard greens, turnips and greens, beet greens, cabbage,  parsley, sage, chives, oregano, dill, broccoli, bok choy, napa cabbage, carrots, arugula, endive, chard, and lettuce.   Rayna followed me home and we set up an assembly line:  Joseph would hand me a bag to weigh; Audrey (with her superior penmanship) recorded the item in my produce notebook; and Rayna would stack the bags on the other side of my patio.  While I added up the numbers on my ancient calculator, the kids played with my new kitten.

Going in the Out Door at LSS Food Pantry
Then, we caravanned over to the Lutheran Social Services food pantry on Frebis.  My gardeners thought I was exaggerating about how popular our fresh greens are.  I rarely get to this or the St. Vincent de Paul pantry without getting stopped by someone wanting a bag.  Sure enough, they were stopped by departing patrons (since we go in through the out door).  Told you so.  We seem to be one of the few gardens donating kale and collard greens.  I would devote our entire food pantry plots to greens if it weren’t for the fact that aphids wiped out our entire kale and collard crop during 2013.  So, I tend to devote about a third of our space to tomatoes, a third to greens and the rest to peppers, beans, and squash.
LSS's Infamous Gene hard at work
 Gene hadn't seen me in a few weeks because I've been busy with auntie duty at my nephew's JV football games.  He usually pesters me with lawyer jokes (when I'm least in the mood and suffering from low blood sugar).  However, today he was a bit distracted and barely noticed that I brought helpers for the first time in four years.  (Betty Weaver used to make our pantry deliveries before I started growing greens that need to be delivered within an hour or so of their harvest). 

Faith Mission's Kitchen Door
Since it was rather late in the day and we had a lot of herbs, we caravanned over to Faith Mission to deliver the second half of our last harvest of the season.  I explained to the kids that this in the only place in town serving three free meals every day of the year.   The cooks were also very excited to receive fresh greens (kale, turnip, collards and beets) and fresh herbs (i.e., sage, parsley, dill, chives, and oregano).

Of course, I have a yard of my own to rake and laundry to do, so I’m pretty wiped out. (Thank goodness I put my heated mattress pad on my bed last night).   Again, I failed to give my annual report (but I’ll circulate a summary of it among the gardeners and the Board this week).  I gave Susan her awards for being our Volunteer of the Year AND our tidiest gardener (which comes with a travelling gnome trophy).   More on this later.  She’s such a sweetie: she gave me (and my kitten) a gift, too.  Sigh. 
So, the SACG is looking pretty empty right now – just in time for the upcoming frigid winter nights.  We always close on the second weekend in November and we always have great weather.  We considered closing a week early this year, but it didn’t work out.  Good thing; it was a lot colder last weekend and is supposed to be even colder next weekend.   Clearly, we have a Guardian Angel in the weather department.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Count Down to 2014 Closing Day

2011 Closing Day SACG Crew
We have one week left in our 2014 growing season at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  In light of the anticipated snow this evening (and because of the rain anticipated today), I harvested our remaining summer crops for the Lutheran Social Services food pantry on Thursday.  Susan was already there cleaning out her plot when I arrived.  She stayed behind to also clean out our southern flower bed. 

2013 SACG Closing Day Volunteers
The butternut squash growing in our front flower bed was still there and ripe, and so I harvested it for our food pantry donation.  There were three more growing in my plot, so two of them went to the food pantry as well.  I pulled the food pantry plot beans and harvested a slew of peppers and green tomatoes.  The bean plants were still flowering (if you can believe that) and there was still basil growing.    I also dug up the remaining leeks. 
I finally dug up our sweet potatoes, which were disappointing this year.  For starters, no one else seemed to know where they were and didn’t water them for a few months.  I also didn’t get around to mounding them until September.   However, more importantly, instead of the large orange ones we usually grow, I used a different type of potato that I picked up at the grocery last Spring.  They were red and narrow.  They didn’t produce many or very large potatoes.  Live and learn.   Always start with an orange variety . . . . .  

2012 SACG Closing Day Crew
Either tomorrow, or next week, I’ll harvest the remaining second cabbages.   Marge from the St. Vincent DePaul pantry had told me a few years ago that if I left the cabbage roots and a few leaves in place when I harvested our cabbages, the plant will form new cabbages (albeit smaller ones).  The truth is, the plants will form multiple new cabbages that look a lot like brussel sprouts.  However, if you pick one and discard the rest, it will grow into a small cabbage (of a half to pound weight) depending on how much of the growing season remains.    We haven’t had much luck with this in the past, but this year, we’ll have a half dozen second cabbages.

2010 SACG Closing Day Crew
It’s always a toss up about what to leave in the Garden for our final day because of the weather.  We’re expecting a hard frost (or freeze) on Saturday night, but balmier temperatures next week.  Right now, there is still kale, chard, lettuce, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, turnips, beets, collards, broccoli, parsley, sage, and cabbage.  Botanical Interest Seeds has a web page explaining what crops can survive cooler temperatures.   We’ve had kale and collards survive uncovered all winter in the past.  However, nothing survived last year’s polar vortex and I usually end up getting my last Fall harvest from my back yard around Xmas time.   We generally leave some kale and collards in the neighbor plot all winter. 
According to Botanical Interest:

In early fall, it pays to keep an eye on nighttime temperatures. Don't get caught off guard by frost. Make sure to get the last of your crops harvested in time. To help you, here's a simple list of common vegetables and their frost tolerance.

Light Frost - Temperatures 28-32 degrees F
Hard Frost - Temperatures below 28 degrees F.

Likely damaged by light frost: Beans, cucumbers, eggplants, muskmelon, New Zealand spinach, okra, peppers, pumpkins, summer squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon, amaranth, and winter squash (plants).

Can withstand light frost: Artichokes, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chinese cabbage, endive, lettuce, parsnips, peas, swiss chard, escarole, arugula, bok choy, mache, and radicchio.

Can withstand hard frost: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, onions, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips, leeks, and sorrel.

It is important to understand that temperature is not the only factor affecting survivorship of plants during a frost event. The further a plant or its parts are from the ground, the more likely it is to be damaged by frost. The ground is usually still warm in early fall and will radiate some warmth to plants that are close to the ground. Humidity can also help protect plants from frost. Humid air holds more heat and reduces the drying effects of frost. Air movement also has an influence on frost damage. When wind blows during cold nights, it sweeps away any warm air trapped near stuctures or the ground, eliminating their insulating capabilities.

Tender plants can be protected from a few light frosts with row covers or blankets. Mulched beets, carrots, leeks, onions, radishes, and parsnips can be harvested later in fall before the ground freezes. Light frost makes leafy greens and root vegetables sweeter, so it's worth leaving some of your kale and carrots in the ground until you're ready to use them. Regardless of the protection from frost, natural or man-made, any temperature below 25 degrees F is dangerous territory for vegetable plants.

Anyway, next Saturday, we’ll be cleaning up and closing for the season.  We always need and appreciate lots of help.  These are our major tasks to accomplish:

·        Pruning the raspberry bushes back to the fence;

·        Pruning the perennial flowers back to a foot in our front bed;

·        Cutting back all of the sunflowers and cosmos growing wild in the Garden;

·        Disconnecting and mostly emptying the rain tanks;

·        Cleaning up the tools and organizing the shed;

·        Cleaning debris out of the Garden and raised beds so that they bugs don’t overwinter there;
  • Prune roses;
     ·        Taking down our sign and gates; and

·        Making our last food pantry harvest for the season (of mostly kale, broccoli, cabbage,  collards, beets and turnips)

2009 SACG Closing Day Crew
As you can see from our photographs, the SACG is always blessed with great weather (no matter the weather forecasts).  So, if you’re looking for something fun and worthwhile to do with really nice people next Saturday morning (hours and hours before the Buckeye-Spartan football game), come to the SACG and help us clean up for the year.  Many hands make light work.  And, we can reward our volunteers with seeds, raspberry bush seedlings, and sugary goodies. 

Our closing work day is also when I bestow the awards for Volunteer of the Year and Tidiest Garden Plot and make a report about the past year.

Be there or be square.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Winding Down, But Not Out

It’s unusual that we have not yet had any frost or snow at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden so far this year.  I’m not complaining, but it’s remarkable to still have basil and green beans in the last week of October.  As a result, I’m quite a bit behind in clearing out my plot (and the food pantry plots), although I am enjoying our bean harvest.  On top of that, I’ve had auntie and daughter duty the last three Saturdays, so I haven’t much done at the Garden the last three weeks.   That being said, when I am at the Garden, I feel like the Grinch that stole Christmas because I always spend a little time pruning the dying sunflowers, to the great disappointment of the neighborhood finches that flock to them all summer and fall.  Sorry birdies.

The Great Saffron Bust of 2013-14.  Prepare to mock me.  Last year, I experimented with a new financial project to improve the Garden’s finances.  In February, I purchased about 50 saffron crocus bulbs.  I planted half at the Garden and half in my own backyard (under chicken wire to keep my squirrels from feasting on them).   We kept the gates on the Garden all winter to keep the neighborhood kids from wondering in and picking the pretty flowers that we hoped to have.  
I thought that they would be as easy to grow as my Spring crocuses (and had been lead to believe that by the flower bulb company).  In fairness, all of the bulbs spouted in October, but we didn’t get a single flower.   The foliage remained until late Spring and, sadly I had to transplant the Garden set in April because of how the plots were reconfigured.  None of them survived the trauma. Our poor bloom rate was probably because our soil is not the correct pH, too fertile and/or too wet.  I haven’t spent any time researching their special growing requirements, but plan to be more expert about it by this time next year.
Saffron is freakishly expensive.  CNN reported a few years ago that it sells for $1500+/pound.  It can take an acre of land to grow that much, though.    Iran pretty much controls the saffron market and the U.S. military has spent considerable efforts to convince Afghan farmers to grow it instead of opium poppies because it is every bit as financially lucrative.  The BBC published pretty pictures of the Kashmir saffron harvest.  The American saffron bulb is supposed to have a slightly mellower taste than its asian cousin and the Amish have been growing it for ages.  They even have special jars to store it (in case anyone wonders what to get me for Xmas).   However, I now understand that it is probably not as reliable a crop. 
This year, I had three bulbs bloom.  One harvests the red stigma for saffron (which must be done by hand and explains why the spice is so expensive).  I hope to have more of these next year and maybe I’ll try again some day to raise money for the Garden by growing a cash crop.

Other News.  I am very sad to report that Stephanie Blessing from Rebuilding Together of Central Ohio’s Tool Library has moved onto to greener pastures (literally).  If you’ve ever borrowed anything from the Tool Library in the last few years, you’ve undoubtedly been served by Stephanie, who is extremely helpful, friendly and supportive of community gardening.  Seth (from the City) broke the news to me and Julie confirmed it.  I then tracked Stephanie down.  She’s starting a small organic farm up state.  “[W]e hope to host workshops on how to do chemical-free holistic gardening, as well as how to build low-energy homes and greenhouses.  We hope to keep animals and grow veggies, herbs, etc. “  Good luck Steph!

Food pantry.   As I mentioned many weeks ago, our produce thieves have really made a dent on our annual food pantry donations.   While they haven’t visited in a few weeks, they did their damage in August and September.   Nonetheless, this year’s donations to date have topped our annual donations from 2009-11 and we’ve got two more weeks to go.  (For those of you keeping track, IT is still there).

Closing Day Plans.  Our annual closing day will be Saturday, November 8 beginning at 9:00 a.m.  We will be pruning our perennial flowers in the front flower beds, cutting down the remaining sunflowers, emptying and disconnecting the rain tanks, pruning the raspberry brambles to the fence and bagging the cuttings, harvesting the remaining greens, etc. for either the LSS Food Pantry or Faith Mission (depending on when we end for the day), cleaning out the beds, mowing our lawn for the last time of the year, cleaning up our tools and packing the shed, etc.  We will need much help to finish by lunchtime (which will be plenty of time before the 8p.m Spartan/Buckeye kickoff that night).  Of course, there will be refreshments.  We will also be bestowing our annual awards for tidiest plot and volunteer of the year. 

Volunteers will get free seeds, free raspberry bush roots (to plant in your own garden), gardening tips and a higher preference in plot assignments in 2015. Be there or be square!   

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hail! For a Lonely Fall Day

What a difference a week makes.  Last week was warm and sunny and we wore short sleeves.  The  Stoddart Avenue Community Garden had seven volunteers to move mountains.  This week, it was brutal.  There was wind chill, layers of long-sleeved fleece and HAIL.    And no volunteers.   The day started with the best of plans.  I had hoped to get the three lots mowed, the flower beds edged, the plots weeded and the plants well watered.   However, it was too wet to mow and too cold to water.

According to WTTE’s Bill Kelly, September was the fourth driest September in recorded history.  Both of our tanks (i.e., 850 gallons) were dry on Sunday.   The City and Rain Brothers generously put a couple hundred gallons of water in our big tank on Wednesday and then, FINALLY,  we finally received a half inch of rain on Friday.  So I thought Wayne and I could water the food pantry plots on Saturday because those plants need more than a half inch of water per week.   But he didn’t come and it was very cold.   So, I weeded the food pantry plots, and cleaned out another raised bed.  (Two down; four to go). 

When I arrived, there was a car parked illegally in front of the Garden (i.e., parked too far off the curb and facing the wrong way).   When a city garbage truck could not pass, they called the police before backing back out onto Main Street.  An officer promptly came, ticketed the car and called  a tow truck, which then hauled it away.  That was the most excitement we had yesterday, but it wasn’t the only excitement.  While I was weeding, it began to hail.  I have included pictures because I was so surprised.  Fortunately, the hail wasn’t very big, did not deter me from my duties and melted after an hour. 

I ended the day as I always do – by harvesting.   Our pole beans have been extremely prolific.  They liked the hot dry days we had last month.  With just a little water, they will explode and have done so the last two weeks.  I’m hoping that our cold weekend will not kill them because they have lots of flowers left that could become another bumper crop next weekend.  I pulled the rest of the eggplant and basil because I do not think that they will survive this weekend, and I pulled the pumpkin patch, but I’m hoping the rest of the crops – including one zucchini plant --  will survive since the rest of this month looks to be pretty temperate. 

For those of you keeping track, the squash is still there.   In fact, I  am pleased to report (and hoping that I do not jinx anything) that we had no produce thefts this week.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Girl Power Rules as Crusaders Help the SACG

Ladies of Phi Sigma Sigma after morning work
On Saturday, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden benefitted from the assistance of six Capital University students on their Crusader Day of Service.  Six ladies from the  Phi Sigma Sigma sorority helped the SACG by splitting into three teams (from 9 until noon) which:
  • picked up three bags of litter along Main Street, Stoddart Avenue and the alleys between Main and Bryden and Fairwood and Morrison;
  • watered our neighbor and food pantry plots twice,
  • cleaned out the area near our shed where we store our tomato stakes and cages,
  • weeded the space between the alley and the Garden,
  • pruned and bagged sunflowers and other debris I left along the Garden and our paths,
  • pruned the scrub brush in the Block Watch lot across the street,
  • helped me to transplant greens, cabbage and chard, and
  • helped me to harvest for the Lutheran Social Services food pantry leeks, tomatoes, peppers, collards, kale, beets, broccoli and beans.  
Because of their help, I was also finally able to mound the sweet potatoes in the food pantry plot.    It was not all work, however.  The stake team added a bit of excitement by uncovering two baby snakes and a few spiders, which lead to quite a bit of screaming.  The litter team refused to be discouraged by some passersby who returned to mock their litter remediation efforts.
I tried to teach them a few things while they were at the Garden, such as how to create proper mounds for sweet potatoes, etc. and how to harvest seeds for lettuce and cosmos flowers.

Yesterday was also the first day for our new WEP volunteer, Wayne.  He called me on Friday and reported for duty on Saturday morning.  Although I didn’t think he initially knew where we were located, it turns out that he was born and raised in the house next door to the Garden.  We are hoping that his parents may still have pictures of the building that used to be on the Garden’s lot.  He was amazed by the changes he saw at the SACG and the neighborhood.  He spent his morning cleaning up the area around the compost bins and tossing the decomposing material in the bins.  He also helped prune the scrub brush across the street.

I was disappointed with our food pantry harvest.  We regularly have thieves enter the Garden over the back gate (and exit over the front flower bed fence) and steal our tomatoes and peppers.   They also finally found our zucchini plants, so I pulled those plants and composted them.  It’s too much work to water them in this drought if someone else is going to steal our fruit.   To give you and idea of how extensive the thefts are:  Only three of us are still growing tomatoes.  Everyone else has pulled their tomato plants. 
  We donated 205 pounds of tomatoes last year and 263 pounds the year before.  This year, we will be unlikely to reach 130 pounds.  Similarly, this year, we won’t reach 10 pounds in peppers, but donated 46 pounds last year and 67 pounds the year before that.  It’s difficult to remain motivated to do the hard work that comes with gardening when there are not corresponding benefits from the harvest.  It’s especially hard to be generous with folks who come by and ask for tomatoes.   I’ve had to remind a few gardeners to direct visitors to our neighbor plot.  Gene from the LSS Food Pantry asked me if I would give up.  The neighbors have the same frustrations from living in the neighborhood and they don’t have the choice of giving up, do they?

BTW, for those of you who are following my butternut squash saga, it is still there. . . . . .

Wayne's Fabulous Work
As I was driving away from the Garden, I stopped by Urban  Connections where Bert was corralling volunteers.  They were getting ready to take the neighborhood kids apple picking at Lynd’s Fruit Farm in Pataskala.  Bert was concerned about crowds, but every weekend has been nice this month, so it might not have been too bad.

Our September drought is continuing until mid-October.  As mentioned last week, we’ve barely received a half inch of rain in the past THREE weeks and it’s not expected to rain again for the next week.  When we transplanted collards, I dug down 10 inches and never found any moisture in the ground.  It’s really, really dry.   I’ve gotten a little annoyed with the area weathermen for celebrating the blue skies.  Finally, Ben Gelber ran a story on Friday about how this drought will adversely affect the Fall foliage because the leaves will drop shortly after turning and the colors will be muted if we do not get some rain asap.  The trees are very stressed and it’s been very difficult to sprout seeds for a Fall crop without rain.  One of our gardeners emailed me this morning to report that both of our tanks are now dry.    The best thing I can say about our drought is that we don’t have to mow the grass or weed as much and I love the cool nights of Fall.
Finally, kudos to the City for finally finishing the sidewalk project at Stoddart and Main by spreading top soil around the new sidewalk.  I suspect that they've also seeded it, but nothing is going to grow there until it rains . . . .

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cleaning Up and Preparing for Next Year

Letting Lettuce Go to Seed
As the days get shorter and Fall arrives, we are cleaning out our plots and preparing for next year.  First, we are suffering through another mini-drought at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  We’ve only received about a half inch of rain so far this month.  This has made starting off our Fall crops (like lettuce, turnips, bok choy, spinach and beets) a challenge.  Lea realized on Saturday that she would have to start over and there are only so many things (like Black Seeded Simpson lettuce and bok choy which have a chance of sprouting and ripening before the hard frosts come and we close for the year).  Despite the drought, I’ve been grateful for my yard-long beans because they keep producing no matter the weather.  The drought isn’t the only negative factor on our harvests, though.  Our food pantry harvests have been a bit disappointing since our regular thieves have been cleaning out our (heavy) tomatoes and peppers as they ripen.

Lettuce seed pods
Saving Seeds.  I’ve been doing what I can to save seeds.  With my many bean varieties, that’s relatively easy (although our over abundant stink bug population has been attacking the beans in Susan and my plot with some ferocity).  I spent last Saturday saving cosmos seeds.  Next weekend, I’ll try to save some sunflower and marigold seeds.  One year, I even managed to save some kale and petunia seeds.  Every year I think I will save lettuce seeds, but I never do (except for arugula).  However, this year, I finally found time to save some lettuce seeds.  Krystle planted some romaine lettuce in her plot before she returned to Denver and she let it go to seed.   I transplanted some romaine from my plot into my raised beds at home and let them go to seed, too.  So, when the plants flowered and then dried out, I was able to harvest romaine lettuce seeds to use next Spring.  I even showed Lea how to do it and have included some pictures. (The seeds are on the bottom of the dandelion-like fuzz) and inside the seed pods).  

Lettuce seeds from seed pod
Of course, I don’t like to leave things to chance and so I grabbed a few seed packets at the GCGC meeting earlier this month and last week visited Franklin Park Conservatory, which also has some free seeds to donate to area community gardens.  It’s nice to get our seeds in the Fall because then I can decide over the winter what I need to buy before I have to start seeds (for peppers, tomatoes, etc. ) in March and April.   The kids always want to plant carrots and sweet potatoes and, after that, it’s a negotiation with me trying to get them to grow something different and nutritious.

Crusader Day of Service.    Keep Columbus Beautiful has been a wonderful supporter of the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood and the SACG.  They’ve also donated some seeds to us in the past, and a few weeks ago, let me know how I could arrange for some Capital University college students to travel a mile to our garden to help out.  So, we are looking forward to 10 Cap students coming on Saturday for the Crusader Day of Service.  I will have several projects waiting for them, including cleaning up our compost bins and turning the compost, picking up litter around the neighborhood, watering everything twice (since we’re not expecting any more rain for the rest of the month), tidying the stake storage area (as we gradually pull out all of the tomatoes and their stakes), pulling some spent tomatoes and transplanting some collard greens, etc. from raised beds in their place), pruning sunflowers, and weeding flower beds, etc.  I’ve brought home our gloves to launder them before they start working on Saturday.
Coin envelopes work great to store seeds
Visitors.  While I was running around trying to water everything twice on Saturday, a man walked into the Garden, explained that he was stranded in town (from Mississippi) until Monday and was looking for some work.  I explained that I couldn’t pay him, but we had lots of work.  He said he didn’t care.  Leon raked up the rotting tomatoes in Krystle’s plot and cut out the overgrown and dying cosmos from the food pantry plot.  I suggested that he grab a book out of our library to help him pass the time and told him how Faith Mission offers three free meals a day/seven days a week and gave him some breakfast bars and a few stray tomatoes (since I hadn’t started harvesting yet).  I had a gallon of drinking water in my car, but no cups.  So, he said he would run to the corner store and buy his own bottle or cup and return.  However, he never came back.  He was a big help anyway.   Happy travels Leon; I hope you came back for a book.

Bexley Farmer’s Market.   I’ve been stopping by the Bexley Farmer’s Market on Thursdays to grab some fresh fruit, organic cheese and giant eggplants, zucchinis and poblano peppers, which have been a great bargain.   I baked some zucchini bread last week and am considering Martha Stewart’s chocolate zucchini cupcakes for this afternoon. . . . . I’ve also been enjoying at least once per week zucchini macaroni (with sautéed grated zucchini tossed with garlic and olive oil and mixed with cottage cheese and pasta).   I’ve also been having grilled eggplant sandwiches and stuffed eggplant. 

I’ve also checked out two Rick Bayless cookbooks from the Bexley Library to expand my weekly cuisine beyond American, Cajun, French, Asian and Italian.   There is more to Mexican food, after all, than tacos and burritos.   So, I’ve started drying poblano peppers (including red ones) along with my herbs to make ancho peppers to use in recipes that I hope to try this Fall.   I’ve already enjoyed several recipes with roasted poblanos and freeze a variety of peppers from my own garden (including Serrano, jalapeno, pasilla and cayenne).    Because our cool Fall has wrecked havoc on our tomato crop, I broke down in a moment of weakness and purchased a half peck of roma tomatoes from Smith’s Farm Market on Winchester Pike for $7 so that I could (when the cold front moves in) roast them all for soups, pasta sauce and a few Bayless recipes. 
The inside of a year-old butternut squash

While at the Market on Thursday, a woman asked how long the butternut squashes would keep.  I told her truthfully that I still had a butternut squash in my root cellar from last Fall.   (I should have donated it and it’s been a yoke of guilt around my neck every time I walk into that room).  She said her experience was that its interior would dry out after a few months.  The Rhoads Farms guy said it would keep at least a few months.  So, yesterday, I decided to check out my year-old squash.  It was certainly lighter than the one I harvested about 10 days ago.  I skinned it without any problem and then cut it into quarters.  The seed area had certainly dried out more than usual, and I decided not to cook with the bottom half (although I probably could have done so).  With the top half, I made a Rick Bayless squash soup recipe with roasted tomato and jalapeno salsa and the squash cooked up just fine.  I hope my year old sweet potatoes work out as well when I try another Bayless recipe with them later this week.   
This all being said, all winter squashes are not equal.  Acorn and delicatta squashes do not keep for more than a few months because they get moldy.   However, unlike butternut squashes, you can eat the rind of those winter squashes.

For grins and giggles, I'm thinking of starting a waging pool.  I have a giant butternut squash growing in the flower bed in front of my plot.  It's not ripe yet.  It's only a matter of time before someone steals it.  I'm thinking that for $10, you can bet on the week that the squash gets stolen.  Winner gets to keep half of the money (with the rest going to the Garden).  If no one steals it before we close for the season (or a hard frost kills the rest of the plant), the Garden gets all of the money wagered and I decide the fate of the squash.  I'm not really serious, but you might as well know how warped and twisted I have become on the subject of produce thefts.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Curling Up this Fall with a Good Book as the Growing Season Winds Down

Emily stuffed our free little library
As our growing season slowly winds down, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden has been cleaning out the Garden and stowing books for our free little library.   A few weeks ago, one of our former gardeners, RootBarb aka Fairy Garden Barb – emailed me about donating additional children’s books for our free little library.    We never seem to be able to keep children’s books stocked.  Then, as I was watching the noon broadcast on WCMH, I heard about a twelve-year old New Albany girl who won a grant from Kohl’s department stores for collecting and distributing books to area food pantries.   She had collected so many books that she was looking for additional places to distribute them.  Of course, I tracked her down.

As explained in This Week, Emily Spector started the Read to Succeed Foundation after helping her older sister volunteer at an area food pantry.  She realized that the pantry clients would also benefit from more intellectual pursuits and might not have ready access to a public library and free books.   She and her parents stopped by the SACG at noon on Saturday to fill our free little library with books and leave a few for me to fill in as needed.   She had a lot of beautiful books, including the ever popular Captain Underpants.   
Before Emily stuffed our library
While Emily merely wanted to share her love of reading (as we at the SACG share our love of gardening), her focus on  literacy could save lives every bit as much as fresh and nutritious food.  Studies have shown that children learn to read until the third grade.  After that, they read to learn.  Therefore, if a child can’t read by the third grade, their chance of graduating from high school and getting a job materially decrease.  Their chances for success at life are so diminished by not being able to read that some states plan the number of future prison cells in part based on elementary school literacy proficiency exams.  I was surprised to learn over the summer that one of the largest funders of literacy studies in the world is the U.S. Department of Justice (through its Bureau of Justice Statistics), which discovered decades ago that a person’s chance of ending up and returning to prison is materially affected by the level of education that person obtained and his or her ability to read.    It’s not just a saying: Teach One, Save One.

Emily gave me her card and if any food pantries or community garden free little libraries are in need of more books (both for adults and children), just let me know and I will put you in touch with Emily and her basement full of books.   Her project has been so successful that people keep stopping by her house and dropping off more books.    We’re very grateful for her efforts and generosity.  If this is what she can accomplish at only twelve years of age, just imagine what else she will achieve as she gets older.

Pick It Up Update.   As we have in past years, SACG gardeners picked up litter in our neighborhood last week.   I reported last week that four of us picked up seven bags of litter in 90 minutes along East Main Street, even though we had focused only on the two blocks (north and south) between Fairwood and Morrison.   After I published that post, Keep Columbus Beautiful provided us with additional statistics.  For the area of East Main Street between South Ohio and James Road, 30 bags of litter were picked up by 17 volunteers (including our four).  

We’re in the middle of another middle drought at the SACG.  In the past two weeks, we’ve received only about a half inch of rain.   This is a little hard on the Fall crops we’re trying to grow.  On top of that, snows have come a month early to the Rockies and upper Midwest.  Last winter came a little early and I think this year will too (La Nina or not).   With this in mind, I’ve spent more time than anticipated on watering.  With nighttime temperatures in the 40’s, I’ve decided to let my remaining tomato plants “go.”  I’ve pulled and composted my determinate plants and pinched the flowers on the remaining plants so that they can focus their energy on ripening the remaining fruit.  I’m not really watering my SACG tomatoes anymore.  (As a practical matter, there aren’t that many tomatoes left anyway because of our regular produce thefts).  I thinned our food pantry turnip crop with the hope that they will form bulbs despite the lack of rain and thinned my own Chinese cabbage.  I weeded, heavily pruned our many sunflowers and saved scores of cosmos seeds so that we can have pretty flowers next year.  Next week, I’ll have to start pulling and composting spent plants out of the food pantry plots.

In light of our cool nights (which I love), I pulled the rest of our basil on Saturday.  I've made and frozen a year's worth of basil from my plot and took the rest to the food pantry.  I had doubts whether it would be taken, but I need not have worried.  Half of it was gone before I had time to leave the building.  On Wednesday, I was speaking with the leader from Faith Mission's Community Garden (which received Outstanding Community Garden of the Year at the annual Growing to Green dinner).  Like us, she also grows herbs to improve the taste of the food served at the homeless shelter.  So few gardens donate it that she has dedicated a significant amount of space for them.  I always wondered if they would cook with the herbs I've donated and she assured me that they do. 

Before I started pruning
Even as our sunflowers are slowly dying back, many of our cosmos are still in flower and our asters are coming into bloom.  Rayna even suggested that I cut back some of the cosmos to give a fuller view of the asters.  Hmmmm…….  I’m going to have to divide those asters this fall (in case anyone wants some) and I’m thinking about transplanting a peony bush from my back yard to the SACG.  But you know what they say about best laid plans. . . .

When I made our weekly food pantry donation on Saturday at the LSS food pantry, I learned that Gene is feeling rather poorly, has been in the hospital for pneumonia and is scheduled for gall bladder surgery on Friday.   Everyone should say a prayer for his speedy recovery and maybe drop him a cheerful card.  He loves a good joke.