Monday, July 28, 2014

The Little Garden That Could

This was an eventful week at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  There were highs and there were lows and there was fresh food and fresh flowers.  I’ve included some pictures of the flowers I cut from my plot  and put on my kitchen table.  What there wasn’t a lot of this week was rain or sunshine.

New Neighbors.  Ms. Anthony contacted me to make introductions to our new neighbors.  J. Jireh Ministries is moving into and possibly buying the building formerly use by Build the Bridge of Ohio where our rain tanks are connected to their downspout.  I related some highlights (and lowlights) about the Garden and our Free Little Library and Norman Brown told me about the various activities his ministry has organized in the area south of Main Street and west of Nelson Road.  They recently started their own community garden behind the Rock of Faith Baptist Church across the street.  He was happy to relate the success of their cucumber crop.  Way to rub it in Pastor Brown.  Here we are about to enter August and I have yet to harvest a single cucumber myself.  (Neal's been lukcy with cucumbers, but not me).  Thank goodness for Lynds’ Farmer’s Market.   The important part is that they are ok with leaving our rain tanks alone.  As he explained, he has more important things to worry about.

On the prior evening, a crew finally showed up to clean up the abandoned lot caddycorner from us on Morrison Avenue.  The weeds were taller than me.  So, it’s a good thing that they came and cleaned up most of the lot.  (Mysteriously, they did not clean up the north side of the back lot).   When this crew showed up last year (in August), our Garden started to experience massive thefts of our produce.  So, I kept a keen eye on them.

Neighborhood Crime.  As I was driving home from my meeting about J. Jireh, my cell phone beeped with an email.  I restrained myself until I got home to look at it.  Sadly, it was from one of our gardeners who reported that someone had pushed in the fence by the back gate.  She tried her best to prop it back up.  I immediately rushed back to check on the Garden.  Although the trespassing thieves kicked apart the knock-out rose bush by the back gate, I couldn’t notice that anything was obviously missing.  However, one of my gardeners told me on Saturday that some of her tomatoes had disappeared.  I returned again that evening and tied the fence back up.  Frank screwed it into the back gate on Saturday.

However, about two hours later, the news got worse.  There was a shooting a half block away – at the intersection of Cherry and Morrison.  This is a reputed hot spot of prostitution.  Two of our Board members were nearby – one in the Garden and one at home.  Luckily, no one died from this shooting, but it’s never good news.

Food Pantry Donations.  This week, our little garden reached a milestone of sorts.   We have donated over one ton of fresh produce from our garden to area food pantries and Faith Mission since we broke ground in 2009.  We don’t keep track of produce we donate to our neighbors, but I try to keep track of everything else.   As I’ve mentioned before, some gardens donate a ton (or even tons) every year, but because we are a plot garden, we grow most of our food for ourselves and our families and share with the pantries the same produce we grow for ourselves.  

Since 2009, I try to reserve one plot to grow produce for our Plant a Row Program, but some years we have more gardeners sign up than we have space.  When gardeners quit or are expelled from the Garden (which happens every year), the produce in their plots is typically diverted to our food pantry donations.    While we can’t keep up with communal gardens – many of which are larger than us, I think we keep up just fine with other plot gardens – particularly urban ones.

The "Everything Else" category includes broccoli, cauliflower, peas, eggplant, radishes and okra.   The "other" pantries listed include the Fruit of the Vine pantry operated by Vineyard Church of Columbus and the Path Ministries on Seymour Avenue (across the street from the SACG).

Departures.  My cousin Krystle announced that she and Eric were moving back to Denver.  What a bummer.   However, I get her eggplant and the rest of her produce will go to our food pantry donations.  Luckily, her plot has been well weeded. She came on Monday to try and catch up with her chores (which had been neglected this month).  She got a lot done, but didn’t get to the paths.  I guess packing took more time than she anticipated.

Bees.  We’ve noticed fewer honey bees this year, but as the Dispatch reported this week, there are a wide variety of bees and many of them are pollinators.  OSU has released a publication showing the different types of bees and how to recognize them.  Margaret Ann from Four Seasons City Farm reported to us last month that the Stratford Ecological Center is expanding its bee hives to put one at their large garden.  So jealous. . . .  I'd love to have a hive if we had someone to manage it and someplace to put it.  My paternal grandfather raised bees.    If only there were bees that killed squash bugs. 

Kids.  Kristin (aka Shae) came by and harvested several pounds of large carrots from her plot.  She said that she wanted to plant more crops in the vacant half of her plot, but decided to ride her bike instead.  Miciya finally picked her beans and took them home.  She's done a great job this summer of regularly watering her plot several times each week.  Since J'anaya left for Mississippi, her bed has not been watered very often and it shows.  The boys have essentially abandoned their plot.  There were weeds past my waist, so I just gave to another set of girls -- particularly since the pole beans are about to pop and the tomatoes have been turning red.  I helped her bag up a bag of lettuce to take home, but apparently her parents didn't want it.  Sigh.  

We planted melons and pumpkins in the back corner plot and, unsurprisingly, the pumpkins have swarmed it and are taking over a couple of the kids' beds, too.  We have at least two pumpkins forming and we're just keeping our fingers crossed that they ripen before the squash bugs destroy the plants.  In the meantime, Miciya is diligently watering her cantelope in the hopes that it survives being smothered by the pumpkins.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

May Showers in July

We had pretty steady light showers overnight and until mid-morning, which made it too wet for most of the gardeners at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden to get much done today.  I received a half inch at my house.  Sabrina and I seem to be the only ones who like wet soil (because it makes it easier to pull weeds) and spares us the hour it takes to properly water our plots.  I was even able to make use of my new waders to walk through the wet grass and the mud.  In anticipation of the rain, I harvested our food pantry donation yesterday.    It had been a relatively dry week – the first in quite a while when we didn’t receive an inch of rain (since most storms passed north or south of us).  We’re not expecting an inch of rain in the upcoming week either.

I’ve liked having a steady supply of rain this year because it shortens the amount of time I need to spend gardening each week.  At this point, we need steady rains to keep our tomatoes from forming blossom end rot and to keep them from forming thick skins and cracking during isolated thunderstorms. Of course, many of our blossoms have been dropping from our tomatoes and beans with the unseasonably cool weather.

I’ve yet to see a single cucumber or squash or any of my large plants.  Only three of my tomatoes have turned red.  Only my chilis, jalapeno and poblano peppers seem to be surviving well.  My beans on the other hand have been prolific.  I’m thinking of harvesting the remainder of my romanos, though, and replacing them with contenders while there is still time to get in another bush crop.  Our pole beans are just starting to flower, so more beans cannot be far behind.  Even the kids have beans in their plots right now (but they haven’t harvested them yet).  Our sunflowers are also popping new blooms each day.

On Wednesday, I worked on repairing our rain water diverter on the main tank since it apparently had fallen again and someone else reconnected it incorrectly. I also watered raised beds, tied up floppy tomatoes, and did some light weeding.  On Friday, in addition to taking produce to the LSS food pantry, I also touched up the paint on our free little library.  This morning, I chopped weeds around the raised beds next door, reinforced the food pantry potato trellis (to keep the floppy potato vines from burying a row of collard greens), tied up more tomatoes, replaced the latch on the little library, and harvested a slew of beans and some kale for myself. I also said a prayer of thanksgiving that I didn’t have to spend an hour watering.    Now, I can spend the afternoon shelling beans and canning a few pints.

Our oregano has been flowering and attracting lots of bees.  This is supposed to be the best time to harvest and dry oregano since it is at the peak of its flavor.  I always seem to miss the peak period every year, so I am looking forward to seeing if the  CW (conventional wisdom) is correct.  In any event, it is pretty overgrown and floppy, so I'll be pruning it back considerably in the upcoming week.

The evil squash bugs have returned.  They attacked a sneaky squash in Neal's plot before he even realized that he had it growing there.  I saw an adult resting on a bean plant in Susan's plot.  I tried to lean in to squish it between the leaves, but it was too smart for me and flew away as soon as I touched the leaf.  (I obviously didn't have my spray bottle with me and would've been loathe to spray something of mine in someone else's plot).  It flew to a sunflower and so I chased it over there.  Again, it outsmarted me.  Curses.  Foiled again.  However, the mint growing around my and the food pantry squashes seem to be doing their trick.  Barb has surrounded her squash plants with mint and marigolds. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Patience is a Virtue

 Patience is a virtue in many things, including gardening because nature happens in its own time.   Patience is not one of my strongest points, which made this week a little frustrating.  We have been waiting for the clouds to clear and the sun to shine.  Sabrina and I are waiting for our pole beans to flower and form beans.  I am waiting for peppers and eggplants to form and tomatoes to turn red.   A little, unsupervised girl named Trinity came to the Garden on Wednesday, and wrecked havoc by taking and hiding the front gate lock several times and breaking the purposely destroying eyes glasses on a large doll someone left in the neighbor plot.  Our WEP volunteers disappeared (and at least Chris got a paying job elsewhere).  Someone pulled (but did not take and eat) a cabbage out of the neighbor plot.  And – Dash it All -- squash bugs and squash borers have reappeared.    However, the sunflowers are starting to bloom and most of my bush beans have been prolific producers.

Unlike the boys, the girls have been very diligent in tending their plots.  We’ve pulled the spent pea vines and Chinese cabbage and replaced them with kale and collards – not because that’s what the girls want, but because that’s what their grandmother wants to cook.   Although their families have been rejecting virtually everything I send home with them from their plots (which has caused me to pull some of my hair out), this week they became big fans of the romaine lettuce J’anaya planted  before she moved to Mississippi. Two girls took home two bags.  Kristin/Shae has cleaned out half of her bed, but I’m not sure why or what she plans do to with it.   The pumpkins are crowding out the melons in the corner, and I found squash bug eggs on a few leaves on Wednesday.  I pulled the leaves and thinned a few more to create more light for the melons.  One of the girls questioned why I pulled her pea vines, which were covered with dry pods of unharvested peas.  I told her I was saving the seeds so that we could plant them later.  As it was, she had two volunteer pea vines created by her neglect of the peas over this season.
I found squash borers in the beds next door.  I wasn’t really sure what they were, but I killed one and decided to do some research to confirm my suspicions.   This is what a squash borer looks like and should be killed on sight without a second thought. They lay eggs, which hatch and the larvae burrow into the zucchini stem and hollow it out as they eat.  This causes the leaves to wilt and eventually kills the plant.  The tell-tale sign is a pile of pukish dross at the base of the stem.  Despite how gross it is, some people will slit the vine with a razor and dig out the larvae and then try to bury the stem to keep the plant alive.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

Someone mysteriously left a large doll to watch our neighbor plot.  I don’t know who.  I don’t know why.  It used to have spectacles, but Trinity got mad at me on Wednesday for telling her to leave them alone.  As soon as I walked away, she grabbed them off the doll again and stomped on them in the alley.  I earlier tried to reason with her, but she did not respect me an iota.  This – along with repeatedly removing the front gate lock and throwing it into the flower beds – has resulted in her being banned from the Garden for the summer.  Children are welcome in the Garden with adult supervision.    However, with the exception of Lovely, not a single neighborhood parent has set foot inside the Garden in years. It gets annoying (when the younger kids misbehave) to be treated like a free babysitter when I have so much other work to do every time I come to the Garden.  Kids under 5 are too young to garden on their own and they either cause problems or follow me everywhere asking me to let them help (which they cannot do).    I started to march Trinity, her sister and her two brothers (all of whom are under the age of 10) back to their home to speak with their mother about her disrespect of Garden property, but then discovered that they lived blocks away and south of Main.   So much for that thought . . . .
Sabrina had already weeded the food pantry plot when I arrived earlier than usual on Saturday morning.  (I had to make a detour in Bexley to avoid the 3400 contestants lined up at Capital for the American Idol auditions).   I tied up some tomatoes in the food pantry plot, watered raised beds and transplanted sunflowers, fertilized my peaked pepper plants, pulled my wonderfully prolific snow peas, weeded a bit, searched with Sabrina for squash bug eggs (and blessedly did not find any), chopped some large weeds growing around our compost bins, weaved some raspberry brambles back into the fence and planted some flowers before harvesting from my and the food pantry plots.   Sabrina donated so much lettuce and kale from her plot that I forgot to harvest lettuce and kale from Susan’s plot and to tidy up the excess in the neighbor bed.

We had some visitors on Saturday morning.  Some prayer walkers from a consortium of East Side Churches (including Christ Memorial Missionary Baptist Church on Livingston Avenue and Macedonia Baptist Church on Oak Street) were walking around the neighborhood to pray for the residents and people.  I gave them a tour and they formed a prayer circle to pray for us. 

Neal came by to tend his plot and prune his raspberry bushes.  I mistakenly pulled a kale plant out of the ground while I was harvesting, so we transplanted it into his plot.   Then, I was able to leave by 1 p.m. – ahead by mere minutes of Sabrina.  We were both touched with a little heat stroke.  (There’s no shade at the Garden).   After I got home and had my Mt. Dew, I remembered what I forgot to do.  Maybe I wouldn’t have forgotten if I hadn’t been in such a hurry to leave and return to air conditioning or if I hadn't been so hot or my blood sugar hadn't been so low.  So, I’ll be back today (after this a brief rain squall) to harvest the produce I forgot and take it to the Salvation Army tomorrow.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Nothing Spectacular After the Fireworks

This has not been a terribly productive week at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, all things considered, but we have had several blessings.  Among them, we again received more than an inch or rain.   After all of my praise in last week’s blog, Jason – one of our WEP volunteers -- did not show up on Wednesday or Saturday.  He also did not call to explain why.  On the other hand, Chris came on Wednesday, picked berries for our food pantry donation and then got really, really soaked when it began to pour down rain.   Our berry season is nearing its end and I was barely able to pick 2 pints yesterday.  But, if you snoozed and missed our plentiful berry harvest, Lynd’s Fruit Farm is selling u-pick berries for $3/pint in Pataskala.

We received two large boxes of books for our free little library from the OSU Urban Arts Space downtown in the old Macy’s department store building on Town Street.  I was perusing the non-profit booths at the Columbus Arts Festival last month and met Cali, who was volunteering for the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  I wondered if it would be able to help us keep our little library stocked.  She wasn’t sure about that, but she had two boxes of donated books which the Urban Arts Space had been using as props during art projects. They had finished that project and she was delighted to donate them to a good home.
This being a holiday week, I used lots of my home-grown and hand-picked produce in my annual summer feast/cookout.  I had planned on serving my kale casaer salad for Independence Day picnic, but I didn’t have enough kale (if you can believe that). It might have something to do with all of the kale chips I made and ate last week.  Anyway, I ended up making a couple of green bean salads since I had a lot of those.   Like last year, I made some red-white-blue cobbler with sour cherries (that I picked at Lynd’s Fruit Farm last year and canned because they lost their cherry crop to the polar vortex this year) and black raspberries.  I also added apples that I canned last year, but they turned purple.   I used dill from my garden in my potato salad and frozen roasted red bell peppers in another potato/bean salad.

On Saturday, Lea and Zion were at the Garden when I arrived.  She was busy weeding and he was busy saving the world from space invaders.  When she finished, she took some time to weed Mari’s overgrown plot and mulch her onions before picking up litter around the Garden.  Neither of our WEP volunteers came, so I weeded the raised beds next door, weeded my plot (and pulled a lot of chocolate mint to pitch), tried to transplant some sunflowers and cosmos, thinned our overgrown volunteer sunflowers and cosmos, harvested, and made our weekly food pantry donation.  Neal stopped by with his girlfriend and visiting brother. 
My half-runner beans are growing out of control so I picked up some steel mesh at Lowes (for $7.25/each)  
 to create two more trellises.   This week I also harvested and dried some oregano since it’s supposed to be at its tastiest when it is about to flower and in flower.  We shall see.

Our coneflowers, lilies and beebalm are still in bloom.  My first sunflower also bloomed this weekend.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Being Berry Grapeful

Krystle's pie
We are into our third week of this year’s black raspberry season and most of us are berry grateful for their prolific harvest.  Some of the boys, however, asked me when I was going to start growing grapes.  Sigh.  I sent around information to our gardeners about how nutritious the berries were, according to Oregon State
University.  I also reported that they were selling for $6/pint at the Bexley Farmer’s Market.  (When I suggested to a lady there that she could pick them for free at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden just a half mile to the west, she gave me a withering look that suggested I was being wildly inappropriate either in steering her away from a hard-working farmer or in suggesting that she pick her own berries, or both).  Cousin Krystle was so appreciative of the berries that she baked a pie, texted me this picture and personally delivered a piece to me while I was working at the Garden on Friday morning – blowing my diet.   

Even though she personally does not care for our berries, Cathy brought her children over to pick berries on Wednesday, and was caught in the act by a Dispatch photographer.  
Cathy's pic of their harvest
Cathy baked muffins with them and delivered a couple to Frank and Barb (who let her pick berries from their plot), but did NOT provide a muffin to me.  Sniff sniff.   When I left last night (after picking 1.5 pints of berries from my plot in 45 minutes), I directed the neighborhood kids to immediately return with bowls to pick berries from outside our fence so that their grandmothers could bake them pies for the upcoming holiday.  
Shriveled, unpicked berries
It’s important to pick berries every day because they do not live long on the bushes.  After a day or so, they shrivel up  -- almost like raisons (but not so good).  Picking berries is very time consuming because they are spread out on the bushes, which have painful thorns.  All of us can identify with how hard migrant farm workers work to bring us affordable food in area groceries.   We had quite a discussion a couple of weeks ago about the need for some sort of guest worker program so that they are not criminalized for doing hard work that no one else will do for similar wages.  Once our berries have finished their season, I am looking forward to spending slightly less time each week at the Garden.  The berry harvest adds an hour each visit because they are so time consuming to pick.
I’m also grateful in 2014 for the help of our Work Experience Program (WEP) volunteer, Jason.  When he comes, Jason is extremely helpful.  He always spends an hour every day picking berries for our weekly food pantry harvest.  As a result, our annual berry donation has more than tripled this year over last year.  He also helps to weed the paths, weed along the alley, weed the outer fence line, mow our lawn, weed Mari’s plot and clean overgrown brush from the vacant lot across the street.   He was assigned to us by the Franklin County office of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services via the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. 
It is a condition of his SNAP (food stamp) benefits that he work or volunteer at least 24 hours/month.  JFS also provides job readiness training to SNAP recipients.   Because of all of his help, I have been able to spend more time taking care of our flower beds, the food pantry plots, and my own garden plot.     I actually found time this year to harvest bachelor button seeds and prune overgrown brambles. Yoo hoo! 

On top of all of this, I was able to mulch a lot of the plots this week with our donated straw.  The girls have begun harvesting their peas and lettuce.  We have received a freakish amount of rain (well over an inch every week in June) and so the weeds have been out of control.   As neighbor Tim mentioned, it’s a jungle in there.  I’m not complaining; I prefer weeding to lugging water from our cisterns.   I also planted some black-eyed susans and marigold bushes in our flower beds to replace our fading daisies.   Our coneflowers, day lilies and bee balm flowers are in full bloom at present.
On Thursday, I also finally got around to having our pruning shears sharpened.  Sharpening on Site visits the Bexley Farmer's Market the fourth Thursday of every month, so I took my and the SACG tools there this month to get cleaned up and sharpened.  She sharpened five tools for $20 and gave me some tips about how to get our shears repaired (or replaced) for free. 
Distribution of Donations
I’m finally glad that I can return to wearing regular t-shirts at the Garden this week.  My 30th high school reunion was last weekend.  I bought a pretty sleeveless dress at the end of May to wear.  However, I had my usual farmer’s tan – white shoulders and very dark arms.  So, I’ve had to go sleeveless in June (which I think makes me look very butch for an old woman with flabby arms) in order to even out my tan.  Of course, at the last minute, I changed plans and wore a more casual outfit that covered my shoulders.  All my other female classmates dressed up.  Sigh.    I also washed my car on Friday night, which I think caused it to rain over an inch in the next 24 hours. 

Finally, we finished June with our food pantry harvests slightly below last year.  I attribute that to the fact that it’s been cooler this year (causing us to get a latter start) and the fact that collectively, we’ve grown less lettuce this year than last year and I didn't plant turnips this year.  However, I am optimistic that we will not only catch up to last year, but surpass it.