Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Buckeyes Pay it Forward at SACG on Community Commitment Day

The Stoddart Avenue Community Garden was once again blessed with assistance today from students of The Ohio State University’s Pay It Forward program on their Community Commitment Day.  About 20 students arrived by bus shortly before 9 a.m. this morning, while it was still cool.  Of course, they had to come on the hottest day of the year, but they were good sports about it.    I told them a little bit about the Garden and showed them around.  I had borrowed some tools from Rebuilding Together’s free Tool Library, but I wish I had borrowed more hedge clippers.  If I had, we could have cleared away all of the brush in the alleys in the neighborhood. I also wished I had remembered to bring my edger so that they could have re-edged the front flower bed.

The students were very energetic, if inexperienced, and got a tremendous amount of work done, as evidenced by the photographs.   I was also fortunate that Sabrina stopped by to tend her plot and, instead, supervised the students working inside the Garden.  Charlie also stopped by on his day off from work to help me reinforce the fence (which had been damaged last week by thieves) and to ferry a few students to a public restroom.  Cathy also interrupted her studies to dig out her family’s giant wheelbarrow for the students to use.

This is what we accomplished this morning:

·        They picked up 1.3 trash bags of litter from Stoddart Avenue and the piece of Cherry Street (aka the alley next to the SACG) between Stoddart and Morrison.

·        They weeded in and around the raised beds next door and watered them.

·        They weeded in and around our neighbor plot raised bed, watered it, pulled ALL of the weeds growing between the Garden and the alley and then spread another layer of wood chips.

·        They leveled the remnants of the wood chip pile leftover from 2013.

·        They leveled much of the wood chip pile from April and spread another layer of wood chips on the Garden’s paths;

·        They weeded the paths in the Garden (albeit Susan had already given them a pretty good head start when she pulled most of the weeds – particularly around the benches – on Sunday morning).

·        They deadheaded the sunflowers around the Garden;

·        With Sabrina’s help, they weeded Celess’ abandoned plot, pruned the flowering broccoli, harvested produce for today’s food pantry donation and planted lettuce for a fall harvest where there had been ornamental kale.

·        They pulled the pernicious morning glory and other vining weeds off of our fence and rose bushes.

·        They watered the food pantry plots and the kids’ raised beds.

·        They cleaned out an abandoned raised bed and planted lettuce for a fall harvest.

·        They cleared weeds out of the block watch plot across the street.

·        They harvested over 17 pounds of  collard greens, kale tomatoes and zucchini, which I took after lunch to the Salvation Army’s food pantry – just a mile west of the Garden on East  Main Street.

·        We emptied the shed and then re-filled it with our tools.

All that’s left for me to do on Wednesday is to water again and then, on Saturday, I may cut back the weeds growing in our compost bins before our weekly harvest.  Whoo hoo.

By 11, the students were feeling the affect of the heat and humidity and our complete lack of shade.  We quit a bit ahead of schedule for a group picture.  However, the air conditioned buses also came early to pick them up, so it all worked out well.

We are extremely grateful that OSU’s Pay It Forward students helped us out AGAIN.  Capital University is only .8 miles east of the Garden, but to this day none of its students have ever ventured west to help us at the SACG. [Editor's Note: Ok.  We were finally blessed with the assistance of some Cap students a month after the OSU students.]  OSU is miles away and they’ve sent students twice in the past two years.

This last weekend, I spent my time harvesting because we had received about 1.5 inches of rain last week.  Also, I agreed to speak at Urban Connection’s 15th Anniversary Celebration at Wolfe Park on Saturday morning.  I had to go there straight from the Garden (in all my garden finery) and then return to the Garden to complete our weekly food pantry harvest and donation.   Urban Connections started across the street back in 1999 and has worked with the neighbors and their children ever since.  I discussed how much they had helped the SACG, particularly during the drought in 2012 and how we worked together to get the building next door demolished.

As mentioned, we also had had another produce theft last week.  Curt called me on Friday.  They had attacked Sabrina’s leeks, but left them behind when they realized they weren’t onions.   They also knocked over one of my bean trellises and stole a butternut squash, but again, left it behind when they belatedly realized that it wasn’t ripe.  They took some of his peppers and his Chinese cabbage.  They escaped by climbing over (and damaging) the fence in the front of the garden and tromped down some of our flowers.  Neal helped me re-orient the fence until I could return with wire to tie it up better.

So, we’re looking very tidy at present in case anyone drops by unannounced.  On Saturday, September 6, we’ll have another brief litter pick up, but will be focused on East Main Street between Fairwood and Morrison.   Anyone wanting to pitch in should join us at the SACG at 10 a.m.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Gang’s Almost All Here

There was much activity at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden this week and it ain’t all good.  I also experienced some odd disappointment with my canning activities this week that I’ve decided to share.   Finally, I have some shopping tips.

First, we were delighted to unexpectedly receive over an inch of rain over Monday into Tuesday.  It hadn’t been predicted and I spent two hours on Saturday watering, but we’ll take it.    Because it rained so much, I was able to keep my time at the Garden on Wednesday pretty short with just harvesting and visiting with the kids.   The girls pointed out to me that Rayna's giant sunflower was swarmed with squash bugs.  Sooooooo grooooossseeee.   That's where they've been hiding this year.  Sadly, Rose and Ms. D told me that they have both seen raccoons in the area.  Great.
Shortly after the crack of dawn on Thursday, my phone rang as I was eating my breakfast.  That’s never a good sign and was brave of the caller because I’m rarely civil before 10.  Susan was driving by the Garden on her way to work and noticed that the front gate had been damaged.  When she stopped for a closer look, she discovered that the left side of the lattice I had installed about 10 days ago had been ripped from the back gate, too, even though I had secured it with three-inch screws.  Grrrr.  I've made a conscious decision to not show photographs of our produce this year so as not to tempt any n'ere do wells to visit at night.  I drove over at 9 after my jog and replaced the front gate lattice and reattached the lattice with twice as many three-inch screws. Of course, I have nothing else better to do with my time. 
Despite my frustration, I didn't let it stop me from cooking and canning creole sauce that night.  I use the sauce to make shrimp creole over the winter.  However, strangely, one of my cans refused to seal.  Sigh.  To the freezer it went.
On Friday afternoon, I stopped by to pick up some ripening tomatoes for my continuing adventures in canning on Friday afternoon.  (I was cooking and canning puttanesca pasta sauce).  The front gate was fine, but the other side of the back gate lattice had been ripped from the fence posts.  Grrr.  I went home, picked up my electric drill and more three-inch screws and put twice as many three-inch screws in it.  I also emailed the SACG Board.  Frank responded that he would be replacing the lattice with a six foot high gate (instead of our current three-foot high gates).   Yea Frank! Susan and I haven’t noticed any obvious thefts, but our pantry harvests have been smaller than this time last year.  Unlike last year, I’m grateful that our vandal/thief is discrete in his produce thefts.  Last year, the thieves would pull whole plants out of the ground, grab a few peppers and kale leaves and then throw the plant down.  My blood pressure still goes up every time I remember it.
On Saturday, I planted some coneflowers and Russian sage flowers when I arrived before pulling the rest of my edamame and planting three rows of beets, turnips, lettuce, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, spinach and arugula. Despite the rain, the soil was bone dry.   If it all comes up, I will have a very healthy  October and November.  I then watered a little bit (even though the forecast was for a lot of rain tonight into Monday).  Ha.  I should have watered more since the predicted rain is now predicted to stay south of the Ohio River.  Sigh. I then harvested for the food pantry.  Our harvest wasn’t that heavy, considering the time of year.  I’m going to blame it on our vandal/thief.
Usually on Saturdays, I’m alone most or even all of the day.  I'm lucky if Neal stops by after noon to water and harvest.  Occasionally, Sabrina and/or Susan will be working in their plots that morning.  However, this Saturday, I saw a number of gardeners I hadn’t seen in months.  First,  Mari stopped by – by herself – to weed for a while.    That’s a great recovery.  Lea and Zion also stopped by to water.   This gave Mari a chance to thank Lea for helping maintain her plot over the summer.   Then, Curt and a friend stopped by to weed his plot.  He had a ton of volunteer dill and fennel in the front of his plot (along with some very tall weeds).  He finally got rid of them.    Then, Frank and Barb stopped by to check on their plot and examine our vandalism. 
We also had a new neighbor stop by to get a book from our library.  She stopped in to ask about getting a plot and to get some produce from our neighbor plot.  She offered to volunteer (Yea!).   One of our gardeners is overwhelmed with personal problems this summer and has let her plot go to weed and rot.  If our new neighbor comes this weekend and volunteers for enough hours, I’m going to give her the abandoned plot since I don’t have time to tend it. 
Our free little library has proved very popular.  One day last week, a little old man walked by with a very big dog.  Big dogs always get my attention.  However, the little old man noticed that we had some new books.  I was amazed.  We’re running short on children’s books, though.  Sadly, while taking and reading our books is very popular, returning books has not been. 
I spent last night canning tomatoes and peaches.  I had a new experience canning that I thought I would share.  I learned that it is possible to tighten the lids too much before processing.  I always screw the bands on pretty tight.  However, when I pulled the quart jars from the pot, the lids were all bent and warped.  I was shocked and immediately began to research the problem. I had to reprocess those tomatoes.  Sigh.  Live and learn.
Finally, I have some shopping tips.  First, Big Lots on Winchester Pike has mason jars for $8.50/dozen.  Second, Smith Farms has a great deal on canning roma tomatoes:  $7/peck.   Third, the Bexley Farmer’s Market has better prices this year than Lynd’s on eggplant and zucchini.  Fourth, if you get peaches at the Smith Farms Market, get the ones in the white baskets because they are significantly less expensive than buying by the pound.  For what it is worth.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sneaky, Wild, Prickly and Bitter Cucumbers

Mystery Plant in Neal's Plot
The ground is dry as a bone at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden since we haven’t received a smidgen of rain in over a week and less than an inch of rain the week before that.   However, while that means more work lugging watering cans from our tanks to our seedlings, that doesn’t mean we stop learning or growing or planting or harvesting.  This week, we learned a bit about wild and prickly cucumbers.

On Wednesday, I watered for a couple of hours and pulled my spent red pea beans.  Neal was there watering as well.  We admired Frank and Barb for mowing our shaggy lawn (even though it was not their chore this month; it is Neal's).  Sadly, I discovered that one of our watering cans (which I purchased in 2010 from Target) had split at the seams and needed to be repaired and/or replaced.  Sigh.
Wild cucumber => Not a melon
I cooked and canned 3 pints each of salsa and arrabiata pasta sauce and one quart of kosher dill pickles this week.  I learned from the National Center for Home Food Preservation as I was making the salsa that I no longer need to pre-sterilize my canning jars before filling them if they will be processing in boiling water for at least ten minutes (which virtually all of my recipes do).  This will GREATLY reduce the heat and humidity in my kitchen this summer as I “put up” my tomatoes, sauces and fruits.  Of course, the jars still need to be cleaned in advance.
I returned to the SACG on Friday morning for a couple of hours to plant snow and snap peas, pull my bush beans and harvest a few feet of potatoes.  Sabrina was there harvesting, pulling spent lettuce plants and watering as well and pitched in to weed part of our Garden path even though it was not her chore.  (It is Neal's).  She was hoping that it would rain this weekend and so did not water her entire plot.   She is graduating with her B.S. degree from The Ohio State University today and did not have a lot of time to spare (since she has family coming in for the well-deserved celebration).   She was every bit as thrilled as I was to learn that our mason jars do not need to be pre-sterilized because she was planning to can tomatoes that afternoon.
I went shopping for a new watering can and didn’t like my options at Lowe’s.  Too small or poor watering nozzle. I don't have endless amounts of time to drive all over Central Ohio looking for a new can, so, I ordered one off of Amazon (through smile.amazon.com to financially benefit the SACG).   Our new can should arrive on Monday or Tuesday.
Wild cucumber also known as prickly cucumbers
On Saturday, I arrived a bit earlier than usual and spent my first hour harvesting another foot or so of potatoes from my plot, cleaning the mint out of Krystle’s old plot and then planting turnips and beets in her old plot.  I spent the next two hours watering the raised beds next door, the neighbor bed along the alley, our four food pantry plots, our herb garden and then my plot.   Around noon, I turned to harvesting for myself and our weekly food pantry donation.  Because, as faithful readers may recall, my harvest was cut short last Saturday by an untimely (ahem) rain, our zucchini were a gawd-awful size this week.  That made our pantry donation almost 30 pounds.  Whew.  I also harvested a load of beans (which is very time consuming), so it took me about two hours – an hour longer than I had budgeted.   Because I was too late for the food pantry, I drove our donation, instead, to Faith Mission’s Homeless Shelter downtown (near the corner of Grant and Naughten).   They were very nice.  Rather than making me unload my collapsible crate (which I picked up at the June GCGC meeting), they just exchanged one of theirs for it.
Neal stopped by as I was about to harvest my last items for the day (the kale, greens, herbs and flowers).   He’s had an adventurous gardening season this year.  He really only gardens to have fresh cucumbers and likes having beans, tomatoes and peppers, too.  He never takes anything from me.  I try not to be insulted.  Instead, he buys all of his seedlings elsewhere.  (He can afford it.  Whatever).  However, he doesn’t really know anything about gardening and he picked up what he thought were cucumbers (because they were in the cucumber row at the garden center or nursery), but they had been errantly put there by another lazy shopper.  So, instead of four cucumber plants to plant along his spiffy new trellises, he had two cucumber plants, a zucchini plant (which promptly became infested with squash bug eggs) and a mystery plant that I thought for the longest time was a watermelon because of the shape of its leaves.  We pulled the zucchini out (since he wasn’t passionate about it enough to keep on top of the squash bug problem) and decided that there were worse things to harvest than watermelons.  
Immature wild cucumber
As you can see from my pictures, these were strange looking melons.  They were the right shape and color, but they had porcupine spikes all over them.  There were a lot of them and they weren’t getting very big as the summer progressed.  I conducted some research and I couldn’t find anything that looked like them or sounded like them on the internet.  So, yesterday, I suggested that he take one home and cut it open to figure out what it might be.  Instead, he gave me one to do that.  I took it home, sliced it in half and smelled it.  Cucumber.  I emailed him so.  He emailed back a question about how he was supposed to eat it. 
I went online and discovered it is called a prickly cucumber or a wild cucumber.  It’s supposed to be inedible.  But I wondered if that meant it tasted bad or was poisonous.  The articles I found were not terribly scientific, so I decided to get a grapefruit spoon and try it.  BIG MISTAKE.  VERY, VERY, VERY BITTER.  Gargling did not help.  Nor did wine.    Imagine the bitter taste of cucumber skin times one thousand and you’ll have an idea.  Tasting something labeled inedible was incredibly stupid. I emailed my doctor (Vikki)  to ask if I was going to die like Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild from eating wild potatoes that destroyed his digestive system.  She emailed me back that she was on vacation (again) in Maine and not sure that she planned to ever return.  Cold comfort.    I emailed Neal and told him not to eat it.  I plan on telling everyone (except, of course, our faithful readers) that I tasted it on a dare.  Neal was smart to trick me into it.   I’m sure he’s laughing about it still.  That crazy Neal.
The University of Minnesota calls wild cucumbers an invasive weed which should be pulled.  Because the vines can climb and almost engulf trees, they are more of a problem in shelterbelts and rural areas.”  I hope Neal pulls it soon even though his plant is in no danger of overtaking our invasive morning glory vines, or even his other vegetables.
Although I was exhausted from a long day of gardening and dangerous tastings, I still made it to the free ProMusica concert at Franklin Park Conservatory last night.  It was a beautiful evening.  It would have been even better if the Columbus Police Department helicopter hadn’t decided to keep flying over the grounds to see what we were doing.  It’s a little hard to hear Mozart over helicopter blades.  It’s not like it was chasing down a fleeing suspect or anything.  How rude.  There’s a final free concert tonight (of Beethoven).  WOSU has been trying to record the concerts, but I have to wonder if it was successful with the rude police helicopter buzzing about.   I guess we'll find out in a couple of months. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Venting Frustrations On National Night Out

What's left of our back gate last night
This Garden Manager is in a grumbling mood this week and so I’m going to vent a little.   Despite all of our blessings and good fortune with lovely, ripening produce, we’ve had some frustrations.  First, Jym Ganahl is not perfect.  I’ve had him on a pedestal, but no more.   Second, our newly assigned WEP volunteer refused to come to the Garden, particularly on Saturdays when we do most of our work.  Third, someone severely damaged our back gate yesterday. However, the kids are doing a better job of harvesting their produce and mostly continue to water their garden beds.

We’ve had some wet weekends in July, which is a mixed blessing and a bit inconvenient because I do most of our work at the Garden on Saturday mornings and early Saturday afternoon.   Contrary to popular belief, I try to earn a living – like most of you – during weekday business hours.  That leaves my Garden duties to the evenings and weekends.  I prefer to do most of my work in the morning – when it is cooler and, thus, bearable.  I melt and become very unpleasant and uncivilized when it’s hot.  There’s also more daylight in the morning and I can find an open food pantry or shelter to deliver our donations in the afternoon (unlike at night).    We have no refrigerated place to store more than ½ pound of produce we harvest for food pantries and shelters, so our food pantry donations can only be harvested on mornings and early afternoons – and never in the evening.  Sunday mornings are out because I try to go to church then.  That leaves Saturday mornings.  (I’m tired of explaining this, but I’m exhausted from folks treating me as being inflexibly capricious about our harvest and work schedule).
Our front gate last week

So, when it looks like it might rain on Saturday, it’s very important to me to know when so that I can plan my work and get our food pantry harvest in on time to make a donation that day.  Occasionally, my work schedule permits me to visit the Garden on a Friday morning (and put my paying work off until the afternoon).  Free Friday mornings are not always possible and, in any event, I hate missing calls from my clients during business hours.   With this in mind, all of the local forecasts last week kept saying that it might rain on Saturday.  (That turned out to be a vast understatement).  So, I emailed Jym Ganahl just before 6 p.m. and asked him to be more specific during Thursday evening’s newscast.  In particular, should I harvest our produce on Saturday (preferable) or Friday (much less convenient) and did I need to water anything.  Bless his heart.  I just loved him.  He emailed me during the newscast that Saturday’s rain would be about a quarter inch and mostly in the afternoon into the evening.  Hah. 
Our back gate this time last year
I earned a living and was chained to my desk on Friday and arrived at the Garden earlier than usual on Saturday.  I watered and weeded the food pantry plots and the neighbor bed.  I also watered 75% of my plot when I started to hear thunder.   It started raining by 11:30 and I had to cut short our food pantry harvest (which I usually don’t even start until noon).   As most of you know, it rained most of the rest of the day.   Northern Columbus got almost two inches of rain, but we received a mere half inch.    So, grumble grumble.  Jym’s not perfect.
Our lawn and paths are looking shaggy.  The kids even complained to me about it last night.   The gardener assigned the tasks in July moved away and the gardener assigned the tasks in August has suffered a significant injury.  So, I really need a WEP volunteer.  I keep getting emails from the Ohio Association of Food Banks begging for more volunteer opportunities for their long list of WEP volunteers.  I keep emailing them that I need a WEP volunteer.  However, we had no volunteers show up or get assigned in July.  A new WEP volunteer finally called me this week about being assigned.  However, he refused to come on Wednesday evening and then announced that he refused to work on Saturdays.  So, I contacted OAFB and again requested another volunteer.    I’m told it will be at least another two weeks before another volunteer will be assigned.  This means that we’ll probably go without one for the month of August.  Grumble Grumble.  
Our back gate today
I often nag our gardeners about the importance of harvesting their produce when it is ripe so that it does not tempt criminals passing by to break into the Garden to steal it (and the other gardeners’ produce as well once they are inside the gates).   (Granted, in my backyard, it is the local squirrels that steal a significant number of my tomatoes and my country cousins have to deal with raccoons and deer, so we all have our crosses to bear).  With the rising temperatures this week, our tomatoes will be ripening daily.  So, I decided to make a quick stop by the Garden to retrieve my ripening tomatoes before they tempted a criminal to damage our fence or gates and get themselves stolen.  Neal arrived about the same time.  After I addressed our fallen rain barrel behind our shed, I went in the front gate and he the back gate.  However, he quickly pointed out to me that the back gate had been severely damaged.    

Frank had fixed the gap between the back gate and the fence last weekend.  Neal had been at the Garden on Sunday evening and the gate was fine.  Susan was there earlier on Monday and didn’t notice a problem.  Since Sunday evening, someone pulled off the top lattice half of the gate in order to jump the gate to gain access to the Garden.  So, instead of getting my daily exercise last night, I had to rush home, get my drill, return to the Garden and affix more fence to the top of the gate to keep someone from climbing over the gate.   Of course, because I didn’t have time to implement a good solution, everyone entering and exiting through the back gate will have to bend way over to get under the fence that I ran between the two fence posts.  Who knows when one of our volunteers will have time to create a better solution? Grumble.  Grumble.  Ironically, today is National Night Out – when neighbors are supposed to gather together to take a stand against crime. 
One of the few bright spots is that the neighborhood girls came over last night to harvest their tomatoes and beans and to water their beds.  Granted, we had to send some of them home to put on shoes . . . .  Sigh.

When the lovely rain prevented me from gardening on Saturday, I spent the time making and canning Raphael pasta sauce (from the Silver Palate cookbook), shredding and freezing zucchini, and making Lidia’s Suffocated Eggplant sauce (to freeze and serve later this winter with the Ohio State Fair lamb I hope to buy on sale at Kroger’s this week).   I’ve finally harvested enough cucumbers to make and can some kosher dill pickles this week.  I also hope to make and can some salsa.   It’s not supposed to rain significantly anytime this week, so I’ll probably spend Wednesday evening watering and watering and watering.  I guess that’s exercise . . .