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.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

SACG Picks it Up and GCGC shares announcements

This was a busy morning at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  First, Susan and I were disappointed to find yet another produce robbery at the Garden.  Then, Rayna and I met with our new neighbor Norman Brown about the community garden project that he is starting in the land bank lot next to ours, our water tanks and the new community garden he started behind Rock of Faith Baptist Church (across the Street) last April.    After that meeting, I joined Barb, Susan and neighbor Rose to pick up litter with the City’s Keep America Beautiful campaign along East Main Street.   Finally, it was off to Dublin for my nephew’s football game in Dublin.  (I harvested for our weekly food pantry donation bright and early yesterday morning.  My handyman – who was fixing my fence --  was very impressed with our beautiful cabbages when I brought two back to my patio to weigh).   On Thursday, I attended the monthly GCGC meeting at Redeemer Lutheran Church on James Road (south of Livingston).

Our weekly thief once again came over our back gate (by bending the wire lattice over the gate to squeeze in).  Again, the idiot can’t tell onions from leeks.  He pulled Neal’s leeks this time and then threw them back on the ground upon discovering that they were not onions.  He took some of Susan’s tomatoes, knocked over at least one pepper plant in Curt and Charlie’s plot and pulled some of Rayna’s carrots.  There was even a pumpkin missing from the kids’ garden area.  The nerve.  It is so frustrating and disappointing – as other community gardens all over town know.   To add insult to injury, we found partially eaten beefstake and brandywine tomatoes on our lawn and on the sidewalk across the street.  Grrr.

Pick It Up.  We were expecting a downpour for the City’s annual Pick It Up campaign this year and I had my welleys and rain jacket handy.   However, as most of you know, we received no rain whatsoever in Bexley and just a little more than that at the SACG (which means I have to return on Monday to water).   Usually, for the City’s early September litter eradication efforts, we are allowed to select our own neighborhood, but have to pick up our supplies from the City about a week in advance.  This year, the City wanted to focus on gateway/major traffic thoroughfares and set up gathering sites all over town. East Main Street was the natural selection and  our gathering site was just west of Fairwood, which is an easy walk from the SACG.  

I foolishly thought it would take us about 30 minutes – if that – to pick up the litter between Fairwood (one block to our east) and Morrison (one block to our west). It would have been a very short project if we only had to pick up litter on the north side of Main (where we and our neighbors  -- like Harry at the body shop and Urban Connections on Fairwood  -- routinely pick up litter).  However, we also had to pick up litter on the south side of Main and it was a wet mess – particularly on the stretch between Fairwood and Seymour.   Rose was walking by and I invited her to join in the event; and she did.   We picked up 6+ bags of litter in 90 minutes (and could have picked up more if I hadn’t been in a hurry to get to Dublin).

After our meeting with Norman Brown, we asked to see the new garden he started across the street.  There is a regular section (which I did not photograph).  However, some of it is on an abandoned playground  They built raised beds under the old swing set and hung twine from the top to support pole beans, which grew to the top.  I thought this was hysterical.  I do not know, though, how they are going to harvest those beans near the top without a ladder.   We then gave him the nickel tour of the SACG and the tanks.

GCGC’s September meeting was full of announcements and seeds.    When I arrived, Cara Gorman from OSU Extension was discussing their Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, which they have offered at local libraries.  

Mike Hogan then made a number of announcements.  He discussed expansion of the Double Up program, which doubles the value of SNAP benefits when the purchaser is buying fresh produce from five area farmer’s market, including the Pearl Alley market downtown.   They need more funding to expand it.   

Franklin County Extension is now offering soil testing for land owners and community gardens for $11 per sample.   You need to bring or mail your soil sample to the Extension office, pay the $11 and they will mail the sample to Penn State which will email you the results along with fertilizer/lime recommendations.  This does not include testing for lead or heavy metals, which costs more.   Call 866-6900 for more information. 
OSU is again going to offer the Master Urban Farmer program every Wednesday evening between October 1 and December 3 for $89.   The classes will be held at the Waterman Farm and 4-H Center.   He emphasized that the written program materials by themselves cost more than $89 and you will be fed.   The topics to be covered include:
·        Introduction or Urban Agriculture
·        How to Choose a Farm Enterprise
·        Site Selection Issues
·        Soil Testing
·        Basic Plant Science
·        Keeping it Legal
·        Tools & Storage
·        Soil Quality and Health
·        Insects and Diseases
·        Integrated Pest Management
·        Bees and other pollinators
·        Season Extension Techniques
·        Business Planning
·        Marketing Bootcamp
·        Vegetable Production
·        Tomato Production
·        Food Safety and GAPS
·        Harvest Timing
Registration will be first-come first served before September 22.   You can register online at  GCGC may offer two scholarships.  Contact Peggy Murphy for more details.

OSU Extension will also be offering a standalone composting workshop and probably one on season extension.   
Mike will also be showing the documentary Growing Cities  at next month’s  GCGC meeting at East Baptist Church on October 2.  The movie stops at various urban farms and gardens in a number of cities throughout the United States (but none in Ohio).  It is about 90 minutes long.  Susan and I saw it at The Drexel a few months ago.

Fiona Doherty from Franklin Park Conservatory announced that they have a lot of free seeds available for area community gardens.  Just contact her or Bill so that you can come over and grab some for your garden when they are there to let you in.

The Greater Columbus Growing Coalition recently obtained its 501(c)(3) status and plans to have its annual election of officers in December or January.  Peggy needs a break and is looking for a nominating committee and volunteers to take over for her and to fill other officer positions.
Everyone introduced themselves and it was the first time I had seen Patrick Kaufman in almost two years.  NEAC Chair Kathleen Bailey was also there and discussed the pocket garden she and her neighbors started in their neighborhood almost 18 years ago on a vacant city lot.  The Police Department used it as an example at the city-wide block watch meeting this week of a neighborhood calming effort.  We actually had some regular back-yard gardeners attend this meeting.  They explained that they started growing their own food because they lived in a food desert and were tired of, for instance, their fruit options being limited to apples, oranges or orange juice at the local bodega.  You go girls!
The evening ended by sorting through seeds donated by Livingston Seed Company and Straders and picking up planters that had been donated by Strader’s Garden Centers.  I took a pot of geraniums and put it in our front flower bed where the thieves had trampled down spearmint.  I also toured the tiny pantry garden of the Redeemer Lutheran Church, which is in their courtyard facing James Road.  It was easily the best tended garden I had ever seen (which is so consistent with Lutherans).  You could cut yourself on the sharp edges of that lawn. (I wish I had pictures, but the battery on my cell phone camera died during the meeting).   I don't know why, but the pastor was almost insulted by the compliment.  They have 8-10 raised beds and most of them have amazingly constructed trellises.  They also used landscaping fabric in most of them, which reduces the spread of soil-borne viruses.  They were growing chard, tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas.   They had donated over 1200 pounds of produce so far this year.  

We don't donate anywhere near that much each year, but I've attached charts showing the distribution of our food pantry donations as of August 30 this year.