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.