Sunday, June 28, 2015

Downward Dog Gardening

We have spent a lot of time this week with our butts in the air while weeding this week.  With the ground this damp from incessant rain, it makes more sense (and is easier) to pull a weed and grass clump out of the ground by its roots than to use a hoe, which just mixes the weeds with the mud.  Also, pulling a weed and grass clump out by its roots increases the odds that it will not return.    Granted, we are not keeping most of our weight in our hands when we do this – like the proper yoga pose – but calling it rag doll or forward bend gardening does not seem so catchy.

Because it was supposed to rain all Saturday morning, I headed over to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden mid-Friday afternoon to conduct our food pantry harvest.  Then, I decided that I wanted to take advantage of the predicted rain by getting the new food pantry plots planted as much as I could.  So, I spread the soil and compost that the OSU Young Scholars had dumped into the plots the prior morning.  I then transplanted some bell pepper seedlings that I had been generously donated by Strader’s Garden Center as well as some tomato seedlings.  Then, I thinned out the cucumbers and winter squash from my plot and transplanted them into the western food pantry plot.  I also transplanted some kale from the original food pantry plot into the center plot.  Finally, I planted several rows of bush green beans in the food pantry plot and a sweet potato in my plot.

With that done, I could harvest some lettuce and berries for our food pantry donation (as well as some sugar snap peas that John left behind).   I took them (and the berries harvested by the OSU Young Scholars and some that I picked on Wednesday evening) to the St. Vincent de Paul pantry late Friday afternoon (well after it started raining).  It was pretty deserted by then.   I was so tired when I left that I forgot to close the trunk of my car and the neighbor girls had to stop me as I turned into the alley.

With all that work being done, I was greatly looking forward to a rainy Saturday
morning so that I could stay home, exercise, practice some proper yoga and clean house.  However, despite all of the predictions of a rainy Saturday, the rain had moved far east by the time I woke up.  So, it was back to the SACG I went.  Having received 1.5 inches of rain the prior evening, I decided to initially focus on things which did not require digging.   It was muddy and chilly, so I wore jeans, a rain jacket and my wellies.  I reinforced the fence and put more books in our free little library.  Then, I liberated our tomato cages from beside the shed and caged the tomatoes in the new food pantry plots and reinforced them with stakes.  I even found a cage for cucumbers. 

Next, I pruned back some of the raspberry brambles in my plot (and behind the
neighbor plot) which were overtaking my potatoes and onions and threatening to re-root deeper into my plot.  I thinned out my kale and swiss chard seedlings and transplanted them to the western food pantry plot and put in a few more tomato seedlings (before donating the my remaining tomato seedlings to the Kimball Farms Community Garden next door).  I liberated a sun flower from the compost bin (where the YS had placed it after inadvertently picking it despite my admonitions) and replanted it back in its spot.  Who knows if it will survive the shock.   I also pulled a few weeds before spending the next hour picking berries.  Neal stopped by to switch out a tomato cage in his plot and I pointed out that he had numerous ripe cucumbers, which he promptly picked.   He mentioned that he had been picking berries in the southeast corner before realizing that our bee balm flowers were infested with bees.  I assured him that he need not worry.  In my experience, bees are so intoxicated with bee balm that they rarely move from a flower for anything, let alone a hulking presence a foot away.  I’ve always been able to take close-up pictures of bees in bee balms because they could not care less about me or my camera when they are feeding there.

Neal also asked about pruning tomato suckers (i.e., those growths near the bottom of the stem below the first flowering branch).  Yes, that’s probably a good idea, although I admittedly rarely do it.  He also noticed that his zucchini plants are suffering from powdery mildew and some actually had growths of white mold on them.   This can happen if they are planted too close together and do not get enough sunshine and air circulation.    It is contagious and can infect other leaves.  I suggested that he buy some spray to treat the infected and non-infected leaves to keep it from getting worse and spreading more. I’ve used copper mixtures on my tomatoes before.    Usually, my bee balm and white phlox get powdery mildew when it is hot and humid.  I’ve seen zucchini get it before, but it has not been a major problem at the SACG in past years.  Of course, we’ve never had a summer quite as wet as the last few weeks have been.   I’ve also used a spray mixture of 1 quart water and teaspoon of baking soda to treat symptoms and to prevent further contamination.  Some sprays work well to eradicate the  mildew, while others are only effective at preventing.

I then harvested beets, turnips and more lettuce for another food pantry donation and took them along with a pint of berries to Faith Mission.  On the way back, I stopped by the Friends of the Homeless Community Garden on Main Street across from the Salvation Army to see if any of the seedlings donated this week were still there and viable.  Sadly, there was not much to pick from, but I found some thyme and greek basil, which I took back to the SACG and promptly planted in our herb garden.  Barb was busy across the street pruning the flower beds and I placed my squash egg leaves into her yard waste bag (since it was going down the street and eventually miles away).  Neal was back picking berries.

I stayed around to plant some contender bush beans in my plot.  More young children stopped by to pick berries and run around in the Block Watch lots.  Then, home for a shower and nap.

As our berry season draws to a sad close, I will be spending more time pruning back
England has its Forest of Dean and the SACG has our Forest of Dill
the new bramble branches to keep them from devouring our entire lot.   I’ll also be keeping an eye on my squash transplants, which I doubt like this cooler weather as much as I do.  I’ll have to mark their roots so that I will know where to aim the watering can (if it ever stops raining).

My gardening tip this week is to fertilize peppers and tomatoes with Epsom salt, which is not really a salt.  It is a combination of magnesium and sulfer.  It helps the plants absorb other nutrients, promotes flowering and growth and will green them up quite a bit.   It’s an organic gardening trick that actually works.   You can add it to the soil directly (as I generally do during planting), as a side dressing or spray the plants with a mixture of water and Epsom salt (which is particularly important during a drought).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Who Needs Mud Volley Ball When Tough Buckeye Young Scholars Weed in the Rain

The grumpy Garden Manager is not so grumpy today.  This morning, a slew of teenagers from Columbus, Dayton and other large cities in Ohio who are part of The Ohio State University Young Scholars program descended on the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden and whipped us into shape in just a few hours.  With all of the rain we’ve received in the last two weeks, the weeds are taking over and it was difficult to find dry time to garden and also pick berries.  The YSP contacted me a few weeks ago and offered to volunteer.  I warned them Tuesday that it might start raining around noon (per WTTE Bill Kelly).  Then, when I woke up this morning to see that a massive storm was heading our way, I figured that they would cancel.  It had started raining by nine.  However, Not only did YSP not cancel, they came almost an hour early.  And, OSU gave them special-logo rain ponchos.

I gave them a brief tour and summary of our history before splitting them up into teams and passing out new gardening gloves.  One team of two picked up litter along Stoddart Avenue and in the alley between Stoddart and Morrison.  One team picked 2-1/2 pints of black raspberries. One team transported premium top soil (donated by the City of Columbus from Kurtz Brothers) and compost (donated by Franklin Park Conservatory) to two of our abandoned plots and then transported the weeds we had pulled to the compost bins.   One team weeded around our benches and the kids’ raised beds and our paths.  Another team weeded the space along the alley, re-discovering our d’oro lilies.  Finally, one team helped me to weed the two abandoned plots.    

I had also packed my trunk last night with tomato and pepper seedlings for us to plant.  However, it was too wet to distribute the soil in the plots, cultivate the soil to work in the improvements and plant, so we had an hour to kill.  So, I gave them a long tour and narrative of the Garden, including our rain barrels, our rain tanks, our picnic table, our platform raised beds, our orchard, our curb, our compost bins made from re-claimed pallets, our turning compost bin, our spinning compost bin, our neighbor beds, our free little library and our flower beds.   Then, I took them on a tour of Stoddart Avenue, Bryden Avenue and Fairwood.  We stopped at the basketball court that Urban  Connections built for the neighborhood and stopped to answer questions.

The Ohio State University Office of Diversity and Inclusion Young Scholars Program improves pre-college preparation, retention, and degree completion among high-ability academically gifted first-generation students with financial need from nine of the largest urban school districts in Ohio: Akron Public, Canton City, Cincinnati Public, Cleveland Metropolitan, Columbus City, Dayton Public, Lorain City, Toledo Public, and Youngstown City. The Young Scholars Program has supported more than 3,000 pre-collegiate (grades 8th through 12th) and collegiate (college undergraduates) scholars, providing them with comprehensive academic, career, and personal development programs in partnership with school district administrators and staff; Ohio State faculty, staff, students, and alumni; and community and corporate partners.

We’re extremely grateful that the YSP visited us this year.  We’re also wondering if it’s just a coincidence that many of the vacant lots were mowed within the last week on Stoddart.  The grass was so high in a few vacant lots that they could have passed for the Dothraki Sea.   The grass was so high that dead bodies could easily be hidden in them.  As I took the kids on the neighborhood tour, the grass was only ankle high.  Of course, I wasn’t the only one who noticed that the grass was ridiculously high.  It’s possible that guerilla  gardeners were at work.

Before the teens departed, Bill Dawson and Fiona Doherty from the Franklin Park Conservatory Growing to Green Program stopped by to say hey and drop off some information about upcoming programs at FPC.  We took a group picture and Bill tasted a couple of our berries.   FPC is hosting a community gardening social hour on Friday, July 17 from 6-9 p.m. where we can socialize with each other in clean clothes and eat yummy appetizers.  FPC is also having a free day on August 1.   Finally, the annual Growing to Green awards banquet (which is typically catered by City BBQ) is going to be September 10 (with award nominations due by August 3).
Bill encouraged them to continue to volunteer with ours or other community gardens, who are always short of volunteers.  Barry also encouraged the high school students to complete their mandatory community service hours at the SACG (like our May Bexley high school student volunteer). 

After the teens departed, Tyler from the Ohio Association of Food Banks came by to chat about the Work Experience Program run by the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services.   I gave him a tour and told him about our volunteer needs.  They are going to try a pilot program of having groups of WEP volunteers come to perform special projects, like our plans to improve our alley curb.  They have also hired a  Franklinton Community Gardener, who we may trust to supervise small groups of volunteers to weed, water, etc. at the Garden without me having to take off work to be there.   It stopped raining after Tyler arrived.

The kids were quite the troopers and there was no whining or complaining.  I, on the other hand, was soaked to the bone and covered with dirt from head to toe.  I put my clothes in a pile.   I was so excited to get home and take a hot shower and a nap.    I wondered if the teens would be so lucky.

Of course, we had more going on at the Garden before today.  I’ve continued harvesting berries.  I also finally got to the herb garden, weeded it, mulched it and planted more basil in it.   Franklin Park Conservatory donated some bags of mulch to replace the ones stolen two weeks ago, so I mulched three of our flower beds and the lillies next to the shed.  The neighborhood girls came by to pick berries and then asked if they could put a second coat of stain on our picnic table.  Of course they can.  Ok, there are drips, etc., but it’s one less thing for me to do.

But the piece de resistance, was Stan stopping by last night to aerate our lawn.  Can you imagine?  I can’t even get my own lawn aerated, but the SACG can.  He brought a machine to pull plugs of soil out of the ground to create more room for roots and de-thatch dead grass.  This is not an assigned chore. This is just something he does because he loves lawns.   Since John has dropped out and was assigned the chore of mowing our lawn next month, I wonder if I can convince Stan to keep it up another month . . . . . . ?

I returned to the Garden this evening after the sun came out to get better pictures of what the YSP had accomplished in the rain this morning and to pick up the muddy gloves to wash and return to the shed.  Neal was there on his knees weeding his plot.  Barb and Frank were improving their bean trellis.  (They had already improved our front gate by reinforcing the lattice top).   Rayna was also there busy weeding.
Our bee balm was attracting bees and butterflies and there were a few ripe berries for me to grab as a snack before returning home.

And so it goes.   I'll try to get the tomatoes, peppers and bush beans planted in the vacant plots tomorrow afternoon before it starts raining on Friday night.  If it rains Saturday morning as planned, I'll return early Sunday afternoon to conduct our food pantry harvest.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rainy June Brings Both Rainbows and Mud

Girls looking for berries in all the right places
It’s been too rainy to do much gardening this past week at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  However, our extremely nutritious and yummy black raspberries are in season and so I’ve managed to stop by almost every day to pick a couple of pints (which, as anyone who does it knows, is very time consuming).  I’m rarely alone in my berry picking since the neighborhood children almost always use my visit as an excuse to pick berries as well (both inside and outside the fence).  While Lynd's charges $3.50/pint to pick berries in Licking County, we have them for free at the SACG.

On Monday, I gave a presentation at Wings’ restaurant to the Bexley Lions Club about the Garden.  As faithful readers know, I have collected a lot of pictures over the years of our activities.  I showed them pictures  on Wings’ large digital television (via my laptop) from before we broke ground in 2009, while we broke ground in 2009, during the demolition of the building next door, of our litter pick-ups and our various capital improvements.  Some of the members had grown up in the area and attended the old Rosary high school across the street.  Rock of Faith Baptist Church used to be Holy Rosary Catholic church.   I explained how we really need volunteers to help us keep up with all of the work involved in maintaining and improving a community garden.

Tuesday, it briefly stopped raining long enough to let me stop by and pick berries.  While I was there, one of the neighbor girls reported that she had discovered some of the items which had been stolen out of our shed the prior week.  The thief had dumped the container which held all of our seeds a block from the Garden, at 450 Fairwood Avenue (which is an abandoned and dilapidated apartment building surrounded by waist-high grass).   The lid had been run over by cars.  Some of the seeds had also been dumped on the sidewalk: mostly beans, peas and winter squashes.  However, because it had been raining for days since the theft, the seeds had germinated and bean and pea sprouts littered the sidewalk in front of that building.  I retrieved the container and returned it to the shed. 

On Wednesday, it rained most of the afternoon and later briefly stopped so that I could pick berries before it started raining again.  However, it did not stop soon enough for a new gardener to get in her work equity so that she could join.   Weeds are taking over the south fence and I spent way too much time pulling those weeds off and grumbling about why the gardeners with those plots aren’t doing this themselves (since I have not found it particularly difficult to pull weeds off the brambles in my plot).  Of course, I found numerous berries under the vining weeds.   I sadly also discovered squash bugs had found my plot and begun laying eggs.  I warned the rest of the gardeners to be on the lookout.

On Thursday, it stopped raining long enough for me to mow my lawn and visit the SACG to pick more berries.    While there, I discovered that our thieves had returned, and had stomped on the flowers in front of the Garden to climb over the front gate.  Grrrr.  I couldn’t discover if they stole anything. Maybe they came for berries.  Happily, they did not stomp on any of the vegetables growing in the food pantry plot and I couldn’t tell that they had stolen any food.  No one has reported any vandalism or thefts to me, so I don’t know what was accomplished.  After picking berries for myself and our weekly food pantry donation, I reinforced all of the front fence with additional stakes.   This served to remind me why we do not leave spaces between our flowers like most well-tended flower beds. Spaces merely create opportunities for thieves to climb over our fence.   I also had to commend Stan for doing a good job reinforcing the fence in his plot so well that it deterred the thieves from using that space again.

On Friday, I stopped by early to get in our food pantry harvest (which, of course, included more black raspberries).  I delivered it to the St. Vincent de Paul pantry off Livingston Avenue and picked up some more petunias for the SACG which had been generously donated by Strader’s Garden Centers.  Hundreds of flats of petunias had been delivered by Strader’s on Wednesday and two-thirds of them had been taken by the time I arrived.  While I was at the SACG, neighbor Greg stopped by and mowed the block watch lot next door.  The grass was so high and wet that the mower was constantly choking and dropping large clumps of grass (which I hastily gathered up and put in our compost bin).   I also took the opportunity to start pulling weeds out of Jon’s former plot and discovered that the roma tomatoes he planted from seed had survived and that the sweet bell peppers that he planted using Scott’s peat pods (which Scotts Miracle Gro had donated to us in April) had similarly thrived and survived. He also had a row of broccoli and peas that were still alive.   The weeds  -- which were taller than my knees and some as high as my waist -- proved exceedingly easy to pull out of the damp soil.   Also, Melinda – who runs the Kimball Farms community garden next to us – had dropped off some large and lovely basil plants for our gardeners, especially Barb and Frank.  I put one container in their plot and one on the bench for the rest of the gardeners.
That evening, there was a block party in my neighborhood.  Folks like me on the west side of the street were supposed to bring a dessert.  So, I made a raspberry bread pudding.  I chopped up two hamburger buns, mixed the bread chunks in the baking dish with 1-1/2 pints of black raspberries and then stirred in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of melted butter, two eggs and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar.  I baked this for 30-40 minutes in my toaster oven at 400 degrees.  I pulled it out and topped it with a mixture of red and white raspberries (which grow in my back yard and most of my neighbors had never seen before).  It was a big hit.  When I make a similar pineapple bread pudding, I usually need to add some pineapple juice to the bread to keep it from drying out during baking, but that is not necessary with juicy black raspberries.

I had planned to get an early start to gardening and arrived at the SACG at 8 a.m.  As everyone knows, we received about 2.5 inches of rain on Saturday from Tropical  Storm Bill and so gardening was impossible.  My niece had her high school graduation party that afternoon.  It was supposed to be at Scioto Park in Dublin, but it had been flooded.  So, she moved it to Emerald Fields and we huddled in the shelter while eating lovely Indian food and sushi (provided by her two co-hosts’ families) and our family mocked her for simply supplying hot dogs and chips.  

On my way home, I stopped by the Moravian Church community garden where I used to garden in 2008 (which was the rainiest June in Central Ohio history with over 10 inches of rain).   It is right next to the Emerald Fields park where the party was held.  It is still there and is surrounded by new apartment buildings.   I remembered that it flooded a lot during heavy rains, like the one we were experiencing.  I wondered if anyone was losing their crops this month and was very grateful that we have a slight incline to our lot at the SACG to prevent water from pooling in any of our plots.  I then went shopping for contender green bean seeds and finally found some at Strader’s Garden Center on Riverside Drive.  While there, I founds some very reasonably priced gardening gloves and took the opportunity to purchase more than a dozen pairs to replace the gloves which were stolen last week.   Even though it finally stopped raining about an hour after her party ended, I focused on cleaning house and gardening in my own yard instead of going to the SACG.  
On Sunday, I headed over to the SACG to pick more berries and prune back the dying daisies.   However, Amy had beat me to it, which saved me some time and let me focus on other things, like weeding the herb garden and transplanting some more basil.  Thanks to Amy completing one of my tasks, I also tidied up our shed, which was still in a shambles after the theft last week.  I discovered that the thieves had taken some gardening tools (like a rake, hoe and shovel) and organic fertilizer.  Stan stopped by and mowed our lawn before weeding his plot.

Finally, last night, I again stopped by and picked another pint of raspberries, and weeded the food pantry and my plots.  The bee balm and day lilies are blooming.    Frank mentioned that he had been trying to improve the front gate -- which seems fine to me -- on Sunday and will be back to do some more work.   Despite all of the rain, some of the gardeners (like Amy, Lea and Stan) have managed to continue visiting the Garden to weed and tend their plots.  Others have thrown up their hands and their plots show it.  There is a lot of grass growing that will become difficult to pull once the ground dries out and hardens. 
This week, I’m hoping to finally have the time to plant the rest of my basil and sweet potatoes, transplant  some kale to where lettuce used to be in the food pantry plot, plant some bush contender green beans where my bok choy used to be, weed out the abandoned plots, transplant the remaining peppers and tomatoes in them and hopefully transplant some extra swash and cucumbers from my plot into them.   We’ll see . . . . . .  It would be good to get this all accomplished before the rain that is predicted for Thursday (and which had better hold off until the afternoon since I have  a group of volunteers coming in the morning).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Busy without the Bees

I’ve been too busy at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden (and with my other non-gardening life) to write for three whole weeks.   My, how time flies.   However, it also indicates that we’ve had a lot going on.   I would say that we've been busy little bees, but I've seen very few of them around . . . .

Water.  Water remains our biggest obstacle.  The downspout strainer clogged AGAIN.  Despite a nice rain at the end of May, we only had 200 gallons and they were gone in a blink.  John found transporting my ladder to be too much of a hassle, so Barb and I walked down the alley with her ladder to the SACG so that I could clear the strainer again.   Until the tank refilled on May 31, Barb also loaned us water from the Block Watch tank across the street. With Friday night’s rain, our tank was full to the brim again, so I turned off the diverter.  However, the other tank still only has 150 gallons in it, which makes me think that something is wrong with the diverter . . . . .  The garden next door – Kimball Farms Community Garden – is making due with three of our old rain barrels and they fill like clockwork now (after a few spits and starts), although I hope they do something soon about covering them (to keep mosquitoes from invading).

Seedlings.. It seems that it’s almost impossible these days to give seedlings away.  I always grow enough for everyone, but hardly anyone wants any of my seedlings.  I can cope, because I can find room for the non-tomato ones in the food pantry plots.  Strader’s Nursery has been exceedingly generous to GCGC this year and donated thousands of tomato and flower seedlings and hundreds of pepper, melon, lettuce, cabbage and cucumber seedlings.   I put some of the melon seedlings in the kids’ melon plot and Stan made use of many of the rest.   I also spent quite a bit of time one Saturday planting donated annuals (and a few transplanted perennials from my yard) into the flower beds.  Our daisies have started their seasonal die-back and the annuals will give us a tiny bit of color until other flowers bloom.

Kids.  Four of our kids’ raised beds have been taken by groups of neighborhood kids.  Some boys (and one of their fathers) came on the last Wednesday in May to plant in a bed.  Sadly, they haven’t returned to harvest or water.  Their lettuce is crowding their carrots and beets . . . .    When the girls assigned to the fifth bed didn’t return for weeks and weeks (after cleaning it out and helping around the Garden), I finally relented to turning it into a melon plot so that all of the kids can share cantaloupe and watermelon.

Donations.  With my non-gardening issues prevailing on my time in May, we were a little tardy in taking advantage of some important donations.  The City donated some premium top soil from Kurtz Brothers, but we had to pick it up ourselves.  No one would volunteer to do that, although I had volunteers to help unload. Then, Franklin Park Conservatory donated some compost (which we never have enough of).  So, I took a day off work (when my sister drove my father from OSUMC to my hometown), rented a truck and picked up the compost from the Conservatory.  Barb helped me to unload it while Frank mowed the two block watch lots.  After a brief lunch, I then went to pick up the top soil from Kurtz Brothers in Groveport and Amy helped me to unload it (which was much heavier than the compost) and sweep out the truck.  It was very hot.  Even though she was on vacation with her family in the nation’s capitol, Cathy helped us by letting me hose out the truck before returning it. 
I then rushed back to the SACG because a nice lady, Brenda, had stopped by as I was leaving the prior Saturday, for help in learning to grow food.  I told her I’d show her some things if she met me at 6 on Wednesday.  I got there 10 minutes before she did.  I showed her some things and used our abundant pepper donation to give her some practice.  Then, she went to work hoeing out Tony’s old overgrown plot (where Stan also decided to put his excess squash plants.  She came back the following Saturday and told me that she’d like to have a plot with a friend.  So, Wednesday, she was back to start putting in her work equity by staining our new picnic table (with help from the neighborhood girls).  However, neither she nor her friend returned on Saturday to complete the project or perform other work . . . . . . sigh.

 Crime.  Crime has continued to be a problem.  Much of our mulch was stolen again, even though we had it inside our locked gates.  The thieves have been damaging the fence in Stan’s plot to get it.  It hasn’t helped that he unwisely cut back the raspberries back to the fence on the inside of the fence.  The thieves stomped down the brambles and then bent down the fence.  Surprisingly, they did not step on a single one of Stan’s plants.  They also attacked our shed and tried to pry of the latch (without much luck the first time).  Although initially unsuccessful, they damaged the wood and broke one of the window-type latches.  I knew they’d be back and they were – just five days later.  This time, they broke the latch (but not the combination lock).  I expected that they would steal all of our tools and watering cans.  Instead, they took our gardening gloves and seeds – ALL OF OUR SEEDS  - - and the container they were stored in (which has SACG written on it).  So much for fall planting . . . . . and new gardeners . . . .  They also mysteriously left us a box of trash.  I’m too creeped out by this to inspect what is inside.   I had to drop everything, check out the damage, buy and install a new latch and, because we hadn’t initially found the old lock, bought a new lock, too.   Sigh. 

Bugs.  The squash bugs are back.  I knew that I planted my squash too early, but I couldn’t help myself and wait until now to start planting.

Poison Ivy.  For the first time in my memory, I have a nasty case of poison ivy.  I pulled some near my patio and at the Garden’s front gate.  Then, I carelessly carried it in my uncovered arms to the compost bins.   It is very unsightly.  After a few days, I finally tried a remedy that I should have implemented the first day because it reduced the swelling and itching almost immediately:  Off label-use of Preparation H.  Think about it.  It’s supposed to reduce the swelling and itchiness of another itchy tissue and does the same for poison ivy and bug bites.    Just sayin’ . . .

Soil Improvement.  The beginning of the month saw another very informational presentation at a GCGC meeting by Dr. Darrah from CLC Labs.   I could write a full article just on what he covered during that presentation, but I’m a little pressed for time.  He wanted to cover how much of what to apply to your soil and when to apply it. 

He’s not the biggest fan of organic gardening, simply because it’s too expensive and complicated.  There are perfectly natural minerals which perform the same task with far less weight and cost.  For instance, to improve the nitrogen in the soil, you could apply urea or blood meal, but it would take 20 times as much of those materials as the mineral ammonium sulfate (which, unlike the others, won’t attract wild life to your garden).  It’s the efficacy of the organic ingredients which makes them more expensive because it takes a lot more of an organic substitute to achieve the result just a tiny bit of the mineral can achieve.  Also, the organic materials still need to break down into a mineral form before they can be used by your plants.   However, when it comes to lawn care, you are far less likely to burn your grass using organic materials because they are absorbed slower.  For phosphorus, he recommends turf soil starter fertilizer, bone meal,  or poultry manure.  For postasium, he recommends sulfate of potash or green sand.

 He also noted that vegetation compost (like leaf mold) has less nutrition for plants than manure compost.  I’ve noted before that he has warned about using too much compost or sifted compost in your garden because, when the soil becomes water-logged like this morning, it will suffocate the plant roots without air pockets to get oxygen.  He likes to leave twigs and such in his compost to give roots breathing room.  Other than pine bark compost, most vegetative composts are alkaline and you will need to acidify your soil in order to obtain a favorable pH.    (Thank you Donley Complete Tree Care for giving us pine bark wood chips this year to protect the pH of our soil!)

He explained that the limestone soils which are common in this area want to remain alkaline.  Most soils will go acidic over time as rain washes away calcium and magnesium.

Upcoming Projects. Well, when it stops raining every day (or between rain drops), we will need to put on a second coat of stain onto the picnic table.  We will also repaint the shed (to cover the damage caused by the thieves) and to make it look a little brighter after five years of wear.  We’ll also try to finally mulch the flower beds, clear out the spent daisies and put in the rest of the basil. 

Since John dropped out this morning, we have two beds available.  Brenda indicated an interest in one and Stan’s sister, Linda, in the other.  However, I want this matter settled once and for all this weekend so that I can compost my extra tomato seedlings and reclaim my patio.  If those plots aren’t claimed and cleaned out, I’ll turn them into food pantry plots and fill them with tomatoes, squash and peppers.  So there.