Thursday, July 23, 2015

No One Promised Us a Rose Garden

Where to start . . . . The Stoddart Avenue Community Garden continues to be targeted by thieves.  Several members of the community have offered to help.  We finally have a reliable WEP volunteer.  Neal’s monument rock has gained some more color. The incessant rain has finally subsided and an El Nino is predicted for Fall and Winter.   Rayna’s tomatoes still are being targeted by a possum.  

The Crime.  As faithful readers know, the SACG has been targeted by thieves this year.  Typically, it doesn’t start until the end of August and is limited to our produce.  For years, I’ve asked for anyone to donate wildlife cameras to us so that we could photograph and catch the thieves.  I’ve done more research and they typically cost over $100, but I don’t know enough to select which one would be the best.  This year, the thefts started in April.  

·        They have climbed over our fence in three different places and at least thee different times and stolen the bags of mulch meant for our flower beds. (We had already mulched the orchard and they left behind the bag for our herb garden).   Franklin Park Conservatory ultimately donated some mulch to us to fill the gap.   We reinforced the fence and the berry brambles finally grew into other gaps and those thefts have stopped for now.  Frank also reinforced our front gate with hidden metal supports. 

·        They bashed the latch off our shed and stole all of our seeds, most of our gloves, some trowels and a few larger tools.  We found some of the seeds (and their container) germinated on the sidewalk a block away.  I bought new gloves from Straders and three new trowels from Lowe’s. I also added a much stronger latch.  Replacing the tools, latch and locks is all very expensive, especially when we typically only raise a little over $100/year in plot fees.  Our shed hadn’t been attacked since 2011. The new and improved latch is still there.

·        About eight days ago, the thieves brought heavy, duty tools to cut the lock off the shed and tried to cut the lock off our front gate.  I know from experience that the bolt cutter required to cut that lock must be almost as tall as me.  They stole all of our hand tools – all of our trowels, pruning shears, hedge clippers, and our only warren hoe.  I upgraded the lock and replaced the locks on the shed and front gate.  We need these tools because some of our gardeners and the neighborhood kids have never owned tools and don’t have access to them unless we provide them.  Many of the gardeners and all of the kids rely on the trowels to weed (instead of hoes).    While Amy, Barb and me can always bring our own tools from home, not all of our gardeners have that option.

This is too much for me.  I had been emailing the police without response.  I know the thefts have been at dawn.  I raised it on NextDoor and it was shared on the civic association’s facebook page.  I’ve heard from a former community gardener whose garden in Old Towne East closed last year because they could not continue after similar thefts.   However, we also received offers of support.

·        One of my gardeners solicited donations of used tools from her friends.

·        One of our former gardeners offered to buy us new tools.

·        A lady on Parsons Avenue offered to send us $10 after her social security check arrived.  (I graciously declined her generous offer).

·        An area landlord offered to provide us with used tools and to improve our lock.  He even stopped by to chat and inspect our new lock.

This week the police have suggested that we move our tools or move our shed to somewhere safer.  The officer even spoke with one of our neighbors.   I’m waiting to hear what my Board says about that.

Of course, I know that crime is not isolated to the Near East Side.  I have new neighbors in Bexley and, despite warnings from me and their mother, were robbed within six weeks of moving in.   (They've lived in Central Bexley for a few years and thought crime was just an unfounded rumor).  Their garage was locked up, but the thieves kicked in the locked door just to steal a bike and some change.   What I haven't had the heart to tell them is that the thieves will likely return  . . . . .

Behind every successful man stands a stronger woman . . .
The Calvary.  Aside from crime, my biggest burden is the lack of hands to help with everything that needs to be done each week.  We’ve had very bad luck with WEP volunteers.  However, at the beginning of July, we were assigned three new volunteers.  One came for two hours, was eaten by mosquitos and never returned.  One never showed up.  The third – Ezra – came the second week and has returned every Wednesday and Saturday since then.  We can certainly thank his mother for this since she drops him off and picks him up for every shift.    He mows our lawn, and the Block Watch lots, too.  He has weeded along the alley and trimmed raspberry brambles.  Last Saturday, he painted our shed (to cover the damage caused the thieves, etc.) and stained all of our platform raised beds.  Last night, he watered the plants in our food pantry plots, Stan’s plot, Mari’s plot, our blueberry bushes and our new trees.   I’m no longer exhausted and have had time to begin planting our second season crops.  Of course, one of these days, Ezra will get fed up with our backbreaking hot work and find a paying job and I'll go back to being the grumpy garden lady.

Garden Art.  You can see that LeAndra (Neal’s girlfriend) has been busy decorating the monument stone in his plot.  I’ve suggested that we could use her to paint a small sign for our neighbor plot letting folks know that they should help themselves to produce from that raised bed.

Rain, Rain  . . . . The rain has finally stopped.  But not in time to save our onion crop. Or our usual bumper crop of sunflowers.   Our tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and kale have suffered, but will recover.    The cooler temperatures this summer mean that Lea and Rayna have fresh cilantro in their plots.  (I am so jealous).   The second strongest El Nino in decades is predicted, which means a warmer and dryer than average Fall and Winter (for Ohio) and more rain for California.   Now that we’re finally reaching average summer temperatures, we might actually begin to see red tomatoes.   I’ve forgotten what they look or taste like.

Other Predators.  We don’t just suffer from two-legged predators.  We also get the occasional four legged variety.  With the destruction of the building next door, new neighbors and a repair of the sidewalk across the street, we’ve been saved from groundhogs.  However, possums live everywhere. And one has made itself at home in Rayna’s plot.  There’s little that is as disappointing as finding a half-eaten tomato still hanging from a plant.
Ray of Sunshine.  Last Friday, while I was still fuming from our theft, the Franklin Park Conservatory held its second (hopefully annual) community garden social party on its community garden campus.   The weather was wonderful and all of the rain fell west and south of the event.  We had wonderful pizza and salads and too much dessert.  It's always nice to kibbutz with other gardeners when I'm clean and relaxed.  

It's also always fun to razz Daniel for being a communist because he doesn't want to do anything to deter community garden thefts.  He actually talked about how cameras would create the impression of a police state.   Of course, what can we say about our crime when thieves are stealing stain glass windows right out of area churches.  However, I don't see lots of people with options (i.e., money) moving into high crime neighborhoods because they find it appealing to have items stolen out of their lawns, garages or sheds.  Those folks prefer safe neighborhoods like the one I grew up in.    It's my opinion that everyone deserves to live in a safe neighborhood, not just the rich who can afford it.  But's that's just my opinion.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Knee High By Fourth of July

You all know the saying: corn should be knee high by the Fourth of July.    Well, with
all of the rain and mild temperatures we’ve had this year, our corn (as well as the corn throughout Ohio) was more than six feet tall by last weekend’s holiday.  But shoulder high by Fourth of July doesn't sound quite the same, does it.  That’s just crazy, right?  Of course, just because the plants are crazy tall doesn’t mean that it’s maturing more quickly.   The corn cobs themselves are on schedule and are tiny to non-existent.   We’ve had a crazy amount of rain this year, unlike the entire west coast.  We’ve had perpetual clouds and almost perpetual rain.  Everyone in Central Ohio is suffering from Seasonal Affectation Disorder even though it’s summer.   Our weather has been so cloudy for so long that I’ve formed empathy for the folks around the world who experienced similar weather (i.e., climate change) during the massive eruptions of the Pacific Ocean volcanoes  Tambora and Krakatoa (which caused world-wide famine and has even been blamed for the plague and the Mongol invasion of the west) when its volcanic ash caused similarly perpetual clouds all over the world.   Some people might just say our weather is typically British (which is why everything is green). Our beans are just now starting to flower.  Our tomatoes have giant plants, but have barely flowered, let alone set fruit.  Some peppers are doing great and others are rotting in the Garden.   It’s a little concerning.  Happily, I read in the paper this morning that meteorologist Chris Bradley is predicting El Nino to strike any week, which would cause a drier and warming Fall and Winter.   I will be starting my Fall crops a little early this year. 

Our squash bugs are back!!!!!
We’ve been blessed this month with two WEP volunteers.  Willie came on July 1 and mowed our grass and picked berries for our weekly food pantry donation.   However, he was also chased by mosquitoes and hasn’t been back since.   Ezra came on Wednesday (despite a full day of rain) and helped Rayna prune back our black raspberry bushes now that the berry season is over.  The Work Experience Program is funded by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services administered by the Franklin county Department of Job and Family Services through its Employment Opportunities Program.

 Since my last post, I’ve also pruned raspberry brambles in my and the food pantry
plots.  Rayna pruned them around the kids’ beds.  My potatoes are looking poorly, which I’m blaming on the weather.  In contrast, the food pantry potatoes look so much better than mine and I planted them from the same seed potatoes and at roughly the same time.  Our onions are falling early this year and rotting in the ground, which is obviously also attributable to the weather.  I’ll probably harvest all of them this Saturday so that they can dry out a bit.  The leeks, on the other hand, love this rain and cloudiness.   I finally put in my sweet potatoes (about a month late), but they have taken off with all of the rain and mildness.   I spent the holiday helping with the Bexley parade instead of gardening, so I conducted our weekly food pantry harvest on Sunday afternoon and ran it down to Faith Mission (which is open on  Sundays).  Sadly, while I was at the Garden on Sunday, I discovered the squash borer moth on my  zucchini.  I couldn’t remember if it was the borer or the wasp which eat them, so I left it alone until I could check my computer pictures.  It was the borer.  Curses. 

Neal continues to entertain us.  He had a bumper zucchini crop last week and shared one with me.  This week, he painted his giant rock bench (which he dug out of his plot this summer) a bright blue.  Where does he find the time?  Rayna has fabulous zinnias and mine are only three inches tall because I have failed to thin out our dill forest.  I will bit the bullet on Saturday so that I can have cut flowers eventually this year.

I attended July’s meeting last night of the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition.  It 
Stan's zucchini is not match for a squash borer

was held at the Old First Presbyterian Church (at Ohio and Bryden), which is also the home of one of the oldest pantry community gardens in Columbus: Four Seasons City Farm, which broke ground in 2004.   Earlier in the afternoon, Straders’ Garden Centers donated a hundred flats of begonias to the GCGC and they were waiting for us.  They donated a similar amount of petunias and geraniums on Wednesday at New Life Church (off East Broad Street in Whitehall) and wave petunias and other flowers on Tuesday at Grace Church on Shady Lane.  

OSU Extension is organizing a tour of local community gardens for Local Foods Week in August.  Community  gardens all over Columbus will be open for tourists on Sunday, August 9 from 1-4 and on Saturday, August 15 from 9-1.  I signed us up for Saturday since I’ll be there anyway.   Right now, the following gardens will tentatively be open for the Local Foods week tour on Sunday, August 9: Charles Madison Nabrit Memorial Garden in Linden; Redeemer Lutheran Community Garden on James Road; The Linden Garden Association; and the Fireman's Flower Garden  in Linden.   On the following Saturday, August 15, the following gardens are tentatively scheduled to be open:  St. Vincent De Paul Family Life Garden off Livingston and Wellesley; Highland Youth Garden  in the Hilltop; Peace & Plenty Comm. Garden off East Broad Street in Whitehall; the Arawak Garden, the Charles Madison Nabrit Memorial Garden in Linden and the SACG (here).
GCGC is still trying to hold a community garden tour in Cleveland on Saturday, August 1.  The cost of $35 covers the round bus trip from Columbus to Cleveland to view several gardens there.  Peggy wants us to see how much more money the City of Cleveland spends on its community gardens (compared to Columbus) and how this would improve the quality and number of our gardens here with a similar investment.  They need 35 people to sign up immediately to proceed with the tour, but so far only have 12.

Four Seasons City Farm gave a brief history of their garden.  The one next to the church has a hoop house (which was funded by a grant from Scotts and the Columbus Foundation back in 2007).  They used wood, which is now showing its age.   They grow almost everything: tomatoes (with three kinds of trellising), greens, etc.  What amazed me is how many fruit trees they have so close together and how much fruit is on them.  They have apples and peaches (which our neighbor kids always eat a month before they get ripe).  They also have a fig tree.  Sadly, the polar vortex in 2013 killed all of the branches, but then shoots came up the following summer.  However, last year’s January freeze similarly killed off the saplings, which again, have resurrected this summer.  They are hoping a mild winter will bring the tree back to full vigor for next year.  Before the polar vortex, their fig tree had been 12 feet tall.  They are investigating other types of fruit trees to add as well.    Their BIG garden is at Carpenter and Mound.  Much of that produce gets stolen every year because they do not have locked gates.  They are trying to grow different varieties of tomatoes that will not be as attractive to thieves and hope to start selling salsa to economically sustain their efforts.

We also had a presentation from a jam maker who sells his goods at the Franklin Park Conservatory’s Farmer’s Market every Wednesday afternoon.  His niche is that his jams are infused with herbs.  He explained to us how he got into making and selling jams.  He has named his business after his mother.   We were all able to sample his products and he invited us to join with him in his endeavor by supplying him with produce and herbs.   (I, of course, welcomed him to help himself to our considerable mint and black raspberry crops).   Everyone should try his jarred gluten-free cheesecake.  Oh my.  That's a moneymaker. The “crust” is made from coconuts and walnuts.  It’s topped with his jam.

By attending GCGC, I had to miss another event.  Gardener Amy emailed me earlier in the day to invite me to a book reading at the Easton Barnes and Nobel by her step-daughter, Jessica.  Jessica has a food blog, Sweet Amandine, which is much more polished and popular than this one.  After having a brain aneurysm (like the one which killed our neighbor Ms. D last March), she luckily survived and recovered her strength through the restorative power of cooking and baking.  This is recounted in her Memoir, Stir.  Of course, you can buy it through (where you can designate a tiny portion of each Amazon purchase you make at to benefit the SACG).  Or, you can try to catch Jessica on her nationwide book tour.