Saturday, August 29, 2015

With a Little Help from My (Buckeye and Neighbor) Friends

This was a long and productive weekend at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  We finally tackled the alley curb project and we got lots of help from our neighbors and OSU students (from the Pay It Forward Program’s Community Commitment Day), who made us old gardeners feel very old with all of their enthusiasm, physical strength and energy. 

When we broke ground in 2009, we discovered that our lot was filled with concrete and other debris which made it impossible to plow or till; we had to dig the debris out by hand with shovels.  Chianti – an eight year old girl who lived across the street – started lining up the debris in a long line along the alley and our debris curb was born.  It was almost a point of pride to look at the larger pieces and the large number of pieces to see all of the hard work that went into carrying the debris out of the Garden and down the alley. 

Amy and Isaias unload donated stones
However, as our neighbors know, the debris curb harbored many weeds, made more difficult to  control because of the irregular shape of the debris.  So, at the beginning of this growing season, I contacted Bill at GreenScapes about donating remnant landscaping stones so that we could replace the irregular debris curb with an easier-to-weed uniform stone curb.  Of course, he said.  Then, I applied to the Columbus Foundation (through the City’s Community Garden grant program) for funds to rent a truck to cart away the debris and pay a dump to legally accept it.    However, with my father’s illness and the rainy weather, we never got around to it.  When I notified the gardeners that I might not finish this project, Amy started to solicit volunteers from the Bexley High School.  In the meantime, I asked the guys who hang across the street if they would help.  Of course, they said.  So, the gauntlet was set.

Yesterday, I dropped by Keep Columbus Beautiful and Robert loaned me some litter grabbers, gloves, seeds, and traffic cones for our OSU students.  I then went home and baked brownies for our volunteers and Cathy baked gluten-free oatmeal monster cookies for them, too.

That afternoon, I picked up a pickup truck from U-Haul, so that we needed to complete the major parts of the curb project within 24 hour hours.  I drove down to GreenScapes and Mark Moore helped to assemble three partial pallets of remnant limestone landscaping stones.  However, it was going to take more than one trip to get them back to the Garden because they were so heavy.  I hadn’t counted on that.  So, I drove up to the Garden and began unloading the stones. 

Some of these stones weighed more than I could carry and I thought it would take me the rest of the day.    Micayla’s father, Kevin, saw me and came by to help.  And Amy came on her bike to help, too.    While I drove back to GreenScapes to get another load, Amy went to get her car.   

When I returned and struggled with more stones, Isaias from next door came out to help, along with Kevin (and his son, small Jaden) and then Amy.   We unloaded two partial pallets of stones and then started to load the truck with debris.  While we were unloading, Amy was surprised when a frog jumped out of one of the pallets and it was quickly captured by Isaias and released in our compost bin.  I saw it hopping away, but doubt that it will find water close by.  I thought that this loading  would take forever, but we finished within an hour because I had grossly underestimated how much debris we had and overestimated how much debris the truck could safely carry.  Karen  from next door brought us soda to keep us refreshed.    I ended up removing a couple hundred pounds of debris from the truck the next morning to avoid hurting the truck.  Amy drove me back to U-Haul to get my car and I was delighted to have a free evening.

I arrived at the Garden shortly after 8:30 this morning and was able to empty the shed and prepare the supplies for our OSU volunteers, as well as water my plot.  Frank, Barb and our WEP volunteer Ezra came and headed off to Scotts Wrecking on the south side to dump our first load of debris.  The OSU students arrived just before 10:30 and there were 26 of them.  I told them a wee, wee bit about the Garden and the projects they had to choose from.    Last year, no one wanted to pick up litter; this year virtually all of the guys did.

One crew of young men selected the project of moving our western/cement block compost bin.  Our new sign for the neighbor plot has made the plot so popular, that it was quickly picked over.  So, clearly, we need another one asap.   To accomplish this, we will move a compost bin to make room for a new neighbor plot.   Ezra and I had marked out its boundaries with leftover landscaping stones (from earlier projects).  The OSU students pulled the weeds out of and around the bin, moved the cement blocks, lined them up, shoveled over the compost stored there and moved some landscaping stones to mark the border of the new neighbor plot.  They then hung out around our picnic table drinking water and eating cookies.    One of them brought a portable radio. 

A couple of young, but extremely hard working, ladies took on the project of sanding our two benches and applying new stain.  I thought that they might finish one bench.  But they finished both.  I was stunned.  So, they were rewarded by being assigned the glamorous task of harvesting produce for our weekly food pantry harvest.  They harvested over 20 pounds of tomatoes and a few pounds of peppers and green beans.

Another couple of energetic young women volunteered for the task of watering our food pantry plots, our neighbor bed, our strawberry patch and our flower pots.  Then, I paired them with the only experienced gardener in the group (who was weeding) to plant some beets and peas in the kids' former melon plot (which was emptied by the neighborhood girls last weekend as they enjoyed their cantelopes and expressed interest in snow peas).

Six gentlemen were assigned the task of picking up litter along Stoddart and in the alleys between Morrison and Fairwood.  I think that they explored more than their assignment.  However, they filled 9 bags.
A large crew was assigned the task of weeding our paths and pulling the pernicious bind weed off of the raspberry bushes.  Some of them took this seriously (almost too much so), but some of them spent time “surveying” the work being done by others.  No matter.  When the dusty debris crew returned from Scott’s dump, I pulled the “surveyors” – who were all big strapping guys – to load the truck with the remaining debris.  We were all very impressed with how much they carried in a short period of time.  We had to dig some of the debris out of where it had been placed and covered with years of wood chips. By now, Neal had arrived and he helped a little with this as well.   Then, Frank, Barb and Ezra returned to Scotts dump.

Finally, a quartet of diligent young women took on the complicated project of starting to assemble a new curb.  Isaias had expressed interest in doing this for us because it requires a lot of precision and experience working with stone (which he has).    I didn’t expect to complete this project this weekend and we didn’t.  These young women – without any prior experience – figured out that they needed to create a flat surface for the stone and did a pretty good job of keeping it in a straight line. (without the benefit of stakes or twine).   They also had to dig out some large pieces of debris in the process.  They got about two-thirds of the curb line set and started to lay the second layer before the clock ran out.

We stopped for group pictures, but I apparently mistakenly deleted the O-H-I-O photo I take every year.  (Sorry guys).  We had a bit of a burp when the bus driver ran down the bus battery during our two-hour gardening sprint.   Of course, the former girl scout that I am, I had jumper cables in the trunk of my car and we gave him a jump.   Away the students drove at 12:30, relieved to be getting out of the direct sun and increasing heat.

Neal then helped me (by doing most of the  work) of putting everything back in the shed.  Barb, Frank and Ezra returned covered with dust.  I washed out the truck and we returned it to U-Haul.  Barb and Frank then went to their real jobs and I harvested my own tomatoes and took pictures of the completed projects before heading to weigh our food pantry donation and delivering it to Faith Mission’s Homeless  Shelter.    I finally got home around 4.  I’m pretty whipped, despite a little help from my friends. . . .

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Turning a Seasonal Corner

Well, we have turned a corner at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden this weekend.   The days are getting cooler and shorter and our weekly harvests will be getting smaller instead of bigger.     Of course, being us, we are still making plans and gearing up for capital improvement projects.  And, it’s time to evaluate my gardening experiments for 2015.  One of them worked (tomatillos) and one did not (celery).

On Wednesday, we received approximately two inches of rain.  In between the two downpours, I had to harvest ripe tomatoes and ripe green beans to keep the tomatoes from splitting and the beans from going to seed.  Ezra and Amy were busy weeding.    We've had to cut our Wednesdays by 30 minutes because it is getting dark by 8:30 these days. 
One of the biggest – and often overlooked benefits – of our almost constant rain this summer is that it washes bugs off our plants.  We’ve had fewer bugs on our beans and other plants than in any other year.   Heavy and hard rains wash bugs – like beetles and aphids – off of plants.  And, all of that rained helped the spinach and lettuce I had planted the week before to sprout.
There is still a giant praying mantis in our food pantry beans.  She stays on south side of the lattice when I pick along the north and then she crawls to the north side when I pick on the south side.  She's very smart.  (I know she's a female because of her red belly.   It will get bigger as she prepares to lay her eggs and spin a cocoon).   Then, I found another hanging out on one of my zucchini plants (which explains why I have never found any squash bugs or eggs on that plant).  Then, I found another on my bean teepee at home.  Those are very handy bugs.  I wish we had more of them.

On Saturday, I watered a few plants and Ezra celebrated his birthday by watering the food pantry plots.  We also had to re-tie the tomatoes in the neighbor plot because the rain had knocked them over.   I also finally weeded our strawberry patch, which had become overrun by mint and ground ivy.  Ezra also mowed our lot, mowed the large Block Watch lot, prepared the soil in the eastern food pantry plot, and planted some lettuce, kale, collards and cabbage.  If the seeds spout, I’ll transplant some to other locations when it comes time to thin them.  I also harvested carrots, greens, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, dill, broccoli and beans.     However, our bean and tomato harvest was decidedly smaller than Wednesday’s harvest.

Every year I try something new and this year I tried (for the second time) to grow tomatillos and
celery.  I had tried tomatillos a few years ago, but don’t recall eating any of them and had never really cooked with them before this year.  I started them from seeds when I planted our tomatoes and they grew gangbusters.  I harvested my first batch too soon, but have learned that I need to wait until the papery husks are full and just starting to turn yellow/dry.    I seem to be having a bumper crop.  I’ve made two kinds of salsa and am beginning to freeze a quart to use this winter.  I tried celery a few years ago and was underwhelmed.  They are very fussy plants.  They are greedy for nutrients, and water should be mounded and tied (which I did far too late) and want to be grown out of direct sun (which is impossible at the SACG).  I planted in 3 different places.  One location got nice and tall, but then turned yellow.  The others were stunted because I planted them in between tall potato plants.    In any event, this experiment was a colossal failure.  

Next week, we will be again hosting OSU college students as part of the Pay it Forward program’s Community Commitment Day.  My niece is an incoming OSU freshman, but I can’t guarantee her a spot on the OSU team because the students sign up first-come-first serve at the kickoff breakfast next Saturday.   We have an abundance of projects for the students:

·        Weeding the food pantry plots, paths, around the raised beds, and along the alley and pulling the bind weed off the fences and raspberry bushes.

·        Watering the food pantry plots and the neighbor bed (since we’re not expecting any more rain for weeks).

·        Planting beets in a food pantry plot and harvesting produce for our weekly donation.

·        Picking up litter in the neighborhood.

·        Sand and stain our two benches.

·        Weed, move and reconstruct one of our compost bins to make room for a second neighbor bed.  Putting a sign on our neighbor bed welcoming folks to help themselves has pretty much resulted in it being picked over.  So, we need to increase the volume of available produce.  We used to have three neighbor beds, but lost two of them when we moved the compost bins from the south side to the north side of the Garden.  Now that we’ve moved the blueberry bushes from the south side to the north side of the Garden, we have room to move a compost bin to the east.

I’m also in the process of organizing a giant capital improvement project.  We received grant funds from the City to upgrade our “curb” along the alley.   The grant funds would pay to rent a truck and the dumping fees.  At present, we have lined over 70 feet of our northern border along the alley with concrete debris which we dug out of the Garden by hand over the years.  Some of those stones weigh over 30 pounds.  They are irregularly shaped and make it difficult to weed along the alley.    GreenScapes landscaping service has agreed to donate uniformly sized landscaping stones to replace the debris.  This new “curb’ will – like our debris curb – keep the Garden from washing away in a storm and keep cars from driving up or parking on our lot.   However, this project will involve a lot of heavy lifting which exceeds the abilities of the frail little ladies which make up most of our gardeners.  If we make progress on Friday with this project, I may have the OSU students reconstruct our curb.  However, there are a few Bexley high school groups who have expressed an interest in helping, too.  And, some burly neighborhood men have volunteered to help, too.

All of the following has to happen within a 24 hour period and the dump is only open during business hours and until noon on Saturday:

·        Pick up the rental truck and the landscaping stones and then unload the stones at the Garden (2 hours)

·        Load the debris (or at least all of the giant pieces) into the truck until we get to one ton (since I don’t want to break the axle).  The hard part will be to not scratch up and dent the truck.  (2 hours)

·        Drive the truck to the dump and unload it.  (2 hours)

·        Reconstruct a new curb from the landscaping stones (2 hours).

·        Return the truck. (20 minutes)

Conceivably, we could have several different groups handling each of the four major parts. I can’t leave the Garden this Saturday because of our OSU visitors, so I’m probably leaning towards organizing this on Friday/Saturday, September 11/12 unless Frank agrees to take charge of the truck unloading process this Saturday.    All of this hinges on having enough volunteers to accomplish 3 of the 4 major parts; the reconstructing of a new curb could be done gradually over a few weeks if it comes to it.

So, now I’m back to canning and freezing and eating my garden produce.   It’s already a big job, but then my brother-in-law made it even harder by presenting me with a dozen ears of corn on Thursday.  As though I don’t already have enough to eat . . . . . . J  I roasted and froze most of it.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

To Weed or Not to Weed . . . .

What if we held a tour and no one came?  Well, life goes on.  Unlike 2012, we generally keep most of the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden well weeded these days -- sometimes too much so as I will discuss today, so it's not like we went to a lot of wasted effort getting ready for this week's Local Foods Week Community Garden tour.  Even without visitors, our beans are coming on like gangbusters.   I’ve also been busy putting up my tomatoes and making plans for Fall.

First things first.  Yesterday was the second and last day of Franklin County's Local Foods Week celebration and community garden tour.    Several GCGC community garden members opened their gates for tourists to come in, ask questions and see what all of the fuss is about.    Although I hadn’t planned on it, Cathy volunteered to bake her famous strawberry cupcakes so that we could hold a bake sale.  Don’t go to any trouble, I said.  I baked my chocolate zucchini muffins (which always look pathetic next to her pretty cupcakes).  Mine are flat with a pecan on top and hers rise to a point with buttery icing.  We made $4.50 – all of them from her cupcakes because no one was willing to pay fifty cents for one or even two of my muffins.  Sigh.  When I made our weekly produce donation to Faith Mission that afternoon, I offered some of my muffins to two ladies who were hanging out behind the kitchen.  Only one of them was brave enough to try them; the other said she didn’t like zucchini (which, I assure you, cannot be tasted over the chocolate).   Sigh.

We had four visitors, including Fiona from Franklin Park Conservatory’s Growing to Green Program who was simply lending moral support.    One of our visitors came on a bicycle all the way from Grandview and needed directions to get to the other Near East Side community gardens since the publicity didn’t provide cross street information.    Another had already been to the Highland Youth Garden and noticed that we also had lots of finches.  She told me that HYG had four kinds of finches.  I had no idea how many we have.  I just know that, unlike our bees, they will not sit still to have their pictures taken while they eat our sunflower and coneflower seeds.   Also, unlike the bees, they are very noisy.

While I was chatting with our cyclist tourist, a small praying mantis jumped on my shirt.  How cute I thought, but tried to help it latch onto a plant for safety.  She told me that it was still on the back of my pants, but I didn’t believe her.  Ten minutes later, when I was watering our neighbor plot, I found it still on my clothes.  She had been correct.  They usually hang out in our green beans, I told her.  Later, when I started harvesting from our pole beans in the food pantry plot, I found a large praying mantis there praying – no doubt – that I didn’t kill it while I pulled beans.   No worries there, mate.

Ezra was there to water everything.  He likes to water, but on Wednesday, he and Amy weeded our jungle along the alley and I weeded a bit of our strawberry patch.  Ezra would water everything for four hours if I let him.  When I noticed that he was repeating himself, I asked him to start weeding Kaci’s former plot.  She had wanted a plot to visit with her children, but they – like Ezra – like to water and not much else.  Her cousin Ruby planted everything for her, but hardly any of the seeds sprouted, or if they did, were overcome with weeds.  When it became apparent that they weren’t visiting their plot anymore, responding to emails or weeding, I claimed it for the food pantry (unless we have a new neighbor or gardener who wants it).  Amy took the first stab at weeding it yesterday.  She discovered baby melons, overgrown cucumbers and a fully ripened, bright red bell pepper.   Then Ezra spent an hour weeding it before calling it a day.   I pulled a couple pounds of collard greens for our weekly produce donation.  Next week, I’ll plant some beets and turnips for our Thanksgiving/closing donation.

Melinda's so organized; we bag our harvest in old plastic bags
We didn’t go to any special trouble this year for the tour.  In 2012, during the drought, we were part of a similar tour in July.  It was 102 degrees.  We spent lots of time getting the garden ready (with lots of help from Master Gardener interns) and then only four people came.  Grumble grumble.    Our neighbors spent Friday afternoon weeding and harvesting.   Melinda sent me a nice picture of their haul (of produce, not weeds;-)   Their garden – particularly their pole beans – are so pretty.  Our pole beans grow up re-purposed wire fencing and are very crowded.  She built these giant wood structures so that each vine has a foot of air circulation and can grow up twine as much as 16 feet high.    Last year, she grew them up twine hanging from an old playground swing set.  I thought it was hysterical. 

Neal stopped by  -- or skipped in.  He became a first-time grandfather a few hours earlier and couldn’t wait to show pictures.    He weeded and harvested tomatoes before heading off to show the pictures to his father, the new great-grandfather.   His parents have been married for 71 years.  Wow.

Neal and Amy have been aggressive weeders, in stark contrast to Kaci.    Rayna, Mari and I are somewhere in the middle.    In the SACG’s “rules,” our second “guideline” is about weeds:

2)  Please keep the weeds in your plot under control.  Rampant weeds are unsightly for the neighborhood and a nuisance to your fellow gardeners who don’t want your weeds invading their plots or spreading their seeds.  Luckily, weeds are only a significant problem during the rainy season.  When your weeds reach ten inches in height, you should expect a gruff reminder from the Garden Manager.

Cathy refuses to garden with us because she doesn’t want a gruff reminder about her weeds.  While she’s pretty good about weeding the flower beds in front of her house, she’s not so good about weeding her vegetable garden.  Out of sight, out of mind Cathy . . . . 

My take on weeds is that you don’t want anything other than your vegetable plants and flowers to deprive your produce of water or sun.  For instance, our pesky bindweed is choking out our raspberries and keeping them from getting enough sun.  Bindweed also pulls down our flowers.   When I was biking at Three Creeks Park this morning, I saw that bindweed was also choking out other bushes and trees. Creeping Charlie (aka ground ivy) choked out most of our strawberries this year.      Some weeds take away valuable water.  You also don’t want to have weeds that harbor bugs that will eat your plant or hide out during the winter.  (Although, when I was chatting with Neal, I initially said “harvest” instead of “harbor” because I was starting to wilt in the sun and heat).  Finally, you don’t want them to go to seed because then you end up spending more time on weeding the new weeds than in living your very busy and meaningful life.   Other than that, it’s not that big of a deal.   

Neal laughed at the implication that over-weeding was a waste of time that could be spent doing  something else more productive.    There’s that.  But the other issue I worry about when I see plots as weed-free as Amy and Neal’s plot is that there’s nothing protecting the good soil from eroding during storms and wind.   It’s particularly an issue in the winter when the ground heaves and breaks during freeze and thaw cycles and then blows away during strong westerly breezes.  So, leaving a few non-aggressive weeds like some grasses and purslane is not a bad idea to make sure that good, compost-rich soil doesn’t blow or wash away when you’re not looking.   In the Fall, for instance, I tend to cut my non-tomato seedlings at about one inch above the ground so that their roots remain to anchor the soil.    The downside of this is that the pests that like those plants also stay in the soil (like nematodes).

That being said, there’s no reason to have weeds past your knees.  It’s unsightly for our neighbors, harbors bugs and deprives your plants of sun and water.    That’s why this Garden Manager is so gruff about weeds.   My aunt and uncle have their giant vegetable garden above an underground stream, which is often a good thing.  But not this year.  They have not been able to keep up with the weeds and have decided that they are really starting to prefer famer’s markets.  Particularly, the amish produce auction.  I told her that she’s just getting old;-) 

When I told Neal about the finches, he told me a story about a red tail hawk that recently visited his neighborhood.    Apparently, the girlfriend of a certain restauranteur we both know was out walking her tiny dog in his back yard (i.e., letting it walk and do its business while she chatted nearby).   Suddenly a hawk swooped down and poked its eye out with its beak.  I was absolutely horrified, as were they.  I used to worry about hawks swooping down to get my kitties while they napped on my fence.  Occasionally, hawks stop by the telephone wires near my and my neighbor’s house because we both have lots of birds at our birdfeeders.    I’ve even seen one eat one of the albino squirrels in my neighborhood.  But never a dog.  Poor puppy!  Nature can be cruel, even without weeds.
 Because we still have 60+ days in the growing season before our anticipated first Fall frost, I started planting for our Fall season.  I planted some lettuce, spinach and winter kale. If and when it sprouts, I’ll transplant seedlings.   

It can be hard trying to focus on the Fall crops in August because I’m still busy with our current
crop.  I was up until midnight on Friday making Lidia’s suffocated eggplant sauce.  I freeze it (and the lamb I buy at Kroger’s from the State Fair sale), and then, during a cold winter day, I slow cook the lamb in the eggplant/tomato sauce during the day for a toasty and yummy winter evening meal over orzo or couscous.  Last week, I made and canned the Raphael sauce from the Silver Palate cookbook and last night I made and canned some Puttanesca sauce.   If I run out of tomatoes, Smith’s Farm Market sells 25 pounds of roma tomatoes for $13.

Well, we had a lot of cupcakes leftover from our bake sale.  The neighborhood kids bought most of them.   So, when I returned them to Cathy, I suggested that they could be appreciated at the birthday party across the street.  She agreed.     I couldn’t possibly eat any more of them.  This summer I have lost one pound every Saturday since mid-June.  It’s not just water weight, because, as Stan observed on Wednesday, I’ve also kept it off.  Yesterday, after eating two cupcakes and four muffins, I gained a pound even though I was at the Garden from 8:30 until 2:30 watering my plot, picking beans, planting and harvesting.  Sigh.   Nature can be so cruel to an old woman.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Preparing for Local Foods Week

It’s Local Foods Week in Central Ohio and the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden will be participating on Saturday morning by opening our gates for visits and questions by visitors and by holding a bake sale.    I attended a presentation on Good Agricultural Practices at this month’s GCGC meeting last week.  Also, we have new locks and new tools for our shed.

OSU Extension is coordinating a celebration of Local Foods Week in Central Ohio.    Part of this celebration involves a no-charge tour of area community gardens on Saturday, August 15 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., including

·        the SACG,

·         the Peace and Plenty CG behind New Life Church in Whitehall at 4295 East Broad Street,

·        St. Vincent de Paul pantry garden at Wellesley and Livingston just east of Bexley,

·        Highland Youth Garden in the Hilltop,

·        Awarak Garden on North Fourth,

·        Charles Madison Nabrit Memorial Garden on Brentnell,  and

·        Bibleway SKIP Gardens in the Hilltop. 

This would be a good time to see the wide-variety of styles of area community gardens.  Also, the SACG will be holding a bake-sale to feed our tourists.  This will include Cathy’s famous strawberry cupcakes and some chocolate zucchini muffins.

Last week, I attended the monthly GCGC meeting at Christ the King Catholic Church near Bexley.   While there, I unexpectedly ran into an old friend from my Appalachian high school who was now living near German Village and starting a community garden in her neighborhood.  Her brother taught me to drive in reverse with a stick shift.  It’s a small world.  Marge and Paula had been very busy hosting the GCGC meeting and supplied a hearty buffet, including shredded barbeque chicken.  They had already put in a full day of work by hosting a funeral wake earlier in the afternoon.  The meeting program was OSU Extension’s Mike Hogan talking about Good Agricultural Practices – i.e., growing food in a healthy way so as not to make people sick from, for example, listeria.  He had a powerpoint, handouts and quick pacing.   Of course, he never answered my question about how to sanitize our cistern tank water.  Sigh.  However, he impressed on everyone the importance of washing our hands and our produce before we eat it.

We have had a lot of activity at the SACG since the beginning of the month.   Our hero of the week is Ken Turner.  Ken is an area landlord who has never gardened with us.  He saw my plea for help with our recurring thefts on NextDoor and volunteered to help.  He suggested that we add several locks to our shed to make it more time consuming to break in.  He even donated and installed a monster lock this week.    It was a complicated operation, but I’m sleeping better knowing that it is on our shed.
Also, Bill Dawson from Franklin Park Conservatory emailed me about an area gardener wanting to donate some new hand tools – like the ones we had stolen.  Hope Phillips donated brand new tools (still in their clam shell packaging) to replenish our shed because all of our hand tools had been stolen last month. 

Ezra is still volunteering at the SACG as part of the Work Experience Program and making my life easier.  He spent all of last Wednesday and most of Saturday watering our food pantry and neighbor plots.  The water pressure on our big cistern is ridiculously low (even though it is full). We can’t afford to empty it at this time of year to inspect and repair it, so we have to stand forever waiting for our watering cans to fill up.   So, Ezra figured out on his own that to make the best use of his time, he would weed our path while waiting for me to refill my watering cans.  However, he lost his mind during the last 45 minutes of his shift.  He began putting the weeds into our trash can “because it was easier.”  Sigh.    Cathy’s husband, Jason, fixed our lawn mower, so Ezra was also able to mow our lawn this week (so that we won’t look too shaggy for the Local Foods Week tour.

My visitor du jour on Saturday was Mike from Four Season City Farm.   They have several community gardens.  The one on Linwood was getting a late start for the season and needed a water source.  The City and Tool Library have run out of funds to purchase a new community garden rain cistern, so he had stopped by to see if we could help.  I loaned him the rain barrel which we have used to harvest water off of our shed.   Because the shed is so tiny, it takes forever to fill.   We almost never use it to water our plants.  Instead, it seems to be perpetually empty because the area homeless use it as a water source for drinking and bathing.   Although it was far smaller than he needed, he returned a few hours later to accept our offer.   I explained that we will need it to be returned when he has found another alternative.

The neighborhood boys have never returned to tend their plot after planting.  Some of the girls have occasionally watered it and picked a few of the ripe tomatoes.  The girls have been pretty good about tending their plots this year, although one group let their plot get so weedy that it choked out their carrots and then they picked their peppers seedlings along with the weeds.  This last week, they mysteriously came in and picked an armload of greens with which to make a salad.

Saturday was a long day.  I arrived at the SACG around 8:45 to find Ezra had already arrived.  I put him to work mowing our lawn while I watered my plot.  I also saved seeds from two arugula plants, pulled bind weed from the fence, transplanted pepper plants, hunt squash bug eggs, and pruned weed trees that were growing up in our fence line before I started harvesting (which seems to take me 1.5 to 2 hours). The pole beans continue to hide in unusual places, which can make it difficult to find all of them.   I finally got out of the Garden after 2 p.m.  Because it was so late, I took our weekly donation to Faith Mission.

Rayna stopped by to harvest and perform some light weeding.  She had a lot to get done before she starts her new job on Monday.  I hadn’t realized that school was starting this week, which seems so early compared to when I was a kid.  We never started before August 21.   Neal also stopped by to harvest and planned to return.  Amy had planned to stop by, but her husband was injured during Pelotonia and ended up in Grant Hospital.   He was released later in the day.
Although I have yet to lay eyes on him, our possum is still helping himself to tomatoes in my plot.  I found several half-eaten tomatoes.  This always makes me sad.  

The aerial photo is the Google maps picture of the SACG, which seems to have been taken last September or October (based on what is there and not there).     We also have a few sun flowers.  We usually have LOTS of sunflowers and we usually have TALL sunflowers.  However, with our cloudy summer, our sunflowers are stunted and some of them did not make it into June.  Our eggplants are also suffering.   I have a few Asian eggplants doing ok at home, but only one of my Asian eggplants have produced at the SACG and none of the Mediterranean plants.   

This week will probably focus on weeding because we received almost an inch of rain yesterday.  I imagine that last night's rain also exploded some tomatoes and caused our beans to triple in size.   I also hope to start planting our fall crops.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Don’t Bother Me; I’m Busy

We’ve had a number of visitors this summer.  And I don’t mean just the criminal variety.  However, they all seem to be oblivious to my schedule.  By noon, I’ve started harvesting for our weekly food pantry donation.   If you’ve ever been to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, you know that we have no shade of any kind.  The newly picked food sits in plastic bags in the sun.  Wilting. Believe me, I’m in a serious hurry to get all of the produce donations picked.  My own food picked.  Load of the car.  Get home to my first sugar fix in over four hours.  Wash my hands.  Weigh and record the bags.  And then over to the food pantry before everyone goes home. 

So, when people stop by to chat at noon, I’m glaring at the even the nicest people.  There’s landlord Kenny, who even offers me cold refreshments.  There’s the variety of church groups who stop by to invite me to their rallies and services.  (Every once in a while, one of those groups will offer me food or cold drinks).  Then, there’s Neal who shows up around 12:30 or 1 every week and seems oblivious to the fact I’m in a hurry every week.  He thinks that’s just how I am all of the time.  Sigh.  I’ve sent a few memos to the gardeners reminding them not to show up at noon expecting me to be their buddy and what I’m really thinking when they start chatting with me around noon.  The result:  everyone is avoiding the SACG on Saturday mornings.  Except Neal.   I've only seen Lea once since Earth Day.  I saw Tom yesterday, but haven't seen Sabrina or Zephyr since the baby was born in early June.   Not even Amy comes on Saturdays any more.  It's almost surreal.

This morning, I got there around 8:40 a.m. and didn't get out until 2.   I had been there yesterday from 8:45 until 11:20 because Ezra needed to get his WEP hours in by the end of the day and I needed to visit my father – out of town – to see how he was adjusting to being at home for the first time since Mother’s Day (when he had a severe stroke).   I harvested our food pantry potatoes this morning.   The russets were the most prolific, followed by nice-sized Yukon gold, but our red potatoes were rather puny.

I also noticed that our possum had returned.  He started off eating Rayna’s tomatoes a few weeks ago and this last week.   Yesterday morning, Frank set a trap in  Rayna’s plot.  However, by then the possum has moved to my plot.  You can see from the picture I took yesterday that he had eaten half of one of my tomatoes and bitten the other on Friday.  But this morning (Saturday), he had returned to finish the half-eaten tomato and nibbled on a zucchini.  Grrr.  He managed to avoid the trap.  Sigh.  Frank suggested that he would change the bait to tomatoes since the possum seemed to be so fond of them.

Mari’s zucchini had died from a squash borer attack.  I pulled her plant out of the ground and saw  the borer still in it squirming around.  Completely gross.  However, I took some pictures for you so that you can see the damage it causes and how to recognize it.  Two or three of my zucchini plants are dying the same death.  When Ezra came, I had him dig up the area where Mari’s zucchini plant had been to find any of the borer pupa so that we could ensure that it would not be there to hatch next Spring.    He also weeded her plot (but stepped on her pepper plant).  Then, he started watering the food pantry plots.  Yesterday, he weeded the south path.   Slowly but surely, he is developing the ability to work independently and demonstrate quality control. 

I installed a deadbolt lock on the shed.  A different landlord Ken convinced me that if we made the shed harder – and more time consuming – to break into, the thieves would probably leave us alone.  So, we’ll put on two heavy duty locks and let them know it will take twice as much time to break in.  And one of those locks will be bolt-cutter proof.    Frank inspected my handiwork and offered two suggestions of how he could improve upon it.  That’s why Frank is so invaluable. Then, he mowed the two block watch lots before heading off to his real job.  

Even though we received an inch of rain this week (which filled our big tank), I watered a little bit.  I planted some itty bitty sweet potato seedlings in the food pantry plot where the regular potatoes had been.  We’ll have to see if they survive and mature in time by the first frost.    Because we’re experiencing a significant El Nino, I’m counting on a late frost and mild Fall (unlike our last two).  So, I’m optimistic. 
Then I started harvesting.  The green beans took a while because they like to hide and have spread into the front flower bed.  Then, when I thought I had found them all, I found two more vines with beans that had snuck into the tomato trellises.   The bugs had not found those beans.   By the time I finally got to harvesting my own heirloom beans, Neal showed up carrying a large piece of wood.  I wondered what on earth he was going to put in his plot now.  Instead, he announced it was for me. 
After LeAndra had painted the rock in his plot, I suggested that she paint a sign for our neighbor plot.    We grow food in a plot outside our fence where anyone can help themselves. This includes tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, lettuce, kale, collards and broccoli.  I had also planted squash and cucumbers, but both plants died.   I publicize the plot in our Spring neighborhood newsletter and tell people about it if they stop by asking for food.   But, I often am questioned about how other people are supposed to know about it.  Most people don’t want to steal and won’t help themselves unless they are given specific permission.  So, we’ve needed a sign for this plot for six years now.

Neal asked me what the sign should say.  I hadn’t given it much thought.  I later emailed him some tongue-in-cheek suggestions.  While he and LeAndra rejected those possibilities, they started thinking of some of their own.  The sign is a lot bigger than I anticipated, but it’s very cheery.   I’m going to have to cover it in varnish to protect it from the elements.  Luckily, because I had been installing a new lock for the shed, I happened to have my drill with me today so that Neal could help me mount the sign on the bed.

Then it was back to harvesting.  By the time I got to the food pantry at 2:30, it was empty.  Even the volunteers had gone home.  Only the staff was there.  I knew that I was cutting it close.  I would have gone down to Faith Mission (which is open until 5), but Don had been so nice to me last week that I thought I owed it to him to bring more tomatoes.  According to him, no one has been donating tomatoes this year.  The rain has been hard on a lot of crops.  The corn is full of bugs and they had to discard a lot of it (as did Neal).  Tomatoes have not been fruiting or turning red.  However, I reminded him that last week was our second week of donating some tomatoes.  Maybe we weren’t donating as many as in the past, but we have had red tomatoes to donate.  I always grow about 16 different varieties every year in anticipation of every type of weather.  I grow Russian and Oregon tomatoes for cold weather.  Tomatoes for hot humid Florida weather.  Sioux tomatoes for dry and hot weather.  Ohio Belgian and other heirloom tomatoes for regular Ohio weather.  Etc.  Our roma tomatoes have loved this summer’s weather and have been completely unaffected by it.  I hear other gardens have been affected by blight, but so far the SACG has not.  

I've attached charts showing our food pantry donations through the end of July.  Today's harvest and donation is not reflected on these charts, though.

On Wednesday, Ezra was going to mow our lawn before it started raining.  I went to get the mower and found it was broken.  So, I only let him mow our little lot and emailed the handy folks about how we were going to have to fix it asap.  Help was promised.  No one showed up.  Kinda like some of the promises about trowels.  Several folks offered to help, but virtually none of it has materialized.

However, there has been something mysterious.  Last Saturday (or maybe Wednesday), a bunch of stuff showed up around our picnic table.  A strawberry planter.  A briefcase full of papers.  Some Vogue, Architectural Digest and Town and  Country magazines, pool toys and a children’s monopoly set.  No note.  No email.  Just there.   If people want to donate something, they really should let me know.   I have to leave stuff there in case the owner comes back.  Now everything is wet.  Some kids have been playing with the monopoly set, but they don’t put it away and the money is blowing around the neighborhood.  Really people.  What is a community garden going to do with a board game?  What are we going to do with pool toys?  There’s no pool within two miles of the Garden (that I know of anyway).  If they had let me know, I might have been able to find some of these things good homes.   But, when it’s just left there, I don’t have a lot of options.

Well, the last few weeks have been blissfully uneventful.  I’ve been watching the weather reports anxiously – just like old times.  The rain goes north.  It goes south.  It generally passes us by.  I curse at the weathermen who talk about 4 dry days in a row, when it was actually 10 at the SACG.  But right now, I’m good because we got our inch of rain this week and it’s not too hot or too cold. My rain barrels at home are full, too.    I just wish I had enough tomatoes to start canning.