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.

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