Monday, October 19, 2015

Surprise Attack of the Killer Frost

Proposed Fairwood Commons
Last week, I talked about knowing that I should start pulling out more summer plants while the sun shined before it turned cold and miserable.  Did I take my own advice? Of course not.  Did I pay for it this weekend?  You bet.    We had our first killing freeze a full two weeks earlier than the last two years.  However, we have more news about the proposed Fairwood Commons development planned for a block east of the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.

Last week and this week, I continued to pull items out of the Garden.  At home, last week I pulled down my pole bean teepee because it was located on top of my saffron bulbs, which generally bloom in October instead of the Spring.   Not even beans take precedence over saffron.   I also reconstructed my seasonal cold frame.  With a mild winter predicted (although I’m starting to question the NOAA scientists, considering that our killing frost came two weeks early), I might be able to grow kale into January if it is sufficiently protected.    So, I dug up some kale and bok choy from the SACG and planted them in a raised bed which formerly had tomatoes, basil and peppers and covered them with the cold frame.   Somehow, my cats are still getting into it.

On Wednesday, I went over early and harvested the rest of my sweet potatoes.  They were a bit underwhelming compared to my white sweet potatoes from last week, but better than the skinny ones from last year.   More concerning, one hill of them – including the large one – had mysteriously split in very unappetizing ways.  That’s never happened to me before and I wasn’t sure if I would eat them, let alone store them.  (My sweet potatoes generally store for months in my root cellar/basement).  I conducted some research and learned that I should NOT have been watering them so much during our dry spell over the last six weeks.   Their growing season counts on the last month being dry so that their skins will thicken up.  By heavily watering them every week, my potatoes continued to expand and split their skins.  Oops.  Live and learn.  But never fear.  As with my split tomatoes, I found a way to salvage my giant split sweet potato by skinning and dicing it and using it in a breakfast frittata in the recipe at the end of this post.  That one potato yielded 2-1/2 cups of diced sweet potatoes even though it had been skinned and dirty pieces cut out.

Later that evening, I joined about twelve other people to listen to Joe McCabe from the Woda
Rose helping us pick up letter in 2014 at Fairwood & Main
Group make a presentation about the proposed Fairwood Commons.  His presentation hit all of the right buttons for me and I’m a genuine fan.  At present, there are only two non-vacant lots on the north side of East Main Street between Rhoads and Fairwood: a beer drive-thru and a lovely landscaped home restored by a military veteran.  TWG has options to purchase the lots between his home and Fairwood, most of which have abandoned houses on them. 
Joe lives only two blocks from this site, and so is obviously committed to making it a success.  (It probably doesn’t hurt that a Woda family member is leading the gardening efforts next door at Kimball Farms).   

TWG also manages each of their housing developments, so we need not worry that it will be turned over to sloppy managers.  They will also have a full-time maintenance person for the development as well as a full-time property manager, ensuring proper maintenance.   They intend to repurpose the bricks from the existing houses and incorporate them into the exterior design. They intend to build for a silver LEEDS certification by recycling materials from the lots and making each unit highly energy efficient.  Each of the tenants in the 54 proposed units will have to pass a credit and criminal background check.   The units will lease for approximately $550-750, depending on whether it is one bedroom or two.   He has already received a positive reaction from an earlier presentation to residents south of Main.  In other communities, there is often a long-wait list before construction begins and he does not anticipate that this will be any different.   TWG is also willing to put age restrictions in the deeds to ensure that the residents are all above the age of 55 or 62, depending on the feedback he receives.  It will have plenty of parking on the rear and east side, so we need not worry about off-street parking.

It is hoped that a large property development such as this one will stir additional economic development along this section of the East Main Street corridor, which has been neglected for decades.   For instance, it would be fabulous to see the grain elevators demolished at the rail road tracks at the corner of Nelson and Main (which are also a landmark along I-70).  Joe mentioned that the Cherry Street alley behind the development is a mess.  It obviously has not benefitted from our collective neighborhood activities (with the SACG, Urban Connections, the neighborhood block watch and Columbus Police Liaison Theresa Kalous) in cleaning up our streets and alleys between Fairwood and Morrison.   He mentioned that TWG may purchase additional lots to add a community garden or dog park.  (Of course, I pointed out that there is already a community garden just a block west . . . . ).  When I mentioned our recurring problem with graffiti, he mentioned that he had noticed that Harry at Accurate Auto Center did an excellent job at covering it back up.  Indeed he does.
Comments at the meeting were interesting.  Everyone wanted TWG to ensure that the building’s design fit in with the nearby Franklin Park neighborhood and not be so generic that it could easily be plopped down in the Short North, Franklinton or Gahanna.   The design envisions a commercial space – for a professional office and/or coffee shop, for instance – at the corner of Fairwood and Main.  Everyone wanted a coffee shop in the first floor with tables outside (which the City Development Department apparently opposes).  It was also suggested that office space be located on the second floor.   Art installations would also be welcomed, to reflect the artistic history of the neighborhood.   

Cosmos survived the killer frost
Sadly, Joe indicated that there was probably only a 30% chance of the development moving forward because it would be dependent on tax credits being awarded to defray the construction costs.  This will be a for-profit development and tax credits are highly competitive.    Even if it is successful in winning tax credits, construction would probably not begin until 2017.  Sigh.   So, while I can’t do a full victory dance, a chair dance will have to do at this point.  I’ve included some tentative exterior drawings of the proposed development so that everyone can see what a benefit this would be to the neighborhood.  
On Friday, I confirmed with the City that it was not going to make us weigh and record each type of produce we grow on land bank lots as a condition of having a land bank community garden.  Giant sigh of relief.  However, the City does not know what – if any – assistance it will be able to provide to land bank community gardens next year.    So, everyone should write a killer end-of-the year report about all of their achievements so that Seth, Bill and Barb can try to leverage it into more support from City Council.   I always send out such a report to our donors anyway, so it’s not a problem for us.

Later Friday afternoon, I decided to harvest our remaining beans, tomatoes, and tomatillos before the predicted killing frost.  While I was there, a number of the girls stopped by with other kids in tow (cousins? New neighborhood kids? School chums?) to show off that they have their own raised beds at the SACG.  It’s nice that they are proud of their gardens.   One of the little boys asked whether there were any berries.  Our berries are apparently legendary.  No kid.  We got no berries right now.    Come back at the end of May or in June.  None of them wanted any of the tomatoes that I was harvesting.  Sigh.
Our little library has remained popular and I’m pretty much out of non-Christmas children’s books.  Frankly, I’m at the end of my supply of children’s books, cook books, young-adult and adult fiction.  All I seem to have left are boring (and probably outdated) college text books from esoteric subjects (like supply-chain management).     I re-stocked the library first think upon arriving on Saturday with what books I have left.  
It was cold on Saturday morning.  I wore three or four layers and a ski cap.   However, as I suspected, most of our plants were untouched by the frost.  Only the beans, squash and volunteer melon plant in the kids beds had been killed.  So, I pruned the beans back to the ground (leaving the roots and their nitrogen-fixing nodules in the ground) and composted the plants.  I left the one row of beans that had survived in the hope that it would produce more beans during the upcoming warm week.  I also pulled out half of the tomatoes in the eastern food pantry plot and half of them from my plot.  We bag our tomato plants in order to protect our compost bins from tomato viruses.  I also cleaned off all but one of my bean trellises.  (My asparagus beans survived Saturday morning’s frost).    I spent an hour watering since it is still incredibly dry.  I also transplanted some more kale  (into a former bean row) because we will still be growing cold season crops until we close for the season in four weeks.  One of our long-time gardeners apparently abandoned her plot in September.  We had been gossiping about it for weeks, but I couldn’t believe it since she never emailed me.  But I could no longer ignore all of the produce rotting in her plot and picked several pounds of tomatoes and peppers for our food pantry donation (as well as butternut squash, kale, collards and chard from our food pantry plots).  I tried to harvest sweet potatoes, but the vines were not even a foot long and the potatoes were just a little larger than my thumb.  Sigh.
Amy stopped by for an hour to weed and water her plot and to help me water the center food pantry plots.  She also cleaned off her bean trellis.
Someone had attacked our neighbor plots along the alley.  Sigh.  It may have been unintentional.  In harvesting the broccoli from the western bed, they apparently walked over the new bed to the east and stomped on the new onion, lettuce and pepper seedlings and one collard seedling.   Sigh.   I watered them anyway and hoped that they would resuscitate.
The food pantry was glad to see me (and all of those red and spicy peppers) on Saturday afternoon.  The last few weeks, I had gotten out so late or had to harvest on Friday that I had instead gone to Faith Mission or St. Vincent de Paul pantry (a few blocks from my house).
While I spent the morning gardening, I was also making black bean soup in my slow cooker at home.  So, when I finally returned home, I had hot soup to reward me for dinner.  But first, I wanted to dig up my dahlia corms and save them for next Spring.
Sunday’s frost was a horse of a different color.  I stopped by the SACG after church and found that all of the summer plants had been killed, including the zinnias, and the rest of the beans.  The tomato and pepper plants had nothing but slimy leaves hanging from their branches.   I returned that evening to rescue the remaining peppers and filled two buckets.   Barb was at the Block Watch lot pruning back the flowers following the killer frost.   She told me that I could add their tomatoes to my last-minute food pantry harvest (and so I did).  She was all tomatoed-out.   
I’ve included a picture of what the killer frost did to one of my new neighbor’s new garden.  This contraption surprising grew a lot of food this year, but they never seemed to eat any of it.  Instead, they just parked their giant tomatoes on the ledges.  Mysteriously, neither the neighborhood squirrels nor our raccoons or possums ate them.  (I need to find their secret).   As you can see, the leaves of the tomato and pepper plants are a slimy mess.    I restrained myself from adding these peppers to our food pantry donation. . ..  
I returned home and made a bruchetta pizza by topping an English muffin with olive oil, chopped garlic, tomato slice, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella and sprinkled oregano and toasted in a 350 degree toaster over.  Yumsters.
I forgot to mention last week that H Dave had stopped by.  He’s living near Whittier and Seymour now and had brought his mail to prove that he had an address.  I didn’t have any snacks on me, but I gave him my last bottle of water (which I keep in my car for just such occasions) and he drank it all on the spot.    He’s lost a lot of weight.  I don’t know whether to be jealous or concerned about that.   I wish that he had stopped by an hour later and then I could have gotten him some hot pizza.

I will not be visiting the Garden at all this weekend.   I hope to get the rest of the tomatoes and peppers pulled out of the ground (roots and all) while it’s warm on Wednesday.

As promised, Sweet potato frittata recipe for four:


·        2 tbsp olive oil

·        2.5 -3 cups of peeled and grated sweet potatoes (1 giant or 2 large potatoes)

·        1 cup chopped onion

·        6-16 oz of skinless salmon fillet

·        5-6 eggs

·        ¼ cup milk

·        1 cup diced swiss cheese (6-8 oz)

·        ¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves (or 2 tbsp dried)

·        1 tsp kosher salt

·        Fresh ground pepper


1.       Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. In a deep 8 to 10 inch skillet (i.e., cast iron), heat the oil over medium heat.

2.      Add sweet potatoes and onions to the hot skillet.  Stir until tender, about five minutes.

3.      Add the salmon and cook for another 5 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and break of the salmon and mix with the sweet potatoes.

4.      Whisk together the eggs, cheese, milk, tarragon, salt and pepper.  Add to the skillet on top of the sweet potatoes mixture.

5.      Put the skillet in the upper third of the oven and bake for 20 minutes (or until it’s set).

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