Sunday, November 15, 2015

Peace-Full End to Growing Season

Peace.  Peace.  That’s what Zion said to me as I dropped him and his mother off at their apartment after we finished our final work day for the 2015 growing season at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  I couldn’t help but think later that no one could be so hopeless about the future or angry enough to randomly kill scores of peaceful strangers if you had spent the morning – as I had – with such a happy and energetic child.  Of course, what else could one expect when his mother’s email address is lovepeacenhappiness.  We worked really hard yesterday and got a lot done.  It was very quiet and very serious until Zion came and livened things up quite a bit with his contagious enthusiasm.

Earlier this week, when it was dry, I was running over to Capital University to bag shredded leaves for the Garden.  They have a nifty riding mower that fills three bins with grass clippings and shredded leaves.  I was fascinated by it when I saw the leaves being piled along the curb on Pleasant Ridge while I waited at the traffic light.  I called the Maintenance Department and asked if I could have the leaves for the SACG.  Of course, they said. We can even bring them. Beth Ann was probably joking, but your overworked and grumbly Garden Manager immediately accepted her offer.  Sadly, they were tied up this week with stringing holiday lights in gale force winds.  Because I wasn’t sure how many, if any, of the gardeners would want the leaves for their plots, I wasn’t sure whether I should wait until next week.   I asked the gardeners for help because my Jetta only fits two full lawn waste bags at a time.  Cathy volunteered her truck while she was a church conference in Memphis through last night.   Then, Frank volunteered to help with his truck.
I picked up rakes and loper pruners from the Tool Library on Thursday.  Sadly, too many of you read my last couple of posts and rushed over to take the rest of the 10,000 free lawn waste bags that the Tool Library was giving away for free.  Sigh.  So, no extra bags for our shredded leaf expedition.  

That evening, I attended a book reading and signing at the Bexley Public Library by Amy's 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.

On Friday afternoon, I went over to the SACG to harvest the last of my Fall produce:  volunteer napa cabbage and bok choy, snow peas, snap peas, lettuce, arugula, kale, onions, and leeks.  My beets were pathetic.   I also emptied more water out of our large rain cistern until Frank arrived.  He told me to keep working so that he could mow our front lawn.   He was only wearing an oxford button-down shirt.  It made me cold just looking at him since the wind chill put us in the high 30’s with 20 mph winds.  He looked at me and agreed he should go home and get a jacket.  Then, we headed over and picked up from my garage four full bags of shredded leaves and headed to Capital.   There were so many shredded leaves that it was like shooting fish in a barrel.   It only took us about half an hour to fill enough bags to stuff the truck.  We probably should have gone back for more, but it was starting to get dark and it was still windy.  And I didn’t know that we would use what we had. 

Imagine my shock when I returned home to take a shower and process my harvest when I discovered what had happened in Paris.  I hadn’t been there in almost 30 years, but I remember how lucky we felt then that Libya had not engaged in more terrorist attacks after President Reagan had bombed that country.  There were very few Americans in Europe that summer because of a fear of terrorism.  We heard a lot about it from people we met along the way, particularly a security guard at the Sorbonne who lectured us that there was nothing to fear and Paris was perfectly safe.  I hope he realized that he was talking to the choir . . . . . but I remember thinking how crazy it was that one of my friends and his mother flew home out of Rome or Athens, because we heard that their airport security was not very good.   That was then . . . .  and here we are again.
Frank told me that Barb would not be coming on Saturday and he had to work.  I panicked.  How could we get anything done without Frank?  Our muscle!  Hopefully, Tom would come and be our muscle.  Frank saw my panicked face and then said that he would try to get up extra early and come to help us puny ladies out until he had to work.  Whew.  Considering that most of my hardworking gardeners had abandoned me months earlier, I seriously wondered (as I do every year) whether anyone would even show up.  The Kimball Farms ladies next door said that they had planned to finish up on Saturday, too, so I told my gardeners that they should come if they would like to meet them.  I promised them donuts and apple cider.  Anything to get folks to help.  Considering how cold it started off, I decided to bring hot chocolate instead of cider.  But then, half of it spilled in my car on my way to the Garden, ensuring that my car will smell like sour milk for the next five years.  Sigh.
When I pulled up, Rayna was already there and had pruned about 15 feet of the140 feet of our raspberry brambles along the south side of our fence.  Amy was trying to open the lock on the front gate.  Both had brought refreshments, including more donuts, cider, carrots, apples and popcorn.   Sabrina came and cleaned out the rest of her plot and cut back brambles.  She left Tom at home with her two boys because it was too cold for the baby.  Oh. Oh.  Rayna continued cutting back brambles and, after she finished cleaning out her plot, I put Amy on cleaning out one of the kids’s beds and then pruning the perennials and cleaning out the front 50 feet of flower beds.  I filled two buckets and emptied the big tank.  With the two buckets of water, I turned the decaying matter in the turning compost bin and then got it wet and turned it again.  Then, I bagged brambles that Rayna cut until I got to the shed.  Then, I pulled out the stakes, tomato cages and tarps and patio umbrellas, etc.  Then I cleaned out that area of items that could not be re-used, restacked the good stuff and covered them with the tarps to protect them from the elements.  

 At this point, Sabrina asked about our new stakes.  At some point this summer, about 50 new tomato stakes showed up next to the shed.  It looked as though someone had re-purposed the stakes that Columbia Gas had been using to mark water lines during their gas line replacement projects on the East Side.    It was a mystery.  However, she admitted that she had brought them from her new job and could get us more if we needed them.  Although they are a little shorter than our typical stakes, I used them to reinforce trellises and to support leaning sunflowers.
Susan drove up.  Yea.  She still wasn’t well enough to help us, but she brought our travelling gnome trophy which goes to the season’s tidiest gardener (i.e., Amy).  She also brought us a carafe of fancy Starbucks coffee and cream.  This lead to jokes from our heathen gardeners about their politically incorrect holiday cups.   Need I mention that no one tried any of my hot chocolate?   Sabrina and I caught up with Susan, who has been greatly missed this year.
Meanwhile, Brandy – the german shepard next door – got out again, walked into the Garden and growled at Sabrina.  Oh. Oh. I went next door and knocked on the door and told Rose that the dog was out again.  She asked me to get her. Luckily, since Tom had corralled Brandy earlier this year, I knew that she was a friendly dog.  She came when I called her.  Then, I opened up their back gate and she sauntered right in.  Well done, says Amy.    I explained that I am generally afraid of dogs, but Tom had showed me earlier that Brandy was a nice dog, even though she barks a lot.

Rose came out on her front porch and I invited her to help us.  She was very excited to do so.   Lea arrived with Zion and I paired them with Rose to help bag the raspberry brambles that Rayna was cutting back.  Rayna found some ripe white rapsberries and explained that they were not getting enough sun behind the turning compost bin.  She suggested that we transplant them somewhere with more sun.  I’m already tired and can’t imagine taking on another project.  Next Spring, I say.  Let’s do it in the Spring.  When we know it will rain again. 

Frank arrived.  Yea.  I asked him to prune brambles on the north side of the Garden and to weed the strawberry patch.  Lonely work considering that everyone was on the south side of the Garden.  Lea and Sabrina then huddled quite a bit because Lea just found out that she’s about to have another baby next July.  Sabrina just had her second boy in June. 
We were running out of lawn waste bags to collect the brambles that Rayna was busily cutting.  So, Frank and I began emptying leaves into the plots to create new empty bags.  Then I tasked Frank (and later Zion) to spread the leaves with rakes and then till them in with my cultivator.  I sometimes helped.  I took pictures and started our final food pantry harvest.  However, I was very unhappy with the quality of our kale and collard greens.  Bugs – and particularly aphids – had been going to town on them.  Sabrina started to help me. Like me, she will eat and cook with almost anything, but even we have our limits.  When we started to throw some of the kale into the yard waste bags and compost bins, another gardener protested because she was willing to wash them when she got home and use them in smoothies.  Ok with me.   Sabrina and I talked about possible remedies for aphids.  She had heard that vinegar water can kill them (although it can also kill the plants).  I’ve heard that soapy water can suffocate them, but I haven’t had great luck with it at home.  The best way is to hose them off with a water hose, but we don’t have one of those at the SACG.  Sigh.

Sabrina was also having a funny conversation about cabbage and sour kraut.  She can’t eat cabbage right now because it gives the baby gas.    Tom planted A LOT of cabbage in their plot and was determined to use some of it.  He tried to make sour kraut.  I couldn’t stop laughing because the process of making home-made sour kraut is completely disgusting.  I wanted to make my own, too, but when I read the recipe I got sick.    I’ve made kim chi, but I’ll never, ever make sour kraut.  They had a similar disaster and no one would even taste it.  I had to laugh.
I hadn’t seen Zion since April or May.  He is always a bundle of energy.  However, that energy really exploded after I gave him a donut.  He ran around like a wild beast.   There’s no harm from that at the Garden at this point because everything’s been pulled out.  Go at it, dude.  Too bad that Zephyr wasn’t there to play with him, too.   He really wanted to water or plant something.  There’s nothing to water, dude.  I guess that I could have let him plant some daisies, but I didn’t bring any seeds and didn’t want to mess with it.

Stan the Man drove up since his work project ended prematurely.  I put him on the project of weeding the strawberry patch and pulling out as much of the volunteer spearmint growing along the alley as he could get to.  I also asked him to help carry the yard waste bags over to the dumpsters since Rose said that the City will pick it up from there.  That will save me a trip back on Monday to carry all of the bags to the curb.  Yea! When Frank announced that he had to leave for work, I corralled everyone for a group picture.  While Sabrina and I harvested, Rose worked on cleaning out our flower pots and pulling out giant stems we left behind.  
Amy had to leave for work as well since there was a Bexley High School musical rehearsal.  Then, Mari walked over and I put her to work helping Sabrina harvest kale.  (We had a lot of kale).  Sabrina worked on spreading leaves in her plot (which, by then, Zion had “claimed” for himself).   We talked about where to get more shredded leaves so that we could spread some on Mari’s plot.  Mari was amazed at all we had gotten done before she arrived.   She also asked how many years we had been doing this.  This was our seventh growing seasons and Mari has been there for all seven (as have Rayna and Frank).  She said this year would be her last, but I can tell that she’s already reconsidering that since she wanted to get shredded leaves for her plot . .  . .   Sabrina had also indicated that she didn’t think she would return because they wanted to buy a house with its own lawn, but she also wanted to be sure that her plot was covered with leaves.  Lea isn’t sure that she should come back since she won’t be able to do much next year and she’s not sure that he partner will help out as much as he has promised.  But maybe her old, small plot.  Susan said she wanted her old, small plot if she’s well enough to comes back. 

Rayna and I continued our annual struggle about how far back to cut the brambles.  I think that she cuts them back too much and they are always puny on the north side of the Garden in April and May.  So much so that thieves crawl over the fence over there because we do not have enough thorns to protect our fence.  She doesn’t care.  She wants healthy bushes and lots of berries (not that she eats them).   Because she’s the one cutting them (and is the gardener who started our raspberry patch), I always end up leaving it to her.  But I protested more this year than I usually do.    She even went back and cut back areas that Frank had already pruned because she wanted them pruned back even farther.  Sigh.  However, she was impressed how much better the alley looked with our new curb.  This was the first time that she had been to the Garden since August.  She also reminded me that we need to remove the western fence by the kids’ bed next Spring.  The brambles crowd the kids too much over there and we no longer need it now that the superior Kimball Farms fence has been installed.

Sabrina needed to leave, but she tidied up our shed first.  Neal has a bad habit of returning tools to the shed in a horizontal position, instead of vertically.  This makes it impossible to get anything out of the shed.  Grr.   It also makes it seem fuller than it is.   You would be amazed at how much empty space there seems to be in our shed after Sabrina has organized it.  We discussed trying to create some sort of rack in there to hang tools.  The problem is that the shed is pretty short  and some of our handles are pretty long.
Speaking of Neal.  Who didn’t come to our closing work day for the third year in a row?  Attorney Neal Barkan.  His time is apparently so much more valuable than my time or any of the other gardeners’ time.   He doesn’t call off.  He never offers to do extra work to make up for his absence.  He just doesn’t show up.  He leaves it to the rest of us.    At least he mostly cleaned out his plot.  Sigh.   He should not wonder why I’m always giving him the evil eye. 
Well, once Mari loaded up my car with all of the bags of produce, I weighed it, recorded it and took it to Faith Mission (because it was, by now, 2 p.m.).   I had left Stan and Rayna at work as I drove away at 1:30.  Rayna was working on finally cleaning out her plot and Stan was still cleaning up the alley.  I discovered that not all of the Tool Library tools were back in my trunk, so I returned to the SACG to see if they were in the shed.  However, I couldn’t get in because Rayna took the key with her.  Sigh.  I’ll get it today.  Hopefully, I won’t be as sore today as I was last night. 

As Lea, Zion and I were driving through Bexley, we noticed that all of the leaves that had been on the Capital campus at Pleasant Ridge WERE GONE!  Frank and I had just be bagging them the day before.  Where was I going to get another bag of shredded leaves for Mari's plot?!  When has the City of Bexley ever picked up leaves on a Saturday?  Sigh.    It's a good thing that I had Frank to help me on Friday. 
I’ll be returning to the SACG before Wednesday to till leaves into my plot and add nitrogen to the shredded leaves (to help them decompose and replace the nitrogen that their decomposition will sap from the soil).  Frank and Barb plan to return to remove the front gate and sign.  They will also shred and bag the leaves on the Block Watch lot across the street.   Mari's thinking about transplanting some of our volunteer daisies into the center flower bed.   Then, next month, Amy and I will return to plant donated flowering bulbs (like tulips and daffodils), which will greet us when we return in the Spring.  We are all looking forward to a warmer winter.  I think my rosemary may also overwinter in my backyard herb garden, like it does on occasion.   But, I’m sure that I’ll hedge my bets. . . . .

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