Friday, December 16, 2016

Ending the Season Like A B-Flat Cricket and an A-Flat Frog

With all of the snow on the ground and the frigid temperatures keeping most of us inside this week, the last thing anyone is really thinking is how did our season closing fare at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  Not as well as I had hoped, but we are closed for the season.  And we set a new personal record for the amount of fresh produce we have donated to area food pantries and Faith Mission’s Homeless Shelter.  And almost all of the gardeners eventually chipped in to help.

Although (1) we set our closing date in February, (2) it’s our only second mandatory work day of the year, (3) I ask if folks want to close early and (4) I remind everyone weekly for six consecutive weeks, we always seem to have a few people who do not show up.  I’m rarely pleasant about it.    This year, we suffered that in spades even though I offered to feed everyone lunch.  Cathy and Amy made other plans, but came early to chop down and bag most of our brambles.   Neal, who has never come to our final work day (or ever offered an excuse), didn’t even clean out his plot on time or before closing day (as required in the agreements that everyone, including him, signs).  When I nagged him (and a few other people for blowing off their responsibilities) and letting food rot in his plot, he resigned from the Garden and our Board.  Rayna, who was the very first gardener to sign up in 2009, but has been unable to get to the Garden after August for 3 years in a row, decided that perhaps she wouldn’t sign up for another plot and would try to help us out as she could over the summer.  She started to clean out her plot late on Friday as it started to get dark, but then reported on Saturday morning that she was too sick to come that weekend to finish.  (Winter came shortly after we closed, so this is a problem).  Sabrina called off sick on Saturday morning, too.  Stan didn’t show up or offer an excuse or clean out his plot.    This was particularly awkward because he was selected to win the SACG’s Volunteer of the Year award, which I had brought with me to give him.  I’ve never had a Volunteer of the Year NOT show up to our mandatory closing day.  Sigh. 

That left me, Susan, Alyssa, Taylor, Marcel and Zion to do all of the work that is required to close our community garden for the season (and Marcel spent the morning cleaning out only her plot).   Neighbor Rose stopped by (as she had for the last couple of weeks to help me clean out food pantry plots every weekend) and helped to glean peppers, etc. that Rayna had left us from her plot.  Alyssa and Taylor were given the traveling gnome trophy for having the tidiest plot for the year.  Alyssa was so tickled.  She apparently loves gnomes and had wanted to put some in her plot all summer, but didn’t want anyone to think she was claiming to be special.  Now she can decorate next year with all of the gnomes she wants.

I picked up donuts and cider that morning to keep us well sugared.  I had also stopped by earlier that week at the Silver Avenue Lowe’s to pick up garden soil, grass seed, and had emptied the tall rain tank (and disconnected it).   Alyssa and Taylor took on all of the hardest projects on our Closing Day. They finished brambles on the north side of the Garden, dug up our old daffodils along the west side of the fence, moved two of the kids raised beds up against the fence and refilled them and cleaned out the neighbor bed (which had peppers and tomatoes).  They also donated most of what was left in their own plot.  Susan cleaned out some of the food pantry plots (both to harvest for our pre-Thanksgiving donation and for the season) and the south flower beds.  I trimmed brambles along the south side of the Garden and harvested for our food pantry donation and cleaned out some of the food pantry and abandoned plots. 

When I was there on Friday harvesting produce from my own plot (because I had a bumper Fall crop of napa cabbage, kale, leeks, etc.) and cleaning out the rest of my peppers and aphid-infested crops, a utility worker stopped by to ask if he could have some of our yard waste bags to feed his pigs back home.  Sure, I said.  Problem is, his pigs don’t like stalks from tomatoes or peppers, so we had to segregate what went into what bag.  No problem.  We did that when we cleaned out the Garden on Saturday.  And, we put his bags outside the fence next to the shed so that he could easily get them when he next returned.    Keep this in mind.

I took Marcel, Zion and Susan back to my house at 1 to have a late lunch of butternut squash and poblano quesadillas and black bean soup before Susan and I delivered over 55 pounds of produce to the LSS food pantry and Faith Mission.  Taylor and Alyssa had wanted to come, but we were running an hour late by this point and they had to get ready for the very important MSU/OSU game that afternoon.   When Susan and I drove back to Bexley from Faith Mission, we drove by the Garden and Neal had been there, cleaned out his plot, retrieved his fancy tomato cages and left.

By and large, community gardeners are a fairly responsible bunch. Sabrina returned and cleaned out most of everything that we hadn’t gotten done on Saturday.  Rayna eventually returned, pulled the rest of her crops out of the ground and left them in piles around her plot. Marcel learned how annoyed I was that she hadn’t cleaned out her plot in advance or helped us clean up the Garden in general, so she returned and plastic-bagged Rayna’s piles (which are still there because I haven’t been back to throw them in the trash cans).  Sadly, Marcel hadn’t paid any attention to the numerous emails I had sent about the importance of preserving our soil from erosion and the microbes in it.  Susan, Sabrina and I had taken great pains to cut our stalks off just above the ground to hold the soil in place over the winter and to feed the soil.  Sometimes, the kale crops even return from those roots in the Spring.  Marcel had some time on her hands and decided to pull out of the ground all of the stalks left behind in the Garden (except for my  plot).   Sigh.  She meant well. 

Showing why he was our Volunteer of the Year this year, Stan returned, built us a fourth compost bin, turned the materials in all of the other bins, but seemed to have destroyed the western bin.  It’s possible that he’s fixed or rebuilt it since I was last there.  At least I hope so because it was an eyesore when I was last there.   I also found a bunch of giant weed stalks (full of seed heads) in the compost bins (which I did my best to pull out and throw in the alley).   Because he needed our wheelbarrow and shovels, etc. to do all of this, he messed up the shed which Sabrina had tidied.  Men!   Stan also returned before I did the Monday after we closed to pull the yard waste bags to the curb.  He didn’t know about my arrangements with the pig farmer (but all of the other gardeners who came on Saturday knew about this).  For some reason, he thought that instead of pulling the bags to the curb to be picked up by the City on Tuesday, he would load them onto his trailer and personally deliver them to Ohio Mulch  -- including the bags I had put aside for the pig farmer.  Sigh.  He meant well.   I couldn’t contact the pig farmer to apologize.  So, we just look like jerks. 

I returned later in the month (or maybe earlier this month) to plant the daffodil bulbs under our new sign location, open the spicket and drain the barrel next to the shed, and to retrieve the sign to store in my garage for the winter.  I had already transplanted peony divisions from my yard around the sign and I put the daffodils in front of them.  (I'm more confident in the bulbs than I am in the divisions, however).  I used garden soil donated by the City of Columbus through our Lowe's voucher.    I think I also repaired the stand for our small informational sign and removed the front gate lock (which is not particularly weather hardy).   Our neighbor still hadn’t cleaned out much of their garden.  I saw a squirrel checking out our Garden, which is definitely NOT a good sign.  Squirrels get very hungry and really like tomatoes.    I was able to prune some of our front flower bed (and none of the other gardeners felt comfortable pruning it because they are unclear about the difference between perennials and annuals).  However, the north flower bed really needed more work.  Also, the utility crew really messed up AGAIN our stone curb.   However, I had my own yard to tend and haven’t been back to the SACG to fix the unfinished tasks.

I should really go back now that winter has really arrive and rescue our canna lily bulbs.  For the first
time, I also did not plant any more Spring bulbs (which Strader’s Garden Center always generously donates to area community gardens each December).  I’ve been a little busy and a little discouraged.    I don't know why people don't understand the importance of us being there at the same time so that these types of miscommunication mistakes don't happen when everyone wants to work only on their own schedule.

By the end of the season, we had donated well over 650 pounds of fresh produce this year, which is a record for us and brings us to over 3600 pounds since breaking ground in 2009.  I know that this is not a lot in the great scheme of things, but considering that we keep most of the produce for ourselves and are a tiny little plot garden with very few hands, I’m unduly proud of it.

At this point, I need to recruit a new Treasurer and three new Board members before we start our organizational activities next February or March.  Anyone interested should just email me.   I’m likely to be more energetic and optimistic when the Spring returns than I’ve been this Fall.

Readers should also feel free to help us out by buying their holiday gifts through smile.amazon.com and designating the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  Even better, select us as your designated charity with your Kroger's Plus Card (which cuts us a check every quarter based on how many folks designate us as their charity of choice).   Every little bit helps, especially because we only charge $10/plot (and waive that for neighbors who cannot afford it) and still supply almost everything a gardener would need, including seeds, water, seedling and tools.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Raspberries in November




Saffron is Harvested in October
Who expected 80 degree temperatures in November?  Our first frost not coming until mid-November?  Not me.  But then, we didn’t have our last frost until late May this year.  I picked red raspberries this week from my backyard.  I still have tomatoes and peppers coming in, as well as my saffron.

As readers know, I pulled tomatoes out of the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden a couple of weeks ago.  I hung some of the vines from my plot in my garage, where those tomatoes are ripening out of the harsh night time temperatures.

We’ve pulled so many tomatoes and sunflowers out of the SACG, that I needed extra help to get our lawn waste bags hauled from the Garden to the curb.  Amy and Cathy came to my rescue on a balmy Halloween afternoon and Susan donated more lawn waste bags after we used up all of these.

I’ve put my dehydrator to good use drying red jalapenos, cayenne and serrano peppers to make my own chili pepper flakes and powders.  I slice the peppers and dry them overnight in the dehydrator.  Then, I run them through my herb mill to flake them.  To convert them to powder, I can then put them in my tiny herb grinder.   Luckily, I bought lots of different types of herb jars from World Market.

We have one more week left in the SACG growing season.   On Saturday, November 12, we will be cleaning out the kids’ gardening beds, moving two of their raised beds up against the fence (after relocating some daffodil bulbs), cutting back our flowers, cleaning out the food pantry plots and tidying up our shed.  We could always use more help.  We’ll start at 9:30 and finish around lunch time.

Before then, I’ll be harvesting peppers and
parsley (which I can dry and save) and clearing those plants away.

All of the tomatoes that we harvested in October helped the total pounds that we have donated to area food pantries and homeless shelter.

And, Chris Bradley is predicting another polar vortex this winter, although maybe later than in 2014.  Maybe in February or even March.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Leaving Havoc and Devastation in Their Wake

Usually, by this time of the growing season at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, we would have started putting the Garden to bed (and wouldn’t have much choice after our first hard frost).   We had a hard killer frost a week earlier by this time last year and I regretted my procrastination in pulling out summer crops (because it’s not fun having to garden when it’s cold and windy).   Not to repeat my mistake this year, I danced a gig when the Gamma Phi Beta sorority at OSU contacted me last month about wanting to volunteer this last weekend.  No one ever wants to volunteer in a community garden at the end of October (when there is so much unglamorous but necessary work to do).  I assigned them the tedious task of pulling out our extensive collection of tomato plants from our food pantry and abandoned plots. 

This week, we set some heat records during our late Indian Summer.  Even the trees have delayed turning yellow and red.   On Saturday, Sabrina, Zephyr and I spent a cold morning pulling tomato plants out of our own plots.  This involves pruning them cutting them from around their trellises and cages, saving what tomatoes can still be turned and/or eaten and tossing the rest.  We filled many lawn waste bags.  I then conducted our regular food pantry harvest (but didn’t have enough plastic bags with me to get everything that was available).  When cleaning out the melon patch, I found almost 15 pounds worth of watermelon.  Stan also stopped by after feuding again with his neighbor to fix the rain cistern, but wanted me to buy an additional part so that he didn’t have to clean it out.  Oh well.  He put most of it back together so that I could finish the job next week. By 4:30, I decided that I had saved all of the tomatoes from my plot that could be saved and the rest of the vines and cages could be addressed the following week.  After all, I had to return on Sunday morning to meet with the ladies of GPB.    I found a large preying mantis in the food pantry tomatoes and advised it to find a more secure home by the morning (and warned the ladies not to hurt it if it had failed to move along).

 
I asked the ladies to delay starting until 9:30 because I knew that I would be tired from watching the OSU-Penn State game (which I foolishly predicted we would win).  They didn’t get the message apparently and were waiting for me when I arrived at 9 (with cider, donuts and bannanas).  As fellow Buckeyes, they shared my pain.  After giving them a brief tour of the Garden, I initially split them up into two teams (for the two food pantry plots).  As stragglers wondered in, I assigned them Colonia’s former plot where they did battle with the raspberry bushes to cut out the tomatoes.  One team was better than the others and really cleaned up (including raking up behind them).  Another team chatted a fair amount and wasn’t very careful about where they stepped (in our very compactly planted garden).  I sent them over to organize our stakes, cages and trellises (which they did very well). 

Another team picked up litter around the Garden and our neighborhood.  They filled two bags.    grabbed a bunch of them to help me fix the rotating composts bin which had again fallen off its tracks. This involved removing everything from behind the shed (so that we could stand back there), hammering one of the tracks back into place, emptying much of the bin so that we could lift it, and then putting it back on its tracks and re-filling it.  Then, they had to put everything back.


We also cleaned off the trellises, rolled them up and stored them away for the winter.  I had one of the ladies rake out all of the wood chips under one of the platform raised beds (and distribute the chips on the paths).  I suspected that we had rodents living there (not that I told her that), but we didn’t find anything (other than a baby garter snake, which freaked her and a few of the ladies out.  I moved the limp snake to a sunny spot in Amy’s plot.  It slithered away once it warmed up).  Finally, one of the ladies cleaned out a row of Rayna’s tomatoes (and stacked the cages and rolled up the trellis).    And, they gathered up all of their tools and returned them to their locations before leaving at lunchtime.

On top of the 77 pounds of produce that I harvested on Saturday, we harvested a couple pounds of peppers and over 50 pounds of mostly green tomatoes that I took to Faith Mission on Sunday.  I also collected over 20 pounds of green roma tomatoes in the thought that some of them will turn red if stored in a warm location.  We shall see.

Some of their sorority sisters spent the morning volunteering at COSI and at Good Will.  Considering our good weather on Sunday (when we started outwith coats and ended up in t-shirts), I think my team got the better deal.  They wouldn’t have thought so if it had rained.


So, we have three more weeks left in our
growing season.    I’ll be cleaning out more of the Garden in smaller bits and pieces over the next week.  The aphids have done a number on our greens during the Aug-tober dry spell.   In three weeks, we’ll need to prune back the raspberry brambles, harvest the rest of the peppers and greens and sweet potatoes, clean out at least one of the neighbor plots, empty the rain cisterns and organize the shed.    Completely doable, right?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Crawling Our Way to Season’s End

Every growing season is different and this year highlights that as well as any.  I've been too busy to blog, but that doesn't mean that nothing has happened at the SACG in the last month or that we've already closed for the season.  We're still digging and picking until the second Saturday in November.  Our cosmos look particularly pretty this year and have fed lots of bees.

 
First up on our crazy Fall has been the weird weather.  It was chilly, then it was hot and dry.  Augtober is what one weatherman called it.   We have not yet suffered a hard frost (or even a soft one, truth be told) and one is not predicted until November.   This means spending an ungodly amount of time watering each plant one at a time with many trips with the watering cans to the rain cisterns next door.  It’s been so warm that I was able to harvest 30 pounds of red tomatoes for our food pantry donation last week and expect to harvest that many more red tomatoes tomorrow.  But I think that will be it for our red tomato crop (as I’ll explain later).  I pulled the basil, beans and sunflowers out a few weeks ago because the few cold nights that we had pretty much ended their life cycle (but my pole beans next to my patio are still producing).   We even still have watermelons and summer squash growing at the SACG.  Because it has been so hot, and my Fall crops kept dying in the scorching sun, I replanted and covered everything with row covers.  I now have fabulous – and bug free – lettuce, bok choy, napa cabbage, etc.    Granted, they are not as dark green as my other crops (because they receive slightly less sun), but they are very pretty.  I’ll probably take the row covers off this weekend as the grasshoppers finally die off and the aphids drown.
Second on the crazy fall hit list, we’ve been blessed this year with no thefts of produce or items.  However, that is apparently not for lack of trying.  A few weeks ago, on a Monday evening, after I stopped by to haul the lawn waste bags out to the curb and chat briefly with Susan, someone spent the night trying to break into our shed.   Because we have massive locks on the shed now (after it was robbed a few times last year), this jerk tried to take off the hinges.  When he couldn’t do that, he spent the night hacking at the door with a screwdriver (which he left behind) while he smoked a cigarette (based on the lighter and butts he left behind) until he cut a giant hole.   Gardener Amy must have surprised him near dawn and he left.  But, I didn’t find out until Thursday.   Grrr.  


Cathy and I tried to fix it that evening with scrap cedar I had laying about.  It wasn’t the right size or thickness, but I wanted to keep someone from trying to enlarge the hole and to keep the area groundhog from  moving in.  Neighbor Kevin loaned me his drill when my batteries died.  I ended up locking myself out of my car and attracting attention by trying to get my car keys out of my trunk.   (The alarm went off when I opened the door and I had to crawl into my trunk to retrieve my keys).   Our neighborhood hero, Ken Turner, later stopped by that Saturday with the right sized wood to fix the shed door.  He screwed it on really well.  A few days later, gardener Alyssa found the piece of the door that the evil thief had thrown into her plot.  I used it to get the right shade of paint from the Silver Avenue Lowe’s (courtesy of our City Land Bank voucher) to repaint the door patch.


Then, neighbor Norman calls me to report that he discovered that the spicket from our giant rain cistern had broken and all of the water was running out of the tank.  Sigh.  Luckily, it’s near the end of the season and we have another full tank on the other side of the building.  He also has a giant cistern next to it that is full of water that he didn’t need.  So, he offered that water to us as well.  I have no plumbing skills, but luckily Stan said he could fix it.  I picked up the necessary parts at Lowe’s while picking up the paint.


Fourth on the crazy fall hit list, we have a new beetle which has invaded the SACG.  I noticed it on my Brussel sprouts, but have also seen it on kale and collard greens.  It’s called a harlequin.   It took me a while to identify it on google.  The groundhog is still eating us out of house and home.

Neighbor gardener Stan has returned to mowing our lawn (even though it is someone else’s monthly chore) and he also aerated it a couple times for good measure.  With our extended summer growing season, I also took the opportunity to take a large bag of summer crops (i.e., tomatoes, peppers, beans and cucumbers) over to the Fire Station which bailed us out in early June by filling our rain cisterns when Mother Nature failed us.  They were quite surprised.

Fall seems to have finally arrived.  The gardeners do not seem in a hurry to clean out their plots.  Neal is always ahead of the rest of us.  This weekend, I plan to pull out my tomatoes, and some of my shelling beans and asparagus beans.  I will also have a lot of roasting, freezing and canning to do with the end-of-season summer crops I’ve been pulling out over the past week.  On Sunday morning, we will be assisted by OSU members of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority to pull out the tomato plants growing in the food pantry plot, mow some lawns and pick up some litter.  We won’t need to water after the last 48 hours. 

Finally, at October’s monthly GCGC meeting,  we were treated with a lecture on soil microbiology and cover crops from Ann Brandt from David Brarndt Farms.  She explained to us the importance of maintaining the microbiological environment of our soil by maintaining cover crops over the winter and not pulling out all of our crops by their roots at the end of the season.  It’s not just to protect from soil erosion or to add nutrients to the soil.  It also feeds the microbes, which are vital to the success of our vegetables.  She even gave all of the community gardens in attendance a free pound of Walnut Creek Seeds Winter Kill seed mix.  This group of seeds are designed to be planted in September and to die back by the time we’re ready to plant in the Spring.  It contains a mixture of oats, winter pea, maple pea, radishes, etc.  Even though none of us clean out our plots in time to plant this in September, I spread it over a contained area at the SACG (which probably had no chance to sprout seeing as we had a mini-drought this October until yesterday).  Ann also recommended that we NOT till our soil in the Spring for most crops because it kills the worms and ripping the living matter out of the soil destroys the necessary microbes.  She showed slides of how they engage in no-till farming (which is what our very own Sabrina wanted to do this year).  I’m ok with no-till farming as long as the weeds don’t get higher than my knees or go to seed.  It was a very interesting discussion.  You can reach Ann at Ann.Brandt@walnutcreekseeds.com.  

In addition, a group representing the Coalition of Immolakee Workers spoke to GCGC about their ongoing national boycott of Wendy’s for refusing to agree to buy tomatoes only from the coalition of farms which have covenanted to pay the Florida tomato pickers a bit more under their Fair Food initiative and treat them a bit better.   Wendy’s has apparently chosen instead to outsource its tomatoes from Florida to Mexico and objects to 1) paying an additional fee (on top of what it pays to the growers) directly to the pickers and the CIO and to 2) buying all of its tomatoes from Florida instead of elsewhere.  By analogy, Wendy’s points out that their own customers only pay the restaurant for their food and do not pay an additional fee to the employees who cook and/or serve the food (even though there is a separate movement about how fast food workers are underpaid). 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sorority Girls and Then Some to the Rescue


Girl Power reigned supreme at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden when six sorority girls from Alpha Sigma Alpha and a friend of theirs stopped by to help us during Capital's annual Crusader Day of Service. The weather had looked touch and go there for a while and I hadn’t picked up any special tools or supplies for them in the event that we got washed out with the predicted rain.  However, just as we got tons of rain last weekend when very little had been predicted, this weekend we received only half an inch when three times that had been predicted.


I was concerned that it might start raining around lunch time, so I harvested my own produce, reinforced my trellis stakes,  and re-stocked the Free Little Library on Friday evening and then returned home, packed up my car with supplies, pulled out a purple and white t-shirt and made no-bake cookies for the Capital University volunteers.  I had been told to expect 10 students, so I made a dozen cookies.  Then, I ate three of them and felt very, very guilty.  Luckily, only seven students showed up, so I still ended up with two cookies for myself at the end of the day.


When the ladies arrived, they parked half-way down the block and I asked them to park in front of the Garden instead.  I gave them a tour and a choice of projects.  Two of them volunteered to pick up litter in the neighborhood (which we try to do every time a volunteer group stops by --  to be a neighborhood asset).  They picked up on our lot, the Block Watch lots, Stoddart, Morrison and Fairwood down to Bryden and the alleys in between.  Even though we just had a few OSU students also pick up litter three weeks ago, they still filled almost three bags.  Cathy told me later that a neighbor stopped by and thanked them for improving the neighborhood, which surprised the ladies.   Cathy had stopped by to help me coordinate their work but they were such hard workers that she didn’t think that she was needed and left after harvesting and staking a few tomatoes.   This is not our first sorority girl volunteer group from Capital and they always come ready to work hard.  

One lady helped to weed the paths in the Garden and then, like a volunteer from last year, for the first time in her life, mowed a lawn.  She mowed our lawn (which had been recently mowed, but was about to grow a bunch from the half inch of rain we received near dawn) and the Block Watch lot next to us. (Now, she can help out her father at home because he has recently expressed an interest in having help).    We had to wait a bit for the grass to dry out first.   Like three weeks ago, I could not get our mower started, so I borrowed the Urban Connection's mower.  We ran out of gas, so I had to fill it with Urban Connections Gas (meaning I need to go back and re-fill their gas can before they have mowing of their own to do this week).


Other ladies went to town on weeding.  One of them took a particular shine to our stirrup hoe.  They weeded the paths, along the alley and along the south side of the Garden.     Between the mowing and the weeding, we looked very neat.

Another pair took on our capital improvement project du jour.  It was to weed out the area which we had cleaned out in July and then dig out the raspberry bushes so that we can push the kids’ raised beds up against the fence in 4-6 weeks and make more walking room between the raised beds.  


Around 10:30, we took an extended break drinking water and eating my cookies. They asked lots of questions about the Garden and my personal life.  Extremely inquisitive ladies.   Then we turned to harvesting for our weekly food pantry donation.  Some of them picked beans and some picked tomatoes. I picked peppers, a melon, squash and broccoli and another got to pick the greens.   (After they left, I had to go back and pick the sneaky green beans that had been hiding in plain sight).  Altogether, we harvested 31.50 pounds (which demonstrates what a difference a lot of rain can make in one week).

One pair planted some lettuce and carrots in a raised bed.  Others then turned to watering our food pantry plots and berries because I correctly predicted that the rain we were supposed to receive that afternoon and evening would pass us by.  (It’s supposed to be a warm week, so I want to prepare the plants as much as possible).   As with most volunteers and gardeners, this wore them out in short order (even though they only carried one watering can each).  We took group pictures and they departed back to Bexley.  I left about an hour later and was done for the day by 2 (after weighing, recording and delivering the donation).   I wondered how a different group of Capital students was faring in the afternoon picking up litter along East Main Street on the east side of Bexley with another group (the Eastmoor Special Improvement District initiative) that I have been helping the last few months. They didn't get the rain that had been predicted either.    I returned to the Garden this morning to water my own plot and transplant some napa cabbage). 


Our groundhog is still wrecking havoc in the Garden.  He ate some of Cathy’s tomatoes and most of the sweet potato leaves, etc.  I’ve purchased more plastic forks to protect the sweet potatoes, but it seems to be a losing battle.  We also had an odd fungus  show up in my front yard and on the south side of the Garden.  I had never seen it before and now saw it twice in two days.  It’s called a stinkhorn or devil’s dipstick. Apparently,  it is a fungus that grows when it is wet and cool.    It is spread through insects instead of by the wind.  And, blissfully, it usually dies within one day.  As the Brooklyn Botanical Garden put it.  The nastiest mushroom ever.  And yes, people apparently have eaten it (despite its smell) and it is has a promising medical future.  But not in my yard because I killed them immediately.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cookie’s OK, but Watermelon is Good too on a Hot Day


As we round into mid-September at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, we’re slowing it down a gear this year. A couple of gardeners are already cleaning out their plots.  A few of us have planted crops for our third season.  I’m taking a cue from the St. Vincent de Paul pantry garden (after the August heat fried my spinach and lettuce) and invested in some row covers to protect my greens and lettuce from the sun and bugs.  We harvested a nice-sized watermelon from the kids patch and the beans we planted in July are finally starting to produce.  And, Ms. D’s cat, Cookie, has been pampered at her new foster home.


We usually have a melon patch for the kids in the corner of the Garden.  Last year, the pumpkins
took over, so I banned pumpkins this year.   We planted cantaloupe and watermelon, but only the watermelons took off.  One sneaky bugger got really big without our noticing.  However, it’s taken me weeks to get the kids together to share it.   I finally threatened to donate it to the food pantry and that brought a gaggle of kids over to eat it last Wednesday.

My niece also sent me a picture of Cookie, who has put on several pounds since we last saw her.  She has made a new friend at her foster family.  When she lived with Rose, she was friends with her dog, Brandy.  Now, she has a new canine friend to keep her company.
On Saturday, we have almost a dozen Capital University students coming to help us weed, harvest and start cleaning up.  South came by to see if I’ll have any big strong work for him to do, too.    We need to plant our grape vines, but I doubt that I’ll have time to pick them up before then . . . .


In the meantime, I've been putting my new dehydrator to use drying serrano, jalapeno, ghost and cayenne peppers so that I can grind my own chili powder.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Feelin’ Alright with Buckeyes Paying It Forward at the SACG


As I often am in August, I’ve been in a Joe Cocker mood this week, but I titled last year’s visit from OSU Students for OSU’s Pay-It-Forward Program Community Commitment Day  With a Little Help from My (OSU and Neighbor) Friends, so I couldn’t repeat myself.  Earlier this week, I picked up a post digger (for the third time in a month) with the hope that this time we would finally get our four-year old sign back in operation, and also borrowed some hedge clippers, litter grabbers and safety vests (courtesy of Rebuilding Together’s Tool Library and Keep Columbus Beautiful).  On Thursday, I picked up some cedar planks donated by Trudeau Fencing in Hilliard.  Although the cedar is not good enough for their customers, it was more than adequate for our needs and I cut it to length on Friday.  (Trudeau Fence has donated lots of cedar and other fencing supplies to us over the years – including for a gardening project at Ohio Avenue Elementary School, for raised beds at step-over housing for ex-offenders, our tomato and fence stakes, our former gates, our first neighbor raised garden bed, for our youth regular raised beds, and for the shingles on our Free Little Library 


O-H-I-O
--  just because I asked nicely).   The price of cedar planks has tripled in the last few years.  I also made a couple dozen chocolate no-bake cookies and a batch of brownies Friday night to keep my OSU volunteers in a cheerful frame of mind.  The weather was supposed to be pleasant, but turned out to be oppressively hot and humid.  No matter, we accomplished almost all that we set out to do and re-visited a few projects from last year to take them to a higher level.  Our modest improvements from year to year are how we got to where we are now.


When I arrived Saturday morning wearing a scarlet and grey tie-died t-shirt, Cathy and her mother were attempting to enter the Garden with posts for our raised garden bed project. As usual, she overdid herself.  I only needed two posts and she brought four and an additional piece of wood that we could cut down if necessary.  That Cathy.  She was busy with family obligations today and a funeral for a former Urban Connections youth who was mysteriously murdered with her husband in Linden two weeks ago 10 days after giving birth to her first child.    Cathy’s had a lot on her plate the last 10 days with sitting vigil with the family at the hospital, helping to raise money to pay for the funeral and baby items for Grandma who is now raising the newborn, taking care of her own kids and family, and she still made time to get me some posts this morning.   That Cathy.   She also drove to Menards to get us some fox urine to scare our cute but destructive groundhog.  That Cathy.
Rose and neighbor South (because he is from, duh, the south) were hanging out as I was unloading my car.  They both offered to help, so I put South to work unloading the landscaping stones that I had picked up on Friday from Lowe’s, courtesy of a joint program between Lowe’s and the City of Columbus to benefit land bank community gardens.   I then set up the patio umbrella on our picnic table (and had drilled a sizeable hole in the table just before painting a rain barrel).   This would be the only shade the kids would find at the SACG.
Sabrina, Tom, Zephyr and Finn also stopped by to pick up some tomatoes from their plot before visiting family in northwest Ohio.  Like me, she had harvested tomatoes on Wednesday and found slim pickings this morning.  So I gave her a few orange ones from my plot.  (She had shared some of her fabulously tasting tie-dyed heirloom tomatoes a few weeks ago, so it was the least I could do). 

Then, Amy rode her bike from the Short North to help me coordinate the OSU Volunteers.  I put her in charge of the youth gardening area.  The OSU students generally arrive between 10 and 10:30, but I had been told that they might now show up until as late as 11.  I expected them to leave around 12 or 12:30, but they said that they planned to stay until 1 (which made me wonder how they would get to the dining halls in time for lunch.  Never fear, Pay-It-Forward planned to have pizza waiting for them when they returned).   Nonetheless, after doing a little weeding, watering and squash bug hunting in my plot, I got restless waiting for them to show up.  So, I put big-and-strong Sy to work with the post digger.  We needed to sink the sign posts two feet into the ground.  Meanwhile J. Jireh’s litter volunteers from Life Vineyard Church on  Alum Creek Drive began arriving, parking in front of the SACG and wondering over there.  They left at noon while we were still in the thick of things.

About 10:45, an OSU busload of bright-eyed and enthusiastic college students showed up and I oriented them in the shade of the Block Watch lot across the street.  Our priority project was to get the sign up.    Three fellows went over to help and take over from Sy.  They finished digging the holes, removed the old screws from the sign bracket, reinforced the bracket and then assembled the pieces to be sure that everything was straight before raising it in one piece (and checking it with my level as they backfilled the holes).  Perfection.    The day could have ended right there and I would have been pleased as punch. 
Four sassy ladies took on the project of picking up litter along Stoddart and in the alleys between Morrison and Fairwood (as well as our lot and the Block Watch lots). 

Because classes have only been in session for four days, none of the kids were eager to volunteer to mow our and the  Block Watch lots (which had last been mowed just a few days earlier).  It probably hasn’t even been a week since they last mowed their parents’ lawn.  However, one gentleman agreed to do it and the group’s leader agreed to finish it (even though she had never mowed a lawn in her life before today).   I wanted a tag-team in light of the heat index because one can easily become dehydrated and overheated mowing for over 30 minutes.  Sadly, we could not get the SACG mower to start, so I borrowed Urban Connection’s brand new and still-shiny mower. 
Another group of engineering students was tasked with building a raised bed with the donated
cedar and posts.  Last year’s OSU group had put together our second neighbor raised bed where anyone passing by can help themselves to whatever is growing there.  I had thought that it would be enough that it was set off from the alley by a two-layer row of landscaping stones.  I had not foreseen that wood chips (which rob the soil of nitrogen as they decompose) would creep in there when they were spread around our fence lines each Spring.    So, I decided that this bed should be set off like its sibling with cedar planks.   These budding engineers were not entirely familiar with power tools and were extremely precise with assembling the bed.  I crabbed at them a bit about the time it was taking them to build the box because I was terrified that the bus would return to retrieve the students before the sign got put up.  (The bus ended up being 45 minutes late, which was 75 minutes later than I thought I had this group of volunteers).   I only brought one drill and I had two groups that needed to use it; poor planning on my part.  I should have borrowed  Cathy’s drill while I had her attention and then I would not have stressed so much.  While the bed-building team waited on the sign-raising team, I had them weed the neighbor plot and the area along the alley.    They were good sports and among the hardest working team in a group of hardworking students.

Another group was tasked with trimming and bagging raspberry brambles, which have a tendency to spread out several feet from our fence each summer.   They were surprised to learn that the branches will form roots when they reach the ground (thus having roots at two ends).   They were pretty aggressive in pruning our fence line and filled lots of bags.  Some groups are intimidated by our thorny brambles, but not this group.   I also asked them to trim around our tree boxes and blueberry turrets because our extraordinary volunteer gardener Stan-the Man has not edged them in a while. 

Two of the ladies with prior gardening and/or farming experienced were tasked with harvesting tomatoes, beans, peppers, kale, collard greens and Brussel sprouts from our food pantry plots for our weekly donation.   I gave them a brief orientation and showed them how to harvest kale.  They managed to find twelve pounds of ripe produce to harvest.   Because we received two inches of rain on Wednesday night, they did not need to water the Garden, which would have taken a four person team at least two hours to finish. 

Another group was tasked with finishing off the strawberry bed with landscaping stones and the south flower bed (which Stan had cannibalized for the strawberry patch project in July).   They finished that in short order and joined the teams trimming bushes and weeding the Garden paths and along the alley.

I hadn't gotten any volunteers to help Amy with cleaning out the youth gardening area.  One lady was a good sport and then volunteered for that project (which had become overrun with bindweed since it was last cleaned up in July).   We still haven't dug out the raspberry bushes growing back there because I wanted to give the kids the option of having raspberries there.  But last night I realized that the best solution would be to move the kids beds up against the fence (which can act as a trellis) and create more walking space between the rows of raised beds.  So, anyone who wants some raspberry bushes should stop by the SACG on September 17 because digging out those bushes will be one of the tasks for our Capital student volunteers.
Next, I grabbed all of the big and burly men (except for the raised bed project team).   Our platform raised beds look as though they have been sinking because the benches are only about a foot above the path.  Of course, they have not been sinking.  But, over the years we keep adding wood chips and those chips have gotten to be very thick.   So thick, in fact, that our cute and destructive groundhog has moved in underneath those beds.  Amy saw him scurry under there and disappear, so last week, I threw around ammonia (which is supposed to approximate the smell of predator urine), used a hoe to fill in the burrow with wood chips and threw a cement block over the hole for good measure).  Nothing like a clogged burrow hole to tell you that you are not wanted.   I had hoped that the guys would be able to carry the raised beds a few feet so that we could properly dig up the burrows and then place the beds on top of the chips instead of in them.    However, the beds were too heavy (when filled with soil).  All we could do was lift each corner one at a time and put a brick under the leg to keep it from sinking.  Then, one of the brave guys crawled under the bed to place a cement block to support the center of one of the beds.  I couldn’t ask him to perform the same task with the other raised bed because (1) there are watermelons growing underneath that bed and (2) some poison ivy is growing near those same melons.    It was the best we could do without emptying the beds (and killing the vegetables growing in them).


Finally, a team was tasked with planting lettuce where the food pantry potatoes had been.  My butternut squash plant has taken over a large portion of the Garden along the south fence, so I haven’t been able to yet harvest the potatoes under it, but hope to do so in October or November when the squash ripen and can be donated. I showed them how to do it by planting one row and then letting them plant the other before watering both rows in.

As the various teams finished their projects, they gathered at our picnic table for cold water, cookies and brownies and to rest.  Just moving in direct sun when it is as hot and humid as it was today can zap anyone’s strength.  I’ve managed to push through it this summer because I’m used to it.  They weren’t.   I suggested a few other weeding projects (which did not thrill any of them) and managed to convince them to pull the weeds out of the platform raised bed next to the picnic table when I started to do it myself.   Maybe when the Capital University student volunteers come on Saturday, September 17, we will plant something in that bed now that there is a rain barrel near it to make it possible to water it. 
As always, I took group pictures. A couple in front of our sign and a one in front of the front gate. 
And then we waited a long time sitting on the curb across the street (in the shade) for the bus to pick them up and take them back to campus for pizza.  I told them stories about the Garden and kidded them about being lucky not to come upon any snakes, like Sabrina did last week (with a loud scream).    An OSU bus drove by on Main Street and didn’t stop.  And then another.  
So, we chased after it en masse going west on East Main Street.  I say chase, but we really just walked because it was too hot to really chase anything.   It circled back and picked up the very happy students on Main Street.

I had already packed everything up and locked anything worth locking, so I drove home, weighed and recorded our donation as always and dropped it at the Lutheran Social Services Food Pantry.  I’ve posted a copy of a chart showing the distribution of our donations by type of produce so far this growing season.   I then returned to the SACG to harvest from my own plot. 

As I walked up to my car to finally leave for the day around 3 p.m., there was a preying mantis on my front driver side tire.  I can’t believe that I noticed it.    Lucky for it (and me) that I did.  I took a photo and then easily coaxed it onto my cell phone before taking it to my plot where it gleefully jumped off to hunt for the evil bugs putting holes in a some of my tomatoes.   Happy hunting fellow.   Please find some of those pesky squash bugs while you're at it.  (My preying mantis at home resides in my bean teepee and has made short work of the beetles).