Thursday, June 23, 2016

When One Day’s Rain Equals the Entire Growing Season to Date

Last night, we received around 2.5 inches of rain in one morning.    Other areas northeast of us received as much as six inches.    However, as of midnight last night, we had only received 2.9 inches of rain since May 1.    Compare this to 2015 and 2014 when we had received over 9.5 inches of rain during the same period.  (Our neighbors still remember that it rained 21 out of the first 24 days in June last year).   During the 2012 drought, we had received 1.3 inches in the first three weeks of June alone (since I wasn’t measuring rain in May back then).  Both of our giant rain cisterns have gone dry twice this year and it’s only June.  We just paid over $100 (which was almost a third of our cash on hand) to get 550 gallons delivered earlier this week.  As I kibbutz with other community gardens, I know that they are struggling with this drought as well and gardens much farther south of Main got much less rain last night than we did. 

I’m pretty freaked because it’s hard to grow plants when it’s dry and hot.  Some of my newish gardeners have had to replant crops a few times when the first batch didn't germinate or quickly died.  We prioritize our vegetables and fruit over the flowers.  Other than the early daisies, phlox and bee balm, none of our flowers (including our giant sunflowers) are more than hip high and most are shorter than that.  Our berries have suffered as well.  They are smaller and scraggier than normal.  They plumped up a bit after the half inch of rain that we received last week and I expect that our few remaining red berries will now plump up nicely as they ripen in the next few days.   Our cherries were not affected much, but our peaches have appeared pretty small.  (I’m hoping that they will plump up now as they ripen over the upcoming month).   I’ve included a picture of the cherries on our new Meteor cherry tree.  We also had a lot of cherries on our Montmorency Cherry trees, which ripened a week earlier.   Sadly, I've had to spend so much time watering this June that I haven't had a lot of time to pick berries and many of them have gone to waste.

The City usually gives us one free tank refill (i.e., 550 gallons) each year, but we haven't needed it in a while.   Sadly, its new accounting system is being blamed for the delay in starting this valuable resource this growing season.  I am reliably informed that it should be operational again in July.  That's none too soon for us.    September is  usually the driest month of the year.
I am pretty critical of the coverage of our weather by Fox/ABC WTTE/WSYX because they have been routinely acting as though this dry and hot weather is great.  A few days ago, Bill Kelly even conducted the forecast from a golf course.  They act as though everyone is thrilled to have Arizona weather and almost never mention the rain deficit (or act as though the rain we received in February is relevant to our lawns or gardens).  Accordingly, there are brown lawns all over the East Side because our tv personalities didn’t think it was relevant to mention that we were not getting enough rain.  (My lawn, dear readers, is fine because I measure the rain every morning and use a sprinkler accordingly).  So, this emoji morning approach to weather has lost them a fan here.

June has not been an entire loss.  I have made way too much strawberry jam (and I don’t even usually eat bread).  I found lots of interesting recipes and bought lots of cute jam jars this year.   I made a batch with balsamic vinegar, a batch with thyme, a batch with tequila, lime juice and triple sec, and a batch with lemon peel (i.e., a strawberry-lemon marmalade).  Yumsters.  These will make it into gift baskets in December.

I also visited the Columbus Arts Festival downtown again this year.  I’m too frugal to pay a lot for parking, and so I found a parking meter near the community garden operated by the Franklin County Juvenile Court which is tended by youth offenders. 
In the past two weeks, Straders Garden Centers has recommenced making massive plant donations to the members of the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition (GCGC).  We’ve gotten a flat of sweet peppers and several flats of petunias, salvia and begonias to replace the dying daisies and to create a new flower bed (where I added some canna lilies donated by the Kossuth Community Garden).    Many GCGC members showed up to help unload these donations at Grace United Church on Shady Lane and the St. Vincent de Paul pantry garden.  I’ve included some pictures.  It’s almost like having our own garden store.  These flowers go a long way to beautify the community gardens and their neighborhoods throughout Columbus.

I’ve been very busy planting these flowers at the SACG and have been spending more than six hours every Saturday at the SACG (and several hours on a few evenings during the week).  Amy helped to prepare a new flower bed.  Sabrina helped by tending the food pantry plots and, with Zion, picking berries for our weekly Faith Mission donation.   Stan also extended our flower bed edging all the way to the alley and is anxiously waiting for the City's Lowe's voucher program to re-start so that he can finish one of our compost bins.  This was on top of their regular chores. 

Another piece of good news this month has been that the The Woda Group informed the Franklin Park Civic Association that the tax credits needed to proceed with the proposed Fairwood Commons a block east of the Garden have been approved by the state.  We are delighted that it looks like we will have a wonderful new neighbor that will likely to lead to other improvements in the neighborhood and provide necessary housing for our older residents. 
I also finally got around to trimming the garlic scapes off of my garlic crop this year.   I probably waited a wee bit too long.  You are supposed to remove them so that the plant's energy can focus on increasing the size of the bulb below ground instead of on the flower.  Rumor has it that these stems are edible, so I'm planning on a stir fry or something this week.   I've pulled a few recipes and have a lot of scapes to work with.

Well, I’m hoping that both of our tanks are full and am grateful that I won’t have to water anything for the next week.  Of course, all of this rain means that the weeds (which have mostly suffered, too) will be growing with a vengeance.  This weekend, I will hopefully finish planting in the food pantry plots and putting in the rest of our donated flowers.   Then, it will be back to focusing on capital improvement projects.  We received a beautiful trellis through a donation to GCGC and need help installing it.   We may even replace our front gate with it.    Then, we will plant some grapes to grow up its sides.  We also have had a groundhog spotted in the Garden and will need to take steps to deter it from returning. . . . . . . There’s always something.   If only I could communicate with it so that it could dig our four post holes where we need them for the trellis. . .  Where’s Dr. Doolittle when you need him?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

ISO Berry Pickers

Our black raspberries are now in season.  I can’t possibly pick them all myself and it’s going to be god-awful hot on Saturday.  I need help picking berries for our food pantry donations.  HELP!!!!  We have not been assigned a WEP volunteer this year to help me and I don’t have another volunteer group coming for a month.  If you have some time on Saturday morning, I have plenty of containers and will, of course, send you home with berries of your own.    I will be arriving extra early to minimize sweating. 

The more, the merrier.  Bring your family to help (and eat a few as a picker’s tax, of course).

Monday, June 6, 2016

Ohio After-School All-Stars Work Up a Sweat at the SACG

It may shock some of you to know that I spent a good part of the Spring volunteering for Governor Kasich's campaign.  In March, just before I passed out our annual newsletter and gardener invitation in our neighborhood, I attended a rally for him at the Conservatory’s Wells Barn where Arnold introduced him and talked about one of his signature programs, the After School All-Stars.  One of the local All-Stars even spoke at the event.  So, it should not have been a surprise to me this evening to learn that the group of middle school students that helped the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden this afternoon were Ohio After School All Stars who are attending a week-long camp at OSU focused on career planning.  I really should research these groups before they volunteer, instead of afterwards.  I might have been nicer to them and made them some of my signature no-bake chocolate cookies . . . .

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by my buddy at Keep Columbus Beautiful about whether I could use 50 middle schoolers at the SACG.   Over the course of a couple of weeks, that increased to 60.  Always desperate for volunteers, I agreed and then realized that I probably couldn’t supervise all of those kids.  I reached out to a number of nearby non-profits, but only Urban Connections agreed to take some kids.  So, then I reached out to a giant community garden a mile from us – Four Seasons City Farm (who are my favorite socialists) – to see if they could take at least a third of the kids.  Sure, they said.   They ended up getting the entire group of 6th graders.
I picked up tools from the Tool Library and litter grabbers, etc. from KCB earlier this week.  I organized a bunch of projects and arrived this afternoon just after 2 p.m.  We ended up with 14 volunteers and sent another 6 over to Urban Connections (where they mulched paths and stained their deck). I’ve had lots of high school students in the past, but this was my first group of middle school students. 

I started them off with a brief tour and introduced them to our strawberry patch.  They wasted no time in grabbing and eating ripe strawberries (unlike our firefighter visitors from yesterday).   I assigned one group to weed and prune around the outside of our fence and the scrub brush growing in the Block Watch Lot across the Street.  Although they liked using the big lopper pruners, they got bored quickly and only their advisors continued to work.  Some of them switched to picking up litter along Stoddart Avenue and they filled four bags (and even took them to the dumpster before I asked (because they did not anticipate that I like to get small group photographs of the litter crew with their trophy bags).  Two teams of four were assigned 100 square feet each to weed before planting tomatoes, peppers and sweet potatoes in our two food pantry plots (where we grow the produce that we take to the Lutheran Social Services food pantry, Faith Mission Homeless Shelter and the St. Vincent de Paul pantry).  They planted at least two flats of tomatoes and peppers.   (Well done!).   Another team of three was assigned the task of filling watering cans with our newly filled tanks from next door and watering each and every vegetable plant in the entire Garden, as well as the neighbor plots, the strawberry patch, the blueberry bushes and our new cherry trees.   I even let them walk into plots (which is strictly verboten otherwise).    
A bunch of the kids began to gather around our picnic table (which is where I put the bottled water donated by KCB).  It was a very hot and sunny day, after all.    But, I can’t stand to see people standing around when there is a lot of work to do.  So, I put them to work planting peppers in the raised bed over there.  Finally!  Something that they seemed to enjoy.   I also had a couple of the young ladies deadhead our extensive collection of daisies.   A couple of the kids got jealous that the Kimball Farms Community Garden next door has a watering hose to water their vegetable seedlings and I’m pretty sure that I saw a couple of them helping out there when they got bored helping at the SACG.    I know that a couple of them appreciated getting squirted with that hose as well.   Luckily, Urban Connections also sent over a box of cookies to keep the kids' spirits up.  Working with me is not always fun . . .

Reliable Amy came to help me with keeping the kids focused, but she ended up helping one of their leaders finish weeding and planting tomatoes after the rest of her team had deserted her.   Being Amy, she continued to work even after they left.    Truth be told, the advisors did most of the work today and were cheerful to boot.  I would tip my hat to them, but I hate to show the world my hat hair.
Perpetually grumpy garden lady that I am, I grumbled at the kids when they killed some pepper seedlings.  Grumble grumble.  And I wouldn’t let them leave until I was sure that I had found all of the tools that they had used.  Being kids – like the kids who regularly garden in their own raised beds at the SACG – they typically left their tools wherever they were standing when they got bored.  I have to track down everything and put it back in the right place to ensure that the right tools get back to our shed, KCP and the Tool Library . . . .  .  I also picked up the litter that they left behind.  Grumble grumble.  Every parent knows of what I speak.

The kids were not anxious to get back on the hot school bus for a ride back to the OSU campus (although the kids with evening shower privileges were lording it over the kids with morning shower privileges because everyone was hot, sweaty and covered with a thin layer of dirt).  I had told them earlier about the sweet bing cherries which were hanging from the trees we planted across the street during the 2012 drought.   NOW, they really wanted them and attacked those trees with gusto.    It’s too bad that they didn’t come a week later because our black raspberries are starting to ripen.   The OASAS advisors that helped Urban Connections came by and I gave them a tour of our Garden.  They, like everyone else, really liked our extremely popular Free Little Library at the corner of Stoddart and Cherry.
Everyone’s hard work this afternoon means that I might not have to put in 6+ full hours on Saturday to fill in our empty spaces.   That makes me happy because it’s going to be extremely hot this Saturday and it’s the weekend of the Columbus Arts Festival.

Now, I’m sure that you are wondering how it was that we had water on hand today when both of our rain cisterns were bone dry on Saturday.  Well, ironically, I had help from some public sector union employees and I don’t know how much I should go into it here.  I know that this particular union has been extraordinarily helpful for other community gardens and I’ve never really needed their help in our prior seven years.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  I had All-Stars coming who would need to water and plant.  (Otherwise, they would be stuck only weeding and picking up litter).   The City’s rain cistern re-filling program has been on hiatus since last Fall.    I visited their workplace and just asked (without going into a lot of details or even showing them any of the exhibits which I had
prepared to plead my case).  They dropped whatever they were doing at that very instant and came and filled both of our tanks to the top.  Then, disaster struck and they couldn’t leave for over an hour.  Of course, I waited with them and took that time to offer them fresh strawberries and cherries and then turned to weeding the fence line.   Little Jaden even visited from across the street and they let him sit in the driver’s seat.   I’d send them some fresh produce in a few weeks, but they made it clear to me that they have no clue how to cook anything from scratch.  Maybe I’ll drop off a berry pie . . . .     I'll more publicly thank them once I know that it won't get them into trouble . . .
As I left last night, Jaden’s father, Kevin, asked if he could buy us another fruit tree because the kids like them so much.  Sure, I said (if you dig the hole to plant it).   When he asked about another peach tree, I suggested that he speak with Barb and Frank because those go in the Block Watch lot.  We could use one more sour cherry tree, or, truth be told, I’d like to have a plum tree (because I hear that they are also low maintenance and I like the fruit). 

Speaking of the weather and the exhibits I prepared about our current dilemma.  Storms in Columbus typically split into two when they hit downtown and reassemble over Reynoldsburg, leaving us high and dry while my sister near Dublin collects an unseemly amount of rain. This phenomena has driven me out of my mind for the last eight years.  I even occasionally  -- like I did yesterday – take screen prints of the weather radar to show this to other people.   On top of this, El Nino has greatly reduced both our precipitation and increased our heat.  NOAA just announced that we are 30% more likely to have a
hotter summer this year than last year (which, I will admit, isn’t saying much because last year was cool and wet).  Our anticipated precipitation is likely to be the same as usual (i.e., less than last year).  That is not a good combination.  I will have to quickly get some bales of straw to the Garden.  Our current supply of water is likely to last only two weeks.    I now wish that I had started some Sioux tomatoes because they are bred for hot and dry summers.  Oh well.  I have a few such tomatoes in my collections, so I’ll get by.  I may have to train my gardeners about cheap irrigation techniques (many of which I used during the 2012 drought) so that we can make our tanks last an extra week between rainfalls. . . . . .

I should probably eat something now after my two cocktails.  Until it rains again . . .  .

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bone Dry

I was going to entitle this Field of Daisies, but both of our rain cisterns at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden are bone dry.   Realizing our impending doom, I contacted the City about utilizing our free annual fill-up (which we did not utilize last year), but they still have not got the program set up for this growing season (even though we broke ground months ago). Our baby seedlings are drying up in our unseasonable heat and memories of 2012 are coming flooding back. We’ve watched major storms come by Columbus (and even flood I-71 downtown and parts of the OSU campus) and we got nary a drop.  Even now, there are major rain storms raging northwest and southeast of us, but they are passing us by.   I have a large group of middle schoolers coming on Monday afternoon and no water for them to fill watering cans. I'm not alone in mourning our lack of rain; OSU has noticed it, too.    It appears the El Nino (which gave us a mild winter) is to blame.  Sigh.

Our strawberries and bing cherries are in season and I’ve had a bit of both.  Sabrina and I went strawberry picking on Thursday morning, which was a waste of time.  I decided that we should get an early start before the heat of the day wilted us, but Hann’s – where we usually pick – doesn’t open until 10 a.m., so we decided to try Doran’s near New Albany for the first time.  They just opened for the season on Tuesday.  However, their operation isn’t nearly as productive as Hann’s.  The weeds were bigger than the strawberry plants.  They also don’t use black fabric to keep down the weeds or preserve the moisture.  And they do not irrigate the strawberries.  So, the berries were small and few and far between.   We picked for 45 minutes and only had about two pounds each to show for it.   At Hann’s, we would have had close to 15 pounds.  I saw a woman with a full container and asked her how long she had been picking.  90 minutes.  Whew.    Both Farms charge the same:  $1.99/pound for u-pick.  I’m hoping that I’ll have time to fit in a morning berry pick this week, but my real job has been taking a lot of my time for the last two months.   (Not that I’m complaining). 

I’m hoping to make a small batch of jam tonight.  I just finished a white spinach English muffin pizza and will make a stir fry later with my fresh snow peas.

Our daisies have been as extraordinary this year as ever. I’m not alone in thinking so.  Almost every Saturday, someone pulls over to tell me how much they enjoy them.   However, they are taking up the space where I usually plant my zinnias and I’m a little concerned about getting a late start.  They are also starting to die back, so I’ve prepared marigolds to transplant into those spaces.   I've been cutting lots of daisies from my plot to fill vases at home.   Amy has also planted some cosmos in the front bed and, of course, we transplant volunteer sunflowers in as well. 

We haven’t had even a fraction of the bees that we usually have this year, but I’m going to attribute that to our unseasonably cold May.    At least we did not suffer any significant damage from our late frost.  I held back planting until the temperatures were reliably above 50.

The kids have not been very good about tending their plots.  When our gate lock broke on Tuesday, Sabrina and I had to use a hose to transport water from our large, nearly-empty tank.  The water pressure was ridiculous and it took forever to fill the cans.  While waiting, Sabrina weeded the kids’ beds.   I had worked with them a week earlier to plant watermelons and cantaloupes in one of their beds and they have just begun to sprout. 

My sweet potato slips look a little strange this year.  I’m thinking that they might all be that heirloom white variety and I want at least a few regular orange potatoes.   I discovered this year that I could slice off the top of a sweet potato, put it in water (i.e., a bottle lid) and it would sprout roots and shoots just like when I put a whole potato in a jar filled 1/3 full with water. Who knew?

Another anomaly that we’ve had this year involves our rose bushes.  I replaced one of the front bushes with a yellow knockout when the yellow tea rose died during the polar vortex.  Then, a year later, a cane appeared next to the knockouts.   That cane has turned into a bush and this year it was filled with red roses that are getting tangled up with the nearby yellow knockout bush.  It looks pretty neat, but I expect that the red bush will not stay in bloom all summer like the knockout. 
I finally got to the herb garden today.  Our oregano is slowly taking over and so I pulled out a lot of it to make room for other herbs.  When I prepared the ground to plant some dill, cilantro and basil, it was bone dry for at least a foot.  Sigh.    Truth is, I made time to blog today because the we haven't received any significant rain since a few days after my last post.  Consider it an offering to the rain gods.   Human sacrifices are likely to follow if this doesn't fill our tank . . . . .