Monday, July 25, 2016

What Heat Dome? BUMCYF Perks at SACG.

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year, but that did not deter the very perky Bexley United Methodist Church Youth Fellowship from volunteering at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden at the hottest time of the day.  On Thursday, Keep Columbus Beautiful notified its partners, including the SACG, to only schedule beautification projects in the morning for this weekend because of the heat. I heeded this warning on Saturday and was able to get out by noon (for a delightful change of pace).   However, instead of whining or moving very slowly, the YF seemed completely oblivious to the heat and humidity on Sunday.   I purposely restricted their to-do list, but they completed it so fast that I had to add to it.  They tidied up the strawberry patch, weeded along the alley, watered the kid beds, strawberry patch, blueberry bushes, new cherry trees, flower beds and most of the food pantry plots, pulled bind weed off of the southern raspberry bushes, and then sanded and stained our picnic table.

Wednesday was our annual water gun fight (shootout at the SACG Corral)  with the neighborhood kids at the SACG.  I had warned the gardeners not to come unless they wanted to risk getting wet.  It was very hot and humid.   When I arrived, Neal was there tending his plot, and had planted new cucumber seedlings a few days earlier.  He had extra, so I put them in other plots.   Paulie from Highland Youth Garden (in the Hilltop) stopped by to drop off some cinder blocks for one of our compost bins.  I also gave him a tour of the Garden, where he admired the strawberry patch and our rain cisterns. After Neal left, I invited the neighborhood kids to a water gun fight.  Shae initially said no (because she didn’t want to mess up her new hairdo), but came back with her own gun.  Miko, Chris and Jo all borrowed guns from me (who kept my supersoaker).  Micayla came over, but hung out near her garden bed instead of joining in.   She and Jo harvested carrots from their bed and left.  After I was pretty soaked and we had each refilled twice, I withdrew to finish watering my plot, but was still able to get home early. 

On Saturday, I arrived at 8:30 and found that the squash borers had really demolished a number of our squash plants.  I was so excited that I did not have to water anything because we had received more than an inch of rain around lunchtime on Friday.  Weeding does not take nearly as much time as watering.  I found Miko across the street playing basketball and recruited him (with his uncle’s push) to come and weed his bed.  He had some blank spaces, so we filled them in with sweet potatoes and beets.    Miko’s one of those rare children that knows how to weed and can distinguish between a weed and a plant based on his prior experience of helping his grandmother with her garden.

Stan stopped by to tend his plot, harvest some summer squash and to complete the cinder block compost bin.   I told him that I wanted the BUMCYF to complete the bin on Sunday, but he had been waiting for months to finish it and would not be deterred.   I had been saving two bags of leaves to put in it, but he put the leaves in a different bin.  (Not to be deterred, I put one of the bags in the cinder block bin on Sunday).
One of our neighbors had chopped down a large tree growing near the alley on  Thursday.  I discovered on Saturday morning that there was a honey bee hive living in a hollow portion of the tree.  Excited, I found Pastor Brown's assistant and relayed that Kimball Farms should rescue that piece of the tree to start their own beehive next door.  (But the tree and the bees were still in the alley when I returned on Sunday).  We had a light food pantry harvest, but I was delighted to get home by 12:30 and be able to mow my own lawn and clean/repair the northern gutters on my garage. 
In May, the BUMC Youth Fellowship contacted me about volunteering at the end of July (at the suggestion of one of our neighborhood landlords).  I was thrilled because none of the Bexley churches has ever volunteered here.  (We’ve had churches from other suburbs, but not neighbor Bexley).   Their leader wanted to keep their normal meeting time of 5 p.m., although I told her that  most rational gardeners work during cooler morning or evening hours.   Neither of us realized that Sunday would be the hottest day of the year near the end of a regional heat dome.   Then, a half-hour before they were supposed to arrive, the weather radar revealed a large line of thunderstorms.  While I wanted the rain, I also wanted the volunteers.  But, I knew –and turned out to be correct -- that the storms would break up as the approached downtown so that the SACG ended up not getting a drop of rain.

The YF arrived on time and ready to work. I gave them a quick tour and brief history of the Garden.  Then,  I assigned two of them watering duties and showed them how to water the roots, instead of the leaves.  Plants do not absorb water through their leaves, so the spouts need to be pointed  near the ground.  The rest were tasked with weeding the strawberry patch, adding some new garden soil (that had been donated a few months ago by the Conservatory), watering the patch, spreading straw, and weeding along the alley.  I even was able to show them a creepy, crawly squash borer in the stem of another dead squash plant after I pulled and pitched it.   I thought that this would keep them busy until their 6:30 departure, but they were finished in pretty short order, so I assigned another team with sanding and staining our picnic table.    They were old hands at this kind of task from their prior mission camps (at, for instance, West Virginia earlier this summer).
They completed that task before 6:15.  Rather than let them leave early, I explained our problem with bind weed and let them pull it away from the bushes.  (I suppose that I could have loaned them my water guns to cool themselves off). Then, they were off to Johnson’s ice cream while I locked up. 
We've been very blessed to have so many great volunteer groups this summer to help with our major "extra" projects.  Our next major task is to create a new post for our sign so that we can take group pictures beneath it like we used to do.   I thought it would be too hot to do that yesterday, so it will probably be the primary task for YouthBuild when it returns in mid-August.  Of course, I reminded the YF that I'm there every Saturday morning and we don't close until mid-November . . .

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Urban Connections’ Girl Power Slays Fence and Lawn at SACG

Sunday afternoon, Gardener Cathy from Urban Connections emailed me and asked if I wanted any extra volunteers this week.  Like she had to ask!  This is the second week of Urban Connections' annual youth day camp for the neighborhood kids and they were being assisted by a large number of out-of-town volunteers from Old North Alliance Church in Canfield, Ohio (near Youngstown).   Some help with the camp, but Urban Connections generally shares their volunteers with nearby non-profit groups, like the SACG and the Franklin Park Neighborhood Block Watch, and schools to tackle some of our projects or to lighten our regular load for a week.  While the guys worked on installing new flooring at a housing rehabilitation project a half-block away, we had four female volunteers to remove the back fence bordering our youth gardening area to give the kids more room to get around.  Also, Columbus City Councilman Shannon Hardin stopped by to see what Urban Connections has been up to and stopped by to see what the SACG is doing as well.

After all the work that went into getting ready for the FPC Women’s Board tour last week, I thought that I would be able to have a short day on Saturday, but it didn’t work out that way.  We didn’t get the expected rain on Friday, so I spent an hour or so watering my plot, and a few other areas of the Garden (which were supposed to be Rayna’s chore this month).  Sabrina came by to water and weed the food pantry plots (her monthly chore) and her own plot.  I love it when she comes because she almost always volunteers to do some extra work, too (like spreading diatomaceous earth on our bean seedlings which are getting eaten to the stubs by beetles and grasshoppers).   Amy came by to tend her plot, work with the compost and weed a little of our flower beds.  The broccoli has been disappointing this year (by going directly to flower), so I pulled four plants and ended up planting some summer squash.  Marcel came by with her husband to tend her plot.  She just had a baby two weeks ago, so Sabrina weeded her plot (to keep her from having to bend over) while Marcel watered and her husband took photographs.  She donated this weeks’ kale and lettuce crop to our food pantry contribution.  (Her refrigerator isn't big enough to hold all of the produce which she grows -- a problem I can also relate to).    Neal and Leandra came by and fretted over the powdery mildew that has taken over his significant cucumber crop.  His chili peppers are doing fantastic, though.

My butternut squash had been infected with squash borers, so I pulled them out and showed the worm living in the stem to Neal and LeAndra.  I transplanted some other squash there and hoped that it would have better luck. 

Some new neighborhood kids came by and we chatted about their getting plots next year and our Free Little Library.  They were too old for the books in the library, so I grabbed some out of the trunk of my car. 
One of the neighborhood landlords has a significant garden behind his properties and we talked about his sizeable zucchini crop.  However, something had been mysteriously and suddenly killing them.  I suspected borers, but we hadn’t seen any frass.  He didn’t have any squash bugs!   I have no words.  He was having some mildew issues and had been using dish soap sprays, which I suggested was bad for the plants.    I recommended a proper fungicide or insecticidal soap instead.  
The mother of two our youth gardeners came out to thank me for the flower planter that I dropped off on their front porch on Thursday.  I invited her to see her children’s garden beds (which, quite frankly, they had neglected all summer).  She had no idea that they had garden beds and promised to send them over regularly to start watering  and weeding so that she could have fresh produce the rest of the summer.  Busted!  Another gentleman was walking down the alley with his Kroger groceries and I saw him checking out the Garden, so I showed him the neighbor plot and encouraged him to stop by and get some kale, tomatoes and peppers.  He harvested some kale to take home with him and said he wanted to get a plot next year that he could weed himself.  I finally left around 4 p.m. and mowed my own lawn, etc.

This morning, I got to the Garden while it was still cool to get ready for the volunteers. I was hoping that our cinder blocks would be delivered this morning so that we could finish that compost bin, but they won’t be coming until late this afternoon.   Then, I thought that I might have them sand and stain our picnic table, but I left the supplies at home.  (I went to pick them up).  I thought that we might try to re-hang our gate sign, but I didn’t have any of the necessary materials.  I need not have worried, because I had more than enough work to keep the ladies busy.  I also finally remembered to post a scarecrow that Straders donated to us last Fall.  I wish that I had remembered it in time for the Women’s Tour last week, but at least I got it up this morning, right?

When YouthBuild installed our new trellis/front gate, Cathy and I had cut back the raspberry brambles behind the youth gardening area.  Since Kimball Farms installed a six-foot chain link fence back there in November 2014, we no longer need our wire fence in that area.  Indeed, it has become impossible to weed back there or to rescue the daffodils that we planted back there in 2011 or 2012.    The brambles tend to shade the kids’ gardens and make it dangerous to tend (with the thorns and all).   I will have to chat with the kids about whether we want to have any raspberries back there (so that they can pick and eat them) or whether they want to plant flowers back there next Spring.

The Old North volunteers cut back the brambles even further, removed the fence posts and then dug out the fence.   I bagged the brambles and ran a few errands around the Garden.  One of their husbands came up and helped me carry out the fence and then roll it up and store it (so that we can use it for trellising later).  Two of them mowed our lawn and the two block watch lots.  Some of the Old North volunteers will later be coming back on Thursday to help the Block Watch cut down the scrub brush that grows up on their lot around the old foundations of the building that used to be there.   Two of them went around and picked up litter near the Garden.  Finally, they helped to weed the paths.    They were supposed to stick around until 11:45, but this old lady was hot and wanted to go home.  So, I kicked them out a little early.  Cathy put them to work helping to make lunch for everyone.

Micayla stopped by with a friend to show off her plot (again) and harvested a yellow carrot.  (She planted multi-colored carrots).   I suggested that her lettuce was past its prime and should be pulled out and that she should take some greens home to eat.

While all of this was going on, City Councilman Hardin stopped by.   He was all dressed up in this heat.  (Unlike last week, I did not dress up in clean street clothes, but was wearing my typical gardening garb).   Cathy showed him a bit of camp (and, I hope, their extensive bike loan program for the neighborhood kids).  On their way up to see the house rehabilitation project, they stopped by the SACG to see the UC volunteers hard at work.  I told him how we were a plot garden which drew gardeners from the neighborhood, Bexley, Eastmoor, Berwick, German Village and the Short North.  Plots are only $10 each (with the fee waived for neighborhood gardeners who cannot afford it).  We spent our entire earned income for the year by getting one tank refilled (not both tanks) this summer.    I told him about the various groups who come to volunteer, our berries, cherries, peaches, Free Little Library and  neighbor beds and how supportive the neighborhood landlords have been.  He also likes to garden.   I told him about Colonia (who had been a UC kid over 10 years ago) and Marcel, who has taken the bus – with a transfer – to get to the SACG from where she lives at James and Livingston for the past three years to learn to grow food.   I also explained that the Conservatory donates most of our seeds and that I start seedlings in February and March so that none of the gardeners have to buy anything unless they really want to do so.  Because we were standing next to the compost bins, I also explained how Stan had become obsessed with leveling them out and we hoped to finish the cinder block bin this Sunday when the Bexley United Methodist Youth Fellowship are volunteering.

I also – as you can expect – told him that I have no idea how much food each gardener grows and have no way of estimating it.  Some grow a lot and some a little.  Some are good and some are new.  They don’t have report it to me.  I do, however, keep track of what we donate to area food pantries and Faith Mission, which, to date, exceeds 3,000 pounds.   For this reason, we cannot provide information to the City as requested about how much we grow so that we can get a$250 Lowe’s voucher.  He asked who was requiring this and said it would get worked out.

I didn’t tell him about how the other community gardens are affected.  For instance, Highland Youth is able to pay staff to complete the City’s questionnaire (unlike the SACG which relies exclusively on volunteers like me).  Nonetheless, the HYG didn’t try (like we did) to list all of the vegetables and flowers that they grow pursuant to the City’s request.  They are centrally organized (unlike the SACG where each gardener decides for herself or himself what to grow and how much to grow and how much to harvest, etc), so they are able to create an estimate of how much they give away and to where.   In essence, a percentage is fraction.  I know the numerator (the top number of the fraction), but not the bottom number, so that I cannot estimate a percentage.  While the top number may be 500, I don’t know if the denominator (bottom number) is 1000, 2000, 3000, 5,000 or 10,000 and that makes a big difference in trying to estimate a percentage.     
My view is if the City wants a number pulled out of thin air, they should come over and look at the Garden for themselves and make their own estimate because their guess would be as good as mine.  But if a guess is all they want, then what good is the number anyway?  If the number is unreliable, why should we have to provide one at all?    Another option would be to simply come up with the square footage of the land growing vegetables and then extrapolate from a couple of gardens which keep track of such information how much of what is likely being grown.   Either solution would not create more work and more burdens for overworked community gardeners like me.  Gee whiz. 

I also spent some time this morning hunting squash bugs, of course.  And I am trying out a fungicide for the powdery mildew attacking our squash.  I only sprayed half of my crop (to see how it does in this sun) and will spray the rest if my squash is still alive tomorrow evening when I will next visit the Garden.  Wednesday evening is our annual water shoot out at the SACG Coral.  Don’t stop by if you don’t want to risk getting wet.

We’ve also been contacted by the OSU Honor’s program about possibly providing us with a couple of volunteer honor students this Fall who are working on a project involving food security.  I offered to put them in charge of our weekly food pantry harvest so that they could harvest the produce (weigh and record it for me) and then deliver it to the food pantry or shelter of their choice.  I could even arrange for them to chat with pantry/shelter staff.  If they start early enough, they can even have input into what Fall crops we plant for our final harvest in mid-November.  

We are well into another rotation of crops at the SACG.  Our lettuce has pretty much all been harvested (or has gone bitter and to seed).  I’ve planted several rows of bush beans (which are getting eaten by beetles and grasshoppers) and a row of beets.   When the beans go, we’ll be ready to plant Fall crops at the end of August (when we’re expecting a group of OSU Pay-it-Forward volunteers).   

Someone (likely a SACG gardener) anonymously dropped off six or seven cucumber seedlings at my plot. (This is likely because I let it slip last weekend that I cannot get my hair cut again until I have a fresh cucumber to produce to my hairdresser as I promised during my last haircut on June 10).   I put a couple cucumber plants in the kids' beds and a few in the food pantry plots.    I’ve even been thinking about starting some new broccoli seedlings for Fall.  I planted some more basil last night because our herb garden needs to be filled in and Marcel wants some (but, mysteriously, won’t try planting it herself despite the dozens of basil seed packets in the shed). 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Conservatory’s Women’s Board Returns to the SACG for Brief Visit

Almost six years to the day, the Franklin Park Conservatory’s Women’s Board returned to visit the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden as part of its annual tour of local community gardens on Wednesday.   It was an even larger group than in 2010 and included Conservatory staff and even Conservatory Executive Director Bruce Harkey.  (I’m glad that I did not wear my typical baggy and dirty gardening garb).  As always, they were very nice and seemed very aware of how much work goes into operating a successful community garden.  While in 2010 I focused on how we repurposed discarded items and the amount of corporate and community support that we had received, this time I emphasized how much work was involved and all of the changes (particularly in the last year) which had been made since their last visit.  I even tried to recruit them to replace me as Garden Manager.  Finally, I emphasized the diversity of our gardeners and how they are peers in the Garden, thereby reducing societal barriers which the media seems determined to emphasize. Needless to say, it was very hot and humid – even in the morning.

I started off the morning by planting marigolds which I picked up on Tuesday from another Straders’ donation to GCGC at the Four Season City Farms.  Margaret Ann Samuelson had picked a lot of summer squash on Monday and offered me some.  I offered instead to drop it off at the Salvation Army food pantry on my way back to Bexley (which is what I did).   They also had some OSU students holding cooking and tasting classes next to their garden.  Tueday’s menu was Indian curry.   I also tried to treat the powdery mildew (with a solution of water and baking soda) that had shown up on Sunday on our lovely bee balm flowers.

Our Conservatory visitors started on our front lawn.  I talked briefly about our history of breaking ground in 2009 and how we worked with our neighbors, such as Urban Connections, to get the eyesore building next to us torn down on the same day as the Derecho in 2012.  I also reported that we had thought to start an orchard on the newly vacant lot until a competition ensued between whether our neighbor or Urban Connections would build on that lot.  There was no point in investing time and money in an orchard which will soon be uprooted.  I also pointed out all of the fruit trees – Bing Cherries, Montmorency Cherries, Meteor Cherries, Contender Peaches and Red Haven Peaches which we had planted since their last visit.  I pointed out that the Cherry Tree which we planted in April 2012 was twice the size as the tree which the contractor had planted a few months later after he ran over and killed its twin when preparing to demolish the next door building in June 2012.  

I also reported that we had been anticipating a bumper peach crop this year.  I was glad that I took plenty of pictures two weeks ago because someone came through over the Independence Day weekend and pulled all of the fruit off of the trees and threw them around the neighborhood.  Sigh.  Maybe when the trees get taller . . . .  I also pointed out that the neighborhood block watch tends the lot across the street from us and next to us (although we have been slowly and surely since 2010 been adversely possessing more and more of that lot).   They have to carry their own water to keep the flowers alive because the City still hasn’t implemented its free tank fill-up program yet this year. I pointed out the flower pot at the corner of Stoddart and Cherry, which marks the place where someone was murdered in 2011.  We had three nearby murders in 2010 and 11 and another a half block away a few years ago.   Finally, I pointed out that while my siblings and I hated gardening when growing up, I incorporated my favorite aspects of wild food into the SACG, such as our strawberry patch and raspberry bushes.
I then took our visitors over to the Cherry Street alley and told them about our capital improvement projects in the last year:

·        How we carried all of the debris which we dug out of the Garden to the alley over the years form a make-shift curb and then carted it off (with the help of some neighbors) to a legal dump.  Then we replaced replace that debris with beautiful landscaping stones donated by Conservatory Board member Bill Gearhart to form a uniform curb with the help of OSU and Capital students.

·        How we doubled the size of our strawberry patch as our major Earth Day project this Spring.

·        The new sign for our neighbor plots where anyone passing by can help themselves to fresh produce.

·        Stan’s ongoing improvement project for our compost bins.  His efforts to improve our cement block compost bin has been on hold as we have waited for the City’s Lowe’s voucher program to be implemented so that we could purchase more blocks (and landscaping stones to fill the gaps in the expanded strawberry patch).  However, we apparently will not qualify for a Lowe’s voucher this year because the City is insisting that we figure out (which we cannot do) how much produce we collectively grow in all of our individual plots and elsewhere -- like the raspberry bushes and strawberry patch --  (so that we can report a percentage – or fraction – of what we donate and give away).    While I weigh and record what we donate to area pantries and shelters, the individual gardeners are not required to report that to me, ever.  No one would ever sign up for a plot at a Land Bank community garden in an urban neighborhood if they had to weigh and/or record every piece of produce they grow before they take it home.  It’s all I can do to get them to perform their chores and weed their own plots, etc.    I also cannot and do not even try to keep track of how many berries the neighborhood children eat, etc.  Some gardeners grow a lot and some don’t.  Some grow three seasons and some grow one. Some let a lot of food rot in their plot and some do not.  Some grow heavy food and some grow light food.  I was encouraged to make up a number.  Are we really that far from the Public School’s  Data Scrubbing Scandal that people think it’s now ok to make up statistics?  I refuse to cooperate in such a fraud and plan to fight retaliation against us for refusing go along with this.  In any event, Highland Youth Garden has offered to donate all of the cement blocks which we need.   The latest problem is that I need a truck to help me transport them.  (It’s not worth renting a truck because that cost would exceed the cost of the blocks).  Luckily, a neighborhood landlord has agreed to help me on Tuesday. 

·        I also pointed out that our Stoddart Avenue neighborhood landlords have been some of our biggest supporters and fans.   For instance, the newest landlord brought us cases of soda on Earth Day after watching us work so hard.

·        I was asked about where we get our soil.  I explained that we were big fans of Com-til (which is not always popular among the politically correct sect).  The City used to donate 10 cubic yards each year to community gardens, but then stopped.  Of course, I began whining and nagging.  Bill Dawson began nodding his head (because he knows).  This year, the City said we could have as much as we needed, so I ordered 30 cubic yards to split with our neighbors at Kimball Farms (the next stop on the tour).   Last year, the Conservatory gave us some compost, too.
I then hiked our visitors over to the south side of the Garden:

·        I showed them our new flower bed.  The spot had been where Mike Donley had dumped our wood chips in 2015 for our Opening Day (for our paths and fence lines).  Then, the City
donated a truck load of premium top soil from Kurtz Brothers, which Amy and I had unloaded on top of that spot.  The OSU Young Scholars then transported that soil to our planting beds, but the grass never filled in.  So, when the Conservatory held its Big Dig in May, we picked up a bunch of tulip plants and replanted them in this spot.   Amy even edged it into a circular flower bed.  I thought that I would let them naturalize, but this year’s mini-drought again did not permit grass to take over.  In June, Kossuth Community Garden donated a bunch of canna lily corns to other area community gardens and I planted six or so of them on the outer border of where the tulips where.  Then, when Straders Garden Centers donated thousands of flats of flowers to GCGC this year, I picked up a dozen flats and we transplanted a bunch of salvias, petunias and begonias into this spot for form a formal flower bed (something I never otherwise do). 

·        I pointed out that we moved our blueberry bushes from the north side of the Garden to the south side to get more sun and avoid the growing raspberry bushes.  (I did not mention the damage they suffered when I fell over backwards into one last year and little Zion did the same this year).

·        I pointed out our shed had been robbed several times last year and we lost all of our seeds
and most of our tools (which the Conservatory helped to replace).  Another area landlord, Ken Turner, gave us an impressive monster lock to safeguard our assets.

·        I pointed out our raspberry bushes, which started with nine seedlings that Rayna brought back from her parent’s farm near Toledo in 2009.  They love the wood chips and have expanded greatly.  We’ve given seedlings to a number of other community gardens.  They operate as an edible barrier.  The berries are highly popular with gardeners, neighborhood kids and even adults.
·        We talked about bindweed taking over the Garden and our bushes.  (I probably won't be pulling any more for a while . . . . ).

·        I took them back to our rolling compost bin and how we cannot really make use of it this year without water.  Since I loaned away the rain barrel collecting rain from our shed, it’s too hard to water the compost bin and the raised beds over here.

·        I showed them our new picnic table, which the neighborhood kids stained last year.  I’m still working on enlarging a hole to put a patio umbrella.  Sanding and re-staining it will be an upcoming group project.

·        I begged someone to take over for me as Garden Manager so that I could just be a gardener for a while (or forever, whatever).  I got no takers.  Boo hoo.

·        We discussed the various volunteer groups which come to help us sometimes.  They asked where we get volunteers.  I pointed out that OSU sends us a few groups each year and we’re establishing a relationship with Capital as well.  Urban Connections generally supplies us with extra volunteers, too, when the opportunity arises.  Bexley UMC's Youth Fellowship will be visiting us in a couple of weeks (at the suggestion of one of our landlord fairy godfathers).  

Then, I walked them through the Garden.  Everything is big and green.  (I don't post pictures here anymore to reduce the temptation to steal).

·        I pointed out our new trellis which was donated by a Bexley philanthropist and installed last week by Americorps YouthBuild program.   I asked them for suggestions where we could install our sign, which had been created by well-known local artist John Sunami (who is also responsible for the Driving Park streetcar art installation at Livingston and Nelson and the planters at the Statehouse, etc.) and used to garden with us and his wife, Mari.

·        I took them to the youth gardening area.  Micayla came to show off her plot (if such a shy girl can show off anything).  She had already pulled out a bunch of her carrots on Monday evening, so it was difficult finding a ripe one to pull out for our visitors).   None of the other children are as conscientious in tending their beds as Micayla (who also helped me to plant potatoes in the food pantry plot).   The kids also have a plot for melons and, unlike last year, we did not plant any pumpkins which could take over.

·        The platform raised beds had been created with two of our senior citizen gardeners in mind (who were not bending over much to weed).  I explained that they were insulted by them, which surprised our visitors as much as it had me. We had one new older garden join so that she could use them, but the topography of the Garden had been an impediment.   It was too hard for them to get to and from our rain cisterns to water their beds.  So, the raised beds only solved bending impairments, but not their stamina or balance issues.    However, I explained that the kids loved them, so I re-purposed them for our youth program. 

·        I pointed out Marcel’s plot because she just had a new baby two weeks ago.  Other gardeners had been watering it, but not weeding it. 

·        I pointed out the two benches which Bill brought us back in 2009.  It’s an ongoing project for our visiting volunteer groups to sand and stain the benches.

·        We talked about our pest situation.  We are not strictly organic, although that is our general preference.  I have diatomaceous earth, neem oil and insecticidal soap in the trunk of my car (i.e., my travelling garden shed).  Grasshoppers are our biggest pest.  Typically, we have lots of feral and other cats to hunt them, but I haven’t seen a single cat this growing season.    We also are at war with squash bugs (which Marge at St. Vincent de Paul’s pantry garden tells me that they NEVER have).   Of course, we also have aphids, which is Marge’s pest du jour this week.   I didn’t mention our groundhogs and possums.

To conclude, I walked them over to Kimball Farms where our rain cisterns are located.  I talked about how often the gutters have gotten clogged this year and how we have run out of water twice already.  The Fire Department filled us up once at the beginning of June and we paid a third of our limited savings to fill it up a second time at the end of June.   We talked about our food pantry donations and how I am not civil to people who interrupt me while I’m rushing to harvest before everything wilts.  

There was a discussion about how community gardens reduce crime (which has been our experience), but the undervalued part is the great diversity of our gardeners and how people who would never interact with each other become peers in the Garden by virtue of their shared interests and levels of experience.  Mother Nature is a great equalizer when you are trying to grow the perfect tomato.   We attract gardeners from many neighborhoods and suburbs who would never become acquainted and comfortable with our neighbors in any other situation.   Our visitors then gave us a nice gift certificate to Oakland Nursery (where we purchased our initial six fruit trees (which they delivered for free) and used to give us free seedlings for our food pantry plots.  In fact, Mark from Oakland  Nursery also donated our blueberry bushes and the strawberry plants for our initial patch).  Cathy and I talked about purchasing a plum tree with it, but then I remembered that we need to purchase grape plants to grow up our new trellis. 

Kimball Farms was the second stop on the garden tour.  Melinda worked in extreme heat and humidity on Monday and Tuesday to get them ready.  Pastor Brown entertained the group (from the applause that I frequently overheard from across the street).    I was concerned about running past my 9:45 a.m. time, but Bill told me that I had more time.  I wasn’t thinking that Kimball wasn’t planning on starting until 10 a.m. 

I ran over to Urban Connections to get some cold water (because I was hot and thirsty).  Urban Connections was holding its annual summer camp for the neighborhood children, who were having lots of fun.  After I left, they held their photography classes.  (Urban Connections borrowed lots of cameras to provide the kids to teach them about photography).  They came over to the SACG to take artsy pictures of our flowers (some of which I've attached here). 

 I ran over to the Tool Library to return some shears before heading home.  I ran into lady who was picking up tools for a new community garden on Franklin Avenue.  I encouraged her to join GCGC to get some flowers, etc.  She told me that she knew about the SACG, but I didn’t believe her until she dropped Mari Sunami’s name.  Small world.

At lunch time, I headed over to Bethany Bronzeville Community Garden at the Bethany Presbyterian Church on North Garfield (behind the Kings Art Complex), where there was yet another Straders’ donation being unloaded for GCGC members.    (I picked up some flowering baskets on Thursday from yet another Straders' donation to GCGC and dropped them off on the front porches of the SACG's nearest neighbors and for Stan (a block away) who has worked so hard the last few weeks).

Then, I tried to get some “real” work done for my day job.  And prayed for rain.    Our visitors commented that I had a lot of energy.  That's not how it feels . . ..

Friday, July 8, 2016

Getting Hot and Dirty with YouthBuild at the SACG

 A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition about a beautiful trellis which had been donated by a Bexley area homeowner who no longer wanted it and thought a community garden might put it to good use.   I wasn’t sure where we could put it and so delayed in responding.  I finally decided to put it near the front gate and hoped that we could grow grapes up it (because the neighborhood kids periodically ask why we are not growing grapes for them to eat).   I was the third person to respond, but the first who decided we could use it.  It also came with a gate which had never been used.  After some debate, we decided to replace our long-time front gate with this newer one (although we remain concerned about thieves jumping our gates).   Cathy brought her truck to pick up and transport the trellis back to the SACG.   The problem then became, how are we going to install it (and remove our old gate) with just us little old ladies?

We were very lucky that the City told the Land Bank Community Gardens a few months ago that Americorps’ YouthBuild program was looking for a community garden where its participants could volunteer.   We scheduled work days for today and next month.   When I told them at the end of June about the trellis project (which I thought would be great for them), they wanted to come a day early to be sure that they got everything done.  No problem, I said.  I picked up post diggers and a tamper from Rebuilding Together’s Tool Library on Tuesday and they threw in a dozen bagels for free to feed my new volunteers.  (I brought some of my homemade ginger peach jam).   I also still had some bottled water that had been previously donated by Keep Columbus Beautiful for Earth Day.  I also picked up some gravel from Lowe’s to back fill the post holes.

Of course, it had to be awfully hot and humid yesterday when the 12 volunteers arrived for their appointment with SACG destiny.  One team focused on digging the post holes for the trellis, getting the trellis deep enough and level, attaching the top, removing our long-time gate and sign and attaching the new gate and latch.  While digging, they faced our long-time problem of encountering construction debris from the prior apartment building that had been on our lot.   They even reported that they found our old basement.  A few of the holes turned out to be pretty wide as they had to dig around these large stones in order to remove them.   

I won’t lie to you; they made a real mess.  I had to quickly harvest our row of beets from the food pantry plot because they needed the space to maneuver.  (They made it to the Salvation Army’s food pantry later yesterday afternoon).  I should have raked the wood chips aside from the front gate area because it’s all covered with a few inches of dirt now.

Some of our herb garden even was covered with a pile of dirt and rocks (which I’ll have to tidy up tomorrow).   But, all that being said, Cathy and I agreed that we never could have installed this trellis by ourselves (even with the help of Stan and her husband, Jason).   Removing the gate posts turned out to be equally tricky because Frank had used rebar and very long metal spikes to anchor them.

My dilemma now is where to hang our sign.   Some have suggested hanging it from the front of the trellis over the gate, but I worry about it being too heavy for the trellis top and making the trellis lean forward.  It also would detract from the trellis’ simple beauty.  We could sink some shorter posts to the right of the gate or sign some posts at an angle at the southeast corner of the Garden.  Decisions.  Decisions.

A second team was assigned to weed the paths and then half of a semi-abandoned plot (where the trellis had been temporarily stored) before planting three rows of beans.  Some of the weeding team became quickly bored and moved to weeding on the south side of the Garden, edging our new flower bed, and picking up litter.   The half that remained worked very steadily and finished all of their assigned tasks (including taking the weeds and putting them in the compost bin).   One of them wanted to start a vegetable garden at her new forever home (or maybe join a community garden and get a plot like we have).  The other wore two sweaters, but insisted that she was not hot because she had been born and lived in Haiti, where it is really hot most of the time.

Another team was lead by Stan the Man to tidy up the strawberry patch.  We built it in 2010, but many of the landscaping stones had gone askew and were no longer level or neat looking.   When Stan takes on a project like this, he always starts from scratch.  He removed the stones (even the bottom layer) to even out the base before building the retaining wall surrounding the strawberry patch.   He also helped to remove the old gate posts and helped me to get everything put away before departing.
A final team weeded along the alley and around the compost bins.
While these teams worked up quite the sweat and counted the minutes to when they could return to air-conditioning, Cathy and I attacked the brambles in the kids’ gardening area.  Now that raspberry season has mostly passed, these brambles are no longer needed and they pose a threat to our youth gardeners as they continue to grow very long and into their raised beds.  We have discussed removing our old fence behind these beds because Kimball Farms installed a nicer and taller chain link fence about two feet to the west of them.  We can no longer weed or prune between the fences or behind these raised beds.  So, the brambles have all been cut back to make it easier in case we find the spare time (or volunteers) to begin pulling the fence out.  We’ll then turn the fence into bean trellises.  

Also, after the old gate had been removed and the fence was still disconnected, I got help in digging out the weed mulberry tree that had been growing behind the rose bush and liberating a misplaced hosta so that we can possibly transplant it to a more appropriate location next Fall.

After our YouthBuild volunteers departed, I returned our borrowed tools to the Tool Library, had some lunch and delivered the beets to the Salvation Army on East Main Street. I also called the landscaper who had gotten the trellis donated to GCGC, so that I could get the contact information for the donor and send her a proper thank-you note (with pictures).    That night, I also attended the monthly GCGC meeting at the very lovely Highland Youth Garden in the Hilltop.   They started the same year as the SACG, but are much, much larger and have many more volunteers and kids.  Their garden looked amazing, tidy and healthy.  They have 200 kids each week participate in their various gardening programs, several master gardeners, running water, a hoop house, a trellis, built-in benches, signs warning of video surveillance and even paid staff.   One of their leaders talked about the need to remain positive in the face of our shared obstacles (i.e., weather, vandals and thieves).  I would note that their only regular pest are feral cats, while we have thieves, cats, possums and groundhogs and other gardens face deer, squirrels, thieves and raccoons.

This morning, we reversed the gate and finished the strawberry patch project.  It was much cooler than yesterday and I’m praying for rain (even though the local YouthBuild leader always prays against me because she doesn’t like rain).  Sigh.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hoarding and Purging Seeds

I usually complete my painting projects during the Independence Day weekend, but the weather was not cooperating this year, so I finally got around to purging my hoard of seeds because I was having trouble shutting the lid on my container which stores them all.  We’ve also been working hard the last few weeks to plant the approximately 10 flats of flowers donated to GCGC by Strader’s Garden Centers.  And, we’ve started our annual battle to save our zucchini plants from the dreaded squash bugs and borers.

As faithful readers recall, in May, we retrieved a bunch of tulip plants from Franklin Park Conservatory during its Big Dig.  Amy thought we could turn a bare spot (where we had dumped a load of top soil donated by the City last year) into a flower bed.  During June’s GCGC meeting, Kossuth Community Gardens donated leftover canna lily corns (from their fundraiser) to us and other community gardens and I planted them in a circle in that same flower bed.  Then, Straders donated thousands of flats of flowers and some vegetable plants to GCGC, so I picked up two flats of peppers and several flats of flowers for the Garden.  Amy and I have been busy in June planting the flowers in our several flower beds (where I dig out the dying daisies to make room).    This has caused me to work unusually long hours at the SACG in June (i.e., from 8 until 5 or 6 almost every Saturday – even when it’s ungodly hot).   At least our bee balm and coneflowers are in bloom.  Who knows if they will be next week, though.

We also had a minor tragedy when the key to our shed lock (donated last year by Ken Turner) broke in the lock.  One of the gardeners found a lock smith to get the broken piece out, but it took several trips to find someone who could duplicate our spare key for that lock.  Zipf’s was able to do it.  However, this was one more giant expense that we can ill afford.  And, if you can believe it, our downspout keeps getting clogged with each of these monster rains (i.e., 2.5+ inches)  over the last week that we've blessedly received (thus, keeping our tanks from getting re-filled).  I've had to haul my extension ladder to the Garden in my tiny Jetta at least three times this season to clear debris from the gutters and the downspout strainer.

Can you see the strainer under the debris?
Last week, Cathy and I discovered that squash bugs had invaded the zucchini plant in two plots, which will mean weekly inspection of their leaves.  Luckily, they had not invaded my plants yet (which I attribute to the fact that I always plant mint around my zucchini to temporarily confuse the bugs and delay the inevitable).   The only reliable way to avoid them killing your zucchini plants is to find and destroy the squash bug eggs before they hatch.  However, sometimes they are tricky where they lay eggs and some hatch.  They are relatively easy to kill in the light grey nymph stage because they are not smart enough to run and hide when you find them.  By the time they reach adult stage, they are lightening quick and will run to the base of the stem or even onto nearby plants.  The only concoction that I’ve found which will kill them on contact is to mix water with a bit of soap and neem oil.  However, regular dish soap will scorch and kill plant leaves if left to dry in the hot July sun.  So, this weekend, I purchased some proper insecticidal soap that is supposed to avoid the sun scorch issue.  I’ll keep you posted.

We’ve also seen squash borer moths, which means that we have a bigger problem if borer eggs have been laid in our stems.  I think it’s completely gross to slice a stem to remove the borer worm and it often isn’t effective anyway (because the damage often kills the plant faster than the worm).  Sigh.   I refuse to use row covers and to hand pollinate my  zucchini flowers.  Grrr.

Our food pantry donations are ahead of their usual pace this year.  I attribute this to our unseasonably warm and dry June (which caused some food to ripen earlier, but also smaller, than usual).  In anticipation of this week's seasonably hot weather, I harvested most of the rest of our lettuce because it will likely bolt and get bitter in this heat.  The food pantry volunteers were impressed with how pretty our leaf lettuce is because they are mostly used to seeing only romaine and iceberg lettuce at the grocery.  Sadly, we did not have enough volunteers this year to take full advantage of our black raspberry crop.  (It can take an hour to pick a pint of berries), so we were not able to donate as many as in past years when we had a WEP volunteer assigned.

As for purging my seed collection, I had not done this in years and still had some seeds in my stache from 2008.  I rarely use all of the seeds in a seed packet in any given year and often try to save seeds of various plants each year in case I can’t find that variety (or get it donated) in the following year.   I store most of my seeds in coin envelopes, but only started to reliably note the year in 2012.  When I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to separate the seed from the seed head or I plan to store a large volume of seeds, I use paper wine bags.  Some seeds, like onions, oregano and chives, only reliably germinate within the next year.  Some – like eggplant, zinnias, basil, dill,  cucumbers, lettuce, radishes and turnips, can reliably germinate 5 years later and many seeds can less reliably germinate as long as ten years later (which has been  my experience with tomatoes, for instance).  There are a few websites with charts noting the ranges of viability years for different seeds.  But none of the websites were exhaustive and I still had to search for a few individual plants that we regularly grow at the SACG or in my back yard (like chamomile). 

This week, we have a volunteer group coming to help us get ready for a visit next week by the Franklin Park Conservatory’s Women’s Board.  Of course, it would have to get hot again when we have a lot of work to do.