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). 

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