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 

--  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).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Fall Fake-Out

We had three days of glorious weather this week, but it was just a Fall fake-out.  The heat and humidity are back and will stay until, of course, Labor Day, and then they are supposed to return.  However, we are finally getting some rain, which is an improvement over May, June and July.    I actually turned off our downspout diverter last week because the large cistern was full and we received almost two inches of rain on  Wednesday night.  August is remarkably up by an inch over its historical rain average, but we started the month four inches behind for the year (and even more than that for the growing season).  Our harvests are fairly paltry compared to what we usually have (between the hot temperatures causing our vegetables’ flowers to drop before being pollinated and the lack of rain putting our tomatoes in fits and in smaller sizes).   I’m feeling particularly blessed that we were able to incorporate a couple of inches of compost into our soil at the beginning of the season because I cannot imagine how our plants would have survived at all without it this summer.   I’m behind in posting updates and will post tomorrow about today’s accomplishments by our fabulous OSU student volunteers. 

This month has been a little frustrating because a reputable organization completely stood us up earlier this month (and cancelled at the last minute last month just a few days after asking me to schedule a last-minute work day for them that same week).  What was particularly aggravating to me was that they scheduled this work day months ago and confirmed  by email that they were coming only to not show up or give me notice of any kind.  Not even to cancel.  And the social worker who scheduled this felt that she wasn’t required to cancel.  I told her never to call us again.  Cathy and I went to a lot of trouble to twice get supplies for them (including checking tools out from the Rebuilding Together Tool Library) and ice water, bagels, cream cheese and jam, etc. and waited for an hour in the heat and humidity for them to show up late.  Sabrina's husband stopped by the night before on his way home from work in this heat to cut down sign posts for us.  Grr.     Who does that?  Of course, to add insult to injury, I forgot to return the tools on time (because I forgot that they were in my trunk) and ended up having to pay a late fee on top of everything else.  Sigh

Our crises du mois involved Ms. D’s cat, Cookie.  As you may recall, Ms. D died quite unexpectedly last year and her sons did not take her sweet black-and-white cat.  Her landlord tried to find it a new home without success, so soft-hearted neighbor Rose ended up taking her in a way by letting her into her house and feeding her when she could.  But Cookie had kittens two months ago and Rose could not afford to feed all of them.  Sabrina adopted a kitten and another neighbor adopted one, but that left an extremely thin Cookie and remaining thin black kitten.  Rose planned to dump them near a shelter, and Sabrina was quite distraught.  I brought Rose a bag of cat food and said I would see what I could do.  My niece volunteers at Colony Cats, which had room for them.  So, I loaned Sabrina one of my cat carriers (and both Cookie and the kitten walked right in without any coaxing or force).  However, Cookie then realized that all was not well and threw a hissing fit.  Sabrina drove them to the no-kill shelter (and Rose went with her), but Cookie refused to leave my cat carrier (which is still there).   She has been spayed and hopefully will find a forever home soon.    My niece is giving me regular updates and hopefully will liberate my cat carrier soon.
Also, when I arrived at the Garden last night to drop off some of the supplies for today's work extravaganza, I discovered to my shock and dismay that our Free Little Library had been vandalized!  Someone had pulled out each and every book and left them scattered all over the ground.  Most of them were wet and I had to throw some away.  Sigh.  Rose helped me to put them back into the Library.

Sabrina continues to try and match the number of hours that I spend at the Garden.  However, the last few weeks, she has spent most of her time next door at Kimball Farms weeding and cleaning out their vegetable beds.  She also harvested 25 pounds of produce last Saturday, which I took to Faith Mission without our weekly donation.  She’s planning to return tomorrow morning to clean out a few more beds.
Our cute groundhog continues to annoy and found my back row of sweet potatoes and all of my beefstake tomatoes.  He likes to eat half of tomato on the vine and then turn 90 degrees to eat half of the next one. Sigh.   However, while I was at St. Vincent de Paul’s pantry garden last week, I noticed that Marge had rows of plastic forks sticking out of some of the vegetable beds.  Why, I asked (as did a number of other community gardeners who were there to help unload yet another generous donation from Strader’s Garden Center to the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition).  Apparently, turned up plastic forks are a cheap and effective way to deter furry varmints, like squirrels and probably groundhogs and possums, from eating your vining crops, like squash and curbits.  I immediately planted some forks near my backyard zucchini, so my squirrels turned to eating half of my brandywine tomatoes.  Sigh.  
Another trick that Marge uses is to use floating row covers over her Fall crops to protect them from the sun and to keep the bugs from eating them.  I could have used that about 10 days ago.  I started kale seedlings to transplant into the neighbor plot, but a moth and worm found them on my patio and ate all of the seed leaves down to the stem before they got very tall.  Sigh.  So, I planted some kale in the Garden (with the thought that I’ll transplant them later when I thin them) and they have sprouted.  In the meantime, the kale neighbor bed has pretty much been picked bare.   All that being said, Marge reported that rain and sprinklers tend to run down the covers instead of though them, so she has to uncover the rows to water them and then cover them back up (which is easier said than done).
Because Kimball Farms obtained its own rain cistern a few weeks ago, they no longer needed our rain barrels.  I’ve loaned them out and returned one of them to its place behind our shed.  However, let’s face it, that blue color is pretty obnoxious, so I painted the barrel a shade of light grey that would complement our light green shed and olive turning compost bin.    I had planned to have our OSU student volunteers do it, but I was worried that I may have overloaded their agenda and couldn’t stop myself.  However, I only painted the front and let them finish the back this afternoon.
Last week, I harvested our truly pathetic potato crop so that I could make space to plant Fall crops (like spinach, lettuce, and bok choy and napa cabbage).    Everything sprouted almost immediately, but my spinach seemed to have wilted in the heat.  I’ll try again next weekend. . . . . 
Good news.  I received on Thursday morning an email from Lowe’s Home Improvement Store on Silver Drive that we had been approved for our voucher and drove over yesterday afternoon to pick up cinder blocks and landscaping stones to finish off our strawberry patch and compost bin projects, as well as some peat moss for our blueberry bushes and ammonia to scare off the groundhog.  (Soaking rags with ammonia and strategically placing them seems to be helping).   And, of course, ammonia is full of nitrogen.    I'm thinking of getting a picket fence for the east side of the Garden (if we find some more money somewhere) because our wire fence seems increasingly out of place now that we have a beautiful trellis for our front gate.  We could also add rose bushes to our front flower bed.  His concluding message was: "Never Stop Improving Your Community!"
I know our faithful readers are curious about my guerrilla gardening story from my last post (where I came upon some of my neighbors weeding other neighbors' yards in the dark for the Bexley Love Your Alley contest).   Well, knock me over with a plastic spoon.  My alley won.  However, the praise from the judges was pretty faint.  Apparently, we were the best of the Bexley alleys at having lids on our trashcans.  High praise indeed.  We had our block party last Sunday night  -- in the alley, of course – with free pizza and ice cream.

And look.  It's getting ready to rain again.  Whoo hoo!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Waiting for it to Rain on the SACG Parade

This week’s food pantry donation was so paltry that it probably didn’t even cover the cost of my gas driving to the pantry.  It was really, really pathetic.  How pathetic was it?  A couple of tomatoes and peppers, a few beans and only two bags of greens.  Like I said, pathetic.   It’s been so long since it rained that nothing is growing. Jym Ganahl is even referring it to a drought because we are more than 4 inches in rain deficit (i.e., below normal) just for the summer.   We spend hours and hours watering and that is just to keep the plants alive.  Ms. Julialynne from the Bethany Bronzeville Presbyterian Community Garden stopped by and we commiserated over how the rain clouds just pass the Near East Side by.  Our sunflowers, which are usually 10 feet high, are barely as tall as we are.  Sigh.  I can’t justify watering flowers in such situations, so I am glad that our canna lilies (that were donated by the Kossuth Community Garden) are blooming.   And, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we get at least a little bit of rain tomorrow (even if it makes most of our tomatoes burst their thick skins).  Jym’s predicting as much as two inches this week.  Maybe the Near East Side will get half of that .  . . .

The dry weather isn’t our only calamity, though.  Cathy emailed me Friday that the groundhog had
returned and wrecked havoc in her plot.  It chomped on some tomatoes, dug up some peanuts and ate much of her sweet potato vines.   Until this year, we had a gardener who owned a trap and could check it daily until we apprehended the four-legged thief, but we no longer have that luxury.  So, I conducted some internet research for possible solutions (because I had loaned all of my books on the subject to my brother-in-law, who has yet to return them).  When I arrived on Saturday, I discovered that it had also ate most of the leaves on the food pantry sweet potatoes and the leaves on my edamame.  Grrrr.  I brought some ammonia-soaked rags to strategically place around the Garden (with the thought that it might smell like predator urine) and sprinkled some Epsom salt (with the thought that it would taste bad).  We shall see.

With the promise of a cooler Saturday, I started at my normal time of 9 a.m., missed Amy, but found Sabrina already hard at work.  But she wasn’t weeding at the SACG, she was weeding the cabbage patch and squash bed at Kimball Farms next door.  She just couldn’t take walking by them anymore.  That’s a true gardener for you.  They can’t pass a weed without pulling it.  After she tended her plot, I directed her towards the overgrown brambles in one of the food pantry plots (in the hope that she might find where the gopher is entering the Garden) and she cut them back very aggressively to the fence.  No sign of the gopher gate.   Sadly, she also mistakenly cut back the beautiful clematis that Betty had planted back there a few years ago.  I’m hoping that its extensive root system helps it to recover.  But, Sabrina found enough room back there for us to possibly plant another row of something and to give Neal more room to water the tomatoes that Amy planted in June.
Stan came by to mow our lawn and then spent a lot of time digging up the weeds in the alley (between the pavement and the Garden).  What a guy.  However, I wish that he had used the broom I put in the shed a few weeks ago to sweep off the curb, etc.  Men!  His squash plant was crawling with squash bug nymphs, so I pulled it and carried it to the dumpster.  Bad. Bad. Boy.  He then pruned his tomatoes and straightened up his tomato trellises. 
I spent most of the morning watering my plot and then some extra beds.  Earlier this week, Kimball Farms received a large cistern from the City to store water and no longer needs our rain barrels.  So, I put one barrel back behind our shed and painted it a less conspicuous color on Saturday afternoon.  At Thursday’s GCGC meeting, I offered to loan a barrel to another community garden.  So, it’s going to Bethany-Bronzeville Presbyterian Church Community Garden on Garfield (behind the MLK Center).   I offered one of my extra barrels to my neighbor, but she doesn’t want it so I’m tracking down New Beginnings Community Garden on William Road, but if I can’t find her (or if she doesn’t want it), Andrew Proud has a garden which needs some help. 
Marcel and the men in her life stopped by to water.   Zion and she carried water while her husband held the baby.  We pruned her wild melon plants in order to force them to focus on the fruit.  Her beans all died and we talked about possibly starting Fall crops soon.  (Rayna planted lettuce last week). 

Speaking of beans, I am having the absolutely worse bean crop of my life.  I didn’t think it was possible.  But all of my plants are stunted and have produced virtually no beans.    I can’t blame it all on the grasshoppers either.  The only exception has been my peas and edamame.  I harvested three pounds of edamame on Saturday and froze two pounds of them to eat later. I may try some bloom buster this week to spur some flowering in my bean crop.  My asparagus beans have been stunted and many of them have been blanched (i.e., white instead of green).  It’s been sooooo weird.
Taylor was batching it this weekend and came by to water at the hottest time of the day.  I started pointing out some tall weeds in his plot (because that’s what I’m best at) and I disregarded his good advice to crop a weed and instead tried to pull it out by its roots. Sadly, I also pulled his pablano pepper plant out with it.  I tried to replant it, but it didn’t look as though it would make it.  I’ll have to dig up one of mine the next time I’m at the Garden and secretly transplant it in his plot when he’s not looking.  Sigh.  We also talked about his cauliflower, but I know virtually nothing about them because I never grow them. 
While I was painting the rain barrel to blend in with the shed, Micayla came by to water her bed and harvest more carrots.  I wish all of my neighborhood kids were that dedicated and responsible.
I have a funny guerrilla gardening story.  We usually think of guerrilla gardening as something we do in urban neighborhoods to brighten up abandoned and blighted lots.   However, as I was leaving my backyard on Friday night to catch The Force Awakens at the Great Event on Capital’s lawn, I found a couple of neighbors secretly pulling weeds in the dark from the yards of other neighbors along the alley.  You see, Saturday was Bexley’s Love Your Alley contest and the best looking alley gets a free block party from the City.  These neighbors had entered our alley, but not all of the neighbors bothered to trim their unruly bushes or pull their weeds.  I thought that this was hysterical.  It’s something that I would do.  I didn’t want to miss too much of the movie, but I went back into my garage and gave them a lawn waste bag to help them keep their activities tidy.    I don’t think it helped much.  I haven’t heard who won, but I doubt that it was us.  Sigh. 
In addition to freezing some edamame, I roasted and canned some tomatoes, whipped up some roasted tomatilla and chipotle salsa, and otherwise cooked up a storm to deal with my bumper zucchini and kale crop.  I did not, however, get around to making bread and butter pickles this weekend.  Taylor told me that Neal has been drying his hot peppers in order to turn them into a powder.  You could have knocked me over with a spoon.   So, I finally broke down and ordered a dehydrator of my own.   Now, I'll have to get cooking tips from Neal.  Stranger things have happened.

Finally, my body odor seems to attract preying mantises.  Last night, while I was chatting with a neighbor in the alley, something kept scratching the bottom of my  right leg.  I kept scratching it with my other foot.  Finally, I bent over to swat it and found a large, bright green preying mantis trying to get my attention.  I happened to have a coffee cup in my hand (don't ask) and so I swooped it in and dropped it off on my pole bean teepee to fend off my surplus Japanese beetle population.   I hope that I didn't hurt it too much when I was kicking at it.  What a sturdy insect.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fighting the Dog Days of Summer at the SACG

We are into the dog days of summer at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden and nary a rain drop in sight (with our rainfall several inches below normal this year).  The squash borers (not the bugs I complain so much about) have wiped out all but three of the squash plants in the entire Garden and, I suspect, our neighbor’s squash crop as well.  Cathy even found numerous of the borer moths mating in the raspberry bushes at Urban Connections today.  Gross.  (Never fear.  I’ve planted more summer squash and zucchini).    Most of my beans are mysteriously stunted this year, but I’ve started to harvest some edamame – which have been exceptionally prolific this year.  I’m usually not a cucumber kind of girl, but my cukes have been very productive, although Neal’s have not.  Most of my basil has died, but Neal’s is kicking butt and taking names.  Go figure.  Finally, the grasshoppers are eating the leaves off the beans (and my basil)  and I have no stray cats to hunt them down.  
As I mentioned previously, one of the neighborhood landlords chopped down a tree which contained a bee hive.  I told my neighbor, but they didn’t seem to want it.  I then ran into that landlord and asked him for it.  (I planned to use volunteers who were supposed to be coming Thursday (but then cancelled on Wednesday) to put them behind our shed for the time being).  He pulled that portion of the trunk over to the Garden by the neighbor beds while Sabrina was there.  She didn’t like leaving the bees in the sun like that and contacted someone (I think at the Bexley Boy Scouts who are tending a hive for the Bexley Community Garden).  Then, within 24 hours, Dave Nobel, the beekeeper at the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, contacted me and generously visited the SACG the following evening when I was there. He inspected the hive wearing little more than a tank top because busy bees don’t really care about people.  He pulled out some combs (pictured) and  found that the hive was pretty much dead.  There were very few bees left and the bee beetles had already invaded it.  (The larvae were eating bee pupae and otherwise creating havoc).  Baby bees were being born and were starving because there wasn’t any honey, etc.  Sigh.  It was very educational.   Then, another bee guy heard in Orient about our problem and contacted me on Thursday and also volunteered to put me in touch with Dave.   It’s nice to see so many people concerned about bees.   I found a different neighbor landlord on Saturday (who was dealing with the problem of two burst water pipes) and he hauled the log back to its breathern across the alley (because I’m too puny for such work).   What would I do without my neighborhood landlords, I ask you?

One of the neighbors pulled out half of the crops by the roots from the neighbor plot (probably because they didn’t recognize them or know how to properly harvest them).  You just pull the outer leaves; kale and collards will continue to leaf out as long as the center stem remains intact.

Last night, I grabbed a few of the neighborhood kids to coerce them to harvest their tomatoes and to weed and water their beds.  It was pretty hot, but not as humid as it has been.  Sabrina’s been coming to help me a lot the last few weeks, like she used to do when she first joined the Garden.  It’s her down time away from the men in her life.  She reported that neighbor Rose (who took in Ms. D’s beautiful black-and-white cat when she suddenly died in March 2015) now had three kittens.  Sabrina took one and someone else took another.  Rose wants to find a home for the last kitten and Ms. D’s cat (or to at least get her fixed).  I passed on information about area cat shelters, etc.  (I already have two cats and can’t take in another). 
Our food pantry donations are head of where we were this time the last two years and on pace for where we were in 2012 and 2013.  Our tomatoes have come in on time, but we have been inundated with blossom end rot and with split tomatoes from sudden rain storms following extended heat waves.   I thought that I had been watering my tomatoes enough, but apparently not. 
Our neighbor Kimball Farms just got their own 550 gallon tank, so they no longer need our rain barrels.  I took mine home and my next door neighbor may add it to her collection.  I put one behind our shed (to collect rain from that tiny gutter) and hope to paint it this weekend so that it doesn't look quite so conspicuous from Main Street).  I have no idea where we can store the last one.  Contact me if you need a rain barrel for your community garden or want to rent it for a nominal fee for your home.

We cannot finish the strawberry retaining wall without the City vouchers
As for the ongoing saga with the City trying to coerce us into weighing all of the produce from each and every plot, the Land Bank emailed us last week that they "have not received the Crop Diversity and Garden Outreach forms from many people."  What a shock.  I've told them repeatedly that it's too much work to keep track of how much we grow.  While I keep track of what we donate, I don't keep track of what I grow, let alone what the other gardeners grow.  I  often can't even get them to do their chores or weed their own plots.  Why on earth would they start keeping track of what they grow so that I can compare it to what we donate in order to report a percentage to the City? It's not like we're getting paid for any of it like real farmers and have to know the pounds, etc. in order to charge for it.    Asking us to "estimate" under those circumstances is tantamount to asking us to make up a number in order to receiving funding and that is blatant fraud.  No wonder hardly anyone has responded.  

Also, the questionnaire creates a disincentive for us to donate any food because it would be easier to say that we just keep all that we grow.  Flower gardeners don't have to report that piece at all, but still get their $250 voucher.  In fact, I turned down a donation of wildflower seeds because it would be too hard to estimate what flowers we are growing with a wildflower mix, n'est pas?  With all of the hot, unpaid, dirty work that we do, we should not be treated like this.   I don't think that someone who has no actual community gardening experience should be able to blackmail us like this.  But that's just my humble opinion.  I certainly don't want to imply that I think these people are evil; just seriously delusional. Anyway, Keep Columbus Beautiful (which is part of the City) helped us out last week by donating a stack of lawn waste bags so that we can cut back our spreading raspberry brambles.  KCB also has extensive gardening supplies for anyone who may need something (like seeds or fertilizer, etc.).
Finally, the canna lilies which the Kossuth Community Garden donated to us in June are starting to bloom.  Whoo hoo!