Monday, October 24, 2016

Leaving Havoc and Devastation in Their Wake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

Crawling Our Way to Season’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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