Friday, May 19, 2017

On a Planting Sprint

After waiting out the frost warnings, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden is really getting down to business with a plantingpalooza I was there until after 6 p.m. last Saturday planting tomatoes, peppers and beans.  I had set up trellises the week before so that I could focus on the planting.   Sabrina and Amy were there too getting their planting groove on as well.   In the meantime, I’ve been getting lots of help as well, which frees up time for me to address other issues (and get some yard work done at home).  Our strawberries are in season and I never stop by without grabbing a couple to keep my blood sugar up.  Of course, it stopped raining.

Amy brought her friend Sarah with her last week.  After weeding her plot and planting some tomatoes, they planted three rows of bush beans in a food pantry plot, improved the soil in another food pantry plot and planted two rows of lettuce (because my two prior attempts in that location have failed – unlike the lettuce I planted in Rayna’s old plot).   Sabrina also helped with some watering and on Wednesday put in another three rows of corn.  The corn we planted a few weeks ago is only now starting to poke through the soil and I fear that I might have planted the seeds too deep.  Sabrina decided to put some manure in the bottom of each furrow to help the corn along.

After they left, I continued planting in my plot and  -- nine years after breaking ground – came upon yet another partial cinder block.   Sabrina had similarly found a large piece of debris in her plot that same morning and had broken an old shovel while trying to dislodge it.  I really wanted to avoid breaking another shovel because we only have to or three left in the shed.  I dug and dug and dug.  I took a break and watered some seedlings and dug some more.  It was attached to another cinder block with rebar.  Groan.  I dug some more and watered some more.  After an hour, I had reached my limit, but didn’t want to plant a pepper plant on top of this cement block. 

When I gentleman sauntered by on his bicycle, I yelled out:  Are you a big strong man?  Of course, he said.  So I asked him to help me dig out this nightmare.  In about five minutes James had tripled the size of the crater in my plot.  I had to move the pepper seedlings and hope that the leeks and chard seedlings that he stepped on would recover.  However, despite digging such a large hole, we still could not find the end of the rebar.   He asked for a hammer and I gave him my garden hammer (which I found literally in the intersection of Main Street and James Road about 10 years ago) and he pounded the cement off the rebar and then pounded the rebar flat.   He was very complimentary of our soil in the meantime.   I never carry cash to the Garden, but he declined our fruit and greens.  Thank you James.

I also had to mow the lawn because the gardeners assigned that task in May still had not mowed even once this month.  Needless to say, I expelled them from our Garden of Eden  (although one of them later told Sabrina that he was still a member).  Slackers need not apply.   We were supposed to have two new gardeners come on Saturday to put in their work equity for a plot and I had hoped that one of them would mow.   Not surprisingly, not many people think that volunteering for three hours is worth it to join a community garden and they didn't show up.  Too many folks expect me to spoon feed them and make it easy as pie even if it means that I do all of the work.  Sigh.    While I mowed, I discovered that a mysterious angel had already been there and edged around the trees, blueberry bushes and flower beds.  Wow.  That was unexpected.  This person also topped off our compost bins with grass clippings.    Yea!   After asking around, I discovered that it was our Board member, Ken. 
While taking a short rest break, I stopped by Kimball Farms next store.  Pastor Brown and a younger man were trying to do some weeding in advance of an inspection by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank the following Monday for their plans to build a hoop  house (aka high tunnel) behind the ministry house.   (The MOFB  announced at the Conservatory's We Dig Ohio! conference a few months ago that it had secured a block grant from the USDA to support urban agriculture and community gardening.) They didn’t get very far.  Someone had donated several flats of seedlings, but they never made it off the picnic table.    He told me that they had been focusing on their other community garden a few blocks away.  But, best of all they have a contract with Saba foods in Upper Arlington to raise and sell dandelion greens.    Really? I said, I know where you can get a lot of dandelion greens and gestured towards the vacant block watch lot behind us.   He explained that those were too bitter and these were a special variety. 

After they left, I wondered by again while getting water and saw that the resident groundhog was munching away on a dandelion in one of their long raised beds.  When I approached it to see just what it was eating, it bounded across the other raised beds like it was running a hurdle track meet.    Anyone who thinks that raised beds will deter groundhogs from eating their produce hasn’t seen how easily this fellow leaps up and across them.    I didn’t realize that they could move quite so quickly.  Before I left, I added more bricks and stones to plug the holes under the chain link fence separating the SACG from Kimball Farms and that groundhog.  I need to add some chicken wire under the gate, too.
I’ve been extremely happy with my groundcovers.  I read about them in gardening books as really the only effective organic deterrent for insects.  Marge at St. Vincent de Paul’s garden was using them for their greens and I started using them last Fall.  They protect a late lettuce crop from bolting on hot days and keep moths from laying caterpillar worms to eat the kale and cabbage.   Every plot that I covered this Spring has doubled in size within the week and there has been much less insect damage.  I don’t pin the sides because it takes too long to uncover the plots to water and inspect them.   Instead, I hold down the sides with broken bricks and other debris that we continue to dig out of the Garden.   I doubt that the groundhog will mess with it if he crawls under the gate.  Sabrina wants to get some now too, but they didn’t have any at Lowe’s.  I bought mine through (which donates a freakishly small portion of our purchases to the SACG). Agribon AG-19 Floating Row Crop Cover / Frost Blanket / Garden Fabric Plant Cover cost essentially $17 for an 83”x25’.  They can be easily cut down.  What I really like about them, too, is that they are so light that you do  not need any pvc supports as the plants get  taller.  I plan to also use them to cover my zucchini crop to keep the borers from laying eggs in the stems, etc.  Sadly, you cannot leave the row covers on squash once they start to flower unless you want to pollinate the flowers by hand . . . .  At some point, they will have to fight the bugs themselves.

Our capital improvement project this summer is to put a pretty picket fence in front of  wire fence that we installed in 2009.   We’ll keep the wire fence in place to deter critters and act as a bean trellis, etc.  The City of Columbus has arranged for us to receive $200 of free materials from the Lowe’s at Hudson and Silver Avenue.  Doug, the Manager of Lowes, also arranged for another extraordinary discount on top of that so that we could get virtually all of the materials that we’ll need without eating too much into our limited funds.   Ideally, I’d like to add a wrought iron fence, but that would cost almost twice as much.  Ken took the lead by picking out and pricing the materials that we would need.  He’s going to pick them up later today and then another Board member is helping us to store them until we can get it built.  I’ve had to explain to Ken that we’ll be building and painting it in stages because we never get volunteers for more than three hours at a time.   First, we’ll need to dig the post holes and set the posts before the flowers get much taller.  I don’t want to kill more sunflowers than we have too.  (The mint, on the other hand, cannot be killed even when we try).  We’ll probably build and paint each 8-foot section and then either hang them all at once or as we complete each section.  The south side of the Garden needs 25-feet worth of fence, but the north side only needs 20-feet. So, if you want to help us build and/or paint our picket fence, please contact me as soon as possible.

Our daisies are in bloom and the new gardeners are going gaga for them  (like everyone else).  I didn’t let them take over the entire Garden this year because they look so awful when their season is finished.   Everyone one wants to take some home, but I’ve had to explain that when you cut them, then no one else can enjoy them.  And then I would have to police who gets to pick flowers, how many they get and how often they get them.  I’m not interested in doing that.  Just leave them be please and grow some in your own plot like I do.    It’s time for the first pruning/cut back of the asters.  Everything is growing faster this year because of the unseasonable heat we’ve had.  To keep them from getting too tall, you can and should prune asters back in half in May, June and maybe even July.  This will promote bushiness.  Otherwise, they get awfully tall and floppy (not like they look at all when you buy them in Fall containers). 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rainy Days and Good Neighbors

I am NOT going to complain about the almost ceaseless rain the last few days.  We need it and every amount that we receive over an inch each week makes everything almost double in size.  Unlike some community gardens, we have great drainage at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden and so, no standing water.   But while my lettuce and kale are growing gangbusters, so are the weeds.  Therefore, you can appreciate my delight when Cathy from Urban Connections emailed me on Tuesday asking if we’d like some help on Thursday evening.  Their middle school group meets every Thursday evening for dinner, Bible study, tutoring and fun and, this week, needed to earn community service points in order to go play Laser Tag on Saturday (today).  

As I reported last week, our next door neighbors (including Isaias) spent Sunday cleaning up their side of the alley by pulling weeds and sweeping, etc.  The utility company then made a mess of their work by digging down to a gas or water line and blocking the alley for the rest of the week.  I had congratulated my neighbors on their work and encouraged them to pull the weed growing on the SACG side of the alley, but they just laughed.  So, I told Cathy that the UC kids could weed the alley.  Of course, it threatened to rain.

In the meantime, Pastor Nick from Life Church asked me to track down some discounts for soil (or “dirt” as he called it) for the raised beds that they built on Sunday.    The Conservatory was able to make a donation that might fill a bed or two.  “Sweet” says Nick.  I also called Leigh Anne at The Miracle Garden in Linden, who has her own super connections to Kurtz Brothers.  Leigh Anne was a bit tied up when I spoke to her.  She was out in the rain helping to clean up an alley.  (I’ll be right there with you, sister, Thursday evening, but I cannot believe that you’re out there in the rain.)  When I spoke to her later, she told me that she was on crutches.  That must have been some clean-up.  She wanted me to know (and to share with everyone) that the Miracle Garden will be opening a farmer’s market and has been approved for an EBT machine.   Any other community garden is welcome to sell their produce at their Farmer’s Market.  If you have a long 8x8 table, it will cost $10 and a simple card table will be $5.  (You can call her at 202-3227 to get all of the details, dates, times and place and make sure that I got the  details correct).   While I’m on the subject of earned income, GCGC President Charles Nabrit also shared that OSU is looking to purchase fresh produce (CSA style) from local urban farms.   After I spoke with Jeff, Kurtz Bros made a generous offer to Life Church as well and I’m sure that Nick is trying to figure out how to respond to all of this good will so that his flock can start planting next weekend.

On Wednesday evening, I headed over to the SACG to weed and possibly cover more food pantry plots with row covers that I purchased.  I decided to first weed the back third of Rayna’s old plot and plant another couple of rows of lettuce before it started to rain again.  While I did that, Sabrina showed up with lumber to build herself a potato box in her plot.  She decided to start, however, by weeding the rest of Rayna’s old plot to plant three rows of corn before it started raining again.  I helped a little.  Mostly, I chatted with Cathy who stopped by to report that Micayla’s family was going to move to Mississippi. OH NO!!!!  (But, I later discovered it was a false alarm because they have changed their minds).  We also debated how to plant the corn (in lateral rows or long rows).  After a couple more weeks, we’ll plant some more corn (so that it does not ripen all at once).  And we’ll interplant some pole beans (once the corn is tall enough to support it).  And then we’ll plant some squash.  Cathy and I thought that the “three sisters” involved zucchini, but Sabrina thought that it meant winter squash.  She’s in charge, so we’re leaving it to her to decide what to do.   As soon as she finished disposing of the weeds and planting, it was getting dark and we turned to building her potato box.  I’ve stripped screws before, but never a screw bit before Wednesday.  Oh well.  And, on top of everything, someone hit Sabrina’s car while driving down Stoddart.  Luckily, a neighbor knew the driver and gave me his telephone number to get Sabrina paid to repair the damage to her bumper.  Good neighbors are good to have.  '
Our daisies are starting to pop and our chives are in full flower.  I also discovered that the "annual" salvia that I planted I the south flower bed is coming back.  I don't know if I was wrong about the salvia (which makes me regret pulling any of it out at the end of the season) or whether our winter was really that mild.  I did not expect to have anything return, so this is a pleasant surprise.

Anyway, the rain slacked off a bit on Thursday evening.  I headed over early and decided to transplant some lettuce from my plot into the neighbor plot before the kids arrived (if they worked at all since it was drizzling).  They saw me from the UC House and came right over.   One crew weeded along the alley, between and behind the compost bins.  I discovered that poison ivy had returned behind one of the neighbor beds and so warned them away from that spot.  (Another thing for me to address when it gets warmer and I bring some round up over).

We set another crew on the vacant (soon to be food pantry plots) inside the fence.  This gave me the opportunity to show them how to use the stirrup hoe (which works a bit like a vacuum cleaner).  One gentleman weeded in and around the raised beds.  Chris and another young man weeded two center beds.  Then, when the alley crew finished early, they came and weeded a third vacant plot.    They were supervised by Cathy and April, who was a UC kid a decade ago and now has her four children in the program.  (There’s nothing to make you feel old than having kids that you used to mentor return with children of their own).

It’s been too cold to plant the flats of tomatoes and peppers that I started from seed in February.  I returned a flat of herbs, marigolds and eggplant to my basement growing station (shelves with hanging grow lights).  However, my remaining tomato, tomatillo and pepper seedlings are too tall to return there.  I’ve kept them in a shelves that I cover with ripped plastic, but have recently started pushing it into my garage at night when the temperatures dip into the low 40’s and high 30’s.   I had transplanted some of them into larger containers (with compost) to keep them from getting root bound.  I hope that I can get them planted next Saturday.  Today, I plan to set up my trellises to save time next week during planting. 

When I finally get there this morning, I should probably also plan on thinning the row of turnips that I planted in the first food pantry plot.  I don’t eat turnips, but they are pretty and create lots of greens.  They also sprout very, very quickly.   I planted a row of beets next to them and they grow much more slowly.   At least I will not have to water.  Because we do not have running water and have to water each plant by hand with a watering can, it takes soooo much longer to garden on watering days than on weeding days.

Urban Connections is also busy today partnering with other agencies to spruce up nearby Fairwood Elementary School.  I hope to make it a short day, which is very strange for Derby Day (traditionally one of my longest gardening days of the year).  Even if it is cold and blustery, at least it will be dry and sunny;-)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Rain Delay

We had a rain day at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden on Saturday.   After going three straight weeks without at least an inch of rain per week, we’ve received over three inches in just four days.  (This reminds me of our dry months last year when we would receive an entire month’s rain in the last few days of the month).  After having May weather in April, we’re now having March weather in May.  Go figure.   I have trays and trays of seedlings in my patio portable greenhouse that are too tall to return to my basement grow station (with grow lights), but too tender to stay outside indefinitely in this weather.   I may have to move the greenhouse to the garage in the evenings. 

Tree pollen season is back upon us and our friendly downspouts are again clogging on schedule.  Despite 2.3 inches of rain before yesterday, our big tank was only half full when I checked it on Sunday because the downspout drain was again clogged.   After unclogging it, I checked the other downspout, which was ok and the tall tank seemed to be full.  However, with our neighbor now having its own large tank near our tall tank, it is a challenge to check that downspout with my ladder.  The oak pollen clogged my own downspout and had covered my lawn and patio.  My neighbor is blaming it for coloring her concrete.  Sigh.   I took some photos, where you can see it (even though the winds had bunched it more together than it had been a few days earlier).  When the black walnut tree next door starts to pollinate, we can count on having to unclog our downspouts at the Garden on a weekly basis until it dissolves.

On Wednesday, I weeded my own plot a bit (which I’m sure that my gardeners think is well overdue).   Our speakers last fall at the meetings of the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition have been preaching the importance of soil microbes.  We spend a lot of time feeding our plants (with fertilizer), but they also need living soil and those microrganisms need something to eat during our non-growing season.  This is one of the reasons farmers plants cover crops in the Fall to overwinter a field or garden. It’s also one of the reasons to cut your spent plants off at the lower stem instead of pulling it out by its roots.  (Another reason is to minimize erosion when the soil is unprotected from the wind).   Those roots give the soil something to snack on over the winter and this is as important as the soil nutrients.   Remember how disappointed I was that Marcel had pulled out all of the roots we had left behind on closing day?  Well, she knew better than to touch my plot.  In addition to leaving behind stems and some fall crops (like kale and leeks), in October I had planted 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.  The speakers also advocated no-till farming (which only Sabrina practices at the SACG).

 I also let chickweed take over my plot.  It has shallow roots, dies back when it gets hot and does not get very tall.  I figure, it can’t hurt and it keeps the soil in place (instead of blowing away when it’s unprotected).  Chickweed got its name because chickens eat it in the winter when everything else has died.  OSU did a nice blog post on it a few weeks ago.   I roll it up as I do my spring planting to make room for new seeds and seedlings. 

I also mowed the lawn again.  One of our new gardeners has been ignoring my weekly updates and even the email I sent with all of our lock combinations.  He argued that I only sent him some of the combinations and not the one for the tank.  Sadly for him, everyone got the same email and no one else has had any problems.  (Unlike him, they took my advice to write them down before they forgot them).   And we haven’t locked the tanks in a few years.  I’m annoyed that he’s too lazy to even try the combinations he already has before complaining and blaming me for his poor character.  I sent him the combinations again and now -- even though he has spent no more than 4 hours in his entire life volunteering at the SACG --  he’s been calling me names by email and won't let it go.  Just random thoughts.  As someone observed to me about her own brother on Sunday:  he lives in the present and tends to get stuck there.  Considering that we only have two rules at the SACG and one of them is not to annoy me or cause problems for me, I don’t think he’s going to be long for the SACG.  We’ll see if he performs his assigned weekly chore this week.   The Garden’s mentally and physically exhausting enough without having to deal with high maintenance drama queens like this.  Mother Nature is the only drama queen I can accommodate.

I also photographed our blueberry bushes, which were also in flower.  I can only hope that we get as many blueberries as they had flowers because half of them were looking fantastic.  The other half, not so much.   Rayna’s been concerned about them.  When I was getting ready for opening day, I discovered that someone had thrown a heavy landscaping stone onto one of the bushes.  Why?!  What could that bush have done to deserve it?!  It doesn’t have thorns.  Gee whiz. 

I had planned to weed on Saturday and dig up some of our overpopulation of dandelions.  Even though Phil Kelly kept insisting that it wasn’t going to rain on the half-marathon on Saturday (during live newscasts no less), the Accuweather radar was clearly showing a significant storm barreling down on us.   Even though a lot of storms bypass us entirely, I decided to trust the radar over a biased tv weatherman whose station was co-sponsoring a big event downtown.  I’m glad that I did so because it started pouring shortly after I would have arrived. 
It apparently dried out enough on Sunday for the SACG's neighbors to get their landscaping groove on.  When I stopped by to check on the downspouts and mow our lawn (again), I discovered that several of them had focused on Cherry Street (our alley).  The folks across the street pulled weeds and edged it.  Our next door neighbors similarly pulled weeds and edged it.  They asked me how far I thought they could push into the alley . . . maybe they are considering creating their own curb like ours and planting flowers along side their sidewalk.  I took photos of them working and rewarded them with Earth Day Columbus Volunteer Rewards.  (Isn't April 30 Arbor Day anyway)?   I also encouraged them to pull the weeds growing outside our curb on our side of the alley.  They just laughed.   A girl can dream . . . .

Despite my invitation for them to join us (and my warning about its abundant population of deer and groundhogs), Life Vineyard Church has decided to build its own community garden near Alum Creek and Main Street – just a couple blocks southeast from the SACG.   My, what a difference money makes.  When we broke ground at the SACG, we had $200 donated by Thrivent for Lutherans.   I had to get everything else donated or pay for it out of my own pocket.  We were blessed to have gotten donated compost from Kurtz Brothers, fence from Home Depot, cedar from Trudeau Fence and Bowden fence (which we used to cut into stakes and to build our front and back gates), seeds from the old Livingston Seed Company, wood chips from Wright’s Tree Service, four rain barrels from Rain Brothers (which were later upgraded by the City to two giant rain cisterns), and the compost delivery fee from Dublin attorney Christopher Hogan, etc.  We dug all of our fence posts by hand with shovels.  Pastor Nick rented an auger and purchased all kinds of lumber and wire fencing.   Local Matters help him build the beds (with lots of labor help from the very handy men in the congregation).  In a few short hours, the field went from being empty to the construction of a fabulous fence surrounding 12 raised beds.   (Those beds could have been filled by dirt if the women had wheelbarrows and soil to fill them while the men built the fence, but we lent moral support).  

Nick even had fencing to put in the bottom of each bed to keep critters from burrowing up into them, but I didn’t see that as much of a risk.  He realizes that deer can still jump in if they want, but who wants to build a 10 foot fence (other than Grace Church on Shady Lane)?   I saw that they could use a gate and offered them our wonderful nine-year old front gate (which was replaced last year by our lovely new trellis).   I could tell that they were a bit underwhelmed by its age and lacked my sentimental attachment to it.  I encouraged them to remove the top trellis (and one guy suggested maybe just replacing the top trellis).   He really just wanted to paint it a bright color, which made me shudder.  The hardware was also starting to rust, so I have a feeling that they will replace the hardware, remove/replace the top trellis section and powerwash it before they install it. 

Instead of digging a trench and burying the wire fence a foot down (to discourage groundhogs), I convinced Nick that it would be easier to bury the fence in donated wood chips.  It would also help with edging.   (Granted, soil would do the same thing and then could be used to support flower beds, but I have my doubts that the deer population would leave the flowers alone and soil is more expensive than donated chips).  We’ve never had a trouble with groundhogs burrowing under our fence (which we also supported by lining up bricks along both sides of it which we had dug out of our lot), but we do not have anywhere near the number of grounhogs that live along Alum Creek.

And Nick fed everyone with Donatos pizza and had a cement mixer there to pour into all of the fence post holes.  (We aren’t allowed to use cement at the SACG per the terms of our City lease and as faithful readers know, this has made it challenging to keep the fence posts upright at times).     I never got to use my saw or any of my power tools.   The other men had much better tools anyway and lots of electricity.  And, as Nick likes to rub it in, they have running water, too.   But, as I told him, we have more space and bigger plots.   Much bigger plots.  I also rewarded Nick and his volunteers with Earth Day Columbus volunteer rewards (since not all of my volunteers showed up for our cold Earth Day earlier in the month).

I should mention how nice it was to just hang with the other ladies and not be in charge and running around like a chicken with my head cut off making sure that forward momentum continued on several fronts while all of the volunteers were there. Unlike Nick, I aslso didn't have to spend Monday returning all of the rentals and loaners.  I could just go home and sip my chardonnay.
I had hoped to start planting peppers this week, but I think I will have to wait another week for the weather to warm up.  If it dries out a bit, we might weed the vacant plots this Saturday and prepare to plant corn in Rayna’s old plot (to be followed by pole beans and zucchini).    I have resorted to using row covers for my cold crops because the flea beetles have been eating them something fierce and the moths/caterpillars aren’t far behind.   I even bought some extra to also cover the two food pantry plots where we’re growing the popular kale and collards).    They don’t really flower, so I don’t have to remove them to make way for bees like I will for the squash.  I’m just wondering if I anchored them well enough for this wind when I only used a few bricks . . . . . .