Sunday, May 9, 2010

BTBO Raised Bed Project Makes Great Progress on Blustery Weekend

On a chilly and blustery day in Columbus, several volunteers from Build The Bridge of Ohio joined me to build raised vegetable garden beds at homes operated by BTBO to help ex-offenders reacclimate to society. Although we got off to a rocky start, we eventually completed four of the seven raised beds yesterday before 3pm. Randy had helped me on a sunny day 10 days ago scout locations for the beds.

Charles and I worked on constructing the frames (made from cedar wood). For the 6x4 beds the SACG built behind the BTBO offices last month, we used one-inch cedar boards (which can be pretty expensive). Including the cost of the 20 bags of top soil, those beds ran about $60/each. However, for these beds, we used much less expensive cedar fence boards (which are only 3/4 inch thick) and only cost about $2.50/each at Sutherlands (compared to $18 for similar one-inch cedar boards). They also only needed about 10 bags of top soil (and then we filled the beds to the top with bulk compost purchased from Kurtz Brother for $18 per pickup truck load). This adjustment in the lumber cut the cost of the beds in half and only reduced the size by a few inches. Granted, the thinner beds won't last as long, but the cost savings was worth it under the circumstances.

To join the sides, we cut down cedar 2x4 boards donated last year by Trudeau Fencing and Bowden fencing. We put these 6 inch cedar 2x4s at each corner and screwed the fence boards to them. We also sometimes used metal L-braces to reinforce the corners.

Next, I put down a thick layer of newspapers (with some help from Ms. Anthony and collected by Betty) in order to keep the existing grass from growing up through the soil and compost. Then, Orlando, Veronica and/or Scott, helped spread the top soil and compost into the bed and Charles spread wood chips around the outside of the beds to keep down the future weeds. Finally, I planted some seeds (beans, lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, zucchini, squash, & cucumbers) and Scott watered them in. Next week, we'll also plant some seedlings (which was too dangerous this weekend with the low night-time temperatures and frost warnings).

I was concerned about the available sunlight the beds would receive. At one location, Orlando climbed up into the trees to cut down some branches that might block sun from the western sky. Orlando has the gift of finding humor in any situation -- like when two neighboring, quiet and obedient pit bull dogs stopped by to check us out -- and this became one of the funniest parts of our adventure. For instance, there was some discussion about whether his saw was a hack saw or a buck saw, but we ultimately decided it was his saw and he could call it whatever he liked.

Four down; three to go.

BTBO is a faith-based, prison re-entry, non-profit organization which provides housing, employment and life skills services to ex-offenders being released from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC) and placed on parole or post-release control (PRC). BTBO’s services assist ex-offenders to find housing, improve life and conflict resolution skills, obtain employment and establish credit so that they can transition from prison into productive and taxpaying members of society and not return to homelessness or their criminal past. BTBO also provides its clients with clothing, food baskets, referrals for food stamps, Bible classes, mentors, and referrals to other social services and agencies (like health care, mental health counseling, literacy assistance, etc.). None of BTBO’s housing services are offered near the SACG, but BTBO provides employment training, job referral services and life skills training at its Main Street office. All BTBO clients are required to remain drug-free as a condition of its program.

Funding for the raised bed project came from the grant we received from the Scotts Miracle-Gro Fund at the Columbus Foundation.

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