Tuesday, June 12, 2012

There’s No Joy in Dustville

As most of you know, much of Central Ohio is experiencing a drought. The Stoddart Avenue Community Garden has received less than an inch of rain in more than a month. On Sunday, we had exhausted the water in our tank and rain barrels. Not only is our garden thirstier than normal because of the abnormally high temperatures, but thieves have been siphoning off our water into large containers that are ferried to and from the SACG in grocery carts very early in the morning. Although we received almost half an inch of rain yesterday, our barrels did not receive any (for the second rain in a row) because this time someone who had tipped the lead barrel to get the water in the very bottom forgot to reconnect the downspout before he left. Happily, the tank captured enough to get us through the next week (as long as too much is not stolen in the meantime).

I feel like I am living in the far west about to enter an open-range water war against people who are desperate or slimy enough to steal dirty rain water. On Sundays, I posted stickers on the tank and rain barrels warning our grocery-cart thieves that the unfiltered water is unsafe to drink and is for the sole use of the SACG. (Remember folks, the rain washes pollution and bird poop off the roof and goes right into the tank).  Sadly, homeless men also have been seen bathing and washing clothes with our barrel rain water, but I cannot bring myself to object strongly to that.  Nonetheless, without that water, we have no way of watering the neighbor plots along the alley, the food pantry plots or our four new cherry trees (which need five gallons each week). While the SACG gardeners know that they might have to bring water from home to water their own plots, I can’t legitimately require them to bring water for the flower beds, the neighbor plots, the cherry trees, or the common or food pantry plots. Thus, we need the water in our tank and barrels or those plants will die.

When I realized three weeks ago that we were about to run out of water, I called Leslie Strader at the City. I knew that she had been researching our options last year. She stopped working on this project when we received rain a couple times each week, making 2011 the wettest on record in Central Ohio. I asked her to update her research and she reported that the City would supply the SACG with water from a street sweeper truck if I could find another three community gardens to join and we each paid $115. I explained that was prohibitively expensive and she suggested that I contact Rain Brothers (who has not called me back in two weeks). [Editor's Note:  Rain Brothers has since gotten back to me that their water delivery business has been swamped and are booked at least two weeks in advance.  They charge $120 for delivery of 600 gallons of water].   I could only find two other community gardens in a similar hardship because other gardens pay for City water. Morrison Hill is also getting a tank and has a little funding, but I did not tell them it would cost $115. Growing Hearts and Hands, like us, cannot afford $115, but luckily has two neighbors willing to share their garden hoses. I’ve calculated that 350 gallons of water at Bexley rates (which are higher than City rates) would cost around $55. Union rules preclude the City from asking the Fire Department to empty a truck at a community garden.

Our SACG gardeners have coped in different ways. Root Barb planted succulents in the Fairy Garden which do not need much water. Beth is letting nature take its course. Barb and Frank delayed planting anything until last week in the hope that it would start raining at some point. Charlie created a volcanic hill for each seedling and planted each seedling in the crater in order to catch any water runoff. (I think he is also watering pretty frequently). His plants look fabulous. James had placed a gallon jug of water next to each plant and let the water leak out slowly through a hole in the bottom corner. You can’t argue with success because his tomatoes and okra are very green and thick. Thanks to Epworth United Methodist Church's recycling program and Sharon from the Knitwits at Christ Lutheran Church, I last week planted water bottles next to tomatoes, pumpkins and watermelon in my, the neighbor and food pantry plots and poked holes in the bottom and side in order to water the roots slowly. (The new seedlings planted without a water bottle died in one day in last weekend’s heat). About five of us have put down thick layers of straw mulch (donated by Rayna and Cathy). It ain’t pretty, any way you look at it.

On the plus side, the drought is equally tough on weeds and there are no weeds in the plots which were hoed at the beginning of May. For those who didn’t hoe in a timely fashion, the ground is hard as a rock and it has become seriously difficult to hoe in this environment. We have had one such new gardener officially throw in the towel.

We started our youth program on June 4 and all of the kids wanted to plant carrots and watermelon. To solve the problem of germinating seeds, we used a trick I read about in a Virginia newspaper a couple of years ago. After planting and watering in the seeds, we covered the rows with boards in order to slow the rate of evaporation. We still watered a couple of times each week and checked under the boards every three days. Last night, we achieved success. The seedlings emerged after only one week. We removed the boards and let the new carrots soak in the light rain. The watermelon has been a bit tougher. The seedlings are hanging in there (because most of the kids are better about watering than the adults). However, the seeds have not been able to stay moist long enough to germinate. (I am surreptitiously starting watermelon seeds at home where I can water them daily and then they will magically appear where the seeds were planted. I have no shame.).

[Editor's Note:  The Dispatch recently ran a story about how the lack of rain is adversely affecting farmers, and thus, future food prices].

As I explained to Leslie, I think our only real option is to increase our storage capacity so that we can survive lengthy dry spells.  In the meantime, we desparately need donations of empty half-gallon, liter, quart and half-liter plastic bottles which we can plant next to tomatoes, melons, peppers and squash in order to economically water our plants.  The 16 ounce bottles we retrieved from the recycling bin are really too small and require us to still water the plants more than once each week.

So, please say a prayer each night for more rain and consider contributing to our rain barrel collection. We are at least three or four inches of rain behind schedule, but even one more inch will fill our tank and barrels for another three weeks. I am behind planting flowers in the beds and they don’t have a chance without more rain. Then, there is the subject of my rows and rows of beans, our three rows of thirsty corn, our greens and our cabbage.

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