Sunday, September 13, 2015

Crus-in to Help

Fall weather has arrived at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden and so has Capital University’s Day of Service.  Six Capital Crusaders – a/k/a Crus –arrived to slay our outstanding projects and help with our weekly food pantry harvest.  Coincidentally, the Crusader’s Day of Service coincided with the National Day of Service (on 9-11) and the United Way’s week-long Volunteer Challenge.  Saturday was also the annual Pick-It-Up Litter Remediation Campaign supported by Keep Columbus Beautiful.

Because Friday started out so beautifully and it was supposed to rain, I drove over to the Garden late in the afternoon to clear places for Fall planting (of lettuce, kale, broccoli, spinach, etc).  I weeded some patches, cultivated the soil and transplanted some collard greens into the neighbor bed before it started to rain.  We received .7 inches overnight.

When Saturday started, it was nippy and rainy. I hadn’t heard from Cap since I begged them last week to send us some students for their annual Day of Service.   The six sorority girls who helped us last year accomplished a lot, which makes it possible for me to address higher-skill gardening issues. I figured that no one wanted to come on a chilly and rainy morning, but I wore my purple and green rugby shirt (just in case).  I almost delayed my arrival because there didn’t seem to be a point in rushing over on a dreary Saturday morning.  As it was, instead of my usual sausage pancake on a stick, I decided to have a gourmet breakfast of an egg over easy in a red bell  pepper hole with English muffins topped with my homemade strawberry-balsamic-thyme jam and hot hazelnut coffee.   I was very, very sad as I drove by Capital and up to the Garden.  I put on my wellies (because of the mud) and unlocked the gate when a SUV pulled up and six very energetic and engaged college students popped out.  Oh dear, I said.  If I had known you were coming, I would have baked you brownies last night.  I would have brought extra tools.  Yikes.

I say “engaged” because that is the theme of this year’s Day of Service at Capital University.  They even had shirts which said so.    I gave them a brief tour of the Garden and described the various projects from which they could choose.  Luckily, we had three strong guys to finish the curb project and then they turned to improving our new neighbor bed, weeding along the alley and weeding our strawberry patch.  The ladies helped with weeding the fences and paths, picking up litter, mowing, pruning, planting, transplanting and harvesting.

I explained that our raspberry bushes and paths were being choked to death by bind weed, -- the Midwestern version of southern kudzu.  Barb’s hairdresser last year asked her what weed was covering our fences because it is pretty obvious from East Main Street. The weeds are that bad.  They pull down sunflowers and tomato trellises.    I didn’t need our volunteers to delicately pull each bindweed leaf off of the fences or the bushes.  Just yank them in large swaths and pull out their roots (when they are choking flowers in the southern flower bed).  When the vine is separated from its root, it dies.   I told them to leave the weeds in massive piles which we’ll gather at the end of the day.  And to it they went. 

One of the ladies – Hannah – was extremely excited to be helping.  She chatted a lot and asked lots of questions.    After weeding around the southern flower bed and after the grass dried a bit, she expressed interest in mowing our lawn.  Her father never let her mow her own lawn, so this would be a new experience for her (as it was for our former WEP volunteer, Ezra).   She enjoyed it so much that she wanted to continue mowing the block watch lot next door, although Barb or Frank has clearly already recently mowed it.  Instead, I gave her my large pruners and set her to taming the weed trees and poison ivy in the block watch lot across the street.  When she finished that, she took great pleasure in our sun flowers and took lots of artsy photos of them (as I often do each week as well).   Hannah is an active member of Cru –(f/k/a Campus Crusade as it was known when I was in college back in the day).   Cru is apparently not an acronym.  It can be confusing in Central Ohio to introduce yourself as part of Cru because we have the Columbus Crew soccer team, there are crew (rowing) teams and the Capital Crusaders are also sometimes called Cru.

The gentlemen finished our curb project in no time. It had been started (and half-way completed) by a similar female volunteer group from OSU a couple of weeks earlier.  I explained that I wanted to extend the curb the Buckeyes constructed east to the edge of our strawberry patch (which involved pulling a LOT of mint and clearing earth to make a flat surface).  Because we still had stones (generously donated by GreenScapes Landscaping Service) remaining, I expressed a desire to also extend the curb westward along the compost bins.  This also involved digging out a flat surface (which was a challenge since some of the former sidewalk was still there).  Then, they raised the northern edge of our new neighbor bed (to keep dogs from relieving themselves on the vegetables).  When that met my approval, they weeded the area and the strawberry patch and bagged all of the weeds which had been piled up around the Garden.   Unlike our OSU “surveyors,” I had to spend virtually no time supervising or coaching them.  I just explained what we needed to have done and then they did it.   After they finished our new curb, several neighbors commented on the improvement.   I could not be more excited.
We were visited by Deanna (who is in charge of Capital’s office of student and community engagement) and her crew to take pictures.  She encouraged me to contact her for additional volunteers throughout the academic year because Capital’s students love volunteering at community gardens.   Another group of Crusaders was walking by on East Main Street picking up litter (as part of KCB’s Pick-It-Up campaign) and stopped by for a gander of what we were doing. 
One of our female volunteers then offered to pick up litter around the Garden and Block Watch lots.  She didn’t find much (probably because we had six Buckeyes picking up litter in the area two weeks earlier).   I then tasked two of the ladies with planting for our fall harvest.  They transplanted some lettuce seedlings (which I had taken from my plot while thinning), and then planted a half-row of broccoli and a few rows of other Fall crops (which I neglected to have them identify for me).  When they finished with that, I had them start our weekly food pantry harvest.  One of the guys then joined them in picking beans (although they did a good job of hiding from him).  I had cautioned him to beware of our praying mantis in the bean trellis and he almost fell over when it jumped out at him.  

Because it had just rained, we didn’t have to spend an hour or two watering everything (as we usually do each week).  The students then cleaned up the area, put their tools away, and posed with the over 25 pounds of produce which we picked (and I later took to the Lutheran Social Services Choice Food pantry, which was itself filled with a dozen college students from Ohio Wesleyan University helping out).  Best of all, the students offered to return to help me (which we know I can always use).    Aside from Hannah, they were eager to return to campus to get their Chipotle gift certificates and have lunch.

Our former "curb" in August 2014 AFTER being weeded
It’s not supposed to rain again for a while, so it would be extremely helpful to have some help watering the food pantry and neighbor beds on Saturday mornings. I also told them that we would be having a fall work day on the second Saturday morning in November (when we trim back the raspberry bushes, clear out the Garden and make our single largest food pantry donation of the year – as close to Thanksgiving as we dare).  I had just told the other gardeners a few days earlier that I was going to stop keeping a regular schedule for the rest of the season.  I wanted to be like them and have Saturday mornings free to visit garage sales, go biking, watch my niece run cross country, go on vacation, etc.   But, if I want help from college students, I will need to remain disciplined for the rest of the season and be there on Saturday mornings. . . . . It’s not like we don’t have a lot of work to do each week.

Our new curb
Because of all of the help from the Capital students this morning, I was able to find time to transplant some lettuce into the neighbor bed, weed the neighbor bed, prune some weed trees growing in our fence line, and harvest a row of beans.   After they left, I harvested some produce from my plot, cut some flowers for my house and harvested some basil and parsley for our food pantry donation.  

Last week, I talked about our cracked tomatoes and the looks I received from the food pantry staff when I arrived.  Not everyone objects to cracked tomatoes, however.  Two elderly women pulled up to the Garden as I was locking the gate and loading my car.  They wanted to buy tomatoes from me. They insisted that I sell them some and didn't want to limit themselves to what was available in our neighbor beds.   Usually, I decline  to sell our produce because I hate to take fresh food out of the mouths of food pantry customers.   But, this week, I agreed.  She only had $2 in cash, so I let her pick three giant beefstake tomatoes – which, of course, were slightly cracked.   They wanted to put them on hamburgers for that afternoon’s cookout.  I told Gene when I arrived at the food pantry that he lost out on some tasty tomatoes because of that look he gave me last week.  He laughed.   He always laughs.

While I was at the food pantry, a volunteer asked me – which sometimes happens – to identify the produce that I have delivered.   Most of my volunteers – including today’s – are not familiar with fresh kale, swiss chard, collard greens or tomatillos.   The tomatillos really threw them for a loop.  (I always try to make an extra large donation of peppers and tomatillos right before the Mexican Independence Day).  Tomatillos are the essential ingredient of salsa verde, (i.e., the green sauce) which is what is generally put on sea food tacos.   Oh, they said, we love sea food tacos and that green sauce.  They looked again at the tomatillos.  I then told them to roast a few tomatillos and mix them with chopped (and sometimes also roasted) green serrano peppers, (sometimes roasted) onions and lime juice to get a good salsa.  Puree it for the sauce.

Then, it was home to put away my own harvest, bake five trays of kale chips and make plans to cook and can some creole sauce, steam and freeze some beans, make a fresh green bean salad and some salsa verde.

Next week, we’ll have to water everything because we are not expecting much, if any rain.  As I told the Cap students, September is typically the driest month of the year.  Last year, we went six weeks without rain and had to request the City to refill our tank.   I also hope to finally weed my plot and the food pantry plots and save some cosmos and zinnia seeds.  We’ll also need to pinch the flowers off all of the tomato plants and varnish the neighbor bed sign.   But that’s next week  . . . . .

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