Friday, July 8, 2016

Getting Hot and Dirty with YouthBuild at the SACG

 A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition about a beautiful trellis which had been donated by a Bexley area homeowner who no longer wanted it and thought a community garden might put it to good use.   I wasn’t sure where we could put it and so delayed in responding.  I finally decided to put it near the front gate and hoped that we could grow grapes up it (because the neighborhood kids periodically ask why we are not growing grapes for them to eat).   I was the third person to respond, but the first who decided we could use it.  It also came with a gate which had never been used.  After some debate, we decided to replace our long-time front gate with this newer one (although we remain concerned about thieves jumping our gates).   Cathy brought her truck to pick up and transport the trellis back to the SACG.   The problem then became, how are we going to install it (and remove our old gate) with just us little old ladies?

We were very lucky that the City told the Land Bank Community Gardens a few months ago that Americorps’ YouthBuild program was looking for a community garden where its participants could volunteer.   We scheduled work days for today and next month.   When I told them at the end of June about the trellis project (which I thought would be great for them), they wanted to come a day early to be sure that they got everything done.  No problem, I said.  I picked up post diggers and a tamper from Rebuilding Together’s Tool Library on Tuesday and they threw in a dozen bagels for free to feed my new volunteers.  (I brought some of my homemade ginger peach jam).   I also still had some bottled water that had been previously donated by Keep Columbus Beautiful for Earth Day.  I also picked up some gravel from Lowe’s to back fill the post holes.

Of course, it had to be awfully hot and humid yesterday when the 12 volunteers arrived for their appointment with SACG destiny.  One team focused on digging the post holes for the trellis, getting the trellis deep enough and level, attaching the top, removing our long-time gate and sign and attaching the new gate and latch.  While digging, they faced our long-time problem of encountering construction debris from the prior apartment building that had been on our lot.   They even reported that they found our old basement.  A few of the holes turned out to be pretty wide as they had to dig around these large stones in order to remove them.   

I won’t lie to you; they made a real mess.  I had to quickly harvest our row of beets from the food pantry plot because they needed the space to maneuver.  (They made it to the Salvation Army’s food pantry later yesterday afternoon).  I should have raked the wood chips aside from the front gate area because it’s all covered with a few inches of dirt now.

Some of our herb garden even was covered with a pile of dirt and rocks (which I’ll have to tidy up tomorrow).   But, all that being said, Cathy and I agreed that we never could have installed this trellis by ourselves (even with the help of Stan and her husband, Jason).   Removing the gate posts turned out to be equally tricky because Frank had used rebar and very long metal spikes to anchor them.

My dilemma now is where to hang our sign.   Some have suggested hanging it from the front of the trellis over the gate, but I worry about it being too heavy for the trellis top and making the trellis lean forward.  It also would detract from the trellis’ simple beauty.  We could sink some shorter posts to the right of the gate or sign some posts at an angle at the southeast corner of the Garden.  Decisions.  Decisions.

A second team was assigned to weed the paths and then half of a semi-abandoned plot (where the trellis had been temporarily stored) before planting three rows of beans.  Some of the weeding team became quickly bored and moved to weeding on the south side of the Garden, edging our new flower bed, and picking up litter.   The half that remained worked very steadily and finished all of their assigned tasks (including taking the weeds and putting them in the compost bin).   One of them wanted to start a vegetable garden at her new forever home (or maybe join a community garden and get a plot like we have).  The other wore two sweaters, but insisted that she was not hot because she had been born and lived in Haiti, where it is really hot most of the time.

Another team was lead by Stan the Man to tidy up the strawberry patch.  We built it in 2010, but many of the landscaping stones had gone askew and were no longer level or neat looking.   When Stan takes on a project like this, he always starts from scratch.  He removed the stones (even the bottom layer) to even out the base before building the retaining wall surrounding the strawberry patch.   He also helped to remove the old gate posts and helped me to get everything put away before departing.
A final team weeded along the alley and around the compost bins.
While these teams worked up quite the sweat and counted the minutes to when they could return to air-conditioning, Cathy and I attacked the brambles in the kids’ gardening area.  Now that raspberry season has mostly passed, these brambles are no longer needed and they pose a threat to our youth gardeners as they continue to grow very long and into their raised beds.  We have discussed removing our old fence behind these beds because Kimball Farms installed a nicer and taller chain link fence about two feet to the west of them.  We can no longer weed or prune between the fences or behind these raised beds.  So, the brambles have all been cut back to make it easier in case we find the spare time (or volunteers) to begin pulling the fence out.  We’ll then turn the fence into bean trellises.  

Also, after the old gate had been removed and the fence was still disconnected, I got help in digging out the weed mulberry tree that had been growing behind the rose bush and liberating a misplaced hosta so that we can possibly transplant it to a more appropriate location next Fall.

After our YouthBuild volunteers departed, I returned our borrowed tools to the Tool Library, had some lunch and delivered the beets to the Salvation Army on East Main Street. I also called the landscaper who had gotten the trellis donated to GCGC, so that I could get the contact information for the donor and send her a proper thank-you note (with pictures).    That night, I also attended the monthly GCGC meeting at the very lovely Highland Youth Garden in the Hilltop.   They started the same year as the SACG, but are much, much larger and have many more volunteers and kids.  Their garden looked amazing, tidy and healthy.  They have 200 kids each week participate in their various gardening programs, several master gardeners, running water, a hoop house, a trellis, built-in benches, signs warning of video surveillance and even paid staff.   One of their leaders talked about the need to remain positive in the face of our shared obstacles (i.e., weather, vandals and thieves).  I would note that their only regular pest are feral cats, while we have thieves, cats, possums and groundhogs and other gardens face deer, squirrels, thieves and raccoons.

This morning, we reversed the gate and finished the strawberry patch project.  It was much cooler than yesterday and I’m praying for rain (even though the local YouthBuild leader always prays against me because she doesn’t like rain).  Sigh.

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