Sunday, August 28, 2016

Feelin’ Alright with Buckeyes Paying It Forward at the SACG

As I often am in August, I’ve been in a Joe Cocker mood this week, but I titled last year’s visit from OSU Students for OSU’s Pay-It-Forward Program Community Commitment Day  With a Little Help from My (OSU and Neighbor) Friends, so I couldn’t repeat myself.  Earlier this week, I picked up a post digger (for the third time in a month) with the hope that this time we would finally get our four-year old sign back in operation, and also borrowed some hedge clippers, litter grabbers and safety vests (courtesy of Rebuilding Together’s Tool Library and Keep Columbus Beautiful).  On Thursday, I picked up some cedar planks donated by Trudeau Fencing in Hilliard.  Although the cedar is not good enough for their customers, it was more than adequate for our needs and I cut it to length on Friday.  (Trudeau Fence has donated lots of cedar and other fencing supplies to us over the years – including for a gardening project at Ohio Avenue Elementary School, for raised beds at step-over housing for ex-offenders, our tomato and fence stakes, our former gates, our first neighbor raised garden bed, for our youth regular raised beds, and for the shingles on our Free Little Library 

--  just because I asked nicely).   The price of cedar planks has tripled in the last few years.  I also made a couple dozen chocolate no-bake cookies and a batch of brownies Friday night to keep my OSU volunteers in a cheerful frame of mind.  The weather was supposed to be pleasant, but turned out to be oppressively hot and humid.  No matter, we accomplished almost all that we set out to do and re-visited a few projects from last year to take them to a higher level.  Our modest improvements from year to year are how we got to where we are now.

When I arrived Saturday morning wearing a scarlet and grey tie-died t-shirt, Cathy and her mother were attempting to enter the Garden with posts for our raised garden bed project. As usual, she overdid herself.  I only needed two posts and she brought four and an additional piece of wood that we could cut down if necessary.  That Cathy.  She was busy with family obligations today and a funeral for a former Urban Connections youth who was mysteriously murdered with her husband in Linden two weeks ago 10 days after giving birth to her first child.    Cathy’s had a lot on her plate the last 10 days with sitting vigil with the family at the hospital, helping to raise money to pay for the funeral and baby items for Grandma who is now raising the newborn, taking care of her own kids and family, and she still made time to get me some posts this morning.   That Cathy.   She also drove to Menards to get us some fox urine to scare our cute but destructive groundhog.  That Cathy.
Rose and neighbor South (because he is from, duh, the south) were hanging out as I was unloading my car.  They both offered to help, so I put South to work unloading the landscaping stones that I had picked up on Friday from Lowe’s, courtesy of a joint program between Lowe’s and the City of Columbus to benefit land bank community gardens.   I then set up the patio umbrella on our picnic table (and had drilled a sizeable hole in the table just before painting a rain barrel).   This would be the only shade the kids would find at the SACG.
Sabrina, Tom, Zephyr and Finn also stopped by to pick up some tomatoes from their plot before visiting family in northwest Ohio.  Like me, she had harvested tomatoes on Wednesday and found slim pickings this morning.  So I gave her a few orange ones from my plot.  (She had shared some of her fabulously tasting tie-dyed heirloom tomatoes a few weeks ago, so it was the least I could do). 

Then, Amy rode her bike from the Short North to help me coordinate the OSU Volunteers.  I put her in charge of the youth gardening area.  The OSU students generally arrive between 10 and 10:30, but I had been told that they might now show up until as late as 11.  I expected them to leave around 12 or 12:30, but they said that they planned to stay until 1 (which made me wonder how they would get to the dining halls in time for lunch.  Never fear, Pay-It-Forward planned to have pizza waiting for them when they returned).   Nonetheless, after doing a little weeding, watering and squash bug hunting in my plot, I got restless waiting for them to show up.  So, I put big-and-strong Sy to work with the post digger.  We needed to sink the sign posts two feet into the ground.  Meanwhile J. Jireh’s litter volunteers from Life Vineyard Church on  Alum Creek Drive began arriving, parking in front of the SACG and wondering over there.  They left at noon while we were still in the thick of things.

About 10:45, an OSU busload of bright-eyed and enthusiastic college students showed up and I oriented them in the shade of the Block Watch lot across the street.  Our priority project was to get the sign up.    Three fellows went over to help and take over from Sy.  They finished digging the holes, removed the old screws from the sign bracket, reinforced the bracket and then assembled the pieces to be sure that everything was straight before raising it in one piece (and checking it with my level as they backfilled the holes).  Perfection.    The day could have ended right there and I would have been pleased as punch. 
Four sassy ladies took on the project of picking up litter along Stoddart and in the alleys between Morrison and Fairwood (as well as our lot and the Block Watch lots). 

Because classes have only been in session for four days, none of the kids were eager to volunteer to mow our and the  Block Watch lots (which had last been mowed just a few days earlier).  It probably hasn’t even been a week since they last mowed their parents’ lawn.  However, one gentleman agreed to do it and the group’s leader agreed to finish it (even though she had never mowed a lawn in her life before today).   I wanted a tag-team in light of the heat index because one can easily become dehydrated and overheated mowing for over 30 minutes.  Sadly, we could not get the SACG mower to start, so I borrowed Urban Connection’s brand new and still-shiny mower. 
Another group of engineering students was tasked with building a raised bed with the donated
cedar and posts.  Last year’s OSU group had put together our second neighbor raised bed where anyone passing by can help themselves to whatever is growing there.  I had thought that it would be enough that it was set off from the alley by a two-layer row of landscaping stones.  I had not foreseen that wood chips (which rob the soil of nitrogen as they decompose) would creep in there when they were spread around our fence lines each Spring.    So, I decided that this bed should be set off like its sibling with cedar planks.   These budding engineers were not entirely familiar with power tools and were extremely precise with assembling the bed.  I crabbed at them a bit about the time it was taking them to build the box because I was terrified that the bus would return to retrieve the students before the sign got put up.  (The bus ended up being 45 minutes late, which was 75 minutes later than I thought I had this group of volunteers).   I only brought one drill and I had two groups that needed to use it; poor planning on my part.  I should have borrowed  Cathy’s drill while I had her attention and then I would not have stressed so much.  While the bed-building team waited on the sign-raising team, I had them weed the neighbor plot and the area along the alley.    They were good sports and among the hardest working team in a group of hardworking students.

Another group was tasked with trimming and bagging raspberry brambles, which have a tendency to spread out several feet from our fence each summer.   They were surprised to learn that the branches will form roots when they reach the ground (thus having roots at two ends).   They were pretty aggressive in pruning our fence line and filled lots of bags.  Some groups are intimidated by our thorny brambles, but not this group.   I also asked them to trim around our tree boxes and blueberry turrets because our extraordinary volunteer gardener Stan-the Man has not edged them in a while. 

Two of the ladies with prior gardening and/or farming experienced were tasked with harvesting tomatoes, beans, peppers, kale, collard greens and Brussel sprouts from our food pantry plots for our weekly donation.   I gave them a brief orientation and showed them how to harvest kale.  They managed to find twelve pounds of ripe produce to harvest.   Because we received two inches of rain on Wednesday night, they did not need to water the Garden, which would have taken a four person team at least two hours to finish. 

Another group was tasked with finishing off the strawberry bed with landscaping stones and the south flower bed (which Stan had cannibalized for the strawberry patch project in July).   They finished that in short order and joined the teams trimming bushes and weeding the Garden paths and along the alley.

I hadn't gotten any volunteers to help Amy with cleaning out the youth gardening area.  One lady was a good sport and then volunteered for that project (which had become overrun with bindweed since it was last cleaned up in July).   We still haven't dug out the raspberry bushes growing back there because I wanted to give the kids the option of having raspberries there.  But last night I realized that the best solution would be to move the kids beds up against the fence (which can act as a trellis) and create more walking space between the rows of raised beds.  So, anyone who wants some raspberry bushes should stop by the SACG on September 17 because digging out those bushes will be one of the tasks for our Capital student volunteers.
Next, I grabbed all of the big and burly men (except for the raised bed project team).   Our platform raised beds look as though they have been sinking because the benches are only about a foot above the path.  Of course, they have not been sinking.  But, over the years we keep adding wood chips and those chips have gotten to be very thick.   So thick, in fact, that our cute and destructive groundhog has moved in underneath those beds.  Amy saw him scurry under there and disappear, so last week, I threw around ammonia (which is supposed to approximate the smell of predator urine), used a hoe to fill in the burrow with wood chips and threw a cement block over the hole for good measure).  Nothing like a clogged burrow hole to tell you that you are not wanted.   I had hoped that the guys would be able to carry the raised beds a few feet so that we could properly dig up the burrows and then place the beds on top of the chips instead of in them.    However, the beds were too heavy (when filled with soil).  All we could do was lift each corner one at a time and put a brick under the leg to keep it from sinking.  Then, one of the brave guys crawled under the bed to place a cement block to support the center of one of the beds.  I couldn’t ask him to perform the same task with the other raised bed because (1) there are watermelons growing underneath that bed and (2) some poison ivy is growing near those same melons.    It was the best we could do without emptying the beds (and killing the vegetables growing in them).

Finally, a team was tasked with planting lettuce where the food pantry potatoes had been.  My butternut squash plant has taken over a large portion of the Garden along the south fence, so I haven’t been able to yet harvest the potatoes under it, but hope to do so in October or November when the squash ripen and can be donated. I showed them how to do it by planting one row and then letting them plant the other before watering both rows in.

As the various teams finished their projects, they gathered at our picnic table for cold water, cookies and brownies and to rest.  Just moving in direct sun when it is as hot and humid as it was today can zap anyone’s strength.  I’ve managed to push through it this summer because I’m used to it.  They weren’t.   I suggested a few other weeding projects (which did not thrill any of them) and managed to convince them to pull the weeds out of the platform raised bed next to the picnic table when I started to do it myself.   Maybe when the Capital University student volunteers come on Saturday, September 17, we will plant something in that bed now that there is a rain barrel near it to make it possible to water it. 
As always, I took group pictures. A couple in front of our sign and a one in front of the front gate. 
And then we waited a long time sitting on the curb across the street (in the shade) for the bus to pick them up and take them back to campus for pizza.  I told them stories about the Garden and kidded them about being lucky not to come upon any snakes, like Sabrina did last week (with a loud scream).    An OSU bus drove by on Main Street and didn’t stop.  And then another.  
So, we chased after it en masse going west on East Main Street.  I say chase, but we really just walked because it was too hot to really chase anything.   It circled back and picked up the very happy students on Main Street.

I had already packed everything up and locked anything worth locking, so I drove home, weighed and recorded our donation as always and dropped it at the Lutheran Social Services Food Pantry.  I’ve posted a copy of a chart showing the distribution of our donations by type of produce so far this growing season.   I then returned to the SACG to harvest from my own plot. 

As I walked up to my car to finally leave for the day around 3 p.m., there was a preying mantis on my front driver side tire.  I can’t believe that I noticed it.    Lucky for it (and me) that I did.  I took a photo and then easily coaxed it onto my cell phone before taking it to my plot where it gleefully jumped off to hunt for the evil bugs putting holes in a some of my tomatoes.   Happy hunting fellow.   Please find some of those pesky squash bugs while you're at it.  (My preying mantis at home resides in my bean teepee and has made short work of the beetles).

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