Sunday, June 4, 2017

An Accelerated Growing Season

The unseasonably warm weather (along with extra rain) that the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden received in May has accelerated our growing season by two or three weeks.    This time last year, both of our rain cisterns were empty and we had to rely on the kindness of the local fire department to fill them.  This year, we have started making our weekly food pantry donations two weeks earlier than ever.  Our sour cherries – which typically don’t ripen until the end of June/early July – are ripe for picking for pies and cobblers.  Our strawberry patch has pretty much ripened out, so a few of us took off to Hann’s Farm to pick approximately 15 pounds of strawberries each for jams, cakes and freezing.   The fields had very few unripe strawberries left, which is unusual so far in advance of Father’s Day.  And, we – courtesy of Doug Hartman from Urban Connection --  were one of the beneficiaries of the Alliance Church’s General Council Meeting, where representatives from across the United States descended on Columbus and spent most of Saturday at various services projects in  Columbus.    They called this Reach Columbus Together.   They even had a high-tech photography drone spying on us much of the day and brought their own lunch, water and snacks.  (I can’t recall the last time a volunteer group did that).  They didn’t eat a single one of my famous no-bake chocolate cookies.  We were all a bit dehydrated at the end, though, because of the heat and humidity.

When last I posted, Ken was about to pick up the supplies for our new picket fence.  It did not go smoothly.  First, he had to suffer through the Rock on the Range traffic.  Then, the clerk couldn’t get our escrow account to work, so he had to pay for the entire thing on his credit card (which I remedied with Lowe’s in very short order).  When I met him to unload, it started to pour down rain before we finished and he still had to go pick up a bulk mulch order from Ohio Mulch.   I’ve been pleading to place the posts before the flowers get much higher.  Ken is pretty set on putting in the posts, then the stringers, then attaching the pickets and then painting.  I told him no way are you trampling on those flower beds, buster, in just those words.  We need the posts in soon, but we’re going to assemble the panels, paint them and then attach them. Or we’ll wait until closing day and do it all at once when the flowers are no longer an issue.  But, I don’t think the City will be that patient to see the results of their generosity and we can’t depend on November weather . . . . .  So, I need a few strong men soon to help me dig some post holes and get the posts in the ground.  Then, we’ll measure and cut the stringers and then, at our leisure, assemble the picket panels, etc.  I’m sure the neighborhood and gardener kids will want to paint the fence. 

We all worked hard for a few weeks to get our plots planted, except for one wayward and perpetually disgruntled gardener, who hasn’t planted anything in his plot since mid-April.    Sabrina’s corn has sprouted and my squash and beans are up (although my edamame are being difficult).  Sabrina worked with her son, Zephyr, and neighbor Jaden to plant zucchini in one of our food pantry plots.   Everyone but two gardeners has had fabulous lettuce, which is now bolting because of the heat.   Now that it has stopped raining every three days, I picked up a bale of straw at Hann’s Farm and mulched my tomatoes, squash and peppers and the food pantry tomatoes.  I was asked if this was effective in keeping down the weeds.  I probably don’t put it on thick enough for that.  I’m more interested in preserving the moisture in the ground.  The soil has really dried out in short order.  Putting light colored straw around plants slows down the evaporation process.   I've also gotten a jump on my garlic scapes this year and actually harvested them while they were still edible (unlike last year).  I put them in a stir fry, but their flavor is so delicate that I could barely taste them among the bok choy and fish. 

In my weekly emailed updates to the gardeners, I’ve started to include photos of weeds and information about the weeds.   While I recall sometimes wondering about whether something was a weed or a plant (or a volunteer left over from last year), my basic rules of thumb are plants are the green things coming up in neat rows and weeds are what are found everywhere else.  And, if I recognize it from my own or the Garden’s lawn, it is probably a weed.  However, when I ask the gardeners to pay particular attention to certain weeds and to pull them asap, they show me blank faces.  This week, I included photos of poison ivy.  We had some growing by the front gate, but our Earth Day volunteers dug it out and it has not returned.  We’ve perpetually had some by the kids beds in the very back northwest corner that I try to kill every year without much success.  It has spread to the neighbor plot by the alley and all the way to Kimball Farms.  Our new volunteer Regan (who comes to help on Wednesday evenings) was helping me to map it.  I showed up with Round Up yesterday to douse it before our Alliance volunteers showed up.  Then, when I assigned a volunteer to clean up the scrub brush across the street, I recalled that one of our former WEP volunteers had mentioned that there was poison ivy there, so I went to check it out while the Alliance folks had lunch.  Wow.  Lots and lots and lots of poison ivy.  I got the Round Up back out of my trunk and doused as much as I could.  Then, when Frank and Barb stopped by, I told them what I had done.  They returned with a large black tarp to cover some of the infected area and try to kill it (and all of the other weeds there).

Last week, I focused on one of our newer weeds that is giving bind weed a run for its money in taking over our fence rows of raspberries:  Cleaver aka Sticky Willie aka gooseweed. It first became a problem last year and this year it is taking over the fence rows (surpassing even the noxious bindweed).  If they don’t start pulling it, folks we may not have berries much longer because it is choking out the berries by hogging the sunlight and cramping their roots.   You’ll know it by description because it has sticky leaves and forms burrs that stick to your gloves and clothes.  DO NOT PUT THIS WEED IN THE COMPOST BINS EVER.  ALWAYS BAG THESE WEEDS.   They spread by seeds (i.e., the burrs).   Oddly enough, geese love to eat this.  Occasionally, geese will stop by and eat the lawn in the vacant lot next to us.  Feel free to see if they want a pile of gooseweed because there’s bunch behind the compost bins.  They are extremely easy to pull, unlike so many of the weeds.  You should wear gloves because they can cause a rash in some people.    It is edible if cooked and when young.  It is related to coffee and some people have actually harvested the dried seeds, roasted them and use them like coffee (but they have less caffeine).    So, after the zombie apocalypse when we can’t get arabica anymore, you can use these instead.  At least that’s what I told my gardeners.

I harvested strawberries last week from our patch and found lots and lots of them had rotted.  Between the rain and the fact that not many of the neighborhood kids are grabbing them, a lot of them went to waste this year.  Alyssa grabbed a bunch and I took what I had time to harvest with our first food pantry donation of the year.  The black raspberries are coming into season, so be sure to stop by and grab some over the next two weeks.  Our bing cherries have come and gone.  The sour cherries are now in season, three weeks early.  I didn’t believe it, but Carly started pulling them off the tree and eating them yesterday.  She wasn’t wrong.  So, after dropping off yesterday’s donation to Faith Mission, I swung back to the garden and grabbed some lettuce (when it was really too hot to do so – i.e., wilty), some berries from my plot and, of course, some cherries.  I’ll go back today with a step ladder.

Strawberry season in Central Ohio is generally the last week of May and the first two weeks of June.  Not this year.  It’s pretty much over.  I couldn’t get away from my desk to pick strawberries last month, but organized an impromptu expedition again this year (with basically only 24 hour notice).  As in recent years, we went to Hann’s Farm, which still charges only $1.99/pound for u-pick berries.  Like our patch, most of their strawberries were rotting or past their prime.  We found very few unripe ones.   However, after about an hour or so, Regan, Cathy, Ben (Cathy’s son) and I had picked about 15 pounds each.  Cathy immediately processed hers (to later make freezer jam, cupcakes and shortcakes).  I took a shower and a nap and did some paying work for my clients before staying up until midnight to make two patches of strawberry jam (i.e., strawberry-lemon marmalade and strawberry/marsala-thyme jam).    The first batch hasn’t set yet.  The second batch (to which I added some red raspberries to help the pectin content) set almost before I put it in the hot water bath.  I also froze four quarts of strawberries to use later in smoothies, margaritas and cakes.  And kept back a pound or so to have strawberry shortcake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Earlier this week (or maybe it was last week), Cathy emailed me that Urban Connections might have extra volunteers to share yesterday.   Then, on Friday, she told me to expect around 10 volunteers.  I didn’t know what their skill level or ages would be, so I wasn’t sure if they could help with our fence project and didn’t get any tools before the Tool Library closed on Thursday.  (It’s closed on Fridays).   There’s always weeding and watering to do.  There’s always weeding in the alley and compost to be turned and litter to be gathered, etc.  It’s a no-brainer that I always accept Saturday volunteers.   A small group initially arrived around 10:30.  Two of them volunteered for litter duty.  One picked up in the immediate vicinity and the other headed down Seymour Avenue, south of Main.  He didn’t return until after 2 p.m.  He was from New York and wanted to really see the area.  Ok. I always ask if someone wants to toss our compost and NO ONE ever accepts.  I describe it as hot and dirty.  One of the big strong men volunteered for that.  Wow.  He turned all four bins and emptied the fourth bin to make room for new compost.  Wow.  Another two volunteers weeded the alley and between the bins.  All of them helped to gather and bag Cleaver weed.   When they were finished, I had him pick black raspberries for our food pantry donation and the two ladies deadhead roses and daisies (and save daisy seeds, while sitting on a bale of straw).  Two teenaged boys were tasked with watering all of the food pantry and co-op plots.  I spent time teaching them how to water the roots and to not speed the process.  They started strong, but they were really going quickly at the end.  They  also watered the blueberry bushes, flower beds and fruit trees.   Another mowed the Block Watch lot across the street and weeded a bit on the south side of the Garden.

After lunch, a group of 10 more volunteers showed up after completing some painting work at UC.  I put them to work weeding a raised bed south of the garden and planting pepper pods.  Those got watered in as well.  Two girls volunteered to weed the flower beds (which weren’t too bad) and then to plant some petunias that I picked up on sale at Lowe’s and some marigolds that I had started from seed.   The rest I sent over to Kimball Farms to wreck havoc and devastation on the northern raised bed.  Very little of Kimball Farms has been weeded, let alone planted this year.  It’s a little remarkable.   I hoped that they weren’t trying some no-till farming experiment.  But, Pastor Brown showed up shortly after this and I told him that we were doing some guerrilla gardening on his property.  After the teens weeded that bed, we planted two rows of tomatoes that I had started from seed.  We grabbed some of the tomato cages from under his porch, but they won’t support the weight of the tomatoes unless they also get staked.  We threw a little water on them.  (I’m generous with my volunteers and seedlings, but not so much with my limited supply of water).  PB explained that his wife had arranged for some weeding volunteers to come on Monday.  But, he said that I was “all right no matter what other people say.”  Ha ha.    I grabbed one of my water boys to help me to harvest kale and lettuce and assigned the other to pick strawberries. 

Meanwhile, another crew had apparently been tasked to spy on us with a drone.  The neighbors watched it intently.  I almost grabbed the pilot to see if he would show the neighborhood teens that had gathered how it worked because they were clearly fascinated.  Then, a lady with a very expensive camera showed up to take even more pictures.  Turns out, this was a national convention.  We had volunteers from Colorado Springs, New York, as well as Westerville, Delaware and Reynoldsburg.  Some of them had volunteered at the SACG before, but not in June when we have cherries, daisies and lots of beautiful lettuce.

But life is not all rosy at the SACG.   We continue to have problems with our new neighbors, who moved onto  Stoddart in March and want to belong to the SACG and set policy without performing their share of the work.  I had been very excited when they joined in April, but I will admit that didn’t last long when one of them started to personally attack me via email.  Part of the problem is that they used to garden at another well-known community garden in Columbus.  We’re all a little different and all have our own personalities.  Some CGs don’t expect much of their volunteers or gardeners.  Not all assign plots.  Some have paid staff.  Some have enough volunteers to perform all of the heavy lifting so that everyone else can treat it essentially as a social club where they can come when they want and do what they want.  Some just look a mess and are the subject of complaints about tall grass and weeds.  I drove by one last week where the weeds were taller than the flowers in their front flower bed, for instance.  Some collapse after only a year or two.   I don’t judge (too much) because we all have a slightly different mission and focus and that’s fine with me.  Different strokes for different folks.   Some CGs make me feel inadequate while others make me feel proud about what we have achieved.   The other garden has a lot of volunteers and is just excited when people come by to garden that they do not require much of them.  I’m glad that it works for them, but that would never fly here.   I need people to be reliable when the work needs to be done.  It does me no good to have someone, for instance, mow the grass every day in July when the grass is not really growing when it needs to be mowed every week in May.  I also have no tolerance for certain suburbanites pushing me to relax our standards when they would never allow a messy or overgrown CG to exist in the lot next to their own home, thus implying that it’s ok for that to exist in a low-income neighborhood.


The SACG is actually one of the older CGs in town and one of the better maintained (i.e., we mow our lawn and don’t let our weeds get taller than my knees for the most part – bindweed and the area around the compost bins excepted).   That’s because after doing most of the work myself the first year, I made chores mandatory after that.  I still do the lion’s share of the work, but I want a certain amount of the work to be on automatic pilot by assigning certain repetitive tasks to the gardeners, who sign an agreement before they are given a plot agreeing, among other things, to keep their plot tended and to perform one assigned chore every week for three months.  They get to express a preference about the chore list and assigned months, but most tell me that they will do whatever whenever.    As you dear readers know, I get pretty livid when someone expects me to become their mother or personal assistant and nag them about their chore.   I post the chart and circulate it at the beginning of every month; why should I have to do more than that?  Gee whiz.  I don’t get paid for any of this and have lots of other things to do.  And, when we have a large volunteer group, most of the chores are performed by the volunteers that week.

Well, our mowers for the month of May did not mow.  They were given a deadline and an ultimatum, to which one of them responded that I should stop emailing him.  Done.  Lawn was still not mowed.  Locks went on the front gate (which, frankly, we have had for every year of our existence, but I usually wait until a problem arises or there is something worth stealing).  The other one shows up on Saturday to complain about the locks on the front gate and wants to complain to the City.  Be my guest, I said, let me give you a name and email address.  Be sure to mention that you have failed to mow the grass a single time this month because the City takes a great interest in that issue.  He denied that I had sent any emails.  So, when I got home, I forwarded all of the emails that had been sent to his partner/roommate (who was the only one of the two to even provide an email address).  Oh, he says, this is all news to me.   He accused me of filling the SACG with gardeners from Bexley.  Wrong again, only two of us live in Bexley; the rest are Columbus residents and several of our Board members live within one block of the Garden.   Without apologizing, he agrees to mow the lawn and did so later that day.   I hoped that the crises was averted because he had been assigned mowing chores for June and July, too. 

However, on Wednesday he came to weed his plot and said he was going back home to Granville for the weekend.  I suggested that he mow before he left because the lawn was already getting tall again after the rain.  He didn’t have time, but assured me that he would return over the weekend and do so.  He didn’t.  By Wednesday (11 days since the only time he had mowed it), the lawn was again tall and he was nowhere to be found.  Luckily, Greg from down the street came to mow the Block Watch lot next door.  After he finished mowing that lot,  I explained that I had an unreliable gardener living a few doors down from us and  asked if he could mow our lawn too while he was still there.  Greg does not particularly like me because he had signed up for the SACG a few years ago, but could never get there to finish his work equity.  (I even used to walk down to his house, knock on his door and wake him up on Saturday mornings to get him to the Garden).   But, the lawn clearly needed to be mowed.   Whatever he may think of me, even Greg knows that that the SACG brings value to the neighborhood.  I gave him some bottled water and begged him to pick some strawberries before they went bad.

In my weekly update, I made Greg one of our Heroes of the Week and groused about having to nag to get chores done.  My disgruntled gardener then emails me that he will mow it the next day or Saturday.  I emailed him back that the lawn would not need mowed again after just two days without rain.  I also pointed out that the benefit of us having volunteers meant that he wouldn’t need to mow on Saturday either.   I suggested that perhaps belonging to the SACG was not a priority for him and there was no shame in having other life interests which left him insufficient time to be a SACG gardener.  Lots of nice people don’t or can’t make time to garden.   Maybe he should call it a year and try again next year.  He hadn’t planted a single thing in his plot since mid-April and it was now June.  He had only weeded it two or three times this season.    He also kept coming to the Garden and promising to do work the following day and not showing up.   His spirt may be willing, but his flesh is weak.  He then demanded an apology for only that sentence.    I couldn’t make this up.

Yesterday, while two other gardeners were there, the disgruntled pair drove by.  One yelled for us “to go back to your own neighborhood.”  The other just honked his horn long and loud.  Well, never one to take for granted that everyone shares my opinion of the SACG, I walked over to one of our long-time neighbors and asked whether they thought I should go back to Bexley and quit the SACG.  Of course not, he and his wife said.   That’s crazy.   Two of their children garden at the SACG.   Barb and Frank were similarly surprised by the sentiment, particularly from someone who has only lived here since March.   (The Carters were busy yesterday digging out the front flower bed in the Block Watch lot in order to start over, redesign it and plant new types of flowers, etc.).

So, despite having some exemplary volunteers this week, there is a little dark cloud rumbling across our otherwise blue sky.   I understand that they do not think that belonging to a community garden should be so time consuming.  Frankly, I share that sentiment in spades.  But there is absolutely no chance that I will agree to spend more time at the SACG just so that they can spend less.  I also will not let the SACG become a neighborhood eyesore just to suit their personal preference.   Letting them remain without performing their chore also sends a message to the remaining gardeners who are dutifully performing their chores that their contribution is not valuable and they are suckers for being reliable.

Oh.  And there has been an abandoned (and probably stolen) truck sitting in front of the SACG for about a month.  I stopped two police officers over a week ago to report it.  They agreed that it was probably stolen and promised to return.  The truck remained.  I then emailed our Community Liaison Officers and Block Watch Barb, who reported that she had already called 311 to have the truck impounded.  It is still there.  Sigh.  Maybe one of you will recognize it.  Surely, its true owner has missed it by now. . . . .  We don’t have much parking and this truck with two flat front tires has become officially annoying.

So as not to end on a sour note, I will say how much I have appreciated our new volunteer, Regan.  She didn’t want a plot, but she comes almost every Wednesday (when the Thurber House doesn’t have an author that she absolutely wants to meet) to help weed and water.  This week, after weeding, we planted melons, tomatoes and peppers.  I’ve also taught her how to save daisy seeds.  In turn, she sometimes takes home some of our nutritious weeds to make a salad.    She’s young and optimistic and full of positive energy.  Just what I need when it’s hot and crazy.

Next time, I'll have more to report on Ken's suggestion that he build and install a Free Little Pantry on our lot.  Most of the Board members seem to be in favor, with some reservations.  I've asked the City whether they have an opinion and am waiting to hear back.   As previously reported, someone has already been placing sandwiches and cucumbers in our free little library, so at least one of our neighbors thinks that we should do this.

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