Monday, June 19, 2017

Peak Berry Season

It may have been hot on Saturday, but it was peak black raspberry time at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden as I was picking them almost a fist at a time.  If I hadn’t had to leave for a family obligation, I could have picked quarts of berries instead of just two pints for our weekly food pantry donation. Last week’s Berry Festival was a great success and we will definitely hold another next year.  But, best of all and just in time, we received an inch of rain last night and I hope that it filled our almost empty giant rain cistern.

Nine days ago, we held our first ever Black Raspberry Festival at the SACG.  I invited friends (none of whom came), and GCGCers (several of whom were the first to arrive).  Sabrina invited a bunch of folks from Bexley and lots came.  Cathy, Sabrina, Amy, Regan and I baked goods for a bake sale and I brought lots of plants and seedlings (including ostrich ferns, white phlox, basil, parsley, thyme, African marigolds, cosmos, and coneflowers) to sell for donations.  Picking berries was free, but we accepted donations and will now be able to purchase some additional hand tools and supplies for the new picket fence that we will be building.   (In contrast, Lynd’s Farm in Pataskala sells u-pick black raspberries for $4/pint).  Our first two arrivals were two Master Gardener graduates who operate the new community garden at CarePoint East.  We also had a Conservatory Women’s Board officer and Erikca from the Conservatory’s Growing to Green program.  They both focused on picking berries and cherries for our weekly food pantry donation (and Erica stayed behind to prune our berry brambles).  Margaret Ann from Four Seasons City Farm stopped by to pick berries for a church event later that morning.  We had stiff competition because several (and possibly all) of the Settlement Houses were having health fairs and OSU was having a major gardening event at Waterman Farm.  I was delighted with our turnout (particularly because I didn’t finally decide to proceed with it until the prior Monday afternoon), but couldn’t help but think this last weekend that they would have picked more berries this last Saturday.   A few of the pickers brought books for our Free Little Library, which was very sweet.  A few even signed up to volunteer. 

Sabrina and Amy have been helping me a lot.  Sabrina even brought a metal mobile to help scare away the crows from our corn plot.  We finally got the pole beans planted around the corn before it rained yesterday, so hopefully the will germinate within the week.   I had brought a bale of straw while at Hann’s Farm to mulch and it has worked great to conserve the moisture in the soil.  I wish that I had remembered to mulch the squash plot (because they have been growing very, very slowly).  I’ll do that on Wednesday.  I’ve had to spend most of my time at the Garden the last couple of weeks watering because we had only received about .35 inch of rain in two weeks.  I’ve been keeping my own squash and lettuce covered so far because it protects the lettuce from the heat and protects my squash from the squash borers that might get implanted on their stems.  This is getting a little trickly for my vining plants that I typically train up trellises.   I’m glad that I will not have to water anything other than the squash and melons on Wednesday this week.  I also picked up a flat of bell peppers and planted them last week. 

Ken and his wife stopped by last week to mark where the fence posts will go for our new picket fence.  We are still debating how to install the fence.  I can’t convince men about the importance of protecting our flower bed.  I know most everything will grow back next year, but I don’t want to have a pathetic looking flower bed this year.   He wants to install the stringers and then the pickets and then paint.  This will wreck havoc on the flowers. I want to assemble and paint the panels and then install them.  Sigh.   We considered whether we could attach the fence to the trellis.  He seemed to think not.  Then, I called Ahmed, who is the new president of the south of main civic association who had volunteered on our Opening Day to get me volunteers for any capital improvement projects we might tackle this year.  At that point, I wanted an off year.  But now, I need help.  So, I texted him about helping with digging the posts for the fence.  He called me an hour later and was at the Garden about an hour after that to inspect my project.  He wants to attach the panels to the trellis and I had similar trouble convincing him not to destroy our flower beds through this.  I will clearly have to cut out early some of our early Spring flowers (like daisies and bachelor buttons) and possibly dig out some sunflowers and other perennials that I want to preserve and replant when they are done.   He just wanted to take a weed wacker to them beds.  I wish you could see the look on my face when he said that.  Sabrina’s right; we should wait and do this on our Closing Day.  I may have to ask the City what they think of that.

On Thursday, I picked up two large boxes of books from Half Price Books’  annual book give-away to school teachers and non-profit organizations.   We have been running low on books for months, but I’ve been too busy with work to drive to the west side and beg for some. A few years ago, the traffic line to pick up books at this annual event took hours; the last couple of years I’ve been able to swoop in and out without any waiting.   Our library is finally now well stocked.   

Ken has proposed that we add a free little pantry to go with our Free Little Library.   It is similar in concept – instead of books, people can put food into the pantry for anyone to take as needed.  One of our neighbors has been treating our library as a pantry this year.  Each week I find sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, boxed food, etc. in the library.  Last week, someone emptied a box of cheerios in the flower pot next to the library.  It’s been driving me nuts.   While our Board is supportive of the idea, we have concerns.  For instance, I am mostly responsible for putting books in the library, but do not feel like I should be responsible for keeping the pantry stocked (and buying most of the food to go in it).  Some of our neighbors do not want the area to become a magnet for homeless folks.  There is also a concern with food safety because we do not have time to check expiration dates and spoilage.  What happens to canned goods put in there when the temperatures drop below zero in the winter?  I’ve asked Ken to see if his church will commit to diverting some of its canned food drive to the pantry once each month so that we know that there will be food in it.  Susan has volunteered to periodically check it all year round to ensure that it does not remain empty.   Ken’s idea is to take an old kitchen cabinet, put glass doors on it and use it, instead of building a replica of our library.  We’ll probably paint it blue instead of red.  I want it to face the alley instead of the street.  I checked with the City Land Bank and they have no objections, so I guess that it will go up when Ken finds free time (after his current mission trip) to build and install it.

Since my last post, I’ve covered two other weeds with our gardeners.   The first was lambs quarter.  We have a lot of it.  When, young, it is edible and can be used like spinach.  According to Mother Earth News, it is rich in Vitamin C and has many uses.  That is not why so much of it can be found at the SACG.  The other is bindweed.  It is the Midwestern version of kudzu.  It grows in almost every square inch of the SACG, pulls down flowers, covers the brambles and vegetables when left unchecked.  It has flowers like its cousin morning glory and spreads through seeds and by its very deep roots.  Luckily, it is relatively easy to pull and break the vines (until they twine together to form a thick rope), although they will keep returning unless you dig out the root.  I spend most of my July and August pulling bind weed off the brambles, fence lines, sunflowers, coneflowers, beans and tomatoes.  I never cared so much until a stylist at Michael Garcia’s salon asked one of our gardeners a few years ago what was covering our brambles because he could see the weed – as thick as it was – while driving on East Main Street.  Sigh.

Baby Bind Weed
We had a bit of odd crime this month.  Someone came and dug out every single tomato plant from our neighbor plot the day after our Alliance church volunteers cleaned up the Garden.  Every single one of them.  I had just watered them.  I returned the following Monday to carry the lawn waste bags to the curb and maybe water them again.  Except that they were not there.   I think it’s horrible that another gardener would do that to us.  I had just planted a couple dozen tomato plants next door.  Why didn’t this thief just ask me for some seedlings before I gave my extra away?  So, I went scavenging throughout the Garden to find volunteer tomato plants that I could transplant (during a two-week dry spell with a heat dome).  Sabrina helped me, too.  

My bizarre story of the week is that someone randomly emailed me on Monday to volunteer his services and to mow our lawn.  How wonderful I thought.  He also inquired about getting a plot next Spring.  I pushed my luck and asked if he’d like one now.  I explained our requirements (agreement, $10, agreement, work equity and then chores).  He was so gungho for a couple of days.  However, he then cancelled on Friday.  I lost not just a new potential gardener, but also a mower.  I had trouble getting excited to garden on Saturday morning because I knew that I had a lawn to mow on top of watering everything, harvesting, weeding and getting to the pantry early so that I could get to southern Ohio in time for an early dinner with my parents.   Oh well. Easy come.  Easy go.
Someone must have heard that we were annoyed about the broken-down pickup truck planted in front of the Garden.   Right after my last post, it was moved across the street.  Flat tires and all (which I have to assume is hard on the tire rims).  There it has sat for two weeks.  But now, it is collecting parking tickets and citations of some sort from Columbus' finest.  I wonder why they decided to park at the Garden . . . . .
The Ohio After-School All-Stars also finished weeding the rest of Kimball Farms' raised beds next door (and with gardening at Four Seasons City Farm) last week.  Earlier this Spring, I was able to help their volunteer coordinator -- Lindsay -- start a community/education garden at East Gate elementary by putting her in touch with the ever generous Trudeau Fencing Company near Hilliard for free cedar to build her raised garden beds so that she could stretch her small community garden grant. 
Finally, the City announced that they will be resurfacing our Cherry Street alley soon.   All things considered, it's not in horrible shape.  However, I have been concerned about what will happen to our pretty (and expensive) curb.  The City will be surface treating (i.e., chip sealing) which involves spraying emulsion and then covered it with crushed stone.   The gentleman passing out fliers seemed to think that we would be ok.  Our curb is south of where the alley left off (and we let a cratered line between the alley and our curb to make the point that we were not encroaching.

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