Garden clean up thank-yous & more…

Hi Gardeners!

I want to take a moment to truly and wholeheartedly thank those of you that came to our last community workday on Saturday the 17th.  We were able to get a lot of things done, and it couldn’t have been done without your help. Not only do you know who you are,  the board does too. So thank you for that. 

Of course, we could have gotten a lot more done with more help, and maybe some of us could have had a little shorter workday, too!  I just want to quickly remind those of you that didn’t come to the workday(s) this month, this year, or previous years, that community gardens require the community effort of the whole community.

It is understandable that sometimes a person cannot make it to a particular work day, but there are some people who never come to workdays, and it’s simply not fair to the rest of us.

I do not need an email explaining why you didn’t make it once, or even twice. We’re all adults, and we all have lives, and we all totally get it. But if you haven’t been to a workday, or otherwise pulled your weight in the garden for a while, then you are in violation of your contracted obligation to the garden (2h/mo., every month). In other words, when it comes time to renewing, we may have to have a conversation.

Part of that conversation can be addressed to the board to resolve issues that make it difficult for you to come. Even better: become a part of the board and offer some solutions. Again, I think everyone can understand the occasional inability to make it to a meeting, workday or workweekend. What the board and I are trying to address is the habitual abstention.

To be eligible to renew your plot next year, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have you planted and tended your plot yourself from Spring Clean up to Fall clean-up?
  • Have you participated in the scheduled whole garden clean ups?
  • Have you kept pathways around your plot weeded and free of obstacles?
  • Have you shown a friendly interest in the community at the garden by attending at least two of the scheduled Clean-ups, pot lucks, Seed Swap, Fun Raiser.
  • If you have a surplus in your plot, have you contributed it to the weekly collection for Camp St Ministries? (Or did you just let it rot on the vine that’s tangled in weeds?)

A note on this last point: it was really disappointing to see so much food go to waste over the last freeze. I was able to contact some people to go ahead and pick it for them, but we’re going to have to come up with a better plan for frosts and waste. We could have fed a lot of people with what just froze and rotted on the vine this year. We can do better. 

Your membership is to be terminated and reassigned to the (deep and always growing) wait list if: 

  • You never show up for anything on the schedule.
  • You fail to care for your garden.
  • You leave the care of your garden to persons unknown to the garden manager.
  • If you take anything from other gardeners plots without their knowledge or permission.

There is still plenty of weeding and other tidying up to do, and it’s really just not fair to lay that on the 24 people who regularly work in the garden outside their own plots. So if you haven’t been around in a while, and you’re looking to renew next year, I suggest that you get on down to the garden and get some tidyin’ done.

Last note: someone left a number of tomato cages in the pathways recently. You might say, “I didn’t know the combo to the shed,” and that could be true. But if that’s the case, you need to put your cages in your plot, not in the pathways until it can get worked out. They’re practically invisible and are very dangerous to people walking in the garden. Remember that the public is welcome to tour the garden, and it would be enormously upsetting if someone was hurt due to a gardener’s negligence.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this detailed note. I hope it will clarify the expectations of your membership to the garden. We want you to want to be a part of it, so let’s figure it out. Questions and concerns can be addressed through the comments section.

Most sincerely,
The board members of FPCG

The End of an Era

20151017_114655Fall is here with a vengeance, which means winter will be here soon with an actual vengeance, and it’s time to batten down the garden for the season.

Thank you to everyone who came out on the work day last week to clear out their plots and help make some much needed changes!

The star of the show last Saturday was the new compost bin. The one by the bee hive was getting a little long in the tooth and starting to become compost itself. Its time had come. We had a good turnout, which meant we could break into teams and get different parts put together at once.

Angel, Renee, and Cheryl painted some brand new signs.

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Lookin’ good!

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Under Norma’s supervision, we ripped out the old bin and moved out the compost. It had broken down really nicely, and had also become home to some opportunistic garlic and potatoes.

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Craig, Norma, and I assembled pieces of the new bin off in the parking lot where Butter could supervise from Norma’s truck. We then dragged them inside to make one big monster.

Here Ken, Norma, Craig, and Harue are sinking the back wall into a trench and attaching one of the interior walls.

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And here are Justin, Keri, and Lori on the other side, ripping out roots that got in the way of the new bin. Maybe I should have asked them to pose…

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And here it is finished! It certainly looks a lot sturdier than the old one.

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This day was also about cleaning out and winterizing plots. By pure chance, the first frost of the season was scheduled for (and followed through) that very night, so there was some frantic picking of warm weather crops.

Sally pulled out her tomato plants and got a huge haul of cherry tomatoes that scattered everywhere.

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Peggy’s collard greens are huge and healthy and will do just fine in a frost. She had to rip out a lot of other things, though.
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Since a lot of gardeners were harvesting more than they could handle, Renee got a real bounty of vegetables and flowers for Amos House and Camp Street Ministries.

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I did some battening down of my own, digging up all the peppers in my boyfriend’s plot and moving them to the “safety” of my hoop house. Anyone who’s seen my plot recently knows just how important those quotations marks are.

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But that’s a tale of woe for another post.

Waterworld

Here’s an update on my hoop house and a few guidelines if you want to try it yourself. Today I spotted a system a lot like mine. It’s catching on!

The hoop house has irrigation! Possibly.

There is a system in place that may prove itself in time. But time is running out! Today I caught these guys beating a quick retreat.

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Honestly, the irrigation is more important for me than for the plants. It’s a pain to open up that tent and water. And before long the city will turn off the water in the garden for the winter, meaning I’ll have to schlep water from home. It’s important for the plants because the easier things are, the less likely I am to skip a day or five and let them dry up.

Here’s a layout of the equipment as suggested by Ben, who’s a little more orderly than I am. We bought a 25-foot permeable hose that’s designed for slow-release, long distance watering. We also got two connectors that would thread into each other, and a bunch of rubber washers. Basically, we needed to create a tightly sealed passage through a hole in the bottom of the bucket leading into the hose. We just winged it in the garden hose section, but if you’re looking to have an easier time, this would probably do it.

Not pictured is Home Depot’s greatest marketing scheme, the trusty and unmistakable orange 5 gallon bucket. Maybe you don’t have them where you are, but they’re three dollars and versatile and in New England you can’t move for them.

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We drilled a hole through the bottom of the bucket and pushed one connector through with a washer attached, creating a seal inside the bucket. Another washer went on the outside, which you can see here.

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We screwed the two connectors together, tightening them to create a good seal.

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The seal was not as good as we’d hoped. It took a few trial fillings and a few replacement washers to get it right.

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Once we were convinced no water was escaping, we installed the whole thing in the hoop house. We fit the bucket just inside the tent in the hope that the water won’t freeze as quickly this way. We perched it on a milk crate so gravity will build up some pressure. That’s my biggest concern: Will lifting the water a foot off the ground be enough to push it to the plants that are 25 feet away?

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I filled it up with a few gallons of water on Sunday morning, and despite a slow start, by Monday morning the water was gone! Those few gallons had gone somewhere, and I think it was exactly where I wanted it to go.

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This hose truly is slow release. It seems to be full of water and ever-so-slowly beading it out. To human me, this seems like an unconscionably hard way to get a drink. But to the plants, this might be just fine, and preferable to waiting for me to get around to watering them.

One area I’m worried about is the container section. The hose takes a steep climb to get to these guys, and while there’s plenty of water seeping out farther down the line, this section is bone dry. Is this something to do with the pressure needed for the elevation change? Ben’s officially a physics PhD candidate now – figuring this out will be his assignment.

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Apart from in that one elevated section, the hose seems to be doing its job. My main worry now is that there isn’t enough of it. Twenty-five feet of hose for a forty square foot area may not be enough, particularly with a drip this slow. 20151011_124218For the moment I’m going to wait it out and see how well the plants fare with no additional watering. With the plastic roof and constant water flow, I may wind up creating a self-contained ecosystem. A little bio-dome.

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If the nuclear fallout comes, I’m gonna go live with the vegetables.

Winter Is Coming

I wrote this for my personal blog because it’s about a personal journey with vegetables. It takes place in the garden, though (my plot is the one that now looks like a ghost), so you might be interested in reading it. You might even know more about this than I do. If anyone has any tips or tricks regarding hoop houses, I’m all ears!

Inspiration is a funny thing.

Gardening Know How asked me to write a piece about building hoop houses. I didn’t know a single thing about building hoop houses. So I researched it, and then I wrote my authoritative article, and then I built one of my own. In that order.

This little guy is my boyfriend, Ben. I enlisted his help because he loves building projects, and he loves trips to the Home Depot. He’s never been too keen on squishing around in foamy buckets of fermented fruit, so this was a good opportunity to do something together. 20151004_142425

We’re hovering right around the first frost date for our area, depending upon who you ask. Some say it’s as early as October 3rd, and some say it’s as late as October 31st. Looking at the forecast, I’m more inclined to believe the latter. This wild map suggests that it varies by a few weeks within the city, with the line following, as far as I can tell, the contours of the hills.

So I may be a few weeks early. Or I may not be. I have too many frost sensitive plants that are just starting to produce in earnest to want to cut it close, though.

Construction was a breeze. My plot is roughly ten feet by three feet. We bought four ten-foot lengths of PEX tubing and sunk them deep into the soil. This made a tunnel just high enough to cover everybody. The trellis didn’t make the cut, but the cucumbers and melons on it had all but given up for the season, anyway. It was a mercy killing.

The cross beam was… improvised. Across the top we zip-tied three wooden stakes I’d been using as a trellis. The ends were still wet with dirt. The plan is to replace them this weekend with an irrigation pipe of some sort. But for now the stakes are performing admirably.

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We draped a single translucent plastic tarp over the whole thing. It’s ten feet wide, so it overlaps just right with the sunken ten foot poles. It’s roughly a million feet long, so even with plenty of slack to fold up securely on either end, we cut off quite a bit extra that I plan to rig up into a smaller enclosure for my container garden by the house. We attached it to the structure with a bargain bag’s worth of plastic clamps.

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And that’s it! From inside, it looks like a veritable tropical paradise!

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From outside, it looks like that scene from Independence Day.

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“Release… me…”

After just a few minutes, it definitely felt warmer inside. It was a windy day, though, so I suspect this came more from the plastic functioning as a windbreak. I’m sure the plants will appreciate that as the wind gets nastier.

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There was some room on the end where I’d ripped out the cucumbers and melons. I had planned on planting peas there, but since the trellis didn’t make it into the enclosure, it wasn’t in the cards. Rather than planting something new, I decided to fill the space with as many hot weather containers as I could fit.

This is my secret garden – the three-foot-wide strip of concrete along the side of my house. It gets full sun, it’s not in anyone’s way, and while it’s a pain to water, it gives me a steady supply of tiny eggplants.

Plus, the cat loves it.

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After some agonizing, I picked out my strongest producers and carted them down to the garden. I fit three eggplants, a pepper, and a tomato, which I removed from its cage and stretched lengthwise along the kale. You can see one little arm reaching up in the distance. Quarters are tight, but they live in buckets. They’re used to it.

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And that’s that! The thing that distinguishes a hoop house from a greenhouse is that it’s labor intensive. Where greenhouses rely on heaters and fans to regulate temperature, hoop houses rely on the sun and wind. The sun is absorbed passively. The wind, however, is left to human intervention. The ends have to be opened up daily to allow for air circulation, otherwise the heat from the sun will get so intense it’ll just cook your vegetables where they stand.

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Since it’s still warm out, I’m leaving the ends perpetually rolled up, and I’m treating the hoop house mainly as surprise frost protection. Once the temperatures start dipping lower, I’ll have to roll the ends down at night and up in the morning. With any luck, this will keep the warm weather guys alive long past their unprotected neighbors. With even more luck, pollinators will be able to find their way into and out of this thing.

I’m expecting the eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and squash to give up the ghost eventually. The days are going to get too short and the bees are going to go into hiding, and any tomatoes I eat in January will come from California. For the leaves and roots, however, I have high hopes! With some mulching, and maybe a flap cut into the roof in preparation for access through the many feet of inevitable snow, there’s a chance I could be eating fresh vegetables on Valentine’s Day.

It’s just like they say: Beets are a girl’s best friend.

Another Harvest Party Come and Gone

The Harvest Party was a rip roarin’ success!

The garden gods are capricious, but they must believe we’ve paid our dues. What began as the Year of the Woodchuck has rounded out into a bountiful harvest and a rockin’ year end party. Thank you to everyone who came out and made it possible!

The lovely flower and kale arrangements were grown by Kimbly, Norma, Holly, and our very own Perimeter Fence. I was completely jealous and may have to branch out into flowers next year. That being said, I never knew kale could be so festive.

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Norma, it goes without saying, was instrumental in making things happen – here she is putting the finishing touches on the welcoming Harvest Man.12045258_10153725583746122_4567596693274170576_o

She also brought her always-popular clay whistles to the raffle. The real winners were two particularly crazed looking woodchucks. I was hoping for one, but it wasn’t in the cards.

I’m not too let down – I have this fantastic zucchini man from last year’s party.

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Also in the raffle (and expertly modeled) were homemade preserves, a home-grown luffa, hand painted art, and a hand-laser-cut plot number, to name a few. I cast a wide net but got only one prize – the coveted Al Forno cooking lesson! I’ve buried the certificate in a chest in a forest glade that only I know about.

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Though the raffle was a big draw, the food couldn’t be beat, either. I sampled a little bit of everything, including chocolate caramel brownies, kale salad, and garden-grown grapes. Usually I make the infamous candied bacon, but this time I passed the torch to my roommate Will. I think he performed admirably.

The KC Moaners made a return appearance from Harvest Party 2014 and kept things swingin’ all night. Here’s to hoping they come back next year!

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And that’s it! My story could have a better narrative, but I was too busy living it up to do any real investigative journalism. I hope no one notices!