Monday, December 6, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside!

I know it's national news all over the country, but this Canadian air is putting a real freeze on the garden!  It's great for the collards but I need to mulch the other plants.  I brought in 3 large bags of leaves to do this with.  I just hate getting out in the cold to do it! 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Growing Smart II

One of the purposes of the organic garden was to present the opportunity for our residents to gain new skills.  Along the way I've gained a new skill or two as well.  Over the holiday weekend my son-in-law taught me how to lay out and install our irrigation system.  I should have done this long ago but I found all the parts and pieces daunting. Though I had printed the entire instruction booklet I would open the box, look at all the parts and close it again.

Now I know what I'm doing and I'm so excited!  I can't wait for the sun to come back out so I can set the rather stiff tubing in the sunshine and warm it up.  This will make watering this spring a real snap.  Plus, I can teach this skill to the women here and they will be more knowledgeable, too.    An added bonus is that once I have the organic garden done I can also do the meditation garden and the juniper hill.  Watering with hoses is such a heavy task and now I find out how unnecessary it is!  All one needs is a bit of relatively inexpensive tubing and a bit of knowledge.  

Between this irrigation system and our rain barrels we'll have the whole watering thing kicked!

Oh!  This has nothing to do with our garden, but I participated in NaNoWriMo 2010 and finished so I thought I'd mention this here.  If you don't know what National Novel Writing Month is, it's simply a challenge one undertakes to write a complete novel in 30 days during November. It must be 50,000 words.  So I did it! I did make one of my main characters a serious organic gardener ;-)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The garden work day went well.  We put in a new bed and thinned out one of the others which was over-planted with collards.  We even scraped together enough dirt for yet another bed!

The mild weather has meant that the ladies have been eating lettuce from their garden for weeks as well as at least one early meal of collards.  They just couldn't wait.

I cleaned up the greenhouse shed this past weekend and have herbs merrily growing inside, just in case it freezes, which it doesn't look like right now.  So all's well.

Happy Thanksgiving y'all!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I feel a garden work day coming on!

The garden is in great shape and everything looks really good but I want to scrape together the last of the dirt for the final bed and plant some more collards.  The ladies love 'em.  More importantly, I want to whip our greenhouse into shape for the winter.  It is part shed and part greenhouse.  We'll be using it all year but during the winter we will have our plants growing inside.  We already have pots of oregano, sage, dill, parsley and cilantro that can go in larger pots and move inside.  This year we will use it to grow our own seedlings for our summer garden.  Getting a head start inside really helps discourage insects.

Pictured here is our garlic bed.  I mulched it well with peat for the winter.  By June we should have lots of garlic to harvest!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Switching gears: An invitation

Today I believe we will harvest the last of the prolific basil for the ladies lunch of pesto. They are anxious to eat the collards they have grown but I am encouraging them to wait until first frost so the leaves will be more tender. My garlic has sprouted and hopefully will die back soon.  My ginger has produced a graceful stalk and has a single bud, which I hope will produce the lovely flower known for its fragrance and color.  My potted herbs need bigger pots for the winter. And the broccoli and Brussels sprouts looks healthy under their curtains.

So, switching gears a little here, those of you who are local to Augusta are invited to come to First Friday tomorrow night.  Our friends at Garden City Organics are allowing us to set up a table outside their shop at 1034 Broad St. in downtown Augusta.  In addition to our gardening club, "The Green Team," Hope House also has some talented knitters and crocheters.  We'll have scarves, trivets/potholders, hats and bags galore.  The really lovely felted wool purses are just $20 and everything else is even less.  These would make great gifts - even for yourself!  Come out and support the ladies of Hope House!  All proceeds will go toward resident activities such as the knitting circle, garden and field trips. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Taking a hill

This week the organic garden took a backseat to a barren hillside on campus.  These photos show the before and after but there's no good way to show the hard work a volunteer group from John Deere put in. This hill is steeper than it looks in the photos.  I, personally, wound up doing a belly-slide down as I attempted to hand a juniper to one volunteer at the top.  Throw in our strange, hard-packed, eroded combination of clay, sand and concrete and it was a good thing these folks had John Deere's products to work with!  Even at that we had to rent a jack-hammer to dig the holes!  I am not exaggerating when I say these folks worked hard

Truly it was a little surreal.  This was one hardy group, cheerful, fearless and willing.  Our director of development, Stephanie Suarez, set up the venture and put in a 12-hour day.  And she's a little thing.  The residents helped, too, happily passing up buckets of composted chicken manure as needed.

I lead an interesting life.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's curtains for you, bugs!

For those of you who may not get the above reference, "it's curtains!" commonly means something along the lines of "you've had it!" It comes from the theatrical world where once the curtains close, the act is finished. So, why do I use it here? Well.

We have an organic garden here at Hope House.  That means no nasty pesticides, which unfortunately has meant a few nasty bugs.  We've picked, sprayed good stuff, all to no avail.  Something (I suspect grasshoppers) swept in one night and chewed their way through my very healthy fall crop and just ticked me off.  Whatever it was got a piece of everything but the broccoli, which is happily growing under a cloth dome.  I used the cloth there because past experience led me to believe we'd be growing green worms along with the broccoli if we didn't.  So, when I saw the damage I decided to go back and cover the Brussels sprouts the same way.  (I just hope I'm not trapping any bugs in at this point!)

The beautiful thing is what I use to cover the beds: curtains!  IKEA makes these Lil curtains that are more like netting.  I think I mentioned them when I covered the broccoli, but as they work so well I thought I'd give a little more detail.  They are $5 (no typo) for two panels and each panel easily covers my 6' X 4' beds or I can cut them in half and cover two 4'X 4' beds.  That's cheap.  They are not weathering at all in the sun and the rain goes right through them without effort, no puddling so no weight pull-down.  The wind also goes right through them.  The thing is, these are weird for curtains, more like lightweight fabric screens in white.  When I first used it on the broccoli bed I stapled it to my raised bed.  Unnecessary!  When I covered the Brussels sprouts yesterday, I simply arranged it over the hoops (available from Gardeners Supply) and the rough wood of the bed gripped the curtain like Velcro!  Easy-peasy! 

These photos show the Brussels sprouts under their new cover. The close up is not a great photo but will give you a better idea of why these curtains work as described. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Genetic Gardening

One thing I've learned doing this garden is that those women whose mothers or grandmothers liked to garden are the ones most interested in doing this.  Perhaps it calls up some gentle childhood memory or the feel of the sun on one's back is somehow remembered in one's sinews, but whatever it is, it seems to run in generations.

I, too, recall the garden of my childhood.  Though we lived in the heart of the city both my mother and my grandmother had gardens.  Granma was much more serious about hers.  She grew everything: flowers, vegetables, even wheat.  What hard ground she had to till!  We visited every Sunday and never went home empty-handed.  She grew the wheat, she said, because she never wanted us to forget where bread comes from.  She immigrated here from Ukraine, sometimes known as the breadbasket of Europe.

My mother's garden was more modest.  She planted flowers and some tomatoes and salad greens.  We lived in an apartment house and the backyard was just a lot.  She fenced off a portion of it and worked the ground until it yielded to her design.  She could be stubborn. She would have been 100 this year had she not died on this day exactly three years ago.

Today I chopped the okra down.  It had grown so tall it was tipping over and the production was slowing anyway.  Life grows on. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Liquid Seaweed? Really?

I love Organic Gardening and read it regularly but this morning I got all excited when I read the promo for an article promising that I could avoid my garlic getting a fungus if I followed their advice.  I eagerly read their article which said to soak the garlic cloves in a mixture of water, baking soda and liquid seaweed first.  That was a real blinker for me.  Not only does soaking the cloves sound counterproductive to the stated goal (avoid fungus) but where does one buy liquid seaweed and what does one do with the rest of the bottle when one is done?  This seems a bit far-fetched to me so I'm open to hearing what others have to say.  Maybe I'll try to do both, soak some cloves and not others.  If, I can find liquid seaweed anywhere!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Growing Hope

A garden is so appropriate for a place such as Hope House.  Women often come here when they have no place else to turn and sometimes all they have left is hope.  A garden is like that. When the ruins of the recent harvest are cleared away and all that's left is dirt, a few seeds bring the promise of a better harvest, yet to come.

The sudden plunge in temperature is making all our fall crops perky.  The collards and Brussels sprouts are loving it and the broccoli looks so happy.  We waited about as late as we could to plant because summer hung around extra long this year.  So, I hope the plants have enough time to give us a decent crop before a hard frost hits.  Of course, by tomorrow it will be back in the 80s so I don't know why I'm even worrying about this!

Shown here are our soy beans, or, as they are also known, edamame. Many people don't think about just eating soy beans, but they are good alone, in soups and stews and make excellent humus.  This is my first time growing them so I'm curious about how they'll do.

Thanks to the fine (and well-tooled) Citizens of Georgia Power!
The garden has also brought in some new partners for Hope House.  Yesterday, a group called Citizens of Georgia Power came bearing pansies for the children's garden and helped restore our beleagured blueberry bushes with fresh compost.  At the same time they brought trick-or-treat bags of candy for our little ones and one of the women involved brought pots and pans from yet others in her Sunday School class.

Yes, hope grows.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Growing Gardeners

Of all the crops I've planted, the best harvest has been the gardeners I've grown!  I have about three women and two adolescents who are now avid gardeners.  They've learned, worked, and taken the initiative.  Exactly what I had in mind! Now some women in our supportive housing building want in on the garden as well.  Makes it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lessons Learned

When one chooses to grow organically it forces more outside-the-box thinking.  Pests can't simply be sprayed away, though there are several sprays that can be used.  For our Fall Garden we chose to try covering the broccoli.  I ordered some "plant fabric" and some half-hoops for our beds. The fabric is more like paper; it's somewhat felted, though thin.  So instead I used half a sheer curtain panel from IKEA!  These are very inexpensive and are something of a mesh.  I am happy to report that even after a hard rain yesterday the fabric has held up just fine. I'm putting this lesson away for the spring!

Also, we did some direct seeding in one of our new, smaller beds.  Tender seedlings often don't survive the kind of pounding our sudden, hard storms produce.  So I suggested we use the perforated weed cloth we line our beds with as a covering for the baby plants.  It worked like a charm.

Our rain barrels are full; our seeds have sprouted; the broccoli is doing fine; and - drum roll, please - we have three tiny baby asparagus!  I didn't expect to see anything until next year yet here they are!
One other note: We were right to use the raised bed system.  Of the plants planted directly into the soil we have lost all our lavender and the rest are struggling, but I believe will survive.  We planted the perennial herbs such as oregano and mint there as well as some berry bushes.  I've been giving them lots of compost but they have to work so hard in our soil to make a living I'm not sure they will every thrive.  We'll see. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fall Garden

Acknowledging Women in Philanthropy
It's been a busy few weeks.  First we painted the garden shed then we had to get ready for our first fall garden. Anyone who has been reading these posts knows that I do not profess to any great gardening savvy.  I rely on others, such as those at our local UGA Extension office and my own research. I've never had a fall garden before.  But this year, Hope House will have a lovely garden - all thanks to the Women in Philanthropy. I understand that today they are releasing their grant guidelines for next year. 

Note: the tall plants are okra and the rain barrels are to the right.
Our fall garden will feature collards, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, salad greens and we're going to devote a bed to overwinter ginger and garlic.

The idea behind our garden has always been greater than just harvesting an armload of veggies.  "Reaping Hope" is all about using the garden to teach our residents life skills. I'm not just talking about gardening skills, either.  Of course we have all learned plenty about nitrogen, pests, and soil depth, but the lessons go beyond this.  We have learned that not every seed planted will sprout; that not every sprout will grow and that not every plant will thrive.  We have learned that the more one knows about what one grows the more successful one will be.  We have learned that there are immutable seasons that must be respected. These are all transferable to life in general.

Over the course of the spring and summer I have seen a shift in how our garden is viewed.  At first the residents were timid.  They didn't want to "mess anything up" and only went into the garden if I was present. Now, they have formed their own garden club: The Green Team. They each have their own raised bed to tend, though some women work in pairs to share the work (another good lesson).  This may seem like a small thing to some, but it is huge to us.  For we want to foster a community.  This is their garden, not mine.  I love it!

Of course, the children were into it from the start.  That's a no-brainer.  Take a couple of kids, add dirt and water and it all adds up to fun.  The children's garden is now sporting some pretty flowers in one bed.  I'm letting the chamomile sit, knowing it will come back full force in the spring with more cascades of lovely little daisy-like flowers. The long bed we'll plant with pansies for the fall, I think.  I have cupfuls of sunflower seeds from their summer garden.  We'll plant those again in the spring and feed some to the birds this winter.

The water reclamation is up and running with great barrels from the Gardener's Supply website.  It is so great to have these right in the garden.  It makes it easy to fill up the watering cans and water with rain water at any time.  I highly recommend this for every garden. Sustainability is another good life lesson.  If one plans ahead, one can make work easier and avoid problems down the road.

Our organic garden has been a lot of work, provided a number of good lessons and has really blossomed in so many ways.  Our herbs are continuing to grow and I have more in pots that will grow all year long in our greenhouse.  Others are dried and in spice bottles.

Next year I hope we can all apply the lessons we've learned to both our garden and our lives.  We can start early on our spring garden, in our own little greenhouse shed, and the ladies have taken to container gardening in a big way, so I anticipate a lot of independence growing as well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hope House Garden in the News!

See the very nice story in Verge here.  It's a few pages in.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Garden Party

A few weeks ago some wonderful folks from Georgia Power showed up early on a Saturday to help with our fall garden. And it poured rain so we couldn't get a thing done.  That was disappointing as these people got up early just to help Hope House and were thwarted.  Nevertheless, the garden work still needed doing.
I declared last Saturday a garden work day but it turned almost into a party! The residents turned out in force to help, with paint brushes, buckets, shovels, and more.  We painted the shed, swapped out the compost, got rid of the old plants that were no longer producing, harvested a bunch of hot peppers (what does one do with so many hot peppers, I wonder?),  and generally tidied up the garden.  We also made one new bed.  One thing we'll be doing differently for our fall garden is that each woman who gave me a detailed plan for a bed will get a bed of her own to grow whatever she likes.  Five women turned in plans.

This is exciting for me because I want the women to own the garden.  I want them to have the responsibility, satisfaction and stimulation that tending a garden provides.  And I see this growing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Growing Smart I

So, now it's time to pull out the old summer plants and start thinking about a Fall garden.  But before we do that, I'd like to jot down some things we learned this year.
  1. No one knows everything.
  2. Everyone knows something.
  3. Sweet potatoes don't like rich soil.
  4. Too much nitrogen gives you too many leaves and not enough fruit!
  5. Tomatoes are having a hard time lately.
  6. Don't forget the toilet paper tubes for the squash.
  7. There are a number of good organic sprays.
  8. Square foot gardening can be carried too far.
  9. You can't plant too much parsley.
  10. You can plant too much basil.
  11. Sunflowers are very rewarding.
  12. Kids love to garden. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The little yellow wagon

When we wrote the grant that funded our garden (Thank you, again, Women in Philanthropy!) we included the cost of a garden cart because it seemed like a good, practical thing to have.  We had no idea!

Our cart came from Lowes and it was exactly what we were looking for.  It has four nice, fat tires, and a flatbed with sides that can fold down if necessary.  It's been great!  I used it again today as I unloaded the pavers that will support our water reclaim barrels.   They're heavy but the cart handled 'em easily. (I, on the other hand felt a little like a mule as I dragged the cart behind me up this tiny hill we have. Sad.)

Why am I singing the praises of this little cart? On the very day I purchased it another group (Thank you, Fort Gorden Service Club!)  donated $1,000 worth of paper supplies. That's a lot of paper towels, diapers and toilet paper to carry from our lobby to our storage shed. But not for our cart!  All summer I've seen residents and staff alike dragging all manner of items around in that cart.  Sometimes a mom would put a kid or two in there just for fun.  Or, after graduation, several residents used it to truck things from their apartments to a waiting vehicle.  Our handyman uses it all the time.  Several delivery men have made good use of it. Of course, every time I get new plants, or other garden items, they go right into the cart and I pull it along behind me instead of having the carry stuff in my arms.  It gets so well used I don't even put it in our shed - I just leave it out so folks can get to it. 

The garden has given us so much that has nothing to do with produce.  We learned a lot (but that's another post) and we've enjoyed so many simple things, like watching our refuse and clippings turn into rich compost, or putting vases of fresh herbs out at meetings and hearing people say, "What's that wonderful smell?"  And yes, like watching people use a good, solid tool. Our little yellow cart is well appreciated!  

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How time flies...

It seems like only yesterday when I was so anxious to get the garden started.  As we had to wait for funds to be made available we got some things in the ground a little late.  Now, I'm looking toward the garden change-out which will take place here at Hope House on August 14th. We've organized a garden club among the residents and they will wield - not rake and hoe, but roller and brush - all to paint our lovely new greenhouse shed.  At the same time, the Citizens of Georgia Power, a wonderful volunteer group, will help in getting the garden ready for fall.

Now I confess, it doesn't feel anything like fall around here: temps are in the upper 90s-100 degree range, humidity is high, the sun is brutal.  Still, the garden needs work.  We've discovered that just one to two beds in height is enough for what we grow.  As an experiment we had two beds that were about waist-high.  We'll break those down and the benefit will be more, if lower, beds.  I have to talk with my garden experts about what I can plant now.  I know what the charts say but it is so hot it may be worth waiting a couple of weeks to plant the cooler weather plants. I just don't know.

This is our latest crop.  I planted a white-skinned cucumber that is mild in taste and gives large fruit.  We all sampled it today in the office and then I gave a large bag to the ladies.  Must go find some good cucumber recipes for them!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The other garden

The garden about which I write here is an organic vegetable garden but another garden at Hope House has lately gotten a lot of attention.  Our meditation garden was installed last year during a cold sleety rain by a wonderful man, a Master Gardener, named Bill Adams.  Bill was a great bear of a man and worked hard breaking up our solid clay soil.  He found someone to donate the plants for the garden and brought some himself.  He provided the brains and the brawn for our meditation garden.  Tragically, he was killed as he worked in his own garden by a driver who hopped the curb and struck him. We will always remember him for his great laugh, wise ways and generous spirit. So the garden he helped plant is special to us.

We discovered that our meditation garden had a drainage problem, due in large part to the clay soil.  So that required some effort. And we did put in a drain but not before we lost several of the plants to wet feet. But enter our second hero, Megan Fechter, a local high school student who decided to take our flagging garden on as a Girl Scout project.  She raised the needed funds by cutting grass for neighbors and then rallied friends and family to help with the work.  Here's the result.  I thought it worth a mention.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hot, Hot, Hot!

The garden has taken a back seat to grant writing this week. Ironically, the grant that was taking me away from the garden today is one that, if we get it, will help pay for the garden next year. I did go out to take what I call a "sanity break" and checked on the plants.  I have never grown tomatoes that have taken so long to ripen!  But it's been so hot, unrelentingly hot.  The whole garden looked like it was stooped over with the effort to survive the heat.  (Well, maybe not the watermelon plant.  It looked pretty happy.)

I tied up one drooping plant and asked the residents to water deeply tonight.  I'll check in again in the morning.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

One of the clear successes in the garden has been the herbs.  I love to watch the expression on a person's face as the stevia leaf in her mouth suddenly becomes sugar-sweet.  The eyes widen in complete surprise. The dill complements our pickling cukes and the basil seems to be popular with everyone.  Chicken and tarragon are a natural pairing and we have plenty.  We're having a big celebration tomorrow for the Fourth and I expect the herb garden will get a good workout. 

Yesterday I received my kid's healing herb garden kit from Mountain Rose Herbs. (This is a terrific resource for all things herbal.) This contains some lesser known herbs such as calenudula (great for the skin) and lemon balm (makes a soothing tea). I'd like to get the older kids in on this garden as the first one I did with the little ones in the Theraputic Childcare Center.  I'm planning on having a regular garden party in the next few weeks to harvest our sweet potatoes and other veggies and make room for what can be planted mid-summer.  Also, I want to create a new bed or two to get ready for the fall planting.  If I don't come up with some collards this year the women might mutiny!

Brian Gandy of Garden City Organics did a great job on our greenhouse shed.  I plan to prime the inside and the trim this weekend and then get a work crew together here to paint it.  I'll add vinyl tiles to the floor, sand the work bench inside and put up some tool racks.  I want to add a rod from which we can hang planters inside and a few hooks on the outside for the same purpose.  I love this shed!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kids and Gardens

When people ask me what I find the most gratifying about having a garden at Hope House, I have to say it's the kids.Some of the parents are really into it and some not so much, but the kids?  Well,  I simply cannot go outside to do anything in the garden if the children are out and about without having them rush me with offers of help.  "Miss Rosemary" they cry, "Whatcha doing?  Can we help?"

Yesterday I noticed that in the children's garden a number of the sunflowers had keeled over from the winds we've had.  I hastened to shore them up, piling more dirt around their roots and tying them to the house as necessary.  I had many little helpers. They stuck their hands in the dirt.  They patted.  They held tools for me.  They helped. And they loved helping.  One little girl sighed deeply and said, "I love our garden."

Yep, that's why I do it!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


We had a good gardening class today.  We discussed how plants "make a living" and what that means for us.  We also harvested some very hot peppers! In fact, using tomatoes and herbs from the garden we made a fresh salsa and added some of that hot pepper.  I ate way too much! 

Another garden development is the shed.  It was delivered last week and we're all excited for it to be assembled.  It will be part storage, part greenhouse. I'll be glad to be able to stop using my van as the garden storage area and everyone is looking forward to continuing our growing efforts year-round. Here are pictures of what the shed will look like (we hope!).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fresh pickles

The other day I was able to harvest a good number of pickling cukes and some fresh dill.  As a treat for our residents I sliced the cukes, layered them with the dill weed, piled on some ice cubes and topped them first with some vinegar and then salt on the ice.  A few hours later the ladies had fresh pickles with lunch. Such simple treats make having a garden worthwhile.  A simple pesto can be made with fresh basil, olive oil, and pine or walnuts.  No cooking involved!  Just boil the pasta, top with the pesto and eat. I love easy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The circle of life

Gardens can do much for a person: they yield fruit, they give satisfaction, they give abundant opportunity for hard work and problem-solving.  They are also a study in the circle of life.  I've thought a lot about this lately. It really was the basis for doing the garden in the first place.  We plant, we reap, we recycle.  The zucchini plants that gave us such tasty veggies are now in the composter, busy becoming nutrients for next year's crop.

I checked on the garden this morning.  Many green tomatoes, some with blossom-end rot.  This is a calcium deficiency.  No one seems to know how to fix or avoid it.  I confess to some frustration. The herbs are almost a complete success.  Tomorrow I will harvest some dill and cukes and make some fresh pickles for our ladies.  The sweet potatoes should be done soon and the rutabagas are almost ready to harvest.  

My dog died on Friday. I am not one to accept death with any kind of philosophical musings. Black Jack had a great heart and he loved me with all of it.  He had nothing to do with this garden, but he was much loved by the gardener.

Life goes on.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reaping Hope Revisited

Every spring people get the garden bug and every summer the gardens get the bugs!  The garden was beautiful then the bugs noticed and now we're up against it.  I have confidence that our advisers know what they're talking about so I'll be spraying our tomatoes with "Safer Soap" and hope to halt  the little stingers that are getting to our crop.  I'll also be replanting and expanding our variety.  I'm going for some more cukes, an eggplant, some chives, and am putting in more oregano and parsley, popular little herbs that they are. 

We've learned quite a lot so far and the garden has generated much interest among our residents.  Tomorrow we'll be having an herb class and harvesting about half of our herbs.  We'll also sink one-gallon containers in the beds to do a little passive watering.  Photos tomorrow, I promise!

Friday, June 4, 2010


The zucchini have officially bitten the dust.  I harvested the last one today and noted the rot at the base of each plant.  This is due to an unavoidable infestation of a pest that likes the stalk as much as people like the fruit! Still, it's slightly discouraging but we'll simply replant, rotating the new plants to beds that never held squash.  This will also give us more space for other veggies.  Meanwhile the rutabagas are doing fine, the peas finished and I'm keeping the last handful to grow next year.  Our tomatoes are just beginning to turn red and the sweet potatoes, I trust, are doing their underground thing. The herb bed is going nuts and is begging for harvest.  Next week I'll add to the garden.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Foreseeable Problems

One thing that excited me most about doing this organic garden was the fact that we would be using fresh, new Nursery Mix from Bricko farms.  I knew this would be rich with nutrients and devoid of pests.  What I didn't know (but have learned since) is that this high-nitrogen mix would make our plants explode with growth so quickly that the plants prone to blossom-end rot disease would likely get it.

Blossom-end rot disease is due to a calcium deficiency in the plant.  The great Nursery Mix has plenty of calcium but I know from my glaze-mixing for pottery (see my Forrest Pottery Blog) that calcium carbonate is not very available because it is not water soluble.  Now this is great for glazes, but not for plants.  So plants that grow very quickly don't have time to absorb the calcium from the soil and will eventually fall prey to the dreaded disease.

In the past this has stopped me from growing squash and zucchini but thanks to Brian and Kate Gandy of Garden City Organics I now know that my second planting of these in this rich soil will likely not suffer from the same problem.  And I hasten to add that we have gotten armloads of zucchini already and more are successfully growing.  Still, it's nice to know that while this is likely to happen, it isn't a deal-killer and I can simply replant!

Another problem  that I looked for and didn't see was the boring pest that feasts on the same crop.  I looked too high up on the stalks.  Brian advised me to simply mound up the dirt around the infected bases.  There is no substitute for first-hand knowledge!  And all of us at Hope House are so grateful to Brian and Kate for their generous spirit and expert advice.

Just so you believe me when I say that in spite of these minor problems we have a good crop, here's a picture of a beauty!  Also, some tomatoes-in-waiting.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wide-eyed wonder

This morning I let the children each pull up one radish from their garden.  Their eyes were bigger than the substantial globes they pulled!  The nice thing about radishes and kids is that they don't take so long to grow.  The kids can actually remember putting those tiny seeds in the ground.  So for them it is like magic.  They were going on a nature hunt so I also cut them some of the tiny, daisy-like chamomile flowers from their other bed.

I tossed a handful of the radishes into a bowl with the first little pickle cukes and the snow peas I picked this morning.  All will help make the salad the ladies have planned for lunch just a little bit more interesting.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Harvest I - Zucchini

This morning I had to give in and pick the zucchini that has been begging to be harvested.  I had such an armload I had to put them in our garden cart and go get a bag to take them down to the kitchen!  I also found a few yellow crookneck squash to pick and tomorrow the snow peas get their turn.  They will star in a fresh salad the ladies here are planning for tomorrow along with some tender young zucchini that escape the pot tonight. 

In addition to fresh vegetables, our garden is growing new partnerships.  Today Brian and Kate Gandy of Garden City Organics, a terrific little shop in downtown Augusta, visited and gave us the benefit of their education and knowledge. We hope to see much more of them as time allows. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Excitement is growing!

There's something magical about a garden.  You plant a tiny seed, or even a little seedling, and the next thing you know you have squash all sleek and shiny, tomatoes heavy enough to require bracing the plant and herbs so fragrant a myriad of lovely dragonflies decorate the leaves. It is a kind of magic, or alchemy, I think, that we can transform dirt and water and sunlight into edible delights.

Doing a garden organically is new to me.  In the past, at the first sign of insects I would get out the spray and have at 'em.  This presents new challenges to me but I can see they are not insurmountable.  Yes, we lost the collards to what I believe are cabbage loopers.  But I understand that I planted a little late in the season and I think next year we'll have better luck with this.  I haven't seen too many other pests: one nasty baby grasshopper (don't get me started on grasshoppers!) and a few other insects that don't seem to be feeding on the produce.  I also saw a ladybug, a known garden friend. 

This morning I replanted the globe basil into the herb bed.  I had put them in one of the vegetable beds and they were doing fine but the zucchini are going great guns in that bed so I didn't want the basil shaded by the giant leaves. And I do mean giant!  It's like I planted elephant-ear zucchini!  Next week the residents will be dining on zucchini and  maybe some yellow squash.  The cukes are just tiny babies right now, or still in flower but I predict fresh pickles by the end of June.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Growing I/Changing habits

One of the more rewarding aspects of doing this garden is how it is changing the habits - not just of the residents here - but also the staff.  Nearly every Monday staffers bring me compostables from their kitchen.  It was hard at first to get across the idea that I wanted only raw vegetable matter, not meat, sweets, or even cooked stuff as it was often seasoned with salt and fat.  But change happens.

Today I fed our Mantis composter with good, clean grass clippings.  It gets plenty of coffee grounds, tea bags and old stuff from our various refrigerators.  Just last week I closed the first section of the composter and have begun to add stuff to the second compartment.  I selected this particular composter as it is big, has the twin compartments and seems sturdy and easy to use.  I have only one complaint so far: the clips are very stiff (you better wear gloves when opening or closing!) and after a while they work free, requiring a minor repair.

So, as our garden grows, we grow, too, seeing in our trash another small way to do some good.  This has led to yet another, non-gardening related change: now we are recycling cans as well.  The local fire department collects them and uses the proceeds to help families burned out of their homes.  A win-win for all.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reaping Hope

In addition to being a potter, I am also the grants coordinator at Hope House, Inc., a long-term residential treatment facility in Augusta, Georgia for women (and their children) who face challenges stemming from homelessness, substance abuse and disabilities. This is a terrific organization and does a lot of good. One new project I want to share with everyone is our new organic vegetable garden.

The Women in Philanthropy gave us a generous grant this spring to put in an organic garden and use it as a training tool for our residents. It's also been a source of education for me! I know just enough to get into trouble in a garden but in overseeing this project I've learned a thing or two which I'd really love to share with anyone interested in gardening, herbs, food, or just in helping people.

I decided that we would do raised-bed gardening as our soil here is rock hard. I first heard of this a few years ago in the book, Lasagna Gardening but there are other good books out there as well. We got really neat, easy-to-install raised ceder beds from Earth Easy. I filled the beds with a rich, organic soil from a local company, Bricko, producers of Kricket Krap. Further reading on the topic led me to believe square-foot gardening (see the book) would give us the biggest bang for our buck so I sectioned each of our 5 beds.

I've gotten lots of comments about how closely-spaced our plants are and I can't argue with that. But we've had almost no problem with weeds or pests and have the biggest plants I've ever seen. It remains to be seen if this spacing is crowding out any of the plants. So far we've harvested lettuce and some herbs and the tomatoes are setting fruit.

I find this entire project very exciting and I know our residents do, too. The children, especially, love to visit the garden (though they have a little one of their own, which is another post entirely) and give the plants water. Last week we picked Stevia, an herb known for its sweet leaves, and it was fun to see their faces light up when they tasted it.

We call the project, Reaping Hope, because from it we believe our residents will get far more than just vegetables. We believe they will get skills, enjoyment, knowledge and yes, hope.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Relationships I

A dear friend has a birthday just days after Christmas. It's always a busy time for everyone and rarely do we spend that day together. We have always observed the date later and this year, I planned to drop off my little gift as I ran some errands.
One thing I had to do was drop by my sister-in-law's house because I'd left a pair of shoes there over the holidays. She invited me in for coffee and I stayed an hour. I had to go to several stores and my significant other was waiting for me to get home so we could go to lunch.

What does this have to do with relationships? Everything. For when I got to my friend's home she, too, invited me in. She wasn't expecting me and I hadn't planned on spending any time there but she's my friend. It's a relationship that requires nurturing as our lives now take us in different directions. But this is a woman who physically helped me move when I divorced. She made my daughter a birthday cake that year. She bought me a set of flatware. I had to ask myself, "Do you not have time for a cup of tea with one of your best friends?"

I made time. I could tell she was glad I'd come by. I enjoyed her company as well. It's true I had a student due this afternoon (I teach pottery) and my planned lunch didn't take place until after 2 p.m. but I value friendship and friendship is more than an exchange of trinkets on specific days. It's time and sharing and more time.

Make the time.