Nature’s little helpers

By Conelia Dixon - Contributing columnist

A group of fawns visit the Peoples’ Garden behind Agape Distribution in Sidney.

A group of fawns visit the Peoples’ Garden behind Agape Distribution in Sidney.

The People’s Garden at Agape Distribution in Sidney is a volunteer-operated community garden that raises fresh produce for the food pantry. We have been planting and harvesting in raised garden beds since 2013. A lot of people in the area know about us already and participate by renting a bed or helping out. We started out this garden season in March by planting crops that really like the cold weather like peas, turnips, onions, chard, collards, and kale. Then in April we worked on carrots, lettuce, radishes, beets and spinach. The warm weather crops were planted in May and those would be things like okra, beans, squash, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tomatoes, basil, parsley and peppers. We do have some perennial crops and some of those are spearmint and peppermint, chives, oregano, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. They thankfully come up on their own in the spring.

As you might be able to see, we have a definite plan for growing vegetables and we do try to use crop rotation and companion planting as much as possible, including flowers for pollinators. Zinnias are one of our favorites and draw many different beneficial pollinators, but we also plant small flowers that attract the parasitic wasps that control the hornworm population in the garden. Last year i didn’t find any on our tomatoes. I will tell you about it later in this article. It is a very interesting partnership between the wasp and the tomato worm.

We work on planning and communication during the winter. Due to social distancing, it has been more difficult to work at the garden because we usually are not there together. There are three coordinators, and we love to work together. We generally have some Master Gardeners and community groups that volunteer to help us, but once again due to COVID-19 precautions, we haven’t had the community participation from FFAs and others. However, we have been managing in this new normal. (My mother always said, “You just do it!”)

We have been able to allow people to rent a garden bed or two. Our renters are doing well, and they are taking care of their gardens on their own, growing what they choose to grow. If they need suggestions, or if they need help in any way, we are available by phone or email. You might see some pictures of their gardens on our Facebook page and if you “like” that page, then you can see posts and pictures about what we are doing fairly regularly.

We do the best we can to raise as much produce as we can for the pantry and when we first started we had a hard time with animals eating the pantry vegetables. We have learned how to deal mostly with the hungry critters, deer and groundhogs that enter the garden to sneak a tasty snack. Those beautiful fawns are cute and we don’t scare them away but we can’t allow them to be using the garden for a salad bar. With some help from the soil and water conservation district grant, we received some chicken wire that we use to protect the garden beds so that we don’t need to use chemicals or other means like trapping. We have bird houses in the garden, thanks to Leroy Beard and the late Bob Barnhart, so that we attract birds that help with insect control. We attract beneficial bees and wasps and other insects to help with pollination with lots of flowers. There is a small parasitic wasp that likes small flowers and that loves to lay its eggs on tomato hornworms… the hornworm succumbs from this act. The eggs are the white bumps you see on the large green tomato worms. Leave it alone or lay it down by the plant and the wasp will have helped save your tomatoes. We do our best to live with nature and even let natural interaction help us.

We have seen that pantry shoppers particularly like green and red tomatoes, green onions, snap peas, okra, turnips and mixed greens and so we grow all those. We like to try new things sometimes so we will consider planting vegetables that you suggest. There are many different countries represented in the Sidney area and we are interested in getting suggestions of things that are not commonly grown here in Ohio, or perhaps even that some of us have never heard of, but that we can try to grow in our climate. Please contact us with your suggestions. One thing we have tried in recent years is okra, and it does very well here. That is usually thought of as a Southern U.S. crop. I first tasted it in Tennessee and loved it. It is a favorite in the pantry. Maybe we can try your favorite squash or hot peppers.

Please feel free to contact us on Facebook at The People’s Garden or by email at [email protected] Maybe you will even want to consider volunteering at the garden. We can always use help with weeding, but we also currently need help building new raised beds. Since March we have been in the process of replacing wooden beds with metal ones, and it does take some serious muscle to saw the corrugated metal and wood and put together the beds. We will accept your help, guaranteed. Email me! Feel free to visit sometime on your own, and sit on one of our wonderful benches that the Legion Baseball made for us. Listen to all the birds, and enjoy nature’s sounds and peacefulness. Hopefully hear from you or see you soon!

A group of fawns visit the Peoples’ Garden behind Agape Distribution in Sidney. group of fawns visit the Peoples’ Garden behind Agape Distribution in Sidney.

By Conelia Dixon

Contributing columnist

The writer is a Master Gardener and a coordinator of the People’s Garden. Reach her at 937-726-9525.

The writer is a Master Gardener and a coordinator of the People’s Garden. Reach her at 937-726-9525.