Gardening doesn’t end as seasons change

By Conelia Dixon - Contributing columnist

The People’s Garden is a wonderful, beautiful spot in our community that serves hundreds of pantry shoppers and offers garden bed rental ($10 a season) for all community members. This is a place for anyone in our area to enjoy, volunteer at, and take pride in. This season especially since March, has certainly been a year of surprises… some not so good, but some good surprises too. 2020 has not been what we usually expect in a season of gardening at The People’s Garden. We learned to wear masks, gloves, be socially distanced and to not have our usual group workdays. It makes for sad times right now but we get the work done happily and are productive.

Michelle and I started this garden in 2013 with four raised garden beds. Now we have 54 beds and a great variety of crops to care for. Along the way we acquired the help of another coordinator and have enjoyed her expertise and regular service at the garden, but we are now sad to say she has the opportunity to move farther away and we will not see her working, weeding and planting at the garden. She says she will look for another community garden in her new area to voluntarily serve and perhaps this new garden will be our “sister community garden”. I hope so, as I will miss her.

One of the unfortunate things that happened this year is that we did not receive the usual 100 to 200 tomato and pepper plants donated by the FFA groups at the schools in the area, like Fairlawn and Anna. They just were not able to meet or serve the community like they always do because of the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. This seems bad, but it is good in this way: there were other individuals and businesses who stepped up and helped start plants for us at their location, or donated extra plants that they had so that we are still a thriving garden. Kae nursery is one business, and Mr. Marcozzi and Cinda T. are two individuals that were kind enough to participate in our need for plants for the spring. They started vegetable plants from seed. As of Oct. 1, we have donated almost 600 pounds of fresh vegetables to the Agape food pantry. We use everything that is donated to the garden project. Nothing is wasted. Some of the spring greens and other food we have grown are now, in the coolness of fall, finished producing, but we still use the spent garden beds for new crops. Even garden space is not wasted!

In March and in April we planted cool season crops like arugula, onions, carrots, turnips, and green leafy vegetables like lettuce and swiss chard. In May we planted some beans, tomatoes, peppers, okra, yellow squash and butternut squash and flowers for pollinators. During the summer, in hot weather, the lettuces and arugula start going to seed, they are pulled out and other crops are put in that like the hot weather. Beans like the hot weather and are usually planted in May and harvested in July. This year we planted more beans and arugula in July and so we have been harvesting them for about two weeks now. We also discovered that there are fewer insects attacking them in the cool weather. They are doing very well! I am looking forward to planting much more arugula and beans in July next season. In November, we will plant garlic, which is harvested in the summer. Gardens do not end in October!

Our okra did not get as tall this year (usually about 6 feet tall), and this was probably weather related. The weather was very dry to begin with and then a lot of rain. The roots of all the plants grew deeper looking for water and so this made for stronger plants. When it did rain, they grew like crazy. Okra is one crop that we have never had to fence in. This year, some of the okra had bites out of the leaves… we did not fence it in because we have never had a problem of animals eating it before. We have found ways of keeping the deer and groundhogs out of the garden beds (chicken wire fastened very tightly) and so when they cannot get in to eat their favorite salad items, they go for what is available. Oh, so the okra was the only thing available this season. Thank you very much mama deer and triplets! Every year teaches us more about the critters. They have never liked the hot peppers, so no problem there!

Improvements are always being made to the garden. Last winter the inside of the Learning Center building was insulated and paneled by volunteer skilled workers, and a heat/air unit was put in. The riverbank was cleared of some trees and shrubs which allowed more sunlight in, and we also got rid of some of the dead trees. Tree of Heaven is an invasive tree that attracts the destructive spotted lanternfly, so a couple of those large trees were cut down just two days ago. One dead tree fell into the garden on its own last spring. It was quite a mess to clean up, splintering among the garden beds, but no one was there, thank goodness. Lately, Nate, Isaac, Matt, and others spent their time off installing a barrier around the bottom of the building to keep the groundhogs from tunneling under there. It involved digging a deep trench around the whole building and installing steel fencing by hand. Good exercise, whew! Groundhogs and deer are the two main critters that we battle.

Birds are plentiful and are good to help keep control of insects, plus they are so beautiful and sing to us as we work. Thank you, Leroy and the late Bob Barnhart, for feeding them and building houses for them. We have no problem with tomato horn worms, and I did not see any Japanese beetles this year at all. Thank you, birdies! Master Gardeners are always available and helpful for identifying insects, plant diseases and for knowing how to deal with those things if we need them.

At the present time we are in the process of inviting people to help us take care of the garden. Some people are looking for a place to volunteer in our beautiful community. Absolutely no experience is necessary. We will teach you all you need and want to know. We have some wonderful people of all ages, including children (Zach and Mica) who come, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts. We have people who donate plants (thank you Luke from Kae Nursery), soil (thank you Mr. Gibbs), those who do the skilled building (thank you Isaac, Nate and his church group, and Terry), and those who want to spend a little time weeding.

Please consider stopping by to help once a week for an hour or more so we can continue to be productive. There are jobs for skilled builders and jobs for those who like the pleasant job of harvesting, mowing, trimming, seed sorting and weeding (thank you those from The Connection Point Church, Sarah, and Gregg). There is a message box on the porch so you will know what to do if we are not there, including a phone number to call. There are benches to sit on so you can rest. It even helps to deter critters if you just want to walk around are enjoy the beauty of the garden, the woods and river view.

If you are interested in learning how you can help or if you want to become one of our coordinators (we are searching for one), please contact Agape Distribution right away at 937-498-4368 or me at 937-726-9525. The season does not end in the fall. We plan for the next season and work on projects throughout the year. Unfortunately we rarely meet in person now, but we have a Google Docs site that we use for communicating between the coordinators. The pantry shoppers will thank you — they are always so thankful for fresh food.

Please consider “liking” our Facebook page. Just type in The People’s Garden and it might come up as Agape Distribution, The People’s Garden. Updates, pictures and videos are posted regularly. You might see your picture on there! Please come and volunteer to help provide food for hungry people. The garden is located at 209 Brooklyn Ave. in Sidney. The raised bed garden itself is behind the Agape food pantry building between the Great Miami River and Brooklyn Ave. I hope and pray for your safety and good health in this time.

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.