Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sounds of the Garden benefit

On Monday, February 23, the Boston Natural Areas Network hosted a benefit concert at the Midway Cafe to support Sounds of the Garden, a series of free concerts held at community gardens around the city (last summer, the Minton Stable Garden was treated to a show by Lloyd Thayer). I was enjoying the eclectic mix of performances too much to take out my notebook and do any actual reporting, but I can at least provide photos and (mostly MySpace) links to the musical and poetry acts.

The room was filled with mainly Minton Stable Gardeners, BNAN staff, a few Midway regulars, and members of the Whitehaus, a Jamaica Plain-based collective of artists behind most of the performances that evening. Some of the Whitehaus folks looked familiar; it was very cool to discover this other side of some of my fellow gardeners. A fundraising raffle was part of the festivities; I was lucky to win a BNAN membership and a book, leading some to joke that the operation was rigged.
The first band I heard, Peal & Lash (above), provided fun thrashing rock, the loudest music of the evening. They were followed by D.A. Boucher, who recited and performed an unforgettable revisionist take on Peter Cottontail, complete with Whitehaus family members posing as vegetables at risk.
Next were The Woodrow Wilsons (below), with their lovely vocal harmonies layered over acoustic guitar and xylophone (not shown).
Joe Bergin read a special poem he wrote about the garden and John Carroll (note to self--get a copy!).

Peace, Loving was up next. This experimental group left most of their chains and bowls at home, leaning toward more of an acoustic folk sound, including some powerful poetry provided by the member at the far left in the photo below. Another Whitehaus member, Lindsay Clark, performed a stunning solo set, her voice floating over rootsy banjo picking.

Brian Ellis, above right, read his mind-bending poetry. His verse about a Greyhound bus ride down the east coast as a metaphor for a bad relationship was quite engaging. Ed Masuga's acoustic folk was a nice finish to the evening.

I hope that this benefit went far to beef up BNAN's budget for this summer's series, and that some of these performers and others who are just as good bring their music to the gardens this summer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Remembering Alan Sedrish

Last night I attended the Sounds of the Garden benefit concert at the Midway Cafe.  Had a great time hanging out with friends, listening to cool music and poetry, and snapping lots of photos.  I hope to post a summary in the next day or so.  There was only one dark cloud over an otherwise joyful event.   Before he read an excellent poem he penned to celebrate the Minton Stable Garden and John Carroll's contributions, Joe Bergin delivered some sad news; Alan Sedrish, a longtime neighbor and Minton Stable gardener, had just passed away.

Alan ran a successful business, Stony Brook Woodworking, out of his studio at the Brewery in Jamaica Plain.  He built our bed frame, pepper grinder, and probably other items in our home that I can't recall at the moment, but he was known by a wider audience for his work on his theater sets for Sarah Caldwell and others, and for some benches at Doyles.  We always made it a point to stop by during Jamaica Plain Open Studios to admire his humidors, pen sets and other beautifully crafted items.

I often ran into Alan and chatted with him at the Midway back when I used to hang out with neighbors on Fridays, around ten years ago.  And since then, I'd see him in the garden, especially at the barbecues, and occasionally tending his plot.  I recall that he grew mostly tomatoes, and they too were masterpieces.  He struck me as a very reserved person,  yet someone who was confident in his competence.  And he always seemed to be smiling.  Despite some health issues in recent years, it's still hard to believe he's no longer with us.  He will definitely be missed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The costs of gardening: 2009

In a post a few weeks ago, I summarized a few studies on the monetary benefits of gardening.  More and more people are growing their own food, with many seed companies reporting a 20 percent increase in sales.  Not only do many gardeners prefer fresher, more flavorful produce that they know hasn't been sprayed with some unknown pesticide or shipped hundreds or thousands of miles, they believe that they'll cut their food expenses as well.

I've decided to do my own research on the costs and benefits of growing vegetables and fruit over the upcoming gardening season.  Starting with this post, I'll be reporting from time to time on how much I've spent on my own gardens--both community plot and backyard--and come harvest time, calculate the value of my yield based on local prices for similar produce.  I can't promise accurate results.  There's always a chance I'll forget to factor in some expense such as potting soil, and I won't include the costs of tools I already own, or estimate how much I was billed for watering the backyard.  But I'm curious.  Despite all of my years of gardening, I've regarded the activity a hobby, giving little thought to the financial consequences.
My first expense for the 2009 gardening season is this tabletop grow light from Gardener's Supply.  In the past I've had mixed success starting seeds; despite locating my peat pots or plastic trays of tomato seeds in a sunny window, the soil never seems to get warm enough to sustain them, and I've ended up with stringy seedlings that droop over and fail to thrive.  So with the help of a $50 gift certificate, I was able to purchase this modest set-up for $94.48.

I took up a friend's offer to go in with him on tomato seeds.  For others, I placed an order with Fedco: snap peas, spinach, lettuce (romaine and Buttercrunch), broccoli, sweet basil, and thyme.  Subtracting the flower seeds from the order, the total plus postage came out to $16.50.

So, the expenses so far:
Grow light $94.48
Seeds $16.50
Total: $110.98

We'll see if I can avoid buying flats this season, though I wouldn't turn down a few donations.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This year's Valentine's sacrifice

Valentine's Day: no better time about flowers.  Specifically, those that my husband gave me and my daughter.  This year he presented me with a lovely cyclamen, which he purchased from a local florist.  This Mediterranean plant is a popular houseplant, grown indoors during the winter months, and goes dormant in the warmer months.  
I hope this cyclamen makes it to the next winter.  I have a notorious history for killing any houseplant that is not a spider plant or philodendron or any other plant I need to water only when the spirit moves me.  African violets, Kalanchoe and Caladium are just a few of the varieties thoughtfully given to me and thoughtlessly neglected.  I have already traumatized my dear cyclamen once by dropping it when I tried to move it.  If my houseplants were children, I would be declared an unfit parent.  I wonder if my thumb turns green only when exposed to the outside air.

I have killed a cyclamen before, but this year I vow to be more attentive.  I'll keep it in the middle of my dining room table, where there is light during the day, but not direct sunlight.  I don't think our house temperature goes below 60 degrees at night, but if I put in in the basement I'll surely forget about it.  Blogging about it might help hold me accountable for taking better care of it.  Any suggestions would certainly be welcome.

My daughter received a bouquet of red carnations.  That sparkly stuff is glitter added by the florist to make the flowers look more festive.  No strange experiments in hybridization were performed to create that effect.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Scratching that gardening itch

Although on Sunday the temperature here in Boston reached the 50s, we know better.  Whether or not we choose to believe in the consequences of the groundhog's shadow, there's no denying that we still have at least another month before we can start working the ground, though we can see a little of it here at the base of the fence.
But that doesn't mean we can't plan ahead.  There are still seed orders to be placed, and a recent email from the MSG Steering Committee contained important dates to plug into our calendars, including a Sounds of the Garden fundraiser at the Midway Cafe on February 23 and the BNAN Gardener's Gathering on March 28.

The stubborn, hard ground has not prevented all victims of harsh winters from indulging in their favorite hobby.  Molly Day, who along with Martha writes the excellent and informative Oklahoma-based blog All the Dirt on Gardening, has been starting seeds indoors since January.  And I can always count on Dan of the Urban Veggie Garden Blog to fill me in on his activities, whether he's planting onions indoors or keeping his brussel sprouts and sage protected outside.  Who says you can't garden in Ontario in the winter?

Much closer to the MSG, Allan and Kim have forwarded me an impressive list of over 50 native perennial herbaceous varieties they have started this winter, many more than they can actually fit on their own property.  Allan hopes that perhaps some of the milkweed can be planted over at the MSG to create more of a butterfly habitat.  The other few gardeners I surveyed are much more like me; still putting together a seed order.  That counts, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Measuring the benefits of community gardens

Anyone who is familiar with community gardens can probably spew forth a list of benefits.  But can those benefits be quantified?  The Boston Natural Areas Network (the MSG's "landlord" and valuable resource) thinks so, according to a study it conducted to determine the total yield and its value from the city's 150 community gardens.  According to an article published in BNAN's Winter 2009 Urban & Green newsletter, gardeners grow an estimated 494,750 pounds of vegetables valued at $1.3 million, or $431 a year for each family.

There's no way BNAN could have sent bean counters to every plot in the city (though I know some employees would welcome the opportunity to get out of the office).  Assumptions were made that equal numbers of the 13 most popular vegetables were grown, and BNAN's Learning Garden in Mattapan was used as a control to obtain yield data over three years, which was then averaged.  The monetary value was based on prices for organic produce in the Boston area.

The theory that community gardens raise property values in a neighborhood has also been examined.  New York University's Vicki Been and Ioan Voicu reported in a 2006 paper that community gardens in New York City had a positive impact on the values of residential properties within 1000 feet of a garden, particularly in the poorest neighborhoods studied.  The value increases can lead to significant increases in tax revenue--an argument that can be used in dealing with city governments who prefer the land to be developed for another purpose.

Anyone interested in the idea of community gardens bringing together a diverse group of people within a neighborhood should check out the results of a survey used by New York state senators who were fighting to preserve New York City community gardens.  Although the survey was taken over ten years ago, I can't imagine that the information obtained about the positive uses and impacts of community gardens would be much different today.

To my knowledge, the Minton Stable Garden's impact on the Stoneybrook neighborhood of JP has not been measured, but I know that it's tangible.  I have met people in the garden who have expressed a desire to live in the neighborhood just because of it, and many solid friendships have been forged through participation in gardening and other activities.