Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Minton Stable Garden Annual Meeting

Despite the rain and the unintentional conflict with the first night of Passover, about 30 Minton Stable Community Gardeners attended the annual meeting, which took place on Monday night down the street in the English High School library. At least one of the lucky former waitlisters was there to pay her $30 dues and sign her contract stating that she will follow the ever-increasing list of rules; new additions for 2010 include a protocol for dealing with people who are at risk of losing their plot (due to not completing hours or other violations), the procedure for those wanting to use the property for their own gatherings, and the opportunity to donate extra work hours into a bank so others who may have some physical limitations or other emergency can have them applied to meet their own requirement (still 4 hours per season). With a few families and individuals having left the neighborhood since last season, a few more plots are being allocated to those at the top of the waitlist (of now over 40 wannabe gardeners).Thanks to Allan for sending me photos; I posted this one because it features almost everyone in attendance. If you click on photo to enlarge it you can make out the Steering Committee members in the back facing the crowd--I'm wearing yellow, Todd is left of me, John is right of me in a white shirt, Asa (in a black jacket with white stripes) is discussing the rules, Terry is right of her (in a maroon sweater). Roxane is sitting on the left side of the table, wearing a light blue shirt and taking notes on her laptop. Jennifer, who usually takes notes and chairs meetings, was taking a well-deserved vacation in Guatemala.

We managed to finish ahead of schedule so I could (as treasurer) process the dues payments of everyone who had brought them. In past years different issues extended the meeting; at least once there were disagreements between dog owners and gardeners over where dogs could roam and do their business, and the year the shed was built there was much discussion about how to carry out that project. But this year dogs were hardly mentioned. Bees were, though, as Joe (one of the gardeners) presented some information in advance of a possible proposal to keep some at the garden, a project in such an early stage that it has not sparked any controversy. One item that members did want to discuss was how to better turn our weeds and plant waste into compost. Right now we don't have the capability and there are sanitation issues as well, but there seems to be enough interest and energy to investigate and implement a plan to change that.

If you are a member reading this post, I would like to remind you that there will be four Steering Committee seats to be filled in the election this May. Asa, Roxane, and I will stay on for the second year of our two-year term, but the four whose terms are ending have decided not to run again. Sure, there is work involved, and decisions to be made, but we only meet for two hours a month. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have (there's a link on my profile page if you want to email me), or you can contact the committee at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Observing some traditions, forsaking others

Armed with my dysfunctional digital camera, I set out on this last sunny March weekend day to keep up with my growing traditions as well as experience how others respond to plant life. In the late morning I headed over to my plot at the Minton Stable Garden and turned over some of the soil for the first time in 2010. With a few breaks to chat with others passing through, I managed to dig up about a third of the plot, exhume the skeletons of last fall's broccoli, and sow the following: Forellenshluss Romaine Lettuce (a success from last year that I hope to repeat), Summertime Iceberg (for the younger taste buds), and Tyee Spinach (which Fedco sent as a substitute for the Space I had ordered). I repeated the same planting later in the afternoon in my backyard raised bed.Around 2:00 I was back in JP, to pick up my friend Kim and head down to to Mobius, an experimental arts organization in Boston's South End, for an event that had intrigued us, the Alternative Experimental Flower Show. We had attended the traditional flower show on and off for years, but despite the change in venue (Boston's World Trade Center) and main sponsor (formerly Massachusetts Horticultural Society, now Paragon Group), we could already envision the types of exhibits we'd encounter for the $20 we'd end up spending (although I do regret missing a display that Asa, a fellow Steering Committee member, had some involvement in assembling). We were looking forward to spending only $5 to support a great non-profit and not knowing what to expect.

Outside the entrance, we encountered the bouquets of flowers that we assumed that people had brought the past few nights as part of the admission fee to the dances and other live performances. Inside, Kim took advantage of a rare opportunity--she became a plant, potted by one of the artists, Cathy Nolan Vincevic. She removed her shoes, stepped into a pot, then Cathy added some potting soil and greenery. Feet buried in the dirt, Kim sensed what it was like to have a strong root system. She asked how she should behave, a little surprising given her extensive knowledge as a gardener, and her friend Marlo and I suggested that she face the sun. Other works in the exhibit included bananas and banana peels arranged like flowers (by Ursula Ziegler) and Bill Evertson's "Thorns in the Garden," where the visitor watches a looping video of various scenes of environmental destruction through a telescope and has the opportunity to buy fake seed packets with colorful images of mushroom clouds over fields of flowers and maps of chemical weapons storage sites. Deborah Bohnert, who has been giving away much of her art over the course of her career, made sure we didn't leave without one of her elegant pyramid-shaped potpourri pieces.

The installations provided a much-needed contrast to the traditional flower show exhibits. Instead of cordoning plant life off from human contact, we were encouraged to mingle with it in some cases, witness how it must hold up in the face of other forces, whether they be environmental or cultural (such as how they are portrayed in origami and other mediums), and see floral features in other objects.Later at home, as the skies began to cloud foreshadowing a soggy week ahead, I decided to be proactive and start some snap peas indoors. Reading a post from Dan's blog last week, I was reminded how the seeds that had germinated under the grow lights last season fared much better than those that I had sown directly into my backyard garden. I did plant some last weekend but it's still too early to tell how they'll do. I brought my peat pots indoors and added them to the other occupants under the grow lights, including my Black Prince tomatoes (above) and Piricicaba broccoli (below). So far, I feel I should have taken my delphinium seed money and bought a nice cup of coffee instead, but at least most my vegetables are progressing normally.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't just garden, advocate

It may have been a gorgeous spring day yesterday, but the 35th annual Gardeners Gathering drew its regular crowd at Northeastern University, with many workshops filled and standing-room-only attendance at the noontime plenary session. I wish I could provide you with sharper photos of the event, but if you have been reading earlier posts, you are aware that I've been having problems with the focus and range finder of my digital camera. My search for repairs has taken me out of state, with a quote of about half the price of the camera itself. So I'll be shopping for a replacement, and hopefully finding a way to recycle this camera without adding to all of the other appliances in our landfills.The organization behind the Gardeners Gathering is the Boston Natural Areas Network. In her address, BNAN president Valerie Burns informed members of its Boston community gardens that compost delivery will be delayed 3-4 weeks; the compost comes from the city's collected yard waste and won't be released until tests reveal that it meets lead-level and other requirements. With that and some other business taken care of, she dedicated the remainder of her speech to the important issue of advocacy, explaining that many of our elected officials aren't aware of the community gardens within their districts. Gardens beautify our neighborhoods, make them safer, and bring people together, but it's simply not enough for us to grow and maintain our plots. With citywide budgetary constraints, it's the silent that are most likely to end up on the chopping block. So speak up at neighborhood meetings about the benefits of community gardens, and write letters to city councilors and other elected officials. According to Burns, for every one letter they get from a constituent, it is assumed that there are about a hundred others who feel the same way.

A gardener in the crowd brought our attention to a bill that was introduced last summer, H.R. 3225, The Community Gardens Act of 2009, which would provide funding for community gardens. Obviously, the Congress is tied up with the health care bill and other matters, but she urged us to contact our representatives to urge them to support it.Later I attended a few of the workshops, including Fresh Tastes from the Garden & Cooking with Seasonal Vegetables, put on by several graduates of BNAN's Master Urban Gardener program. After tasting Patricia's swiss chard with cannelloni and some kale seasoned with garlic and other spices, I am now trying to figure out where I can make room for these vegetables in my garden. Florence showed us different ways to use every part of the cassava plant, a major staple for many in African countries, and Phoebe had us taste-testing various salad dressings made from yogurt, orange juice, and herbs.

At the end, everyone reunited in the plenary room to hear Mayor Menino's annual remarks. In addition to urging everyone to invite him to their gardens at harvest time (which he does every year), he touted an initiative as a testament to his dedication to community gardening. For this year, he described the garden on Long Island (one of the Boston Harbor Islands), where residents of the homeless shelter help grow, harvest, and sell produce at a farmers market. The farm recently acquired 100 chickens, so he kidded the math-challenged by explaining that if each chicken laid an egg a day, there would be 700 after a week. After his speech, he stuck around to bestow awards and raffle prizes. The honored included the Hall of Fame inductee, the Southwest Corridor Parkland (11 gardens along the Southwest Corridor between the Back Bay and Jamaica Plain, including some I passed on my bike on the way home), and the Most Valuable Gardener, CiCi Kwan(sp?) of the Berkeley Street Community Garden. That she has never missed a garden cleanup in twenty-five years would put any work-hour slacker to shame.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Did the season start without me?

Everyone has a different determinant for the beginning of the gardening season. For some, it's as soon as the ground can be worked, which for us in New England is a week or two away (given the temperatures in the 40s and 50s this past week it might be able to be worked now, but I haven't checked). For others, it's around the time of the Blooms! flower show (formally the New England Flower Show), starting on March 24; they need to see some advanced display to get in the mood. For Minton Stable Gardeners, the season might start when they attend the annual meeting, where they sign their rules and pay their dues. But for those of us around here starting seeds, the season should have begun by now.

According to the Farmer's Almanac, I have arrived late to the party. This past Tuesday, I started five varieties from my Fedco order: Black Prince and Rose de Berne organic tomatoes, Fiesta organic and Piracicaba broccoli, and Charming Snow Cauliflower. According to the Almanac's chart I should have had them under the grow light by February 23. Oh well...At least the cauliflower has decided to help me catch up.Are you on schedule?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Greenway Gardens visit

I am a day late for Wordless Wednesday, but I like the idea of taking it easy and letting the photos do the blogging. Unfortunately, my camera seems to have some impediment, adjusting its focus in the wrong direction at times, blurring the sides or all of my images, regardless of whether I use automatic settings or not. It may be my fault; since I received it two Christmases ago I have been mainly keeping it in the pouch of whatever bag I've been using, leaving it in the dirt, and letting it end up in little hands. I need to find a good repair place in Boston. In the meantime, I'll post a few of the better shots of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Gardens, which I visited after work on Tuesday before catching a train home.Some daffodils already? Seems a little early, but the way the weather has been, not surprising.These signs were all around, and refer to the Conservancy's commissioned study highlighting the effects of poor drainage in the gardens. This photo below shows the worst conditions I've seen during my visit. I don't know how bad it gets during a rainstorm, but I think most parks and backyard gardens have a hard time escaping this problem.Save the Greenway Gardens reported on a meeting on February 24 in which the Conservancy unveiled some proposals for the Greenway. For the gardens (the area also known as the Fort Point Channel Parks), benches and chairs were proposed, but no vendor carts. Save the Greenway Gardens did not publish an opinion (as far as I can see), but to me these additions seem reasonable. It was a little disappointing to not find a bench to sit on when I first visited last summer. I hope this means the gardens will stay.