Sunday, April 24, 2011

three weekends in April

Julie and Nick pull up kale stalks
The morning of April 2 started cool and overcast, with clouds that eventually made good on their threats to rain on the trio of us that gathered at the garden to prepare the garden for spring. Julie, Nick, and I cleared the kale beds of old stalks, removed wire fencing, and picked up trash.

Meanwhile, a few miles to the west of the garden, Dave Snyder started our seedlings in the greenhouse at Kilbourn Organic Garden. Kilbourn grants us greenhouse space each spring, so garden volunteers do not have to crowd narrow apartment windowsills with precariously balanced rows of pots of seedlings.

April 9 was the first volunteer day of the season. A group from Chicago Cares joined us, as did a group from DePaul Oxfam. At one point, I counted twenty-six people in the garden, all of who looked to us for instructions.

Doug and Ben

During the winter, the small group of volunteers that (for want of a better term) refers to itself as the garden’s “steering committee” agreed to define formally three positions that would need to be filled each Saturday workday. The positions would rotate among the steering committee members so that we wouldn’t tire of them. I once described the positions as the Lover, the Foreman, and the Driver; word-besotted folk that most of us are, though, we already have a number of alternate names.

The Lover, or Der Spielmacher, serves as the guide to the garden and to gardening, giving the Ginkgo spiel to new volunteers—what the garden is, how it works, who it helps, what our yield is, etc. Aside from welcoming volunteers, the Spielmacher’s responsibilities teaching volunteers how to perform tasks like staking tomatoes and weeding correctly, as well as wearing the floppy garden hat and helping people to enjoy what they’re doing.

Spielmacher Dave and the April 2 volunteer crew
While the Spielmacher is helping volunteers grok the garden, the Foreman is running crews. The Foreman prepares the list of the day’s objectives and assigns groups of volunteers. The Foreman also maintains what little discipline we need, asking people to walk around instead of in the beds, pick up tools, etc.

pulling up last year's wildf
We won’t need someone to be a Driver for a few weeks. When we start harvesting, though, one of us will assume the responsibility of packing and delivery of produce to the pantry. The Driver winds up serving the additional role of liaison between the garden and the pantry.

On April 9, Dave Snyder was the Speilmacher and I acted as Foreman. Our volunteer group raked leaves, weeded beds, organized the shed, and cleaned up the garden. Because we had so many people, we needed only a couple of hours to make the garden neat and ready for the season.
raking in the front garden
weeding the dodecahedron

Stephanie's lemon cupcakes in their special purpose cupcake holder
On April 16, Susan and Evelyn worked with a group of eight volunteers. Sue summarized the day’s work in an email:

We did some more cleaning and weeding, smoothed out a big hump of compacted soil that I've tripped on right by the shed (it was a big job!), inventoried tools (to facilitate tool return at the end of the workdays....) and shelled various leftover seed pods in the shed to prepare for the new plantings.

The following Saturday, April 23, Dave led volunteers in unearthing the fig trees that we buried last fall to spend the winter underground. The figs look spindly right now after their hibernation, but should soon recover. One of the saplings produced small fruits last fall, so we might even be able to harvest figs this year.

Monday, April 18, 2011

good neighbors fix bad fences

In late March, I visited the garden after an absence of a few weeks to see how it had weathered the end of winter. In addition to stray bits of windblown trash and the desiccated stalks of last season’s kale plants, I discovered a plastic bin full of branches that we had left uncovered over the winter. The malodorous ferment of snowmelt and rotting vegetation inside was a pungent reminder of the need to store buckets upside down at the end of autumn.
not the branch water I prefer
Usually, a few fetid buckets of sludgy compost are the worst of what awaits me in spring. This year, though, I found that a section of the garden fence had collapsed over the winter, probably as the result of the heavy snowfalls that we experienced in January. The extent of the damage to the fence was not apparent until the snow melted; when it finally receded, the snow revealed a serious problem. A six-foot section had ripped away from its supporting posts and completely separated from the rest of the fence. Only the gate to the neighboring property’s fence protected our garden from someone being able to walk in from the alley.
fallen fence section
After volleys of emails, we found someone to help. Chris Salus, the brother of Eric Salus, one of Ginkgo’s founders, agreed to look at the fence and see what he could do. Chris wound up fixing the entire thing himself over the next couple of weeks, working during on his days off from his job as a fireman.

repairs after first week
Chris told us that the fence posts, constructed of cedar instead of pine, had rotted; what’s more, they had not been set in concrete. Chris set the posts in concrete and reattached the fence section with longer screws.

repaired fence

Thanks to Chris’s efforts, our fence is now whole again. We can turn our focus to the 2011 growing season.