Weed It & Reap goes dormant with this, our final article of the growing season. For each of the last 27 Saturdays, we have featured a gardener, aiming to introduce a variety of people enriched by planting, nurturing, and harvesting. To read their stories, go to toledoblade.com and in the search box, type Weed It & Reap. We plan to regenerate Weed It & Reap in Spring, 2012, when we’ll seek a fresh crop of folks who tend gardens small and large. —Tahree Lane
Name: Colin Heslet, a candidate for Eagle Scout and freshman at Perrysburg High School, living in Perrysburg; working in collaboration with the 20-member staff at Focus Homeless Services on Ashland Avenue in the Old West End. It was Garden Wars for two teams of employees, led by Richard Hammond, maintenance technician, and Carolyn Russell, front-door information.
Garden specs: Two 10-by-30-foot plots that had been grass next to the building. As produce ripened, staff filled boxes in the Focus hallway for clients to take. In addition, we planted a 20-by-20-foot “help-yourself” garden along the sidewalk that produced roma tomatoes and large plants such as squash, pumpkins, watermelons, and sunflowers.
When did you start gardening? Focus staff: Around Mother’s Day. Colin: I started planning in March. On a Sunday in April, a group of six adults and 10 scouts met at Focus. Eric Timm from Bost Dorff Green House roto-tilled the plots. He also brought a flatbed truck of compost that we spread. And last year I earned a gardening merit badge for scouts. I planted corn, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and marigolds and took pictures of them. It made me think of gardening in a different way. Before I thought it was really boring, but growing things helped me think of it as fun.
What do you grow? Tomatoes, collards, peppers (jalapeno, banana, and green), onions, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, pumpkins, watermelon, cucumbers, radishes, and sunflowers.
Favorite plant: Colin: Green bell pepper. I like the shape of it and it tastes really good. I like it mixed in with stuff, like a pasta or even a vegetable soup. Richard: Tomatoes. I enjoy seeing the yellow flowers turn into the little green tomatoes and then watching them grow and waiting for them to turn red. Carolyn: Sunflowers. We’re waiting for the heads to dry to get the seeds.
Gardening tip: Colin: You don’t have to always use fertilizer. Wild plants don’t use fertilizer. Richard: My secret weapon is to go to the lake and catch fish to put in the ground before I plant the veggies on top. Carolyn: Remove the suckers [the sprig of growth in the crotch between stem and branch] from tomato plants.
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Hours spent gardening: Focus: The entire staff worked Thursdays at 4:15 p.m. for 30 to 45 minutes. Richard put in a half-hour each day before work. Carolyn did a half-hour after work and an hour on the weekend with her daughter. Colin: About 10 hours planning and establishing the garden. I’m not supposed to be doing the work, I’m supposed to be managing it. I’ve gone over there about 12 times to take pictures and talk to the staff. I’ve seen someone picking up produce.
Annual expense: This year, about $250. Next year, about $50. [Note: Focus received an $850 grant from Youth Leadership Toledo. It purchased soil, plants, tools, and gift certificates to the Toledo Farmers’ Market for its staff.]
Challenges: Colin: Pulling weeds. And, we let a lot of volunteer tomatoes grow, but it got too crowded; we felt they should have been pulled out to let other plants get larger. Richard: Keeping weeds and bugs down, trying to keep the soil in the right condition. (Tomatoes suffered from blossom-end rot, which we treated with gypsum.) Carolyn: Weeds and water.
I’m proud of: Colin: The vegetables have gone to people who actually need them, who may live in places where they don’t have grocery stores so they end up buying food that’s bad for them. Richard: Everything came up in such abundance. Carolyn: A lot of my team members have never gardened before and it was exciting to watch them learn. Some are already talking about their own gardens for next year.
What I’ve learned gardening: Colin: be careful how much you water your seeds. A year ago, I watered my pumpkin seeds everyday, and 2 of the 3 died in the pot. Richard: Gardening is good therapy for the soul. And at harvest time, it’s nice to share with friends. Carolyn: A community garden is a great expression of love; it’s wonderful to share the fruits of our labor.