What’s New at the Garden?
Our challenges this summer: protecting our crops and stretching our budget to pay three digit water bills.
These standard operating procedures are part of the solution:
- Enrich the native clay soil by applying 2 inches of compost (organic material) each planting season. Compost holds moisture and makes it available as the plants need it.
- Water deeply early morning, about twice a week during peak heat. Apply water directly to the soil. Allow water to pool before moving the sprayer to another spot. As the water is absorbed, repeat the process in each area three times.
- Cover bare soil with 2-4 inches of mulch to prevent evaporation and discourage weeds. Coastal hay breaks down easily and allows air and light to reach seedlings. Wood chips last longer but should not get mixed in with the top layer of soil. Pine needles will help neutralize the clay soil.
- Regularly pull weeds to prevent water from being stolen from the intended plants .
- Use soakers and drip irrigation to direct water into the soil.
- Provide shade when heat is excessive.
Heat-stressed plants are more vulnerable to pests. Gardener, Master Naturalist, and Horticulturalist Christina Hill sent this observation and advice:
It looks like red spider mites are on the eggplants and tomato bushes. Spray the leaves well (both tops and especially underneath) with water twice a week. It will help a lot to keep them in check. The spray disturbs them. To verify a Red Spider Mite infestation, hold a white piece of paper a few inches under some leaves and tap on top of the stem a few times. Some of them will drop to the white paper and you and see the tiny specks running to the sides of the paper. They are tiny and move fast so you have to look quickly.
Come out to the garden dawn or dusk, sit on the bench by our butterfly preserve, and enjoy the peace.
Gardeners are trimming and pruning weary indeterminate tomatoes with wishes for continued fall production. Five cubic yards of rich, dark compost is waiting for prepping beds for fall plants.
July’s social included a spray painting party to add fun and life to rusty wheelbarrows. Magnolia leaf prints inspired Patrick Bowler to create this striking, one-of-a-kind design.
Our native plants blooms welcome butterflies, pollinators, and YOU this season. Stroll through the garden and see if you can locate these plants: Gregg’s Mist, Henry Duelberg, Lantana, Salvia Greggi, and Texas Sage.
We are thrilled to see ice box watermelons appear on the plants in our mound garden! Cardboard shields the fruit from soil-based predators. Tomatillos show off tiny green lanterns as the fruit begins to form. Harvest for this native Mexican fruit is late August. The paper-like husk will need to be removed for food preparation. Pumpkins make their debut in the garden this year! Anticipation builds!
Five reasons to visit Community Harvest Garden this season:
- View two productive and tidy examples of square foot gardening in Ina McBride’s plot 17 and Karen Oakes plot 5. For more information check out https://squarefootgardening.org/
- Watch hearty asparagus spears emerge along the east edge of the garden.
- Check out the buds leafing out on the blackberry canes on the north edge, the figs in the SE corner, and the potatoes in plot 14.
- Browse the public side of our new bright orange Little Free Library, take some books or magazines home, and leave some you are ready to share.
- Watch for bright green anoles darting around in search of insects.
Our urban farmers have been moving forward after many freezes amending each bed with compost, dried molasses, and slow-release organic fertilizers. Planting has once again begun. First onions and potatoes, and now seeds for collards, mustard, Swiss chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, turnips, carrots, beets are finding their places. Rotation of crops helps minimize pests and diseases. Optimizing growing space in raised beds is possible through square foot and vertical gardening.
Come visit and find inspiration for your backyard garden. Stop at our Little Free Library and you’ll find a healthy recipe to take home from North Texas Food Bank.
2022 January 23
A Fig Tree Farm Emerges: Five gardeners arrived early Saturday morning with tools in tow. We pruned each of our four fig trees to two leader trunks and planted more than 100 bud-laden branches in gallon pots. Once our hoses thawed, we watered and mulched the pots with dreams of fig tree saplings to sell this spring.
2022 January 17
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service brought family volunteers from Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Carrollton to prune our many native plants. Data over the years shows our harvests have increased significantly as a result of intentionally attracting beneficial insects and pollinators through these plantings. The children within the 6 families were totally engaged in the efforts. Watching the wheelbarrows move with kid power was precious! I heard one young boy exclaim “I really like it here!” His parents left talking about installing a raised bed in their backyard. The grounds look so much better and these plants are ready for spring.
2022 January 4
We had a dilemma in the garden: The staff at God’s Pantry took a break after a busy holiday of sharing meals and children’s gifts and didn’t plan to open until January 6th. Gardeners realized we would lose many of our crops in the freeze expected by the evening New Years Day.
Resolution: Five gardeners came to the garden at 7:30 a.m. on January 1st to harvest 88 pounds of fresh organic produce for the residents of the Samaritan Inn, shelter for the homeless in McKinney. Large bags of Swiss chard, collard greens, cabbage leaves, kale, lettuce, spinach, turnips, radishes, and green onions were rescued, shared, and delivered!
2021 December 9
Studies have shown gardening gets your creative juices flowing, improves your memory, and helps you become more mindful and present. Consider adopting a plot in 2022 at Community Harvest Garden. For more information, contact Deb Bliss at firstname.lastname@example.org
2021 December 2
Take up gardening in 2022 and join Community Harvest Gardeners in raising fresh, organic produce for your home and those in need in Collin County. Growing your own produce saves money and puts healthy food on your table. For more information on adopting a plot, contact Deb Bliss at email@example.com.
2021 November 29
Our Little Free Library still provides access for the public and a private side which allows us roomy storage space for seeds, resource books, plant labels, and our moisture meter. It has a coat of primer and will soon receive a coat of paint.
2021 November 21
If you’d like to make the most of your food waste, recruit your resident worms and consider the use of bio-digesters. We have several at the garden. The 6 gallon trash cans are available for about $15 at the big box stores The City of Plano provides a thorough learning module at http://www.learn2livegreen.com/CompostingFoodWaste/story.html
If you’re ready to try a home worm bin, contact Deb Bliss at firstname.lastname@example.org for composting worms and an orientation.
2021 November 15
Healthy greens are abundant in our plots during fall and usually survive mild freezes: mustard (pictured), kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, and collards are dependable winter crops.
2021 November 8
Safety is a priority at the garden. Fire ant mounds are marked with a landscape flag and treated with Terro bait of boric acid. We will recheck in a week to see if another treatment is needed. Comfrey plant leaves soothe bites and stings when crumpled and rubbed on the skin and can be found several places around the garden. Our hose trees have become garden art but are important in preventing tripping hazards from hoses left on the ground.
2021 November 1
Colorful blooms at the garden still attract bees and butterflies this time of year.
The aster suddenly draws our attention too after a year of blending into the greenery.
Flame acanthus is well-named for its small shocking bright orange blossoms.
2021 October 25
Our plentiful, flowering native plants and butterfly preserve regularly welcome local and migrating butterflies. The preserve is registered as a Monarch Way Station through www.MonarchWatch.org. Master Naturalist and horticulturalist Christina Hill has nurtured the preserve and “no harvest” zone on a hugelkultur terrace garden. The plants are intentionally selected for their ability to provide nectar, nutrients for caterpillars, and safe space for developing chrysalides: penstemon, coneflower, autumn sedum joy, boneset, lyre leaf sage, several kinds of milkweed, parsley, fennel, sunflowers, calendula, flame acanthus (hummingbirds like this too), Henry Duelberg salvia, gaillardia, prairie verbena, and cilantro (honey bees love the flowers). https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/monarch-butterfly
2021 October 18
One of Community Harvest Garden’s blessings is our diversity. Gardeners from India have introduced us to several prolific producers, rich in anti-oxidants:
- Bitter melon, a small wrinkled gourd used like squash https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/bitter-melon#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
- Loofah, a squash-like plant which becomes a fibrous sponge when dried on the vine https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/a20706975/how-to-grow-your-own-loofah-sponge/
- Moringa tree, superfood small leaves and towering height https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319916#risks-with-existing-medications
- Malabar spinach, a beautiful heart shaped leaf and purple stemmed vine https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/malabar-spinach/growing-malabar-spinach.htm
|Loofah Flowering Vine
2021 October 11
Summer crops are still producing abundantly as we fill in spots for winter cole crops https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/vgen/cole-crop-plants.htm and greens.
Okra, peppers, and eggplant supply the bulk of our fall harvests. Fragrant cuttings of herbs rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, oregano, and mint accompany the weekly deliveries and are eagerly welcomed by the God’s Pantry clients.
2021 October 4
Thirty Nepalese Lion’s Club members and their families gifted our garden several hours of their time and labor on September’s last Sunday morning. They weeded boundary areas, laid cardboard, and applied mulch to keep our plots safe from invasive plants that would usurp space, water, and nutrients from our crops. Our mountains of mulch are nearly gone and ready to be restocked. Thank you to gardener and Sai member Roshani Shreshtha for her organization and recruitment efforts!
2021 September 27
We are grateful that the Sai Congregation has been an active partner in our garden for ten years raising produce in two plots, participating in work days and harvest teams, and organizing their youth to help with garden maintenance and projects twice a year. This year Roshani Shreshtha has also engaged her Environmental Group through the Lions’ Club to spend a Sunday morning to keep our grounds weed-free, productive, and welcoming.
Introducing our CUUC member gardeners: Jo Howser, Heather Powell, Mary Jennings, Linda Payne, Anna Cox, Ninhda Nosavon, Tricia Lewandowski, Deb Bliss, and Andy Giamis. If you’ve been thinking about adopting a plot in 2022, speak with one of these folks to learn more.
2021 September 20
Some summer plants are dying back but we still pick a peck of peppers each week for the food pantry. Swiss chard can be biennial often returning in cooler weather after being cut back at ground level this time of year. Gardeners are making room for autumn leafy greens and root crops: mustard, collards, kale, cabbages, turnips, and beets.
2021 September 13
Former members Sam and Jay Hall built a fine Little Free Library (LFL) for Community Harvest Garden many, many years ago. Designed with a public side for sharing books and magazines, and a separate side for the gardeners, it served us well as a safe place for storing resource material, seeds, labels, and a few tools. It was a destination spot and point of reference for visitors. We’ve painted and patched it along the way, but years of baking in the Texas sun finally took its toll. When our frequent garden volunteer Boy Scout Max Tennyson suggested he’d like to earn his Eagle Award with us, we had a project in mind.
Six months later, we now have use of more protected square inches, sturdy walls (built from scrap pallets), a tin roof (from Max’s aunt’s shed demolition project), secure doors, and three shelves in each of the private and public sections. We are grateful for Max’s listening skills and patience through multiple meetings with us to understand our needs, his careful planning, construction, and constant communication as the project took shape.
Next steps: Gardener Tricia Lewandowski plans to paint it. Come to the garden to appreciate our new addition and have a peek inside!
2021 August 28
We celebrate the completion of two Scout projects at the garden this month! Maira Padani’s Girl Scout Gold Project rebuilt a demonstration hugel kultur mound and planted two seasons to produce cucumbers and squash. Max Tennyson’s Eagle Project gifted us a larger, sturdier Little Free Library for supplies and resources. A plaque at the tool area recognizes the work of Scouts who have helped the garden flourish.
2021 August 21
Spotting critters brings surprise and delight to our garden visits. The plots are blessed with dozens of colorful argiope spiders helping control insect pests. A zig zag pattern in the center of the web reminds us to avoid disturbing them. Two inch black toads jump near our feet as we water reassuring us this space is a safe habitat. A large raccoon was spotted during a twilight watering visit. Solar sonic devices emitting a high pitched whine discourage critters from sampling our produce as they wander through the garden.
2021 August 14
It takes a village to keep a community garden running smoothly. Regular repairs are required to tools, hoses, and wheelbarrows. Planting, watering, pruning, weeding, fertilizing, adding compost, treating fire ant mounds, removing wasp nests – all these efforts contribute to maintaining a safe and productive operation resulting in our bountiful Saturday harvests. You can help us with weed control by bringing large, flattened cardboard boxes and stacking them on the pallets just inside the gate.
2021 August 12
Pears! 94 pounds of pears! While I was in the garden this morning, I heard laughing and pears pounding the ground. Lucinda was climbing the tree, shaking branches, and Marisa was jumping out of the way as they fell. They’ve left us bags full in the harvest shed for Saturday’s delivery. There are still more to collect. The Pear Procurer Team plans to try a rake next time. A shout out to Marisa whose research, pruning, fertilizing, and care is responsible for this bounty. This is the biggest production we’ve ever had on this ten year old tree.
2021 August 7
Israeli melons are thriving in our patch. Heirloom seeds saved from last year were sprouted in time for planting this summer. Each melon has support off the soil and is watered regularly by the melon team.
2021 July 29
It’s time to start planning fall plantings. Sow seeds and tender transplants in the shade of existing plants that will soon stop production. If you plan to start a fall garden consider these planting windows for North Texas.
North Texas Fall Seed planting calendar:
- Brussel Sprouts and Cabbage 8/1-8/15 (transplants 8/25-9/15)
- Carrots and Kohlrabi 8/1-8/20 (kohlrabi transplants 9/1-9/30)
- Bok Choy 8/10-9/1 (transplants 8/25-9/15)
2021 July 22
Two to four weeks prior to each planting season, Community Harvest Gardeners refresh the soil and nutrients in their plots and feed the microbes. Slow release organic fertilizers and dried molasses are sprinkled on the gardens, covered with an inch of organic compost, then watered in. We practice “no-till” and try to not disturb the hyphae filaments that distribute moisture and nutrients to plant roots.
2021 July 15
Grasshoppers’ exquisite decoration catches our attention, but if not controlled, their presence makes quick work of crops this time of year. Covering bear soil with mulch can discourage them. One of our gardeners has had good results scattering cut cloves of garlic around her plants. Removing nymphs to a jar of soapy water can prevent future problems.
2021 July 8
Ninety-five percent of insects are beneficial. Those that draw our eye are often causing critical damage to our plants and crops. Checking on the garden each week and catching problems early can make a difference in helping your plants survive. The gardener’s shadow is the best defense. Handpicking pests and placing them in a jar of soapy water works when there are just a few. Spraying the plant with a potion of jalapeno pepper, garlic, water, and a few drops of soap deter many problems. Remove damaged leaves and place them in the trash rather than the compost bin.
2021 July 1
Wise use of water is primary on gardeners’ minds throughout the year, especially in the heat of the summer. The ground hydration is checked using a moisture meter probe. Water is applied deeply to the soil near each plant twice a week if needed. Water buddy partnerships allow us to share the work and reduce trips to the garden. Adding 3-4” of mulch over the soil using coastal grass or wood mulch reduces evaporation and weeds which compete for water, nutrients, and space.
2021 June 12
Faces! Full faces! Gardeners voted to make masks optional at the garden for now. Just in time for working in the heat. We are already planning our fall plantings, considering crop rotations, plant families, and companion plants. Fall seedlings are sprouting indoors. Weekly plot visits help us find and address problems early. Tomatoes: keeping yellowed leaves removed, leaves trimmed from the bottom, and pruning for air flow has helped increase production and reduce disease. Community okra and melon patches are thriving. Tulle netting is currently protecting the melon plants from hungry rabbits. Grasshopper nymphs have been sighted, reminding us to mulch bare soil to discourage them from settling in. Come visit us when you’re in the area. There’s a lot going on at the garden!
2021 May 10
Community Harvest Gardeners held our May social in person at the garden for the first time in more than a year. We got to know the new gardeners, share healthy, delicious food, talk plants, and enjoy a beautiful day. Sylvia Martinez, Executive Director of God’s Pantry stopped in after our meal. The number of clients served has doubled (from 450/mo. to more than 800/mo.) and increased in age and cultural diversity in COVID times. While many pantries had to shut down, God’s Pantry was able to set up safety precautions and locate more donating partners. The facility is open 10-1, three days a week, and practices an open door policy, turning no one away. Clients may come for help as often as they need to. Client data is not shared and proof of citizenship is not required. Clients who have returned to work are now donating their time and money to support the pantry’s operation. There is currently a need for volunteers able to lift heavy cartons. Sylvia reports their clients love to receive our produce. If they see a few holes in leaves or spot a ladybug of spider, they view those as signs of proof it’s organic. They are especially fond of receiving mint, rosemary, basil, and the herbs. Sylvia thanked us for our weekly contribution to their mission.
2021 April 7
Water, wait, and watch for greening. That’s been our patient mantra as we assess the February freeze damage at Community Harvest Garden. The resilience of many plants has amazed us, particularly deceptively delicate appearing cilantro. Each year we allow some cilantro plants to go to seed. The fern-like foliage provides beneficial insect nurseries (think ladybugs) and the resulting coriander seeds are useful in cooking.
We’ve created new community beds for okra and melons. These crops take up a good deal of space in our 4’x16’ plots and this effort helps to avoid paths clogged with tangled vines and shade on other plants. After spreading a blend of soil and compost, adding nutrients, dried molasses, and water, we wait several weeks to plant giving the micro-organisms a chance to multiply and prepare a welcoming habitat for our seeds. A soaker hose aids in summer watering detail. Keeping bare soil covered with mulch will reduce weeds and evaporation. We use bales of coastal hay. Shredded leaves also work well and eventually breakdown to add organic matter to our thick clay soil.
While the weather is pleasant this month, bring your family and friends to stroll through the paths. We have benches and tables for your picnic!
2021 March 18
The garden is at its best when gardeners have spontaneous encounters. Conversations sharing tips for the best plant varieties, recipes for tonics from the weeds that are being pulled, ways to use kitchen waste to feed the soil are bonding and enriching times.
As I write this update, Community Harvest Gardeners are expecting lots of assistance from youth tomorrow, Sat. March 20th. A Girl Scout Gold Project will begin restoring our 15 year old hugel kultur mound garden led by a young woman who has been with us for several years. She has recruited another high school aged gardener and two members of her troop who will spend two Saturdays taking it apart, rebuilding it, and planting it for the spring. In the afternoon, the Sai congregation will have teens and their parents planting their two plots and doing some additional maintenance around the garden. A Collin College student, has expressed an interest in beekeeping and efforts are being made to arrange for him to assist our resident beekeeper.
Butterflies have been spotted and the native plants will soon be blooming. Come visit. If you’d like to try your hand at growing fresh, organic produce, we still have one plot available. Mentoring is provided if needed. Contact Deb Bliss at email@example.com .
2021 March 1
Community Harvest Gardeners are grateful to two gardeners who have led us to new heights in our public presence and brought us a safer, better organized, and eye-pleasing campus these past twelve years. Mary Ann and Mike Owens are soon moving to Driftwood, TX to enjoy and provide support to their children and grandchildren. They will be missed and fondly remembered in our garden community.
Mary Ann had the proactive idea that the garden needed a web site, so she learned how to create one and has managed and funded it. https://www.communityharvestgarden.org/ She’s written our monthly church newsletter articles and established our Instagram presence. She and Mike worked many hours on a community fundraising campaign sending letters to green businesses in the city.
We first met the Owens on a community garden tour for prospective church members. Mike signed up as a gardener immediately! His enthusiasm and can-do approach has raised our spirits and helped add color to our space with hose tree posts. Mike re-engineered our rotting picnic tables, developed a unique plan to mend rotting plot corners with recycled plastic edging, straightened our harvest shed, repaired a damaged gate post, righted a toppled concrete bench using a water bottle as a level, built two benches from a design he observed on his travels, and transformed some wooden crates into an orderly storage area for tomato cages and chicken wire. He’s kept us updated on the status of our dedicated funds, monitored our summer water bills, reworked hose connections to make them more user-friendly, and repaired leaks as soon as they were reported to keep us functioning as responsible stewards of our water and financial resources. (I know I’m forgetting something!)
We’ve been blessed by their time with us and wish them well!