Saturday, March 28, 2020

Shelter-in-Place at the Garden

Winter crops protected from wildlife with a mesh screen.

The Winter Screen Scene

     Happy Spring 2020 from RWCEG! During the Shelter-in-Place restrictions on our community due to the Covid-19 virus, it is sure nice to have a safe and beautiful place in the outdoors like RWCEG to visit. To be clear, the pictures shown above were the winter season crops grown in Bed 1 (the wicking bed). From front to back, our gardeners grew carrots, violas (an edible flower similar to pansies), many varieties of lettuce, spinach, kale, fennel, chocolate mint, coconut geranium, cabbage, broccoli, and a forest of sugar snap peas. You may notice the green mesh screen cover draped over the white hoops. This screen was added to keep wildlife from eating the plants; especially the broccoli that was eaten several times during the fall. After our third time re-planting the broccoli, we added the screen barrier out of desperation. Prior to adding the screen, we had tried using motion detecting ultrasonic pest repellers. Unfortunately, they proved to be ineffective, so adding the cumbersome screen was our next preventative measure against pests. We made the screen such that is could easily be lifted up on the sides to allow gardeners to water and harvest the plants. Although working with the screen was cumbersome at times, it did do a much better job of protecting the crops. We hope to remove the screen as we transition to spring crops.

Bragging Broccoli

A broccoli with a super sized floret crown.

     Although we struggled to grow broccoli at RWCEG this past season, Evan and I were much more successful with growing them at home. The picture above shows one "super broc" we managed to grow. An advantage we have at the home garden is it is in an enclosed "garden house" made of the same green mesh.

The Red Wiggler Roundup

Multilevel worm composter
Red Wiggler worms in their slurry in composter

     A new addition to RWCEG is our Worm Farm! Around Christmas time, Evan decided he wanted to revive an abandoned Worm Composter. As shown above and to the left, a Worm Composter is made of several stacked bins, each with a mesh bottom. The mesh allows for worms to pass to different levels of the composter. As one level becomes depleted of food, they move to the next level. Worms typically used for composting are red wigglers (Eisenia fetida). They appear similar to earthworms (aka nightcrawers), but they are a bit smaller and redder in appearance. The advantage of red wigglers is they can eat and digest rotting organic material from the surface of the soil while earthworms eat already-composted soil that is deep underground. After digesting, these worms "poop out" material called worm castings. There are many benefits of worm castings. They contain minerals such as concentrated nitrates, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Castings are considered organic fertilizer that can increase a plant’s yield, protect both soil and plants from diseases, and help the soil retain moisture.

     After Evan received a batch of mail order red wigglers, he introduced them to their new multilevel home. To feed them, he made a slurry by blending up news papers (which is rich in carbon), coconut coir, and raw compostable materials such as leaves, and fruit & vegetable food scraps. The worms were placed into the slurry in one of the levels of their composter housing. Over time, the worms eventually moved to a new level for fresh slurry once they had finished consuming from the initial level. The spent level, now full of worm castings, has been mixed in with the soil we are using for Spring planting. We will let you know if we notice a difference in the how the plants grow with this nutritious supplement.

Winter Harvesting and Spring Planting

Ava with her garden salad harvest

Evan standing next to his bamboo trellis masterpiece built with scout skills.

     As Winter came to a close, we had several good harvests. Above is garden-girl, Ava, showing off one of her harvests of peas and carrots. We estimate the winter pea vines produced about 200 pea pods. Ava made several great salads with her family after harvesting lettuces, peas, and carrots each week at the garden throughout the latter weeks of winter.

     More recently we have planted a variety of potatoes, bell peppers, carrots, nasturtium, many varieties of beans, and yes, more snap peas. Later in the season, we will plant tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. Since our pea vines always out grow our tomato cages and 5 ft. back trellises, Evan and I built a 9 ft. high trellis with bamboo and twine. We used our Scout Skills to lash together the bamboo rods with the twine. The newly planted peas have already grabbed the lower rungs of the string lattice with their tendrils. We hope our next picture will show the pea vines reaching the top! We will report back on our garden happenings at the end of the Spring season. In the meantime, from the RWCEG community, stay safe and healthy. During the Covid Crisis, please practice social distancing from other people, but remember, your plants still need your caring touch to thrive!

Posted by Glenn Starnes;  a RWCEG caretaker

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Cool Harvests in the Heat of Summer 2019

Beck and Ava with first cucumber harvest from their giant plant grown from seed!
     It has been a typical hot summer in Austin, but it is still "cool" to be at the Rollingwood Garden. Although the heat prevents us from planting new crops, the gardeners are still diligent to water and tend the spring garden plants through summer harvest. Although the summer heat wiped out a few of our plants, there were still some spectacular harvests.

The Super Cucumber Vine
    The most amazing plant at RWCEG this spring and summer is a cucumber vine that was planted from a very small seed. It rapidly grew, and soon it towered over the girls that planted and took care of it week after week. The leaves grew larger than their heads, and it became covered with small yellow flowers. The flowers started to bulge outward until, after a few weeks, they were fully ripe cucumbers. Time got a way from us and a few over ripened into what appeared to be large, yellow squash. Although past their prime, they were still edible. The cucumber vine continued to produce cucumbers for several weeks.

Ava proud of her tasty carrots
Little but Big
     Another successful crop were the carrots. Although they were rather little in size, they were still big on flavor. Carrots are tricky to grow since the seeds are like grains of sand. It is difficult to space them properly when planting, so many come up too close to each other. The crowding can reduce the vegetable size, so we practice "thinning" in which we purposely pull out some of the smaller, weaker plants early on to allow more room for the stronger plants to thrive. From our results, we obviously have room to improve, but we are still grateful with we got.

Potato Pals

 The Subterranean Easter Egg Hunt
     A long time favorite event at RWCEG has been the Potato Harvest in mid to late May. The kids have a great time digging through the dirt with no idea what treasures they will find.  Since we grow a variety of multi-colored potatoes, the event is akin to a subterranean Easter egg hunt! We harvested a few potatoes at a time for about a month. Some families made delicious dishes with the potatoes by adding chives and rosemary also harvested from the garden.

Can you spot the fake vs real grapes
When The Fake Becomes Real
     The fenced perimeter of RWCEG becomes covered in Mustang grape vines by Summer time. Despite the fact the vines produce a lot of grapes, we usually only get a few ripe ones because our "forest friends" eat them before they are prime. This year, however, with a cleaver idea from my visiting parents, we decided to outsmart the forest foragers by hanging purple, fake plastic grapes along the vine. The hope was that the animals would be drawn to the fake grapes first, and decide they do not taste good.  Then, when the real grapes become ripe, the animals will not be interested, thinking they taste as bad as the fake ones sampled earlier. I am not sure how well this concept works, but we did end up harvesting a tremendous number of ripe grapes one week. There were so many grapes that we became tired of harvesting and decided to pick more the following weeks. However, by the next week, there were virtually no grapes to be found! Most of the grapes were bitter-sweet. I found it best to blend them in a juicer and then add just a little bit of honey!

From the Real grape harvest
Okra in Bloom
     We also harvest a little bit of okra. Although the edible vegetable is not pretty, the flower on the plant is large and beautiful. Okra can withstand the heat quite well.

The Pleasing Pea Vine
      In early spring we planted sugar snap peas from seed. By end of spring we had a remarkable harvest of peas from the vines that grew about 10 feet tall. They were fun to eat from the vine. In many cases I had to help our younger members reach the peas at the top!
     Presently we have a large variety of beans growing at the garden that have been harvested a little bit each week. We also have peppers, tomatoes, and a watermelon growing at the garden, but they are not doing well due to the summer heat. We are hoping they perk back up and start producing once the weather begins to cool in early Autumn. Many vegetable plants "shut down" when temperatures exceed 85'F.

And one for the bugs...
And one for the bugs...
     We make efforts to remove (organically) "bad bugs" from the garden, but many insects and bugs are beneficial. We let select critters share in our garden bounty. One example are the swallowtail caterpillars that are attracted to our dill and fennel plants. Although they eat some of the plant, we know they will become beautiful butterflies that will pollinate many flowers. Besides, we mostly eat the fennel bulb which grows underground.

Happy Gardening to all!
Posted by Glenn Starnes 7/21/2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

Getting “Dirty” at the Garden

Garden helpers making super soil in the new garden bed make of cedar wood. 

     A lot has been happening at RWCEG this Spring, 2019. We recently have had additional families join our garden community. To provide more growing capacity for our newest members, one of our deteriorated garden beds has recently been rebuilt. Special thanks to the Nyer family for obtaining building materials and constructing the new raised garden bed frame. The new bed is built of wood to complement the existing concrete-cinder-block and composite-plastic raised beds. Untreated Cedar wood was chosen since it will decay at a much slower rate than most other woods, and it will not leach harmful chemicals into the garden soil that could be absorbed by the plants. For additional protection against weathering, the wood bed has been completely varnished with two coats of raw linseed oil. Linseed oil is derived from pressed flax seeds (a super food!), and it is considered a very safe, non-toxic wood preservative appropriate for organic gardening.

     Of course, the most important part of any garden bed is the soil. An informative class was held at RWCEG to educate our gardeners on the components of good garden soil based on the guidelines of Square-Foot-Gardening methods. With a lot of help from our youngest garden members, the soil ingredients were measured, mixed, and spread in the new garden bed. Our soil components included:
   1. Multi-sourced Compost - This is the primary food for the plants.
   2. Peat moss & coconut coir - Used for improved water retention.
   3. Vermiculite - A heat expanded mineral full of air pockets. It is very light and used for water retention and aeration. It helps make the soil friable (loose) and reduces compaction for improved root growth. 

Glenn & Evan teaching gardeners about soil components.

Garden helpers mixing soil ingredients. 

     The RWCEG community would like to give a shout out to the primary supplier of our garden soil resources, Brite Ideas: Aquaponics, Hydroponics & Organics.

     We could have just bought pre-mixed potting soils, but as an Education Garden, we wanted our members to understand how the unique properties of each soil component contributes to plant growth. Thanks to Brite Ideas, we were able to obtain each soil component in raw form in the quantities desired and at excellent prices. In addition to carrying garden and hydroponic supplies, the store owner, Troy, and his staff are very helpful, and they are very knowledgeable of their products and various types of organic gardening methods. This locally owned business also offers classes open to the public. We highly recommend checking them out for any of your garden supply needs or as a resource for learning more about various organic growing methods. Our Garden Treasurer, Becky, also bought a wide variety of seeds from Brite Ideas that will likely be planted soon in the new bed. Refer to their website for additional information:

Getting soil supplies at Brite Ideas with help from store owner, Troy (right). 

Seed packets bought at Brite Ideas

Blog posted by Glenn Starnes; garden caretaker

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Spring & Summer Harvests 2018 at RWCEG

 by Evan Starnes

          We have had many successes and have learned a lot from the crops that were grown this spring and summer season. Thanks to the help of the RWCEG members and interested visitors, we were able to plant peas, peppers, and potatoes. These are crops that have grown well in the past, yield a lot, and are simple to prepare. I have had fun cooking the potatoes on a stove with olive oil. The peppers and peas however, can be be eaten straight once washed.

          A little latter in the year, I began to experiment with growing beans since I knew that the produce are shielded from bugs in thick pods. They are also heat resilient, making them a good choice for this climate. The beans that I selected where lima, kidney, black, and pinto. I soaked each bean seed that I wished to germinate in water for about 24 hours before I planted them in the ground. The black beans were a vine variety, grew very tall on a trellis, and yielded the most beans. The lima, kidney, and pinto beans that I grew were a bush variety and weren't as robust as the black beans.

          Unfortunately, the leaves of the plants were nibbled on by grasshoppers, and the extreme heat slowed down the plants productivity. The bean plants still were able to produce very nice bean specimens, even though the harvest wasn't as great as I had hoped. I plan to simmer the beans, so they they can be eaten! Next year I hope to plant event more beans, and plant them earlier, so they can start to grow when it is cooler.

          After The Rollingwood Fourth of July parade I was glad to have many different families wander down to the garden when they were done with the party festivities. Many people got to learn about what was currently growing, and kids got to help water the garden with watering cans. Around this time, Mustang Grapes were ready to be harvested off the vine which served as a fun attraction. The kids were also amused by the many rubber snakes that were placed around the garden with the intention of  scaring away birds.

Banana Bell Peppers
          Gardening this season was a blast! I hope that our Fall planting season will also be successful and will teach the people of Rollingwood important gardening skills. I wish for there to be more gardening participants in the near future who can experience the excitement of gardening.

Black Bean Vines



Fourth of July Expiernce
Harvested Kidney Beans

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Park Day Experience at the Community Garden

         Rollingwood Municipal Park hosts a biannual event, “It’s My Park Day”, to encourage neighbors of Rollingwood to take part in service projects that will benefit the landscape and beautification of the local parks. Through such participation, adults and kids learn about the importance of being conservation minded, and they experience the joy of spending time in nature. The time dedicated to improve the grounds makes a big difference to those who actively visit and tend to the park.

         During the Spring Park Day on March 3, 2018, the Rollingwood Community Education Garden (RWCEG) also sponsored a special family event with the support of Community garden members, Becky and Jessica. They helped several elementary school aged children construct simple bird feeders, and they had them plant sprouting fruits and vegetables in an available garden bed.

To help provide local songbirds with food, the kids created unique bird feeders. These feeders were pinecones covered in various bird seed held on by a sticky layer of peanut butter. These seeds included sunflower seeds, peanuts, nyjer thistle, and a choice blend. A piece of twine was attached to the pine cones so the feeders could be hung on tree branches.

To begin the gardening project, the kids uprooted the wild weeds from the garden bed. After that, they began to transplant and sow seeds of various spring crops in the bed after amending the soil with nutrient rich composts. These plants consisted of basil, chard, fennel,  peppers, strawberries, and peas. To finish the job, the kids watered the garden with rain water collected in the garden’s water cistern.

         These planting efforts at the community garden made a positive impact for the natural 
ecosystem. It also taught the kids an important lesson on how to respect nature, and it gave them a better understanding of the work involved in growing produce. I thank Becky and Jessica for leading and educating these kids on this special day. Also special thanks to the Rollingwood Park commissioners, Toni Hudson and JoAnne Parker, for helping organize and support the event. I hope we can have a large turnout at the next park day this Fall to keep the practice of gardening 

Since the planting on March 3, RWCEG Caretakers have continued to water and tend the plants. To date we have had a good harvest of strawberries, peppers, and peas.  Several Swallow Tail caterpillars have been witnessed on the fennel. We encourage this since these caterpillars will become butterflies that are useful pollinators for many flowering plants.

Click on the links below to see pictures of the event.

Article written by garden caretaker, Evan Starnes


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Troubles with a Garden Varmint

 by Evan Starnes

    (November 2017)

               During our winter crop season, my father Glenn and I noticed that many of the plants in the main garden bed had bite marks! The plants with larger leaves like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, and chard appeared to be nibbled on by what we suspected to be a rodent. With no real evidence of what type of rodent was creating the destruction, we guessed that a mouse or a rat was the culprit since these animals are small and could easily maneuver through the fencing around the three garden beads.    
               To catch the critter red pawed, my father and I set up a verity of contraptions that were designed to catch mice and rats. The first device that we used was a simple mouse trap that was spring operated and had a bar that would swing down on the mouse’s neck once triggered. After a few days of leaving the traps around the garden bed, we noticed that all of the traps had been triggered without catching anything. This led us to the conclusion that the critter was much larger than a mouse, so we began to invest in traps that were meant for bigger rodents.  
               After watching several YouTube videos on how to build a DIY rat trap, my father and I settled on a model that was comprised of a suspended spindle with peanut butter bait on it. If a rat tried to crawl across the spindle to get the bait, the rat’s weight would cause the spindle to spin. In the process of rotating, the rat would fall into a tall bucket were it would be trapped. Unfortunately, once again, to our disappointment, the bait was stolen without catching anything! Obviously our varmint was larger than a rat, so we set up a raccoon trap. This trap is a cage with a door that is weight triggered.
               Finally at last! After several false triggers on the raccoon trap, the garden varmint was captured. To our surprise it was a rock squirrel, which is a large type of a squirrel that burrows underground, and has a broad diet that includes vegetable crops. We gave the squirrel the name, Rocky, because of its species name, and the fact that it sent us on a “Rocky Road” trying to trap it. I liked looking at Rocky’s fur coat which was a mixed black and gray with several white speckles. My dad and his garden friend, Becky, later took Rocky to the Nature Center to be safely released off a trail that lies in a valley near a river bed.
               With Rocky in a new home, the plants that had been harmed began to recover. Unfortunately, they did not produce as well as they would have. Like we usually experience, we had a bountiful lettuce harvest. I was glad to not have to worry about the garden varmint any more, but I kind of missed Rocky since he was such a stunning creature. After this garden crisis, I was excited to move forward, and start planning for our spring season of crops. Hopefully no other rock squirrels will intrude!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

2017 RWCEG Spring Season Summary

A lot has happened at RWCEG this Spring Season. Below are highlights with pictures. Be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge.

The Great Potato Harvest

In mid-February, my family planted six varieties of potatoes from tuber seeds (All-blues, Red LaSoda, Yukon Gold, Desiree, Kennebec, and La Ratte). On May 21, we had many people experience a wonderful harvest that felt a bit like an underground Easter egg hunt since many of the potatoes are a bit egg shaped and came in many colors due to their specific variety.

Newest Garden Member and recent high school graduate, Cydnie, holds up a hand full of recently harvested All-Blue Potatoes. (Once washed, these potatoes are a deep purple in color, inside and out!)

Cydnie helping grade school children that wandered over from a birthday party at RW Park harvest potatoes. Their parents were very impressed when they saw what their kids were doing. RWCEG can add an extra spark to any party!

Evan & Gina harvesting from the other side:

Pictures of some of the potatoes harvested. Note the interior of the sliced All-blue.


 The Great Pumpkin?

In March, we transplanted a pumpkin sprout that arose from a Jack-o-lantern last halloween. As shown below, it became a huge vine. The main vine did have a pumpkin growing on it, but unfortunately, a "forest friend" (probably a rodent) decided it wanted a piece of the action, and ate part of the pumpkin. We ended up harvesting it Memorial Day weekend.

Evan and Gina standing next to the Great Pumpkin Vine. Note the large fan shaped leaves and yellow flowers that bud into the pumpkin squash.

Evan holding up the prematurely harvested pumpkin. Note the chunk eaten out of it. We had planned to cover it up to protect it but we obviously did not do this soon enough.

The Indian Garden

   In mid spring the Gullapalli family became RWCEG members and planted a crop of Okra, Beans, Spinach, and Cucumbers. The seeds planted originated from India! They initially filled up Garden Bed 3, but recently transplanted some the plants to the remains of Bed 2 to prevent overcrowding. Although they had a late start with planting, the plants appear to be doing well as of Memorial Day weekend. It is wonderful to have something growing in all three beds again (although Bed 2 needs to be rebuilt soon).

A proud Kiran Kumar Gullapalli inspects his thriving crop of okra and spinach.

Fabulous Fennel

  On Memorial Day weekend, Evan harvested fennel. The stem and bulb of this plant strangely tastes like licorice!

Educating the Educators

  The RW Garden is a Community Education garden. So Becky and I were pleased to discuss the origins and purposes of RWCEG with Graduate Student, Aaron Niznik. Aaron studies Environmental, Political, and Economic Sociology at Brown University. His research interests are centered on identifying how grassroots environmental movements such as community gardening are developed. His dissertation work compares the socio-political structure of the urban gardening movements in Boston, Massachusetts and Austin, Texas. Special thanks to Becky who is not only the Garden Treasurer, but our Historian as well. She brought an iPad full of pictures and the "RWCEG Book of History" to supplement the discussion. We wish Aaron well with his research efforts and look forward to reading his findings.

Aaron and Glenn discussing the history and purposes of RWCEG with help from Becky!

Blog posted by Glenn Starnes, RWCEG Caretaker.