The Main Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Garden Experience

“Lead By Example” is one of those things people that train leaders are always going on and on about. So I decided that, since I am pushing for all of us to go volunteer at the main MLF garden after working at the CCG, I should get on over to the MLF Garden and see how it works. I hope all those leader teachers will be happy with me.

So I loaded up our two three year olds and we went out to the garden. Now, I think that anything that I can do with two three year olds is easy enough that anybody can do it. Also on this list – watch cartoons, and, well, I’ll keep you posted.

We showed up and were greeted by all involved and given a task that was suited to both the little ones and my skill set. Weeding!

Weeding with Wondergirl! You know you always wondered what she did in her spare time.

Weeding with Wondergirl! You know you always wondered what she did in her spare time.

I learned a couple of amazing things out there – 1) those little ones are good at weeding. Which I guess they should be, already so close to the ground and all grabby as they are. 2) Chickens will eat bermuda grass and make eggs! OK, I already knew that chickens made eggs, even though I missed that day in veterinary school. But I did not know that they eat, nay, prefer bermuda grass! They take in the bad of this world and make good things for all. Those chickens are leading by example.

We took plenty of breaks to play.

Rakes, horses, what's the difference

Rakes, horses, what’s the difference

Heidi, who was running the show at the garden that day, showed us that they have cotton planted there. One of the friends of the garden had donated the seeds that she had saved from her childhood as a share croppers daughter some 80 plus years ago (pretty amazing story, but you have to go out there to hear it). So, we were allowed to harvest actual cotton bolls and talk about where our clothes come from. We discussed this for upwards of 20 seconds until the kids got bored and ran off.

Learning! Education!

Learning! Education!

Then, we had brunch! All the workers from the two separate MLF garden sites (there is the model village and a farm – again, you have to go out and see for yourself) gathered, prayed, ate and talked.

Brunch!

Brunch!

Two fine examples of brunch fare

Two fine examples of brunch fare

We wrapped up with some more playing.

Just a swingin'

Just a swingin’

So to summarize, we had a great time. We worked, we learned, we played, we ate and we formed community. We met the MLF team, other volunteers (including one lady that insisted that I make the kids wash their hands before eating! I mean really, a little dirt is good for you, right? Right?) and the formerly homeless that work with MLF.

A brief point worth noting – the same formerly homeless team members who helped CC build CCG are still working with Steven and Heidi at MLF (not counting Danny – who’s story you can read here.) I am not a trained missionary or philosopher or theologian or really qualified comment on the wondrous work of Jesus in anyway, but I suspect that the changed lives of Mike, Allan and Anthony = awesome. God is at work at MLF and GG. And in us at CCG! Yes, we are thankful!

Two Ways to Serve in the Garden

There are now two (that is, 2!) different ways you and your group or family or self can serve at The Christ Church Garden -

Option 1) The traditional way – you either sign up by commenting on the fall schedule post or emailing me directly at evans@austinequine.com . Then you show up when you want, do the work that the garden requires that week (I’ll let you know what) and then go to brunch or lunch or just about your merry way. This way of volunteering in the garden is fast, easy, fun and has proven very accommodating to several groups. Our garden is located at 1702 Woodland Avenue Austin, TX 78741.

But some of you have requested that there be more connection with the main Genesis Garden / Mobile Loaves and Fishes groups as well as connection with the homeless and formerly homeless we serve. For those that are looking for more, we give you -

Option 2)! First, just like option 1 you sign up with Christ Church Garden by either commenting on the fall schedule post or emailing me directly at evans@austinequine.com . Then you -

  • Go to http://mlf.org/community-first/volunteersgg/, scroll down until you see “Farm Development”.
  • You click “sign up” for your date and when the sign up page comes up, there is a comment box. In that box, put that you are coming from Christ Church Garden and what time you expect to arrive (They ask that you arrive prior to 9:30 am). Also, give them your cell so they can contact you if anything changes.
  • Their garden address is 5800 Johnny Morris Austin, TX  78724

So, after working at the Christ Church garden, you head over to the main Genesis Garden and work there. Awesome, huh? But wait, there’s more! After working at the main Genesis Garden, you gather for a community brunch provided onsite with the Genesis Garden team and other volunteers. You work, you serve, you break bread. Sounds Christ like, right? That’s because it is.

Check out our about page and the links located therein to learn more about CCG, MLF, GG and other combinations of capitalized letters.

Please comment or email with any questions.

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

A Couple of Options for Your Consideration

Two ideas that I would like you to cogitate upon -

First and most important – there are new ways to serve at Genesis Gardens (GG from now on in this post), which as all of you dedicated Christ Church Garden (CCG, I am a lazy typist) Blog readers know, is one of our two parents organizations.

Go to http://mlf.org/community-first/volunteersgg/ and see the opportunities.

This is how I see this working with our CCG efforts. Your group or family or self (whoever and however you decide to serve) comes to our CCG site and works there, the usual stuff – water, weed, fertilize and harvest (leaving the drip system on). Then, when done at CCG, head over to join Steven Hebbard at the main GG sites, of course, you had the good courtesy to sign up and let Steven know when you expect to be there, which he ask to be before 9:30 am -

  • When you go to http://mlf.org/community-first/volunteersgg/, scroll down until you see “Farm Development”.
  • You click “sign up” for your date and when the sign up page comes up, there is a comment box. In that box, put that you are coming from CCG and what time you expect to arrive. Give them your cell so they can contact you if anything changes.
  • The address is 5800 Johnny Morris Austin, TX  78724

Then after working there, you gather for a community brunch with the main GG team and other volunteers.(then go turn the drip system off at CCG. This will solve the issue that we frequently don’t water long or deep enough for our plants)

This will provide more contact with GG and other churches / groups in our community that are cool enough to work with GG. It will also solve one of the issues that I think prevents people from serving at CCG – the idea that it is kind of insulating service and it is hard to grasp that you are serving God and His people when you are just out digging in the dirt by yourself, even though YOU ARE. So this will bridge that gap – you’ll see what we are doing in the bigger picture and break bread with those you serve and serve with, which is very Christ like indeed.

So chew on that, would you!

Second and of less importance -

Earlier this week I joked about what a 78704 hipster cool guy our scarecrow would be if we had one, and the response has been overwhelming – the people want a hipster scarecrow! Skinny jeans, ironic t-shirt, fedora, horn rim glasses, vintage pumas. What fun we could have.

If you or your group has a creative bent, or has outgrown your hipster clothes (either emotionally or physically), please volunteer to build us a scarecrow. I’ll get the post and hay, you bring the cool.

How to Start Your Own Church Garden

If you found this blog through the article in the Austin American Statesman you are probably wondering two things 1) how can we at (your church name here) start a garden for good and for awesome and 2) what do Brussel Sprouts have to do with Brussels, Belgium? I can’t help you with question number two. OK, I probably could after a brief google search, but you could do that yourself, on your own time. We have important business to attend to here, so please stay on task.

To answer your first question, I have provided below a step by step guide to starting a vegetable garden at your church. But first, check the “Why to Start a Garden at Your Church” post, if you haven’t yet. OK, without further ado -

  1. You will need someone who really wants a garden at your church. It would help if this person was crazy. Since you read about this in the garden section and were interested enough to look up the blog, hopefully that person is you. You don’t have to be crazy, but I’m guessing you are, and that will help you out in the end.
  2. You need some land. Most churches already have some. (We didn’t, but it can be overcome – email me with questions on that) This land will need to be in at least six hours a day of sun. A good rule of thumb that I was taught is that if you are growing bermuda there, you can grow a garden there (courtesy Steven Hebbard).
  3. You need some water. A hose from the nearest spigot will do, or if you guys are rolling in it, hard plumb that garden.
  4. You need people. Churches are notoriously full of them. The trick is finding able bodied people who are interested in gardening and want to volunteer. This is one place where you being crazy will help a lot.
  5. Plan a build day. Pick a day, put it in the bulletin have the most persuasive pastor make an announcement about and get it promoted. Make a full fun day of it – like an old fashioned barn raising with lunch and fun for the kids.
  6. Do everything possible to organize the build day before hand. Plan the garden, gather materials, designate leaders.
  7. Build it!
  8. Plan for different groups to work the garden – the youth group, men’s bible study, ladies auxiliary (what is that, anyway?)
  9. harvest food
  10. Give food to the needy – this part can be hard. You need to find an outlet. Our partnership with Mobile Loaves and Fishes works for us. Check them out here. You might look into food pantries, children’s homes, homeless shelters. Find something your church will be passionate about (duh) and get on it!
  11. Praise the Lord for the opportunity, the land and for his hand in this City!

How to Pickle Okra from the Garden

First, we should start by recognizing that okra is awesome. They grow in heat and drought. They have beautiful palmate leaves and stunning hibiscus-like flowers.

And fried okra! How do I love thee? So much that I wrote this Fried Okra haiku -

Fried Okra is the

absolute best side that I

know of at Lubys

But, alas, how would we give out fresh fried okra on the MLF trucks? And while I eat fresh okra raw, it is generally accepted that I am weird. So we are left with – pickling.

For a long while I thought that pickling was hard. That if done wrong, I would harm the very people I want to help. But it is canning that requires skill and special stuff. It is through canning that I can spread Botulism throughout the city. Not pickling, specifically refrigerator pickles.

So you start with okra -

The trick is, not too large. They get very fibrous. If you are in doubt of the toughness of an okra, cut some off and try it. Like my Mama always told me, “If you can’t chew it raw, pickling ain’t gonna help none, honey.” OK, she never said that or anything like it, but she would have been right if she did.

Rinse them off well and drain the water away. Then pack them in a jar, any clean jar. I use old jam and pickle jars. Add in one clove of garlic.

Then bring the following to a boil -

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tablespoon dill seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar

Pour the boiling mixture into the jar with Okra and garlic.

Put the caps on. Careful, still hot. Duh. Let cool on the counter.Then, when cool enough to hold, put them in the refrigerator overnight. Then, sometime soon, put them in a cooler and haul them to the MLF commissary -        903 South Capital of Texas Highway Austin, Texas 78746. Put them in the walk in cooler (don’t let the door close on you in there, what a way to go!) and let some one know they are there.

There you go. Instant spicy, sweet, okra goodness.

How To Harvest Stuff in the Garden – May 2012

This seems simple, you say, and it is. There are different plants growing in the garden, with different fruits and or vegetables to harvest, so you need to account for that. You will not find potatoes on the branches of potato plants, or tomatoes under ground on the roots of tomato plants. And please, stop pulling up the tomatoes looking for potatoes.

To break it down by our current veg selection -

  • Tomatoes – We are in an absolute race with the local “wildlife” to see who can harvest more tomatoes. This is war, and we are losing! Harvest if they are red, orange or even 2/3 orange. You’ll see tomatoes that have burst, have rotted on the end and that we lost the race to and are half eaten by birds or squirrels. Please pull these off and throw any damaged tomatoes into the compost bin. Gently pluck off and keep the good ones – try not to bruise, do not refrigerate.
  • Cucumbers – It is the goal of our cucumber plants to hide their cucumbers from us. They consider it a victory if they can hide a cucumber long enough for it to grow larger than Steven Hebbard’s forearm. These plants are very good at this and you can go over the cucumber bed three times in row and still find new cucumbers. Persistence is the key word here. And pain – cucumbers are spiny. You can wear gloves or just toughen up a little bit, for the love. Harvest anything bigger than your index finger. Just grab and gently twist. A pocket knife to cut the stem is even better. Try not to bruise and then do refrigerate.

We will be attempting to make our cucumbers into pickles this weekend! If you know anything about pickling or would like to learn about pickling, please post a comment or email me! This is a cry for help!

  • Potatoes – we will harvest them all at one time when the plants have died all the way to the ground. I thought about harvesting them early, but I think Steven Hebbard would have driven over and put me in a choke hold if I’d tried it. So we will wait, I don’t want him choking me. Have you seen his forearms? (they are like really big cucumbers)
  • Broccoli – I don’t think we are harvesting any broccoli. They seem determined not to produce florets. I think we got them in too late, or that they are just unhappy about sharing a bed with the potatoes. Hear this broccoli – You have until the potatoes die down to do something, anything; when they go, you go -to the compost pile! Ha! Last laughs on you, broccoli.
  • I’m sorry, I’ve always disliked broccoli.

What to do with your harvest?

  • You can take it to the Mobile Loaves and Fishes Commissary at St. John Neumman Catholic Church ; Call MLF to make sure someone will be there - (512) 328-7299
  • You can bring it to me at Church on Sunday – leave it under the side table in the main hall and I’ll grab it between services – please email or comment to let me know to look for it.
  • You may not eat it. You want to eat fresh, garden tomatoes? Two options – grow your own or eat the ones ruined by the birds. If eating bird mongered tomatoes makes you squeamish, you just don’t like garden tomatoes enough to need to eat one.

How to Fertilize the Garden

And so we delve into deep (and contested) botanical waters. While everyone can agree that gardens need water, and compost making is so entrenched in the organic garden ethos that it has moved right past accepted and on to celebrated,  fertilizer can rile up the faithful. Yes, that fertilizer! The one where we evil humans force feed our plants, while simultaneously polluting our ground water and supporting the petrochemical industry. Right? No – there is a better way.

We have many organic options that are made from real dead stuff that is not so long dead as to have been turned into oil. And if used according to the label instructions, it is not going to run off into our streams (remember, even organic is bad if overused). We use a seaweed solution that was given to us by Steven and the gang from Genesis Gardens. A garden just isn’t a garden if it doesn’t smell like the fish counter at a 1970′s Safeway, or maybe that is just me. But hopefully you’ll agree soon.

The step by step -

  • Try to fertilize as early in the morning or late in the evening as possible. These events are signified by the sun being lower on one horizon or the other.
  • Open the plastic tub onsite and ….
  • Get out the 1 gallon pump sprayer
  • Get out the one gallon jug of fertilizer
  • Do NOT dump the one gallon of fertilizer into the sprayer! Are you crazy?
  • Instead, add about two caps of the fertilizer to the sprayer
  • Add water up about 3/4 of the way full
  • Screw on the lid and start pumping the, well, pumpy thing
  • when you hear air hissing, it is fully pressurized and is about to explode, please run for your life (kidding, not about it being fully pressurized, just the explosion)
  • Start to spray all the plants and beds. Soak the entire plant and soil around the plants. You will have to re-pump the sprayer several times.
  • I find it takes about two sprayers full to get the whole garden, for now. My current hypothesis is that when the plants get bigger, it will take more. Don’t you love science?
  • Rinse out the sprayer – don’t waste that water! Throw it on a tomato plant or something, thank you.
  • Stand back and smell that stinky air! You did it!

How to Compost

The low down -

  • oversimplification - compost is decayed or decaying organic matter and all the micro-organisms that helped do the decaying
  • we need compost for the garden. I don’t want to wax too poetic about compost – plenty of garden writers have already – but it is important to feed the soil to feed the plants (I think I do wax a bit later in the post, I couldn’t help myself)
  • we have compost bins at the garden to make compost, here is how
  1. You make a salad and keep the trimmings, make coffee and keep the grounds, rake up your leaves and bag them or even make eggs and keep the shells. No meat or grease, please – but any vegetable matter besides weeds. They make all kind of cute compost containers but a big bowl in the refrigerator has always been my (but not my wife’s) favorite method. Don’t chill the leaves, of course, they can stay outside.
  2. Bring said materials (now called compostables) to the garden
  3. Open the top of the designated compost bin – the active bin will be bin #1 – the southern-most (closest to the gate) bin
  4. Dump in your compostables
  5. Sprinkle with a little (maybe a 1/4 to a 1/2 gallon or less) water from the hose
  6. Turn slightly using the garden fork
  7. close lid
  8. Stand back and
  9. let the magic happen – worms and fungi and bacteria will go to town on the stuff you were just too high up on the food chain to eat. They will eat and poop and live and die. The temperature will rise in the pile to 160 degrees – you could, but shouldn’t, cook a steak in there.
  10. On some work day when the bin is full we will turn the entire lot over into bin # 2 and start again.
  11. Then some fateful day, we will check our compost and it will look not like banana peels, coffee grounds and oak leaves; but instead look like the blackest, freshest, best smelling dirt you ever saw. We will rejoice and mix it into our planting beds.
  12. More rejoicing
  13. Repeat as needed (both composting and rejoicing)

 

How to Water the Garden

Gardens need water. Sometimes it falls from the sky, and if that happens often enough, you live in Seattle. But we in Austin must irrigate our gardens. Because Christ Church Garden is hip and cool and conscientious and cheap, we installed drip irrigation and this is how it works -

If no significant rain within 7 days (1 inch of rain or more is significant rain) run the drip system -

  1. You notice it hasn’t rained lately (way to go, oh noticer of things!)
  2. you check the latest What Up With That post and it’s comments section on the blog and make sure no else has run the drip line within the last 7 days
  3. you check one spot in each bed two inches deep with your index finger and find – a) wet all the way down – NO water needed today, b) moist all the way down – 2 hrs of drip, c) moist half way down – 4 hrs of drip, or d) dry as a west Texas county – 6 hrs of drip.
  4. You turn on the drip faucet 1/5 turn
  5. you set the timer as you deemed necessary above (trust yourself – you’ll know!)
  6. when you get back at the end of the day, turn off the faucet, look around for giant puddles or dry areas signifying drip failure – no water wasting allowed.
  7. Post a comment that you watered on that week’s What Up With That post, including something witty or thoughtful, please.
  8. Bask in your green thumbed garden success.