Volunteers begin work on pantry garden


By Sue Bussa

Five of us Caldwell County Christian Ministries Food Pantry Garden volunteers took full advantage of the recent 70-degree January afternoon and prepared the ground plot for planting this Spring season. Our new volunteer, who misses his backyard garden, had already tilled the old rows which were too close together. We shoveled the loose earth into tall, raised rows that will provide good root drainage. We’ll have to leave the melon growing to sandy Luling however, as learned from our rotted cantaloupes last summer.

Something else learned: It appears that cilantro and parsley can survive a 25-degree freeze. As can those pesky diamondback moth wormies that were eating our kale. We had to give up and pull all our cabbage family plants, including the broccoli, which I had hoped would continue to make side shoots. We composted all that organic matter, counting on the heat of the compost pile to cook the caterpillars. A decomposing compost pile is too hot to leave your hand in!

Fire ants are our other insect pest, of course. We tried digging up a mound and dumping it outside the garden. After a second digging a week later, our efforts were successful. We had tried treating mounds with diatomaceous earth previously, but that just seemed to move them over a foot or two. Last Fall, I was so excited to add some red wiggler earthworms to our raised cinderblock beds. The next day, I found all the worms writhing on the surface of the dirt, being consumed by fire ants. I almost cried, having subjected wonderful worms to such torture! Brite Ideas, my go-to garden store in south Austin, recommended beneficial nematodes, which will “hunt down” the queen and workers. (The box says so!) I hope to get my revenge by dousing mounds with a beneficial nematode solution.

Naturally occurring earthworms are indicative of a healthy soil biology, but I doubt they can coexist with fire ants. The interaction of plant roots and microorganisms will happen under any circumstance, however, and if left alone, Mother Nature will regenerate any dirt into rich soil. Soil needs to always be growing some kind of roots, that ooze food for the microorganisms that live there. The organisms, in turn, supply nutrition and minerals to the plants, building a whole habitat around the roots with pore spaces for water infiltration. Tillage destroys that structure. Diversity and rotation of plants makes for diverse sunlight capture, diverse root systems, therefore diverse microorganisms present. Creation knew what It was doing, but humankind mistakenly slashes the rainforest for mono-cropping. Restoration is key.

The City is looking to the garden’s future by providing an electric pole in the garden. Having electric access will open up a range of possible projects, including a greenhouse. If you want to get in on our growth, call the Pantry at 512-376-6661 and leave your name and number. I’ll get in touch with you, even though I’m going to take a surgery break during February. We just planted onion sets in two cinderblock beds, because green onions scored high on the favorite vegetable survey. We, and maybe you, will be planting for Spring as the weather warms. In April, I’ll report what we’ve done together. If you want to plant some cilantro at home, as mentioned in the last article, I’ll leave little baggies of cilantro seeds at the pantry for pick-up during pantry hours. After a few more freezes, we can welcome the Texas Spring. Woohoo!


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