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There’s a book and TedTalk by Angela Duckworth about “grit” that seems apropos of the Southside Place Community Garden Board. Not grit as in grit and grime, although we do get pretty dirty on Saturday work days. I mean the personality characteristic of grit.
Grit (noun): Perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
It’s been almost five years since we embarked on the Southside Place Community Garden, a project built with sweat equity and grit. One of the original Board members, Bryan Baker, filed our application to become a 501c3 and we threw our first fundraiser in May 2013. A lot has been accomplished since then. We installed eight raised beds, planted a certified butterfly habitat border designed by Amy Bryant, and added an herb garden. The shed and pergola, designed by Joe Przybyl, were built with the help of corporate donations solicited by Lisa Roy, Kay Browning, and Linda Burdine. Linda Elkin took over Operations, making the master plan of each season’s planting. Our Treasurer, Patty Tilton kept the balance sheets and kept us all accountable. Linda Burdine kept Board meeting minutes, serving in the role of Secretary. We, as a team, purchased the furniture for the pergola, Kay Browning, being a former child care center director, took charge of Educational Outreach, bringing teachers and kids into the garden for lessons in biology and volunteerism. As a gritty team–and with the help of a growing army of garden members–we got things done.
Soon we’ll be releasing the Southside Place Community Garden Board version 2.0. While it will be sad to see us founding Board members go, an infusion of new grit will revive the garden as we embark on developing the second lot. Claire Baker will take over as President, leading Board meetings and work with the Board, city and community to further the garden’s mission. U.J. Bhandari will be the new Treasurer, keeping track of our donations and expenditures and filing our taxes. Pat Mullen will be serving as the head of Operations, deciding what to plant, where and when. Sally Lukats, formerly in charge of food pantry donations, will be in charge of Fundraising. The new director of Communications, Linda Elkin, will be sending out the emails to the garden members and (thankfully) writing the monthly column in Southside Living Magazine from now on.
Those of us stepping off the Board will likely remain active in the garden. It’s been such a rewarding experience to create such a lovely green space for the families of Southside Place and beyond. It brings us a sense of pride and purpose. If you have grit, we encourage you to get involved in the next phase of the Southside Place Community Garden.
Normally, we have at least one bed with three foot tall okra by now. The beautiful yellow flowers foreshadow the rapidly growing okra pods. Residents and city hall workers come by daily to pick the okra pods. Stockpile them for a week in the fridge and there is enough for a side dish. Not this year. This year, our okra turned into pumpkins.
It’s not a Cinderella story. We had
planted about seven okra plants in the large melon bed near the shed and blanketed them with compost from our compost bins. The okra starts were not strong and withered, save one. In addition, our compost did not get hot enough because it contained viable pumpkin seeds from last season’s Jack-o-lanterns. These seeds sprouted and pumpkin seedlings quickly overran the struggling okra plants. Our okra bed is filled with fast-growing, orange gourds.
Turns out, the best time to plant pumpkins for Halloween is in the summer. Pumpkin is one of the few seeds we can sow in the heat of the summer in Houston. While not deliberate, we were delighted to have created a pumpkin patch for October. In the meantime, we’ll plant some new okra starts to see if they can take hold. We know that you need your fix of okra, and that fried or pickled pumpkin just doesn’t fit the bill.
P.S.: Shortly after writing this article, we had to pull out the pumpkins due to an infestation. And voila! We found the okra. We’ll have okra for your Bloody Mary after all.
Every spring we hold our annual garden party to welcome the community into the garden and recruit new members. It started five years ago in 2013 and now has become a tradition in the neighborhood. Every year we change the party up a little bit. In 2014, the big change was that the garden Treasurer, Patty Tilton, had the idea to add a silent auction to the event. That was one smart move. The silent auction has become the biggest fundraiser for the community garden, generating enough funds to keep the garden running for a full year.
For two years Patty Tilton ran the auction by herself. Last year, Kristine Martinez of John Daugherty Real Estate took over the reins. This year at the April 23 party, a team of four from Encore Real Estate ran the show: Melinda Gordon, Shannon Thompson and Ron Shimkus. City Council member Jennifer Anderson also helped out. This year, the event was the best ever. They solicited donations from 39 companies, running around town to pick up all the donated gift certificates, sunglasses, baseball tickets etc. They created spreadsheets, graphic designs, and table displays. They worked the tables during the party, collecting checks and swiping credit cards. In the end, all of the auction items sold and they netted $5,176 for the garden, more than our annual garden operational expenses.
We’d like to thank all of the auction donors for their generous donations and Shannon, Melinda, Jenifer and Ron for their hard work on the auction. Also thanks to all of the garden party-goers who bid on the gift certificates, wine, tickets, rug. Not only do you get a great deal on these fabulous items but you also help keep our garden growing!
Click here for Auction Brochure 2017. Presents for Mother’s Day! This year–our 5th year!–it will be bigger than ever with activities for the kids, a silent auction and wine pull, and a potting station to plant your own container garden. Food catered by Molina’s and Moellers Bakery. So mark your calendar for April 23 4:30-8:30 for the casual event of the season. Rain out date March 7.
Fun night in the tent! The tent was leftover from a party on a Friday night in February. The residents let us “double-dip” and use the tent the following Sunday. Good thing because the rain chances were high. Turned out to be a great night with mild weather, a good turn out and some tasty wine and food. John Curry was on hand strumming and singing his eclectic mix of tunes. Beviamo Distributors and the new Rosinka Wine Bar poured Bordeaux, Tannats, and even an Amorone! The Churrascos-to-go food truck was serving giant meat sandwiches and French fries. A portion of the wine and food truck sales will be donated to the garden.
with a big, white tent and donated it for our use on Sunday night. This is a free party where guest taste wine, listen to live music, and buy wine for themselves or to donate to the garden. The wine donations are the back bone of our big, family-friendly party on April 23, 2017. We’ll be pouring wine and auctioning off bottles at our wine pull. A fantastic food truck (self-pay) will be there serving huge meat sandwiches, french fries etc. A fan favorite, John Curry, will be singing and playing guitar. Come for the wine, for the music, for the food or just to hang and talk to your neighbors. This even is free but we’ll be collecting dues ($25 per person per year) and donations. Find us in the tent, rain or shine!
Can you believe that our community garden has been in existence since February, 2013? We have accomplished a lot since then, building nine beds, a pergola, and a shed. Now as we embark on Year #4, we are moving forward to beautifying the lot and perhaps installing some exciting new play things for you.
Mayor Pat Patterson suggested to the garden board that we consider installing a bocce ball court. Bocce is an old Italian lawn bowling game that has become popular with the hipsters. Construction of a bocce ball court is simple, similar to building a simple raised bed. Wooden rails rim the perimeter of a long rectangle filled with crushed granite and topped with a smooth layer of oyster shell flour. A bocce ball set contains eight colored, four inch diameter balls and one smaller white ball, called the “jack” or “pallino.” The winner of a coin toss throws out the jack near the far end of the court. That same person or team rolls the first colored ball, being careful not to cross the fault line at the 3 meter mark. Then the next team throws. The team whose ball is farthest away from the jack now bowls its remaining three balls, trying to get as close to the jack as possible. Then the second team bowls its remaining three balls. The team closest to the jack gets a point, the game switches to the other end and the game continues until one team reaches 12 points. Easy! And apparently it’s so fun that it’s addictive!
Architect Joe Przybyl designed a bocce ball court and presented his plan at our annual open garden meeting in October. Let us know what you think about adding a bocce ball court to the community garden lot. If you want to see a bocce ball court in action, check out the backyard of the Brooklyn Athletic Club (but ours will look nicer). If this idea is approved, we’ll need your help with construction and light maintenance of the court. Who knows, maybe we’ll soon have our own Southside Place Bocce Ball League!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to comment on this bocce ball court idea. Or drop by. Work days are the first and third Saturday of each month 2:30pm; and the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 8am.
facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/476972015691263/
Here’s an article about the accessibility of our garden, published in Southside Living Magazine, 2016.
From its inception, the Southside Place Community Garden was designed to be an inclusive facility, allowing direct participation for people of all ages and abilities. The raised beds have wide top ledges so that they can serve as seating for gardeners. A concrete ramp was added to the parking lot with a gradual grade. The distance between the raised beds allows for wheelchair access. Crushed granite was chosen in lieu of bark mulch to provide a wheelchair-friendly surface, even after heavy rains. Little did I know that the garden’s actual wheelchair accessibility would be put to the test by me.
On a pleasant Saturday morning, I was out for out for a run around Rice Village, a route I’ve done innumerable times. The weather was unusually nice for August and many neighbors were out walking their dogs, running, having breakfast at Le Peep, and enjoying the unseasonably cool morning. Perhaps I was on autopilot running this familiar route because as I crossed Kirby at University Blvd., I was hit by a car. I suffered six broken ribs, and broken sternum, a broken foot, a nasty cut on the forehead and a concussion. The broken foot prohibits walking and the broken ribs prohibit the use of crutches, so I am wheelchair bound for six weeks. This provide an opportunity for me to experience firsthand how accessible the garden truly is.
The Lukats lent me the use of their GoGo electric scooter, a highly maneuverable and powerful motorized cart. It allows me the freedom to get from Jardin St to the garden quickly. What I discovered is that it is difficult to access the garden from the front path. There is no curb cut at the path and there is edging material in the way. However, the scooter has no problem getting into the garden from the parking lot, as the concrete ramp was designed specifically for this purpose. Once in the garden, making a left turn is not an option due to a veritable wall of landscape edging stones blocking the path. Taking a right requires driving over the grass, which is considered to be a wheelchair accessible surface except when it is saturated. The most difficult place to access are the compost bins in the rear of the lot but the motorized scooter can travel over grass and gravel with aplomb. Unfortunately, there is no access under the pergola because the rise of the concrete foundation is too high. Nor is there access to the shed because it has front steps instead of a ramp.
My new (selfish?) goal is to improve the accessibility of the garden. The curved, front path can be continued for easy access, perhaps with a curb cut at the street. A ramp of crushed granite could allow wheelchair access under the pergola. The landscape stones, leftover from the days before we had a concrete foundation, will be removed. Long-handled tools can be provided to gardeners in wheelchairs, even if they cannot get into the shed. With slight modifications, the garden can be a wheelchair-friendly place to be enjoyed by all. While my injuries are not permanent, my dedication to making the garden a handicapped-accessible space is.
Community gardening in Houston in the summer is limited due to the intense heat, limited variety of plants and travel plans of volunteers. Our work days tend to be under-attended and the operations committee can struggle with the watering schedule. The prospects of a vacation in the mountains is more promising than tending raised beds in August. After all, we are in the same gardening hardiness zone as Algeria, bless our sweaty little hearts. Nonetheless, the Southside Place Community Garden remains productive even during these sweltering months in the city.
What grows in Southside Place’s Zone 9 in the summer? Our most reliable and prolific plants have been okra, eggplant, melons, cucumbers and peppers but okra is always the bumper crop. Resistant to pests with stunningly beautiful flowers, okra grows at an impressive rate. It is possible that just one raised bed produces enough okra to feed the entire city. The last few summers, several neighbors have begged forgiveness for picking “too much okra,” believing that they are the only ones harvesting the pods. Of course, this can’t be true if several people are confessing the same thing. The fact is that we need more people to harvest the okra pods before they reach three inches long. Okra needs to be harvested at least every other day, so think of your harvesting as civic duty. Wear gloves because the tiny spines on the leaves and stems can irritate your skin. Cut the stem just above the pod cap with a knife. If the stem is too hard to cut, the pod is too old and should be tossed into the compost pile…not good eats. They get stringy and tough when they get longer than your middle finger. To store okra, put the uncut and uncooked pods into freezer bags and keep them in the freezer or you can pickle okra and keep it in your pantry.
Some people think that they “hate okra because it’s slimy” but I think that if you like green beans that you will like okra if it is prepared the right way. Roasting it on high heat in the oven makes for crispy okra sans slime. At the new Little Liberty restaurant in Rice Village, they cut it in half and coat it with chilies, basil and butter before “blistering” it in the oven. Sautéing okra with tomatoes and vinegar also counteracts the mucilage (the same stuff that runs out of aloe vera) of the pods. Okra also takes well to pungent Indian and Mexican spices. And who doesn’t like a pickled okra in their bloody Mary? Feel free to harvest the okra and send us your best recipe. Here’s is one below:
Okra with Tomatoes and Bacon
- 2 slices bacon
- 1 pound frozen okra, thawed and sliced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 celery, chopped
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble, and set aside.
- Remove bacon from pan and sauté okra, onion, pepper and celery until tender. Add tomatoes, and pepper and cook until tomatoes are heated through. Add salt at the end.
- Serve garnished with crumbled bacon.