The Transylvania Times -

Rice Street Gardeners Build Strawberry Pyramids - Brevard, NC

 

August 28, 2017

Courtesy Photo

The new strawberry pyramids frame some of the garden's volunteers, with Rice Street Community Garden behind them. Left to right are (back row) Milbrey Raney, Carrie Collins, Jayne Field, Bill Chandler, Karen Palmer, John Rinehart, Anne Oliver, Susan Causey, Sandy Harrington and (kneeling) Jane Chandler and Martha Mayberry. Not pictured: Lynne Urbain.

At the Rice Street Community Garden, the strawberries are out of control. The garden's volunteers, however, are fighting back.

The garden is located on a small piece of land owned by St. Philip's Episcopal Church in downtown Brevard. The sloping lot is adjacent to Rice Street and diagonally across from the Farmers' Market.

In 2015, two parishioners from the church, Luke and Valerie Hedger, donated eight strawberry plants. The garden's volunteers set four of the plants in the upper section of the garden and four in the lower. That year, those eight produced runners, or "daughter plants," which in turn sent out their own runners.

One year later, in 2016, those original plants and their runners had spread like crazy.

By 2017, they covered two fields, each about the size of an average living room.

In addition, more runners were heading toward Rice Street. Something had to be done.

Rice Street Community Garden is staffed entirely by volunteers. About half are members of St. Philip's, and the others hail from all over Transylvania County.

The volunteers donate the garden's fresh organically grown produce to Bread of Life and Sharing House. In the six years since ground was first broken, the garden has donated more than $18,000 worth of produce to the soup kitchen and food bank.

Back to what to do about the out-of-control strawberries... One of the garden's frequent volunteers, John Rinehart, offered to build two 6-foot-tall wooden strawberry pyramids.

The structures would hold the plants up off the ground, where the strawberries would be easier to pick and the runners easier to control.

About nine years ago, Rinehart had built a pyramid for a community garden in Florida from plans he'd purchased on the Internet. At his house, he has a few power tools, which he'd learned to use at his father's knee.

"The house rule is that we don't bring out the beer until we're done with the power tools," Rinehart said.

For the pyramid project, Rinehart began by selecting the lumber carefully and then cutting to size the two by sixes, four by fours and the rest of the pieces.

Funds to purchase the lumber were donated by another garden volunteer, Ruth Anderson.

By Aug. 3, all of the pieces were ready to be assembled. On that day, Rinehart was helped by Bill Chandler, who is a member of the garden's three-person steering committee and serves as the crew boss on workdays.

For each of the two pyramids, Rinehart and Chandler built a square base and then nailed four uprights to the base from each corner.

The uprights angle in and attach to a central post at the top, forming the pyramid.

The final step was to attach a number of five/four by six boards. Each of the boards was slanted to hold in the soil that would fill the interior of the pyramids. In effect, the slanted boards form a series of soil shelves, which become progressively smaller toward the top of the pyramids.

Altogether, Rinehart and Chandler spent about 30 hours building the two structures.

Every strawberry plant has a productive life of about three years. In 2016-the year that the original plants began spreading so prolifically-the garden's volunteers harvested 86 pounds of strawberries, which filled dozens of plastic fruit boxes, recycled from home.

In 2017, the harvesters picked 42 pounds. Those first two years are the most productive. Each runner, once transplanted, is a new plant that starts its own cycle of productivity.

After the pyramids were finished, Rinehart moved them to the garden. Then, on Aug. 12, volunteers filled them with soil and transplanted runners onto the shelves. The workers included 13 of the garden's frequent volunteers and 13 teen volunteers from Outward Bound.This was the third summer that Outward Bound youth had volunteered for a few hours at Rice Street Community Garden.

Participants in each Outward Bound program, in addition to their outdoor adventures, commit to a service day to help foster stewardship of the earth.

Courtesy Photo

The upper strawberry field, which spread out from four original plants in only two years, is shown with the new strawberry pyramids in the background and Outward Bound volunteers transplanting runners.

Even prior to the strawberry workday, the garden attracted record numbers of volunteers this spring. April 1 broke all previous records when 22 people participated in a workday to plant cool-weather crops. Then that record fell on June 3 when 24 volunteers planted warm-weather crops. Those volunteers included people of all ages-from grandchildren to parents and grandparents.

The garden has set other records in 2017. The first harvest was two weeks earlier than last year's first harvest. But then the drenching rains in June and July slowed growth and encouraged pests like squash bugs and Japanese beetles.

Nevertheless, as of Aug.11, the garden had produced 361.5 pounds of acorn squash, broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes, chives, cucumbers, garlic, kale, green beans, okra, onions, peas, radishes, romaine lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, yellow squash, zucchini-and, of course, strawberries.

Despite the pyramids, the strawberry problem is not solved. The question remains: What to do with the two big fields of elderly strawberry plants? Maybe replace them with watermelons?

"Like" the garden at http://www.facebook.com/ricestreetcommunitygarden, and to find out how to help, call 877-4070.

 
 

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