Anatomy of a Rain Garden Project: One Year Later

We are now one year later after the completion of the rain garden at the Huntertown Family Park. What began as a flooded, kinda trashy dirt hole next to a newly constructed concession building has become a beautiful feature of a community park for all who visit. Currently there are only a few volunteers who weed and water the 625 square foot specialty garden but that’s the best we can do. The restrictions of the pandemic and personal health constraints have changed my ability, as Coordinator, to secure garden helpers; a really hot summer seemed to complicate the matter further. Overall, the rain garden (RG) is doing its job managing water runoff from the structures nearby in the most loveliest way possible! Here’s how we got here (as published in the September issue of Across the Fence, the monthly publication of the Master Gardeners of Allen County, IN where I am Editor).

Take a class online; it will be fun!

I created and coordinated this project to fulfill the requirements of an online class in the spring of 2018 to become a Certified Master Rain Gardener. The class was excellent and matches the caliber of our local Catching Rain Fort Wayne program that I also attended later. The President of the Park, Dan Holmes, approved the project and proved to be instrumental on work days, identifying several local resources, and just being there the one day when complications of this project brought me to tears! Early coverage in our local newspaper was a fun boost along the way. Then it was a scramble to get the base of the rain garden built before the summer of 2019 as I was simultaneously learning how things functioned at this private park, addressing Americans with Disabilities Act considerations, securing grant funding from the Urban Wildlife Habitat Cost Share Program (UWHCSP) at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and eventually obtaining quotes from local contractors. Things got really complicated very quickly!

Start and they will follow. We will help you.

Volunteers came forth from the classes that I mentioned above, notices in Across the Fence, a little sign I posted at the RG site, the local newspaper, and random encounters with neighbors who lived across the street from the Park. There weren’t a lot of us so everyone who came worked very hard and got the respective project done for any given work day. Weeding up to 3-foot “native” weeds in two dirt piles to keep seeds from blowing into the base of the RG? Check! Rescheduling work days a couple of times due to severe flooding restricting access to our project site? Check! Breaking down and spraying weed killer around the periphery of the RG so we could increase the 50+ foot berm area with soil and mulch on a 90+ degree day with 3 volunteers? Check! Obtaining donations of plants from local and out-of-state nurseries, a Park neighbor, and fellow Master Gardeners? Check! Learning how to build our drainage tile system from YouTube videos, the good folks at our local landscape supply dealer, and another neighbor adjacent to the Park with a skid loader? Check! Discovering large landscape rocks during my first tour of the Park with Dan then witnessing their installation in the complete RG base by that same gracious neighbor 3 months later? Check again. And so it went. By the Fall of 2018, donated native plants were sleeping sweetly in my own garden ready for installation in the Spring. There was so much left to do including still figuring out how to do some of it at this level!

You need to be done by June.

Tis good to have deadlines when embarking upon a large and complex project that stretches you to the max! The UWHCSP grant provided just that. We needed to have everything planted (i.e. 75 perennials, grasses, and bushes!) and professional signage at least on-order by June of 2019 or lose our funding! There were delays from our vendor that tested our timeline but in the end we met all of our obligations. Just two volunteers planted everything in May of 2019. Dan had facilitated not only the donation of a gorgeous flagstone path by a local landscaping company but the ordering and later installation of our professional signage at a deeply discounted rate. (He and the neighbor whose mother-in-law across the street donated the milkweed seeds, installed our sign themselves!) The total cost of the rain garden was $1604.90 with an estimate of over $2,000 in donated plants, materials, and landscaping services. Our $2500 UWHSCP grant covered all of our out-of-pocket expenses and future needs. A couple of plants needed to be replaced in the Spring of 2020 and some additional mulching will be replenished when we can safely call a work day with social distancing and the requirements of Purdue Extension.

I wish to thank all of the volunteers, individuals, and businesses that contributed to the success of this project (also those named on our sign). Master Gardeners and Interns who participated include Rhonda, Linette, Greta, Simone, Linda, and Jo. Note that most rain gardens in the landscape of a homeowner are much simpler to construct than the project shared here! Rain gardens help soak rain water into the ground quickly, protect or river and creeks from pollution, replenish ground water, create beautiful gardenscapes throughout the growing season, and provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects (for pollination of plants). Once established, your own rain garden project will be a source of beauty and pride that serves important functions in our landscapes and communities for years to come. I’d love to chat more about your interest in rain gardens!

Just the People in the Neighborhood, Part 1

Johnnie Mae Farm, Fort Wayne, Indiana

I realized something important on Monday. Sometimes what goes on is just the people in the neighborhood helping out one another. Colorless. Selfless. And precious. Here’s what happened.

Interviewing our local extension educator is always a mix of spontaneous fun, fascinating information about the topic at hand, and stories that reflect her love for the people she is positioned to serve. Such was my experience once again as I toured an urban farm on the southeast side of our relatively small town.

The deeper into the neighborhood I traveled, the more I felt conspicuous. A lady driving alone in a shiny bright pick-up truck is tough to miss on a hot, sunny afternoon! Well maybe not in Indiana farm country but this was south of the tracks in the roughest zip code in our town of about 300,000. Nonetheless, I was there to learn more about a non-traditional farm that serves the residents of what is called a food desert: an area where it is difficult to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Johnny Mae Farm provides just that alongside members of the surrounding neighborhood, in addition to food and nutrition classes in the renovated former Firehouse #9. The building is adorable and the 3/4 acre farm area behind it was constructed with everything that is needed to produce hundreds of pounds of fresh produce each growing season. The hoop house employs the latest and some experimental farming techniques including raised beds, container gardening, and ground-level drip irrigation systems. Outside is where you will find dozens of mounded beds arranged in long rows to minimize contamination from the soils underneath laden with by heavy metals. Three homes in this neighborhood were purchased then demolished to create the farming area, divided from the firehouse/education center by an alley road of hard-packed gravel. Homes surround the farm in addition to a boarded up VFW hall across the street that is as old as dirt. (Well at least the sign out front was anyhow!)

I learned a lot that afternoon. I have come a long way in my knowledge of vegetable gardening since moving to Indiana and becoming a Master Gardener. But it takes actually growing things in your own space and learning from the locals to really get any production above a few salads and meals. This farm is wildly successful, even with alkaline soils recently discovered in those mounded rows (and to be amended in the fall); all of this is because of the organic farming experience and horticulture knowledge of our Extension Educator, Terri. Three Sisters plantings of corn, beans, and squash. Yes they have them. Companion planting? Well done I must say. Native flower pockets along the fence to attract pollinators. Check! And so much more. I left not only with enough information for at least 4 articles in the Master Gardener monthly newsletter (Across the Fence) but tips I could immediately put to use in our own veggie gardens. Cool beans I say, literally.

The real education came as I was leaving. And that will lend itself to Part 2 of this story. It’s going to get real personal from here . . .

3/4 Acre Johnnie Mae Farm consists of a Hoop House and dozens of mounded beds that produce hundreds of pounds of fresh produce each season.

And there he was

Dr. David Jeremiah, life beyond amazing, tour, Fort Wayne, coliseum, event, Christian, Blackhawk Church, believer, inspiration

My husband, Steve, and I recently attended Dr. David Jeremiah’s A Life Beyond Amazing event in our town.  I enjoyed Dr. Jeremiah’s presentations:  first to get acquainted with his family life then his message on enduring life’s challenges as unto the Lord.  However I must say that the fundraising prayer by one of his staff was tacky!  The music was loud, motivating, and moving.  Overall I must say that it felt good to be worshiping and learning in the company of fellow believers in Jesus Christ again.

I really wanted to meet Dr. Jeremiah after the event.  No problemmo as just one of about 10,000 people in attendance, right?  Very carefully we made our way to show center from the nosebleed section of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.  My balance was a bit off from the sensory overload from many directions as I still battle Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome.  Nonetheless, I was a woman on a mission and soon found ourselves in front of the stage talking to the gifted musicians still lingering around.  I complimented Dr. Jeremiah’s granddaughter who sang in the worship team and asked where I might find her grandfather?  “He had to leave for a fundraising dinner,” was all she said.  I was disappointed but understood.  Fort Wayne, Indiana was the starting place for Dr. Jeremiah’s ministry and many members of the church he had founded here were in attendance; surely there were special activities going on to which Steve and I were not invited!

We tried to find some restrooms that were not swamped by the crowds still leaving the arena.  Having been there for shows many times before, when we headed down an open hallway where some smaller meeting rooms were located.  We encountered the vocalists again and saw a meeting room bustling with people just before we found our destination.  The hallways were virtually empty except for a few late-comers headed to what looked like a reception.  Then just before I turned to go into the lady’s room, I saw him!  Dr. Jeremiah was walking with his wife headed for that same room and it was becoming clear that we had just passed the room where his post-event activities were to take place.

This was my moment and I stepped up to it.  I walked up to Dr. David Jeremiah with my arm outstretched to shake his hand.  He accepted it and looked into my eyes briefly as I said what I had rehearsed in my mind ever since I had expressed a desire to go to the event days beforehand.  It went something like this:

Hi.  My name is Julie ____.  Several years ago you gave a message that included the teaching that God’s man in the middle of God’s will, will not perish until the Lord God ordains it.  I wanted to tell you how much that message has meant to me as I have battled a serious illness with seizures every day for the past 5 years.  Thank you.  Keep doing what you are doing!

His spoke words that followed mine as I finished the sentence from his audio tape, as if he had just given the message yesterday and not over 10 years ago!  He thanked me and quickly continued to his destination with his wife.  I continued to my own destination with a sense of wonder and amazement.  That moment was ordained by God for sure, just for me, just for him.

My spirit was calm and full as I thought about all that had transpired over the past 2 1/2 hours.  Steve and I drove home lightly chatting along the way, mostly quietly in our own thoughts.  I would be very sick with convulsive episodes within the hour of returning home and showering.  My senses were completely overloaded from the loud music, close proximity to other people, and the effects of some new treatment ramping up.  For the first time I did not feel traumatized by the serious illness that I have been selected to endure.  My own words provided the comfort I needed to get through the darkness of the night.

God’s woman, in the middle of God’s will, will not perish until the Lord God ordains it.  He has a plan and purpose for our lives even in the midst of suffering.  And should I finish well, the tasks before me no matter how difficult, there may be reward someday but first there certainly will be a closeness to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that transcends my understanding.  I want that.  And touch points in life like these will help me to craft my own life beyond amazing.

I’m up for that.

JJ

 

The County Sheriff and a mobile compost pile

Sometimes the dirt in your life follows you around for awhile . . . literally!

The weather was unusually warm here in the Midwest of the United States this past December.  By “warm” I mean that it was still in the 50’s and that was all I needed to do a little gardening project still left undone from the prior season.  Factor in the heartache of having been too sick to do it earlier, you can see why I jumped at the chance to get some dirt under my fingernails before the snow was set to fly!

And so I did.  The borders around the flower beds and tree in our front yard were re-cut and tidied up for the wintry freeze to follow. A Master Gardener simply cannot have her front yard unkempt when visitors were set to come for Christmas celebrations . . . even if they are not into landscaping!  Afterwards I felt a little better about the whole thingy.  The cuttings went into the bed of my truck like they always do with the intent of making a quick trip to dump it at the town compost pile.  That never happened.  Such a bummer being sick virtually all of the time . . .

Flash forward two months.  I was headed in my truck to my doctor’s office, hoping that they would see me on time.  Usually we patients can call ahead to see how far he is running behind and to leave our phone number for a call when they have an exam room available for us.  The phone lines were either turned off or unanswered when I had tried to call so I hurried to get on my way, lest I lose my appointment altogether!  This arrangement is a minor inconvenience for most folks but a major undertaking for me these days.  I had a more severe seizure attack waking up that morning and barely had enough time to get ready, grab some of my special food for the day (these appointments require 3+ hours plus I had an IV treatment at the hospital next door for another 4 hours later on), and focus enough to get myself out the door.  Maybe I should have had Steve drive me to the appointment?

Clearly I was a little distracted.  The purpose of the appointment was to re-evaluate the first month of IV treatments for Lyme disease.  I had first treated Lyme disease 4 years ago and it was a disaster; the next 4 years were spent taking down other infections and toxicities to get ready for intense treatment of Lyme that likely had been underlying ongoing health issues for a very long time.  The process has been most difficult.  I would learn in this appointment that the burning in my forearms that occurred during the past 5 infusions of the antibiotic (Rocephin) had caused superficial phlebitis!  All I knew is that they hurt.  More treatment recommendations would follow to add to my already complex treatment regime.  Everything came clearly into focus when I saw that beige-n-brown Dodge Charger sitting alongside Auburn Road.

As soon as I saw him I knew that I was in trouble.  That’s the color of the County Sheriff vehicles and I was traveling 14 miles per hour over the speed limit!  I thought I was only 9 MPH but unfortunately I did not see the traffic sign until my trip home!  He followed me for a block or so before turning on his flashing lights.  I sat stunned by the side of the road.  The Sheriff turned out to be friendly young lad, albeit dressed in his intimidating finery.  He recognized my last name and asked if I knew someone that he did by that name in another town?  Nope.  I could hardly speak.  “May I call my Doctor’s office?  I am running late for an appointment,” I asked.  “Sure,” he replied as he took my ID cards and walked back to his beast on wheels.  If he was friendly did that mean that he would have mercy on my story and not give me a ticket?

Nope again.  The “icy” conditions warranted a citation.  He spouted off more instructions than I could understand then left me with a cheap ticker-tape style TICKET.  All I could do was pull over onto a local street to gather myself to figure out what to do next.  The Doctor’s office finally answered their phone, apologized for not picking up earlier as they were short-staffed and stated that the Doc was running 1 1/2 hours behind schedule (as usual!).  “Would I like to leave my phone number for a call when they were ready?”  Sure, no problem I thought to myself . . .

Somehow I managed to contact my hubby at work and return home.  The struggle to leave the house earlier that morning resulted in a very expensive speeding ticket with funds earmarked for adjunct treatments not the county coffers.  I was upset at myself and upset at this wretched illness.  I was guilty of speeding.  I had not even looked down to see how fast I was travelling.  Driving a truck makes you a little over-confident in inclement weather and that false sense of security had caught up with me.  Gee, did he also notice that I still have a quarter of the bed of my truck filled with dirt, plants, and sod pieces in the middle of winter?  Perhaps not.  The pile has already begun composting into a fertile loam on sunny days!  They should make a nice, top-dressing the vegetable bed by Spring!  Maybe I’ll just leave it in there?

Sigh.  Life goes on and sometimes the State trooper is the one to remind me of this.  Regardless, if it really does get to 57 degrees tomorrow (on February 19th!) I will be digging some, Lord willing.  There’s much to do and the IV treatments are helping me feel some better.  Besides, I have a lot more room in the bed of my truck that needs to be filled dontcha know?  You can never have too much of that “black gold” stuff anyways.  :JJ

compost, gardening, truck, Nissan Frontier, garden, load, dirt,
How the professionals load compost!

 

All You Need is Love

Sometimes you just need Jesus with skin on, ya know?

Tis quite humbling to find true love in the midst of the most wretched time of my life.  Even the worst of the trauma of my childhood cannot compare to the wrecking ball-like experiences of violent, waking seizures every day.  During the bewitching hour of night my beloved often lingers nearby, checking in periodically or lies next to me to warm my chilled, freaking out frame.  Perhaps he has carried me to the bathroom moments earlier or fed me some water to drink in my listless state after an episode.  And then comes the silliness that only a River Bear can muster in the midst of yet another crisis.   Seriously!  He finds a way to laugh in the midst of it all.

Sometimes you just need Jesus with skin on and I am exceedingly grateful love my Steve every day.  Making his lunch bag for work or cooking dinner a few nights per week is my meager contribution of late.  Sometimes I can do housework, grocery shop and laundry too; not so much lately.  It doesn’t seem to matter to my husband though.  He appreciates any of it and celebrates when I can get out and walk the dog or create a piece of jewelry instead of completing the chores.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches seem to fill his belly just the same!  What further amazes me is his compliments and words of encouragement when I am at my lowest.  I have never known this much love from anyone before Steve!

To those Gentle Readers who are single:  be the partner for which you seek and wait for the one who will love you above all else after the Lord.  I found Steve after 47 years of living and after kissing a few frogs along the way!  Oh well.  Sometimes you can’t tell a prince from a frog until it’s too late!  Yet when we trust the One who knows and numbers each hair on our pretty little heads, He will bring your night in shining aluminum*, or is that armor (?) at just the right time.  The trials and adventures of life come alive when shared with your intended beloved.

I used to say that I could make a relationship out of anything.  I was dumb and wrong.  Settling for less only brings heartache.  I now see too how the Lord empowers me to love Steve beyond my earthly capabilities and he must be doing the same for Steve as he loves me too.  In doing so we are drawn even closer together.  How does one prepare a lunch bag, clean up the kitchen at 4:00 a.m., and make it back to bed when sickly, nauseous, twitching in pre-tic episodes, etc.?  (How does Steve work full time, serve and worship at church, attend to household tasks, and keep up with athletic endeavors after staying up late with me?)  By calling on the Lord to add His increase, He brings blessings beyond the tasks at hand.  As for me, on particularly bad days I don’t do much of anything.  The look in my eyes is all I can give, to say how proud I am that my husband goes to work each day for us, or for me to muster up the strength to take a shower and wear the jeans he likes the best.  It is enough.  It is love.

Thank you Steve.  Thank you Lord!

Steve and Julie looking out over Lover's Leap, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Steve and Julie looking out over Lover’s Leap, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

******************

*  The “night in shining aluminum” story stems from the theme of many romance novels:  the dashing young man will eventually scoop the young maiden into his arms and carry her off into eternal bliss as the sun sets.  I believe I had a similar experience the day of my move from the west suburbs of Chicago, Illinois 200 miles east to be with Steve in northeastern Indiana.  We met on Yahoo Personals and had a fairy tale long distance relationship for longer than my Prince Charming desired.  Each time we parted to make the long drive home he would tease me about running off to be with him in Indiana!  The tell tale moment finally came on moving day in November of 2007.  The movers had packed the 24-foot box truck with all of the earthly possessions from my beautiful condo near the Dupage River.  We were standing in the parking lot about ready to go when he popped the question.  Steve looked at me and said, “Julie I’m going to ask you one last time:  will you come away with me to Indiana?”  I jumped into his arms with a resounding “YES” and off into the beast of shiny aluminum we went!  My prince had come for me at last . . .  :J