At Cornucopia Community Garden, even the bug spray is DIY
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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 48: Cornucopia, Ventura
Summer is usually a difficult time to cultivate cabbage in Southern California, but gardener Karen Hoh at the Cornucopia Community Garden in Ventura has a system to deal with the fluctuating temperatures here. Borrowing a page from the large-scale growers in nearby Oxnard, she has bent PVC pipes into arcs and anchored these ribs with short rebar stakes into the ground, making an improvised cover that protects her densely planted napa cabbage. Too much sun and the head flattens.
Hoh, above, also has hot peppers and garlic going, the base for the kimchee she will be assembling come harvest time. To combat aphids that might attack her various crops, Hoh even makes her own pepper spray: about 1.5 cups of water are mixed with five finely ground manzana peppers and one teaspoon of dish soap, all filtered through a screen.
DIY solutions are aplenty here at Cornucopia, Ventura County’s largest community garden. Located on Telephone Road under power lines, the 142 plots sit on 3.2 acres of former citrus orchard, next door to a mobile home park where some of the gardeners live.
Ray Raya, a youthful 80, says there’s no gardening space in the mobile home park where he lives, so for the past three years he’s been tilling two plots at Cornucopia. He encounters the occasional thief and relentless gophers, but the worst problem is weeds.
“Some come back like an old song,’ he says. ‘The wild garlic is terrible. If it were edible, it wouldn’t grow so well.”
Hoh, his neighbor in Cornucopia, weeds her four plots with a ho-mi, a Korean “hand plow” with a tapered, curved blade. The garden, she says, ‘is like my baby. I have to see it.’ Her organic harvests allow her to eat well, and the sun, she says, gives her health. ‘I don’t want to watch TV all day.” At the other end of the garden, Sandy Fournier is inspecting her beans, harvesting chard and trimming her zinnias. She had never gardened before, but now, “it’s my salvation,” she says. The first thing she thinks when she wakes up: “Will my tomatoes still be there?”
To defeat the gophers, she has tried spreading fox urine and chewing gum, deploying wire and using sound generators inserted in the soil. Wire has worked the best -- that and being on-site regularly. “They know,’ Fournier says. ‘They can smell you; they can hear you.”
Schzelle Frangis, right, a few plots away, doesn’t have a gopher problem. Snails are what go after her scarlet runner beans, a perennial with red flowers adored by hummingbirds. Also known as Oregon lima beans, they’re best when eaten young and taste like Italian green beans, but “much meatier,” she says. She starts them in early summer, tossing in a lot of diatomaceous earth to fend off the snails and cutting them back for regeneration the following year. When the runner beans are in season, she takes home a full bag every other day.
But weeds? Rays says there’s no solution. The part-time employee hired by the land’s owner, the Ventura parks department, lays down black plastic over plots waiting for new gardeners, but this solarizing of the weeds is only a temporary fix.
-- Jeff Spurrier
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St. Francis among the flowers.
Sandy Fournier’s outdoor room, which she created partly to share with her granddaughter.
One of Fournier’s granddaughter’s embellishments.
Ray Raya and Karen Hoh.
Plots covered with plastic to keep down weeds until new gardeners are ready to get started.