Starting a Community Garden
Gathering a group of people who want to grow food together on shared land can be a wonderful experience. Tools and tips are shared among gardeners with different experience and expertise. Celebrating your harvest at potluck meals using vegetables you have grown nourishes your bodies and spirits.
Getting set up can seem a daunting challenge, yet step by step it is quite doable. I've divided the steps into categories, which you can use as a guide during the building stages.
Gather people who are interested in organizing the community garden and find out what they would like to offer. Setting regular meeting times to agree on guidelines, overseeing the gardens, installing the fence, building the plots, processing applications, and organizing events are a few things which will need to be done, We have a lovely man who enjoys helping people weed their gardens, for which we are very grateful. Everyone has something positive to offer. Finding what each person enjoys makes the environment rich and fulfilling.
Peter Lai brings his expertise in permaculture to his community garden.
Constructing a good fence which keeps animals of all types out of the gardens is extremely important. We have a 6 foot high fence above the ground, which did a great job for the first 5 years, until a groundhog discovered the tasty treats inside. In order to protect the gardens from groundhogs, a fence needs to be dug one foot underground or coming out from the bottom like the picture below.
Since our community garden is in an apartment complex, one year we had a few kids who came in and caused damage to some of the gardens. The perpetrators were found and asked to do community service in the gardens.
A big decision is how you are going to make your garden plots. Maybe you are in an area with fertile soil and all you need to do is figure out how much land each person gets for their garden. You might be in an area where the soil is not very good and raised beds are the best option. Raised beds can even be constructed on top of concrete. The idea is to create a shape to hold soil. Options include stones, concrete blocks, wood, tires, pots, barrels. The possibilities are endless and depend on what is available in your area. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. Stones and concrete blocks are great because they can be moved and don't rot. Wood will rot eventually, yet choosing more weather resistant varieties like cedar extends their life. Tires hold up well if you have a good supply of them. 55 gallon barrels can sometimes be purchased or donated. They will be need cleaning and to have drainage holes put in the bottom. A link to the map of our community garden plots is attached to the heading of this section. We have wooden plots made of fir. Every 4 years or so we get a group of people together to replace boards which are rotting.How lucky that Scouts and Junior ROTC groups volunteer to help us.
How will you water your plants? Consider collecting rainwater if there are gutters you can use to direct the water into a storage tank.
I love composting more than anything in the garden. It is so magical to watch weeds transform into black gold, the richest soil to grow plants. Dedicate a section of your community garden to compost piles. Layering green weeds and plant waste with brown leaves and soil allows the worms to do their transformative work. Piles can be contained with wooden pallets, concrete blocks or even a garbage can with the bottom cut out. Gardeners may want some education to learn more about compost to learn about this amazing process.
Taking the time to create, share, agree on and encourage compliance to guidelines for the community garden is really important. Each person has their own idea of how things should and should not be done which can cause conflict if left undiscussed. For example, a gardener may have worked really hard preparing their plot, planting, watering, weeding and supporting their plants, yet at harvest time there are a lot of rotting tomatoes on the ground. Is it okay for people to help themselves to their harvest? Is there a protocol for what to do if it seems a plot is abandoned? In our community garden, we have a protocol for how to handle plots which have been abandoned by first contacting the gardener to see if everything is okay and if they need help with their plot. If the gardener had life challenges getting in the way of spending time in the garden, we can offer them help. If the gardener will no longer be able to take care of their plot, we have a waiting list for people who are eager to have another plot or we will donate the produce to our gardeners or a local soup kitchen. If you click on the title of this section, you can see the guidelines and application for our community garden.
Learn and enjoy!
Each year is different in the community garden, depending on the weather, the people involved and seemily unknown magical forces. One year, we had several people who couldn't keep up with their plots, so I offered to take them over. At the end of July in New York, I took the composted mulch between these plots and put it into the beds. I planted carrots, cilantro, kale, lettuce, beans, beets and zinneas. Oh my goodness, I have never before grown such big carrots or zinneas. The butterflies loved those flowers and we enjoyed the carrots. I discovered how rich that soil is and we are going to put the path compost in all the plots next year. I am also going to plant carrots at the end of July and hope for another great crop.