GARDENING

Here's the buzz on community gardens


Published: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.

We've had unseasonably warm temperatures this winter, so gardening enthusiasts are gearing up to get their vegetable gardens planted for spring. But wait! Community groups want to get in on the action, too! We've gotten a few calls from churches interested in starting a community garden. I think it's a great idea for members to provide community outreach. However, my first advice is to conduct a needs assessment to determine if your target audience really has an interest in actively participating in the garden. By participating, I do not mean just showing up to harvest the produce, but helping to install the garden, and putting in some hours each week to maintain the garden or individual plot, depending on your garden design.

Here are my community garden survival tips:

Form a garden committee: Significant time commitment is involved in the operation of a community garden. Identify a core group of individuals who will serve on the garden committee who will be participating in the garden. Select a chair, co-chair, secretary, treasurer, and other officers who you would like for the garden.

Locate potential site: A vegetable garden needs between six to eight hours of full sun per day. A water source should be close by to allow easy access to water on days when there is no rain. Gather information on the ownership and history of the site. Try not to locate your garden in an area that might have been previously contaminated by toxic products. If the land is owned by the city or county, approach them for permission to use the land, provide free water, and/or fencing.

Garden plan: Varying approaches have been utilized by different community gardens. Visit a few community gardens and look at their garden plan. Ask the organizers and the garden participants a lot of questions. Gardeners like to share their ideas on what works and what doesn't.

If you're unable to visit other gardens for ideas, decide if everyone will farm the entire area together and share the produce, or if each person will be assigned individual plots. Raised beds of 4 by 6 feet work well as individual plots. Depending on the size of the family or group working together, assign one or more plots. Decide on location of storage shed and compost area. Flowers on the perimeter of the garden will make it attractive.

Develop a budget: Seek funding in monetary or in-kind contributions for land preparation, storage shed, garden tools, seeds, fertilizer, compost bins, etc. Another option is to charge an annual participation fee.

Educational programs: Each person participating in the garden project will have different levels of knowledge on gardening. Contact your local Extension Office to find out about upcoming gardening programs, or to have a Master Gardener come talk to your group.

Garden rules: Work with participants to develop a list of rules for the garden. Each adult or parent of minors participating in the garden should sign the rules. Keep a copy on file and give them a copy.

Land preparation and planting: Get the soil tested to determine pH and nutrient needs. After the land is prepared, organize a workday for garden participants to come and install the raised beds. Assign plots and provide a means, or suggest ways, for them to identify their plots. Try and arrange for all garden participants to plant their plots at the same time, or within as short a timeframe possible. This makes the transition to another growing season easier.

Garden keys: If the garden is fenced, assign each garden participant a key. Keys should be returned when a person no longer has a plot in the garden.

Garden notice board: Install an enclosed notice board at the front of the garden to keep gardeners apprised of garden events.

Garden meetings: Conduct regular garden meetings to discuss business or provide educational information as necessary.

Garden calendar: Develop a yearly calendar of the planting dates for different crops and garden events. The calendar also can include a list of garden participants and their phone numbers.

Garden duty assignments: Divide garden participants into groups and assign chores for common areas; for example, pulling weeds in flower beds and turning compost piles.

Pest control: Garden participants should be taught the importance of early detection and how to properly scout their garden plot to keep pests at a minimum. If a pest problem develops that warrants chemical pest control, select the least toxic product available. Post a notice so garden participants know the garden has been treated and when it will be safe for them to re-enter.

Cooking lessons: It is important that participants learn how to utilize the vegetables grown. Organize a cooking class using healthy recipes. Provide copies of the recipes, so they can have them for future reference.

Celebrate successes: Organize a garden open house. Provide educational stations for the public to learn about garden membership, crops, insects or foods prepared. Invite the media to come and tour the garden at the open house.

Norma Samuel is the Urban Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Service. Contact her at norma.samuel@ marioncountyfl.org.

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