Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Mystery of a Seed

Children love growing things.  They love to explore the outdoors and all the wonders the natural world possesses.  The prospect of bringing a child into your well ordered garden might dismay you.  However, I would encourage you to take the risk.  There are few things that will make a greater lasting impression on a child than meaningful experiences with the natural processes involved in nurturing growing things.  They will gain a respect for life, a curiosity about the world around them, and encouragement in the area of science.  The garden is a wonderful playground that has a million lessons to teach.  We will begin our exploration with the discovery of the mystery of the seed.

We will begin with a bean seed.  Any type will do.  For a first exploration simply sprouting a bean seed on a wet paper towel may be enough.  However, if you have an especially interested child I would like to suggest taking this exploration a step further.  As I am writing this it is winter.  The ground is frozen and nothing seems to be growing in our yard.  My daugter sees me pouring over seed catalogs with interest and wonders aloud why we can not plant anything now.  I tell her it is too cold.  Then we decide to investigate the effect of temperature on seeds.

The seed racks are once again in the stores and it is a simple thing to pick out a pack of green bean seeds.  We talk about what a seed needs to germinate, water, warmth, and in some cases sunlight.  I ask her why we wait until spring to plant our garden.  She suggests that the seeds can not grow through the snow.  I ask her why the snow would stop a seed from growing.  She says its too cold.  Now we have something to investigate!

1. Gather your supplies:
       You will need at least 3 zip lock baggies.  A packet of bean seeds.  Several paper napkins or towels.

2. Discuss what places around your house are different temperatures.

    Possible locations are: the refrigerator, the pantry, the laundry room, the garage, the shed, under a pot in the garden, a drawer in their bedroom, etc.  Pick three that your child feels are very different temperatures. If it is winter I would encourage a child to consider at least one spot indoors!

3. Assemble your baggies.  Wet the paper towel and fold it with 3 or 4 bean seeds inside.  Place the wet paper towel with its seeds inside the baggie and seal it.

4. If you have a thermometer take an initial temp reading at each location and place your baggie in a dark spot.  Make sure to record where each baggie is located. the temperature, and the date.

5. Make a prediction about which seed will germinate first.  Be sure to record your predictions. You may want to take a moment and create a chart for your observations and a graph to record your results.

6. Take a moment to record the temperatures and open the baggies to observe your seeds each day.

7. After about a week you should see some growth from at least one of your baggies.  After about 3 weeks you will be able to tell what temperatures where best for germination.  Take a moment to discuss what your child learned.  Do not be surprised if your child wants to plant their germinated seeds in a pot in the house.  Who knows you might even have your bean plants flower!

Possible expansions: 
  • Grow a seed on a paper towel inside a cd case.  If you remove one edge you can water your seed and observe the growth of the roots!
  • Repeat the experiment with three different types of seeds. Consider trying an early spring veggie like spinach, a warm weather veggie like a tomato seed, seed that can take very cold temps like a pea seed, and a sunflower seed.
  • Try planting seeds at different depths in your garden.  Use the seed packet recommendations for at least one group and then see how much depth effects germination rates.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trendy Gardening

The title of this post seems kind of strange to me.  How can gardening be trendy?  Is it the huge variety of different colored tomatoes?  Purple green beans and fantastically shaped squash that are featured on the front of your favorite seed catalog?  Is it the way that people are challenging norms by planting food in their front yards or efforts by some to grow in the most unlikely of places?  Any of these could be the source of gardening's new trendiness, but I think it all comes down to our new awareness of our foods locality and concerns about the genetic engineering of our food.

Today some stores list where produce was grown.  It is common for the organic section to be nearly as large as the traditionally grown fruits and vegetables.  The natural foods section takes up several isles and is easy to find.  It is apparent that we are all concerned about where our food is coming from and how it was grown.  We care and that in turn means that the market must be more transparent and provide us with the information we desire.

While traditional grocery stores, which have not really be around that long, are where most of us buy the bulk of our groceries there are other options.  The largest is the farmers market, where you can speak to the grower and learn about how your food was grown and exactly where it came from.  A local CSA (community supported agriculture) offers a personal relationship with a grower and a great variety of seasonal produce.  The backyard vegetable garden has seen a great resurgence as well.  If you are new to gardening consider joining a community garden where you can tap into a wealth of knowledge by quizzing your fellow gardeners.

The CSA option is wonderful in that you will be supporting a local farmer by buying a subscription.  This means that through the growing season a box of produce that is in season will be prepared for you.  You will not get to choose what goes into the box and you will likely need to pick it up from a central drop location.  Generally there is some savings in buying a subscription in comparison to buying the same produce from the farmers market.  The grower benefits by having the money at the beginning of the season when most of the expenses occur and having a ready market for what he produces with no middle man.

As your family comes to enjoy a greater range of produce and also begins to consume much more each week you may begin to eye your backyard.  A vegetable garden needs full sun.  There are some things you can grow in partial shade but you will miss out on the home grown tomato.  The easiest first garden in a raised bed.  It will warm up earlier in the spring and it will help contain your enthusiasm by limiting the size of your first garden.  The best way to learn to hate gardening is by starting too large and having it go from being a fun and fulfilling activity to a burdensome chore.

I believe that the best way to become trendy is to join your local community garden.  This offers all of the benefits of the other options, plus it provides a great opportunity to truly become part of your community.  By joining a community garden you will have a support system and a wealth of knowledge to tap into.  Gardeners love to share what they know and are truly encouraging to new members. Another benefit is that you will likely be able to have a larger garden with more variety.  With a community garden you will see produce grown that simply does not appear in the regular market.

In a community garden there are likely restrictions on what can be used on the garden and what can be grown there.  It does take a bit of compromise to make one work.  If you join the local community garden it will free up space in your own yard to grow something that you might not have had room for in the past.  Some gardens choose to grow only heirloom veggies and to save seed.  This provides a great opportunity for learning about seed saving and to develop varieties that are perfectly adapted to your area.  I encourage you to research the options in your area and develop a food web of your own.

For those of you who are attempting a 100 mile diet challenge you will find that a combination of many of these strategies makes your journey much simpler.  Few of us could grow all of our own food on our own.  But by employing your local farmers you will find that you are supporting your local economy and meeting a lot of fascinating people.  Meat, eggs, and dairy are all available in most locations but they may require some sleuthing on your part.  Unfortunately there are many restrictions on these foods.  Plan to pay a little more, but as you eat more produce you will most likely eat fewer meat centered meals.

Gardening can be trendy in many ways.  So go out and grow some purple potatoes and orange striped tomatoes!  Join the local CSA or your community garden.  It is important to know where your food comes from and what it took to grow it.  Meet the people in your community who dedicate their lives to producing healthy fresh produce and humanely produce meat and eggs.  Learn all you can and put your dollar to work to improve your quality of life and the health of your local environment.  Get Growing!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Community Gardening Post from BlogHer

Creating a community garden from scratch is not for the faint of heart.  That being said, if you have a strong desire to create community and love gardening this can truly be the work of the heart.  By working together to create something tangible you will form lasting friendships and build a foundation for healthy living in your community.
A community garden provides a location for recreation and learning.  Not only learning what it takes to produce food and the logistics of caring for a crop from sowing to reaping but also about teamwork.  The exposure to the seasons brings an awareness about nature and an appreciation for life.  Although, when you are battling an invasion of aphids you might not feel so strongly about the sanctity of life!
The community garden can become an ideal outdoor classroom where observations can be made and experiments carried out.  An entire curriculum can be developed around what takes place in a compost heap.  The hands on nature of a garden makes it an ideal place to teach math, science, and even social studies.  This is one of the reasons I believe that every school should have a garden.

Community Garden
Image: d-olwen-dee via Flickr

The process of creating a community garden is a long one and you may find it takes a year of planning to get the first plant into the ground.  Once established a community garden can persist for years and will likely inspire others in the community to start gardens of their own.  This post will give a step by step outline for founding the garden.  This is just a first step, but you will find that it is an important one.
Step 1- Location
Your local zoning and planning office is a great place to get started.  They will be more able to help you if you have the addresses or general area of several plots of vacant land in mind before you pay them a visit.  They will be able to help you identify ownership of the land and learn if water is available on a site.  They will also be able to inform you if a community garden is an acceptable use for the land.
Step 2- Introductions
Once you know who owns the land it is time to introduce yourself and the idea of a community garden to the land owners.  It is important to draft a polite letter of inquiry where you layout your desire to start a community garden.  The more specific you can make your plan the better.  It is likely the landowner will have questions about liability.
Step 3- Liability
Perhaps this step should come before step 2 but it is reasonable to tell a landowner that you will do research and get back to them.  This will open a dialog and give the land owner a chance to sit back and think about your proposal.  Inquire at the city offices about the issue of liability on a piece of land used for recreation.  You may find that your city has provided some protection for such uses.
Step 4- Find some Gardeners
This is where social media can be very helpful.  Create a Facebook page and name it something like Blank City Community Garden.  Then post on as many local sites as you can find and invite people to join you in creating a community garden.  Be sure to provide a link back to your page.  Also, you can post on Craig list under Community.  There are several sub catergories there and you can put up different variations of your invitation here.  Be sure to explain what the project is and if you have a location, where it is.
Step 5- Parks and Recreation
Contact your cities Parks and Recreation Department.  It is likely that they have been contacted by the community in the past with interest in a community garden. Enlist their help and ask them to help you connect with others interested in developing or joining a community garden.  Inquire if any of the current parks in your town have land set aside for a community garden…who knows there just might be a location out there waiting for you!
Step 6- Meeting the Future Gardeners
Once you have a location nailed down and have made contact with a group of people interested in helping you develop a community garden it is time to meet them!  Pick a public location to hold your first meeting as this is less intimidating than meeting at your home.  Many coffee houses will allow you to usetheir space for such a meeting in the evening.  
Plan to give an overview of the plan for the garden at this meeting.  Most people will be coming to learn more about the proposed project.  Be upbeat, this is like a pep rally for the creation of a community garden.  Be prepared to show all you have worked on so far and to explain your plans for the future. Have a brainstorm session about raising money for your project and create a list of businesses that might be interested in sponsorship.
If you have gotten this far you are doing well.  I will post again about the planning it takes to get the first garden in the ground and the task of organizing a club to maintain it.
Happy Gardening!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gardening through the Ages

As our community garden enters its second year I am eager to attract a wider range of gardeners.  I have two new projects in mind that will target two underrepresented demographics in our gardening club.  The two groups I plan to target are youth and seniors.  These who groups have wildly different needs and a huge range of knowledge.  I plan to have them garden in near proximity to each other to encourage interaction between them.  I hope that the two additional programs will help draw more of the community into our garden.

For the seniors I plan on offering straw bale gardening.  This is a new style of container gardening that offers several benefits to both the garden and the seniors.  Because the plants will be planted directly into the straw bale it will effectively create a very high container garden.  Properly done there should be very little weeding and almost no bending and stooping.  These will be nice small manageable gardens.  Eager gardeners may want to push 4 bales together and create a larger planting surface. There is a great resource on the web at:  I encourage you to visit the site so that you can see all of the fantastic pictures that people have shared.  At the end of two years the bales will be broken open and spread over the rest of the garden providing well rotted compost.  In a way it is two projects combined into one....a seniors straw bale project and a composting project!

For the children's plots I envision small 4 by 4 ft plots where the kids could plant flowers and veggies.  I would encourage them to decorate their plots with signs, bird feeders  and other appropriate outdoor decorations.  I would love to have a scarecrow contest with each plot owner in the fall.  This would be a great group project for Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts or 4-H club members.  I would encourage each plot to think about form and function and to submit a garden plan so that the garden club members could offer advice.  We would hold a one day workshop where the kids could come and start their plot.  During this time we could meet everyone and teach the kids a little about how plants grow.

I think the addition of these two programs would greatly increase the diversity of our gardening members and offer everyone the chance to share with each other.  Our garden is a beautiful place and we would like to encourage everyone to come out and enjoy it.  Now I just need an idea to get the gentlemen involved...ideas?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Grow a Salad in the Front Yard

Front yard gardens have gotten a lot of attention lately.  Today’s world of HOA’s and city ordinances makes the creation of a front yard garden an intimidating one.  It does not have to be, that is if you are willing to grow your edibles in a covert manner.  Just about any regular landscape plant that you would place in your front yard for ornamental purposes has an edible counterpart.  Let us explore this idea further.

I believe you should be able to grow whatever you want in your front yard as long as it is well maintained and attractive.  This does not mean that we will always agree with everyone about the attractiveness of our yards but that we should recognize that others can see what you are doing.  The first important element is structure.  A well planned yard is almost always more attractive than a helter skelter approach.

 The largest elements in your yard are most likely a lawn area and your large trees.  The trees can easily be replaced with fruiting varieties, in fact this may be the perfect place to plant a nut tree.  Many smaller yards would do well to consider dwarf varieties of fruit.  These will flower early in the year and loose their leaves in the fall.

Today you can purchase just about any type of fruit tree grafted onto dwarf rood stock.  These dwarf trees may only reach a height of 6 feet. Semi Dwarf trees tend to top out at about 15 ft.  Either type makes typical sized fruit and can be easily harvested by hand.  By growing these varieties you will find you have room for more trees than if you went with standards. Replacing the lawn can be a bit trickier.

Consider a blanket planting of strawberries, oregano  thyme, and clover to replace that lawn.  It will not require mowing and you will be able to utilize what it does replace. This will not be a lawn to play ball with your kids on, but it does provide the eye a resting place and give the yard a more “normal” appearance.  Clover is great for giving you a lawn you can walk on and it will improve the soil.  You can pick a variety that does well in your area and it is unlikely that you will ever have a problem with it.  For smaller areas a planting of strawberries keeps a low profile while providing great tasting fruit.  Low growing herbs like oregano and thyme provide a low mounding effect and attractive if small flowers.

Now the real fun begins as you decide what to plant in your garden beds.  There are many fruit bushes that are attractive.  Some even offer vibrant fall foliage!  When planted in mass many vegetables are quite attractive.  Kale, cabbage, lettuce, and even root vegetables can be laid out in attractive patterns or bands much like annuals are planted.  Add structure by growing beans or peas up an obelisk or over an arbor.  If you use cages on your tomatoes pick out the most attractive and durable ones you can afford.  The goal is to create a bed with a variety of texture and color just as you would in a more tradition planting.

The first garden seen here has a whimsical structure while the second one is slightly more traditional with its bed along a fence with a lawn area behind.  The use of texture and color keeps the eye moving.  You do not have the orderly rows of veggies surrounded by clean dirt in either case.  This keeps it from looking like a farm and very pleasing to the eye.

As you plan your garden make sure to include edible flowers.  They will provide extra color and attract pollinators.  The Scarlet Runner bean is very attractive to hummingbirds and provides excellent green or dried beans.  Every part of the nasturtium is edible from seeds to blooms to leaves.  Sunflowers along a side yard fence will provide food for the birds and even structure to grow beans up!  Edible flowers are wonderful for adding variety to a salad and may make your garden appear even more ornamental to your neighbors.

Your front yard garden will quickly become a topic of conversation among your neighbors. Be sure to provide yourself a nice place to sit in the shade and chat.  As you are drawn outdoors and into the front yard you will quickly meet neighbors and have a chance to share your harvest.  This might just be the ticket to becoming more active and leaving that television for rainy days!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A mystery fruit for the garden!

I have been researching new fruit to try out in our community garden.  I think I may have found the perfect option.  It is bothered by no pests or diseases.  It produces up to 300 fruit per plant.  It is easy to determine when it is fact if falls off the plant and just needs to be scooped up!  All of that and it will store for 3 months!  Oh yeah and one more variety tastes like pineapple.  It can be eaten fresh, made into jam or frozen.  To me this sounds like a perfect addition to our garden.

The plant is related to tomatillos and tomatoes, so it's care is very similar.  Because it is difficult to find transplants you will probably need to start it from seed.  When it is time to transplant after your last average frost date you will bury the stem and leave just three leaf pairs above ground.  It is important to harden off the plants before transplanting or they will suffer transplant shock just like your tomatoes and eggplants.  They must be protected from frost but are otherwise care free.
The fruit is called the ground cherry and there are three varieties readily available. Aunt Molly's, Cossack Pineapple, and Goldie which all have harvest dates from 70 to 75 days from transplant.  The husked fruit will fall from the plant, at this point it is not quite ripe.  Give it a week or so on your counter and it will turn a golden apricot color.  Store it in the husk like a tomatillo and it will last up to 3 months in about 50 Fahrenheit.

This seems like a perfect fruit to try out.  We are practically guaranteed success with such a quick grower and it sounds like the plants produce quite well.  I have a feeling they will easily reseed like cherry tomatoes so we will need to be sure to get all of the fruit.

Looking forward to a new growing season and trying out some new plants in the garden.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What would you like to learn about?

Just a quick poll! What would you like to learn about.  When it comes to developing a community garden there are a lot of topics to cover.  Please let me know what you are specifically having trouble with and I will try to address those topics.  Also, any other topics that you find particularly interesting.  I personally am learning all I can about straw bale gardening at the moment...  What new ideas have you seen mentioned that you would like to learn more about?  Let me do some of the research for you!

Heirloom Tomatoes

 Many would argue that the heirloom tomato is the pinnacle of home grown flavor from the garden.  The huge variety of color and form can turn a simple tomato salad into a work of art.  If your grannies and your great grannies failed to pass down seeds it is easy to find over 600 varieties carefully and artfully described in seed catalogs.  Lucky for us starting tomatoes from seed is a fairly easy thing to do!

Obviously we all have our favorite seed companies...mine happens to be The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.  They have some of the best photography and descriptions you could want.  When you pair that with their excellent customer service and knowledgeable staff you have a real winner! I encourage you to check it out!  Of course we can not fail to mention the Seed Savers Exchange with their extensive test gardens and impressive history.  After browsing the catalogs or web sites I challenge you to narrow your selection down to 5 or six you would like to try this year.  I tend to pick several slicers, a cherry tomato and at least one paste tomato.

Once you have received your seeds you want to look up your average last frost date.  This is important because you can not plant out your carefully grown seedlings before the last frost.  Calculate back about 8 weeks from your average last frost date and you have your planting date.  You will need seed starting mix, containers and an adjustable light.  The ability to raise and lower your light is important so that your seedlings do not get leggy and topple over from trying to reach for the light.  Depending on where you plan to start growing your seeds you may also want a heat mat to warm the soil.

Be sure to keep your seedlings well watered and if you have more than one growing in a cell or container pinch off the weaker of the two.  This may seem brutal but just like thinning your seedlings if they are too thickly planted it is necessary.  I would plant about 6 of each type and plan on giving at least half of them away to friends and family.  This will allow you to pick the strongest transplants for your garden.

When your last average frost date approaches you can consider planting your tomatoes outside.  I would recommend hardening them off for at least a week first.  This means putting them out in the yard in a protected area for a few hours each day.  When you decide to plant out in the garden it is best to protect your plants with hot caps or walls-of-water to help them survive if you get a late frost.  I also plant my tomato deep so that they root along the stem. Just pinch back the bottom set of leaves and bury them to just below the next set.

The time to fertilize your tomatoes is early in the season to develop big healthy plants.  Once they start to flower it is best to hold off so that fruit rather than more leaves develop.  If your plants are real go getters and have flowered before you plant them out feel free to pinch off the blossoms so the plants are encouraged to grow.  Keep your bed well weeded and provide support for your tomatoes.  Heirloom tomatoes do not require much extra care but watch out for signs of disease and remove any effected plants.

When your tomatoes ripen its time for that tomato salad!  My favorite is sliced tomatoes dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and bits of torn basil.  Remember to take pictures of your harvest and write some notes about your favorites.  You have many seeds left over so you can either plant those or save some of your own.  Perhaps through seed saving you will develop your very own heirloom tomato!

Happy Planting!

Please leave me a comment about your favorite tomato variety or use for fresh tomatoes!


Today we are taking a mini-vacation from our discussion of starting a community garden!  My fellow gardeners are dreaming of berries and today I will take a look at what it will take to add them to our garden. Cane berries will be the most challenging in a public garden because they must be contained and maintained. We will look at the challenges and rewards or growing all types of berries in the garden.

For me raspberries are one of the most rewarding crops of the summer.  Pints of berries are eaten right off the vine and raspberry freezer jam brightens the most grey winter day!  Just about anyone with a yard can grow raspberries.  They will grow from zone 3-9 and you can find cultivars specifically designed to flourish in your climate.  A great place to plant your berry patch is along a fence line.  You will want your row about 4 ft from the fence so that you can pick both sides of the row.  This spacing will also allow you to ensure that your berries do not escape into your neighbors yard.  Cane fruit does require a good deal of pruning for best production and to control the spread of canes.  You can run your rototiller down both sides of your bed in the spring and fall.  For your summer fruiting varieties you want to thin your canes to the strongest 3-6 canes per foot.  With ever-bearing varieties where you want one strong crop in fall clip all your canes at ground level in the late fall after fruiting.  Watering with a drip system will help to stop the spread of disease and mulching will help the soil retain water.  Raspberries come in many varieties   Do your research and buy only certified disease free plants and you will be enjoying raspberries for many years to come!

Next to raspberries, blackberries hold a place in my heart.  I have always picked mine wild...where they are seedy and I compete with the wildlife for my fair share.  However, you can grow them in the garden and you will be rewarded with plump finger staining goodness!  Unlike raspberries a ripe blackberry does not slip off the vine leaving a hollow center.  They require much of the same type of care and you can find many varieities commercially available. It is recommended that you tip prune blackberries in the spring to encourage branching and then prune like raspberries in the fall.  Like raspberries they appreciate full sun and will do best with some compost tilled in during planting.  Make sure to plant them in a spot that has not grown plants from the nightshade family or strawberries in the last three years as they share pests.  Your planting should produce for 15 to 20 years!

I love the idea of growing currants in the garden.  They are great both fresh and dried and if you decide not to harvest the birds in your neighborhood will be thrilled!  On that note if you do want to eat your fruit you better bird net your bushes.  Pictured are red and black currants, but it is possible to also grow white and blush currants.  I think I would like one of each.  These are medium to large bushes that will require pruning. They are attractive enough to be used as landscape material and provide large amounts of fruit.  The dried fruit can be used in place of raisins though they are not the same fruit as you find in the grocery store.  The bush should be pruned in the shape of a goblet...with an open middle.  Prune all second year branches as currants fruit on 1 year old wood.  When picking it is best to remove the entire group of fruit and pick it off the stems in the kitchen.  Be sure to dry your fruit well as it will mold quickly.  You can also juice or freeze your fruit and it makes excellent jam!
This wonderful fruit will require that you test your soil for Ph and likely make amendments to it.  However, once you have made the necessary arrangements you will be rewarded with excellent fruit!  By planting several different varieties you can extend your harvest and increase the amount of fruit produced.  Blueberries do need cross-pollination so you will need more than one plant.  Blueberries and currants can both be grown in containers and in the case of the blueberry there are types specifically bred for this use.  When planting in a pot it is easy to provide your plant with the perfect soil. There are varieties that will grow from zone 3-10.  Here in zone 6 I would be looking at the High-bush types.  There are also Low-bush an Rabbit-eye blueberries.  Once the blueberries turn blue be patient and wait another week as they will increase in sweetness given the extra time.  Like all berries you might find it important to net your bushes.  If you pay attention to your soil you should find it fairly easy to grow blueberries.
If you have even the smallest amount of outdoor space you can grow strawberries.  They do especially well in hanging baskets as they are out of reach of the slugs!  There are three types of strawberries- ever-bearing, day neutral and June bearing.  By including all three types of strawberries in your garden you will spread you berry harvest over the entire summer season.  Strawberries are easy to cultivate and even propagate as they will send out runners that will root and can be used to expand your berry bed.  When the plants start to fruit it is a good idea to mulch with straw to keep the berries out of the mud.  Strawberries will grow from 3-10 which means almost anyone who can garden out side can grow them.  Your strawberries can be frozen or turned into jam.  Of course many will be eaten fresh.  The best time of day to pick your berries is early in the afternoon when they have been warmed by the sun.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Building "Community"

Your new community garden project is off to a fantastic start!  Depending on the time of year it is likely that you will start preparing your soil! How exciting!  Most ground is going to require a good amount of compost.  Order it by the truckload and you will save a lot of money.  Most nurseries can deliver it with a dump truck or trailer and you can move it around with wheelbarrows.  Plan on this for your first work day.  You can dig it in lightly with pitch forks and use garden rakes to break up the soil.  Trust me, take the time now to remove rocks and loosen the soil.  The rewards will be in the plants, with the soil loosened they will have a much easier time putting out roots.  More roots means bigger plants and more produce.

This is a picture of our new garden just after planting.  Check with your local CSA's  (community supported agriculture) if they have their own greenhouses they may be willing to sell you transplants at a much discounted rate.  Explain what you are trying to do and how tight things are and you might just score your first donation.

Work days when everyone comes out at the same time to work in the garden are excellent for building community.  Make sure to plan a couple of social gatherings throughout the year to help people get to know each other.  A seed planting day early in the year can be followed by a transplant day.  Make sure to bring along an ice chest packed with cold water.  Its a great way to say thank you and show your club members you value their participation.

Later in the year plan harvest days together and perhaps organize a potluck using ingredients from the garden.  You can take it a step farther by turning it into a fun completion   Judge each others offerings and offer inexpensive prizes like gardening gloves to the winners.  Remember to keep it fun and encourage everyone to participate.  The more community you build the greater rate of success your garden will enjoy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Planning Your Garden Space

Now that you have a group of people who all are interested in creating a community garden it is time to develop your vision!  The best place to do this is on paper.  Remember you will need access to the garden, this means pathways that are wide enough to travel but not so wide that they invite weed growth.  It is best for beds to be no more than four feet across so that you can weed them without walking in them and compacting the soil.  It will save you a lot of time if you use your water access to develop a drip watering system.  So your paper plan needs to include your water source, your beds, and your pathways.

Things to consider include: how many people will be gardening, will everyone have their own bed or will you garden together, and will you be using a rototiller or tilling by hand.  I have found that individual beds are the most popular solution.  However, in practical experience I have found that new gardeners can be overwhelmed easily with this method.  Our garden uses the communal method with a greater sense of community and better production.  

With the communal method you will have to decide how to split up the harvest.  In our experience this is not much of a problem once the garden comes into full production, early in the season though you need a way to determine who gets that first ripe tomato!  The lottery method where every one's name is drawn and they get to choose what they want works well.  Most people try to be very fair about what they take home.

Once you have decided how to lay out your garden it is time to decide what to plant.  Keep in mind that you will only need one summer squash plant per family but might want three tomato plants per family.  It is better to over plant and have excess produce that you can donate than to find you did not plant enough to satisfy the groups appetite.  You will likely pick up a few new members late in the season and it is nice to be able to welcome them knowing that you planted enough so that no one feels that they are missing out on something.

You may decide that as a group you would like to focus on heirloom or non-hybrid types of vegetables.  This will allow you to save seed for the future.  If you decide to try seed saving remember that many things will cross pollinate.  You need to plant just one variety or have sufficient space between them.  I would suggest that you save seeds from self pollinating varieties and enjoy growing a wide variety.  One of the joys of community gardening is growing varieties that you cannot find in your local grocer.

The Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are both excellent seed catalogs.  They will mail them out to you for free and it is a great way to find some really fun vegetables to grow.  The customer service representatives are wonderful at helping you determine if a variety will do well in your area.  Have fun with this part, try something you would not usually buy at the store, half the fun of gardening is in trying something new!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Community Garden Club

Finally you have a site...and better yet you have permission to use it!  You have access to water and you are ready to search out like minded people and get this garden growing!  First step is finding other gardeners so that you can make plans for your garden.  Trust me this is much easier now that you have a location.  People know that you are serious about making this happen and that you will follow through.

One of the easiest ways to meet a large number of people is to host a free class!  This will be easiest in Spring when everyone who wants to garden is still making plans.  Many libraries will allow you to borrow a room for your class as long as it is free.  Remember those Master Gardeners I told you to make contact with?  This is where they come in.  They should be willing to provide a presenter for your class free of charge.  The Cooperative Extension Office is also an excellent place to find a presenter.  You want your class to be about gardening, if possible make it about community gardening!

It will be up to you to advertise your class.  Put up posters and enlist anyone who has expressed interest up to this point to put up fliers as well.  Get on Facebook and Craigslist and list your class as a free community event.  Call up your local paper and get a short blurb in their events section.  Stop by the nursery and leave a flier really need to get the word out because you need a big turn out for your free class.  Contact your cities Parks and Rec department and make sure they have your contact information and information about your free class.  Parks and Rec may also make a Facebook notice and put you on the cities listing of local events.

The night of your free class show up early and set up a table where you can collect contact information.  Plan to give a brief presentation at the class about what you are trying to accomplish and be prepared to share all that you have already done.  Be ready to answer questions and be sure to invite people to join you in creating a garden.  You will use the contact sheet from your free class to reach out to everyone inviting them to your first meeting!!/permalink.php?story_fbid=396984540393354&id=105445642818892&notif_t=like

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

So you want to start a community garden?

The journey to create a community garden can be a long one.  Zoning and finding an available location is often the first step.  Many would advise building a club so that you have a core group of people to help you develop your garden.  That may work, but remember if you have a vision for your garden you need to make sure that it is clear and that everyone is behind it.  Your local zoning and planning department down at city hall can answer any questions you have about a vacant piece of land.  They can tell you who owns it and what access to water it has.  Make friends down at city hall, you will be spending a lot of time talking to these people!

Once you have found a location and gained permission to use it (no small task) you are ready to start forming an association to manage your project.  A key person to enlist would be someone in your Parks and Recreation Department down at city hall!  You may also consider forming a blog or joining a social media site like Facebook in order to get the word out.  Plan a meeting and post information about it on every free posting space available in your neighborhood.  Coffee houses, book stores, feed stores and nurseries may all have a community posting space you can use.  Make your fliers as upbeat and as attractive as possible.  Please remember to provide contact information along with the meeting time and place.

So- you are doing wonderfully!  You have a place, a small group of enthused volunteers, and the support of your local representatives.  Wait, you mean you haven't written to your local elected officials yet?  Well you better get on it!  An endorsement for your project from the local mayor will give the community confidence in you and your group.  This is important as it is likely that you need to start soliciting donations from local businesses to get this garden off the ground.  If you don't have a 501 3 c, and lets face it, its expensive, check with your city and local USDA as they have programs that can help you with funding.

Wow! There has been a lot of ground work up until this point and we haven't even turned over one spade full of soil yet!  Don't worry we will get to that soon.  In the mean time, contact your local Master Gardener Association, their contact listing will be with the local Cooperative Extension Office. 
Talk to you soon!  You are on a fantastic adventure...I promise it will all be worth it!