Away from Home: Success with a Community Garden

Heather harvesting lettuces from her community garden plot.

If you’ve got no sunshine or space to grow veggies, a community garden plot can come to your rescue. Perfect! Now you’ve got space, and all day sunshine, but now what? Do you just toss in some bean seeds, water with the hose, then go home? It’s possible to have success that way, but there’s no guarantee.

There are definite challenges to growing food in a garden that’s away from your living space. With a back yard veggie garden, you have the luxury of being able water anytime you step out your door. Not the community garden. You may be walking, cycling or driving to your plot, so it’s not always easy to nurture and water those seeds every day during the critical germination period. Heather solved many community garden challenges with these methods:

Start seeds at home, even lettuce and peas, which are traditionally sown in the ground. Since you aren’t there to water, plants will have a better chance than seeds which may dry out before they germinate.

Use chicken wire around your garden to foil hungry rabbits and ground hogs. (Our East York Community Garden, pictured above, has both of these, as we are situated next to a park with wild areas)

Test your soil. Heather found that the soil in her plot was alkaline, and the peas weren’t doing well at all. She added some amendments to balance the soil and bring it closer to neutral; now her peas are luscious.

Create raised beds to warm up the soil in spring and to improve drainage. Piling manure and compost on top each year will raise the soil level higher, making your garden soil richer and deeper. Plus raised beds help to attach the chicken wire, or wooden bean supports.

Don’t plant everything at once. Heather found she now has way more lettuce than she can handle. Giving away is a fun part of having a garden, but succession planting (sow every two weeks) can make sure that you have beans and lettuce right through the season.

Once you have planted, mulch. This keeps soil from drying out too quickly. Again, because you are off-site, conserving moisture in soil is even more important. You can use partially rotted straw, leaves or natural cedar or pine mulch. I use my huge rhubarb leaves to green mulch my garden, when I harvest my stalks.

Of course, the oftener you can get to the garden, the better luck you will have.

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