Many people are now participating in community gardening. Last year was my first try at this and I rather enjoyed it. It took a while to develop for a variety of reasons I will try to describe. Many in the community had never participated in a community garden. Thus, some education on the matter was necessary after which we could determine the level of interest of residents in participating and also find land within the community that was both available and suitably open with enough sunlight to grow a small plot of vegetables in the three to four months available in northern Ohio.
We and many others live during the summer in a northern Ohio community filled mostly with summer cottages, but some year round homes as well. It is a small but compact well-organized community nestled on a stretch of land about ten blocks long along the lakefront which leads back up the hill away from the lake about 7-8 blocks and through wooded and some open areas to the back end to a well-traveled county road.
The community is well organized, with a governing body including fire and security services. It has a commercial center with restaurants, a coffee shop, hotels, a movie house, numerous bed and breakfast places and many rentals for short term visitors. But most of the residents are in their cottages for the full summer. There are also educational and entertainment centers where regular programs are held throughout the summer. One could say much more about the community, but recall that my purpose is primarily to describe the community garden project which is just entering its second year.
Planning for the community garden project actually took about a full year by itself. Walking the property and finding a suitable available open area to place the garden turned out to be difficult. The community is an old one where cottages and trees have built up over a lengthy period has created much shade. There are residential parks near the water unavailable as community gardens. There are many areas for flowers near very tall stands of trees interspersed among shuffle board, tennis and miniature golf facilities–just no space for a fenced community garden. After looking at about six blocks of condensed cottages and trees galore walking back up from the lake, it became very clear that if there was to be a garden, it would have to be back up near the old school house–no longer in use except for community storage–where there was a suitable open space that ought to get about 8 hours of open sunlight during most of the summer. Thus, after a year of dealing with general planning the group began construction of 24 raised bed plots each about 3′ by 4′ in size in the fall of the year in 2010.
Each plot was assigned to an individual who agreed to maintain it, grow a variety of vegetable crops in their plot starting the following spring. We made certain agreements about growing tall crops like trellised tomatoes at the north side of the plot so as to not block the sun from reaching neighboring plots. Each of us agreed to care for our plots, water, weed, remove diseased or dead plants and so forth.
The plots were set up as 12 double plots, each with a dividing board down the middle, making each of the 12 frames into two plots each. These were spaced 6 on each side with a 3′ path down the middle. Then each long side of the two sets of 6 frames were separated from one another by 2′. This arrangement created a possible 24 plot assignments as a 4 by 6 arrangement. The frames were thus set apart but all within a space about 19′ x 28′. Then, around this rectangle we added another 3 feet for walking along the long end and another 2′ at each of the short ends. This would add 4′ to the 28′ length and 6′ to the 19′ side, giving up the dimensions of the area which would be fenced in over the winter once we had laid out the raised beds, added the soil and laid in the wood chips that would cover the foot paths down the middle and between the longer lengths of the raised beds as well as the paths to the sides of the raised beds marking the dimensions of the fence.
After the winter all returned in the spring of 2011 and we started our gardens. I had small plot in which I put three small green, yellow and red sweet pepper plants (one each) at the south end, two broccoli next, and three beefsteak tomatoes at the north edge of the plot. In between these plants I added about 20-25 red and yellow onion sets. The latter I harvested as green onions when the peppers, broccoli and tomatoes all got big enough to totally shade the onions. Between everything at the beginning I laid in about an inch of nicely ground up leaf mulch I had prepared from the tree leaves that had fallen into my cottage yard the previous fall. This cut my watering needs considerably as it cut evaporation losses considerably. The community maintenance crew fill a tanker of water we could draw from as needed. Over the summer months they refilled it several times. It rained often and regularly that summer, but was otherwise quite hot at times–lots of sun. My water needs were rather minimal as it turned out–and the mulching helped.
Overall, the yield of peppers and tomatoes was excellent. Both broccoli plants were harvested for the major head produced and then taken out. If I had had more space and more time I could have waited for the numerous side shoots broccoli plants often yield. However, it was time to start planning the trip back to Florida and so I elected to give the tomatoes and peppers more room to produce a little more. This summer I’ll just plant bush beans. They will put some of the nitrogen back into the soil taken out by last summer’s crops.
Toward the end of the summer we put together a large three bin composter with 2′ x 4′ posts and thinner lumber for slats. Gardeners threw in the plants from their gardens at the end of the season and the plan was to round up lots of leaves and add them to the composter as well. We won’t have compost or leaf mulch when I return in a few weeks, but we’ll be working on that. All the assignments have been made for our 24 gardeners and there is a rumor that there is a small waiting list. Seems like we may be extending the community gardening concept soon. Whatever the future brings I have high hopes for my bean crop in 2012.