January 22, 2013 - 11:29 am - Posted in News


A Weekly Column about Plants, Gardens, & Yards

By: Margaret Murphy • ISU Extension Horticulture Educator • Lyon-O’Brien-Osceola-Sioux Counties

 Gardening with a Community

Every year, new community gardens are created through the efforts of churches, hospitals, and countless other organizations and individuals. There are many benefits of gardening at a community site. It provides an opportunity for those who do not have the space or the desire to garden on their own. Such gardens create access allowing more people to grow their own food, which in turn, allows them to stretch their grocery dollars while enjoying fresh, healthy food at their finger tips. Plus, participating in a community garden brings the added bonus of making new friends, having others nearby for gardening support, the sharing of tips, and sometimes the sharing of produce. Community gardening is as much about community as it is about gardening.

Community gardens come in many forms. There is the collective community garden where participants plant and tend one garden and all share in the harvest. The allotment style community garden is probably more widely known. This is where the community garden is subdivided into individual plots that are independently planted and maintained. Often the plots are rented for a small fee, which is used to help pay future garden expenses. Community gardens can also be established with a particular objective in mind such as to supply produce to a food pantry, or for horticultural therapy, or for educational programs. Before starting a community garden, consider what type of garden would best suit your needs.

When planning a new community garden, to help get things organized it’s a good idea to form a team of individuals willing to serve on a leadership committee. These folks will participate in the planning of the garden. They will help identify needs, execute tasks as well as identify potential partners and supporters. It’s beneficial to have several people involved who can share the responsibilities of organizing and implementing this labor of love.

It is also important to choose a good site. Make sure it gets plenty of sun. Most vegetables need 6 or more hours of full sunlight a day. The site should be level and, ideally, have well-drained soil. It is recommended to have a soil test done to find out the fertility of the soil. Also, it is valuable to know the history of the site. What was it used for in the past? Was the site flooded or could there have been any use of the land that would have left behind toxins?

Another essential factor to keep in mind is how the site will be watered. Vegetables on average need about 1-1 ½ inches of water per week. Gardeners at the community garden that was started in Sheldon last summer initially had to tote water from home to water their plants. Trust me when I tell you that there was a collective sigh of relief when the garden committee was able to install a water hydrant at the site. Hauling your own water is doable but having a nearby water source just makes it easier.

Start-up costs for a new community garden can include items such as site preparation, which often involves weed removal, tilling and possibly fertilizing. Fencing is generally needed, which will give your garden a border and keep rabbits out. Plus, most gardens will have some type of signage to let passersby know that this is a community garden site. Creating water access at the garden may also require some funds. If your site is hosted by an organization such as a church or business and has an available faucet, then maybe they will be willing to donate the water or work out a water stipend. If water is not readily available, installing a new faucet may be an option but can also be expensive. Or you may consider getting a large water tank so water can be stored onsite.

Often when a group of people or an individual embarks on starting a community garden, they are pleasantly surprised at just how many folks in the community are willing to get involved. If you let people know how they can help, you may discover many donations of time, materials, or services from local businesses, individuals, organizations as well as support from the town or city. Also, don’t be shy about applying for grants as a way to raise funds to help cover your start-up costs.

You can find more information on how to start a community garden at the American Community Gardening Association website, www.communitygarden.org.  Also, the city of Des Moines, Iowa put out a community garden handbook that offers a nice array of information. The handbook can be downloaded at   www.dmgov.org/Departments/Parks/PDF/CommunityGardenHandbook.pdf.  For any questions, please feel free to contact me at mmurphy@iastate.edu, by phone at (712) 754-3648 or through your local County Extension office.

Contact information: Margaret Murphy • 712 754-3648 (Office) • 605 521-7893 (Cell) • mmurphy@iastate.edu


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