Starting a community garden
The Gardener Within: Master Gardener Joe Lamp'l offers tips on planting a community garden.
Scripps Howard News Service
Seattle P-Patch programFor information about Seattle's community gardens, go to http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch/
Whether you want to save money on food, relax and get some exercise or simply enjoy the flavor and freshness of homegrown produce, a community garden may be just the ticket. But what if you don't have one in your area? Then start one. Yes, there's work involved in creating one, but they're a great way to bring neighbors together, reduce crime, build bridges between different cultures and beautify the neighborhood.
If you want to start such a garden, there are a number of items to consider.
First, share the idea with neighbors. It takes about 10 interested families to participate. Hold a meeting and solicit ideas. Form a garden club to organize, make decisions and divide up the work efficiently. The club can help establish rules, accept and review applications and assign plots, collect dues, pay the bills and resolve problems.
Although signing up for a garden plot sounds like a great idea to most people, not everyone will stick with it, especially once the bugs and heat of summer kick into full force. Be prepared to have rules spelling out the nature of a plot owner's participation, as well as providing consequences, such as plot forfeiture, if they don't stick with it. There are usually plenty of gardeners anxiously waiting to fill that spot.
Next, find some land located in a community that won't mind a neighborhood garden. Select three or four potential sites. If one isn't available, you'll have a couple of other options. In urban areas, vacant lots are often used, but I've even seen raised bed plots built on top of parking lots. Ideally, the land should be flat, with exposure to full sunlight six to eight hours each day. Convenience is key to an active garden. Ideally, the site should be close to the interested neighbors.
To protect the owner from liability, it needs a "save and hold harmless"waiver. Every gardener will have to agree to this before getting a garden plot. The owner may also require your club to get liability insurance.
When you finally start planning the garden, you should test the soil for nutrients, texture, pH and any heavy metals. This is especially important if you plan to plant into existing soil. The local extension service can recommend a lab to do it for a reasonable fee.
Accurately measure the site and make a to-scale site map. You'll also need to consider the garden's components: pathways, beds, compost bins, arbors, etc.
Place growing beds in the sunniest area and make pathways 3 feet wide or more to accommodate equipment. Cover the paths with gravel or mulch to keep down weeds and beautify the garden. And remember to consider the location of spigots and irrigation lines. Placing a hose bib for every four plots or so is a good target to shoot for.
A shed for supplies and tools is important, as is a shady spot with chairs and tables for gardeners to relax out of the sun. And by all means, make sure to have compost bins or piles. Train every gardener in how to sort recyclables, and to know what to trash and what to compost. Schedule workdays to deal with weeds and maintain the whole lot — part of your agreement with the owner and an important factor in any healthy garden.
You can learn a lot more on starting and managing a community garden at the American Community Gardening Association's website, www.communitygarden.org. A community garden offers some challenges, but the sense of partnership and camaraderie, and the terrific homegrown produce, make it worth the effort.
Joe Lamp'l, host of "Growing a Greener World"on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author. For more information, visit www.joegardener.com.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.