In early April, snow had just melted from the community garden; no one had even tried to plant peas on St Patrick’s Day.
In March I researched local community gardens for a newspaper article and found only four such gardens within the newspaper’s coverage area.
One evening I was describing my exploration to my wife and I mused, “Maybe I should rent a plot.” Without hesitation, my wife somewhat threateningly replied, “You better not.” That sealed the deal.
I chose the largest of the area community gardens in part because it’s a stone’s throw from where I teach a class on most Wednesdays. It’d be an easy trip once a week.
This is the package they offered as it looked on paper:
- $10 per year for a 30’ by 30’ plot—that’s more than double the size of the main planting bed where the Small Kitchen Garden blog started.
- A shed full of tools including wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, hoes, mowers—any tool I’d ever use in a garden
- Heaps of newspapers and cardboard for use as “sheet mulch”
- Running, potable water with hoses that reach every plot
- Heaps of compost and mulch with no apparent restrictions on their use
- A community of gardeners with varied experience and interest working as many as 100 plots
My community garden expectations
One great lure of this particular community garden was its embarrassment of riches: a grand heap of compost sat next to another grand heap – of mulch. These are available to all members for use within their plots, and for maintenance of paths among the plots.
Having visited dozens of community gardens, I imagined a plot like so many I’d seen: rich, loamy soil, loose and ready for planting. I was excited to get started. I’d bring my “no-till” enthusiasm to bear and grow some decent vegetables with minimal effort.
Thing was, my wife had clearly expressed disapproval. I’d have to visit the community garden during business hours while she was at work (she’s a school teacher). What’s more, I’d have to keep up with the gardening at home so she wouldn’t get suspicious about how I spent my time (I had several very large home gardening projects in mind for 2015).
My community garden reality
Winter hung on a long time in 2015 and scheduled events at the community garden didn’t always happen. However, I managed to attend the garden’s first work day on April 11th before I’d been assigned a plot. I spent my time there helping an older new member prepare a half-sized plot for planting.
My first look at my new garden plot left me crestfallen. I had paid to garden in what looked like a mature, though dormant, meadow. A far cry from the manicured, rich-soiled plots I’d seen at so many community gardens, my plot clearly would need at least some tilling to produce the vegetables I wanted it to grow.
Partway through the work day, I got my plot assignment and walked over to have a look. It was kind of depressing: My plot was a meadow. It was a meadow of deep-rooted perennial meadow plants (weeds) in dormancy.
My plot had a three-foot tall rodent fence in place. The former renter had erected the fence to protect tender salad crops from rabbits and woodchucks. I didn’t know at the time I’d get to keep the fence… but I hoped so.
I’d return to my plot a few days later to begin work. I desperately wanted to plant peas which I should have planted, according to a rule of thumb, on March 17th. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, and onions were also on my list for early spring planting, and early spring was almost over. My biggest concern at the time: with all the well-established weeds and the need to plant immediately, it would be hard to manage the plot this season with only no-till methods.