Sunshine Community Garden
Community Gardens – set them up the right way!
You need two things for a vegetable garden – space and sunlight. If you don’t have a back yard, or a spot on your property doesn’t have at least six hours of sunlight, you’re out of luck.
Many people have turned to community gardens as a solution. A group of people gets together, identifies an acceptable, sunny location with an adequate water source, and builds a garden. Often spaces are divided into individual plots and rented to their tenants.
The problem is that most of the time, organizers use traditional gardening methods to set things up. They may rent a tractor to remove sod, till the existing soil, and add amendments like compost, peat moss and fertilizer. What they’re really doing is setting up for a good case of “community garden blues.” By tilling the native soil, they bring up millions of weed seeds, and when they add compost and fertilizer, they end up with an attractive garden plot – for about a week. Then all the weed seeds they’ve exposed to sunlight start to sprout, and the gardeners have to spend the rest of their careers pulling out those weeds.
Because these gardens are often far from their tenants homes, the weeds get out of control and take over. Well-intentioned organizers end up with a gigantic weed patch that no one can keep up with. Who wants to be on their hands and knees pulling weeds when it’s 95° outside?
Fortunately, the solution for community gardens is the same for home gardens – a new approach that takes today’s lifestyles into account – raised bed, organic gardens. Instead of tilling the entire area and exposing native soil and the millions of weed seeds, organizers can build a series of raised beds and fill them with a soil mix, mixing organic fertilizers into the top 4” of soil. This is obviously going to be more expensive than renting a tractor for a day, but the results can be well worth it.
A bottomless box using pressure-treated lumber is inexpensive and will last for 20 years. The new copper CCA preservatives are much safer than the older, arsenic-based ones. Your garden won’t be “certified” organic, but you can line the insides (not the bottom!) of each bed with 4 mil black plastic and feel perfectly comfortable.
Instead of mixing compost or peat moss into the entire area, you can use a mix of compost and sand and fill up the beds 10” deep. The cost for this material would be same, since 4” of material tilled into the entire plot would be the same as 10” of material filling just the beds, not the paths between.
You’ll need a few handy people to cut the wood and build the boxes. Beds should be no wider than 3’ and can be 8’ long, or longer. They’ll need to be positioned carefully so there’s enough light for each bed and leveled into the ground. If there are a lot of weeds, or crabgrass or bermuda grass, the inside of each bed will need to be scraped cleanly to remove them – without disturbing the soil below. Raised beds are much more productive, so your overall garden can be smaller, or you can serve many more people with the same space.
Because you’re not bringing up native weed seeds, the workload for each tenant is dramatically reduced – there’s no need for digging or tilling either. Each season, they just add some organic fertilizer on top and mix it into the top inch of soil. Compost can be added each summer to keep the overall level of the soil at the 10” level.
Everyone should have the chance to experience the joys of eating their own fresh produce; a community garden, set up properly, can be a tremendous addition to your neighborhood.