10 Reasons I Love My Community Garden (and why you should join one, too)

It occurred to me today, while I was harvesting tiny cherry tomatoes and tufts of parsley, that I haven’t written a garden update in months. This is quite a change from the first few months I had my plots: I took photos of virtually every change: sprouts peeking through the soil, leaves unfurling, vines climbing. I celebrated each pea pod and jalapeno as though it was the first I’d ever seen. And why not? I’m growing some of my own food! A feat that would hardly be possible without my two little community garden plots.

I’ve always thought the idea of community gardens was a great one, but having now experienced one first-hand, I’m a total convert. I wish every neighborhood, subdivision, and city block could have one. Many of you probably don’t have a community garden easily accessible to you… but many of you might. And if you have any interest in learning to grow a little food, I highly recommend you join.

Need some convincing? Well. I can talk all day about why community gardens are great. But these, certainly, are the top ten perks.

In no particular order:


Community Garden: An Eight-Month Tale of Garlic

You guys.

You see that garlic? I grew that garlic! Me and eight months of nature magic, that is.

When I scored a plot on my community garden, I was excited for the salad greens, the squash, all the fresh goodies. But one of my major goals was to learn to grow some of the staples and storage goods that I pull off the shelf before anything else when it’s time to make a meal. Garlic is, perhaps, the poster child of that concept: I mince up at least a clove or two in just about everything.

One of the vendors at the farmers market grows copious amounts of garlic, selling the trimmed and cured heads by the pound during the summer and fall, so I picked his brain one day last September about planting garlic myself. Armed with new knowledge and a few heads of garlic, I spent a crisp October morning starting what would become a significant test of patience.

Most garlic is grown by planting a single clove for each head you hope to produce. Planted in the fall, garlic grows slowly throughout the winter. It’s a remarkably hearty plant. When most of the garden plots around mine were dormant or inhabited only by kale, my perky little garlic plants stood tall and leafy.


Container Gardening Winner!

Congrats to Jessica, the lucky winner of two awesome railing planters!

I’ve never grown my own food yet (Sad!), but when I start, I’ll want strawberries, green peppers, and peaches. How long it would take for a peach tree to fruit I have NO IDEA. But it would be delicious.

I’m not sure green peppers would be successful in these pots, and I’m 100% certain a peach tree won’t fit, but I wager strawberries might actually work!

Thanks to all who participated… the array of food you want to grow is intriguing and inspiring!


Container Garden: Learning Lessons

When we moved to North Carolina, I had some plans for our apartment on which I was unwilling to budge:

1. I would obtain a dining table and chairs.
2. I would paint some wall, any wall, some pretty color other than white.
3. I would grow some food on my dang porch.

Quick trips to Ikea and Home Depot made it easy to accomplish the first two goals, but it took me a couple of months to figure out the best way to complete the third. For one thing, I still, still, after two years of low-sun apartments in DC, struggled to get direct beams to my balcony for more than a few hours a day. To complicate matters further, the lovely lattices on our porch railings broke up what little sun that did reach the balcony: an excellent situation for lounging on the porch without getting too hot, but not so great for keeping plants alive.

Containers on the railings had to be the key. But alas! Every style I could find at stores in my area was designed with a bolt or a screw or some other attachment mechanism I’m sure our property managers would not appreciate.

But then.

I found them online! Two feet wide, six inches deep, and adjustable to whatever width of balcony railing you want to hang them on.  I bought some lettuce, some mums (to feel fancy!), and plopped ’em into some soil. By the tim spring rolled around, well, I had expanded my little fleet to the size it was when I first introduced this hodge-podge little garden last April.


Community Garden: Seeds

Our planet is home to some truly incredible things.

Wide, wild oceans full of life both familiar and mysterious. Weather as balmy and blissful as sliding into sleep, and weather more destructive than any machine conceived by humans. Lush forests, scorched desert sands, and iced peaks extending to the very limits of our reach.

But despite these mighty landscapes, I am equally, or perhaps more, impressed by seeds. These tiny, humble vessels of plant life hold within them delicate flowers, towering trees, and of course, the many many many foods we eat.

Our February community garden meeting hailed the arrival of the seeds ordered in bulk by our garden coordinator. Just a fraction of the order was put on the table; the seeds ready for planting, both indoors and out, as the weather in North Carolina begins to warm. Each gardener took a turn examining the varieties available and carefully pouring their share of seeds into tiny envelopes, and a sense of anticipation filled the room.


Community Garden: Hearty Winter Plants

It’s been over two months since I toted my camera out to the community garden for an update. The days have been short, the need for watering slim, and I’ve only marched into the garden with a harvest basket once every couple of weeks.

January is a quiet month for many gardeners. Even if snow doesn’t fall, the rich soils of most garden plots are firm with frost or support only cover crops. The relatively warmer climate where I currently reside, however, offers more fresh winter produce than I’ve ever experienced. I grew accustomed to seeing it at the farmers market last winter, but find myself astonished that with minimal gardening knowledge and care, I’ve been able to harvest lots of vegetables in the last few weeks.

I’ve been looking forward to harvesting these carrots since I left for my holiday vacation in mid-December. They won’t win anything at a county fair, but they taste phenomenal despite a their short, stubby appearance.


Community Garden: The Fall Garden Waiting Game

I spent the whole summer being amazed at the fervor with which tiny seeds sprang into sunflowers so tall I couldn’t reach the blooms, basil so prolific I’ll eat pesto all winter, and okra stalks so thick I had to saw through them to prepare the soil for something new.

That amazement has turned into a jaw-dropping situation this fall.

Is this what you’re like when you have your first kid? Utterly astonished and fishing for a camera every time it does anything?

A couple of months ago, I adopted an additional empty plot at my community garden, and on the advice from a North Carolina planting guide, I skeptically planted not one but two garden plots. In September. I repeat. September. Where I grew up we often get snow in September.

My skepticism, as usual, was complete lunacy. The freshly-planted plot…


Community Garden: Out with Summer, In with Fall


It has finally arrived. Though I’ve been unsuccessfully attempting to will it so over the last two weeks, a storm blew in on Thursday and brought with it a thirty degree temperature drop and a taste of delicious autumn.

I know that my brief escapades in denim and corduroy this weekend aren’t permanent and that it’s supposed to bounce back into the high 70s this week, but the effect will remain.

If  you know me even a little bit, I’ve probably discussed with uncanny fervor my love of fall. Absolutely my favorite season, no question. And there are so many ways to enjoy it!

Apple picking.

Pumpkin picking.

Pumpkin carving.

Pumpkin anything.

10,398 fall recipes, and an equal number for Halloween.

Halloween! Thanksgiving!

Corn mazes, hay rides, haunted trails, haunted houses, ghost tours!, amusement parks, baseball games. Halloween parties, Renaissance festival, a costume for each of those.  Appalachians for the leaves, farmers market for the food, and travel for the joy of sharing the season with friends and family. The color orange. The color brown. Chrysanthemums. Corn husks. Bountiful harvest of squashes, roots, apples, pears, cabbages, potatoes, and onions.

This year, for the first time, I’m adding a new one to my fall activity guide: fall garden! The garden I grew up with was winding down by this point in September, but here, I’ve only just put a new batch of seeds in the ground. I now have a second plot for the fall and winter, so in addition to mucking out some of the summer plants that have gone to seed, I spent a couple of very dirty mornings preparing the new bed, and my original one, for planting.

One of the benefits of a community garden is that there are all kinds of people who want to help out in all kinds of ways. Recently, a local composting company donated a massive pile of freshly composted, loamy, nutritious top soil to our garden for us to refill our plots. The catch is that it could not be directly deposited into the beds, that was up to me, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow.


Community Garden: Successes and Setbacks

It must be a curious sight indeed to drivers passing by to see me leaning against my car, swapping my flip-flops for gross-o rubber boots (which pair fabulously with my work clothes, I might add), spritzing every square inch of exposed skin with bug spray to ward off mosquitoes, and marching into the garden with a basket and some wrinkled gardening gloves.

My plot has grown and blossomed, but it’s not all sun beams and elegant arcs of water pouring from a brushed steel watering can. There’s been a tragedy.

During my week of vacation, an army of squash bugs infiltrated plot B2 and launched an aggressive assault on my thriving zucchini plant. I returned from Colorado with hopes of zucchinis to last me through the next several weeks, but unfortunately, the damage was done.

Sadly, the whole plant had to come up, leaving me with one, last, giant zucchini to remember it by. I know that everyone, human and bug alike, needs food, but I’m still annoyed. How did they multiply so fast?! Urg.


Community Garden: Shades of Green

A little over three weeks ago, I put my first plants into my new community garden plot. The little seedlings looked small and feeble outside the comfort of their little black plastic starting trays, so all I could do was cross my fingers, water daily, and hope they’d survive.

And survive they have. My little plot is now blossoming into dozens of shades of green. Tiny, pale green orbs have appeared on my adolescent tomato plants. Deep green leaves rimmed in violet are bursting daily from my stems of okra. Anaheim peppers, jalapeños, cucumbers, and parsley are about to reach their harvest points. The basil is growing so quickly I’ve already harvested enough for three batches of pesto (recipe coming soon, promise). And remember the leeeetle baby sunflower sprouts?