The arrival of spring brings a lot of amazing things: more sunshine, warmer weather, and better chances to get outside, but for gardeners, it’s a particularly special time. It’s the time of year when you get to wash off all your gardening tools, dust off those wellies, and make a trip to the farm and garden store to figure out what all you’ll be planting this year. If you’re a part of a community garden, now is the time to get together with your gardening members, and decide how you’re going to go about growing this year. Whether you’ve been with a community garden for years, or this will be your first attempt, getting started is the hardest part. Here are a few tips and considerations to make when you’re getting your community garden up and running for the growing season:
Choosing a Site
Depending on your community, you’ll want to find the perfect site for your garden. Some communities already have designated raised beds and a gardening space, but if your community hasn’t yet chosen a spot, here’s what to look for:
- A flat, even plot of land
- Quality, dark soil, if you can find it
- A space that gets about 6 hours of sunlight
- Somewhere that’s easily accessible
- Enough space for the number of people in your garden community
Share the Garden or Split Plots
Once you’ve got the space for your community garden all picked out, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to split the garden into equal sections for each gardener to have their own plot, or if your community would like to go in on seeds and labor, and reap all of the harvest together. Either option is great, but a shared community garden may require clearer guidelines for what plants are going where, and who is in charge of doing what, from weeding to watering to harvest.
Now that you know how many separate plots you need, or you’ve decided to just share the whole garden, you’ll want to map it out. If each gardener has their own plot, it will be important to split up the garden fairly, so no one is stuck with a plot that gets way too much sun or no sun at all. If you’re sharing the garden, a clear map of what plants are going where, and how long they’re expected to grow is a good idea. That way, no one accidentally plants strawberries with the green beans or tomatoes with the snow peas.
Agree on Growing Methods
A major part of a community garden is shared growing ideals. Some people believe in wholly organic, natural growing styles, where other favor a little more help from pesticides and weed killers. Establish what chemicals are and are not okay now, so no one is upset in the future. Some solutions to beetles and weeds are gentler than others, and it’s important to be respectful of everyone’s preferences when it comes to chemicals.
Consider a Cover Crop
Regardless of whether your community garden is organic or not, it’s a good idea to consider a cover crop. Large, leafy crops like sweet potatoes, watermelon, and buckwheat do a great job of crowding out weeds, while still keeping your garden intact. That way, you have an additional harvest, and the added bonus of not having to bend over to pull a ton of weeds! Again, this is a decision to make with the whole garden community, because most cover crops will spread quickly, and can be difficult to keep out if you didn’t want them there in the first place.
Infuse and Loosen Soil
Once everyone is squared away with what they’re going to plant, where they’re going to plant it, and how to grow it, it’s time to get to the actual work of gardening. Before you plant your crops, take time to loosen the soil so it can breathe, and consider infusing it with a fertilizer, compost, or manure for added nutrients. It’s good to turn the soil, either with a rototiller, or the old-fashioned way—with a shovel or hoe—to make sure your soil is loose enough for your new plants, and oxygenated for optimal growing conditions.
Bonus tip: If you’re interested in having the best soil for your crops, send a soil sample to a local laboratory for testing. The lab will be able to tell you the pH of your soil, which will tell you which nutrients you’re missing, and which you can add for optimal growing conditions.
Now that your garden is set and ready to go, it’s time to plant! Make sure the weather is warm and stable enough to support your crops—the last thing you want is a frost right after you plant. Be sure to follow each crop’s unique planting instructions, and try to adhere to its sunlight needs as well. Some plants prefer full sun, while others prefer more shade. If you’re planting your community garden as a group, it’s easy to make sure each crop has an ideal spot. With individual plots, planting for sunlight might be slightly more difficult, but it can be done.
Don’t Forget to Water
After all of your plants are in the ground, just make sure to water and weed regularly. For a community garden, it might be a good idea to write out a watering schedule, so the plants aren’t over or underwatered. Then, wait and watch your plants, veggies, and fruits bloom and grow until harvest time.
A community garden is an excellent way to meet your neighbors and make sure you’re sticking to a healthy, natural diet. At High Hickory we offer each and every resident access to our expansive community gardens and greenhouses, because we believe in sustainable, healthy mountain living. To learn more about High Hickory’s mountain location in Asheville, NC, or to see our properties and homes, contact us at 866-936-5263 or request more information online today!