Welcome to this presentation entitled: Plot Style Community Gardening in Minnesota : A preparation guide for new community gardeners.
Before we discuss community gardening, it would be helpful to know what a community garden is. The American Community Garden Association defines a community garden as, “Any piece of land gardened by a group of people” (ACGA, 2009). Similarly, Gardening Matters, a local organization devoted to community gardening in the Twin Cities says, “A community garden is any space where plants are grown and maintained by a community to meet the needs of the community” (Gardening Matters, 2009).
These definitions can include many types of gardens. A neighborhood garden, also called individual or family plots is one common type of community garden. Plots are typically rented to community members over a specific time frame for a fee. These plots are used by gardeners to grow their own vegetables and ornamental plants. Community gardens can also be used as an educational tool where youth are introduced to gardening through hands on gardening activities. Organizations can create gardens for the purpose of teaching job skills by raising and selling produce. There are also gardens where volunteers work to raise produce for food pantries. Another type of community garden is a demonstration garden where various plant varieties are on display as well as different gardening methods for public inspiration. If you visit a hospital or senior center, you may see an example of a therapy garden (McKelvey, 2009). These are just a few examples of community gardens.
If you are looking for a community garden, there are several organizations that have directories on their websites or can be reached by phone to answer questions. Gardening Matters is one of these local Minnesota organizations at the website www.gardeningmatters.org (Gardening Matters, 2009). The Minnesota State Horticultural Society’s Minnesota Green Program offers resources as well and can be found at www.northerngardener.org (MSHS, 2009). At the national level, The American Community Garden Association has a webpage to visit for a garden directory and numerous community garden resources at www.communitygarden.org (ACGA, 2009). While there are numerous types of community gardens one can be involved in, this presentation is intended to focus on providing information to gardeners new to plot style community gardening, or perhaps returning gardeners that would like more information. We will be discussing rules and courtesies, plant selection, pest management, and harvest.
While community gardening can be very rewarding, there are also some challenges to consider. If you rent a plot in a community garden, there will likely be a limited space to work with. You may also be close to neighbors with varying gardening skills. Many gardens have a set of rules and guidelines to follow. These rules may limit use of fertilizers, pesticides, and plant varieties. Some other challenges community gardeners may face include pests, theft and vandalism. Limitation of water, tools, and time can be challenging. Site permanency is a challenge for the whole garden since many sites are on land that may not be available from year to year (McKleavy, 2009; Shannon, 2005).
Despite challenges, being part of a community garden provides benefits like neighborhood and community development when neighbors and organizations interact. The access of land to those without space to garden at their homes is another benefit. Additional benefits include crime prevention and cross-cultural connections. Youth can learn about gardening while participating with their family’s plot. Growing your own food is rewarding, potentially money saving, and provides nutrition. Being part of a community garden also can offer health benefits through exercise and recreation (ACGA, 2009; McKleavy, 2009).
Before you get started, it is a good idea to be aware of garden rules and practice courtesy. Read over any rules that your community garden has in place. Report neglected plots to the garden coordinator rather than taking matters into your own hands. Garden coordinators can contact people that may be neglecting their plot to learn more about each situation and resolve any issues as they arise. Avoid watering, harvesting, or cleaning neighbor plots without permission as this may lead to frustration and confusion. Also avoid allowing plants to grown into your neighbors’ plot or aisle ways. Growing tall plants or placing structures in your garden that will shade neighbor plots can also create frustration and should be avoided.
Some community gardens have tools to borrow or storage space for your own tools. Some common tools to have available include trowels, hand forks, hoes, hand pruners, garden forks, shovels, and gloves. A wheelbarrow would be a great item to share as a group to be kept onsite. Water cans or hoses may also be needed depending on the water source in the garden. This list comes from American Community Garden Associations’ publication “Top ten tools every community gardener needs.” There may be additional tools you will find useful. Consider putting these items together in one container that can easily be transported when you visit your garden plot (ACGA, 2009).
Community gardens can bring individuals, organizations, and businesses together. Share ideas with neighbors and your community garden organizer to promote community. Don’t be afraid to speak up or even organize an event yourself. An annual picnic is a great way to celebrate the garden and serve some of the harvest. This would be a great time to invite organizations and businesses that may have supported the garden. Consider sharing recipes with gardeners and stay current with any postings or newsletters. Press releases are great to promote any events your garden organizes or to encourage new members at the beginning of the season. Posting articles with pictures through the season also increases awareness. Schools may also like to be involved. An art class could create a sign for the garden or make scarecrows to display. Local artists may be interested in displaying their art as well. All of these ideas can promote awareness and make it easier to connect with businesses and organizations that may be willing to donate products and services. These ideas were adapted from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guides “Community Gardening” (Kirby & Peters, 2008). You may be inspired by these to think of new ideas for your garden.
Throughout your experience at your community garden, consider personal safety and security. Be familiar with your neighbors by attending meetings and asking questions when you don’t recognize someone. Be sure to accompany visitors to your plot. Fences can also help prevent intruders and as an additional benefit, deter animal pests. Use common sense approaches like gardening in the daylight hours and in pairs. Carrying a cell phone is also helpful in case of an emergency (McKleavy, 2009).
Soil testing is important to understand your gardens fertilizing needs and to avoid fertilizing more than necessary. Your community garden organizer may already have soil test results available for your garden. If the community garden soil has not been tested, you can have your own plot tested. Contact your local extension educator or the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory for details regarding soil testing. Also find out if a test has been done in your community garden to analyze lead content in the soil. This test is also available at the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory (Fritz, 2009; Rosen, 2002).
In addition to soil fertility and pH, the relative amount of sand, silt, and clay can be found on your soil test from the University of Minnesota. If you are familiar with growing in sandy conditions and your new plot is a clay type soil, it may be easy for you to over water. Adding organic matter to the soil can help sandy soils hold moisture and nutrients. Organic matter may also benefit clay soil by increasing pore space for optimum root growth. The percentage of organic matter already in your soil can also be found in your soil test results (Meyer, 2007).
Use your soil test to help determine any fertilizer that may be necessary in your garden. Plant nutrition is essential for optimum growth and yields. Before deciding on a fertilizer source, be familiar with the type of fertilizer allowed in your garden. Synthetic fertilizers may not be allowed in some cases. As an alternative to synthetic fertilizers, some organic fertilizer examples include blood meal, fish emulsion, manures, composts, and cover crops. Something to keep in mind is that in most vegetable garden situations, fresh manure should be composted or heat-treated prior to use. Proper processing and handling is important since fresh manure can cause health risk to humans. (Rosen & Bierman, 2007; Rosen & Bierman 2009)
You will also want to be familiar with your water source for the garden and any rules your garden may have in place. Some gardens have water tanks, like this picture from Cambridge Community Garden, while others have faucets with a steady source of water.
Be sure to check rules before setting up any type of irrigation system. Utilize mulch to hold moisture making your job easier. Avoid watering at night.. By watering early in the day, leaves have the opportunity to dry which helps to prevent disease (Barrott, 1999; Beckerman, 2004).
There are some considerations to follow when selecting plant varieties to grow in your garden plot. While most vegetable varieties will perform well, avoid plants restricted by your garden organization. This may include aggressive or invasive varieties that can grow into pathways and neighbor plots. Perennial plants that will come back the following season may be prohibited. Tall plants that shade can also create a challenge. You may want to think about including unusual vegetable varieties that are less commonly found in stores. If you have limited space available, vegetables that may be difficult to find or expensive to purchase can be a priority. Unique plants that appeal to children if you have little helpers working with you may also be fun to try. Look for varieties that produce unique colors and shapes of vegetables.
Growing plants that cross-pollinate with neighbors’ plants can be a challenge in the community garden. Sweet corn is an example. Some types of sweet corn require isolation to prevent cross-pollination that can affect the kernel flavor and texture. Shrunken supersweet, known as (sh2) types, should be 250 ft. from other sweet corn types or field corn. Isolation can also be achieved by planting at different times (Tong, 2009). This process can be difficult if you aren’t communicating with your neighbors. As mentioned earlier, tall plants should also be avoided when they will shade neighbor plots. Sunflowers, Amarathus, Corn, and plants on support structures are examples
Vine crops like watermelon, muskmelon, cucumbers, and squash can grow into neighbor plots or in pathways. Consider using support structures if this is allowed and if positioned so it won’t shade neighbors. Compact bush types of these vine crops can also be found (Naeve, 2005).
Besides bush types of vine crops, there are other varieties that will contain themselves. For example, tomatoes can be found in determinate or indeterminate types. Determinate tomato plants tend to be more compact than indeterminate. Pictured is the determinate tomato ‘Window box Roma’. Other compact varieties are available like the compact eggplant, ‘Fairy Tale’ pictured on the right.
If a compact variety is not available, consider support structures and materials. Fences and trellises can be used with pole beans, cucumbers, or squash. Varieties producing fruit less than three pounds are best. Netting can be used between stakes, on walls, or with fences and trellises. Cages and stakes are common to support tomato plants. Teepees can also be used for pole beans and cucumbers (MacKenzie, 2009).
You can find directions as shown on this slide for creating your own teepee or trellis system. Remember that some community gardens may not allow a large structure so consider rules and the location of the structure prior to installation.
This slide shows these structures in action. Large fruit like the melon shown on the left may need support when grown vertically. This is the fence structure in the center with a French Charentais melon ‘Savor”. On the right is a cucumber plant on a teepee structure.
This is a picture of an indeterminate tomato plant. As you can see, they can become very tall and can create shade!
Edible gardens can include annuals and perennials. Annuals complete their lifecycle in one year. Most vegetables traditionally grown in Minnesota gardens are annuals. Peas, corn, beans, and lettuce are all examples. There are also some perennial vegetables and small fruits. These live for more than two years. Some perennials are difficult to remove. This can create problems when plots are rotated to new gardeners. Small root pieces in the ground from horseradish and perennial mints, for example, can grow back the following year even after the plant has been removed. Check the rules at your individual community garden to determine which plants are allowed. Some gardens may not allow perennials, but others may when you are returning to the same plot year after year.
Examples of edibles that are perennial include rhubarb, horseradish, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, some mints, chives, and other small fruits and tree fruits.
One idea for containing aggressive perennials like mint and horseradish is to use a planter above ground or sunk into the ground that can be removed at the end of the season.
Planning is important to get the most from your garden. Knowing the best date to start each plant is important to avoid frost injury. Consider the last average frost date in your city as a guideline.
This map from the DNR State Climatology Office shows the spring frost-free dates for Minnesota (DNR, 2009). Some cool season plants can be planted prior to this date, while others should be planted after the danger of frost has past.
Decide what you would like to grow and use a garden layout. You can use the layouts supplementing this presentation or create your own. Consider plant spacing recommendations found on your seed packets or plant tags. If you do use one of these existing layouts, modify the size if needed to the match size of your garden.
Designing the bed is important to take full advantage of small spaces. The following two slides show examples of garden layouts for small space gardening. The plots on the left show designs without trellising systems. Note the designs on the right and how much more produce you can grow with the addition of a few support structures.
This slide shows two examples for a salsa garden. Again, the design on the left is a layout without a trellising system and the layout on the right is with a trellising system.
The following seeding and planting dates are from the University of Minnesota publication, “Planting the Vegetable Garden.” The dates are for the St. Paul area and should be adjusted to your location in Minnesota. The first cool season vegetables can be seeded directly outside as soon as the soil is workable.
One way to test if the soil is ready for planting is to hold your garden soil in your hand. If the soil molds into a ball, it may be too wet. When the soil has a crumbly texture, it should be ready. The first seeds to plant in the garden are peas and radish. In the St. Paul area, this time falls around April 10 th . Many other seeds can be planted around April 15th. You can sow beets, carrots, leaf lettuce, spinach, turnips, onion sets, onion transplants, onions seeds, Irish potatoes, kohlrabi, kale, collards, and endive around this time.
Some seeds should be started indoors around March 1 st and planted outdoors April 15 th or when the soil is workable. These cool season crops include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, head lettuce, and early cabbage (Fritz, 2009).
Swiss chard, cucumbers, and parsnips can be direct seeded outdoors early May. Late cabbage transplants started indoors mid April can also be planted outdoors at this time. Around May 10th, pumpkins, summer and winter squash, and sweet corn can be directly seeded outdoors. Consider using hot caps for pumpkins, cucumbers, and watermelon to warm the soil until the seedlings are growing vigorously (Fritz, 2009).
Lastly, the following warmer season crops are ready to plant. Beans, muskmelon, rutabaga, and watermelon seeds can be planted outdoors. You can also transplant tomatoes and celery at this time. Celery is seeded indoors mid February while tomatoes aren’t seeded until April 1 st . Wait until the danger of frost has past to transplant these outdoors. In St. Paul, the average last frost date is May 15. Eggplant, okra, and peppers are started indoors March 15 and transplanted outside June 1 st (Fritz, 2009). If you are not planning to start seeds indoors yourself, look for these plants at your local garden center.
If you do decide to start your seed indoors, you will need to plan ahead. The following information was adapted from the University of Minnesota publication, “Starting Seeds Indoors.” Commercial seed starting mixes are recommended. They are generally composed of peat and vermiculite without mineral soil. These mixes are sterile, lightweight, and free of weed seed (Fritz & Zlesak 2009).
Once you have the soil, fill containers and water the soil, or moisten the soil prior to filling your containers. You may need to fill the containers again after watering since the soil will settle. Plant your seed about four times as deep as the width of the seed. Label the containers and cover with a thin layer of vermiculite to hold moisture while allowing light to penetrate. Some varieties need light to germinate while others require darkness. Be sure to learn the requirements of the seeds you are planting. Cover planting trays with black plastic or newspaper for those requiring darkness. Bottom heat mats can be used to help seeds germinate (Fritz & Zlesak 2009).
Using supplemental light may result in higher quality plants than natural light alone. Standard fixtures that use two cool white fluorescent tubes per fixture can be hung above seedling containers. Light brands sold as “grow lights” are also effective, but can be more expensive than cool white. Position the lights four inches above the seedlings for 12-16 hours of light daily. Once germinated, seedlings may benefit from air movement of a small fan that dries out the soil surface and prevents a fungal disease called “damping off”. As the appropriate planting date approaches, harden off seedlings that you grew or purchased prior to planting. To harden off, bring plants outdoors for part of the day to gradually adjust them to wind and temperature fluctuations. This process can take one to two weeks (Fritz & Zlesak 2009).
Once you have your garden planted, you should consider pests and management techniques. A pesticide is defined by Minnesota State law as, “A substance or mixture of substances intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate, a pest, and a substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.” (Herzfeld, 2009).
Some examples of pesticides include herbicides used for weeds, insecticides for insects, and fungicides for fungi. The label is the final authority on how you may legally use any pesticide so read the label carefully and follow all directions. Many community gardens do not allow pesticides. Check your garden rules and ask questions before using any products (Herzfeld, 2002).
Weeds in community gardens can create an undesirable appearance when left to grow. Seeds that develop from weeds and blow into neighboring plots. Weeds can compete with vegetables for space, water and nutrients. Some gardens will not allow you to return to the community garden if you allow weeds to grow excessively.
There are a few options to manage weeds in your garden plot. Mulch is a great choice as well as hand pulling or hoeing. Herbicides and roto-tilling may be effective, but in some cases are not allowed in a community garden. If synthetic herbicides are allowed, follow the label instructions carefully.
The use of mulch offers several benefits besides its role in weed management.. Mulch can help manage weeds, conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature, add organic matter, and block soil splash (Barrott, 1999).
Some synthetic mulch options include plastic sheets, landscape fabric, and ground up tires. Plastic sheets are effective for blocking weeds, but can also block water. Be sure that you create holes for water to penetrate. A benefit to plastic mulches is that they can lead to increased soil temperature, which can benefit warm season crops. Landscape fabric will offer similar benefits and will allow water to penetrate. This option can be costly in a vegetable garden setting, but can also be effective. The use of ground up tires is another example of synthetic mulch (Barrott, 1999). This may be difficult to remove in a community garden. All of these synthetic options should be removed at the end of the season since they will not break down readily.
The use of organic mulches can be a great weed management strategy in a community garden. Like synthetic options, some of these may also need to be removed at the end of the season.
Wood chips and pine bark can also be used to keep weeds down, but avoid mixing these into the soil as they use nitrogen while they break down and would require the addition of nitrogen if mixed into the soil. Clean straw is another organic mulch option. Be sure the straw is weed free to avoid introducing weed seeds. Grass clippings can also be used. One to two inches of completely dry grass clippings can be used around vegetables. Be sure to avoid clippings from lawns treated with herbicides as these can damage plants. This and additional information on mulching can be found on the University of Minnesota publication, “Mulching the Home Landscape” (Barrott, 1999).
Now that you know some methods for managing weeds, you will also need to think about insect pests. Consider the options as you plan your garden. Hand picking, synthetic insecticides, organic insecticides, traps, barriers, repellents, and beneficial insects are all possible options (Gillman, 2008).
Pesticides, including insecticides, may be prohibited in your garden. If allowed, be sure to read the label carefully before applying insecticides. Maintenance can help by removing weeds, debris, and spoiled fruit where insects may harbor. Also look closely for insect holes in leaves and hand pick insects as you see them. Barrier methods like Reemay or other floating row cover products can be effective. Reemay is a polyester cloth that allows 80% light and water through but provides a barrier for insects. These products should be secured over plants early in the season before insects are active. Rock or soil should secure the bottom edges to the ground so insects can’t slide in. Vegetables and fruits that require insect pollination, like melons, will need to be uncovered at a specific time (Foord, 2009). You can keep row covers on some vegetables like broccoli and other cole crops for insect prevention until harvest (Bennett, 2002).
Introducing beneficial insects and organisms can be an effective method of pest management when planned carefully. Before bringing insects into the garden, discuss your ideas with your coordinator and garden members. Beneficial insects may move to neighbor plots so it is important to bring up the idea at a meeting. If other gardeners use insecticides, the beneficial insects can be affected. If you are allowed to use beneficial insects, look for species that are less likely to travel beyond your plot area. Highly mobile species may not stay in your plot for long (Gillman, 2008).
Disease management is also important in the vegetable garden. Remember that fungicides may not be allowed in the community garden and if you are able to use them, read the label carefully. Cultural practices to prevent disease include sanitation, proper watering methods, and choosing resistant plant varieties. Remove dead leaves and severely diseased plants from the garden. Also avoid allowing extra fruit and vegetables to decay in the garden. Water early in the day and avoid overhead watering. These are just a few preventative methods to avoid disease problems. Refer to University of Minnesota Extension publications for details regarding your specific crop (Beckerman, 2004).
If you have managed your pests and kept your plants fed and watered through the whole season you will likely have something to harvest! Be sure to keep your own garden harvested and ask someone to harvest your plot if you should be out of town. Do not harvest neighbor plots without permission. If you have more to harvest than you bargained for, share with friends and neighbors or give to those in need. Contact a local food shelf for more information and organize with other neighbors to take turns delivering produce.
As the end of the season approaches, remove any remaining plants after you finish harvesting. Note cleanup deadlines and removed all synthetic materials and plant debris before this day.
Don’t forget to put the community in your community garden! Encourage each other to maintain your plots to help gain or maintain community support. A tidy looking garden will gain positive attention versus gardens filled with overgrown weeds and debris. Also encourage each other to participate in programs your garden offers. Encourage involvement from community organizations with some of the ideas discussed. Organizations may be willing to support your garden with donations and publicity.
We hope you have enjoyed this presentation on Plot Style Community Gardening in Minnesota and hope you have found some inspiration to be successful in your community gardening.
Plot Style Community Gardening in Minnesota A preparation guide for new community gardeners By Charlene Gruber and Kelsey Sparks
“ A substance or mixture of substances intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate a pest, and a substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.”
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