Apartment dwellers, gardeners with limited space, people who are looking to share their garden experiences and new gardeners can all benefit from a community or a shared garden. We've been a part of shared gardens for years before we got a plot at a new community garden in our area.
Our first shared garden experience involved driving a good 20-25 minutes to even get there. A friend of ours shared a few rows of their garden space with us because we wanted to expand our tomato crop. We learned a few things from sharing the space that helped us as we eventually gardened with another friend some years later even farther away from us! Our community plot is only about 5 minutes down the road and has obviously worked the best for us.
So here's a quick look at the upside and downside of sharing a garden space.
|Our very small backyard garden|
Why even consider community or shared gardens?
Lack of space, space, space!! That is the reason that prompted us to look outside of our own space at first. We actually wanted to grow lots of tomatoes to preserve, so we were looking to plant more. Having much more room to plant means opening up your options for more variety of vegetables.
To keep your yard freed up for other uses. We know one gardening family that have a very large yard, but it bordered on a woods and the deer ravaged it year after year. For them, it was easier to grow it off premises and keep their yard wide open for their two young daughters.
To learn from other gardeners. Our second shared gardening experience was with a senior who had been tilling the soil for years. He not only shared garden space with us, but also introduced us to new varieties and shared his growing wisdom as well. It's amazing how much we don't know about gardening at times, and being able to talk to others who are planting in the same soil conditions helps a lot. Seeing other people's plots in a community garden gives you new ideas for setting up your own garden space too. I always study what others are doing and copy what looks like is working for them.
Some advantages of shared or community gardening:
Bonus Plants: No matter where we gardened, we always enjoyed bonuses...plants being one of them. A community garden is an easy place to share, swap and exchange plants with others growers. Our community garden has a covered shed where extra plants are available for those in need. One year we were given a bunch of hot peppers. We didn't want to grow too many so we gave our extras to some Hispanic gardeners who were happy to take them off of our hands. We also were able to plant extras or left overs from other people's gardens which gave us some different veggies to try without any money risk of our own. It's nice to share and trade, it creates a great way to get to know other gardeners.
Bonus Vegetables: Last year, we were able to give away our zucchini extras and allow other gardeners to try an heirloom variety that they found out they loved! We often would harvest vegetables and either give away or trade for something we weren't growing. We got a spaghetti squash last year for some winter squash, giving us a break from the overload of produce. We still had more than plenty for fresh eating and preserving. We like to grow an abundance so we can give it away as well...
Bonus Friendships: Our community garden is located behind a large local church and we were able to reconnect with friends from there and meet different people around us. It's always great to cultivate new friendships.
Traveling to your garden. This means you have to carry your tools with you unless your community or shared garden offers storage or shared tools.
Having to be more organized about working in the garden. It's important to work in the garden 2-3 times a week in the beginning of planting, to water and weed. If not - weeds will quickly wreak havoc in your garden. Once the garden is established, we usually go once a week to water if needed and to keep up with weeds. We need to go more often once harvest begins. Sometimes it's easy to forget a garden, so planning on what days to go is crucial.
Following the community garden's rules. Every community garden needs rules in order to keep peace and structure. It's important to be supportive of the rules and guidelines in order to respect and honor the vision of the garden. You will want to be on friendly terms with other growers and know if its vision will be compatible with your gardening beliefs. Also, you will want to consider if you're willing to compromise in any area.
Having to adjust to different growing conditions. I thought I knew a lot about gardening until we started gardening in other places. All of sudden, we had to deal with different soil conditions, sometimes different frost zones, different plant diseases and especially different insect pests. In our community garden, we planted tomatoes but were flanked by potato growers. This caused a huge surge in the potato beetle population which in turn worked on devouring our tomatoes and ruining our eggplant. Also, the soil was so sandy that our first crop of green beans plants were the size of a full grown green bean. We were ready to give up, but found that other crops that didn't do well at our house were thriving at this garden. So we gave up on the tomatoes, (grew them successfully again at home) but planted root crops for a few years until we built the soil up. So this I look at a disadvantage, but also as an advantage.
A few more tips to consider:
Be purposeful about what you plant. Vegetables such as green beans, and onions can easily get lost in weeds AND it can happen fast. If you only want to visit your garden once a week, these crops won't do as well. I'm speaking this from experience! We grow lots of summer and winter squash as they are much easier to keep up with and grow better at the community garden than in our backyard space.
Consider mulching to conserve water and suppress weeds. We mulch heavily with black and white newspaper topped with straw to keep up with the never ending weeds. Shredded leaves are another great resource.
Overall, our shared gardening experiences have been well worth the extra work. We are able to grow abundant vegetables there that the insects will ravage a few miles away and it's been working for us for a number of years now. This is a great bonus when gardening without using pesticides.
Even if you have plenty of space to garden, you may want to consider garden lending to help someone else out. If you do, it would be important to establish rules and guidelines in order to maintain your relationship with those who are gardening with you. It's a great way to teach a new gardener too and pass on valuable information to others in your community.
Have you ever gardened with someone else or in a community garden? What was your favorite experience from it?
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