People are searching for vegetable gardening information and purchasing seeds in huge numbers this spring. Several large seed companies have had to shut down for a week or so just to catch up with shipping the orders placed on line. The current health crisis seems to be a wake-up call for people trying to improve their food security and fresh vegetables from the garden is a great way to supplement the non-perishables that most have in their pantry. Apartment dwellers and suburban neighbors might want to explore creating a community garden.

Ask landlord's permission for a community garden

Community gardens have been around for many years and there are a number of forms they can take. Once you've decided to create a community garden, the next step is to organize. Apartment dwellers need to check with management to make sure that a garden is permitted and should have a list of plans and rules for the operation ready for them to examine. You are more likely to find them agreeable if you submit a detailed explanation of what you have in mind.

Organizing and planning a community garden

The first thing you need to do is locate a spot for your community garden. It should receive at least eight hours of direct sun each day and there needs to be a water source nearby. If gardeners have to tote heavy buckets of water to their plots, enthusiasm will drop off quickly. Have a soil test done to make sure there are no chemicals or heavy metals that could harm people. If there are, you'll either need to change the location, or go to a raised bed option. Some successful community gardens are even on rooftops. Organize a meeting with your neighbors to find out the level of interest in the project. Hopefully, there will be several people in the group with gardening experience. Decide on whether this will be one big garden that everyone helps maintain, or individual plots with a smaller community area. The plan with individual plots will probably be the best because one large garden will more than likely end up with just a few people doing the lion's share of the work. You may want to start small with just a few participants and expand as interest grows, so remember to plan for expansion. Vote on whether the gardens will be organic or conventional. The whole garden should be one or the other, to prevent overlap of methods and hard feelings between gardeners. Decide whether pets are allowed and what rules should be in place if you do. Just remember that dogs tend to view every vertical surface as a potential fire hydrant and it may be best for Fido to remain at home. Cats see soft soil as a potential litter box, so Kitty shouldn't be there either. Draw up and agree on a set of rules and what is expected of everyone, finally elect a responsible council so that everyone knows who to turn to with suggestions, problems or concerns.

colorful vegetables

Community gardens are not free

There might be a lease, permit or rental cost, raised beds to build and clean topsoil to haul in. You may need to purchase tools and a shed, composter or outdoor storage bin. Upkeep on the paths and maintenance of the grounds may have a price as well or should be done with rotating teams. Everyone should share the expenses and you'll need to decide if this should be a one time, monthly or annual fee. Elect a treasurer. Once the basic garden is built and plots assigned, members should be responsible for purchasing their own seeds or transplants. If you live in an area where fresh produce is hard to come by, sometimes businesses, seed companies or churches can be encouraged to sponsor part of the cost. If you plan on including a community plot of herbs, the group should share that cost, and maintenance of the bed too. In a lot of cases, a properly maintained garden does not save much money unless done on a large scale, however the benefits of fresh produce that you know the history of is beyond price. I grew up on a farm with a large vegetable garden of over an acre. We shelled beans, canned tomatoes, made pickles and froze produce. It was a summer-long undertaking that never ended until frost. That kind of garden saves quite a bit of money, however it was also a job that often got in the way of other activities. Corn does not wait until you decide to harvest it. There is a very narrow window where it is at its best and if you have a half acre planted, corn comes before anything else. You have to harvest and prepare all of it within just a few days.

Get to know your neighbors

A community garden is a great way for neighbors to get to know each other and form lasting friendships. We're all feeling a bit isolated with the stay at home orders that so many of us are experiencing, so planning a garden is a great way to make use of the time. Have discussions and meetings on line. There are many digital platforms out there that can take the place of in person gatherings. Practice social distancing when working outdoors. Enjoy the sunshine and the experience of growing your own food. A community garden can give you a harvest of much more than vegetables if you let it.