Think green to beat the winter blues

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Food security network says start your community garden plans now

The cold of winter seems like an unusual time to be thinking about growing vegetables. Yet representatives for the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Community Garden Alliance told The Telegram this is, in fact, exactly the right time to think gardens.

In particular, they hope to begin connecting people interested in developing community gardens.

In encouragement of green thumbs, the Food Security Network is hosting a one lunch-hour call-in for 40 registered individuals, set to begin at noon Feb. 4, allowing people around the province to share start-up tips and discovered best practices.

Mary Lee, facilitator for the Brother McSheffrey Community Garden on Mount Scio Road, steps among the rows in warmer times. - Photo By Keith Gosse/The Telegram

The cold of winter seems like an unusual time to be thinking about growing vegetables. Yet representatives for the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Community Garden Alliance told The Telegram this is, in fact, exactly the right time to think gardens.

In particular, they hope to begin connecting people interested in developing community gardens.

In encouragement of green thumbs, the Food Security Network is hosting a one lunch-hour call-in for 40 registered individuals, set to begin at noon Feb. 4, allowing people around the province to share start-up tips and discovered best practices.

While registration for the call-in is now closed, a Power Point presentation on community gardening, along with recorded segments and notes from the call-in, will be made available at the Food Security Network's website, said executive director Kristie Jamieson.

"There is an amazing amount of interest in starting up community gardens and starting up community-based projects that help people bring their food closer to them," she said.

Community Garden Alliance chairwoman Angela Loucks-Atkinson is set to speak on the first half of the upcoming call-in. However, as not everyone can participate, Loucks-Atkinson provided us with some of her start-up basics.

Get ready

First, she said, there is the issue of space. If you have a spot in mind for a garden, is there enough space there to develop the garden you want?

Loucks-Atkinson said community gardens come in all shapes and sizes, but space for three 4x12 beds is usually a good starting point.

Another item high on the agenda is location. Where will your garden grow?

Loucks-Atkinson said it is important to have permission for development, even for a few simple rows of carrots or lettuce.

The Rabbittown community garden in St. John's, for example, was developed with permission on property belonging to Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. Likewise, the Growing Together community garden in downtown St. John's was developed on vacant land, again with permission, this time from the City of St. John's.

As you enter into the more significant decisions of your development, said Loucks-Atkinson, there comes the basic requirement of gathering a volunteer working group.

"You want to have at least 10 people and maybe a few more, maybe up to 15," she said. "That way if people are away on holidays or that type of thing, there are still people there."

As well, she said, it has proven a good number to cover for changes in volunteer levels, as people do drop out and join in the project.

Also, let people in the area know about your project, said Loucks-Atkinson, in case they would like to join, provide input, or even donate materials.

"I found just having a stakeholder-type of meeting to present your idea is a good thing," she said.

Get planning

Once your group is together and notice of the project is out there, it's time to hammer out the details of garden design and usage.

For example, "on Mount Scio Road, it is a divided plot community garden. I think it's $20 to rent a plot for the year," said Loucks-Atkinson, "whereas Rabbittown Community Garden is a shared plot system." Produce is distributed equally from shared plots, as are tending duties.

In addition, policies on tending the garden, type of plants to be added and layout should all be set before work begins. It also should be decided whether or not the garden will be organic (pesticide, fertilizer free).

"I've found the more planning you do before you even dig in the dirt, the better the garden will be," said Loucks-Atkinson.

Get gardening

Do not be afraid to start seedlings in anticipation of breaking ground and bed building.

"I would say by March you want to have some things started," said Loucks-Atkinson.

If raising seedlings indoors is not of interest to anyone in your group, finding surrogate starters is one idea.

"I know a lot of people who grow plants (in their homes), but they don't garden," said Loucks-Atkinson.

If you can find a few friends who do not mind adding a few seedlings to their regular hobby, the community garden group can adopt the infant plants when it comes time to lay starters into fresh ground.

As well, direct seeding is possible for many garden vegetables, such as lettuce, carrot, radishes and oriental greens.

The point, said Loucks-Atkinson, is to avoid the cost of nursery purchases and to maximize your food savings through your garden work whenever possible.

With plans in place and seedlings started, spring means only having to raise your beds. Loucks-Atkinson recommends using pest-deterring Eastern cedar or rocks for the walls of your beds. For larger rocks, try asking at a construction site.

And while collectively these tasks may seem daunting, both Jamieson and Loucks-Atkinson said their groups act as connectors for interested community gardeners and supporters.

Interaction with other community gardeners can inspire, they said, and provide tips to help make the project work.

To hear about upcoming workshops and information sessions for community gardeners provincewide, you can join the mailing list for the Food Security Network by e-mailing info@foodsecuritynews.com or phoning 709-237-4126.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Community Garden Alliance, The Telegram, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Rabbittown Mount Scio Road

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