Summer is almost over, the days are getting shorter and soon the temperatures will turn cooler. Hopefully, you have been able to take some time to enjoy the weather by going away on a trip, getting more fit or simply taking some time for yourself. I usually train to run as soon as spring hits.
But not this year. Instead, I caught the gardening bug.
My local community garden helped me literally grow my newly found hobby of urban gardening. Most of my friends, some who live in Four Corners asked the same questions, “You grow your own vegetables? There are community gardens in Dorchester?”
Living in an area that is mostly concrete, one of the challenges is finding space to grow and cultivate a garden. Urban gardening is a great way to access fresh foods and it can be possible even in a small plot at your local community garden.
Through the Boston Natural Areas Network, community gardens are present in several communities in the City of Boston and available for growing vegetables and small fruits like strawberries. The extensive list includes 39 community gardens in Dorchester of which 6 are in the Four Corners neighborhood. Coordinators are assigned to each garden and must be contacted to request space availability.
In March, I contacted the assigned coordinator for Greenwood Street Community Garden which is the nearest to my home. Louise Zimmerman, the garden coordinator, said a few spots were open and I was able to reserve my own space. I was assigned the smallest space which I was more than happy to accept. I get to garden and that was all I really cared about.
At Greenwood Street, there are nine gardeners including the coordinator. It is a small community of supportive gardeners with a little healthy competition. Due to our eventful winter this year, we had to wait a little longer to get in the garden and get started. In April, I picked up my key for the garden gate and some snow was still on the ground. By early May, some of my fellow gardeners started sowing seeds and planted some seedlings while I did not start until the end of the month.
As a rookie, the full extent of my previous gardening experience was strictly indoors with orchids at home and my office at work. I really wanted my own garden and grow my own vegetables so I was determined to really make it happen. My biggest helper is Noni, my 12 year-old daughter, who helped me clean up the plot and picked out most of the seedlings we planted.
Without any guidance or knowledge outside of orchid care, I took a trip to a local nursery and picked out a few vegetables such as zucchini, yellow squash, Asian eggplant, poblano peppers and tomatoes.
I figured that was enough to get started at the very least which turned out to be a poor assumption. This rookie later learned that while there was still danger of frost outdoors, I could have used that time to start seeds indoors to have seedlings to plant in the ground after the last frost.
Much to my surprise, what I thought was a small garden plot is not so small after all. The seedlings I planted filled less than a quarter of my plot. It was then that I realized the need to either start growing some seedlings or buy more and fast. By that time, June was only a few weeks away and I felt it was not enough time and worried that I would not harvest before summer was over. It was a poor assumption by this rookie because I did not know then that I can continue to grow, rotate some crops (spoken like a true farmer, right?) and harvest through the fall.
As a beginner, I did not want to feel overwhelmed so I bought more seedlings and decided that I can always sow some seeds later if needed. One of my fellow gardeners, Cleveland “Cleve” Riddick later confirmed that I was on the right track with mostly planting seedlings just to get started. It took a while for him to warm up to me and share some of his gardening tips. Once he felt comfortable or likely just felt sorry for this rookie, he slowly started to share some of his gardening secrets. He even identified the best nurseries in the area to purchase healthy seedlings with great prices.
Immediately, I visited Cleve’s favorite nursery and bought broccoli, swiss chard, bush beans, collard greens, cauliflower and leeks. Noni also picked out two watermelon varieties: crimson sweet and icebox watermelon. She also picked out a cantaloupe which along with the watermelons, I did not think they were going to grow because this rookie, who thinks she is a professional, assumed the soil at the garden was not right for it. As vines, they are spreading quickly and I have yet to figure out how to contain them to keep them from over-running my veggie plants.
Yes, one of the watermelon plants has seen fit to prove me wrong. It is creeping rapidly and bearing 8 fruits so far. I also learned that cucumber vines also creep rapidly and must be given room to spread.
The only thing I did not do was turn the soil. Turning the soil means digging up the ground and airing it out. According to Cleve, it is also when you are supposed to lime the soil. Liming enriches the soil and provides better growing conditions for plants.
Even though I skipped that step, my garden is still growing successfully and better than one or two of the other plots. Remember, I did mention healthy competition earlier.
This rookie still has so much to learn like how to strategically place some plants because they complement each other’s growth. Next year, I plan on returning to the garden and do it even better. Part of my plan to get a head start is to get on Cleve’s gardening schedule so I can prep, plan and harvest as well as he does.
To find a community garden near you, go to bostonnatural.org.
Chanie Infante Louisma is a Dorchester resident with a passion for working with people. She is involved with several community programs and writes about her experiences in Boston at her blog, LifeByZen. You can connect with her on Twitter @LifeByZen.