Web Exclusive - February 2015
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Get Ready to Garden

Many parks and recreation organizations offer community members the space—and even some education—to start gardening. Once your garden is established, there are things you can do every year at the start of the season to keep things rolling smoothly, and even make improvements over time so you can provide the best gardening experience ever for brand-new gardeners and old hands alike.

Get People Organized

Sometime during the winter, you need to work out the leadership for your garden. Ask past gardeners to volunteer to step up and be part of the team, and have a meeting for anyone who is interested in helping out as part of the team. Once you've got your team lined up, figure out what jobs need to be handled and be sure to share the work so everyone's got something to do. It's important to do this on an annual basis, as your gardeners and your team members will come and go.

While you're meeting to discuss next year's garden, also take a look at your rules. Do you need to make any changes? Clarifications? You'll need to make sure everyone who signs up also signs off to ensure that they've read the rules and intend to follow them. Also be sure you have a fair system in place for enforcing the rules, and be sure everyone knows what happens if they don't follow them.

Now is also a good time to take a look at your budget. Are your fees adequate, or do you need to raise them? Can you host a fundraiser? Also, take a look now at any new items you might need for the garden, such as tools, irrigation, composting suppliers. If your budget is flush, you might think of adding things like a picnic area, or a shade structure.

Once you've got your garden team organized, it's time to line up your gardeners. Start by reaching out to past gardeners to offer them a plot again. Be sure to allow past gardeners to work the same plot as in previous years, if possible. Many people will work to improve the soil in their own plot, or will change up their plantings from one year to the next to keep the soil healthy.

Do you have room for more gardeners to sign up? Begin by contacting anyone on your wait list, if you have one. If you still have spots available after that, advertise their availability at local churches, businesses and in your program materials.

Now schedule a startup meeting for your gardeners. This will serve as a meet-and-greet, and you can go over the rules again, discuss any changes, and network and talk about plans for the garden this year. Now's also a good time to recruit additional volunteer help.

Get your schedule for the year set up. Are you going to have a big initial planting day? How about a Harvest Party at the end of the growing season? You can also decide if you want to set up regular work days throughout the season. On these days, once or twice a month, ask as many of your volunteers and gardeners as possible to get together to handle any ongoing chores and maintenance, such as weeding, maintaining pathways, planting flower borders and so on.

Mind Your Site

Have you got your site plan prepared? If anything is changing from previous years, make a note of it and communicate the changes with your gardeners. Are you adding anything new this year? A gazebo? Picnic tables? New composting bins? Now's the time to scope out where these amenities might go.

Once the snow's melted, you'll want to get a soil sample tested. This way, you can let your gardeners know about the soil's makeup, so they'll know which plants will work best, and what kinds of amendments they might need to help things along. Check with your local extension office to get your soil sample tested. To find your local extension, visit www.nifa.usda.gov/Extension.

Once the soil is workable in the spring, you can start performing pre-planting maintenance. Any early weed control can be handled now. You also can get back to regularly turning and airing out your compost pile, and start a new one, if needed.

Prepare the ground for any new plots you'll be adding, and check to see if any site maintenance needs to be handled. This might include mowing, planning additional plantings around the perimeter of the garden and other miscellaneous tasks such as repairing fences, checking your irrigation system, resurfacing pathways and so on.

Now that the site's ready, plan a get-going day and invite all of your gardeners and volunteers to start their plantings.

Know Your Stuff

Programming and educational opportunities can be a boon to new and experienced gardeners alike. Especially if your garden is home to new gardeners who have no experience, it's a good idea to offer some educational opportunities so they won't get frustrated and give up.

Set up some workshops and programs. These can be available to both gardeners at your community garden as well as other community members. Recruit a master gardener to provide the education if you can. Popular topics might include small space vegetable gardening, companion planting, weed and pest control, and green approaches to the garden. You also can provide arts-and-crafts types of programs to construct birdhouses, bathouses and decorative items for the garden.

Happy Gardening!