The mission of Agape Distribution, where the People’s Garden is located, is to feed hungry people. The mission of the People’s Garden is to plant seeds of change and harvest hope through community gardening and education. At the People’s Garden, we take hundreds of pounds of fresh food into the pantry each season. We wash it and put it in bags or place it where the pantry shoppers can put it in their shopping carts, plus we help all community gardeners grow some of their own food through Master Gardener assistance and education. This garden is truly a community effort with individuals, companies and organizations taking part in all ways.
April is the month I look forward to after the cold, snowy season. I just know summer is coming. Cool, sunny sometimes, rainy sometimes, and like this week, maybe a little warmer, although yesterday I wore my winter boots and coat to a track meet. Come on sun, warm us up! For me, it is planting season in the garden. I just can’t wait. I start to want to be outside, to stretch out, move around more, get fresh air, lose that winter weight I gained since Christmas, see friends, get winter clothes and snow shovels put away and locate garden tools. I cleaned up the patio with the help of my neighbor, who always wants to help and who brings me her newspaper every day, and now I can sit out on the patio with my coffee and my neighbor and decide where to begin with the yard work. It takes me a long time to think about it. Oh goodness, where do I start? I can’t mow because the grass isn’t growing or all green yet and it isn’t May, so planting annual flowers is out of the question. The job to do is to prepare the garden area for planting something right now, because I just can’t wait to grow something — anything. Whoa, it is still cool out there! What I do is layer up, you know, put on several outfits one on top of the other. We Ohioans know how to dress for all kinds of weather in the same day!
At the People’s Garden, we are already busy. Yes, there are more crazy gardeners than just me. We have started preparing the raised beds for our biggest planting day in May. Last month, in mid-March at our open house, we bravely planted some cool weather crops: snow peas, kale and turnips. Several community members have already rented their own 4-foot by 8-foot raised beds and were at the garden, excited to begin the spring and summer growing season, all about growing their own food. I totally understand! Some of us began the jobs of repairing fencing and the raised beds, getting rid of sticks that fell during the winter and getting the four-wheeler started up, plus other preparations, while the new gardeners and the old gardeners planted seeds.
Stepping out the door into the nice balmy air of spring is sometimes so exhilarating that I tend to overdo and outdo what my body can handle. It is best to make a plan and start out easily. I always want to get my garden at home all ready for the planting at the first nice day, when I don’t have to wear my ski hat and mittens. I often forget about the “C” word, common sense. At the end of the day, and the next day or so, I am recovering from things I knew would happen but didn’t care. Now I care…sore back, legs, arms…oh my. I shoveled compost, hoed up the entire garden, raked the soil nice and smooth. That was the first day. I remember thinking last year, “Next year will be different. I will remember the ‘C’ word.” Advice for you: do some exercise and walking throughout the year, whenever you can, something other than that prone exercise of relaxing on the soft couch or that arm exercise of getting up out of the recliner. Beginning the gardening season, also do some stretching of arms, legs and back before each workday. You know you will want to be digging and planting in the spring, you just know it, and you know that you will be sore. Remember the “C” word.
So now, your garden is prepared, ready to drop in the seeds and plants. Make a plan of what to plant, where to plant and how much you can eat, store, dry or put in jars for the winter. Really think about it because I know that some of us plant way too much, and then the neighbors pretend to not be home when they see us coming with another load of vegetables we so kindly want to share. It is a good neighborly thing to do. Almost everyone likes to eat salad food right out of the garden, like lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. At this time of year, these crops can be started inside in peat-pots or even paper pots and then put out in the garden in May, when the soil has warmed up. Crops that love cool weather are what are usually planted outside now. That includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, onions, carrots, chard, arugula, beets, collard greens, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, parsnips, peas, radishes, rhubarb (perennial) and turnips. Look at that! What a wonderful spring meal! Read your packages of seeds and follow what they suggest to do, planting seeds sparingly and not too close together. Plant each seed only as deep as twice the diameter of the seed. Each seed contains enough energy to push to the surface of the soil and see the sun, and from there the sun and photosynthesis take over. The soil gives nutrition, and the rain gives water. We, as humans need the sun, rain, food and air…oh yes, plants need air too.
When the cool weather crops are harvested and you have had as much kale as you can consume or dry to store, you can then use the same space to plant warm-weather food. No food shortage for us! Food security is an issue in many countries, even in the USA. Gardening is a good way to help lessen that insecurity. Growing your own food can help with the stress of knowing what is “in” or “on” your food when it is produced elsewhere. I suggest using no chemicals and reading or Googling about natural insect and disease prevention and/or control. At the People’s Garden, we do not use chemicals in the raised beds. We have noticed through the years that we have plenty of beneficial insects, birds and pollinators. We always plant plenty of different types and sizes of flowers that attract all the natural defense inhabitants. Birds like juicy larvae of Japanese beetles (grubs), assassin bugs like to prey on the beetles, too, and parasitic wasps like to lay their eggs on the tomato worms which makes the worms pass away. We have lots of different butterflies and bees for pollination because we have herbs and flowers. It is interesting to watch all this going on. Come and visit, sit on a bench and take some pictures. We love to share the beauty of the People’s Garden.
We always need help with weeding, planting, harvesting, mowing, trimming, cutting trees to allow more sun in, fixing fences and raised beds. We welcome your input and your expertise. We operate almost totally on donations of equipment, seeds, plants, tools and work. Some things we need at this time are trowels, 2-inch by 8-inch treated boards to fix beds, and most of all right now, we need individuals and groups who will come regularly to help out, even once a month or once a week. We would love for you to come out and enjoy what is a beautiful community garden. Come out and join in the fun and bring your talents, your skills, your friends and family.
The writer is a Master Gardener and a coordinator of the People’s Garden. Reach her at 937-726-9525.