Our Community Garden Adventure: How to Garden When You Don’t Have Room For a Garden

by Charlotte on April 21, 2014 · 39 comments

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 Look at me doing my best farmer impression! It only occurred to me after we snapped the pic that the piece of hay in my mouth was laying on top of manure three seconds earlier. But hey, maybe I’ll start a new prebiotic trend: eating poo! 

There are a lot of differences between Minnesota and Colorado – the accent (do you say “bag” or “bayg”?), the weather (I have never lived in a place with more Mother Nature temper tantrums than MN!), the elevation (I think I can finally breathe here?) – but a big one is land. In Minnesota land is cheap and plentiful (even if you have to wrench it from the tiny claws of a million mosquitos). But in Colorado, while land is plentiful it’s definitely not cheap! I’ve heard a lot of explanations for this, usually having to do with the fact that it’s a desert and water rights lead to smaller plot sizes, but what it meant in reality is that we moved from a sprawling half acre in Minnesota to a yard in Colorado so small I could mow our lawn with scissors. My husband wanted to plant a shrub in our backyard and I was like “Noooo! Then we won’t have a backyard anymore!”

This has been more upsetting for my husband than me. I don’t love yard work and am glad to be rid of all that maintenance (although we do desperately miss our tire swing!) but my husband loves planting and dirt and compost and all that green stuff. He’s a gardener (and a hot one at that!):

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There are lots of solutions to the problem of having no or little room to garden. Some people do container gardens on decks or patios. Others do small raised beds with imported soil, allowing them to garden on land that is not arable. And then there are all the amazing vertical gardens (seriously so cool – it’s like art and a garden at the same time!) And we’ve actually done container gardens and raised beds, depending on where we’ve lived. But our compromise here is that since we can’t garden in our own yard (although that hasn’t stopped him from planting pots of tomatoes all along our front porch), we signed up for a community garden plot!

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If you’ve never heard of them, a community garden plot is simply a large expanse of dirt divided into smaller patches of dirt that you can rent out for the season. (Some communities even offer them for free.)  So for our weekly family night, we headed out to get our garden on! Tonight we just prepared the land by tilling and fertilizing it (and covering it with hay because… I don’t know why) but the kiddos helped us plan out what we are going to plant. Broccoli, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, spinach, lettuce and carrots all made the cut! My beets, sadly, were vetoed.

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You do all the work and you get to keep anything you actually coax out of the ground! 

Look at me being all industrious. Actually my main job was shoveling manure. Not only was it a great workout but it was pretty cathartic. I thought I was too tired to even go anywhere but I was amazed at how calming being out in the fresh air, alone with my thoughts and doing some physical labor was. It was like a moving meditation and I felt so much better afterwards – which I really needed, especially given the current commotion in my life.

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This is how my boys “helped” us garden. Ah well, they are sure sleeping well now!

The co-op provides some communal supplies like fertilizer, water, shovels, wheelbarrows and even stuff like rototillers and a propane grill in case we decide to barbecue between weeding and realizing the weeds we just pulled were actually strawberry plants. Oh and they have lots of fun pathways to run around on and play tag!

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See? A handy wheelbarrow… and what appears to be an old mattress frame decorated with crocheted doilies. Because everyone needs more crochet in their life! I’m serious, we do. Let’s start knitting hats for statues!

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They even had a pint-sized ‘barrow perfect for Jelly Bean! She never put anything in it but she sure liked pushing it around!

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Our community garden has this cute little building which I’m told becomes a CSA (community supported agriculture) drop in the summertime as well as a place for all us gardeners to distract each other with cherry tomatoes while someone else shoves zucchini in the backseats of the cars.

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Also provided: Free hayrides! 

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And a free lesson: Hay is itchy!!

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 One of our neighbors is growing tulips. 

Another cool perk is getting to see what all the other people are doing with their dirt plots. Not only do you get good ideas for how to make your garden better but you get to meet really nice people! I swear gardeners have to be the kindest, most helpful group of strangers I’ve ever met! 

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I’ve been told naturally growing purple tulips (as opposed to dyed) are rare so it was really cool to see one in the flesh, er, cellulose! 
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Photo bomb! Actually what he said was, “This place makes me want to dance.” Me too, son!

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The farm is surrounded by lots of nice walking/biking trails making it easy to get there in a non-car way!

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This composting bin cracked me up. “No dairy product include egg shells” – here lurks the abominable Chickcow! Bow chicka-cow-cow! But it was also really educational. I always thought yard trimmings and food made awesome compost! Apparently not? But toilet paper rolls are?? I’m really interested in learning about making compost – I guess it’s not as easy as just letting stuff rot!

There was one casualty of the evening though:
IMAG0327Jelly Bean got a sliver in her finger but you’ll all be relieved to know she was very brave as I removed it and even got a Dora band-aid for her trouble! (In the first pic she just held up her injured finger to the camera. I was like “Can you hold up two fingers instead?” Of course she wanted to know why. Someday she’ll thank me for not putting a snap of her as a preschooler flipping the bird, right?)

Do any of you garden? What type do you do? Anyone have any advice for us on our first community garden adventure?? what’s your moving meditation?

 

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Naomi/Dragonmamma April 22, 2014 at 5:01 am

This is our first summer in our very own house with a huge backyard. We’ve planted a pear and an apple tree, but we won’t get any fruit for a couple of years. We also have six huge raised beds currently planted with cucumbers, squashes, tomatoes, peppers, etc. Can’t wait till they start producing! Not quite the same as gardening but even more exciting are the three chickens I got a month ago. They eat the bugs that eat the vegetable plants and turn them into eggs every day. No advice on the community gardening; never done it.

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Cbuffy April 22, 2014 at 8:56 am

Be careful – they will also eat your garden! LOL (I started with 6 little chicks and now have 120+ and nothing that isn’t already mature ie: trees, survive their onslaught…) But they sure are fun – and you just can’t beat a fresh egg.

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 9:34 am

This made me laugh – 120 + chickens?? – but I do appreciate the advice. I’ve heard chickens can be pretty aggressive!

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Naomi/Dragonmamma April 22, 2014 at 11:22 am

I know they will, they eat just about anything they can get their little beaks on! All of my raised beds are covered with hoops and bird netting; they HATE the bird netting. I want to wind up with about 12, NOT 120!

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Azusmom April 22, 2014 at 11:56 am

Can you whisk it? The fresh egg?
(Sorry, couldn’t resist!) ;)

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Cbuffy April 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm

LOL!!! Whisking works, but hard boiling a fresh egg is a serious challenge.

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Cbuffy April 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Sorry – TOTALLY hijacked your post!

Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 8:52 pm

And THIS is why I love you guys. Best comment thread today:)

Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 9:33 am

I so want chickens!!! I’ve said it before but our HOA won’t allow it:( I expected Colorado to be more progressive than this! We can legally have pot but not CHICKENS?!

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Carla April 22, 2014 at 5:26 am

breath walking is totally my moving meditation.
the gardening? IM STILL CONVINCED I ACCIDENTALLY KILLED OFF THE CHILDS COMMUNITY GARDEN AT SCHOOL.

(shhhh :-))

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Buwhahahah I remember that!

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Melissa April 22, 2014 at 5:45 am

I also get the amazing medatation feeling from playing in the dirt. Since I live in an apartment with no patio this year, I’ll be offering out my weeding and tilling skills to my friends. You are lucky that they provide fertilizer for your plots. That is something I haven’t seen in MN community gardens in the past.

I believe the hay is suppose to help keep the weeds down but allow your veggies/flowers to grow.

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm

If you ever want to take your weeding and tilling show on the road, you’re totally welcome to use our plot;) And thanks for the info on the hay – gonna impress my husband when I drop my knowledge on him!

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Heather C April 22, 2014 at 6:14 am

We live in the Denver metro area too but amazingly, because of our lot sitting in the curve of the street, we have 1/3 of an acre. Palatial by Colorado standards. I am not much of a gardening person but my husband built us two 12×12 container gardens a few years back. We always do lettuces, which are so yummy, potatoes, tomatoes, several herbs and strawberries. We have tried cucumbers, worked but got way too many, carrots, work but are always tough for some reason, peas, cantaloupe, broccoli, and squash. I love being able to go to my backyard for my salad ingredients.

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Backyard salad is the best!! And I just read your comment out loud to my husband – he’s now quietly weeping…

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Alison Mosca April 22, 2014 at 8:32 am

I love to be out in the dirt! We have lots of space for gardening (7 acres) but with a well we can’t water in the summer, so I have to come up with creative ways to plant. I do fabric bags in a kids swimming pool…water wicks up the dirt and keeps the roots watered! I also am trying lasagna gardening this year…it is a layering method of browns (tp rolls, pine bedding from chinchilla cages, paper bedding from rabbit litter boxes) and greens (food scraps). You plant on top of this pile.. it makes compost to feed the plants and also conserves water. I’ll let you know how it works! The straw you covered the ground with is to deter weeds and also helps conserve water (I think). Not sure why you can’t put veggie food scraps in the compost bin…that is what we use as green material in ours and we do put egg shells in, but we wash them first. Maybe they attract animals to the bin? Composting CAN be very easy depending on how much time and space you have. We have a giant compost pile way back in the weeds behind the house. Everything compostable goes in it and it just sits…we don’t turn it, water it, do anything to it but add stuff. After a year the bottom has composted so we use that and just let the rest sit and keep adding to it. Tony made me a rotating composter, but it was too small and I never remembered to add water so it would dry out. My pile is so much easier! Can’t wait to see how your garden does!

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 9:01 pm

See, THAT is the kind of composting I want to do! No muss, no fuss; just a big stinky pile of garbage that eventually turns into mulch!

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Hannah April 22, 2014 at 8:43 am

the hay has many benefits – two already mentioned are the keeping the ground from drying out and keeping the weeds away. Another one is that it protects the seeds from scavengers until they can be established. When we install a huge seed mix near water we also put up a goose barrier which is basically just a large grid of fishing line with metallic ties every so often. This keeps the geese from munching up all the seeds. They see the glint of light and assume that it is not safe from predators and that they won’t be able to fly away quickly if needed.

I would love to have a community garden plot especially since I live in the city and my backyard is a parking lot. However I am horrible with plants – think it is the whole not bringing my work home with me since I am a landscape architect. All of my houseplants have adapted to extremely infrequent waterings. (actually had a roommate kill one of my plants because she watered it regularly and it wasn’t used to it!) I always have the best intentions to do some container gardening on the back balcony but it just never happens. Maybe this year! :)

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 9:04 pm

So interesting about your goose barrier! I love little tricks like that. In Minnesota we planted marigolds around the borders of our garden and sprayed fox urine scent to keep the bunnies away. It worked… kinda. (Although fox urine STINKS)

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Cbuffy April 22, 2014 at 9:01 am

My parents did the community garden thing in Calgary for a couple of years when we were kids. They also had a big garden in the yard, so the community one was for potatoes and corn. Stuff that takes a LOT of space and doesn’t require tons of care. They always planted several LONG rows of peas to intice us to participate. And we got to ride on the truck on the car on the long dirt road in and out. The corn never really turned out, but we got some totally awesome potatoes. (And enough peas to induce weekly bouts of diarhea… lol) GREAT memory maker for your kids.

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 9:10 pm

I hope it will be a source of great memories for our kids – and hopefully not just of diarrhea;) (But I can totally see how that would happen – I LOVE fresh peas!)

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Amy @ Run Mom Run April 22, 2014 at 11:06 am

I am the absolute worst at gardening. Luckily my husband isn’t. I love having all those fresh snap peas and green beans too! My beets got voted out as well.

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 9:13 pm

Bummer, what is it about beets?!

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Shari April 22, 2014 at 11:58 am

One of our previous homes (an apartment) had a community garden near by, the difference in type was it was just one big plot that everyone could help on for free. The owners provided EVERYTHING and if you went and helped at all, even just once, when it came time for the harvest, you would get some of the produce (free!).
Now that we own our home, one of the projects I’m most excited for is starting our garden! We have plenty of space for a decently sized one. We just have to wait until after the threat of frost to plant in the ground, so the kids and I are doing starters in egg cartons! Yay for indoor dirt! (Dirt With a purpose… not the dirt my kids track inside from the backyard…)

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kfg April 22, 2014 at 12:38 pm

“eating poo! ”

B12 is good. That’s why rabbits eat their own.

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Good to know – hadn’t thought of the B12 aspect! If it ever, um, comes down to that I’ll just think of it like vitamins;)

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Geosomin April 22, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Chickcow…hee hee

I wish there was a community garden in my area. There’s one in the neighboring area that I walk by on my way to the bus every day, but can’t join because I’m in the next division over. I keep asking every year… I love gardening. I had plans for a raised bed in my front yard this spring but will wait until next year.

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 10:53 pm

Aw man, they’re exclusive?! That takes the “community” right out of community gardening! Boo.

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joemama April 22, 2014 at 2:42 pm

I garden every year. I also can and jelly and pickle. My parents used to have an acre and a half garden (I am not kidding) and we children were slave labor (I am only half joking). I hated gardening… until I had my own. I let my kids help only when they want to, though. It is very cathartic to garden and there is nothing, NOTHING like a fresh carrot straight outta the dirt. And I live in Minnesota, so I can do this all in my backyard and still have ample room for my kiddos to play. Of course, it has been known to snow the middle of May here, so you can’t put anything in the ground until, like, August. : )

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Ah now you’re just bragging! ;) So true about fresh carrots!! Also, Minnesota has the BEST apples. Once you have a fresh honeycrisp off the tree, store bought apples taste like some other (bad) food entirely.

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Katie April 22, 2014 at 5:45 pm

You know I garden like WHOA. But, up here in Zone 4, we can’t plant anything much until after Memorial weekend. I started lettuces, kale, chard, spinach, tatsoi, beets, and broccoli a couple weeks ago and will be starting basil and tomatoes this weekend, as well as direct seeding spinach and peas! I have to use hay here for the early cold crops, it keeps the soil warmer at night. I put it on in the fall, which also protects it from freezing. We got such early snow this eyar that I don’t think my ground ever froze, it was insulated with hay and snow before it got ungodly cold!

The only thing I can think of is that they don’t want to attract animals to the compost. There’s no reason that food couldn’t go in there. (They may also have people adding meat/dairy in the past, so it’s probably easier to just say “NO FOOD” of any kind.) But the rest makes sense. It seems like it is going to be very bad compost though – too much brown and not enough green. That’s my exact opposite problem – I have way more kitchen scraps than yard trimmings. And WAY too many coffee grounds. :D

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 10:57 pm

So interesting – I had no idea hay had all these uses! You guys are giving me a good education:) Also: basil and tomatoes are the best combo ever.

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AdjustedReality April 22, 2014 at 6:42 pm

I love this, although I am with you on the absence of a green thumb or desire for a giant yard. “I just adore a penthouse view – darlin’ I love you but give me park avenue” – for reals.

Even if you don’t actually net much usable food, looks like a great workout and even better family time with great lessons like hay is itchy! :)

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 10:57 pm

It’s definitely fun family time – the kids have a riot chasing each other around so no matter what I consider it money well spent;)

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Amalia April 22, 2014 at 10:47 pm

I have been thinking about looking into a community garden near here – but the problem is they are often raided by the needy and homeless in the city… which is actually fine, I think they need it more than I do, but then I don’t get to enjoy the fruits of my labour.

So… I will probably plant some lettuce on my porch or convince my boyfriend to exercise his carpentry muscles and build me a vertical garden.

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Charlotte April 22, 2014 at 10:59 pm

So interesting since a huge concern right now is poor people’s lack of access to fresh produce and other healthy foods. It would still kind of stink though to put all that hard work into it and not get to enjoy even some of the result… If you do a vertical garden, I totally want to see a pic! That’s my dream.

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Paula April 23, 2014 at 6:26 am

Hey – How did I not know you lived in CO?! I am lucky to be like the other gal who said she has a corner lot, we do too, so we have 3 raised beds. I’m not too fussy with it, I plant a bunch of stuff and whatever survives we eat!
I grew up on the Western Slope on a Peach Orchard and 40acres, so I understand your feelings about the front range. :)
I suggest pumpkins – The kids love it and it’s fun to see who fast they grow!
Enjoy your Garden!

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Kevin April 23, 2014 at 9:04 am

I suspect the problem with yard trimmings is that people put some many different types of chemicals on their yards, at least they do here. Many of those chemicals remain in the trimmings and end up in the compost. Some are so bad they can even kill off the plants you want to grow.

Right now I have two gardens, one at the farm and one at home. The one at the farm basically has to survive on its own, while I can give a bit more care to the one at home. Plus, we have planted somewhere close to 20,000 trees and shrubs in the past eight years.(I am in the great plains, where grass grows really well and we have to work to have trees.)

Playing in the dirt can be very calming. I still hate weeding, however.

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Janet April 23, 2014 at 9:10 am

Love that you guys found this really beautiful community garden, we have them (in Arlington, VA where land is a huge premium) but it’s basically everyone for themselves, i.e., nothing is provided except some free mulch. You hit the nail on the head about gardening being cathartic, I grow flowers in containers on my patio and have a small patch that I landscaped in front our townhouse. Something about working with the dirt and living things and watching them grow and thrive is just so fulfilling. My husband is not so much into the planting stage but gets his Zen on with daily watering; it doesn’t hurt that you can hold a beer while watering! ~ MrsPollo

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