Recently, my partner and I expanded our garden outside the confines of our little urban plot. We applied for and were approved for a small patch in the Franklin County Community Garden program. Our 12’X12’ plot is part of the International Harvest garden which dedicates a large tract of land in Columbus to gardening. Fully 2/3rds of the garden is dedicated and used by Myanmar and Somali refugees to grow much of their own food. One third of the garden is available for people like us who want to grow more of our own fruit and vegetables; or for another couple we met Rob and Karen, who own a condominium and have no space for a garden.
Community gardening in the United States is slowly taking hold. With land costs at a premium, it takes special effort and the right mind set to set aside land for gardening rather than it being sold off for commercial or residential development. Community gardens appear across the globe in areas where people have moved from an agrarian lifestyle to a more industrial one. In the early days of the industrial revolution, this type of gardening was encouraged so that the common people would have something to do with their time other than be in a pub or organizing with others. Industrial employers could pay their labor less since they could grow their own food and it was a way to keep tabs on people.
In the UK, these community garden plots are called Allotments, they are notoriously difficult to get and the allotment holders are held to strict standards. The pressure is equal in these areas for development, if not more so with many areas of the UK selling off allotment land to developers. They are in real danger of losing these precious green spaces.
We were fortunate to be accepted, and we think our little plot is very precious. This weekend was the first time the garden was available to us (the farmer who was to plow the area had difficulties and was delayed) and we got straight to work.
If any of you are gardeners or long time readers, you know the key to any successful garden is building the soil. While the soil was quite friable after being tilled, I know as the long hot summer goes on, that beautiful, rich Ohio clay soil will go from friable (loose) to being as hard as a piece of china. This morning we went to our plot with the aim to augment the soil. We brought along quite a bit of hummus as well as a little composted manure.
We emptied our bags of enrichments over the soil and raked it around to evenly cover the ground and to mix the two materials. We then set to work cultivating the material into the native soil.
Next we segregated our plot into nine squares approximately 3’X3’ with walking paths between them; the plot looked a bit like a tic tac toe board. Next, in the middle of each square, we created a mound approximately two feet in diameter. We are planning a three sisters garden for our first year so this is the set up for that kind of garden. Next we mulched our path ways and set about planting. Before we started planting our vegetable crops, we planted some lovely annual verbena at the corners of the plot to add beauty and to attract pollinators.
According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. The corn provides structure for the beans to grow, the beans provide the next years crop of corn with nitrogen fixed to the bean roots which are left in the ground after the vine is removed. The squash provides a living mulch that keeps the soil cool, moist and relatively weed free.
We chose to alternate mounds for planting the corn and bean portion of the three sisters garden; creating an X pattern in our plot. In each corn and bean mound, we then planted our corn in four holes on each mound, placing 1-2 seeds in each 1 inch hole. In two weeks we will plant our beans, allowing the corn to germinate and begin its skyward journey. We will then give the beans a week to germinate before we return to plant our squash on the alternating mounds. Summer and winter squash are quick to germinate and grow so we want our other plants to have a bit of a head start.
We are planting the margins of the plot with beets and onions. We plan on making a savory and sweet marmalade with them for holiday gifts and definitely can use the extra gardening space the plot affords us. Since I forgot to get the extra beet seeds we needed, we went ahead and planted out our onions so they can begin the process of growing and swelling.
I will keep you updated on our progress as we plant out our new, beautiful plot. Here’s hoping for a bountiful harvest (some of which will be donated to a local food pantry) and some great community building!