By Scott Calhoun
When my wife and I moved to Tucson, Arizona, after college, we purchased a home in a new environmentally friendly development. We loved it except for one thing: The home sat on a postage-stamp-size lot - room for my succulents, but no room for veggies. Luckily, through my wife's persistence she persuaded the developer to give up a plot of land to create a community garden.
We began our community garden with volunteer help constructing raised beds out of stacked cinder blocks (also known as CMUs or 8 x 16-inch blocks). Each participant made a 4 x 8-foot bed, two blocks high. The raised beds were great for amending the soil. Veggies don't thrive in our desert cobble, so we double-dug (two shovel blades) down and added copious compost and organic matter. By the end of the first summer, watermelon vines were trailing over the edges of the raised beds. By fall folks were planting garlic, artichokes, cilantro and lots of salad greens.
One of the joys of a neighborhood garden is it brings people together. My young daughter, who previously declared herself immune to the charms of plants, got a plot with a friend and planted a moon-and-stars watermelon. They grew an eclectic mix of marigolds, peppers and watermelons in their little plot. The adults would bring their coffee cups, and chat and weed before the day warmed up.
A few lessons we learned in building our community garden:
- Individual plot holders need to be responsible for their own watering.
- Create a work schedule for weeding the pathways and common areas between plots.
- If possible include an orchard or areas for commonly shared fruit trees. In our community garden we have citrus (oranges, tangerines, tangelos, grapefruit and a lemon) as well as figs and pomegranates.
- Create a budget and collect yearly dues.
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