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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

  

 

Community Gardens


How to Host a Community Garden


Frequently Asked Questions About Hosting a Community Garden:
Want a garden space? Have land to offer?
Water
The Garden Plot
How large should the garden be?
Soil
Converting your plot to a garden
Tools & Equipment
People
Budget
 

 

 

Want a garden space?   Have land to offer?

We get a lot of calls from people who are not refugees but would like to participate in community gardens.  Unfortunately, there isn't anyone coordinating gardens on a large scale in Boise, but there are quite a few smaller, neighborhood ones scattered around town, and plenty of possibility to create your own.  You might also have a look at the City of Boise's Community Garden Policy.

All five of our refugee community gardens are on borrowed land.  We also get a lot of calls from people, schools, churches, and organizations interested in starting their own community gardens or donating additional land for use as refugee gardens or farms. 

We do always have a waiting list of gardeners, and many non-refugees in Boise are interested in community gardening as well.  Chances are your land could be put to work growing vegetables instead of growing grass or weeds.  If you're thinking about a project like this, the following information is for you to consider, based on what we’ve learned in our work thus far.
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Water

In Idaho, vegetables generally require 2 inches of water per week.  Generally the kinds of soils we have are pretty good at holding water, so it's best to water for a longer time, just once or twice a week, allowing the water to soak deep and roots to grow deep too.  Many people overwater their gardens!

The first thing you should consider is where your irrigation water will be coming from.  Some of our sites use water from irrigation channels and others use well water.  If your site only has access to city water, the irrigation costs will probably too high to be feasible. 

Irrigation water is ideal, as it’s usually almost free, or included in a tax that the landowner pays whether or not he or she actually uses the water.  If they garden can be flood irrigated, you can save the costs of sprinkler equipment or drip tape, plus, plants love flood irrigation.  Using well water, we pay about $50 per month to water a one acre garden.

Some of our gardens have sprinkler systems.  It’s best to have the sprinkler on a timer.  Typically it’s best to do a deep watering, for several hours, just once or twice a week.  You can test the coverage and amount of water provided by your sprinkler system by putting out cups at various locations in the garden before watering.  In some cases we have reconfigured sprinkler systems that were originally set up to water grass, by adding risers and changing the sprinkler heads. 

Digging new sprinkler lines is difficult, but we’ve done that before too.  At the Somali Bantu Community Farm, we put in about 800 feet of sprinkler line for a cost of about $750, not including labor!  This included underground pipes, risers, and sprinkler heads.  We purchased the supplies at Grover Electric and Plumbing Supply.  The staff there was very helpful and patiently assisted our refugee clients in choosing appropriate products.  We did the installation ourselves and it was a lot of work.  We rented a trench digger from Tate’s Rents but it was not easy to use.  It’s easy to use Google Earth to measure your plot and estimate how much sprinkler line you’d need.

While some crops prefer drip irrigation to overhead sprinkler irrigation, and it is certainly simpler to install, we have found that drip tape is generally more expensive and time consuming to maintain, but it is also a possibility if that’s what suits your site best.  Some of our smaller garden sites have had success with soaker hoses, which are a little easier to use than drip tape.
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The Garden Plot

After water availability, the second most important consideration is location.  We have had the greatest success with gardens located very near the gardeners’ homes, ideally within walking distance, or with access to public transportation.  Whether your gardeners are likely to be new Americans, your neighbors, church members, etc, gardens are more likely to receive the most attention if they are easily accessible.

Currently, we are most interested in helping to sponsor a new garden on the State Street side of town.  We have some clients living in the area of 29th and State who are interested in gardening, but we don’t have a site in this area.
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How large should the garden be?

The largest of our community gardens is behind the Girl Scouts offices on Etheridge Lane.  The gardens vary a little bit in size, the newer ones are smaller, but the largest are about 30X40 feet.  We have 28 families gardening on just under one acre.  This size garden plot is sufficient to feed a large family but too small for commercial growing.   The smallest plots are 12 X 24 feet raised beds at the Hillview Church Garden.  Even a small plot can provide a surprising amount of veggies for family consumption, and it’s possible to add very high quality soil to a small raised bed in increase production.

Currently we’re most interested larger plots, of one acre or more, that could be used for some commercial growing as well as family gardening. 
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Soil

The soil in this area requires some soil amendments for growing vegetables.  The easiest thing to do in your first year of growing is to have a truckload of finished compost delivered from Magic Valley Compost.  They will deliver a tractor trailer sized load, maybe 25 tons according to the driver, for $850.  This compost is made from cow manure and should be applied at one inch over the garden and tilled in 5 inches.  You can also start making your own compost on site.  Local farmers recommend 20 yards per acre of compost.

At our sites with smaller garden plots, gardeners often bring their own soil amendments, including bagged compost available at garden stores, and various kinds of compost teas.  All of our gardens use organic practices, so we don’t allow chemical fertilizers of any kind. 

Green manures are also a wonderful, organic way to add nutrients to your soil.  A green manure is a crop that you plant specifically for the purpose of enriching the soil.  Some of them are leguminous plants that add nitrogen to the soil, others have deep roots that can break up hard soil or bring underground nutrients closer to the surface.  You can order seeds for several varieties at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, or at Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply.  Green manure management is a little bit complicated, and we can provide more information if you’ve never tried it before.

If you would like to have your soil tested, you can send it to Western Laboratories and have a soil test done for around $40.  Their website also includes a LOT of good information on soils.
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Converting your plot to a garden

You can get rid of pesky, water-guzzling grass in two ways. 

1. Rent a sod cutter and roll it up and remove it. You lose some topsoil this way.  You’ll need a crew to do the work and somewhere to put the grass.

2. Mulch.  Kill your grass by covering it with layers of cardboard, newspaper, leaves and lawn clippings, etc.  You should start this process in the fall.  This method is probably less labor intensive, and can enrich your soil instead of removing some of it, but takes some months of planning.
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Tools and Equipment

Your garden should start with a minimum of a few hoes, shovels, rakes, and a wheelbarrow, and other common tools for the gardeners to use.  The project now owns a small tiller, a chipper/shredder, and a pickup truck that are shared among various garden sites.

We usually rent some equipment, such as larger tillers for initial ground tilling, sod cutters, trench diggers, anything big that we only use once in a while.  We usually use Tate’s Rents.  They have given us some free rentals and there is a form on their website that you can fill out to request a free rental.  We have also used Equip Rent, who rented us some items at a discount.  When the garden at the synagogue was created, they rented a small tractor, which is a good idea for a large space.

Some of the gardens have rented portapotties, which cost around $90 per month from A1 Company.  This is up to you and might not be necessary.

A small shed to keep the tools in is a good idea for keeping things neat and preventing theft.  Sheds vary a lot in price. You could check Home Depot for some examples.

Some of the gardens also have a shaded area with a picnic table for resting and socializing.

We usually ask the gardeners to provide all seeds, plants, and any additional soil amendments that they want.  In reality, we get a lot of these things donated.  Some gardeners also bring their own tools during busy times if there aren’t enough to go around.
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People

Hosting a community garden is a lot of work!  There should be at least one dedicated volunteer to coordinate the garden, allocate spaces, manage tools, donations, and the irrigation system.  This person could receive an educational stipend through Americorps.  Your organization should have a team of other volunteers on hand to help with creating and maintaining the garden. 
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Budget

Here is a sample budget to help with your planning.  Water costs are not included as it depends completely on which water source you use.

Tools

Quantity

Cost

Total

6 shovels

6

$15

$90

6 hoes

6

$15

$90

6 other tools

6

$15

$90

1 wheelbarrow

1

$70

$70

 

 

 

 

Irrigation Equipment

800 ft. sprinklers

$750

$750

Compost Delivery

1 truckload

$850

$850

Tiller/equipment rental

 

$200

$200

Shed

1

$500 (varies)

$500

Portapotty

5 months

$90/month

$450

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

$3090

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