Community Garden Issues

                Last year I joined a growing number of people who are utilizing community gardens to grow a portion of their own food.  I have a home garden, but it gets only about 7 hours of sun per day.  I looked at getting the plot in order to see how I could grow things getting 12 hours + of sun.  There are plusses and minuses to the community garden.  I’ll discuss the negatives in this article.

                The first problem with a community garden is the immense disease and pest pressure I see at the garden.  The first place I noticed this was on the cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, zucchini).  These plants are very susceptible to powdery mildew and every plant was heavily infected.  Now, the problem could have been isolated, but I found that very few people treated their plants with any organic fungicide.  So, it spread like wildfire, and I saw no one get any cucumbers.  The vines withered and died before anything grew. At my home garden, I had some minor issues with powdery mildew, but I was able to control it with organic sprays.   The next was with Mexican bean beetles.  I had never had these before in my home garden, but they were everywhere in the community garden.  I tried to protect mine, but they succumbed to the voracious beetle.    The home garden had none.  Finally, the tomatoes got late blight fairly early.  It decimated almost all of the tomatoes in the garden.  I was fortunate to have planted a determinate variety, but I still lost yield due to the blight.  I had no blight in my home garden at all.  In all, I was surprised how quickly the diseases and pests spread to wreak havoc on the garden.

                The second problem gives rise to the first.  This is the lack of diversity among the plants.  It seemed as though everyone just packed their plots with tomatoes and peppers.  So, it was effectively almost a monoculture.  Of course this led to disease and pests because they had plenty of hosts to infect.  I noticed that some people, obviously people who had a better grasp of gardening, planted many different types of plants.  For instance, I saw one plot that was swiss chard, onions, kale, beets and broccoli.  Very few other people were planting these and they ended up with what looked like a good harvest.  It appeared as though disease and pests couldn’t get a strong foothold due to their diversity.  I used half my plot for Swiss chard, spinach, and tatsoi, which were similarly not affected.  We’ll see what happens this year and if people learn from the mistake.

                The third problem has more to do with the overall nature of the community garden sign up.  It’s  a year long lease, so being a first time gardener, I had no idea about the soil.  It ended up having too much clay, so I am going to need to amend it.  The one thing I was not sure about was being able to keep the same plot (we had a half plot, so I don’t know if we get upgraded next year to a full plot).  This also led to us taking over a very overgrown and poorly tended plot.  So, I had to do a lot of weeding and tilling to prepare the bed in the spring.  Since I left the plot in such great condition the entire year and weeded down to the last plant at the end, I want to use the same plot this year.  This way, I can control the amendments, crop rotation and overall soil health of my plot.

                I would say that the community garden was a good experience.  I learned about some new pests and had the opportunity to see how I gardened in better sun.  I feel like I need to stretch the types of plants I am growing this year to avoid some of the problems I discussed above.