Mother Nature has really been giving us a hard time this year. It seems like she really wanted us to wait for spring! However, on the few days that the weather has been beautiful so far, I've been soaking it all in and riding my bike around D.C.
A few weeks back, I pedaled past a small garden with five or six people working in it. Naturally, I was curious, because I live for fresh fruits and veggies in the spring and summer and enjoy being outside as much as possible. So, I chatted with Joshua Singer, the community garden specialist for D.C.'s Department of Parks and Recreation to find out how one can get involved in local community gardening and growing some of your own produce.
Community gardens are amazing because they give D.C. residents access to garden space that they may not have otherwise. The gardens also allow you to enjoy free and organic produce, reduce your carbon footprint by growing your food locally, show kids where their food comes from and allows you to get to know your neighbors, according to Singer.
We chatted with Singer to learn everything you need to know to get started at one of the 35 community gardens located right here in the District:
Do you need any prior gardening experience?
SINGER: It helps. Or you can take any number of garden classes in D.C. if you’re new to gardening. Urban gardening is a different beast than normal gardening. Knowing what grows well in our climate, what plants won’t get stolen, how to keep critters away from your garden, etc. is super important. You can read about all the gardening classes offered in the DUG Network newsletter.
How much does it cost to join a community garden?
[It] varies depending on the garden. Most D.C. gardens are either free or don’t exceed $50 annually, and many gardens have free plots reserved for anyone who can't afford the yearly rate.
What kind of commitment is it to get involved with your community's garden?
Some gardens just require you to maintain your garden and/or pay a yearly fee. Others try to engage the community more and may have an hourly work requirement each month for public plots and site maintenance. I would recommend spending the time engaging your local community. Since not everyone in the community can get a garden plot, it's important to offer other ways to participate, like communal public plots or free programs open to the entire community. Some community gardens that don’t do this can become exclusive and divisive in their communities.
What types of plants/crops are grown at these gardens? Do gardeners get to take some home? If so, how are they dispersed?
Most community gardens have mainly personal garden plots and anyone can decide what to plant and can take home everything in their plot. Some gardens do have communal plots and there are rules to determine who can harvest or if it's open to anyone. I usually recommend growing small and fast crops to avoid any type of theft, like okra, cherry tomatoes, baby eggplant, hot peppers, greens, root crops, etc. Green Zebra tomatoes are these zesty tasting tomatoes that ripen while still green, which can throw off anyone waiting to steal a ripe red tomato. Herbs are also super easy to grow. It's always good to plant about 1/4 of the plot with native flowers to attract beneficial insects, too. There are a lot of great crops that grow regularly in this area, like ground cherries.
Do you need any of your own supplies?
It's a good practice to mix a few bags of compost in your garden soil every year write before planting. Most gardens have tools you can use, but sometimes you have to bring your own.
If you're interested in getting your green thumb on, check out this interactive Google map to see where your closest garden is: