Sunday, November 3, 2013

Community Gardens: How Did Your Garden Grow?

Gardeners diningHow did your garden grow? In Keene, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Paul Smiths, Minerva, Bolton Landing, and an increasing number of other Adirondack villages and hamlets residents are coming together to create community gardens. Keene has a very rugged landscape and many residents simply do not have relatively flat and sunny backyards for individual gardens, but the hamlet does own a large flat field where its airport, farmer’s market, and various community festivals are based.

Several years ago under the leadership of Jim Herman and Dave Mason, and with support of the town board, most especially Paul Martin, a plot of land was set aside near the community-owed Holt House, tilled, and laid out to form eight foot by eight foot plots that were made available for individuals to rent for a modest fee while being given the option of renting more than one on a space available basis.

The pitch was that it would be a communal effort and that there would be an annual spring date, held over Memorial Day weekend, to erect the fencing, spread wood chips for the paths and other tasks, and an annual fall date, held over the Columbus Day weekend, to take down the fencing and close the garden for the winter season to come.

Some communities, like Lake Placid, have created a garden that includes a garden shed, permanent fencing, and so forth while Keene, with its very public location along Route 73, decided to take a more seasonal approach of only installing deer fencing during the growing season so that vista would remain open the balance of the year.

This year, at the suggestion of Renee Cosgrove, the gardeners decided to have a post season pot-luck to share experiences as people have noticed that some seemed to have great luck with tomatoes or beans while others failed completely but did great with onions and garlic. An added value was that people in Keene do potlucks famously well, and the participants’ taste buds were not disappointed. Items shared included a cabbage, celery, onion, and tomato soup, sticky chicken cooked in a Dutch oven, a lemon chicken dish, and a chili. Side dishes featured roasted beets, butternut squash and apples, roasted fingerling potatoes, a marinated vegetable salad, and a beet and goat cheese salad. The meal was finished with lemon squares and a deep-dish apple dessert.

“Our surprise was tomatoes,” said Dave Mason. “For many years we had crappy tomatoes. This year the tomatoes kept producing and the other was peas, we got two crops of peas.”

“Chard and kale did really well in our garden,” said Merle Tanis. “Bernie and Ethel used an organic spray on their fingerling potatoes and they had no problem with bugs while others even though they covered their potato plants with netting and were devastated. What did you do? Your potatoes didn’t seem to get hit at all.”

“Nothing,” I responded. “I neither sprayed nor covered them and they were not hit by bugs until the very end. I got a bumper group of potatoes. My beans produced like crazy and for a long time, and my cherry tomatoes and herbs also did well. I couldn’t grow a radish or a beet.”

“My carrots, beets, and radishes, all my root vegetables, were great, but my cucumbers were really poor,” said Dan Plumley.

“That’s funny, I used cucumber seeds you gave me and they did great,” I said.

“My onions and garlic did really well,” said Martha Lee Owen, “but the funny thing is that I plant my rows east to west and those on the south side of the row did really well and those on the north side did poorly.”

“Some things do really well and some things fail,” said Jim Herman. “The last two years the sunflowers were terrible and this year they were terrific, they went gang busters. It shows that you cannot predict what will work. We used to get our seeds from Johnny’s of Maine and other specialty places, but have learned that those from the Valley Hardware do just as well. However I do recommend Alaska peas. They are the exception. I Googled Food Source to find them.”

“I wonder how many practice crop rotation,” said Bernie Webb. “Ethel and I do it and well found that it works well for us.”

Jim shared that the group had a surplus of $500 and asked how they would like to use it be it to reduce next year’s plot rental fees or towards certain purchases for the whole garden. The gardeners agreed to purchase more communal tools and to seek composted cow manure proposing that it be piled on the central communal plot used for the squashes so that any residue would fertilize that area. Several agreed to share what they grew, such as one person growing potatoes and someone else taking on the kale and they sharing the results.

“What works is everyone helping out,” said Herman. “It really makes a difference. What worked was starting a bit later on work days to give people plenty of time to come from church or the Farmer’s Market. This has been a great year. There was a great sense of commitment. Most of those who started out stayed through the through the season plus we got a few new gardeners. The first years many signed up but either found they didn’t have the time or the ability to commit what it takes to maintain a garden. We now have a good group. I think it is great.”

“Paul Martin did a great job of getting the water on early this year,” said Martha Lee.

“We all need to give Paul a word of thanks, and to Frank Owen for his contributions,” said Herman.  Then it was time to pass the desserts.

“This is a perfect place for our post season potluck,” said Bernie. The others agreed.

Photo: Keene gardeners at dinner.

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Naj Wikoff is an artist who founded Creative Healing Connections, the Lake Placid Institute, and co-founded the Adirondack Film Society-Lake Placid Film Forum.A two-time Fulbright Senior Scholar, Wikoff has served as president of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, director of arts and healing at the C. Everett Koop Institute, Dartmouth Medical School, and director of Arts and Productions for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Wikoff also covers Adirondack community culture events for the Lake Placid News.

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