As I mentioned in my last blog on the history of the Giving Garden, many volunteers and partners work to plan, prepare, manage and sustain the Giving Garden of over 15 years.
Work begins each spring as early as weather allows and ends when harvest has been completed. The garden is prepared for winter, usually early November. Our committee of Master Gardener Coordinators meets three times during the winter to plan for the next season. Past season activities, planting and harvest are reviewed and adjustments are made where necessary.
Coming up with practical planting plans
One of the hardest things we have to do is to control our enthusiasm so we don’t plant more than we are able to manage! Here are the nuts and bolts of how we put together our planting plan:
- We currently plant 1.8 acres of the approximately 5 acre area.
- We also have sixteen 25′ x 30′ plots for private or personal gardens that are offered to community residents. Employees of the companies whose land we use have priority.
- We use a computer generated planting guide, developed by one of our coordinators, that dictates where everything is to be planted and how much (see fig 1).
- Taking plant families into consideration, the planting guide insures proper crop rotation. Using our plan, crops cycle every three years. Some areas are allowed to go fallow and cover crops are planted to help recondition the soil and add nutrients. The planting guide also allows us to better estimate the number of seeds and bedding plants that we will have to order. All seeds and plants that we need are donated by local merchants.
Below is Figure 1, a picture of the computer generated planting plan. A larger version can be downloaded as a PDF here> 2011 Humphrey – Kendall Master Gardener_GivingGarden_Kalamazoo.
How the work gets done
As soon as the ground can be worked, a local farmer plows and disks the garden for us and spreads the fertilizer. After work begins, we have five three-hour work sessions scheduled each week. We get an average of 10 volunteers per shift, some work as many as three shifts, others lesser amounts. Two coordinators are assigned to each shift to assign duties, instruct where necessary and oversee volunteer activities. All volunteers sign in so we can monitor the number of volunteers and how much time they give to the project. The work includes cultivating, planting, mulching, weeding, and harvesting vegetables, as well as maintaining the garden equipment and keeping the area mowed and well groomed.
Following each shift, one of the coordinators prepares a “Garden Log” that is emailed to all coordinators. The log documents the volunteers present at that shift, what was accomplished, and what needs to be done by the next shift. A notes section is used for general information. The log allows the coordinators for the following shift to prepare ahead of time for what needs to be done and servers as “diary” that documents activity for the year which helps us plan for the next season. The logs also serve as historical documentation for the project.
Controlling the Weeds – Mulch
We mulch our entire garden to help control weeds. We have a win-win agreement with the city to provide our mulch. They deliver around 250 cubic yards of compressed leaves each fall. We get the leaves for mulch, and the city saves time and gasoline by not having to drive to their landfill which is much further away than our garden.
On site Storage
We have two sheds on site to store equipment. One shed belonged to Humphrey Products. In 2010 we constructed a 10’x16’ wood-framed shed for additional storage. Garden equipment includes a small 25-year-old tractor, walk-behind rototillers, and hand tools that have been donated over the years. This equipment has allowed us to enlarge the area cultivated, increase productivity, and improve the quality of the harvest. Mechanical equipment has contributed to increased output and decreased sweat equity, always welcome enhancements.
Harvest at the Giving Garden
When harvest begins, vegetables are picked, washed and or wiped, placed in boxes and weighed. The Food Bank picks up the harvest in refrigerated trucks for delivery to their warehouse. The frequency of pickups is coordinated with the Food Bank based on the amount of vegetables ready for harvest.
On Saturday, the harvest (up to 100 lbs) is picked up by the Ministries for Community, for local use. Our harvest has ranged from 15 to over 22 thousand pounds since 2006. Variation is caused mostly by weather conditions and pests. 2010 was our best year, producing 22,502 lbs. That included 9,879 lbs of tomatoes, 2,500 lbs of cucumbers and 1,700 lbs of winter squash. This past year our total was 17,312.
Following is a list of the vegetables we grow at the Giving Garden:
- Snap Beans (Green & Yellow)
- Pole Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Egg Plant
- Cucumber (Slicers & Pickle varieties)
- Peppers (Sweet and Hot)
- Tomatoes (Slicers & Roma’s)
- Pumpkins (Pie and Jack-O-Lantern)
- Squash (Summer & Winter varieties)
- Collard Greens
- Potatoes (Red & White Skin)
-Blog post article submitted by JC Schneider
Kalamazoo Michigan Extension Master Gardener