I was asked to offer more detail regarding communication and administration of our Giving Garden as sort of an epilog to the Kalamazoo Giving Garden blog posts I submitted earlier this spring.
When I was working for a living, we had a saying that “If something goes wrong, it’s usually because somebody didn’t tell someone about something.” How true I have found that to be in all projects.
Communication is key in managing our large community garden.
Garden Logs and Email Keep the Giving Garden Volunteers Up-to-Date
Following each work shift, one of the two responsible coordinators prepares a “Garden Log” and emails it to all coordinators.
(Prior to email becoming “universal” we used a regular mailbox on site to leave notes for the next shift. As you see (photo to the left), it’s still there for sentimental reasons.)
The garden log is simply a report, in a standard format, that documents what happened during a particular work shift and shows what needs to be done during the next or future shifts. It lists the volunteers who were there, what was accomplished and provides a “To do” list for the next shift and if it rained, how much. There is also a “Notes” section for miscellaneous information.
I have posted a copy of one of our logs from last year below. The Garden Logs not only provide a reference source for what was done and when, but combined, become a historical journal for the garden.
Sample Garden Log from the Giving Garden
Garden Log for July 25, 2011
Weeded Cukes, Okra and Egg Plants (about 100 lbs of mostly nut sedge)
Planted 5 rows of snap beans
Beans 14.6 lbs
Bell Peppers 25 lbs
Zukes 11.6 lbs
Summer Sq. 8.2 lbs
Okra 5.8 lbs
Roasting Peppers 4.8 lbs
Banana Peppers 1lb
Total 89.6 (The Food Bank had a truck in town and said they would pick up even if we were under the 100 lbs)
Mulch squash (where the trailer of mulch is parked)
Weed where needed ( melons, pickles, Tomatoes where large weeds have grown,)
Empty and wash the buckets with weeds in them left by the previous shift.
Empty rock bucketsNotes:
If you have boxes and/buckets of various sizes, please ask before bringing them. The shed is filling with stuff we may not be able to use.
Please do not leave partially filled buckets of weeds. They rot quickly and stink. All buckets should be emptied and rinsed after each shift. SEE SOPs!!
There are black plastic bags in the shed that should be used for “bad Weeds” ( Nut Sedge and Purslane) to solarize them. We are putting them in back behind the “Good” compost pile. The “Bad” pile is the closest one near the rock pile. There has been some confusion and weeds have been mixed. I know we should mark them, we did once, but the signs disappeared.
The cookies and sweet bread at break were wonderful. Thanks to Jan P and Diana.
White and Bulletin Boards Help Communicate Immediate and Key Garden Information
We also have a white board in our shed where we leave notes regarding immediate issues so the next shift won’t forget or miss them. We also have a bulletin board where we post our planting guides, and contact information for key personnel and miscellaneous “stuff”.
Garden Standard Operating Procedures Help Ensure ‘Best Practice’
Another important piece of communication is our Garden Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs. We feel that SOPs are vital to standardize the way things are done and to ensure continued “best practice”.
It also serves as training tool for new coordinators. The SOP contains the following sections:
III. Planting Guide The planting guide is a table that shows distances between rows and plants. This is important because it accommodates the use of our cultivating equipment without destroying the plants. It is posted in the shed on our bulletin board. This section also has a mulching priority list showing the order in which our plants get mulched.
IV. Coordinator Responsibilities. This section covers things like working with volunteers, safety issues, cleaning equipment before storing, preparation of the log, lock up procedures before leaving and so on.
V. Growing. This section covers, thinning plants, pruning, weeding, rock collection and placement (we have many 5 gallon buckets placed around the garden for rocks so they don’t get thrown into grassy areas and hit by mowers). This section also addresses control of plant disease and insects. It lists acceptable pesticides if use of pesticides becomes necessary and how to use and store them. It also includes control of animals such as deer, woodchucks and ground squirrels.
VI. Harvesting. This section describes when and how our various vegetables should be harvested. It includes, picking (for example, stems must be removed from tomatoes so they do not bruise other tomatoes in the container when picking and during shipping) cleaning the vegetables, sorting and packing for pickup. Contact information for the Food Bank and local agencies using our produce is also included.
VII. End of Season Activities. This section covers garden clean-up, take down and storage of tomato cages, preparation of motorized equipment for winter storage, storage of hoses, drip lines, picnic and wash tables, and wheel barrows. The last activity is to tell the company that provides our water, that they can shut it off and blow out the lines.
Year Long Coordination Keeps Things Rolling
About a month after we close the garden for the year, we have a coordinator meeting to review the growing season. We look at what we did and how – what worked and what did not, what we grew too much of or too little, and did what we grew match our volunteer base?
Based on that review, our mid winter meeting determines what and how much will be planted the next growing season. The planting guide is developed, and the seeds ordered and the SOP “tweaked” if necessary. Our final early spring meeting determines work shifts and responsibilities and what equipment needs repair and or replacement and what additional tools will need to be purchased or replaced.
It is this kind or communication and administration that has facilitated running the Kalamzaoo Giving Garden smoothly for more than 15 years and allows us to “lead by committee.”
– JC Schneider
Kalamazoo Michigan Extension Master Gardener