There are a plethora of reasons to plan your very own community garden. It’s a great way to grow more crops while sharing the workload. Are you wondering what goes in to starting a community garden? Need ideas for an already existing community garden? Or maybe you just want to be more successful in your own garden? I have 5 steps to help get your questions answered, and send you on your way to start and maintain your own community garden.
We knew there were many benefits to community gardening, so last year we decided to jump in and start our very first community garden with our own neighbors. I have a not-so-surprising confession: I hate weeding. I mean, does anyone actually enjoy it? One of the great things about having a community garden is I’m not the only person responsible for heading to the garden to weed every single day. It is so nice to be able to share that work load with friends.
Most of the time, starting a garden also requires some monetary investment. This may be in the form of fencing, plants and seeds, or a truckload of manure or dirt. The great thing about growing a garden with your friends and neighbors is that any cost incurred can be shared. And despite spending less individually, your harvest can be greater than it would be if you were going it alone. More hands = more successful crops!
Now let’s get to the steps!
1. Choose who to start a community garden with
When you are deciding who to garden with, the most important thing is to consider is if you trust your people. Choose friends that you know have a good work ethic. You just want to make sure that the people you choose to garden with are people you can rely on to do their part. And remember, you have to follow through and do your part, too!
It’s all too easy to take the benefits of a garden without having to carry your weight. So make sure you and the people you choose to garden with are all willing to put forth a similar amount of effort.
It’s almost inevitable that someone will have an opinion about the garden that conflicts with your own, so it’s important to keep an open mind. Try not to be offended if someone wants to move something around or feels that they have a better idea. Starting a garden together is about learning and, yes, growing in more ways than one.
I know this may be hard to hear for some of you, because I know it was for me. Here goes… maybe your way isn’t always the best way. (gasp) Or maybe it is, but part of collaborating on something is being willing to give and take when necessary. Starting a community garden creates a wonderful opportunity to learn how to compromise!
2. Establish communication with your partners
Good communication with your partners is essential to growing a successful garden! When you’re first starting out, it’s a great idea to invite everyone in to a brainstorming session where you all share your thoughts and hopes for the garden. This can be done in person or digitally.
Digital communication is very handy these days. I highly recommend that everyone participating in the garden join a group text, or start a group chat on a platform like Facebook, Google Hangouts, or Telegram (Telegram is awesome by the way–you can join my group here). This chat should be dedicated only to garden talk so there is less opportunity for confusion or for someone to miss something.
Participating in a group chat is an easy way for all the parties involved to communicate and drop quick updates about when they’re going to the garden, or what tasks they’ve completed.
Setting a schedule can also be helpful. An example of this would be assigning a day of the week for each person or family participating to go down to the garden. This helps keep everyone equally involved and makes garden maintenance much easier. On your gardening days, be sure to drop everyone a line and let them know specifics of what you did and what you saw that still needs to be done, like weeding a certain area or planting a specific crop.
3. Brainstorm ideas together
This may seem like I’m backtracking a little, but brainstorming really is a separate step from establishing communication. Get together with your partners and answer these questions, along with any others you might think of:
- How much space do we have?
- How do we want to utilize this space?
- What crops do we like to eat the most?
- Is there anything special or specific we’d like to grow?
- How much time are we able to put in?
- Do we want to till or do a no-till garden?
- Do we want to do only heirloom plants so that we can save seeds for next year?
Once you answer these questions, you should be ready to lay out a detailed garden plan.
4. Draw a plan and get to work
Once you know exactly how much physical space you have to work with, you can draw out where you will be placing your crops. Figure out how you want to lay your garden out. Grab some graph paper, draw out the dimensions of your garden, and start planning your rows.
Some things to keep in mind when you are drawing a garden plan is height and spacing. The last thing you want to do is not give your plants adequate sunlight. When you draw your garden plan, make sure you are putting your taller crops like corn, tomatoes, and vining beans/peas on the north side. Shorter plants or root veggies like lettuce, radishes, and carrots will do better on the south side. You can interplant root veggies along with taller crops but be sure to think about the direction that the sun moves so that they still get enough sunlight.
Once you all have worked out your plan together, make sure everyone gets a copy of the finished product. That way when each of you goes to the garden to work, you know exactly where to plant and what is growing where.
5. Reap the benefits
When growing a community garden, the workload isn’t the only thing that’s shared. The harvest is, too! Ideally you should see an abundant harvest by working together with your people. But regardless, figuring out how to split the crops goes back to choosing the right partners. If you all have a servant mindset and truly want to help each other, splitting things up should be easy. That’s really all there is to it.
Another great thing about community gardening is that you have people to can and preserve with! If you grow a large enough garden, you can plan a canning day to preserve your precious harvest. Figure out whose house you want to use, and take over the kitchen.
I hosted several canning days in my own kitchen last year. I got to can tomatoes, pears, and apples with some of my best friends, and it was so much fun. We worked together, got a system down, and learned so much from each other about how to water bath can! We made some great canning recipes and did quite a bit of freezing as well.
Final thoughts on starting a community garden
Don’t take yourselves too seriously. And don’t get upset when things don’t go exactly how you hoped they would. Personally, I am in the middle of my second year of community gardening and am treating everything as an experiment. I encourage you to do the same. If the result is good, great! If it’s bad, that’s okay. You still learned something!
Want to read more gardening tips? Click here! You can also watch a video my husband and I put together on how to start and maintain a community garden below.