July Toolshed: Tips for Garden Leaders

Meeting the Mid-summer ChallengePotatoBeetleWorkParty-PutneyCG-2014

Mid-summer can be at once the most rewarding and the most challenging part of community gardening.  It’s when the reason for the season really kicks in: plants are more robust and filling up your garden with green, your harvests are beginning to be more substantial and your early season work is really beginning to pay off.  This is also the time for vacations, camp, and the general summer play that pulls many away from the gardens for periods of time.  In these gaps, as you well know, there is the greatest likelihood for gardens to become over-grown and favorite places for pests and diseases that can mean a swift end to this happy time of healthy gardens.  Faced with these facts of gardening life, here are few things you can do to keep your garden on the up-and-up during this busy time:

  • Have compassion (for others and yourself). If you run into the sorts of problems described above, this can be a frustrating time for garden leaders…people not showing up for work parties, gardeners frustrated with their neighbor’s tall weeds.  Recognize the busy nature of this time and that all gardeners get involved for different reasons.  Ultimately community gardens are meant to enrich people’s lives, not burden them.  Set your summer work party schedule and other summer events with input from your gardeners to avoid extraneous work days and encourage their investment.
  • Keep the right tools on hand. Bring ease to the core chores of the month—weeding, watering and staking. Whether your garden group is supplying the tools and materials or gardeners are supplying their own, your mid-summer list should include:
    • straw for mulching (or other mulch, such as chopped leaves or untreated grass clippings, as long as it’s weed-free),
    • a functioning hose and sprayer or a more automated watering system (i.e. drip irrigation, sprinklers),
    • tools to ease weeding (i.e. hand cultivator, triangle hoe, etc.),
    • and twine, poles and other staking tools to keep things off the ground and less susceptible to disease.
  • Preempt gardener questions. Share over email and post of copy of the following items in your garden shed:
    • a list of garden policies (click here for more info on developing garden guidelines),
    • information on organic fertilizers and pest control methods (find a few tips here),
    • photos of common garden weeds, pests and diseases (here are a few examples: common pests and common weeds).
  • Assign a point-person. With so many away and preoccupied this time of the season, it’s especially important to have someone dedicated to overseeing upkeep and answering gardener questions.  But not just you—you need a vacation too!  Set a schedule early in the season with a core team of volunteers/gardeners to rotate who’s in charge, and share contact information with gardeners.  Also, having a buddy system so that gardeners cover for each other while away is a great way to take the burden off of a single person.
  • Put your guidelines into practice. Many community gardens lay out consequences in official guidelines, so that gardeners understand what maintenance standard is expected of them and the outcome of a neglected plot.  Fully abandoned plots (if it should come to that) can be donated to a local food shelf or community group for the remainder of the season—a way to turn a negative into a positive!
  • Enjoy it! Find ways to celebrate this time of beauty and bounty in the garden.  Perhaps rather than putting tons of energy into your own garden events this time of the season, tag onto other great happenings in your community, such as community dinners, summer programs, educational events through your community center or town parades.  Have fun and have a great month!