Community Gardening: Planting in Phases

A garden isn’t built in a day. Each plant is rolled out in phases like the numerous rehearsals leading up to a big show. Except this isn’t a musical, it’s the production of flowers and vegetables slowly becoming their own over hours, days, and weeks of balancing their given sources of temperature, light, water, and space. Some plants are quick learners and memorize all their lines before the rest like the green beans I started on my windowsill that kept out-growing their containers. Others are more methodical, developing deliberate steps over time to master their performance like the sweet peppers who entered into the garden plot scene second to last. No one plant is better than another but they each carve their own path to progress to the final performance. With time, effort, patience, and a bit of luck with the natural elements, we cross our fingers, say a little prayer, and whisper “break a leg” hoping they will do their best as we gently pat the soil around them.

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The garden plot had a considerable amount of planning to determine which plants would be most successful in the span of one season for beginner gardeners. We also chose vegetables that we like to eat so that if and when they harvest that no food would go to waste. In preparation for our first planting day, I read and reread the seed packets calculating how much space each plant would need and how many I could sow in each of our square plots. This plan had several drafts in my sketchbook and was edited throughout the planting process.

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I scattered wildflower seeds in my first square to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies to the garden. My front and center plot was designated for green onions and and the last square in the first row had carrot seeds. In the early days after planting these seeds, I didn’t get out to the garden enough to keep the carrot and green onions seeds moist so we never saw sprouts from these square plots. We ended up aborting the mission by double-digging the carrot and green onion plots to transplant tomatoes and sweet peppers in their sections weeks later. IMG_1969

The sweet peppers and tomatoes needed a little support in the early days so we used take-out chopsticks for each plant. They have been adjusting well to their new environment and I look forward to seeing them grow.

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Sweet Peppers
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Beefsteak Tomatoes
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Tomato Patch

In the second row, I made zucchini hills with mounds of soil by sowing five seeds into the top of each hill. Some of the zucchini got a head start from containers indoors. Note to Self: Zucchini seeds are most successful when directly sown.  The transplants yellowed and I thought I was going to lose them but they have since come around with regular watering and have begun to flower.

Zucchini Hills

In the center of the garden, we transplanted four strawberry plants that we purchased from a garden center. The strawberries are a perennial strand called “Everbearing” that produce red flowers and multiple harvests of berries throughout the season. These tiny berries grow from the center of each flower and have to be picked as soon as they fully color for their best taste. So far we have picked seventeen strawberries from these plants in the past month.

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Strawberry Plants

Also in the second row are rows of bush green beans. I had to double-dig more soil to extend my square into a pathway because they needed more room in-between their rows. The beans were growing extremely well but have recently been tampered with tiny holes punched through their leaves. Since the community garden is purely organic and doesn’t allow the use of pesticides, I have been discussing ideas with one of our gardening neighbors who claims that shaking white pepper on her green bean sprouts has saved them from being eaten by pesky insects. 

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Bush Green Beans

 The last row of our garden plot is for experimentation. We bought four sweet pepper transplants from Bullard’s Farm Market to have a greater chance of success of growing sweet peppers compared to the pepper plants that I started from seeds in the first row. We also sowed watermelon and cantaloupe seeds in 12 inch hills and have seen a few sprouts poke through the surface. It’s hard to tell the sprouts from weeds so we’re carefully monitoring this section.

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The final square is scheduled for Derek’s personal project of growing slips from a store-bought sweet potato. He elevated the potato in a cup of water with skewers and changed the water every couple of days to keep it fresh. It does well in heat so we kept the sprouting potato in the kitchen counter without any natural light source. It grew leaves on top and roots in the water.

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When the potato slips had gotten too tall, we carefully plucked the stems off of the top and placed them in their own cups of water to grow roots.

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A sprouting Potato

These individual slips will be transferred to the last square in our community garden to grow sweet potatoes. It is an amazing transformation to see progress from one stage to the next.

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Sweet Potato slips

The finale of the garden production was to plant Sunflower seeds around the perimeter of our plot for decoration, pollination, and a natural fence. Last summer, it was a treat to have sunflowers growing from containers when the bird seed dropped into my pots on the porch and started sprouting. They could only grow to a certain height before they withered due to lack of space in the containers so it will be exciting to see how these sunflowers do in the open ground.

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Summer of 2019’s “accidental” sunflowers crowded in pots from the fallen bird seed
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The Mammoth Russian Sunflowers that will line the garden plot perimeter

Over the past month, the garden plot has been gradually taking shape from empty squares to lush, green leaves. I added mulch to the pathway in-between the square plots so that I don’t accidentally step on any plants when I’m tugging a hose through the garden. It seems like every time that we visit our garden that there is more that could be done so it is rewarding to see steps of progress from our hard work.

At this stage, it is exciting to see growth because everything is so new to us beginning our rookie gardening season. There are only a few months for us to see results before the season is over and the community garden is packed up for the fall, so we try to put in as much time as we can to nudge these shy performers along to their full glory in bloom.

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