Monday, January 16, 2012

Community Gardening Calls

Two green thumbs up for the Apopka Community Garden! Located in South Apopka - a typically impoverished area - the goal of this endeavor is to bring locals together with the common interest of organic vegetable gardening. Besides black and white residents, Apopkans from Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands are growing vegetables native to their home countries as well. There are no specific hours for farming our gardens, but most seem to congregate in the mornings, trading gardening advice and if we have overages, freshly picked vegetables. Sometimes vegetables are donated to the local homeless shelter.

In exchange for $20 annual rent, Peter Jordan, an agriculture teacher at Ocoee High School and one of the folks that runs this community effort, gave me a quick tour. We have a big dump truck load of dark soil, an equally large pile of compost/manure. There's a small raised box with composted vegetables stirred into soil loaded with big happy earthworms - their rich liquid fertilizer drips into a 2-gallon jug that hangs below. Inside the shed are some tools, free seeds, and paperwork. I was given a list of seasonal vegetables that will grow well in our area. For the safety of the gardeners and to prohibit non-paying folks from strolling through and picking the fruits of our labor, the entire property is fenced with combination locks on both gates and shed. One entrance opens big enough to drive through and renters are encouraged to pull in and lock the gate. I remain fearless, but will be cautious for my safety in this high-crime area.

I was assigned to plot #25, a 4 x 16 foot raised garden. Although there are other gardens in different stages of growth, mine is newly built with fresh dark soil and no old plants to have to dig up or turn under. The nearest water source is a pretty convenient hose drag away, just past the next 16 foot garden.

As a side note, I am excited that Peter is considering bringing some chickens over and constructing a movable chicken tractor to house them. I've expressed interest in this in the past, but because of our home's location against the forest of the Wekiva State Park, we have too many critters invading our yard, eating our plants, and potentially eating chickens to even consider planting a garden or raising hens in my back yard.

Preparation for planting has included poured over the internet, deciding what to plant, and mapping out my garden. I want to put in tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, collard greens, zucchini and summer squash. I'd also like to grow my favorite herbs - basil, dill and cilantro. Today I will go visit my garden, check out the seeds in the shed and visualize, followed by a trip to the local Feed & Seed and hardware stores to see what they have to offer in seeds and seedlings. I don't know if purchasing from these places is appropriate for organic gardens. More to learn! I can't wait to dig in!!

Locally, University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service offers a Master Gardener program. This is something I might be interested in. I jump in with both feet, don't I?

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