Monthly Archives: April 2017

Turning Your Home’s Yard into a Community Garden

The benefits of starting a crop garden are endless: it’s great exercise, gives you the chance for fresh air and time in nature, can give you an outlet for burning off stress — not to mention the wholesome, fresh produce you’ll be adding to your diet. But one of the most wonderful things about gardens is the way they can bring together a group of people, large or small. Converting your yard into a community garden is a rewarding experience for a homeowner, and can have far-reaching positive benefits on your neighborhood.

This guide will cover all you need to know about turning your yard into a community garden, including the different kinds of community gardens there are to choose from. There are quite a few factors to consider in your planning and specific rules to set along the way, so don’t underestimate the power of getting organized. Talk to your home insurance company about your options for community garden coverage. Be sure to also check with your homeowners association or local municipality for any standards or restrictions your area might have, and be willing to make some compromises. You can create a truly beneficial garden even if your original plans must shift, so focus on what you can do and make the most of it.

A Cooperative Garden

One option you have for a community garden is a cooperative project, where neighbors and other volunteers contribute to maintenance and upkeep. The number of people who will be helping can be a major factor in determining the size of the garden, especially if you’re considering using a large portion of land, so assess community interest as soon as possible. You can start by reaching out to neighbors by mail, flyers, or perhaps in your neighborhood’s online community. Suggest a meeting where everyone can gather and talk over the idea.

At your meeting, you’ll want to discuss the positive impacts you see the garden having on the community as a whole:

  • It’s a great opportunity to give everyone a health boost by offering fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to take home
  • It brings people from all different ages and backgrounds together for a common good
  • It can create a greater familiarity among neighbors
  • It can engage children in both the process of gardening and eating healthy, getting them excited about seeing a seed grow into delicious, nutrient-rich food
  • People at all ages and abilities can contribute in some way

Once you’ve established neighborhood interest, you’ll want to collectively think about expanding interest even further. See who has contacts with local businesses or other potential partners in the community who might be interested in donating funds, seeds, tools, or other supplies to your garden. Even a small one-time donation to help to get your project started can go a long way toward your goals, so be gracious for every gift.

 

It’s a good idea to come up with committees or groups in charge of certain areas: watering and irrigation, weeding, pest control, tool repair, and supplies are just a few to consider. Though you’ll want everyone to contribute to multiple tasks, designating people to keep a special eye on how the tasks are going can help identify and remedy problems much more quickly. Committee leaders might also keep track of who volunteers and which tasks are completed each work day.

Designate a growing season for your garden based on your area’s climate and conditions. It might only be a summer project, or if you’re in a more temperate region, it can extend from spring to fall. Establish what people want to grow during each. This might also settle the question of whether to assign plots or to simply have items in their own zones; go with whichever strategy will best maximize the available space.

The cooperative community garden should also come up with written, agreed-upon rules. This sets up expectations for all participants and establishes actionable resolutions to problems you may encounter. It’s important that everyone is held to the same standard and respects the established rules in order to create a harmonious working environment, but allow for several reminders or warnings before enforcing any consequences. Topics for rules might include:

  • Dues or fees (if any) — how much, how often, and how they’ll be used
  • The space each person is entitled to
  • How common areas like pathways and borders are maintained
  • Using and storing tools
  • Adult supervision for children who are gardening
  • Approved materials and products (some neighbors may want a section for organic gardening, for example)
  • How produce is gathered and distributed
  • Regular performance of certain tasks like weeding, watering, or sweeping

As the homeowner, you’ll also want to establish acceptable working hours. Talk to your family about what works best for them, but generally a schedule like 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily should suffice. Keep in mind that many neighbors may want to come in the morning before work, on their lunch breaks, during the afternoon if they work nights, or after work in the evenings. Give people an adequate chance to participate, but don’t sacrifice too much if you think it could become disruptive to your family’s life. For example, if you have a child who goes to bed early and is easily frightened in the dark, you might want to ask that people only come during daylight hours. In the beginning, you may simply need to let your neighbors know that the hours may change slightly once you see what works best — most families will understand!

Next, consider the tools that will be used in your garden. Have some kind of shed or other storage on-site that is kept locked when unused. Neighbors may want to bring and store their own tools for everyone to use, or dues can be used to purchase specific utensils for the garden. Make sure to cover which tools should only be used by adults and with adult supervision, ideally keeping them stored securely even within the shed. Have a plan for what to do if a tool breaks, including notifying others and seeking repairs. If some tools require cleaning or additional maintenance after each use, consider printing and keeping instructions on the process in waterproof sheet protectors.

Irrigation is another important conversation. Hand watering may be necessary for many of your plants, especially in the beginning. Come up with a watering schedule that holds everyone equally accountable. If you’ll be using your own sprinkler system, ask your neighbors to keep a sharp eye out for malfunctioning spigots or flooded areas so you can fix them as quickly as possible. Have a specific hose, watering can, and faucet designated for your garden so there are always tools present, and people can bring their own as needed. If the majority of watering costs will come from your household usage, consider proposing that a portion of dues are directed to the bill.

 

Most community garden cooperatives like to have regular meetings, typically once a month or so. You might have more in the beginning and fewer as time goes on and the kinks are all worked out, so be flexible to the schedule. Having some kind of home base for communication — like a group on social media, webpage, or blog — is a helpful way to distribute information and updates more quickly. Some gardens also have a water-resistant bulletin board set up. If your garden is in the backyard, consider placing some kind of marker or sign on your mailbox to let neighbors know where the garden is.

Finally, consider asking fellow gardeners to sign a hold harmless agreement to clear you of liability should injury occur in the garden. After an attorney drafts and checks over the document, hand them out to your neighbors and allow them plenty of time to let their own lawyers take a look. The chances that anything dramatic will happen in your garden are probably low, but it’s important to protect yourself and your family.

Grow-and-Give Community Garden

If you don’t have enough community interest for a group project, or perhaps you’re simply not comfortable with using your property this way, you can still use your garden for the good of your community. Some people choose to plant extra fruits and vegetables in their garden to donate to their local food bank, soup kitchen, or food pantry. You’ll need to consult individual organizations to find out who accepts fresh donations, as well as which days and times you can drop them off.

One of the great things about this method is that anyone who perhaps didn’t have the time to devote to garden work can still help out. Perhaps one of your neighbors works down the street from a food bank and can take donations. It could even be as simple as someone helping you buy more fertilizer with their truck on a Sunday afternoon. Every little bit of help counts, especially when it comes to ending hunger in your community.

Ideas to Remember for Designing the Garden

Deciding on the size will depend mostly on how much land you have and plan to use. If planning a cooperative garden, you’ll also want to consider how that space will be divided up: will each family have its own plot, or will everyone agree on which produce to grow and care for it collectively? Additionally, if you plan on growing more space-consuming foods like berries, watermelon, or gourds, you’ll want to allocate adequate space for them to thrive.

 

Creating some kind of perimeter, whether it’s bushes or fencing, can not only help ward off pests and the curious noses of pets walking by, it can even add curb appeal for projects visible from the street (and potentially quell any woes from the homeowners association). You may also need some kind of border or strategic landscaping to help irrigate your plants. And don’t forget about perimeters around plots: account for pathways throughout your garden. They should be big enough to easily navigate with a wheelbarrow. A locked gate is a good way to keep intruders out, but cooperatives will need to establish a system of transferring or creating keys among leaders.

If children will be involved, consider creating a special section just for them. They’ll still have the opportunity to get their hands dirty and experience the process, but at their own speed and without affecting crops people are depending on. Keep some child-friendly tools handy in your storage shed. You can even offer gardening classes for kids and newbies so that everyone can start off on a more solid foot.

However you plan and implement it, a community garden is one of the most rewarding ways to give back. You’ll create unforgettable memories and connections with your neighbors, improve your diet, encourage your children to embrace healthy habits, and positively impact hunger in your town — all from your very own yard!

Right Flowers For Your Garden

There are few home projects that compare to the benefits gardening provides. Not only does it create a natural beauty in your yard, but it’s also a great hobby, exercise and creative outlet. Though some are concerned about upkeep, you can burn between 300 and 400 calories for every hour spent moderately gardening, making it a worthwhile investment for your home and your body.

One of the biggest errors beginners make is choosing the wrong plant. This can leave homeowners discouraged and yards neglected. We’re here to make this easier with a few tips on how you can choose the right flowers and plants for your beautiful garden.

Annuals

From growth to bloom, annuals live for just one season. Annuals are beneficial to any garden and any person who likes to get creative from year to year. These types of plants are typically cheaper than their perennial counterparts and will bloom all season long, so you have ample time to admire them. Some annuals are self-seeding, so you may end up with a few of the same flowers the following year. This is an important detail to remember if you intend on planting new annual flowers every year.

Here are some beautiful annuals to add color to your flower bed.

  • Begonia
  • Cosmos
  • Geranium
  • Helenium
  • Marigold
  • Milkweed
  • Petunia
  • Snapdragon
  • Strawflower
  • Sunflower
  • Zinnia

Biennials

Similarly, biennial flowers follow the same cycle but last for two years. The first year, the plant grows and stems, but will not bloom. In the second year, the flower will bloom for the season, then die. Many biennials are self-seeding, but this depends on the flower. Blooming and growth typically depend on the climate as well. Climates with drastically changing seasons can treat biennials as annuals, as extremes can shorten the lifecycle.

Generally, it will take two years to see the flower in bloom. Biennials tend to be less common than other flower types in household gardens. However, your patience is worth it, as biennial flowers are stunning. Here are a few to consider planting.

  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • California Poppy
  • Canterbury Bells
  • Foxglove
  • Poppy
  • Stock
  • Sweet William
  • Wallflower

Perennials

For homeowners, perennials are particularly useful as they grow year after year. They have an expected lifespan of at least three years, but can stay alive for longer depending on care and weather conditions. Some perennials can be green ground covering plants, which is great to disperse between flowers for variations. Though they might last long in your garden, they tend to be a bit more expensive and do not bloom as long. Though, the upfront cost is offset by not having to replant your flowers every spring and should be considered in your landscaping budget.

Perennials are a great and colorful investment to your yard. They add variation and splendor to the garden year after year. Here are a few to consider adding.

  • Alstroemeria
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Coneflower
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Hibiscus
  • Hydrangea
  • Iris
  • Lavender
  • Tulips
  • Speedwell

Garden Factors to Consider

Now that you know the different lifespans of flowers you can plant, you must make sure the conditions are right for them to grow properly. A great garden has a mix of types and seasonalities, like planting annual and perennials. Flowers, like most plants, need specific conditions and factors to thrive depending on species. If you’re uncertain about what flowers will work best in your garden, contact a pro.

Sunlight

Any plant needs some amount of sunlight to grow. It’s important to be aware of how much sunlight your flowers need. There are five common sunlight classifications for flowers.

  1. Full-Shade: No direct sunlight here. This space will likely be on the north side of your home, under dense trees or shadowed by a neighbor’s home.
  2. Partial-Shade: Sunlight will reach the area for part of the day, either in the morning or afternoon.
  3. Light-Shade: Sunlight reaches the ground after passing through leaves of trees and bushes.
  4. Partial-Sun: Similar to partial-shade, however, these plants in this category can handle the midday sun.
  5. Full-Sun: These plants can withstand the midday sun and need at least seven hours of sunlight to thrive.

Many times, homeowners will write off a low sun area in their yard just because they don’t understand that there are some flowers that grow in shade. In fact, flowers such as forget-me-nots, coral bells, impatiens and primroses are beautiful choices that do well in shady spots. These plants will either stop growing or die in the midday summer sun. Always check the light requirements needed before planting.

When to Plant Flowers

Flowers can be very temperamental if planted in the wrong season. Depending on the climate you live in or how long it takes for the flower to grow and bloom, figuring out when to plant your garden can seem like a puzzle that is impossible to put together. Many flowers can’t survive moderate frosts, so be aware of your area’s predicted frost date to get an idea of when you can start planting.

If you have an idea on what flowers you’d like to plant, check this handy planting guide to end some of the frustration. If you’re in a warmer climate, you’ll want to start planting your garden around February, so the flowers will be blooming in early spring. Colder climates will need to wait a few months until about late April to expect blooms in mid-to-late summer.

If you’re excited to get planting, but live in a colder climate, you have the option of starting some seeds indoors and transfering outdoors when the warm weather arrives. You can create your own seed starter kit with materials you have at home like toilet paper and egg cartons, to make for easy outdoor transfers. When in doubt, check the packaging of the seeds or store bought starter plants.

Growing Size

This is an important step in the garden planning process. Not all flowers are small. Know what dimensions will work best in your garden plot. Then, research the dimensions of your intended flowers when they hit full maturity. If you want a mixed garden, know if the flower will continue to spread and plant as to not overtake the other plants. Some flowers, like sunflowers, grow very tall and could visually look disproportionate with your garden.

When to Water

A crucial element to any flower growth is water. In addition to sunlight, your garden will need water to be healthy. Water quantity requirements may vary by flower species and the amount of light it receives. Generally, you’ll want to pick a time to regularly water, either late in the evening or early in the morning. Keep all water distributed evenly, directed at the ground and not at the leaves of the plant, as this can create mold or burn marks from the midday sun. Choosing a quality soil to plant your flowers in will not only add nutrients to the flower, but likely will stay moist throughout the day.

Native Plants

Your garden is more than just a beautiful yard adornment; it’s an important part of your local ecology, and should be considered when planning a garden. When you’re planning the foliage you’d like to include in your flower bed, be sure include native plants. These plants have significant value to wildlife and are likely to thrive in your current climate. Plants that do well on the East Coast may easily die on the West Coast.

A Rooftop Garden

Living in an urban environment is not the same as living in a house and having a garden yard. While it is true that the urban environment doesn’t quite present the same possibilities, there is one option you can consider and that is designing your very own rooftop garden.

All you need is a roof that can support gardening conditions and the environment and you are good to go. It doesn’t take much to get the project going. In fact, it’s a relatively easy endeavor, which mostly requires motivation and a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Following some basic tips from Handy Gardeners Ltd. on how to get started and easily create your very own green retreat in the middle of the city.

Here is what areas of your rooftop garden you have to work on:

Floor

A garden space is not all about the plants and greenery you have there; it is also about having the right flooring to add accent or to simply look good. Concrete pavers are most commonly found on condos, but those contribute to a cold and impersonal look. The way to go, if such is the case with your building, is to install decking over existing pavers. Wood makes an excellent choice, but there are also other recycled decking materials on the market that offer colorful patterns and finishes.

Soil

One of the most important components for roof gardening is soil. Do not go after your usual triple mix, as that will not work. The mixture is easily compacted and because the soil is on the roof, there will be less chance for aeration. What you can do is get some container mix and slow release fertilizer. Add some Vermiculite or Perlite and you have yourself a fantastic soil mixture.

Containers & Pots

While Terra Cotta is certainly the most common option in any gardening attempt, you should opt for something different. The problem with this material is that the pots and containers dry out very fast when there is no shade, which is generally the case with rooftops. The best option is to have insulated, custom-made planters.

Drainage

Water needs to drain out of your containers in some way. For this reason, you must not forget to leave some space open at the bottom of the pots for air to move.

Plants

Effective gardening requires careful selection of plants. If you are after perennials, you are on a good track, but you must ensure that you have deep enough pots to support new growth and that the plants are insulated from the elements. Flowers of all kinds look really beautiful and make an excellent addition to any rooftop garden. Remember that you should add foliage, as it requires little maintenance.

Caution

When designing your rooftop garden, you may be tempted to feature a great deal of containers and plants. But do consider what weight the structure can support and don’t get carried away. Also, consider that rooftops can get extremely windy at times. For this reason, you should be careful about lightweight additions to your garden. See to it that your furniture and garden inventory is well secured so that it doesn’t get tipped over by wind or birds.