Shared gardening space can be an incredible experience for apartment dwellers, but there are a number of common community garden problems. I know first hand. Fortunately, a little patience and ingenuity can make it an enjoyable experience for all.
My community garden “tragedy”
I’ve never been so sad over a melon
Yesterday I visited my community garden plot, which I’ve lovingly tended since the spring, excited to see what might be ready for harvest. In particular, I was excited to check on two cantaloupes that were very close to being ripe when I had visited earlier in the week. All of my other vine plants – watermelons, honeydew, acorn squash, and delicata squash had succumbed to squash bugs long ago, and I had said goodbye to my long-suffering spaghetti squash plant just a couple of weeks before.
Through it all, my cantaloupe proved hardy. It stayed healthy and strong through inexpert planting, inconsistent watering, unexpected thunderstorms, and those pesky squash bugs, and I was so excited to try my first taste of fresh melon.
But when I arrived today, only one melon, far from ripe, remained. The other two were nowhere to be seen, apparently having been picked by someone else. I have to confess I’m a little heartbroken. That might seem silly, but I was so proud of those beautiful cantaloupe!
At least I brought my first two radishes home.
And yet community gardens are so worth it! Last week I shared all the wonderful reasons to join one, but today I want to share a few common problems you’re likely to run into. None of these are deal breakers, and with the right attitude, you’ll still enjoy your community gardening experience to the fullest.
Common Community Garden Problems (And How to Deal with Them):
This is the obvious one, given my experience yesterday. Our garden has a sign urging people not to take the fruits of anyone else’s labor, which I’m sure helps, but it’s an inevitable issue in a garden that doesn’t sit safely behind your own fence. Luckily, this is the first time I know of this happening to me, and given the garden’s location near low-income housing, I’m just going to assume it was someone who needed that food far more than I do.
Confusion over plots
This might not be such an issue in other gardens, but I’ve had enormous trouble keeping people from planting in my plot. The garden sits on land right next to an apartment of elderly tenants, who frequently get confused about the plot assignment process. You may need to put up a small sign saying your plot is already assigned if you want to avoid this problem (but make sure you’re certain it’s really your spot first!). Planting early and visibly helps too.
In a shared space, some gardeners may be less diligent than others, resulting in weed and insect problems (and those problems can arise even with careful attention). This can be one of the most frustratingly common community garden problems, but when this happens, just care for your own space and do what you can to help in other areas. Other gardeners may be less experienced or less physically able, so it’s worth it to pitch in whenever possible.
Limited time to garden
Since gardeners sign up year by year in my community garden, we’re all expected to clear everything out by the end of October, and the water isn’t turned on until the beginning of May each spring. That means we miss out on some early and late crops.
For that reason, starting your plants from seed at home can really lengthen the growing season. If your garden will allow it, it might also be worth planting in self-watering containers at home and bringing them out to the garden once the water is on.
This can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on your reaction. Some plants, like mint and strawberries, spread very aggressively and are likely to show up in your plot whether you planted them or not (I recommend only planting them in containers if you’re a community gardener). Others have their seeds dropped by birds and can show up totally by surprise. If you don’t want them there, just pull them out. Or roll with it and enjoy the surprise. I ended up with a lovely marigold this way.
Lack of privacy
I’ve gotten used to it now, but I initially felt very self-conscious planting in a public space. (Maybe this is less a common community garden problems than it is a Shaina problem). But if you also feel uncomfortable doing something new so publicly, just know that the more you do it, the less you’ll care about working alongside fellow gardeners or being watched by pedestrians as they pass by. Just enjoy the time outside and don’t worry too much about other people’s reactions. And maybe you’ll even make new friends!
So if you’ve ever hesitated to join a community garden, don’t wait any longer. Sure, common community garden problems arise, but these gardens also offer unique benefits. It’s the perfect environment to learn how to garden, so look into joining one today!
And in the meantime, please pray for my remaining cantaloupe.