A â€śHunger Free North Dakotaâ€ť garden plot at the Valley City Community Gardens provided free produce to needy families last year. Hunger Free and other projects are on tap in the gardens for the 2012 season.
The Valley City Community Gardens are warming up for their fourth season, and for those who are itching to get their hands dirty, space is filling up rapidly. As of Thursday, eight 20 by 20 foot plots were still available to rent for the season at the gardens, located west of Riverside Gardens, just off of Tenth Street Southwest.
â€śThe soil out there is really nice right now,â€ť said Ellen Bjelland, Garden Steering Committee chair. â€śIt had alfalfa on it previously and people worked it a lot last year. Theyâ€™re in good shape.â€ť
April 15 is the tentative date for opening the plots, but Bjellend said that could vary.
â€śWeâ€™d like to say people could get out there earlier, and they may be able to. It all depends on how fast those weeds show up.â€ť
Since its start in 2009, the project has grown every year.
â€śWe started out with 21 plots, and I think weâ€™re up to 55,â€ť Bjelland said. â€śThe community has been really supportive in helping fund it.â€ť
She said a combination of local donations, grants, nonprofit money and corporate contributions help keep the garden afloat financially.
â€śWhen it comes to buying gas and tillers, itâ€™s not cheap.â€ť
The committee provides all the basic tools to members: rakes, hoes, spades, tillers and watering equipment. Fees are $30 per plot, plus a $10 deposit. The deposit is to ensure gardeners will keep up their plot, weed regularly, and clean it up in the fall.
Bjelland said the gardeners represent a mix of skill levels, which allows them to learn from each other and collaborate.
â€śWe have those who are very experienced, and their plots are beautiful and well-maintained, and then there are those who are very new to gardening who wonder how to plant and how to determine whatâ€™s a weed and whatâ€™s a plant,â€ť she said.
In the past, the garden has sponsored a junior master gardener project, but Bjelland said they wonâ€™t hold the program this year. She hopes that older children and seasoned gardeners will act as mentors for the young green thumbs.
â€śWhat happens is we end up having a lot of families out there, so the kids pick up gardening through their families,â€ť she said.
Local schools are also trying to get kids involved in gardening.
Bjelland said. Washington Elementary has had plots in past years, often growing healthy snack options for students to eat.
â€śThe kids help plant it, then principal Wayne Denault waters and weeds it throughout the summer,â€ť Bjelland said.
The committee also participates in the Hunger Free North Dakota Garden Project, which distributes punch cards to families in need, who can then pick up food items grown in the garden at participating local churches.
Two plots in 2011 were designated specially for the Hunger Free project, but individuals also donated produce from their personal gardens.
New for 2012, the committee is working on bettering the grounds themselves, with projects like a compost pile and purchasing plastic ground cover to keep down the weeds in the paths. garden committee member and master gardener Diane Heuser will offer a bi-weekly gardening column in the Times-Record.
For those who might be afraid of gardening or not sure how to tackle the project on their own, Bjelland recommends getting a plot with a friend to help stay committed.
â€śItâ€™s a social thing as well as growing good things,â€ť she said. â€śItâ€™s most time consuming at the beginning of the season. Once the plants are up, thereâ€™s really not a lot that goes on. The month of June is really when youâ€™re going to be weeding the most.â€ť
Anyone interested in signing up for a plot can call the Barnes County Extension Office at 845-8528, and there will be a kickoff meeting Monday, April 16, at 7 p.m. in the VCHS cafeteria.