Not long ago, it was a vacant lot full of dying trees choked by ivy, squeezed in an awkward sort of purgatory between two hundred year old homes on one side and condominiums built in the ’80s on the other. This space of only 1600 square feet was wild enough to serve as the habitat for both a possum and a fox in Olde Towne Portsmouth, a neighborhood not known for its wildlife – unless you count the cockroaches!
The lot is not accessible to the street except by an narrow easement. It is too small to build a house on but too valuable to turn into parking spaces. Every so often, I would hear a neighbor say they wondered what the owner had planned for the lot.
I think Mother Nature was making her own clever plans for the space. During Hurricane Irene in August of 2011, a couple of trees from the lot fell on two of the condo unit roofs. Swiftly, Dan, the owner, responded quickly by razing the tiny jungle.
It sat dormant for months, just as it had for years, but things were different this time. Before it was just an eyesore, but once cleared, it was full of potential!
A couple of neighbors discussed purchasing the lot for private use. A few others suggested it would make a great dog park. When I heard someone mention the idea for a great community garden, I got really excited! One neighbor decided to pitch the concept to Dan, and he very graciously agreed to allow it.
So, over the past couple of weekends, our family and some close neighbors have been working to create this neighborhood garden.
We’ve been following the All New Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew as our guide.
Basically, this is an organic gardening method using raised beds and large but precise ratios ofÂ composts. It is a very organized and efficient way of gardening and a great option for smaller more urban spaces with poor soil quality.
My husband, John, and one of his best friends, Tim, kicked things off by building the raised beds out of untreated lumber.
My husband, John, preparing to make the raised beds
John and Tim, (right) putting the raised beds together
It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of work.
It’s also been quite expensive. The costs for the lumber, the peat moss, vermiculite, and five types compost (mushroom, humus, shrimp and seaweed, cow manure – even lobster!) and heritage seeds have totalled $1,200. But it’s several households involved splitting the cost five ways, so we’re in this together.
It’s been a bonding experience. We’ve had a lot of laughs…
Here, Katherine (left) and Debbie (right) were recounting their SNAFU during their first trip to the Feed and Seed Store.
We made a calculation error and grossly overestimated how much soil and compost was required. Katherine and Debbie knew something was wrong when the store employees were bringing out truckloads of materials on forklifts.
Katherine and Debbie could hardly hold in their laughter…
…but the store employees responsible for restocking the additional materials didn’t find it funny one bit. lol!
John and Tim had fun annoying the rest of the gardening team by using the acronym SFG (Square Foot Garden) ad nauseum.
throwin’ the sign…
…as in the SFG sign!
And we got on their nerves by constantly referencing the All New Square Foot Garden book as if it were the word of God. We would frequently pick up the book, and say, “Well, Mel says to do it this way” or “Mel doesn’t do it that way.”
one of many readings from a photocopy our SFG Bible
mixing the compost
Ava having fun getting as dirty as possible
our first plantings – mostly lettuces, spinach, beets and leeks
Carole giving the garden its first watering
I feel so much gratitude to Dan for allowing us to use this space free of charge.
Because my family lives in a condo without a yard, I feel particularly fortunate for the opportunity to grow some of our own food. I am happy to do this with our neighbors too, because it’s just more fun that way!
I can’t help but get a little idealistic about this project too. Studying history in college, I was deeply inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian vision for this country. He firmly believed that only a nation comprised of small, self-sufficient family farms could truly fulfill the concepts of democracy and self-governance.
Obviously, our country has veered way off this path, and our little community garden does not come even close to qualifying as a farm, but I’d like to think that through this project, we’re taking back a little bit more of our independence and getting at least a little ‘taste’ of that Jeffersonian vision.