Two years ago this week I decided the kitchen partner and I were going to have a garden. We’d moved into our house in October, braved a long winter, and were ready to get our hands dirty. I hopped online and started looking for community garden space near our town home complex and sent a few emails. Rather than wait for a response like a non-crazy, overly ambitious person I busted out the seed catalogs and started sketching plans for rows upon rows of fresh green veggies. Two days later, a devastating email relayed all the plots for the season were full and we’d been placed on a waiting list for an upcoming season.
Isn’t there a saying about counting your chickens?
I know it seems a bit pretentious to talkÂ about vegetables and gardening with snow on the ground, but now really is the time to startÂ thinking about where you’ll be accessing fresh local vegetables this summer. Thankfully a gardener backed out in late April and we were able to get a community garden plot that year, but we were lucky. Many CSA’s and community gardens shares are already starting to fill for the season, getting on the waiting list early can help if space opens up or help to push for a new garden. If you plan to have ripe tomatoes and crisp green cucumbers all summer long, now is the time to start making a plan. Let’s talk about the options…
A Backyard Garden
Although most garden experts will tell you a garden should begin in the dead of winter under grow lights and heat lamps, don’t panic if you’re not fully prepared for growing season. I agree that some early planning can help a garden be more productive, but I never discourage people from jumping into growing something–regardless of the season. If you’ve decided this is the year to start a kitchen garden, now is a good time to start researching what to grow and the potential yard space you might need. Finalizing decisions about whether to start from seeds or purchase plants at a garden shop, what and where to grow, and a rough planting timeline can make your first backyard garden a more enjoyable venture.
A Container Garden
If you’re like the kitchen partner and I without yard space, now is a good time to start planning out creative growing spaces. Tons of books and resources on small-scale and container gardening are available at libraries and online now. Look no further than a “container vegetable garden” search on Pinterest and you’ll find that urban gardeners are growing veggies in almost any space these days.
Although you won’t need toÂ plant for a few more months, now is the time to start brainstorming ways to maximize your space. If you’re in the market for unique pots and containers, head out to antique and thrift stores early before the late-spring inspiration hits everyone’s green thumb. Â Reviewing your landlord or association’s policies on outdoor planters and growing is also a good thing this time of year. Most high-density housing units are supportive of tenet’s container spaces, however if you need permission it’s best to have a proposal well before the time your veggies need to grow. Be sure you ask about space and access to water. Both will be important for your containers.
A Community Garden Plot
Maybe you’d like to try something a bit more ambitious than a few containers on the back porch, but still don’t have a yard for digging. The next best choice is a neighborhood community garden. Each year, more of Minnesota’s communities are starting to embrace community garden space–you can find a variety of set-ups (volunteer based, paid plots, partial or full food bank donation, corporate, etc.) to best suit your interest and skill. Many gardens offer classes, seed sharing, shared weeding/watering programs and other supports to beginning and seasoned gardeners. In our experience, you will get exactly out of your community garden what you put into it and there’s a space for everyone if you’re able to find it.
In Minnesota, the best resource for community gardening info is Gardening Matters, a Twin-Cities organization that offers maps and contact info to find your local garden, resources to start a new garden if there isn’t one, and tools to make your community garden experience the best possible. I cannot say enough about how helpful their website and staff are; if you have a community garden question, this is the place to start!
If you’re looking around the region for community garden space or resources, Communitygarden.org is another helpful place to look. They have a national database of gardens and organizations, resources on national initiatives, and a great video of First Lady Michelle Obama and the White House garden.
Bottom line: if you’re interested in a community garden plot this year, don’t wait to secure your space. By mid-March many gardens will be full for the season!
A CSA Share
So maybe dirt’s not your thing or you have a nasty track record with all-things green. No worries, there are other options to get your local veggie fix this summer. A CSA share may just be the ticket–for a fee you receive weekly fresh produce delivered to your neighborhood or workplace. It’s in-season, local, and fresh from the farm. No contact with dirt required. Just like community gardens, CSA’s come in all shapes and make-ups. The key is to find one that matches your food needs (How much can you eat in a week?), your tastes (How often will you eat mixed greens?), your availability (How far/often do I have to pick up my share?) and your budget (Shares vary widely in price. How much can I afford?).
It’s also important to recognize that CSA’s suffer the same challenges as other gardeners. Some years are too wet, hot, dry, cold for every veggie to prosper. A share in the farm means you get what get–a risk you and your local food budget have to bear. That being said, there are few other options that place you in as close connection with the source of your food. Many CSA’s have farm visit days where you can see where your food is grown, meet the farmers, and expand the local food community in deeper ways.
February and March are good times to identify summer CSA shares since many shares begin early, starting with eggs, meats and micro-greens. Finding a well-suited match is important and shares fill up quickly; look early for the best experience. Â Check out available CSA shares in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest online in the Land Stewardship Project’s CSA Farm Directory. It includes descriptions and contact information for the farms and is sorted by delivery site. The Minnesota Grown website also has a CSA directory, searchable by zip-code. If you live in the Metro Area, Seward Co-op in Minneapolis will be hosting their annual CSA Fair in April. Â Farmers descend on their parking lot to answer questions, register shareholders, and connect buyers and growers for the season.
So. Now there’s only one question left. What will be in your summer veggie plan?Â