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year-round vs. seasonal gardening

  • Subject: [cg] year-round vs. seasonal gardening
  • From: Cary Oshins <caryoshins@lehighcounty.org>
  • Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002 12:41:55 -0500

I received such a nice response to my first post, I thought I'd try another,
somewhat broader question/discussion.

A little background:
I work part time for Lehigh County, USDA zone 6B.
I took over management of our county's community gardens last year. Each
spring when the ground was dry enough the garden area would be plowed, then
the plots staked and mapped.  Once mapped, gardeners, who had earlier
submitted applications, would be assigned to a plot and those plot
assignments mailed.  Typically the plots were available by May 1, though a
wet spring could delay that.  The last day for gardening was October 31, but
which time all stakes, posts, chairs, rugs, BBQ's etc had to be removed.
Anything left was cleared by the parks department, and then mowed. Some
years compost is also spread in the spring, which had to be done before
plowing, so this could also push the timing.

Several aspects of this bothered me.

As a long-time gardener, I love being out there "as soon as the ground can
be worked" as it says on the seed packets.  This is often end of Feb/early
March. These gardeners are missing all that early planting, spring greens,
peas, etc. Not to mention overwintered garlic.   

I hated having to put equipment on the fields in the spring.  It is the
WORST time to be driving on the soil.  Here we are trying to build soil
health by adding compost, as we are destroying it with compaction. But I
hated making the gardeners wait any longer than they have to.

Both years I was in charge of the spring preparation the farmers who plowed
for us complained bitterly about all the crap left in the plots.  Not only
does is slow them down considerably, it can really damage equipment.

Gardeners would always request specific plots, but the plot numbers and
locations would move around as each new map was generated.  This becomes an
administrative headache.

On the other hand, gardeners WOULD get a garden that was cleared and plowed.

Last summer I surveyed the gardeners, asking if they would prefer to keep
seasonal gardening or switch to year-round.  60% said they would prefer to
switch.  Of the 40% who preferred seasonal plots, half said they would still
be interested in gardening if it did change to year-round.  After discussing
this with my upper management, they gave the green light to try year-round
plots.  Their biggest fear is that the gardens will look like hell over the

Next week I am convening a first-ever "advisory group" of gardeners to work
through some of the issues that might be involved.  Some of those include
dealing with abandoned plots, helping those who cannot till for themselves,
and fairness in plot allocation.  I am sure there are others.  

Here then are my questions:
How many of you have community gardens that are year-long plots, and how
many are seasonal? (Please include what zone you are in and how long the
season is.)
Have any of you switched mngt from year-long to seasonal or vice-versa?
Why?  What was your experience?
All comments and/or advice around this issue are welcome, especially by next

Cary Oshins
Composting Specialist and Community Garden Manager
Lehigh County Office of Solid Waste

Cary Oshins
Composting Specialist
Lehigh County Office of Solid Waste

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