It’s time to dig in the dirt.
The St. Charles Park District invites the community to discover the joy of growing fresh vegetables and even harvesting for others with its community garden plots.
There are more than 400 garden plots available for community use at the St. Charles Park District. Rent a garden plot at James O. Breen Community Park or Primrose Farm, with options for annual plantings or perennial plants that are designed to return year after year.
Additionally, there are few raised garden beds at both parks as a more accessible opportunity for gardeners with special needs. Bed are located near accessible paths and water spigots.
Garden plots offer a great family activity, enjoying the cultivation of the plants, caring for the garden and of course, harvesting the herbs, vegetables and flowers. The community gardens are a great way for first-time gardeners to try their hand at growing.
Registration for new gardeners opens March 21 and the planting starts in early April. Applications are available online at stcparks.org/garden-plots. Before the season starts, park district staff helps prepare the soil by tilling the ground. There is a 4 plot limit per household.
All of the plots have access to plenty of sun and should produce good yields, but before grabbing those garden gloves there are a few tips to remember, said Pam Otto, Outdoor Ambassador for the St. Charles Park District. First, consider what vegetables and plants will work best with the amount of time you can dedicate to your garden plot. Otto said melons and pumpkins are fairly easy to grow, they like lots of room for their vines to stretch out.
“Melons are always a hit, but they need lots of space and attention and may not be a good crop for first-time gardeners,” Otto said.
Tomatoes are a popular choice as well as fresh herbs, kale and zucchini. With our shorter growing season in the Midwest, starter plants are a good option to consider, but Otto said she’s had success planting cucumber seeds and harvesting vegetables before the fall frost.
All gardens have access to water spigots, but there are no hoses so gardeners will need to bring their own watering containers. Otto said she’s seen some creative solutions, like using wagons, to haul the water from the spigot to the garden site. And she recommends watering and harvesting early in the day or evening to avoid being the hot sun during the warmest part of the day.
“There is no shade in the gardens and on a hot summer day that sun can be brutal,” Otto said.
And as for solutions to keep ground squirrels or bunnies from munching on leaves, Otto said she prefers natural methods, like planting marigold flowers and using small pinwheels to deter hungry intruders.
A summer garden can be a great way to reduce grocery costs and encourage everyone in the family to try new recipes with fresh tomatoes, leafy green veggies and even taste some new vegetables too.
Any garden plots that are available on June 1 are open for residents and local groups to garden for donation purposes. A family or local organization can care for a garden and donate the vegetables harvested to provide fresh produce to local food pantries.
Otto recommends vegetables that are in shorter supply at the food pantries such as peas, green peppers, hot peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and green beans.
“Lots of people donate their excess tomatoes and zucchini, but snap peas, green peppers and hot peppers are in shorter supply,” Otto said.
Otto said there are bins at each site with scheduled deliveries from the gardens to the food pantries. In past years during the peak harvesting season donation gardens have yielded several hundred pounds of produce, Otto said.
Having a group host a site is a great way to share the work and Otto recommends creating a calendar or schedule to divide jobs like weeding, watering and harvesting.
A summer garden takes work but the rewards of a fresh tomato off the vine or making zucchini bread from a zucchini you wanted grow under its leafy vines is the sweetest reward.