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Digging in: Novice gets garden start

West end perspective

April 29, 2012
By JOHANNA BOYLE - Journal Ishpeming Bureau ( , The Mining Journal

In my last column, I let you all in on my big project for the summer - a community garden plot in Ishpeming. I was about to go to my first meeting for the Grace Community Garden and dig into my 6-foot-by-12-foot plot for the first time.

And did I dig.

When my mom and I arrived at my garden plot that weekend, shovels in hand, the day was sunny and we were planning to do some basic plot preparation and then plant some of my seeds.

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That was until my first stroke with the shovel sunk about two inches into the ground before coming to a jolting stop. Rocks.

As I quickly found out, the garden itself is built on a plot of land that has previously housed some sort of coal warehouse, which was torn down, and then a parking lot. Since the garden is in its second year, many of the gardeners that were there last year spent considerable time sifting through the soil in their plots, removing the unwanted debris, a task I still needed to accomplish.

Of course I could have just planted between the rocks, just doing the bare minimum to get some sort of vegetable to grow. There were some carrots left in there by whoever had the plot before me, after all. Things did grow there.

But this being my first garden, I wanted to do things the right way and save myself some frustration later on.

So Mom and I started digging, first edging the borders of the plot to have a clear boundary for where I could plant and then slowly digging down, sifting each shovelful of dirt into a thick mesh screen to pull out the larger rocks.

Most of the time I pretended I was on some sort of archaeological dig, unearthing artifacts from ancient civilizations - if chunks of coal and tile could in fact be considered artifacts. Maybe I'm just a couple hundred years to early.

We did manage to unearth one fine mineral specimen that was so large all we could manage to do between the two of us was awkwardly roll it to the far corner of my garden, where it is now standing rather like an Easter Island statue.

Anyway, two hours later, we had maybe a third of the garden cleared.

Two days later I went back, by myself this time, and despite the rain that started falling almost as soon as I got there, dug and sifted the rest of the plot. Pretty soon I was soaked, but I had some crazy determination to get the job finished. While my arms and back didn't thank me for the three-hour gardening session after, I still go past my plot every few days just to stare at it and think, "Look what I did."

This whole story would be a lot more impressive if I could tell you I've actually planted something in my beautiful piece of earth. But as of this writing all I've got is a small expanse of (relatively) rock-free soil. I blame my lack of planting on the cold weather. But most of this week has been nice and that excuse no longer seems valid.

In truth, I'm a bit nervous about doing the actual planting. What if I plant my plants too close together, or too far apart, or what if I somehow plant things so horribly wrong that nothing manages to sprout?

I realize I shouldn't let myself get stressed out about doing things perfectly, particularly because most normal people spend their lives developing a skill like gardening. I just like to do things right.

While it might have been easier starting out if my plot was already prepared and rock-free, but doing all that digging and sifting has really given me a feeling of ownership over this little garden, no matter what comes out of it.

This weekend, I'm planting.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is



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