Interest in community gardens grows in Escanaba

The Community Gardens, located in Escanaba, give Delta County residents a space to grow their produce. Charging $40 for a 30 ft. by 30 ft., gardeners have free reign in deciding what crops they would like to plant for the summer growing season. Vegetables are a popular choice amongst the gardeners, most of whom are trying out corn, squash, and peas this summer season. (Escanaba Daily Press photo)

ESCANABA — Since early May, local gardeners have been picking weeds, generating compost, and tending to their plants at the Community Gardens in Escanaba.

Located alongside the northbound lane of M-35 near the Delta County Airport, 30-foot. by 30-foot plots are available to the public. Whether you are a master gardener looking for more bed space or a rookie who is interested in learning the basics, the Community Gardens act as an engaging learning environment for those interested in sustainability, horticulture, and fresh produce.

“[The Community Garden] is open to anybody that is interested in gardening. We have young families to elderly, and that is great to see,” Rebecca Krans, consumer horticulture educator at the MSU Extension Network, said.

With the goal of providing area locals with a vast space to grow their crops, the Community Gardens give gardeners free reign when it comes to how and what they choose to plant. While only annual plants are permitted, meaning that the crop being grown must be replanted reach year, a variety of fresh produce and flowers have been springing up throughout the space. Popular crops amongst the gardeners this growing season include corn, squash, and tomatos.

“What people plant has been all over the board, so we really have a wide variety,” Krans said. “We have some flowers in there too, like marigolds, which can be edible and help provide some diversity too. The people do a great job.”

Garden preparations began during the spring, with Bark River locals bringing their horses and old plowing equipment to till the plots after the long winter. Once soil preparation was completed and garden applicants completed orientation, 18 locals began to prepare their beds for the summer season. While Krans checks in on the garden’s condition every other week, two master gardeners from the area tend to the grounds and provide assistance when questions or issues arise.

“A community garden is an asset to any area because … as houses get closer together no one has a yard, so people don’t have anywhere that they can grow their own vegetables or have a garden if they wanted to,” Harry Worden, master gardener and groundskeeper at the Community Gardens, said. “[The Community Gardens] is a great way to have that available for everyone.”

In addition to offering garden space, the Community Gardens will host educational demonstrations from time to time to enhance gardening knowledge in the area. As Krans begins to implement a native plant garden at the Escanaba site, which will contain plants that naturally thrive in the Upper Peninsula’s climate and soil, she will host a Native Plant Demonstration that explains their importance to pollinators, local wildlife, and air quality in the region.

“MSU Extension is trying to provide more public education at the community garden to help educate the public and the gardeners about native plants, especially their importance and benefits to pollinators,” Krans said. “We are trying to demonstrate and show that with time the right plant will grow in the right place.”

The Community Gardens also stress the importance of native pollinators by housing four bee hives, which are cared for by the Bay de Noc Bee Club. The hives are buried within a giant patch of thistle on the northern edge of the garden. When the thistle eventually blooms, the bees will naturally gravitate towards them.

Future demonstrations at the Community Gardens will include a lesson on backyard composting, a practice currently being used at the garden to combat poor soil conditions. Delta County is not known for excellent soil, most gardeners struggling with the sandy nature of the ground we tread upon. To combat this, the garden comes equipped with four compost bins. By combining food scraps, grass clippings, and other organic material in these bins and stirring them from time to time, the materials will decompose into a nutrient rich substance that can be used to condition the soil.

“One of the best ways to help fix sandy soil is by putting compost or other soil in it,” Worden said. “We have that available for gardeners in the compost bins so that they don’t have to go to the store and get it themselves. It is free and readily available.”

While soil continues to be a problem for gardeners, another issue has made a successful gardening season difficult at the Community Gardens — deer. Some plot owners have enclosed their garden space with wooden and plastic fences, but deer have still found a way to get at the fresh crops. Other gardeners have tried spraying their plants with deer repellant, which has proven to be more successful.

Ron Smith has been fending off the deer during his first summer season at the Community Gardens. Despite the wild animals and abundance of weeds he has been pulling, Smith said that the growing season has been good to him so far.

“Anything that the deer can’t get to has been doing well … potatoes and tomatos,” Smith said. “I have a garden at home too, so I am busy.”

Overall, the Community Garden acts as a meeting ground for those with a shared interest in sustainable gardening practices and fresh produce. Whether it be sharing tips and tricks with each other or lending a hand with upkeep of beds, plot owners help one another out without being asked. This communal experience is valued by all those who participate.

“People come on their own schedules, meet other gardeners, and learn from each other,” Krans said.

Those interested in owning a plot at the Community Garden or have general gardening questions can reach out to Krans at kransr@msu.edu or 906- 875-0606.

“I enjoy the sustainability of it. We so often take for granted where the food comes from that is in the grocery store,” Worden said. “Would you necessarily eat vegetables from the store? Maybe not. But when you grow it yourself it is a lot more enjoyable to eat.”


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