Community gardens ready to brave the winter

November 5, 2012

Lifestyle & Culture


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Story and slideshow by Jaime Myslik
Community gardens map by Sarah Petz (below)

Community gardeners are getting their plots ready for winter, prompted by the earlier nightfall, the crunch of leaves underfoot and the hand-numbing temperatures.

With 34 community gardens in Ottawa, (according to the Just Food website), protecting and nourishing these plots over the winter months is a key element in maintaining this sense of community that emerges each growing season.

At Nanny Goat Hill Community Garden, located at Bronson and Laurier Avenues, gardeners are pruning their plants closer to the soil, said garden coordinator Elizabeth Eve, 62. They are also laying straw or another layer of mulch over their plots to cover their perennials, planted garlic and soil. This helps protect the crops and keep the nutrients in the ground over the winter months.

The idea is that this cover will stay frozen throughout the entire winter, Eve explained. Plants do well when there is one freeze and one thaw. It is the continuous freeze/thaw cycle that causes problems. The gardener will then work this mulch into their garden in the spring when they dig and turn the soil to prepare for the growing season, Eve said.

Eve said that community gardens are more than just a place to grow food. They provide an atmosphere where people can meet others with a similar interest in gardening in the comfortable environment of their plot. The garden helps people get out of their own isolation.

“I think community gardens provide a lot of nourishment to the community that’s not just food,” Eve said.

What community gardens are doing at this time of year depends largely on how established they are. A garden like the 11-year-old Nanny Goat Hill Community Garden is focused on keeping established plants safe throughout winter. Activity in the gardens at this time of year is also directed toward organizing each plot’s gardening accessories, such as tomato cages and boarder fences for the non-growing months, Eve said.

“We need to get the place tidy. We have a thousand neighbours over there. We want the place to look decent to the eye,” she said. With apartments surrounding the garden the gardeners are aware that the space needs to be aesthetically pleasing so that the support of the community continues.

A garden like the GSA Carleton Community Garden at Carleton University, on the other hand, began development this past spring and has not yet had a growing season. Project manager Chris Bisson, 25, said this garden is looking to establish plots and have soil deposited this fall to ensure that planting can begin in the coming spring.

“What I would like to have ready by the time we wrap up for the winter is the raised bed gardens, the terrace in the ground and maybe a bit of a mulch covering so that you prevent erosion,” Bisson said.

Instead of looking at ways to protect existing crops, like the more established gardens, the GSA Carleton Community Garden is building a terrace structure that will create level garden plots in hilly areas and raised garden plots that will be accessible to all gardeners regardless of any physical mobility constraints, Bisson said.

Map of community gardens in Ottawa

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