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Here's How I Turned a Patch of Park Land into a 'Patch' Garden

Rochester Patch has a plot in the Rochester Community Garden. Here's how it all began last week.

Nothing says "I'm clueless but I'm willing to have fun learning" like a plastic, pint-sized, red and yellow watering can.

It was among the tools I brought with me last week to plant in a 4-by-8-foot spot of land inside the new .

To help chronicle the inaugural year of the garden, which is the , Rochester Patch has leased one of the 42 plots carefully laid out inside .

We thought we would plant a few vegetables, watch them grow and then find a local food bank that might be able to use them.

Easy enough. Right?

Tell that to our 5-inch-tall watering can.

Let's be honest

I do have talents — I like to think I can write, for example — but I've never been applauded for having green thumbs.

I am by no means an expert when it comes to seedlings, soil or sowing, so I whom I hoped would guide me in what to plant, when and how.

That's how I came to meet Liz Malburg and her family. I'll give them the credit they deserve: they brought the Patch garden to life.

I visited Liz and her crew of mostly family members at the . Her Sharkar Farm is based in China, Michigan, about 35 miles east of Rochester.  They are a permanent fixture at the Saturday farmer's market in our town. Most of their plants are $2.50 and include instructions for growing.

I told Liz what I was doing. She measured one of the tables inside her tent and found it to be the size of our plot. From there, we went shopping.

Choose a mixture of plants — some that grow up and others that stay close to the ground, Liz advised. Stay away from the ones that spread (pumpkins, for example), and even though corn seems like it would be fun to grow, you would need a lot of corn to supply a food bank with any substantial feast, she said.

Liz recommended tomatoes (an "Early Girl" and a cherry variety), peppers (we chose red), zucchini, romaine lettuce and bush beans. I also took a chance on leeks, which in these early stages look like grass; Liz, along with her younger sister, Jessica, told me how to space and divide them for best results.

In the end I bought seven plants and spent $17.50. Liz correctly assumed the garden would be planted in full sun and so she gave me this parting advice: You can't water them too much.

Which brings us to planting day

With my plants and a few shovels—and along with my children, who are always up for an adventure involving dirt—I ventured out Thursday night to plant. When we arrived, we found about half the plots were already full of life. I noticed marigolds, tomatoes, peppers and herbs, mostly.

We were alone in the quiet garden. We found plot No. 30 (from here on out known as the "Patch" plot) and kneeled down to dig and plant.

It wasn't too hard. But then again, it was just dirt and plants, right?

Not exactly ...

"The key to a successful garden is in preparing the soil."

As we were finishing up our own planting, we overheard these instructions, voiced by some gardeners who had just arrived to work on their own plot. We watched them rake their plot until it was level. And then we watched them add compost and rake some more.

We were mesmerized—and a little embarrassed.

I looked at our own plot, nearly complete. Was I seeing things or was there a steep slope from one side to the other? I touched the soil: It was hard and ungroomed.

Our companions could feel my frustration and, perhaps, my unpreparedness.

They introduced themselves and offered their advice. 

And then they lent me their watering can.

Gardening lessons learned

On-site at the community garden is a giant, refillable water tank. The watering can I brought along with us held about a cup of water. (Incidentally, it was not unlike one that you would use in a bathtub to rinse the shampoo from a child's hair. And yes, that's where I found it.)

With a can that size, we would have needed about 60 trips back and forth from the tank to our garden. With the one our garden plot neighbors lent to us, we had the garden watered in two long pours.

A garden view

I returned to the garden on Friday morning. The sky was all sun and the breeze carried a momentary chill. My plants were still there, still green.

Here's what I noticed as I took in the scene.

Just like the community for which it was built, the garden represents a blending of choices, backgrounds and experiences. There's something a little bit magical about rows of plants, all handpicked by different people with different levels of gardening expertise and different reasons for wanting to plant there.

There can be beauty in the lack of order and design, after all.

I can't wait to grow, learn and share.

The city of Rochester will hold a dedication ceremony for the Rochester Community Garden at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The gardeners—and anyone in the public—are invited to attend.

Tiffany Dziurman Stozicki June 05, 2011 at 12:53 PM
This is so great, Kristin! Can't wait to visit the community garden and see Patch's plot of land.
Two-Moms: Nina & Jessica June 05, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Nice, can't wait to follow your progress! We are in year # 2 of trying to raise veggies at home. Year One was a miserable failure; we did not soil prep at all. This year we did an MSU soil test and brought it to Uncle Luke's Feed Store in Troy, where they helped us select the appropriate organic soil amendments. We planted tomatoes, kale, broccoli. caulifower, kohlrabi, leeks, pepper, eggplant and herbs.I have much higher hopes for this season.
Kristin Bull (Editor) June 05, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Keep us posted, Nina! You may have to be my consultant!
Laura Cassar June 05, 2011 at 05:31 PM
There's a reason for all those marigolds..... they help keep the bad bugs away naturally.
Lynn Marie Oates June 06, 2011 at 11:56 AM
Love it Kristin! Good luck! Can't wait to see how your garden grows! : )
Jessica P. Opfer June 06, 2011 at 07:41 PM
We didn't do anything to the soil on our plot either! (It was my understanding that they had already added compost to the soil.) This is a grand experiment for us all and lots of fun for the kids.

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