In the Community Garden, it's All About the Soil

In DuPage County, interest in community gardens is strong. Many individuals, churches, municipalities and park districts wish to start community gardens to help their community gain access to fresh produce.

Increasing the health of the soil in your community garden will increase produce yields. When developing the plan for your community garden, include strategies for improving soil health.

Plan for a large compost area. You’ll need a place for gardeners to put their plants at the end of the season. Instead of hauling it away, compost it onsite. You may wish to assign a volunteer to monitor and turn the compost, adding green or brown material and water as needed. More info: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/compostingcentral/

Use food scrap compost. In the early days of your garden, you will not have compost onsite and may need to have some delivered. Consider using food scrap compost for areas where vegetables are grown to increase the nutrient content of your produce.

Consider an annual/perennial structure. If your community garden involves the rental of gardening space, offer gardeners the opportunity to rent their space for multiple years, or to renew the same space annually. Gardeners will be more willing to invest in soil amendments if they know they will garden in the same location the following year.

Refrain from annual tilling. Tilling increases soil compaction, destroys soil structure, increases soil erosion, and kills earthworms and soil microbes. Worse, tilling brings dormant weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate, creating more work for everyone. Top-dress with compost, or use a broad fork to work in amendments. Include paths in the garden design to reduce compaction caused by foot traffic. Mulch the garden with leaves, grass clippings (as long as the grass is not treated with synthetic chemicals), straw, cardboard, or newspaper.

Encourage organic gardening. Provide your gardeners with organic gardening tips that they can use to increase the health of the community garden soil and produce. Use well-composted manure and compost instead of synthetic fertilizers. Use organic pest control methods if necessary.

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