Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Down at the Patch

Since the early 1970's, Seattle has been home to an ever-expanding program of community gardens called P-Patches. In nearly every neighborhood in the Emerald City, there is land intended specifically for use by the public for growing food. Some of the gardens are out in plain site and are landmarks for city residents. Others, though, are more covert, their plots tucked away from the noise of the street. Several P-Patches I would have been completely unaware of had I not been on foot, taking short cuts through quiet residential neighborhoods.

Last fall when I left behind my backyard container garden to move into a second floor apartment, I decided that I would find out about getting myself a bit of earth to grow food in. I had walked past the P-Patch a mere eight blocks from my new home about a million times and wanted to have my vegetables sprouting there as soon as I could plant them. A quick internet search found the city's web page for the P-Patch Community Gardens. One on-line request form later, and I was officially on the waiting list for the University Heights garden! My excitement was instant, and my mind was off on a race to plan what I would sow in my rented soil when my number came up. You can imagine my dismay when I received the confirmation email for my wait list registration which stated very plainly that the wait could possibly stretch to an absurd length of two years. Are you kidding? I couldn't even plan on living in the vicinity in two years. My excitement turned to disheartenment, and my seed catalogs and gardening books were put away to gather dust.

Several months passed, when one day late in March I checked my email and, Viola! There it was! A message with the improbable title, "University Heights P-Patch Opening Interested ????". What perfect timing to begin growing vegetables! I couldn't believe that they had space so soon. What about that supposed two year delay? It didn't matter. I would have a garden after all!

I was assigned a 100 square foot plot (which turned out to be about 70 sq. ft. - oh well) and given the low-down on the P-Patch rules, regulations and etiquette. It was kind of like moving in with roommates. Clean up after yourself, don't eat other people's food without permission... luckily there are no dishes involved. Each plot does have a yearly fee (mine is $34) which includes administrative costs and whatnot, but for anyone who doesn't have the funds to cover this cost, it will be waived; everyone is welcome at the P-Patch, regardless of economic status. Each gardener also accepts the responsibility of completing eight hours of volunteer work outside of their own plot. Tasks such as weeding walkways, attending work parties to do group projects, and even photographing and writing about The Patch count toward the total (I should log this!).

With the help of a few generous friends, I built a slightly raised bed, weeded and added soil and compost. I was all set and ready to grow.

For my first year, I feel like I've had much success. The crops that I've harvested include peas, onions, carrots, several types of lettuce, mustard greens, chard and green beans. Broccoli, hot peppers, tomatillos, cucumbers and snap beans are on the way. It's been an adventure experimenting with different seeds and types of plants that I have previously never encountered, but the flavor is truly the best part of picking, say... crisp leaf lettuce and sugary snap peas for a salad just an hour before I eat it.

Meeting my fellow P-Patchers as well as watching their gardens change and flourish with the seasons has been a huge benefit for a novice gardener such as myself. I consider myself extremely lucky to have received my plot, especially since learning that the wannabe gardeners waiting in line are now numbering well over one thousand.

Anyone with a yard has the advantage of creating a miniature farm of their own design. For those of us inhabiting vertical developments in urban spaces, community gardens are definitely a boon. For more information about the P-Patch program, including volunteer opportunities and a pretty detailed history of how it all began, check out their website. If the place you call home is in some other part of the U.S., check out the American Community Gardening Association to find out if there is a program near you. Happy harvesting!

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