For a community garden that grows vegetables, the amount of sunlight is probably the most important characteristic to consider. A vegetable garden needs to be in full sun. And, if your potential site has large trees that can’t be removed or pruned, then it’s going to be a problem to have a successful garden in that site.
In this particular location, you can see that there are some trees and growth in the back corner of the lot. A lot of the trees are dead or have dead branches, which could be fairly easily removed. And, a lot of the growth is just weedy shrubs, which can be removed and then turned into a garden area.
Another option to consider is that if you have some large trees on one part of a garden site, you can choose to keep them and use them as a social area. It would be out of the sun in a shady spot for the gardeners to have in the future.
The next thing to think about are the soil characteristics. If you have a location that has very poor soil, or very heavy clay soil, you may need to have a community garden with raised beds. This could be a financial barrier down the road. A community garden site that is poorly drained, or where the water stands when it rains, may not be a great location as well. Although raised beds can solve those problems to a certain extent.
Another thing to consider is the source of water. Some empty lots may be owned by the city and it may be easy to get water. Other empty lots may be owned by a church or a non-profit organization, and they may be willing to work with you to get water. In other cases, you may have to drill a well to try and find water, and it may be preferable to find a site with more ready water access.
Another thing to consider is the safety of the neighborhood. If the site is exposed to public view, or fairly private, you’ll need to consider if people will feel safe coming to the garden to work on their own. Or, some sort of fence or security system may be necessary to make the garden really viable.
Once you’ve settled on a site, you’ll need to do some soil testing. You’ll need to test the nutrient levels and the pH, and see if there are any other problems with the soil. One thing you may want to check is the past history of an empty lot. Depending on what used to happen on that lot, there might be contaminates in the soil, and you’ll want to have some testing done for lead or other heavy metals.
Another concern with this particular site is the gravel driveway that is evident in the entry area. So, the soil may be poor in that area, or it may be something that we want to be careful about incorporating into an actual garden plot.
When you have a site identified that looks like a likely location, you’ll need to identify the owner of the property. It could be the city, another municipality, an individual, or an organization. If it’s not owned by someone that’s willing to partially sponsor the garden, then you’ll want to pursue a leasing agreement with that individual, organization, or business in order to have a secure garden location that the gardeners will feel comfortable investing in for several years.
This feature story prepared with Rebecca McMahon, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Sedgwick County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.