The best time to start preparing a site for a future community garden is actually the summer before you hope to start gardening in that particular location. If at all possible it’s best to start getting your site ready in July or August the year before you hope to have your first gardening season. The reason for that is primarily dealing with weeds, especially Bermuda grass, because it happens to thrive with a lot of neglect, and is just a really strong weed.
As you can see, this particular site has a very healthy crop of Bermuda grass and other weeds growing on it. So, for this garden to be turned into a successful garden in the future, it would be ideal to spray this site for weeds right now, and perhaps one or two more times this year before tilling in the fall. Then, it will be ready to start with a garden in the spring.
A lot of the weeds growing on an empty lot are extremely vigorous and can be difficult for new gardeners to deal with and to be able to stay on top of when the gardening season gets going. So, for a really successful garden, it’s good to do what you can to get rid of as many weeds as possible before the season even begins.
The next thing you need to do with site preparation after the weeds are out of the way, is to do soil testing, and do any amendments to the soil to make the pH correct. Make sure you have plenty of nutrients in the soil. If you have the access or the funds, it would be good to add a load of compost or other organic matter to your site to start building your soil quality.
Now is also the time to start looking into water sources. Getting the water from the city hooked up or getting a well drilled, or whatever you need to do to get good water access before the spring gardening season starts.
As you’re continuing your site preparation, you’ll want to remove any trees or woody growth, tree limbs that have been identified as potential problems for your site, and then you’ll want to get an accurate measurement of the location. You’ll need an accurate measurement of the depth and width of the lot. Then draw on any areas that, for whatever reason, are not going to be part of the garden plot. For instance, you may have areas that might be a place for a picnic table, compost bins, or for gardener parking. These are all things that you would want to identify.
You’ll also want to note on your map any areas that have potential problems such as poor drainage, or lots of rocks and gravel. There might be some remnants of an old house foundation that need to be removed or worked around as you’re developing a community garden site.
Once you have accurate measurements, you can begin the layout process just be starting and dividing the area into even plots – first on paper, and then go out and lay those plots out with stakes and string, and an accurate measuring tape. The more preparation you can do for your site in the previous growing season, the more successful your gardening experience will be for your community gardeners the next spring.
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.