Work produces rewards at Basalt community garden |

Work produces rewards at Basalt community garden

Scott Condon The Aspen Times

BASALT – A summer’s worth of work is really starting to pay off for the gardeners working 33 plots at the community garden at Basalt.

It’s harvest time. Gardeners are reaping the usual suspects – tomatoes, green beans, corn, kale, radishes, onions, yellow squash, cucumbers – and the less common treats, such as yellow pear tomatoes with a sweet taste.

Produce just seems to taste better when you nurture the plants yourself from seeds or seedlings, said Jessica Olson, one of the gardeners at the new Grace-Shehi Park west of Basalt High School. The property was purchased last year by the open-space programs of Pitkin County and Basalt. Dedicating half an acre for a community garden was an easy decision for the officials in charge of the management plan.

The garden is in the rich soils that have been running off Light Hill behind the school for time unknown. Billy Grange previously leased the land and grew hay there.

“This land is really easy to grow on,” Olson said. The 24-year-old grew up gardening with her mom but wasn’t able to keep it up during college and early in her career. She jumped at the chance to take her own plot this year.

A four-member committee of midvalley residents got the community garden rolling. Gerry Terwilliger, Fran Suiter, Gayle Shugars and Patty Overstreet formed the Mid Valley Community Garden Collective and had been searching for a location for a major garden when the Grace-Shehi purchase went through.

“Who would know we would be gifted with this?” Suiter said.

Pitkin County Open Space and Basalt split the cost of installing a beefy fence around the perimeter of the garden. It’s high enough to keep out deer and elk and strong enough to keep out bears. Rodents have scored a few free meals, but Terwilliger said it’s encouraging that there are snakes around to make the nice and chipmunks think twice.

Basalt provided water to the site. Multiple spigots are interspersed among the plots. Some gardeners have hooked drip hoses to timers so they don’t have to show up frequently for manual watering.

When the word went out last spring that the garden space was available, 33 plots were taken by families, couples or individuals. “We’ve got room for 33 more plots,” he said. There’s a lot of unclaimed space, covered with black plastic to snuff weeds.

Prospective gardeners can commit now for next spring. It only requires donating labor on a common work day, where a typical activity is covering walkways in mulch, and paying 50 cents per square foot. An 8-by-10 foot garden plot is $40. All the gardening is organic. No insecticides or chemical fertilizers are allowed.

Suiter said her plot at the community garden is dedicated to corn, potatoes and tomatoes. She also has a garden at her Blue Lake home where she grows different items. She has a drip hose on a timer at Grace-Shehi to reduce her trips.

“I come every couple of weeks and beat back the bind weed,” she said, referring to the sprawling, proliferating weed that is the bane of all midvalley gardeners.

Suiter and Olson said the benefit of the common garden is the camaraderie it promotes. Both said they have met a lot of new friends. There’s a natural ice breaker when people can ask, “How’s your garden?”

“It promotes bonding over an incredibly simple thing,” Suiter said.

Gardeners frequently trade tips on what works and what doesn’t, and sometimes learn about different plants and growing methods.

“There are no mistakes in gardens, just experiments. That’s not my quote,” said gardener Pam Schilling. But the quote applies well at Grace-Shehi, she said. Veteran gardeners and rookies are welcomed.

Terwilliger is an incredible gardener if not a master. He has pulled ears of corn out a decent-sized patch for weeks. Squash and pumpkin vines snake everywhere. His rows of potatoes would do an Irishman proud. He can’t give away enough green and yellow beans.

Terwilliger is kind of the unofficial keeper the grounds. He politely yet firmly lets gardeners know when they need to get after the bind weed.

The community aspect to the community garden led to a special project involving about 15 people. Since there was excess space, a group decided to grow some extra crops to provide produce for the LIFT-UP food pantries in Carbondale and Basalt. Olson is one of the coordinators of the effort.

“I think it’s really important for everyone to have access to fresh organic produce,” she said.

Seeds for the effort were donated by Slow Food Roaring Fork and Colorado Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute.

Olson, Suiter, Schilling and others have unselfishly weeded, watered and nurtured a couple of lengthy rows in the community garden to make sure other valley residents who are in a tough time get fresh veggies. The work provides its own rewards, such as dropping off baskets of onions and tomatoes at the pantries this week, Olson said. Soon they will be harvesting the Red McClure potatoes.

Prospective gardeners who want to claim a plot for next growing season can call Gerry Terwilliger at 970-927-4629 or Frank Suiter at 970-963-6106. Space is available to all midvalley residents.

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