The Ottumwa Courier

May 17, 2013

Community gardens gain ground

By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — In just one month, community gardens have begun to sprout north of Ottumwa.

So far, the gardens near the Ottumwa Industrial Park feature 12 raised beds, compost and a compost tumbler, a pallet bench, three oversized tires that will contain flowers and land for potatoes, corn, pumpkin and squash.

“We were slightly concerned that we got started too late, but with the volunteers we’ve been getting out here, it’s really taken off,” said Ali Wilson, United Way of Wapello County Volunteer Center coordinator. “We hope this is a starting point, but we’ll have more gardens throughout the community at a later date.”

The land had already been a garden with raised beds a few years ago, said United Way Community Impact Associate Marie Zoromski, first started by Chuck Bates, master gardeners and community volunteers.

Two of the 12 raised beds are kids’ gardens, where families can stop by to teach their children how to garden and pull weeds.

Eight of the 10 other beds have been taken over by USDA and NRCS, SIEDA, Willard Street United Methodist Church, Target, two by United Way and two by John Deere Ottumwa Works. The two remaining beds still sit empty, though Wilson said three organizations are considering adopting them.

So far the United Way’s raised beds have strawberries, carrots, beans and peppers, and work is beginning on weeding and planting in the other beds.

Volunteers have also constructed a bright blue pallet bench and plan on a couple more in case gardeners need a place to sit or a place for the kids to hang out while they’re working on the beds.

The idea behind the three oversized tires filled with flowers is to become pollinators, Wilson said.

“Eventually we’ll have bees out here,” she said. “We have the hive, we just need the bees.”

Composting is another large component of the project. Compost — made up of nearly anything that will decompose, said volunteer Dave Centz — keeps the weeds down and recycles what’s already growing in the garden.

“It’s both a fertilizer and weed control,” Centz said. “Instead of buying something commercial, you can use what you otherwise would have thrown away or gone into the landfill and recycle it.”

On the far end of the gardens, Kohl’s volunteers worked on the land, preparing it for potatoes and corn. The other half will be used for pumpkin and squash.

“The produce will go to nonprofits that provide food, such as the crisis center, Lord’s Cupboard and the food bank,” Wilson said. “It’s a good way to not only reduce cost but to introduce fresh and healthy food.”

If volunteers would like to tackle a specific project, they should contact the United Way, Wilson said. Otherwise, the community is welcome to wander freely through the gardens to observe the work or get their hands dirty in the beds.

Volunteers will also begin working on constructing elevated beds, which will sit 3 feet off the ground, making it easier for those who cannot bend over or areas where the soil cannot be used to garden to still have a way to garden and grow produce at home.

To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.