It's not hard to put in a vegetable garden! Here are a few things to think about as you begin.
Do you really want to do this? Decide as an organization that you want to do this and who you’ll feed. Is it just for your members, or do you want to support something like a Food Bank? Or both? You'll want the support of all your members, which can be anything from encouragement and expertise to donations and physical help.
Check the rules. Is zoning an issue? Make sure whatever charity you want to work with will take your produce – are there rules? City ordinances?
Figure out your water source – invest in a watering system for efficiency and to save both time and labor. If you can’t afford that, consider making a watering schedule among your volunteers.
You need good dirt. You may want to have it tested, but the easiest test is to dig down a little and see if you have lots of worms. If yes, congratulations! If not, consider raised beds and adding compost; this can reduce your weeding and watering, but there can be a pretty big upfront cost. You'll have to decide if it's worth it. While cedar is best (don't use treated lumber!), you can re-purpose any kind of container. Just make sure they're getting regular water. If you have good soil, you can sow directly in the dirt.
Who's going to garden? Post an announcement to sign up workers – think about who will help you HARVEST (the most labor-intensive time) – and ask for donations to pay for tools, the water bill, grow covers, etc.. There are lots of ways people can buy into your garden project! Get creative.
Identify experts in your community to lead and advise. You can also get help from
- Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (check out the Bloombox discount for churches)
- UNL extension office
- Lancaster County Extension office
- Backyard Farmer - NETV
- Community Crops
- Heirloom seed companies
- YouTube gardening channels
Start small. Unless you have a tractor and a field, you’ll probably plant a medium-sized garden, say 20x30. How much time are your volunteers willing to weed, water and harvest? The bigger the space, the more time each person will need to commit to keep up the garden. If you plant in succession, and create vertical beds, you can really get a ton of produce continually out of even a small space. Here’s a great article to help you calculate the size of your garden.
Choose your veggies. Since this is a give-away project, think about what your recipients will most likely want to eat and know how to prepare. Look for high-yield varieties that are easy to harvest. For example, pod peas are prolific and delicious, but a crazy amount of work to shell, especially considering how few peas you get in the end. Snow peas are a better choice because they don’t require shelling. On the other hand, do your recipients like snow peas? Maybe green beans would be more welcome. Also decide if you want to plant from seed or starts. This article helps you decide between the two. Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get more people involved. Speaking of which….
Get everyone involved. Not everyone can commit full-time to gardening, but they don’t have to. Find different ways for members of your organization to buy into your project. They can give money towards tools or lend you their own. They can help harvest or deliver produce, weed or water once a month. Regularly share photos of your progress and all the smiling faces that participate or receive. Do you know a teen or college student interested in making a video? Ask artistic people to make trellises or create vegetable markers. Have a workbee to build beds. Any task or component that can involve people somehow gives them a sense of ownership and pride in your garden, leading to greater continued success.
A little forethought will lessen your work, costs, and contribute towards a wonderful gardening experience!