The weather may be cool and damp, and even frosty between now and spring, when people typically think about fresh plants and produce breaking through the ground, but for those who are avid gardeners, this is the time to begin preparation for a new season of planting.
Vera’s Community Garden, in a fenced plot of land on West Main Street, provides a chance for families and individuals who are interested in small, raised-bed garden growing to have a year-round area to harvest plants organically.
The property, owned by Dan and Vicki Whelan, is being coordinated this year by Ann Ashman, a local resident who has been managing a raised bed in the community garden for several years. One of the raised beds as well as a greenhouse on the property are leased by Elkin City Schools for its Future Farmers of America group and its agriculture students, Ashman explained.
The rest of the land “was intended as a community garden where the community could participate,” she said. “It is a wonderful community-focused program where they can teach youth and the community about gardening.”
Of the 18 4-by-8-foot raised beds, eight are still available at a cost of $50 for a year of usage. The fee is used to pay for the water and any other supplies such as top soil, mulch and updates to fencing and the area.
“We are in our fifth year,” Ashman said. “It is my hope we have an active garden going on in each of the 18 raised beds. It is great fun.”
The gardens are chemical-free, herbicide-free and pesticide-free, and she said she is working with a friend who has horses in Yadkin County to reserve some of the manure and age it for natural fertilizer that will be available to the gardeners.
One person who has been a key player at the community garden in the last few months is Dr. Beverly Byrd, who came to Elkin last summer as a new obstetrician, Ashman said. She credited Byrd for making her own raised bed of garlic a success as they now have green stems rising from the soil after being planted in November.
“Bev Byrd has been a huge resource for me,” said Ashman.
Local Boy Scout, Holt Jackson, is using the community garden for his Eagle Scout project. He, with the help of other scouts, is working on creating a new composting area and will be refreshing the raised beds with new topsoil before the spring planting season begins.
Last year, Ashman said some of the walkways between the beds became overgrown, but during the fall and winter months, she’s worked hard to clean those up and get the beds cleaned out and ready for a new planting season. She’s brought in strips of old carpet from her home to use as ground cover between some of the beds to reduce weed growth.
While the selection in each bed is the gardener’s choice, Ashman said what excites her is seeing families use this as a project to inspire younger gardeners, and the creative touch people put on their own beds, such as the geese she has watching over her plants and the small natural bridge decor added to a neighboring raised bed.
“People grow what they want to grow. I think it’s magical to plant a seed and have two weeks later it pop up out of the ground,” she said.
In an article she was reading for research, she said it identified the 10 easiest produce to grow, including carrots, beans, lettuce, cucumbers and spinach. Ashman also learned that asparagus, once it’s planted, is a perennial and can return each year for 25 years in some cases.
“I think community gardens around the country are a good opportunity to share produce and information and tips with fellow gardeners,” she said.
The Whelans named the community garden in honor of Dan’s mother, Vera, who lived for a time at Parkwood Place. Vicki Whelan said Vera had a natural green thumb. She would find seeds of all sorts on the ground and pick them up and plant them in her yard, and they would just grow. Vera passed away in August of 2017 in her 90s.
On Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon, the Elkin Public Library will be hosting a special free workshop for those looking to do some gardening in the future. The Master Gardeners session will focus on raised-bed gardens, and Ashman will be providing information on the community garden as well.
Ashman said anyone interested in reserving a bed in Vera’s Community Garden can reach out to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.