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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 07:58 pm

Start a garden with seeds, tools, sun and land

State offers community garden plots at the fairgrounds

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The number of people growing a vegetable garden is on the rise. Some mail order seed companies are reporting a 40 percent increase in sales, while a typical year may see a 15 percent increase in sales. Reasons for this growth spurt include the increase in food prices, food safety issues and concerns for the environment.

Vegetable gardening can provide the grower many benefits including exercise, a break from the stress of everyday life, decrease in the weekly food bill, nutritious produce that tastes better and is fresher than grocery store produce, and a sense of pride when you feed your family fresh vegetables from your own garden.

Keep in mind that while growing produce can reduce the weekly food bill, vegetable gardening does require a small investment.

Gardening is an investment of time. A gardener with a 100-square-foot garden will invest two to five hours per week tending to plants, weeding, watering and harvesting produce.

The soil must be worked before planting. This can be done with a tiller or turning over the soil by hand to a depth of eight inches. A tiller can be rented for about $28 for two hours.

A few tools that every vegetable gardener should have include a trowel, a hoe, a spade or shovel, a pair of garden gloves, a hose and a watering can. An inexpensive set of these tools will cost about $60.

Starting plants from seed is the most economical way to start a garden. A packet of seeds can cost 50 cents to $4.50. Price depends on the type of seed and the number of seeds per packet. A packet of four vegetable plants like cabbage, broccoli, tomato or pepper will cost about $1.50.

Vegetable gardening requires a full sun space. Many yards can provide this space, but for those who live in an apartment or have a full shade yard, this may not be possible.

If space is an obstacle for you in starting a vegetable garden, a community garden may be the answer. American Community Gardening Association defines a community garden as “any piece of land gardened by a group of people.” A community garden can be a plot shared by several people or many individual plots. One of the obvious benefits of a community garden is that it provides garden space to individuals who may not otherwise have a place to garden.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) has announced the inaugural year of the Illinois State Fairgrounds Community Garden. The garden was created to give residents a space to grow fresh produce, herbs, or other flowers and plants.

Individuals, organizations and other groups will be able to lease one or two plots depending on availability. The garden plots are 12 feet by 12 feet and cost $10 each, with the money collected going straight back into the garden.

“This garden will offer opportunities for ongoing education, such as mentoring programs between growers and local schools. We also plan to offer hands-on training, through the U of I Extension Office, for everyone from novice to experienced gardeners,” IDOA Director Tom Jennings says.

Gardeners will also have the opportunity to help out the community by participating in the “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program. By participating, growers will be able to donate produce from their garden to local food pantries.

People interested in the Community Garden are urged to attend a public meeting being held at the Department of Agriculture on Thursday, March 19, at 7 p.m. Potential gardeners will be given all the information they need at this meeting, and organizers will be on hand to answer all of your questions. Information will be available on the Web site after March 19, at www.agr.state.il.us or by calling 782-0777. The Illinois Department of Agriculture building is located at the corner of Sangamon Avenue and Eighth Street on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, inside Gate 11.

Jennifer Fishburn is horticulture educator with the Sangamon-Menard Unit of the University of Illinois Extension.

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