Friday, November 18, 2011

Community Garden Decision

An interesting letter came the other day from our Community Garden Association here in Binghamton, NY.  It invited us to the annual meeting of the Otsiningo Community Gardeners Association this coming Monday.

We've been community gardening here for years. Our small home yard is not really big enough, or sunny enough, for a good veggie garden. (We do have a couple of Earth Boxes, and some planters with herbs, but that's about it except for flowers.)

Besides electing new Director and soliciting feedback from members, there was one very interesting "special initiative" on the agenda.

To quote from the letter, they are considering "whether or not to plant a cover crop at the end of the 2012 gardening season, which would then be plowed under as a "green manure" sometime prior to the beginning of the 2013 garden season.  The rationale...would be to improve soil fertility and structure, both of which may have decreased, due to erosion and other factors in the 16 years during which the gardens have been in continuous cultivation."

We do attempt to enrich our plots, which we can keep from year to year, with leaves and other organic matter. But not everyone does or can do that.

Sounds good so far. But wait, there's more.

The letter tells us that the way they will  allow time for the cover crop is by shortening the 2012 gardening season. We'll have to vacate by mid September or even earlier.  Now let's put this in perspective.

Most of the time, the plowing doesn't get done until early to mid-May.  That's around the last frost date here in Binghamton, NY (zone 5b) so in effect we can't get in early to truly grow good spinach, peas, and other early crops before the heat hits. Now, we'll need to be out in early to mid September. Hmmm. Many people don't start getting good tomatoes here until early August.  Peppers can even be later. 

This wouldn't allow us to grow fall crops either. Our first frost comes mid-October nowadays and we normally must vacate on October 31.  (They will reduce the plot rent for next year to make up for the shortened season.)

So, we are going to have to balance inconvenience with the possibility of getting a good cover crop in.  But even then, I think a one time cover crop isn't going to do as much as is needed.

My spouse and I are split about this.  He's in favor.  I'm not.  And he does about 98% of the gardening and harvesting so his decision will rule our response.  But I am still tempted to email them with my input.  At the very least I'd like to suggest that they try to get the garden plowed  by mid-April.  But I know that would be up to the county and how wet our soil is at the end of the winter. (And, when the ground defrosts-although in recent years that hasn't been an issue). 

If you had to make this decision - shortened season or cover crop-what would you choose?

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