Wilbraham Community Garden continues to flourish
WILBRAHAM – Imagine a 10 to 12 acre garden partially overgrown with grass and brush, then picture that same area cultivated with bright colored flowers and a plethora of vegetables and herbs spanning nearly the entire acreage.
This is the path the Wilbraham Community Garden (WCG
) has taken since 2006, which has allowed more people to tend their plots at the WCG year after year, Melissa Graves, administrative assistant for the Conservation Commission
and the WCG garden coordinator, said.
In 1975, the Board of Selectmen approved the creation of the WCG and during the course of several decades there was a decline in its use, she said.
In 2006, roughly 12 to 14 gardeners tended to their plots. Now, there are about 70 gardeners, both residents and non-residents, who grow and tend their gardens in plots that range from 10-by-50 inches to larger 1,240 square foot plots.
“Yes, some people came in here locally and did some gardening on their own but there was no organization,” added Graves. “Because it’s conservation property and I work for the Conversation Commission I thought to myself, ‘Wow, what a great idea this would be.’”
During her first year as garden coordinator, the cleanup entailed about a dozen volunteers cutting overgrown brush and the use of one volunteer’s tractor, she said.
The WCG’s improvements and current success have been made possible due to continued Community Preservation Act (CPA
) funds given to the WCG since 2010.
Four years ago, CPA funding approved the creation of an over 500-foot deep well for $18,000, which supplies the majority of water to the plots, she said. Before the well was built, the WCG had a limited supply of water.
The following year, the CPA approved $4,500 to $5,000 to control invasive species in the area and clear a dead hemlock forest near where the driveway is now.
"But it was all dead trees; the invasive vines were just crawling up those trees and just killing all of them,” she said. “So, I had them take them all out and level it.”
The most recent improvement to the WCG is a greenhouse, which was funded for roughly $18,000 in 2013 and was constructed this summer.
The greenhouse has solar panels on the roof and will likely be as energy efficient as possible, she said
“We haven’t used it yet,” she added. “We’re still waiting for shelves and lighting and water over there.”
The WCG is a self-sustaining enterprise fund that generates income through people renting plots for $25, she said. An individual can rent several plots per season.
"It pays for the Porta Potty that’s here all summer, which they never used to have,” she said. “It pays for the electric bill and the well and mowing the grass, which is a huge job. And harrowing the fields after its ploughed.”
People have grown peanuts, a variety of herbs, celery, sunflowers, mums, and typically grow anything annually in their plots, she said.
A fall picnic will take place on Sept. 20 at noon at the WCG, and will likely feature a bonfire, a hamburger and hot dog cookout, and a potluck of dishes made from plants grown by the gardeners.
The WCG plots receive direct sunlight during most days and the soil is rich in nutrients, partially because the area used to be the site of chicken coops, she explained.
“I tell people when they first start their garden it’s like a clean slate in the spring, it’s fresh dirt, dig in,” she said. “So, what I tell people in the spring is, when you’re planting your plants make sure you go deep in this soil.”
Graves explained that planting deeper allows for root growth and that gardeners won’t have put a focus on tending to individual plants and watering their plots extensively during the summer.
Garden plots are available on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to returning gardeners, she said. In April, gardeners are invited to attend an annual spring sign-up meeting at Town Hall prior to the growing season.
The Wilbraham Commission on Disabilities
also has four raised handicap accessible planting beds available every year at the community garden, she added.
Dee Habel, a resident of Springfield, said she has been gardening at a plot at the WCG for more than 20 years.
“It’s an open space that’s pleasant and it’s convenient to come to and we enjoy being out in the outdoors and the exercise,” she said.