Gardens’ initial seasons top expectations

Krista Schinagl/The Herald
Karissa Luker, left, Hannah Gunselman and Emily Heichelbech, all 14-year-old members of Jasper Girl Scout Troop 97, picked peppers and tomatoes Sunday at the Dubois County Community Garden in Jasper before heading into the Kimball International Education Center for a meet-and-greet barbecue with others who have plots in the garden. The girls planted tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet banana peppers and marigolds in their two plots.

By ALEXANDRA SONDEEN
Herald Staff Writer

With a few months left in the season, organizers of the Dubois County Community Garden are considering its first year a successful one.

The organic garden, spearheaded by Tri-Cap, broke ground in April and hosted its first social gathering for gardeners Sunday evening. The season is expected to end sometime in November. Fourteen individuals and groups are tending 19 plots.

The Dale Community Gardens, meanwhile, has about 14 gardeners working nine plots, and also has been declared a success in its first season.

“Overall, things have gone much better than expected,” Tri-Cap employee Paige Stradtner said of the Dubois County garden. “As always with the first year for a project, we ran into a couple issues.”

Rainy weather in the spring pushed the planting season into June while waiting for the land, off Power Drive in Jasper, to be tilled and fertilized. Kimball International donated the use of the land, but the garden does not have a water source.

“Surprisingly, gardeners seem to have remained very optimistic throughout this whole experience,” Stradtner said. “They’ve been very understanding that this is the first year and that things are always a little difficult going when they first start.”

Hot weather also has caused some problems for the plants. Jasper resident and longtime gardener Joyce Uppencamp has three plots growing gourds and a variety of vegetables including onions, beets, carrots and cabbage. But she hasn’t picked much produce yet.

“The weather was just not right for the gardens this year, and we didn’t get it out as soon as we’d have liked,” she said. “But I’ve got all kinds of gourds. Now I’ve got to learn how to make birdhouses.”

The garden was created with the intent to allow gardeners to meet each other and form bonds. But that didn’t work as planned.

Jasper Girl Scout Troop 97 is gardening two plots, growing tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and a few flowers. The Scouts have taken over watering and weeding, but they have met few people.

“Even with having someone from our troop going out every day to water, very rarely have we seen anyone out there when we are,” troop leader Tina Heichelbech said. “I’m sure everyone is on different schedules. Some probably go early in the morning or later in the evening when it is cooler.”

So the Sunday gathering was organized with a cookout and presentations on food preservation by Jan Dougan of Purdue Extension-Dubois County and growing herbs by Michael Hicks of The Center for Community Empowerment in Jasper. Attendees introduced themselves and talked about what they were growing. Some brought produce they had just harvested.

“I do think people got a chance to mingle and get to know each other,” Stradtner said.

The Scouts are new to gardening. They wanted to make salsa. They also wanted to donate the produce to a food bank or sell it at a farmers market and donate the money raised, but that hasn’t worked out.

“Everything isn’t becoming ripe at the same time, so neither of those options have been very easy for us this year,” Heichelbech said.

The troop’s decision to participate in the garden has taught the Scouts a couple of lessons along the way.

“They are learning how long it takes to get the foods that we have in the store, how much hard work it is to get them to grow and to take care of them,” the leader said. “And just like life, sometimes when you are learning new things, it doesn’t work out quite what you planned the first time but you need to just learn and continue from there.”

The gardeners have given Stradtner many suggestions for improvements in next year’s garden.
“That’s the great thing about this project, that it’s a community garden, so all of the participants are able to give their input and shape the future of the garden,” Stradtner said. “I’m sure there will be things we will do differently next year. A lot of this will depend on the feedback the gardeners give at the end of this season.”

Both Heichelbech and Uppencamp suggested finding a source of water. They brought buckets of water from home to use in their plots.

“It would be great if we could get something out there to catch rainwater,” Uppencamp said.

The Dale Community Gardens is a different story. Organizer Alan Meunier said the gardens, which are organized by plant families, produced more vegetables than the gardeners knew what to do with.

“We’ve pretty much been giving stuff away on a weekly basis” to churches and local organizations, he said. “People didn’t know what to do with it. That’s not something we were prepared for.”

Next year, Meunier said, he will need to concentrate on educating gardeners about preserving the produce and using different vegetables when they are in season.

“Preservation is a big part of it,” he said. “If we’re going to use locally grown produce, you’re going to have to figure out how to store them.”

The garden did have trouble with weeds and some disease among the plants because of large amounts of rainfall.

“It got rain when nobody else got rain,” Meunier said.

The Dale gardening season also is expected to end in November, depending on frost.

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at asondeen@dcherald.com.




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