From Vacants to Vegetables: You Got Your Garden Plot, Now What?

414 E 26th Street, Baltimore, MD. Here is the vacant property I adopted. Not too big, but a good amount of space to get started.

So I got my plot, pictured right, exactly one month after applying. Now what do I do? How do I go about turning a vacant city lot into a vegetable garden? Let’s start off with what I can’t do, and what I have to do.

According to the license agreement with the city, I can’t install “permanent landscaping,” such as an orchard or a tree farm. This is due to the fact that at any time, the city has the right to sell the property, after giving me 30 days notice. Another important requirement is the need to create and place a prominent sign that identifies the lot as adopted. The purpose of this is to inform community members of what is happening. A friend suggested naming the garden and creating an email account for interested parties to contact with any questions or concerns, to be posted on the sign.

What I have to do is use the site for a community improvement purpose. This could either mean using it as a community gathering spot, an educational space, a recreational space, or for food production. I am interested in the latter.

Step #2: Build a Garden

Master gardener Joe Lamp'l, (cq) who designed ...

Master gardener Joe Lamp’l, (cq) who designed the new community garden in the Baltimore neighborhood of Oliver, shows a volunteer how to space the seedlings when planting them in one of the eight raised beds. The garden was installed in single day. Photo by Susan Reimer Baltimore Sun staff (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never gardened in my life, outside of some small window-box herbs. What resources are available to me, and how do I start? One important consideration for the garden is realizing that unless you have a lot of free time (which I don’t), you probably can’t  do this alone. Talk to friends, co-workers or neighbors who might be interested in gardening, and tell them about the opportunity to have free space to grow. Chances are, at least a couple of people will be interested and able to offer some time to help develop the garden.

I was eager to get started, and with this in mind, I headed over to Home Depot and bought a wide selection of vegetable seeds. Get in there early, before Spring starts, and there will usually be some discounts. I also needed tools. One option is the Baltimore Community ToolBank, which offers a wide variety of tools available for rent. While I may require something from them later one, I thought it would be a good idea to buy my own steel shovel and rake, as these are two items I will likely be using regularly. Also, don’t forget your friends. Most people would be happy to lend you a tool for a day or two, as long as you bring it back to them in good condition. The Parks & People Foundation offers grants for greening projects in the city, but unfortunately I found this out after the application due date, so do this in the winter.

One extremely important thing is to not start before you have done your reading and research. Look into what others have done in your community and other communities, read up on how to garden, and make sure to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations. At the end of the post are some Baltimore specific resources which I found helpful, and most cities have similar resources available.

With my seeds, tools, land, knowledge and other community members ready to help, I am ready to get started. Check back next month and see what progress I have made!

Below are some great resources that I found useful:

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James McComas

I bring a background in researching and writing to the Campaign Consultation team for my role as Administrative and Project Assistant. Prior to joining Campaign Consultation, I was a research intern for BUS 52, a year-long project which sought out organizations and individuals across the continental United States who worked to positively change their communities in innovative ways. I also assisted a journalist researching climate change issues. Read more.

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