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At Long Beach Community Garden, the rules come with rewards

Community Gardens Dispatch No. 28: Long Beach

CG-long-beach-windmill-blue-white At first glance, the Long Beach Community Garden would seem to be a gardener’s Fantasyland. The 8.5-acre site next to El Dorado Nature Center is flat and gets all-day sun and cooling on-shore breezes. Three hundred plots, each 20 by 30 feet, are laid out in a neat grid; 15 more plots for the more experienced gardeners are even bigger. A fleet of wheelbarrows and mounds of mulch and compost always seem available. A stable owner regularly drops off finely shredded, aged horse manure. The pathways are neat and weed-free, the common tools well maintained. The site has bathrooms, parking and a food bank distribution center, making it easy to donate.

A space so large and planted so intensively, however, presents an attractive target for animals and disease. An onslaught of foraging rabbits and ground squirrels appeared a few years ago. The invasion started a year after animal control employees trapped and killed coyotes that were feeding on local cats but also had kept the rodent population in check.

Rabbits mowed down lettuce crops last year, landscape designer Barbara Paul says. She now has a 2-foot-tall wire fence and plastic perimeter sheeting buried 18 inches into the ground. Once rare here, similar fences are now common; many gardeners also use row-covering hoops as seedling protection against rats and mice. Rabbit traps have been set out, and the catch sent to a raptor rescue facility.

Last summer, the garden faced the cucumber mosaic virus, which is particularly difficult to eradicate and strikes about 1,200 varieties of plants, including chard, beans and peppers. Garden officials brought in a UC Riverside virologist who identified the problem and advised removing all personal composters. Gardeners were told to take all diseased plants, along with 6 inches of soil beneath and around them, and put it all into the trash, not the composters.

As at many gardens, no tomato material of any kind can be composted. Tools are to be wiped down with a bleach-soaked cloth after every use.

CG-LR-long-beach-rabbit-fenMore problems arrived when back-to-back winter storms drenched the low-lying land. Workdays had to be canceled, and gardeners struggled to deal with mud-soaked plants. The cauliflower, in particular, suffered.

Raised beds might seem to be an answer, but there are rules and regulations. To install a raised bed, gardeners must first submit plans for approval, following height limitations. A similar approval process exists for chairs (two per plot, plastic or composite only because wood and metal can harbor bugs).

Gardeners are required to keep their plots and the adjacent aisle free of weeds. During a weekly “correction walk,” garden administrators inspect every plot, writing citations as needed. They inspect not only for weeds but also for blooms. Only 10% of a plot can be dedicated to flowers, and no more than one-quarter of the remaining area may be planted in any one crop -- a rule to discourage growing for commercial purposes. Potatoes, yams and mint are among nearly 30 prohibited plants. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers must be removed before Dec. 1 and not replanted until March 1. Certain pesticides and fertilizers are allowed.

At other community gardens, overseers may complain about late fees and sparse attendance on workdays. Not here. Only four hours are required annually. However, if you get three “notices of correction” and a problem is left unresolved, you get booted out.

“They’re pretty strict on the rules here,” Larry Rosenwinkle says, furiously weeding before he has to leave for work. “But you put up with it because it’s a pretty good place to garden.”

At his feet: two shopping bags stuffed with lettuces and artichokes.

-- Jeff Spurrier

Dispatches from community gardens are posted here every Wednesday. For an easy way to follow headlines, join our Facebook page dedicated to gardening in the West.

Lonnie Brundage's plot in the Long Beach Community Garden.


Nigel Hill with his scarecrow.


Poppies, which, like other flowers, can constitute no more than 10% of any plot.


Christine Labriola waters while her dog windmill catches the breeze.

Amid all the rules and regulations, a little whimsy.

Photo credit: Ann Summa


Community gardens in pictures: the first six months of a yearlong series


Comments () | Archives (3)

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In all my many years of gardening this is the first time I have ever read anything that made gardening sound like a horrible, bureaucratic, nightmare.

I am a gardener (and just a gardener) at the Long Beach Community Garden. When we first joined, we were a bit amazed at the number of rules but as time goes by, we see why there are so many. One could fantasize that anyone who wants to garden in a "community garden" would be conscious of that word "community" and act like they are part of a "community" and use common sense to govern how they behave. But no, that is not the case. It is the disregard that a few have for the many that result in so many rules.

Have you ever seen the look on someone's face when they have patiently tended rows of corn all summer long, filled up their bushel basket with the harvest, have been thinking about biting into those fresh ears, just to have someone who isn't supposed to be in the garden drive by and steal the basket from right under your nose? Or how about that gardener who thinks the weeds in their plot will stay in their plot and don't feel like they should have to do anything about them? Or be dedicated to growing your produce without toxic chemicals only to find a bottle of toxic spray in the plot upwind from yours?

It would have been nice to see this article focus on some of the more positive aspects of this garden, such as the number of people who VOLUNTEER a lot of time to keep this garden functioning and looking good. Or the team that tends to the fruit tree orchard that bears fruit for ALL the gardeners to share. Or the amount of produce that is donated to the local food bank. Or the new friends that are made as you exchange gardening advice. Or how, even though it sits right next to a busy freeway, you still get a feeling of peace and calm when it's just you and your veggies.

Nice pictures though!

Stay tuned for next week's blog...more on the community/volunteer/giving aspects of LBCG. Thanks for reading.


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