At Long Beach Community Garden, the rules come with rewards
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.
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
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Photo credit: Ann Summa