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Windmills, soda bottles and other secrets to garden success

0-Flores-windmill2 0-Flores-opossum.004 Community Gardens Dispatch No. 45: Las Flores, Thousand Oaks

At Las Flores, the community gardeners have learned to deal with the extremes: heat in summer, frost in winter, and alkaline water, clay soil and waves of rapacious pests all year long. Although some of their solutions will sound familiar, others are unusual.

0-Flores-Macune.023 Perhaps the biggest effort: Keeping out the pests. A fine wire mesh “snake fence,” buried a good foot deep, runs around the entire perimeter of the chain link. It didn’t keep the ground squirrels out, said garden founder Fayde Macune, right. “But it slowed them down a bit.”

Gardeners battle more than squirrels. Gophers, rabbits, opossums, raccoons and rats do their share of damage. Coyotes have been known to jump the fence.

To fend off the burrowers, some gardeners have installed windmills that vibrate in the ground when they turn -- a deterrent to supplement traps.

Most plots are also fenced, not only to keep pests out but also to retain heat during winter.

0-Flores-Aguilar “We get a week or two of frost every year,” said garden president Kim Aguilar, right. The ground doesn’t freeze, but rooftops turn white with frost. She takes old plastic soda bottles, cuts off the bottoms and places them over her winter seedlings for extra protection. “The first time I tried it, I got a great crop of broccoli.”

Solutions elsewhere were provided by Eagle Scouts from local troops, who created signs, built benches and installed an irrigation system in half of the garden. Growing bins make gardening easier for the disabled.

The garden's history dates to 1997, when founders began looking for a site. In 2000 they gained access to a half-acre in Waverly Park near the 23 freeway. The land's owner, the Conejo Recreation and Park District, eventually put up a chain-link fence and in 2006 doubled the space for the garden, bringing the total number of 10-by-20-foot plots to 116. The garden is officially listed as a nonprofit named Community Gardens of Avenue of the Flowers, but everyone just calls it Las Flores.

Now more than 100 families are growing here, and the garden has a waiting list. It takes about a year to get a plot.

For Aguilar, a plot here solved the problems she faced gardening at her house, and not simply because the bugs were eating everything in her backyard.

“I can’t just go outside and garden,” she said. “I find myself getting distracted, seeing all the other projects I have to do." At Las Flores, she doesn't worry about all the other things that need attention. She can just come to garden, to learn and to relax.

-- Jeff Spurrier

Dispatches from community gardens appear here every Wednesday. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook gardening page.

0-Flores
Corn stalks and sunflowers provide the backdrop for ornament flowers.

0-Flores-purple-hyacinth
Purple hyacinth bean was grown from seed that garden founder Fayde Macune picked up at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's plantation in Virginia.

0-Flores-purple-beans
The hyacinth beans.

0-Flores-pumpkin
A hanging pumpkin, growing fatter heading into fall.

0-Flores-wired
Some fencing is meant to keep pests out, while ...

0-Flores-windmill
... other fences are meant to keep heat in during winter. The windmills, pictured above and at the top of the post, send vibrations into the ground in hopes of scaring away gophers. Deterrence is complemented with trapping, as the opossum pictured at the top of post learned the hard way.

Photos: Ann Summa

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