Community garden grows

Register Reporter

Register/Richard Luken
John Richards stands next to homemade brackets he uses to harvest scarlet runner beans from one of several plots he rented this year to grow an assortment of fruits and vegetables in the Elm Creek Community Garden.

As the summer growing season reaches its home stretch, organizers of Elm Creek Community Garden have set their sights on 2010.
With the city’s assistance, elements are in place that will essentially double the garden’s size next year.
City workers recently installed a pair of water meters in order for the garden to expand to the west. Materials for the new water lines, as well as the purchase of a new garden tractor, were made possible through a $17,000 grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
Doubling the garden’s size will add another 40 or so garden plots, including several targeted for handicapped users and other plots for low- and moderate-income families unable to afford the annual $20 rental fee.
ECCG organizers provide the necessary equipment for each gardener to complete their harvest.
“We provide the water, equipment and tilling and mowing,” McLean said.
Starting next year, several plots will feature large metal and plastic containers provided by Russell Stover Candies. The containers will be elevated and filled with soil so that even gardeners bound to wheelchairs can participate.
“Accessibility is a big thing for us,” McLean said.
The Health Care Foundation grant was the first of three the garden will receive.
The money went to badly needed equipment, McLean said.
The garden tractor, equipped with a tiller and mower, will make it easier to prepare the garden plots in the spring and keep areas between the plots well manicured throughout the summer.
But even with the grant, money has been tight, McLean said.
“We’ve done what we could with the money we had,” she said. “We still need garden tools,” such as hoses, hose reels, rakes, shovels and hoes, as well as additional topsoil. Help could also be used with repainting signs, building handicapped-accessible pathways and landscaping.
Opportunities for Iolans to help alleviate the cost of water and other expenses are available each time they pay their utility bills
Several have.
“I can’t say enough about how well the people of Iola have treated us,” McLean said. “It truly is a community garden.”

“IT’S AMAZING to see how this garden has grown and developed,” said Iolan Carolyn McLean, who with her husband, Val, own the land on which the garden sits.
This year’s harvest — the garden’s fifth — was by most accounts a highly productive one, said McLean and Iolan John Richards, who planted his first garden in ECCG this year.
Timely rains combined with the garden’s nutrient-filled topsoil led to bumper crops of a variety of fruits and vegetables.
“About the only thing that didn’t do that well, for whatever reason, was the tomatoes,” said Richards, who has served as a de facto garden caretaker this year. “Just wasn’t a good year for them.” Richards handled much of the mowing and weeding this summer.
Richards, who grew up in Iola before moving to the Pacific Northwest 30 years ago, returned to his hometown this spring to be nearer his family. He retired after a 29-year career with Hewlett Packard.
Richards’ mother, Ruth, and brother, Larry, still live in Iola.
He recounted seeing the sign for the garden during a recent visit.
“I knew once I saw the community garden I wanted to be a part,” said Richards, who was involved with community gardens in Oregon before he retired.
Richards rented several plots, enough for an assortment of cucumbers, summer squash, watermelon, corn, green beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, yellow wax beans, eight varieties of tomatoes, okra (which he hadn’t grown in more than 30 years), onions, cabbage, cauliflower, cantaloupe, eggplant and yellow, orange, red and green peppers.
Richards also planted scarlet runner beans, which will be harvested with the assistance of a rudimentary bracketing system. Richards uses plastic beams to form the frame for the bracket, with several twines connected vertically from the top to bottom.
The vines on which the beans will grow will follow the rows of twine, making it a snap to pick them, usually without even bending over.
“I probably should have made the bracket a bit taller,” Richards said. “I’m sure the vines will reach the top and start wrapping back around the other side.”
This year has been a learning process, Richards acknowledged.
“The growing seasons in Kansas and Oregon are quite a bit different,” he chuckled.