May 6, 2021

Why not just join a community garden?

by christopherabdo

Now wait a minute...if you want to grow food together we can share, why not just join a community garden?

I'm incredibly grateful to have garden plots already, I am FOR having community garden plots, but as you'll see with my story (which is the story I see played out again and again with newbie gardeners that get a plot, only to give up within a few months) we need a Thrive Hive to make it all work. 

Okay hold on, we're going through a crucial detour...

I've been growing plants for over a decade, before they were cool and hip. When I said I was into plants, indoor plants specifically people looked at me almost like I was part of the church of scientology. I was a weirdo, and outcast. Since most of my life I was  a bit of a misfit, I didn't really notice...until now, when houseplants are in vogue, and people have the opposite reaction, asking me what I grow! 

Even though I had grown indoor plants for several years, only in the last few years did I finally get a outdoor garden space at a community garden. If you live in  an apartment in Austin, its a real challenge to get any outdoor space to least it was for much so that I ended up getting a plot in Cedar Park. The  community gardens  I reached out to in Austin were either far away or  basically told me they were too busy to even talk to me, much less get on a waiting list for a plot four miles away from where I live.

Which I totally get: there aren't enough community garden spaces in Austin, so the people managing those communities have their hands full.  

So garden plot, secured! 

Despite having been a gardening book worm, reading gardening books in the basement when I should have been working on my homsechool homework in canada (where I had no friends outside of our two dogs)...all those books  and indoor gardening experiences didn't replace the need for experiencing the challenges of outdoor gardening in Texas. 

For instance,  growing indoors, I never had to deal with  intense wind and huge 60 degree drops or increases in temperature!  A seedling I so lovingly put into the ground would get blown away, or dried out by the wind, frozen or fried or eaten by bugs or critters before it had a fighting chance. 

While driving an hour total through traffic to get to this plot, only to forget my seeds and have to drive another hour,  I  was so pleased that there was a compost pile provided by the city, so at least I could deal with the challenge of growing a seedling and get some success there, getting the help of compost ready to go, before taking on the challenge of compost and how to do it. 

The more experienced gardeners (maybe 1 or 2 to be exact) would drift in for a few minutes,  and give a very suspicious eye to this "compost".  It didn't seem quite right. It was a mystery where it came from, it had several other odd qualities.  I had terrible results with this compost, but I didn't know it and blamed myself. 

We DID have a compost bin. However this bin devolved into a pile of large branches, weeds and scorpions.  A Master Composter, (yes, that's a real title, they get training and certificates and the whole lot) marched in, got a system together...but many of the gardeners were beginners, who  could barely get to their plots and didn't learn or were not available to learn how to compost and what to put in the compost...and would put random things, like diseased tomato plants into a cold pile.

I, as well as a few others in my community garden, tried to reach out to everyone so we could at least meet the other gardeners, talk to each other, and then get some kind of agreed upon system we could all do together. Every attempt in the last 3 years or so, just to get everyone together on the same page, has failed. I don't quite know why or what to do about that.

So I gave up on the  creepy compost pile on one side, and the  the community compost bin with big branches on the other, and focused on doing it myself. I began burying food scraps, but didn't see any change in my growth of the plants. I was happy to find a place for my food waste, but wished I could just get something to grow. 

Then one day, I just made one huge ugly pile and forgot about it. Lo and behold: after a few months, that pile reduced down and many of the vegetables I struggled to grow, like squash,  grew faster than I had ever seen them grow before! Normally squash and zuchiini would grow at glacial pace, only to die with a pest or something else. I felt like elated, I also felt  like an idiot. Had I known and realized that you need a HUGE pile (a cubic yard at least) of stuff to let break down, I wouldn't have buried little bits of food scraps scattered all over my plot.  I'm sure I read that...why didn't it register? It would have been helpful, to see a real compost pile in action, in context. 

It took me YEARS to get to that point.  This is where the Hive would have made my gardening journey much, much less of struggle.  My whole life is basically my business and my garden,  can you imagine a busy single mother with two jobs and five kids? Forget it. A community garden is a huge step up from absolutely nothing, and yet we also need garden community, a common garden ground where we see each other often and help each other grow. Plain and simple. 

Now how would being part of a local Thrive-Hive been so incredibly helpful for me? 

  1. Time 

It would have saved me a lot of time making compost. I'm all for making compost and learning how, I have a worm bin, a compost pile, etc...but remember, I was already struggling with just getting seedlings to stay alive with wind, plant timing, heat, frost, bugs, rabbits...I was challenged enough already I promise! Having compost, like what Jesse's hive could have gifted me, would have made a huge difference. 

If I had access to a local hive, I could have learned faster, I could have had some compost to start me off, and I likely would have had help keeping the seedlings alive, to boot! 

  1. It would have made gardening affordable. 

Can't you just buy compost? Well yes,  one bag. I did buy the one bag. You need a lot more though, and remember I had zero yard equipment, I lived in an apartment. I was already over budget just trying to get seeds, transplants,  hoses, buckets...the minimum things you need to start and maintain a garden.  I carefully chose my projects, but my lack of experience and lack of funds meant my one or two projects were left unfinished...not because I wanted to stop, I was quite enthusiastic, but because I had to wait for funds to be replenished again. 


If I was part of a Hive, the tremendous gathering of organic matter and compost would have suddenly made building the soil so much more doable. I could then focus on affording the minimum equipment I needed to get going. Compost can (and really, come on, it  SHOULD) be free, and of excellent quality, for all. 

  1. If I had a Hive, I wouldn't have felt so stupid and alone. 

With failure after failure, I started to believe that I just was deeply, truly terrible at gardening and I didn't know if I would or could get better. I kept going, because of what it did for my soul after my parents died.  Yet, there was a loneliness. I would share the little success I had on instagram,  but its just not the same as someone seeing and celeberating with you. I was lucky to have Josh and a couple other gardeners I would occasioanlly run into, but it wasn't enough. Not just  that, but gardening is best taught within the context of an ecosystem.  Going on to YouTube, you can learn a lot, but many videos are from gardens far away, that have radically different climates, soil structures, etc.  Even in Texas gardens, you're not seeing the whole picture of that garden. It is in relationships with  a  piece of land and the gardeners caring for it that you  can learn to grow better, and feel less alone.

Yes, a Master Composter did a workshop one time at time I couldn't make with work, but it wasn't enough. I needed a relationship. Better yet, a mentorship. Even better than that,  surrounded by a community working together to contribute to life starting exactly where they are, with what they have, with the people around them.  That's what a Hive is about for me.  It can be more or different for you, if you start, join, or nurture the growth of a local Thrive Hive. 

And THAT is one  big reason why a Hive is so amazing. It's making it possible to connect with your local community, develop offline friends, contribute to life,  having surrounding neighbors be able to grow food together we can share.

Want to join or start a Thrive Hive? Click Below 

Can't join or start right now? Pay it forward. Share this idea with someone who can. 

If you are already in Hive, spread this around by clicking below, or text a friend with unused potential garden space, and/or a desire to grow or help others grow.  This message is like compost. You need a lot of it, spread around a large area, for things to grow. Trust me,  the squash taught me this the hard way.


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