Growing Garden

CELINA — A local garden has netted approximately 170 pounds of fruits and vegetables that have been given to area food pantries.

This is the first year for the Wright State University Lake Campus Community Garden, an all-volunteer operated garden located on campus.

"The dean gave us permission in October to start doing this," said Ron Kremer with the garden committee. "We started building the beds in October and putting our leaves and grass clippings and branches, anything that would deteriorate for compost, in the beds to be ready for spring planting."

He said they started planting the fruits and vegetables back in March when the weather was warm.

"We planted lettuce and onions, and after the onions we put cabbages in," Kremer said. "After the cabbages, we're putting green beans in the one bed. We're going to keep the beds as full as we can — it's called double cropping or triple cropping."

In addition to lettuce, cabbage, onions and green beans, the beds have featured or currently feature squash, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, green peppers, rhubarb, strawberries, potatoes, two kinds of tomatoes, red beets, snap peas, parsley, sweet potatoes, asparagus and zucchini.

"When we first started, people started asking us, 'What is this stuff?' and we kind of took it for granted, but we realized they didn't know that," Kremer said. "So part of the education process, Coldwater Machine Company made these (signs) for us for free, and our staff here laminated it so we can change the signs — we've got about 30 of these signs we can put out here to indicate what these are."

By using nine raised beds, the garden is able to feature walkways.

"We get a lot of the public walking through here just looking at this," Kremer said. "They look and they're like, 'This is asparagus?' because this isn't what you eat ... You don't want to eat it now because the first year you have to let it grow or it'll kill the plants."

The garden also features a small flower area.

"In the vertical bed, we put two pallets and we used soil and mulch and we planted flowers," Kremer said, noting a stand-up bed to one side of the garden. "It's just something different."

All of the harvested produced is given to area food pantries.

"It goes to the two food pantries — Call Ministry in Celina and Agape in St. Marys," Kremer said of the fruits and vegetables. "Anybody can take it in as far as that's concerned, we kind of alternate between those ... One day all the harvest goes one and the next to the other because of the driving costs."

The garden committee consists of eight people plus a few additional members.

"Once we started going, people started hearing about it and more expressed an interest, so eight people plus the four additional, we call them The Dirty Dozen," Kremer said.

The garden started as an idea to benefit the two food pantries.

"The whole purpose of this was to help the low-income people and the food pantries," Kremer said. "The food pantries, all they get are a lot of boxed food and canned goods because that has a long shelf life, and here they get some fresh stuff. And they're very appreciative."

The garden has also enabled the committee to try different gardening methods.

"We kind of experiment a little bit," Kremer said, noting in the first two rows of peppers, they applied chicken manure. "These two rows are doing very well, now what I did is dump some more chicken manure in the rest to see what kind of effects there would be. We're doing some undocumented studies — what works good, what doesn't work and stuff like that. We're not doing any kind of technical research ... I know chicken manure would help, and we can use that for later."

Some of the crops have had issues with this hot, dry summer.

"The heat has been tough on our potatoes, the cabbages really, and if you don't water the squash and zucchini plants almost daily, the leaves droop," Kremer said. "With the onions, it's so hot, they just can't take it."

For the rhubarb, they added straw to the soil to keep the plants cool.

"Some of it are not making it," he said. "Normally 80, 90 is OK, but this 100 stuff is tough on us, too. We expected some problems the first year, but we never anticipated this heat."

Even with the heat, the garden has yielded multiple pounds of produce. Plus, Kremer noted, the compost wasn't fully decomposed for the first year, either.

"Being the first year, the stuff hasn't really decomposed yet, and it's doing really well," he said.

The next phase for the garden is a compost bin.

"Last fall, maintenance picked up the leaves and grass clippings, this is what filled all these beds, but some of this they have to throw away, and we don't want them to do that," Kremer said. "So we're building a big area for compost, we can go up to 8 feet high, and that stuff will settle ... It breaks down and becomes soil. With the high winds we had, these are the small branches, the bigger branches they cut up for firewood, but we can throw those in here and bring some straw. The city of Celina always takes their leaves and branches and grinds them up, and this is really good stuff, this is what makes our plants really do well. Ground-up leaves are the best. They grind it up, and they brought two truckloads out here for us, and we had St. Marys Township bring a truckload. We had a lot of different donations coming in to support the project."

To help with watering the garden, the engineering department is applying for a $10,000 grant to set up a watering system, Kremer noted.

"They want to capture the water off the roof and then create a system where it would automatically then water our beds at a certain time," he said. "They would set that up, and it would test the soil to see if it needed water and it would automatically kick on. That's a project the engineering department is taking on as a grant to buy the equipment to do that, and it's a good project for the students."

One faculty member, he said, wants to do research on what type of plant gives you the most nutritional value for the space and cost.

From the beds, to the signs, to the plants, to harvesting the plants, the entire garden is all volunteer.

"This is all donated dollars, no money from the school," Kremer noted. "The staff can only work on it during their off hours. We didn't want to put any state money into it. Different students are coming out and doing studies, and I think you'll see more of that next year. We got seeds and plants donated, we've had some lumber donated. We got a tool shed and some tools that were donated to us. The first year is going to be the most expensive, after that it's just a matter of seeds and things."

He said the garden is a way to support the community and to give back to the community.

"We're proud of what we're doing, very proud of it," Kremer said.

Anyone interested in donating or helping with the garden can contact Jill Puthoff with the Lake Campus at 419-586-0300.