Calling All Hoes

You're gonna need 'em when you score one of these dirty garden plots.

Ah, spring, when a young man’s fancy is supposed to turn to love. Others of us can’t help looking longingly at dirt. Dark, ripe loam, smelling wetly of earthworms and promise, it calls to us from the sidewalks and the parks, whispering that with just a little rooting about, we can coax from it baby greens, herbs, and snap peas.

The Bay Area’s gardening season may not reach its height until September and October, but for you yardless proto-gardeners, now is the time to start thinking about registering for a plot in a community garden. Not surprisingly, most of the cities in the eco-friendly East Bay have some sort of community gardening program run by the city agencies, parks, or nonprofits. All charge a nominal fee, but lower the cost of your homegrown vegetables to pennies on the pound.

Oakland’s Parks and Rec Department, which runs one of the largest community gardening programs in the area, coordinates seven gardens. Sizes vary, but the standard plot measures ten by fifteen feet — enough for three or four bumper crops, with enough weeds to keep you puttering away throughout the year. Coordinator Jacoba van Staveren says the program allocates plots in March and April. Check the Web site (below) for garden locations, registration forms, and all the rest.

The nine gardens in Berkeley’s Community Gardening Collaborative operate independently, while the collaborative organizes compost distribution, educational events, and activities around the city. Each garden creates its own waiting list and sets its own rules. For example, Carlos Benito, coordinator for the Karl Linn garden , says members must help maintain a parklike commons area during monthly member work parties.

Some of the gardens have plots open, while others may make you wait a year or two. Benito says that every year three or four spaces open up at Karl Linn. According to Ranger Tracy Walker, coordinator of Walnut Creek’s Howe Homestead Gardens, turnover at Howe Homestead is quite slow, since most gardeners re-up year after year, but right now the waiting list is down to four or five names.

Don’t delay, though. There’s a growing demand. Below are a few contact numbers for local gardening programs.

Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative, 510-883-9096 (voicemail); online garden directory: EcologyCenter.org/bcgc; Hayward Community Gardens, 510-537-8901 (voicemail); Howe Homestead Park and Community Gardens (Walnut Creek), Ranger Tracy Walker, 925-943-5899, ext. 135; Markham Arboretum Community Gardens (Concord), 925-681-2968; Oakland Community Gardening Programs, 510-238-2197, online at: OaklandNet.com/parks/programs/communitygardening.asp

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