Participating Gardens – 2013 Arlington Central Library Report

ARLINGTON CENTRAL LIBRARY

Wrapping up the Season
AFAC Plot Against Hunger Vegetable Garden at

Arlington Central Library

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The organic vegetable garden at the Arlington Central Library was started in the spring of 2010 to complement the library’s “Arlington Reads Arlington Grows” Program on Sustainability.  The Library Garden vegetables are grown for clients who pick up food from the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).  The Library Garden is tended entirely by AFAC volunteers.  The garden is a major attraction for library visitors, and it educates the public about urban gardening through:

  • A series of weekly garden talks led by AFAC volunteers and Master Gardeners of the Northern Virginia Extension Service. These Garden Talks are held from March through October each year (a brochure is attached to this report);
  • Extensive signage throughout the garden that describes crops and activities in the garden;
    • Frequent interactions between library visitors and our volunteers working in the garden.

Since the Library Garden’s inception in 2010, gardeners have increased the variety of vegetables grown in the garden, and have tested new crop varieties to suit the site, soil and weather conditions.  Sustainable, organic methods are used throughout, which includes the use of cover crops, cold frames, row covers, and crop rotations.  Normal crops include, in the early season:  radishes, turnips, beets, cabbages, broccoli, kale, lettuces and peas); in the mid-season: tomatoes, eggplants, summer and winter squash, peppers, okra, cucumbers, sweet corn, string beans; and in the late season: cole crops such as broccoli, bok choy, nappa, tatsoi, cauliflower, kale, and collards.

During the 2013 growing season, more gardening space was allotted to the vegetable garden by the Library, and the garden increased its crops to include Jerusalem artichokes, cotton, Malabar spinach, elephant kale, passion fruit, and a stand of corn among a bed of native perennial flowers.  In March 2013, the Plot Against Hunger Program was given a donation of 150 cabbage, romaine lettuce, bok choy, and broccoli seedlings that had been grown by students at the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, and the added space allotted for the vegetable garden allowed volunteers to plant these seedlings immediately.
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Lettuce harvested from the Library Garden was delivered to the AFAC loading dock.

One significant and much-needed addition to the Library Garden in the spring of 2013 was the purchase of a storage shed. The shed was erected by volunteers and is used to store donated tools, seeds, gloves and other equipment.

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AFAC volunteers Aaron and Jay show off the new library garden shed they helped build.

In the past, having tools on-site required volunteers who were willing to load wheelbarrows, pitch forks, and other tools into their personal vehicles. The Library Garden shed has made it easier for garden coordinators and volunteers to work in the garden whenever they can get there.

The other major addition to the garden was an irrigation system (long hoses and drip hoses) that provided watering coverage for the entire length of the 70-foot-long berm, and also helped irrigate the new bed on the east side of the library.

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Spring crop seedlings growing at the Library Garden.

The early crop of peas, lettuces, cabbages, broccoli, and bok choy benefitted from the new irrigation system, as did later summer crops of beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes.

The volunteer corps at the Library Garden is comprised of a small group of year-round volunteers who take shifts weeding, harvesting, and watering.  Larger groups of 10-15 volunteers help with general garden upkeep and special projects.  For example, in the spring of 2013, a project to build a bamboo fence (to protect the crops on the 70-foot-long berm) involved a dozen volunteers who cut bamboo from the yard of an Arlington residence, and another group of volunteers who designed and fabricated the fence using the bamboo.   Later, in the fall, a low retaining wall was built by volunteers to keep the garden soil and mulch from spilling onto the sidewalk.
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AFAC’s Panda Team pauses while cutting 150 20-foot-long pieces of bamboo to create teepees, trellises, & fences for Plot Against Hunger gardens.

An Arlington County community gardening mini-grant provided support to include the following equipment:  outdoor storage shed & lock; leader hose; heavy duty flat hoses; faucet extender; 4-way brass manifold; flat soaker hoses storage rack.