United Way Day of Caring 2022

September 21st dawned clear and bright the way the Day of Caring always does in Charlottesville, VA. It shone on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of eager folks looking forward to the largest day of volunteering of the year. Or maybe they were really just looking forward to getting out of their workplaces. We’ll never know.

About thirty of those volunteers came from the UVA department of student athletes to volunteer in our community garden. Students, coaches, and staff joined Debbie Ashby and Nehali Patel of PVCC’s Student Success Office and worked on a number of tasks throughout the morning. They worked hard and had fun and made an awesome difference in the garden.

Our exterior fence had become quite overgrown with years of vines thickly intertwined and entire sections of terrain made impassable by tall, weedy growth. Our compost bins were falling to pieces and so choked with brushy material that they were quite unusable. All this, plus planting, watering, creating new beds, organizing the shed… I could go on and on. Much of this is simply one of those artifacts of Covid, for we have not yet returned to the number of students on campus that we had prior to 2020, and well the garden has been maintained well in some areas, we fell behind in others. It is deeply soothing to peel back the layers and bring back some order.

We are very grateful.

Readying for fall

Gardening in the summer can feel so overwhelming at times with the heat, humidity, insects, groundhogs, occasional drought (not this year) and sheer exuberant growth. So by late summer many gardens look overgrown and a little bit neglected. Even passionate gardeners feel a little bit of summer wilt.

But then cooler weather begins to steal in and as temperatures slide down into the 80’s and cooler nights make being outdoors a little more enjoyable again, so does our attention turn back to the garden. It has, after all, not only continued to produce but as always, we’re trying to remain one season ahead. August and September are the times to be planting your fall garden. Later in September it will be time for the truly cool season crops like kale, turnip, mustard, broccoli, and cabbage. A good planting calendar for this zone can be found here. Later it will be time to get in your cover crops for winter.

But for right now, enjoy the beginning of cooler temperatures and get those fall transplants in the ground!

Tomato bounty

Donations and updates

Recently the garden received some great donations from two wonderful local gardening resources. Last Friday Snow’s Garden Center at 1875 Avon Street welcomed five of us and donated plants (herbs, marigolds) and bags of soil and mulch, along with as much loose straw as we could gather into bags. One of their employees even pitched in too, then Snow’s Garden Center Manager Zachary Pittinger walked us around pointing at things we could take. This is not the first time that Snow’s has supported the garden and we really appreciate their plants, knowledgeable staff, and great upbeat attitudes.

Then on Saturday, Jeremy was visiting the Blue Ridge Farmers Co-op at 810 Harris Street. Garden Center Manager Dorie Smolar was kind of to donate a bucket of Sweet Potato slips and 30 packets of Organic Summer seeds (tomato and pepper). They indicated that would continue their support with some bags of soil, compost, or mulch to donate.

We are so grateful to both organizations for their support. Many of us with the garden have shopped at one or both locations before and know how crucial they are to us local gardeners. Please, support your local garden centers instead of the big chain behemoths.

Garden view
Garden bed closeup

Summertime (when the living is easy if you’re a hungry bug or a weed)

Our community garden is volunteer led and driven and I’m pretty proud of that. I mean, if we had paid staff, a large budget and fine, shiny resources I’d be proud of that too – but in a different way.

One of the garden’s raised beds

Schoolyard gardens are funny creatures in the summer if you think about it. Between late May and early September is often when the garden is at it’s most productive – and neediest. The weeds are growing fast, insects are eating and multiplying in large numbers, and here in Virginia it constantly seems like a month will go by without rain. Raised beds drain pretty quickly anyway even with regular rains or watering.

But guess what? Schools are largely devoid of students, staff and faculty in the summer. So who takes care of it? That’s where our top notch volunteers come in. They have “ownership” of sections of the garden and work together to maintain the common areas (flowers, herbs, shed, hoop house, native plant beds, etc.).

Broccoli, cabbage, squash

Our native plant beds, however, thrive even if neglected. Years ago we dug long beds alongside the fence’s interior and over time planted much of the space up with native plants. Some we were fortunate enough to get small grants for. Over time these hardy plants have flourished and as they did, we began seeing more birds, butterflies and helpful predacious insects. Plus, as they create healthy ecosystem and small shade areas, they give the gift of beauty to our eyes and perfume to our noses.

Native iris

I have memories of the years when there were just two or three of us keeping the whole garden running. Now there are dozens of wonderful people. Our garden community is always looking though for good hearts and eager hands, particularly during the busy and hot Virginia summer. If you’d like to get involved email garden@pvcc.edu.

Fall 21 Garden Gathering

Saturday, October 2nd was the quintessential Virginia fall day with a sky so blue it almost hurt to look upwards. And, for the first time in a few years, the community gardeners gathered in celebration – a community harvest festival, if you will, a chance to be joyful in each other’s company. The food was delicious – these people can really cook – and the conversation was better. It was great to see smiles unhidden by masks.

Friday in the garden

Friday’s weather was just perfect, a blue sky without blemish, and about ten students came out to finish the week by digging in numerous areas of the garden. They weeded, prepped bed space, thinned growing rows of plants and most importantly tasted, tried, laughed, and enjoyed. Fridays from 3:00-5:00 are a wonderful way to end the work week. Come and join us!

Figs (Ficus carica)

There’s been a major project underway at the garden to increase plantings around the exterior beds. Too many hands have contributed time and effort over the years to count but today I’d like to give some credit to Kip. Not only has he managed a bed in the community garden for the last few seasons, plus helped many other gardeners maintain and upgrade their own plots, plus takeover the garden’s shared herb space, but he also planted a huge number of both annual and perennial plants. Nut trees, apple trees, plums, grapes, sorghum, etc. And take note, he’s done this during a summer of high heat and little rainfall. Often have I watched him march around the garden with a heavy watering can in either hand, moving like an industrious bee from flower to flower.

Some fig trees existed in the garden and they’ve been added to and just yesterday, I saw the first ripe fig purpling and nodding, hanging heavy and ready to pluck. I brought it over to gardener Chris so that he could enjoy it. For him, as for so many others who have visited the garden, it was his first fresh fig and he pronounced it delicious. And they are. Fresh figs are so very different from dried figs. Get the real thing, if you’re lucky enough to have a source nearby. And ours will grow large and bear great amounts of fruit in time, along with many of the plants that Kip and the other gardeners have been stewarding.

Here’s an easy pizza recipe with fresh figs. Add some leafy greens and you’ve got simple deliciousness.


Garden visitors

Girl Scout Troop 3042 in Crozet visited the garden and learned about the benefits of a community garden and sustainability. They and their younger siblings and parents walked around smelling, touching, and tasting the assorted growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. Climbing the mulch mountain was very popular and, as it was a hot morning, so was spraying the hose. Hopefully they went home and began clamoring for gardening opportunities.

Thanks to all who visited, troop leaders Lauren Costella and Erin Lynch and, as always, the very cool Waverly Nohr- who made gardening fun.

Spring Gardening

It’s been a beautiful spring and the gardens are getting into full swing. We have about 25 individuals and families currently occupying the vegetable plots and have recently created two new beds: one for flowers and another for Madison House. Speaking of the UVA volunteers, they rejoined us again about a month ago and have been their usual source of joy and positive energy. It’s been such a comfort to have this community in the community garden during this past year.

Rock labels

Every year we make labels so that we can continue learning about what the plants look like in every stage of development. After all, a young sprout with it’s first two leaves looks an awful lot like a lot of other young sprouts. Or maybe we make them because it will help us remember later what we planted and less for other people. Perhaps it’s the joy inherent in the act of making something both beautiful and functional. Whatever the reason, every single season we gather to make more labels becomes a laughter filled occasion. Each label contains a picture of the plant, the Latin name, common name and usually, the name of the person who painted the rock. That way we know later who to remember and thank for the work they did that remains for future gardeners. Enjoy a few pictures from yesterday’s labor. One of them, Nate, you will note is handling his kale harvest and not a rock but since I like Nate a good deal and the picture I included it anyway.