Old Trail Community Garden Takes Root

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Old Trail Community Garden

Now in its third year, the Old Trail community garden, a grid layout of 10-by-10 plots in fertile bottomland along Lickinghole Creek, has developed a dedicated, mutually supportive cadre of gardeners and the hoped-for payoff of fresh vegetables.

“It’s a wonderful community. Everybody helps everybody,” said Thierwechter, who chairs the volunteer operation with Betsy Aronson.

The 50-by-100 foot plot has silt cloth pathways with mulch thrown on them and sits safely behind a seven-foot-high, woven-wire deer fence. A 150-gallon landscaper’s water tank timbers near the gate allows gardeners to irrigate their plots with a gravity flow.

Most plots are well tended, something that’s hard to do in Virginia’s lush climate, and these days they are showing off tomatoes, cucumbers, zinnas, strawberries, onions beets, kohlrabi, peppers, Swiss chard, carrots and gourds, and a gamut of other good fresh eats.

The key to its progress has been Mitch Dillard, who has the equipment to do heavy work–like a tractor-mounted tiller–and who maintains the water supply in the landscaper’s tank by pumping water daily from a nearby spring. Dillard gardens about a half acre outside the fenced community plot growing a variety of vegetables with an evident green thumb. He’s aided by his grandson Connor, 13, an eighth grader at Henley Middle School, who mows the margins and cares for crops too.  Connor is also known around Old Trail for mowing yards.

“Last year Mitch gave away about 65 or 70 pumpkins,” Thierwechter said. “He’s unbelievable. He delivered them all around the neighborhood. Everybody was so happy.”

From left: Connor Dillard, Jonathan Whitehead, Betsy Aronson, Karen Clark, Mickie Johnston and Bev Thierwechter.

“We give priority to meeting all requests for plots, and if any are left over people can have more than one,” Thierwechter explained. There are 30 plots and 18 gardeners now. There is a combination lock on the gate. If demand for spaces grows, the plot could be enlarged.

Gardeners pay $20 per year to have a space, and the money goes for fencing, pathway fabric, and other expenses, such as a tool storage box. They want another water tank and would like to put out a picnic table too.

Gardeners must to contribute 10 hours of labor to the common needs of the garden. They held a workday on July 14 and 10 people showed up to tackle chores.

“We don’t want people to get discouraged,” said Aronson. “But some people don’t last. We’re hoping that residents at The Lodge will pair up with some of our gardeners.”

The plot is on county-owned land and gardeners sign liability releases to the county and to the Old Trail homeowners’ association. “We appreciate the cooperation we’ve gotten from the developer and the county, and the HOA,” said Thierwechter.

Last year the site flooded, but no lasting harm was done. They also had a problem with groundhog raids and on advice they got at Crozet Hardware they drove “sonic spikes” in the ground and those have worked.

“I love the tomatoes and I’ve been experimenting with heirloom ones,” said Thierwechter. But there weren’t as many coming on as she had expected. “What I discovered was that they were not fruiting up because it’s been too warm at night. Gardening is a exercise in humility. Totally.”

Next she is making plans for succession crops and putting in a bed of lettuce for the fall.

The watering tank

Mickie Johnston lives in a townhouse and comes down to the community garden in the evenings to work her patch. “I’ve always been a gardener and I’ve worked in nurseries,” she said. She’s been in the cooperative for four years.

Jonathan Whitehead calls himself a novice. “I’m trying to learn,” he said. But with the readiness with which gardeners are sharing tips on techniques and plant varieties, he’ll be an expert before long.

Later this summer the community gardeners will hold a “Dinner in the Garden” event to savour their harvests.

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