Starting A Vegetable Garden
Many vegetables require a lot of sun and soil nutrients. Luckily, you don’t need acres to grow your own produce.
Vegetable gardens should be located in sunny spots with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day (leafy greens can tolerate light shade). Ideally, they should be close to your house for easy tending and watering.
August is harvesting time for farmers and gardeners. As summer days turn longer and hotter, the vegetable plants start to produce blossoms and the blossoms turn into vegetables. Suddenly, there is an abundance of tomatoes, peppers, okra, squash, corn, and many greens to pick. Is there anything more delicious than eating a juicy tomato off the vine?
The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is responsible for administering the city’s community gardens and urban agriculture program. There are two types of community gardens. The more familiar type is the neighborhood community garden, where individuals are assigned a specific plot, sometimes in raised beds. Each ward of the city has two or more of these traditional gardens. In Ward 6, there are three DPR community gardens: Lovejoy Garden at 12th and E Streets NE, Southwest Garden at K Street and Delaware Avenue SW, and Virginia Avenue Garden at 1098 Eighth St. SE. All together there are 130 plots for gardeners to use.
In 2020 just as Covid hit, DPR launched the second community garden model, communal production farms. The city now maintains three such farm sites with great success. Josh Singer, community garden specialist, is responsible for all the community gardens and his enthusiasm for the farms and weekly veggie giveaways is contagious. “The new model of the communal farms is open to everyone from those that volunteer to those that line up every week for the veggie giveaways,” says Josh. “It really has broken down barriers.”
Less than four miles from Capitol Hill is the biggest of the communal farms, Lederer Gardens. It is located at 4801 Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in Ward 7. The garden is named for Robert F. Lederer who was the Executive Vice President of the American Association of Nurserymen during the term of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The garden is located near the Marvin Gaye Park that includes a 1.5-mile stretch along the Watts Branch Creek. Marvin Gaye lived in the Deanwood neighborhood not far from these park sites.
In 2013 the Lederer garden was redeveloped and is now an integral part of the park system. In the works is a new Nannie Helen Burroughs Forest Garden along with trails that will link the different parks. It will be planted with a variety of fruit trees.
The Lederer communal garden is about the size of a football field and last year produced 10,000 pounds of vegetables. Every inch seems to be in production. Josh points out that, in addition to all the vegetables and flowers grown, the garden is home to seven beehives and several fruit trees. Recently, the garden has created what they call the mud café in one corner. It is modeled off a play garden in Brookside gardens where children are encouraged to come and create an imaginary restaurant with make-believe cooking stations and tables with umbrellas to serve their mud coffees.
“It has been a big hit with the kids that come on Saturdays with their parents,” notes Josh.
The garden will soon open the second DC Tool Shed where DC residents can come and check out, like at a library, tools to work in their own homes and gardens. “We have it almost ready. The opening, we hope, will be next month,” Josh says.
Lederer Garden also has a coveted greenhouse. As gardeners know, having space to get your seeds started in late winter makes a big difference in getting plants to grow and produce. It’s how you produce the small, sprouted plants to put into the garden when the ground is frost free. Josh says it shares the greenhouse space with several other nonprofit farms and groups.
In addition to Lederer Gardens, DPR manages the Edgewood Rooftop Farm located at 300 Evarts St. NE in Ward 5, and the Powell Communal Farm at 3149 16th St. NW. The last one was opened in 2022 and exists in an alley. DPR has been working hard to address a special challenge for the Powell farm. That’s finding crops that the local rat population won’t eat.
Each of the gardens have open farm hours and weekly veggie giveaways. All are free and open to anyone that wants to come. Check the DPR website to get the various times. The farm open hours are also times when anyone can visit the farm to volunteer, learn or self-harvest. The farms are open between March and December.
The weekly Veggie Giveaways are Tuesdays from 11 to noon at the Edgewood Rooftop Farm Garden, Wednesdays from 11 to noon at the Lederer garden, and Thursday from 11 to noon at the Powell Communal Farm in Ward 1.
On the Wednesday I visited Lederer garden, the line formed a few minutes before 11 a.m. and included a least 50 people of all ages waiting for the week’s harvest. Josh says that in addition to the vegetables they give small bouquets of flowers to those who want them, and it turns out to be one of the most popular giveaways. This time of year, the bouquets include zinnias, marigolds, and other colorful flowers. Once a month, in addition to the vegetables grown at the garden, the Capital Area Food Bank provides onions and potatoes, oatmeal packets and some canned goods. On those days, there may be 100 or more DC residents in line.
These gardens are great outdoor spaces for residents and are key in fighting against food and fresh produce deserts in the city. Whether you are looking for a chance to meet other DC residents, learning more about growing vegetables, bees, and caring for fruit trees, or you just are looking for free healthy, home-grown vegetables, DC Park and Recreations’ communal farms have it all.
Rindy O’Brien enjoyed her day in the Lederer Gardens, to contact Rindy, firstname.lastname@example.org