Young plants getting care...
... and soon will be shared in charity aspect of new Vermijo Park Garden

       From a place for cars to a place for chard (and other vegetables).

On a sunny morning this week at the Vermijo Park Garden, Raquel Petersen-Seal tends her plot. The fence around the roughly quarter- acre space helps protect the garden from hungry wild animals.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The Vermijo Park Garden, new this year, is transforming what had been part of a lightly used parking lot west of the baseball field off South 26th Street.
       In all, 17 plots - each 20 by 15 feet, except for three slightly larger ones - are being rented and planted with edibles by different individuals, with some of the produce eventually earmarked for the Care & Share pantry.
       In terms of growth, the garden is currently a little behind some others in the area. The newness of the site caused some delays, the water didn't get turned on until about mid-May, there were early issues with the soil retaining the water, and the often-wintry spring didn't help either. “We're barely getting to the point where we have radishes, kale and chard and a few different things,” noted Nicole Knapp, a plot-renter who's volunteering as garden leader.
       There's also been a problem with the pin-sized flea beetle, which is devouring some plants such as collard greens, cabbage and arugula. But these sorts of setbacks have helped unite the gardeners; for example, according to Sandra Knauf, a plot renter, several are now using an organic garlic spray (proposed by one of their group, Sherry Bennett) to ward off the pesky bug.
       “I'm learning so much,” said Knauf, who had gone through master-gardener training but “never had a good place” to grow things where she lives. “It's been a lot of work but a lot of fun.”
       “You learn things from other people,” commented another gardener, Raquel Petersen-Seal of Pleasant Valley, “and you bump into people you might not meet otherwise.”
       The Vermijo project was started this year by Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG), a non-profit business that specializes in founding gardens around the area. After receiving hearty responses to gardens it started on the Westside in the past two years (in the 2800 block of West Pikes Peak Avenue and outside the Holy Theophany Orthodox Church on North Chestnut Street), PPUG was looking for more locations last fall and worked with the city to set up the garden inside Vermijo Park. The city provides water at the site in exchange for reimbursement from the gardeners. The contract is between the city and PPUG, which has agreed to manage the site and help out the gardeners during its first three years, said Larry Stebbins, its director.
       According to Knapp, most of the plot-renters are from the surrounding neighborhood (southwest of the Old Colorado City shopping district). She herself lives about 15 minutes away, but sought a Vermijo plot after frustrating herself trying to garden from her north-facing apartment unit. “That's why I'm motivated,” she said.
       Knapp has seen a kind of neighborhood spectator phenomenon. “When we're there gardening, people ask what's going on, like at a baseball or softball game,” she said.
       There had been a sign outside the garden explaining its purpose, but unfortunately it got stolen, she added.
       The Care & Share connection is based on a grant the area food pantry and the Colorado Home and Garden Show gave to the Vermijo Garden. The grant supported PPUG's concept of making locally grown food available to more people. So the Vermijo plan is to place a cooler in a corner of the garden and, as plot-renters pick their vegetables through the summer they will set aside some of their harvest for the cooler.
       On three larger plots, the renters have specifically agreed to give 10 to 15 percent to Care and Share, said Elise Bowan, Stebbins' chief assistant at PPUG, adding that “the other gardeners are encouraged to give, [but] it's not mandatory.”
       Every Monday, starting July 12, the cooler's contents will be delivered to Sacred Heart Church, as a drop-off point for distribution to the hungry, explained Abby Laine Sienkiewicz, who will be the driver on those runs. At some point, she thinks she might even need to go more than once a week. “We always grow more than we eat,” she said.

Westside Pioneer article