“I love the idea of growing things together. I love seeing how other people grow things. I love the chance encounters that happen when I am down at the garden,” commented veteran gardener Patrick Moore of his experience at Montevideo’s community garden.

“I love the idea of growing things together. I love seeing how other people grow things. I love the chance encounters that happen when I am down at the garden,” commented veteran gardener Patrick Moore of his experience at Montevideo’s community garden.

As early rain and many warm days have blanketed the area, Montevideo’s community garden is healthy and growing. Located in Smith Addition on Chippewa Street, one block north of Heather Nursery & Floral, the garden features 19 plots that local residents have planted and tended for the past two months.

Amy Bacigalupo has been with the garden since it began four years ago and also serves to coordinate the effort. Over these four years, she and her husband have planted edible soybeans, tomatoes and basil.

“I worked with Jerry Tilden and Duane Hastad to get the garden started,” Bacigalupo said. “It was always my hope that the garden would bring people together in the community.  I am not an avid gardener, but I enjoy getting to know people through the garden. That is why I stay involved.”

Moore and his wife, Mary, have also been members of the community garden since it started. In their two side-by-side plots this year, they have planted potatoes, tomatoes, basil, Swiss chard, kale and collard greens. “We always plant marigolds and zinnias in our community garden to add a little color,” Patrick Moore adds.

Bacigalupo and the Moores’ mix of produce is just the beginning of what people have planted at the community garden. Ben Pieh, a first-year plot-holder, has planted beans, peas, carrots and radishes. Leander and Lucille Citrowski put nearly one whole plot in potatoes, then also planted broccoli, kohlrabies, onions, radishes and sweet corn.

Veteran gardener Robbie Anderson uses her plot as a chance to experiment with different plants.  Variety for her means chives, potatoes, onions, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli and shallots. “It’s something you can eat every day,” she said.

The focus on freshness is what is appealing to Lucille Citrowski, who points out that keeping the chemicals out of the garden provides people with a healthy alternative to what is often available in stores.

For many of the gardeners, growing their own produce adds to home-cooked recipes. For Ander­son, the Moores and many others, homemade salsa is a favorite. Anderson also likes to use her produce in Spanish rice while the Moores make all of their own pasta and pizza sauce from their garden produce.

Like all gardening, though, raising food in the community garden comes with its challenges. “It’s a bit more work than we expected,” Pieh said. For him and others, keeping the plots weeded while juggling a busy work schedule can be difficult.

Anderson has been able to weed almost every day, but even then Mother Nature hasn’t always cooperated. “I missed two days when it rained and then it was weedy,” she said.

Leander Citrowski has patched hoses that have been nicked by the lawn mower or just worn out over time. He has also brought his own mower to clean up the hard-to-reach spots the city mowers cannot access.

Another challenge that people have had to endure is when deer and other animals from nearby parks sneak into the garden for a late night snack. Citrowski has rigged up aluminum can noisemakers and even covered leaves with pepper sauce to keep critters away. He has still found broccoli leaves and potato plants nibbled in places.

And, like gardeners everywhere, germination rates are less than perfect. Many gardeners have struggled with carrots. Anderson couldn’t get her cucumbers to grow while the Citrowskis have had their challenges with radishes.

For many, these little struggles are part of the adventure as they share stories and solutions with fellow gardeners. This cooperation helps put the community in the gardening experience. “We love the people and the unique stories they have to share,” Patrick Moore said.

In fact, Mary Moore and Bacigalupo are planning a community garden potluck for some time in August. This will be a chance for gardeners to get to know their neighbors and share the fruits and vegetables of their labors.

Many helping hands have contributed to make this year’s community garden a success. “We have had a lot of support from various groups from the city, from Circle Sentencing to the Snowdrifters,” Bacigalupo said. “Duane at Heather Nursery & Floral has provided support all along from mini classes to tilling every year.”  She also noted how Jerry Tilden has provided much on-the-ground support as well.

Although most gardeners have seen great success this year and in past years at the community garden, many share one improvement for next year: They’d like to see more people sign up and join in the fun.

“It is important for all of us to make connections with where our food comes from.  Gardening is one way to do that,” Patrick Moore said.  “When we garden, we get a deeper appreciation for nature, we connect with our farmer friends who depend on the weather so much and we share food around the table with family and friends.  These simple pleasures are surely the best.”