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Get to gardening!

A crash-course on community gardens at JBLM

JBLM community member Bill Brander preparing the Lewis North Community Garden in April. Photo courtesy JBLM PAO

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There's something intensely satisfying about toiling in the garden on a cool summer morning. Whether it's the feel of damp soil clinging to the underside of your nails or the plucking of sun-ripened vegetables from the vine -- the act of gardening can bring you a sense of "Zen" that will carry you through the most hectic day. Here at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, you can tap into that gardening Zen at the Community Gardens on Lewis North and McChord Field.

"Gardening is a stress reducer, and a place for reflection and relaxation," says Cathy Hamilton-Wissmer, sustainability outreach coordinator at the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division on JBLM. "JBLM community gardens ... provide a welcome respite from a busy lifestyle. Nothing tastes better than food you grow yourself!"

So, what exactly is this community garden we're chatting about? The answer is simple: it's a community-led garden with small plots of land available for lease, on which you can grow food. JBLM has two community gardens: one on Lewis North, between Stables Storage and the horse stables on Flora Road. It has approximately 60 garden plots. The second is at McChord Field, near the horse stable on Equestrian Drive. It has 30 garden plots. In both cases, garden plots are 4-by-10 feet in size and cost only $25 per year to lease.

"Anyone with base access can lease a plot to grow their own food," said Hamilton-Wissmer, who's been working at the community gardens for eight years. "Community Gardens are a huge benefit to JBLM because they bring a sense of community and the possibility that comes with every garden. You can meet fellow gardeners, share tips, grow your own food, grow some for the local food bank and get outside into that wonder-filled place that is the magic in any seed."

Plants commonly grown at the community gardens in cooler, spring weather include broccoli, chard, onions, peas and spinach. Summer plants include corn, pumpkins, sunflowers, tomatoes and root vegetables like carrots and beets.

"We once had someone grow their own hops for home-brewed beer," said Hamilton-Wissmer. "Every gardener can choose what they want to grow ... (although) mint is not encouraged, as it can get quite unruly."

Those interested in gardening on-post but don't have gardening tools of their own need not worry, as tools are available at both locations and are free to use. Gardeners new to the community gardens are also given an information packet when they sign up for a plot of land.

"We have regular gardeners who are retirees and return to their plots every year, and we have brand-new gardeners (servicemembers and families) who have never planted a garden before. The retirees provide a real sense of community and a wealth of experience to young, novice gardeners," said Hamilton-Wissmer.

"The best time to begin working in the garden is when the plots become available in April. If you're thinking ahead, you can start seeds at home and bring them to your plot as early as March. If you leave it a little late and don't get anything started in the spring, put some beans in the ground in June, (like) pumpkin seeds or sunflowers, and you'll still be rewarded by fall. Once the fall weather arrives you can still put in your colder weather plants like Bok choy, kale or a winter chard, and you won't be disappointed. Just keep an eye on the soil temperature for best results. Western Washington is a great place to grow vegetables."

Questions about the community garden at Lewis North should be directed to Northwest Adventure Center at 253.967.7744; questions about the garden at McChord Field should be directed to Adventures Unlimited at 253.982.2206. 

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