The summer sun is for more than heating your favorite swimming spot. Right about now, a few lucky residents of Joint Base Andrews are harvesting the fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers they planted and are tending in raised beds as part of a community gardens program launched last year.
“The community garden is my baby, something I’d envisioned when I got here three years ago,” said Greg Ramirez, Liberty Park at Andrews’ community outreach and marketing director. “I’m ecstatic that even in this heat, they’re very dedicated.”
Within a chain-link fence on Washington Street, 34 raised garden beds showcase the efforts of a group of JBA residents. Some residents have just one small bed, while others care for several areas busting with green growth and luscious produce. The garden beds come with basic soil, although some gardeners bring compost and other soil improvers to the garden; there are also hoses available, to make watering easy no matter where your assigned plot is.
Jessica and Neil Percifull bring their sons Austen, 7, and Riley, 2, to the garden several times a week to care for the plants. The boys enjoy watering the gardenand each otherbut when the garden starts to feel like work they romp in an adjacent playground, close enough to be within easy sight of their parents. So far, the garden usually keeps their attention, and has even started to teach the boys about the natural world. Riley chases butterflies as Austen explains to adults that the bees, while they might sting, are also good for pollenating the plants his family tends.
The younger Percifull is even branching out to try new foods, made more familiar through weeks of growth in the garden.
“Austen will eat pretty much anything. Riley likes fruitnot so much vegetables, but since we started the garden he’ll eat the squash,” said Jessica Percifull.
The Percifulls started their garden to save money on groceries, while ensuring they know just what they’re putting in the family’s meals. This summer, their garden has yielded cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, basil, eggplant, “and lots of weeds,” Jessica Percifull said. Strawberries did well early in the season, but have not been as successful under the long streak of high temperatures our area has experienced for the past few weeks. The Percifulls are planning to continue gardening through the fall, planting broccoli and other cool-weather crops once their summer garden has reached its peak.
It’s not always about food, though.
Shirley Wheeler’s five plots include mounds of fast-growing herbs, including several varieties of basil, even though she does not usually cook with them.
“I grow mostly for the scent. I hadn’t even heard of pesto until I brought in some of my basil to the office,” Wheeler said. “Everyone was saying, ‘Pesto! Pesto!’ I’ll have to give it a try.”
Wheeler is also growing cabbage, for the beauty of the plants, more than their taste; corn, a crop she found disappointing this year; and melons, among other produce, in her garden. At home, her yard is full of growing plants, as well.
“My garden at the house is all colorful flowers. I wake up in the morning before work and I just look out the window, down at all the colors. I love the colors,” Wheeler said. “Sometimes it almost makes me late for work.”
Wheeler said she has always had a garden bursting with color and scent. She enjoys the time outside, and the creativity, and the beauty of the results. She’s considering planting pumpkins for a fall harvest.
“A pie! You could make pumpkin pie!” said Austen Percifull.
“You could make a pie, if you’re so bold,” Wheeler replied. “I’ll just paint eyes on my pumpkins and set them out for Halloween.”
Though all the garden plots have been assigned for this season, some gardeners may still be able to claim a spot for fall, when current users wrap up their growing season and reclaim their security deposit. Some gardeners sign on for just a season, while others are happy to extend the growing season for as long as it lasts, and return again in earliest spring, for as long as they stay at JBA. And there are always a few envious passersby, who stop to talk and say that they hope to have plots of their own, soon. Ramirez said that the property management company is considering expanding the program at the Washington Street location or adding a second community garden area somewhere else within base housing, in response to the demand.