Community Gardens offer summer plots to residents

First Lady Michelle Obama has become perhaps the most prominent American to cultivate a vegetable garden, joining millions of people nationwide who reap the benefits of growing their own food.  Burlington residents without fertile — or expansive — land can still enjoy growing crops through the city’s Community Gardens program.According to the Burlington Gardens Web site, the program evolved out of non-profit organization, Gardens for All, founded in 1972 by a group of entrepreneurs emulating Boston’s Fenway Community Gardens. According to their Web site, the Burlington Parks and Recreation Department took the reigns of the program in 1986 and has been expanding it ever since.Gardeners have the choice of several garden sizes, which range from around 750 square feet down to 40 square feet, according to the Web site.  Prices start at $20 for a novice plot and rise to $55 for a full-sized plot.  Scholarships are offered for low-income people and gardeners come from all walks of life, program coordinator Lisa Coven said.”We see a lot of UVM and St. Mike’s students, but you’ll also have 80-year-old grandmothers working plots too.” Gardening classes, the listings for which can be found on the City Parks and Recreation Web site, are offered in such subjects as composting. A potluck and community work days throughout the summer offer opportunities to meet fellow gardeners and compare methods, according to the Burlington Gardens Web site.This year, interest in the gardens is greater than ever. “Usually we don’t fill up until May,” Coven said. “But now we only have a few plots left at a couple locations.”Coven oversees the tilling and maintenance of the nearly 500 plots, spread out over 11 locations throughout the city. The closest garden to UVM is situated on the corner of East Avenue and Colchester Avenue, just north of Fletcher Allen hospital.Vermont has a relatively short growing season, so it can be tricky to grow certain crops.”Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, sweet corn and cucurbits [squash family] should not be planted until Memorial Day or later unless you plan to be diligent about using frost protection,” UVM plant and soil science professors Vernon Grubinger and Leonard Perry said in their article, “May Gardening Tips,” found on the Rural Vermont Web site.However, the growing season can be extended on both ends by using a cold frame, they said. As with almost any endeavor, the more you put into a garden, the more you’re likely to harvest.Planting, weeding, mulching and watering all require time and energy, but promise a reward of your own fresh vegetables.