TERRE HAUTE —
Under an early morning blue sky, volunteers with a gardening association on Wednesday harvested 630 pounds of vegetables at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds, all of which goes to food banks/pantries in Vigo County.
It is part of the “Giving Garden,” located on just under an acre of land in the back of the fairgrounds.
“The garden supports 11 food banks/food pantries in the county,” said Greg G. Fields, chair of the Giving Garden and member of the Wabash Valley Master Gardeners Association Inc.
“We are doing really well this year. So far we have picked eight times and we have 2,075 pounds” of vegetables. “We picked Monday and had 780 pounds in one day,” he said.
The garden contains a wide variety — onions, corn, zucchini, yellow squash, potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, egg plant, green peppers, sugar baby watermelons, green beans, broccoli and other vegetables.
The garden also has flowers, used for table displays during the fair, such as sunflowers, gladiolus and zinnias.
Vegetables, such as corn and green beans, are planted at different times to allow the plants to mature in different weeks to provide a continuous harvest, Field said.
It is the fourth year for the garden, planted and maintained by the Wabash Valley Master Gardeners Association Inc. It takes a lot of hard work, with mulching, weeding, harvesting, composting and watering. Last year, more than 1,200 volunteer hours were logged to care for the garden, Fields said.
Watering has not been an issue this year. The garden received two inches of rain Wednesday, but because it is on a sandy soil, it is well-drained and dry.
Last year — a severe drought year — the garden had to be watered frequently, enough that it produced about 11,000 pounds. The garden is well on its way to produce at least 12,000 pounds this year, Field said.
“Rain makes grain,” said Jim Luzar, Purdue Extension educator, who helped with the harvest Thursday. “A good garden needs about 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week. It has not been an issue at all this year, with all the rain. The soil here is sandy silt and has excellent drainage, which is perfect for vegetable production.”
Luzar said the garden is not like a community garden. “If someone tried to take something from here, they probably would be tackled. This all goes to food banks and food pantries,” he said.
Rick Conley, who along with his wife, Brenda, serves as pantry coordinator, oversees a food pantry at The Life Center, 3000 College Ave. On Wednesday, Conley picked up about 200 pounds of produce from the garden.
“This provides good fresh vegetables. A week before last, we served 66 families, approximately 208 people, which was a record number for us,” Conley said. “Normally we average around 40 families.”
The pantry is open from 4 to 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.
Conley said any undistributed vegetables, at the request of the Master Gardeners, are given to the Catholic Charities Food Bank.
Gardeners maximize the space with planting techniques, such as the use of a trellis, which in this garden looks like the frame of a house. Plants such as cucumbers or squash grow up the trellis vertically, instead of spreading out horizontally. They receive more sunlight and produce more yield. Also, it’s easier to harvest. “You don’t have to bend down to pick them,” Fields said.
The garden is maintained with organic materials, such as neem oil, sprayed under leaves of cucumbers and other plants to prevent insects from laying eggs and corn gluten from spreading in rows of vegetables, Fields said.
Harvest is done twice a week and will go to three times a week once tomatoes are ready for picking, Fields said. The garden is used through late fall, with cold weather crops such as winter squash, pumpkins or Chinese cabbage.
In addition to harvesting, the gardeners regularly deliver the vegetables directly to a kitchen of a food bank or pantry.
“It is very rewarding, it really is,” Fields said.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or email@example.com.