Fenway Victory Gardens Gear up for a Modified Start to the Growing Season

As the weather starts to warm up, people are beginning to wonder how they can safely spend time outdoors as the world continues to battle COVID-19.

Elizabeth Bertolozzi, President of the Fenway Garden Society, told the Sun that the Victory Gardens are getting “a ton of new requests for the wait list” after the Red Sox Foundation reached out to the community telling people to put their names in for a plot at the gardens.

With the garden filling up, the typical spring cleanup is fast approaching, but this year it won’t be able to happen the same way.

“April is a big cleanup for us,” Bertolozzi said, as gardeners transfer out of the winter season. She said that the original plan was to have three different external volunteer groups come out to help clean up the garden, as well as a monthly member participation day.

“It’s unfortunate,” Bertolozzi said, “but given the guidelines…we’re kind of feeling our way through this but what we’re doing dovetails with what the City and state want us to do.” 

She said that while things at the Victory Gardens don’t typically ramp up until the third week of April, the garden cleanup will still have to be rethought as groups of people will not be permitted to gather in the gardens. They are considering doing a cleanup where people take turns being in the garden and making sure they are very spread out.

Though most gardeners have not been spending much time in their plots yet, Bertolozzi said that each garden is big enough where gardeners would be at least six feet apart even with their plot neighbor.

But many people are still preparing for the gardening season in other ways.

“This is the time of the year where people are possibly starting seeds inside,” she said. “I happen to have a grow light that we use to start our tomatoes.”

Bertolozzi also said that some gardeners have been able to start some cold crops like peas, snap peas, and spinach, but for a lot of other crops, “you really do have to wait until the ground warms up—primarily at the end of May,” she said.

She said that one of the issues gardeners are facing right now is delays in seeds from companies that they usually order from.

“We’re really lucky that last year we had reached out to a bunch of seed companies and talked to them about the Fenway Victory Gardens and asked if they’d give us some of their expired seeds,” she said. “They were very generous. I remember coming home one day to a 45 pound box of seeds.”

She said there are “large quantities of basic seeds” like carrots, peas, and tomatoes, and she said that while they did bring the seeds to different garden events last year, not many people were interested.

“People are really interested in getting them now,” she said. She said they’re working on getting a plan together to package up the seeds and place them in a common area outside for people to share.

“It eliminates the need for people to gather and gives people a little more comfort that they can go through the bins,” she said. Though there is a limited variety of seeds—probably seven or eight different types, she said—people can still have access to something they can grow in their garden.

Additionally, “gardeners are notorious for saving old seeds,” she said, which probably have a slightly lower germination rate but will still yield results.

“I think the biggest thing that we’re all struggling with is that this happened so fast that it didn’t really give people the opportunity to plan,” Bertolozzi said. “I’m tryin to get people to reach out and keep looking but like I said, we’ve got a stash of them now thanks to some folks who had been nice enough to provide us with seed.”

As far as the cleanup goes, “per our guidelines, gardeners are responsible for the areas directly outside their gardens anyway. Gardeners will be even more diligent about taking care of that.”

She said the gardens will still receive their compost through the City of Boston and be able to distribute that to the gardeners.

Also, every year a week after Mother’s Day is a community participation day that “dovetails with a big bulk order,” she said, consisting of dirt, compost cow manure, wood for people who want to build raised beds, fencing, and posts for those who need to fix their fences or gates.

The order is typically placed in mid-April and garden members are given a list of how much the items cost and how many of each they would like. “Everyone works to defray what the shipping cost is,” Bertolozzi said, “and Home Depot delivers it to us.”

However, this delivery requires a group of people to be on the ground to help with the distribution of materials, and people need to show up with their order forms to confirm what they have purchased. “We have a bunch of volunteers who also show up and help other gardeners get materials to their respective gardens,” she said. “We’re struggling with how to manage something that wide of scope.”

She said that this year, they are really going to have to rely on the help of the garden members themselves rather than counting on leaning on outside groups like they have often done in the past.

Rick Richter, Vice President of the Fenway Garden Society, will look at assigning garden members responsibility for different sections of gardens, making sure that people who are assigned to different rows are making sure that gardeners have what they need and are in compliance with the guidelines.

She also said that they are going to be posting on the bulletin board in the garden reminding visitors to the gardens that they are operating under the rules of the City of Boston, as the gardens sit on City of Boston parkland.

Anyone interested in putting their name on the waitlist for a garden plot should email [email protected].

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