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Can you dig it? It’s time to plan for Community Gardens in Portage

March 21, 2017 GMT

There’s nothing like a vernal equinox to put a person in the mood to dig up dirt.

At least that’s what Charles Bradley is hoping.

Last year, there were plots in Portage’s Community Gardens, on Silver Lake Drive, that went unclaimed and untilled, said Bradley, who is instrumental in overseeing the Community Garden program.

“It’s been a bit of a problem to get people interested in a garden,” he said. “I’m certainly planting my own garden, so I highly recommend it.”

George Koepp, agriculture agent for the University of Wisconsin-Extension Columbia County, is inviting anyone interested in participating in the Community Garden program this coming growing season to meet at 6 p.m. April 6 in the Wisconsin River Room on the main floor of the Columbia County Annex, 120 W. Conant St.

The session is for anyone who’s even thinking about renting, for $20 per growing season, one of the 24 plots, each measuring 20 feet square, in the Community Gardens -- located on private property close to the city of Portage’s Park and Recreation Department offices at 806 Silver Lake Drive.

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Bradley said that a person need not be a Master Gardener to rent a plot; in fact, he’s not one, although his wife, Susanna, is.

But the Master Gardeners, a group overseen by the Extension, will be on hand to serve as resources for people who want to try their hands at growing their own food, Bradley said.

Bradley and Koepp agree that gardening not only yields wholesome, nutritious produce, but also offers the benefit of exercise for those who tend gardens.

But Bradley makes it clear that tending a garden is a commitment.

“What you don’t want to do,” he said, “is till it, plant it and then take off for three weeks, because the weeds will start coming in.”

Even with a layer of mulch, he said, weeds will pop up in the garden. One of the worst weeds, according to Bradley, is plain old lawn grass -- because it’s hard to grab it by the stem and uproot it.

Generally speaking, gardeners using the Community Garden plots are encouraged to grow their foods as organically as possible, with a minimum of herbicides and pesticides, Bradley said. Some chemicals are likely to be necessary to get rid of insects that might cut into the crop yield.

But there’s little or no need to apply chemicals to ward off the deer that would turn a person’s garden into a salad bar.

In April 2012, Koepp led a group of volunteers -- including Charles and Susanna Bradley -- in building a fence 8 feet tall, equipped with deer-proof mesh and foil and ribbons so the deer can see the fence.

The Community Gardens also have their own water supply, and a shed with tools for participating gardeners to use.

Koepp said the April 6 meeting will include discussions about tilling, composting, watering, garden rules and other questions that participants might have.

Bradley said it will be time, pretty soon, to till under the plants that remain from last season -- including, in many cases, oats that have been planted as a cover crop, and which will provide additional nutrients to the soil once they’re tilled into it.

Anyone wishing to rent a garden plot -- there are still plenty available -- may call Bradley at 742-7644. For people who cannot afford the rental cost, there is financial assistance available, he said.