From the Garden

What to Grow in a Community Garden Plot

By Megan Cain | Photos By Megan Cain 0

Megan's 2013 garden map.














The above photo is a map I made of my community garden plot several years ago so I could begin to keep records of the garden. This is my 8th year with the plot – the longest I’ve gardened on any one piece of earth. It’s actually two 20-foot by 20-foot plots side by side, so the garden is 800 square feet. The past seven years we also had a 1,000 square foot backyard veggie garden, bringing our total food gardening space to 1,800 square feet.

We use the community garden primarily as a production garden. I don’t plant crops that need a lot of attention or have to be harvested daily once they are producing. I also don’t plant many flowers or worry much about making the garden overly aesthetically pleasing. I save my artistic energy for my home garden because I see it much more often. My priorities for the community garden are to produce a lot of food and keep it low maintenance.

The community garden Megan is a part of.














Last season we grew the following crops in our community garden plot:

  • Asparagus
  • 31 tomato plants: Amish paste, Italian Heirloom, Green Sausage, Red Zebra, Medford, Dr. Wyche’s, Speckled Roman, Green Zebra and Moonglow
  • 38 pepper plants: Marconi Red, Carmen, Sante Fe Grande, Jimmy Nardello, Orange Bell, Jalapeno, Corno di Toro
  • 500 onions: Ruby Ring, Redwing, Yellow of Parma, Brunswick, Cortland (mostly storage varieties)
  • 250 garlic: Killarney, Inchellian, Romanian Red, Porcelain mix
  • 2 summer squash: Aristocrat and Sunburst (bad choice because zucchini need too much attention)
  • Beets: 10-foot rows planted in the garlic bed after harvest
  • Carrots: 10-foot rows planted in the garlic bed after harvest
  • Oats and peas planted as a cover crop in onion beds after harvest

That’s a lot of food! And as I write this in early May, we are still eating garlic, onions and beets from those harvests.

Garlic and onions are low maintenance crops, and heavily mulched paths keep the weeds under control.

As you can see, we grow a lot of solanaceae (peppers and tomatoes) and alliums (onions and garlic) in this plot. Those crops don’t need as much attention as other vegetables and they hang out in the garden for a long time. That means I don’t have to spend a lot of time replanting, watering and waiting for things to germinate. Specialty crops, as well as vegetables like kale that I think are beautiful, get planted in my backyard where I can more easily care for them and appreciate their beauty.

This year, if you have a garden off-site from your home, think strategically about what you will plant there. How can you get the most out of your garden with the least effort? What crops can you grow that give the biggest payback?

Once you’ve decided what to plant, try to set it up to be as low maintenance as possible so that if you get busy in summer and can’t visit for a while, then you won’t be wasting food or losing control to the weeds. Planting crops that need less attention and mulching heavily to keep down the weeds will help keep your off-site garden productive and enjoyable.

Are there specific crops you recommend growing in a community garden? Share in the comments below.

Megan Cain helps people create gardens that feed their bodies and souls through design, education and consultation. Her business, The Creative Vegetable Gardener, is the go-to resource for home vegetable gardening in the Madison area. Get her Top 5 Tips for growing more food with less work in a garden that inspires deep joy at

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