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garden tools

Community Gardens

Start Up Essentials for Community Gardens

February 14, 2015

Autumn Prep at Callan Community Garden

I’ve written several articles about community gardens – the benefits and how to’s – but once you have your plot of land and an interested bunch of people who want to grow food, it’s important vital, to provide some basic equipment for the gardeners and tutors to use. Without a few tools the group will struggle and far from the success you envisaged at the beginning of the project, you could find it falters and folds.

Willing or Not So Willing Volunteers?

If the initial core group are willing volunteers, you may get away with asking them to bring their own equipment until funds have developed. However, if you’re a well-meaning organisation who are trying to encourage low-income families to start growing their own in community gardens, even if your ethos is one of upcycling and recycling, you’ll need to provide some basic kit. Your potential gardeners might not have the equipment or the funds to buy the tools, seeds or gloves that will start them on the road to growing more of their own food and without it, will soon lose interest.

The Community Garden Twitter & Facebook pages recently received the following query which prompted me to write this post, sharing some of my experiences from projects I’ve worked with.

Start Up Essentials for a Community Garden


Do I Need To Harvest Water or Have An Electricity Supply?

Start Up Essentials for Community Gardens | Greenside Up

Soaker Hose Irrigation in a Polytunnel

I’d be interested in reading your experiences in the comments below, but my own are that groups can manage without electricity but gardening can be difficult, though not impossible, without water on tap. None of the gardens I’ve worked with have had a power supply in the garden itself, though some have run extension leads from buildings nearby for power tools. Although a heated propagator bench is a very useful addition to any polytunnel, I’m not aware of a garden having one where the group only meets once a week.

Water harvesting can vary but community gardens are a good place to demonstrate how it can be done. It makes sense to save water. It’s a free resource with no chemicals added and although it might seem like we have a lot of rain in Ireland, we can experience some long dry spells. If you don’t have a mains water supply on site, harvested water might be your only source of water.

Some gardens have standard rain barrels attached to roof guttering, some have old builders tanks rigged up to catch rainwater with a funnel, some sink their own wells. In the Greenside Up garden we attached a couple of leaky hoses to a builders tank connected to our roof guttering. This has worked really well for us and I would definitely recommend trying to install something similar in a community garden environment if you can. You can read more about our system here.

So you have water and possibly electricity, what else do you need in a community garden?

Toilet Facilities & Shelter

Before we move on to the must haves and optional extras, it’s a good idea to think about toilet facilities. They might not be a necessity but will be needed by someone at some point! If there’s no toilet block on site, consider installing a composting toilet, hiring a portaloo, or have a chat with the closest pub or business and ask if they mind gardeners using their facilities.

If you don’t have a polytunnel or shed, a pop-up gazebo would be a useful addition to the kit list. I’ve been in several gardens where a downpour of cold rain in February has sent everyone running to their cars. By the time they’ve started their engines and gone home, the sun was out and the rain stopped.

Must Have’s

Note: Quantities will differ depending upon the size of garden or group expected. 

  • Soil/Raised beds – digging straight into the soil is the cheapest method and perhaps the most sustainable, but not always the most practical for a community garden. The soil might be contaminated, full of rubble or may not be fertile, you may want higher beds for people with mobility issues and there’s no doubt they’re a lot easier to maintain for a group environment. Don’t forget that if you’re creating raised beds, you’ll need to source good topsoil.
  • Garden tools – you’ll need a minimum of a fork, garden (flat) rake, spade, hoe.
  • Hand tools – small trowel, fork and a small hand hoe/weeder.
  • Start Up Essentials for a Community Garden |Greenside Up

    Wheelbarrow with added booster


  • Waterbutt/water source – You might get away without a running water supply outside if there isn’t a long dry spell of weather, but vegetables will grow a lot bigger and tastier if they’re not left to parch. If you don’t have an outside tap nearby but have a shed or building close to your garden, plan to connect waterbutt’s where you can – it’s a free resource once you’ve made the initial outlay.
  • Watering can and/or hose for the above.
  • Horticultural fleece – for covering vegetables in case of a sudden frost.
  • Bamboo poles/hazel sticks of various sizes for pea and bean supports.
  • Compost Heap – make your own with pallets or buy a plastic one from the local council, but composting in a community garden is a must. It will become a source of organic matter for you in the future.
  • Manure/Organic Matter – buy in or find a friendly farmer who can supply you with some well-rotted manure.
  • Start Up Essentials for Community Gardens | Greenside Up

    Pallet seating at Thomastown School of Food

    Seating – make your own, buy or look for donations but the social side of community gardening is one of the top two reasons people join them.

  • Seed/propagation Trays and Pots – see ‘start collecting’ below.
  • Seed & Potting Compost for starting seedlings off, preferably reduced peat.

Optional extras

  • Start Up Essentials for a Community Garden |Greenside Up

    Home made cloche

    Shed for keeping the tools securely locked away.

  • Grow bags and buckets/tubs – if your beds aren’t ready, or you simply want some extra growing areas, grow bags can be useful for planting outdoor tomatoes, strawberries or cucumbers.
  • Cloches – great for beginning and end of season as well as growing warmer climate veg if you don’t have a polytunnel. You can make your own or buy them ready-made.

Start Up Essentials for A Community GardenThings you can gather

        • Community gardens are really good environments for encouraging people to think creatively about reusing and upcycling, both of which can help to keep the costs down too.
        • Cardboard toilet/kitchen roll tubes are handy for growing seeds in.
        • Plastic food containers make great seed trays or pot containers.
        • Plastic plant pots – ask local garden centres for spares.
        • Carpet can be used as the base for garden paths if you’re planning to wood chip over them.
        • Cardboard boxes – can be put on the bottom of raised beds to prevent weeds coming up.

Take a look at my Recycled Garden Pinterest board for some more ideas.

Follow Dee Sewell ‘s board Recycled Garden on Pinterest.

 How to pay for the tools

If you don’t have immediate funds, there are various ways of obtaining small grants or donations though it’s a good idea to choose someone in the group to take care of this. If you need cash to pay for tools and equipment, you may need to fund raise or ask local business’ if they’ll sponsor more expensive details of the garden such as a polytunnel. You could try sending out a plea in your local newspaper, Facebook post or parish newsletter. Keep an eye out too for occasional grants being offered by groups such as GIY International (if you’re in Ireland be sure to join the community garden network for updates). Contact your local council or tidy towns group for advice and ask if they know of any small pots of gold that you can tap into or ask other community gardeners either in the forum group or on twitter or Facebook. Local training offices (ETB’s) might also be able to offer advice and definitely speak to them about the availability of horticultural tutors. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there if you ask.

Community gardens don’t just have to attract hardened gardeners. Youth groups, artists, people with disabilities, the elderly and socially excluded can all be encouraged to visit and take part, widening the reach within communities.

If you’re involved with community gardens, have you any more tips to add that can help to get them started?


What’s in the gardening bag?

April 20, 2013

full bagI’m out and about a lot now visiting various gardens and as a result my gardening bag is overflowing. In need of a good clear out, the contents were emptied this week and it was a bit like opening up the Tardis.

There’s one important item missing though. Can you guess what it is? The answer’s at the end of the post.

Gardening Bag

  1. Leather gloves for those tough jobs but in need of repair. Good job I now have
  2. a lovely selection of Showa gloves!
  3. Selection of mostly empty seed packets.
  4. A dibber (or dibble depending where you’re from). Useful for making holes in the soil for garlic etc.
  5. Nether Wallop Paper Potter
  6. Various shape & size plastic plant markers
  7. Empty chocolate wrapper. Need I say more…
  8. Lollypop stick plant markers – can be composted when finished.
  9. Plastic spacers for joining poles together.
  10. Hand trowel.
  11. CD for hanging in the garden to scare away the birds.
  12. Scissors – always useful.
  13. Ph soil test kit.
  14. Secateurs – Felco a favourite present for passing horticulture exams and by far the best I’ve ever owned.
  15. Compass for working out the direction of a garden.
  16. My favourite hand tool & I’m hoping to replace it for a decent quality one (see 21) one day.
  17. Permanent markers for the plant markers – pencil washes off!
  18. Ph soil tester that has never ever worked. Now used to make holes or tie string to.
  19. Wooden stakes and string for marking straight rows.
  20. Penknives of various shape and size.
  21. Broken number 16. Favourite hand tool is also a cheap one that has to be replaced annually.
  22. Tie wraps that often come in handy.
  23. Hand fork.
  24. A four-inch bamboo stick that’s useful for measuring distances between seeds when sowing.  Used to have various sizes but appear to have lost them all bar this one!
  25. An unmarked rude paperclip. Have no idea…

Have you figured out another useful item that’s missing? It was the main reason I emptied the bag as I was hoping to find some in there………it’s a ball of string!

Do you keep any other useful items in your gardening kit?