Mike McKibbin

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September 19, 2012
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Gardeners know their stuff

Lee Jones thinks a cold spell is headed to Rifle in about a week.

The Rifle resident based his weather forecast on careful observation of rows of vegetables he's grown for the last three summers at the Bookcliffs Council on Arts and Humanities community garden off 16th Street.

Jones and his wife, Esther, are among a group of dedicated gardeners who have filled the 18 beds at the community garden with rows of fresh, organic vegetables for their tables.

The appearance and behavior of his crops tells Jones temperatures are due to take a dip fairly soon.

"Just based on past experience, you look at the color and if they're starting to droop down," Jones added.

But it's been a bountiful harvest for the community gardeners.

Jones said he and Esther have already picked more than three bushels of both squash and cucumbers, a half-bushel of potatoes and many other crops.

"We started picking on June 10 and we're on our second run through on most of them," he added. "Cauliflower, broccoli, beets. We make a lot of salsa verde with tomatillos. We want to make a combination broccoli, cauliflower, squash and green beans medley, too."

Jones and his wife have canned about eight quarts of salsa and 22 pints of sauerkraut, too. They started seeding their bed in February, when temperatures rose enough to get the ground dry and warm, he said.

"I think, if we've got our calculations correct, we saved about $200 a month by growing our vegetables here at the garden," Jones said.

growing up on a farm in Mississippi.

"The closest town was 12 miles away and there were no fancy roads like they have now," he said." So we had to grow a lot of our own food. "We canned everything."

One thing Jones learned was to let some of the vegetables go to seed, collect those seeds and you have a good starting point for the next year.

"You know they've come from the same soil, so they get started easier," he said.

June Renfro, secretary/treasurer with the council and a member since 2003, called the community garden "A real Godsend."

"I think a lot of people don't even know we have one," she said. "The irrigation rights [from the Bill Morrow property that hosts the garden] make it viable. We couldn't afford city water, especially since they raised the rates."

Each gardener can set up their own compost pile, Renfro said. Plots, or beds, cost $20 for the summer, plus a $20 council membership fee. The close to 100 current members get first choice of a garden bed each year, Renfro said, and applications are available for the remaining beds on the council web site, www.artsinrifle.org.

Renfro said they hope to add six more garden beds next summer, if funding is available.

"Originally, we were a Walmart sustaining project, so that helped with the materials," Renfro said. "They still give us things like broken bags of dirt to help out."

Another gardener, Helen Rogers, of Rifle, has grown and harvested vegetables at the community garden for the last three years as well.

"It's a good way to support the arts council," she said. "I live downtown, so the sunlight is limited and there's not enough space for my tomatoes, potatoes and everything else, too."

There's also a lot of camaraderie you'd expect when people get together and get their fingers in the dirt, Rogers said. They share tips and make new friends, she added.

Lindsay and Chris McLean are both teachers in Rifle and have their own bed of thriving vegetables. This is their first year as community gardeners.

"It was something we heard was going on, and when we called, they said they had one bed left," Lindsay McLean said. "We were really happy to get it."

"We've always wanted to have a good vegetable garden," Chris McLean added. "But we never seemed to have the room."

The couple is renting, Lindsay McLean added, and didn't want to tear up the existing landscaping for a garden.

"It gets us away from home for a while, too," she McLean said.

"We were up here every single day in the summer," Chris McLean added. "Now that school's in session, it's about every other day."

Weeds don't seem to be a huge problem, Lindsay McLean said.

"Just those stupid squash bugs that I had to learn a lot about," she said with a chuckle.

They also learned jalapeno peppers turn red when they're getting to the end of their life cycle, Lindsay McLean added.

Chris McLean agreed their first year as gardeners has been a continual learning curve.

"But it's nice to be a little self-sustainable," he added. "Next year, we'll be able to apply what we've learned and do even better."

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The Post Independent Updated Sep 19, 2012 05:44PM Published Sep 19, 2012 05:39PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.