Growing old at the Oxnard Senior Vegetable Garden
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Community Garden Dispatch No. 49: Oxnard Senior Vegetable Garden
“We all chipped in and planted this plot for the old-timer,” John Pardee says. “We let him come in and harvest. He’s about the oldest one here.”
At the Oxnard Senior Vegetable Garden, that’s saying a lot. Ora Cole, the garden president, is 82. Foster, her husband, is 74. (That’s the couple, above.) To be eligible for one of the 17 plots, a gardener has to be older than 55.
The garden is next to a fire station on Pleasant Valley Road in Oxnard, its home since moving in 2003. It had been behind another fire station on Hill Street for 30 years, closer to the Wilson Senior Center, the garden’s primary sponsor. A local Eagle Scout found the new site, and he and the gardeners cleared the weed-choked lot and built a small meeting hall. They lowered the dirt by about a foot and used a Rototiller to break up the hardpan.
A lawn is out front and a low chain-link fence is thick with climbing beans, an English variety that a friend of Foster Cole’s sent. The beans do well, but the cool weather this close to the ocean results in mold for some plants.
“Every morning when you go out the grass is wet, the roses are wet,” says John East, a gardener here for the last three years. “A hot day is 75. In the winter it’s usually in the low 60s. You can’t grow melons because it doesn’t get hot enough. But my New Zealand spinach is impossible to kill. It could go all through the winter.” (That’s the New Zealand spinach, at right.) Tomatoes are more difficult. For years a blight has hit almost all the plots, turning plants brown and killing them from the bottom up before their fruit sets. East thinks the problem might be salt. “When you water, you see salt on the ground. But once it starts raining it gets better.’
The gardeners donate part of their monthly produce to a local rescue mission, and the small greenhouse functions as a seed-starting classroom for local school kids. One of the garden’s plots is maintained by an Oxnard adult rehabilitation center, which brings in gardeners with Down syndrome and autism. But these paybacks to the community don’t translate into a budget. Annual plot fees total only $375.
At a recent quarterly meeting, treasurer Bob Baldwin said the garden needs new hand tools, wood for plot walls, snail bait, a new tiller and gasoline for the borrowed mower. Most pressing, as the gardeners transition to fall: a chipper-shredder to reduce the garden’s disposal fees.
The mower belongs to Pardee, who comes here five days a week, tending his plot and collecting surplus harvest to take to the bingo games at the Eagles Lodge.
“I put it on a table and it’s gone in 10 minutes,” he says.
-- Jeff Spurrier
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Name plaques for each plot.
Greens, gourds, tomatoes and more.
Prose from Ora Cole.
The biweekly meeting.