Natural Perspectives: Community garden is set to bloom

The people of Huntington Beach received a great Christmas present — final permission from Southern California Edison to begin building a community garden on Edison property at the end of Atlanta Avenue. And a happy new year!

Vic and I will be among the many new gardeners who will cultivate a plot there. We have tried so hard to grow our own food in our small yard. But we can't grow much with the limited space there. Our fruit trees helped push up the poundage of our annual harvest this year, but we grew only about 200 pounds of produce in 2010. Our new 15-by-20-foot plot at the community garden will give us a lot more space. And it won't be in the shade like our home garden.

And there is more good news to report. The Huntington Beach Community Garden group and the Orange County Conservation Corps applied jointly for a grant from the Employees Community Fund of Boeing California. The proposal has been funded, so the garden group will have the help of the strong young men and women of the corps for some of the heavy work of clearing the ground.

I took a look last week at the future garden site. It lies under the power lines at the end of Atlanta Avenue. The garden group sure has its work cut out for it. Part of the site was compacted by Edison and covered with several inches of gravel to serve as a staging area for Edison's heavy equipment. That area had several inches of standing water after the storms of last week, which dumped 7.5 inches of rain on Huntington Beach.

That's the section where Vic's and my future plot lies. I wanted a plot that was close to the entry gate, but that area has the most compacted soil. It's going to be a challenge converting a parking lot to a produce-producing plot.

The rain is feeding weeds in the rest of the future garden. Non-native grasses, mustard and wild radish are growing like — um, well, they're growing like weeds. So the people who will be growing veggies in the back half of the future garden area will have a huge weed seed bank to contend with. We're going to need the courage of pioneers to face the challenge of being the first gardeners on this site.

I'm excited that I'll be working with a corps crew in the field again. For the past year and a half, my work with the corps has been confined to leading the new hires on a nature hike to do wildlife surveys at Bolsa Chica, and then working with them in the classroom. But in the past, we did a lot of good restoration work at Shipley Nature Center, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and the Audubon California Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Bell Canyon.

We will have some concrete rubble to remove, a big stump from a dead Myoporum tree, and 2.3 acres of gravel and weeds to contend with. Rainbow Disposal has generously agreed to supply the needed dumpsters to haul away the debris. Next, we will install the irrigation, which is another big job.

But someday soon, the area under the power lines will be transformed from an area of weeds and rubble to tidy plots of vegetables with a border of California native plant landscaping. The ground will go from being a poor habitat for wildlife to being able to support far more birds. But I hope it doesn't support too many gophers, ground squirrels and other critters that will want to gobble up nice fresh veggies.

The garden group has held several different types of fundraisers, including selling memorial bricks. With the help of in-kind donations, the group has enough funding to move the chain-link fence that now bisects the garden area, plus install the backflow valve and irrigation system. It's on its way to having enough money to build wooden bed borders for the garden as well, but will need to secure additional funds to complete that task. Fortunately, the members have received pledges of more funding for early 2011.

Weather is going to play a key role in the timing of installation of the new garden. First of all, the soil will need to dry out more before the bulldozer and the corps crew can come in to clear the ground. Weather plays a role in availability of the corps as well. With all of the flooding in the foothills, Orange County was declared a disaster zone. That designation will provide funding for cleanup. That means that I'll be working more to train new crews, and that those crews will be busy sandbagging slopes and clearing V-ditches of mud and rock slides. Work on a new community garden will have to take a back seat to the need for clear roads.

As we move into a new year, Vic and I look forward to helping establish the city's first community garden that is a joint venture between a community nonprofit organization and the city. The garden at the end of Atlanta Avenue is only the first of what is planned as a series of gardens throughout town. The next site might be Irby Park in the north central part of Huntington Beach. But we have to get this garden up and running first.

Vic and I would like to extend our thanks to all of the folks in the garden group, city staff and Edison who have worked so hard for the past two years to make this dream a reality.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at LMurrayPhD@gmail.com.

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