Gardening in a Group: 6 Tips

The new White House garden is definitely a joint effort: it's 1,100 square feet that will be tended not only by members of the White House grounds staff but will involve students from nearby Bancroft Elementary School. Even the Obamas have announced intentions of getting their hands dirty while working in the new garden.

That sort of combined effort can be exactly what it takes to create a gardening success. Last year, I started a small balcony garden with some success. This year, I've teamed up with a friend in my neighborhood to plant a bigger and better garden: we're taking a joint approach to the effort just like the White House. If you've been thinking of starting your own little co-operative gardening effort, I've got a few tips from my own experiences that might yours go a little smoother.

  1. Plan out just what you each want to grow — and don't make assumptions. We've already got a great set of eggplant seedlings, but we didn't realize that neither one of us actually like eggplant until the seedlings started popping up.
  2. Decide early on where the garden will actually be, along with the materials you need. Our decision was pretty easy: although we both live in apartments, my friend has a yard that she's allowed to use. We'll still need to bring in planters to keep her landlord happy, though.
  3. Share costs and work as best you can. The fact of the matter is that the member of your joint gardening effort who actually lives with your garden will wind up doing more work. If that person winds up bearing the brunt of any expenses, as well, your garden probably won't make it past the first year.
  4. Take advantage of having more people involved. You can often get at least a few seeds from friends and relatives — if you and your partner both ask around, you may be able to get all of your seeds for free. The same goes for looking for boards you can reuse to build your planters or soil you can use for planting.
  5. Plan at least one shared meal from the results of your garden. While a shared meal isn't a necessity for a shared garden, it can be an enjoyable way to see how well your garden worked out and decide how you might want to adjust your plans for next year. It also lets you avoid at least some of the discussion on how you want to split up your produce.
  6. Square Foot Gardening can offer a lot of shortcuts for gardening as a team. Not only can you set aside specific squares for individual growers, but it can also simplify dividing the workload.

Have you teamed up with someone to grow a garden? If you have any tips to add, I hope you share them in the comments!

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Guest's picture

Hope the garden produces well for you. We've only been at it for a few years and found "Square Foot Gardening" is very good, especially if your soil is iffy. ("How to Mix the Perfect Soil for the Perfect Garden"). The system lends itself well to multiple gardeners. A family I know made individual 4' x 4' plots for three of their children. The kids were tickled with the results.
This year, we got some 2" x 6" lumber free from a dad who salvaged it from a construction dumpster (and had leftovers after building his daughter a fort) and seeds from a very kind freecycler. The biggest investment was the peat moss etc. needed. Vermiculite is hard to come by but we found a decent deal online. Once the bed is established you just add to it year by year, so it's not as heavy costwise. We're almost ready to roll with our second 4' x 8' bed. Tell us how it goes for you as your summer progresses. Personally I'm looking forward to some REAL tomatoes.

Guest's picture

I love to garden and have been gardening for years. I like to start my plants from seed since the variety of seeds available is always bigger then the variety of seedlings that you can buy locally. Even though I don't garden with friends, we always share seedlings and ideas.

I also wanted to remind folks not to forget your local foodbank. If it happens that your zucchini (or beans or tomatoes) produces too many to use at one time, your local foodbank always welcomes garden fresh produce. My local foodbank actually has a community garden where you can volunteer your time to help them plant, weed, harvest.

Guest's picture

Just a little word of caution on that free lumber found in a dumpster. To use it in gardening, especially veggie gardens, make sure that the wood has not been treated. Any chemicals that were added to the wood can go into the ground and your plants. Most places that you buy lumber will let you know, but when getting it out of a dumpster, you have no idea.

Guest's picture

Vermiculite all I can say is NO, NO, NO!! I am amazed you were able to find it at all. It is and cannot be sold here in MN. It has been proven as cancer causing. MN is in the process of trying to figure out what to do with the old vermiculite plants. All the soil needs to be removed and treated as hazerdous waste. Please research it before you think of using vermiculite.

Guest's picture

Labels are *so* important for a shared garden. labels on the beds, labels on the rows/squares. And if any of the crops are new to any of the gardeners, keep a book with pictures handy so nobody accidentally weeds up something that was wanted.

Especially in a community garden plot, there are likely to be lots of volunteers, and if some of them turn out to be wanted, you have to adjust your labels. Your gardening partners can't read your mind!