The planting season is still about a month away, but Carl Schmitzer is ready to get back in the garden.
“I enjoy springtime. I enjoy planting,” said Schmitzer, who raises tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables in his plots at the Crawfordsville Community Garden. “I enjoy the sounds of nature and I enjoy growing quality, good veggies and also taking a shot at new veggies in terms of my experimentation from year to year.”
As the garden prepares to celebrate its 10th season, more planters are discovering a love for the soil.
The garden, a project of Sustainable Initiatives of Montgomery County, has expanded to more than two-dozen plots on a converted hay field about 1-1/2 south of Crawfordsville. New gardeners have begun signing up to begin planting.
“With the new folks we have that opportunity to teach, come alongside,” Sustainable Initiatives board president Sue Lucas said. “Sometimes, we get a dandy person and they’re teaching all of us in the garden.”
Six plots were still available for rent as of Wednesday. Applications can be downloaded at www.sustainmc.org.
Schmitzer had been a longtime volunteer at community gardens in South Dakota before moving to Montgomery County about four years ago. He’s planted everything from radishes to kale, as gladiolus and wildflowers sprout up in the patches of soil and along the fence.
The food is shared with his family, neighbors and co-workers or prepared in dishes that are frozen for wintertime meals.
“We benefit in many, many different ways, but for me the biggest joy is springtime and beginning to get the energy and rhythm of the gardens,” Schmitzer said.
Members of the group that became Sustainable Initiatives began planning the garden after a presentation by the Montgomery County Master Gardeners.
Organizers sought to provide a space for families to grow their own food downtown — briefly considering the site now occupied by Pike Place. The Master Gardeners said the land was not suitable for growing crops.
“It’s going to be so much soil brought in, you’re not going to do anything,” Smith recalled telling the group.
She and her husband, Brian, offered up their property on South State Road 47, instead. A fence was built with financial support from Tipmont REMC’s EnviroWatts program, the Montgomery County Community Foundation and Big R Stores. The garden’s sponsors and early volunteers will be recognized at an event set for July.
“That first year of production, everything was enormous,” Lucas said. “It was virgin ground, it was incredible.”
Donation beds are maintained to grow produce for local food pantries, with mulch provided by the Crawfordsville Street Department. Dry shell beans are sold to local catering company The Juniper Spoon.
The beans also demonstrate the benefits of planting environmentally friendly crops, Lucas said. About 15 gallons of water are required to raise a pound of shell beans, compared to about 600 gallons for a pound of beef, she said.
Students from Wabash College and Crawfordsville High School have helped weed the garden and harvest some of the crops. Crawfordsville Electric Light & Power provides wood chips for the garden walkway.
Cindy and Trent Smaltz of Ladoga rented their first plot about five years ago. Their home’s yard isn’t ideal for gardening.
Now maintaining three plots with tomatoes, beans, peppers and other staples, the garden is part of the homeschool curriculum for the couple’s three children, 16-year-old Hannah, 14-year-old Abigail and 10-year-old John.
“It’s a good way to see that hard work goes into your food,” Smaltz said. “Someone, somewhere is growing your food.”
She preserves the bounty for the family’s dinner table in the off-season.
“In the wintertime, I’m still opening jars of tomatoes that we canned last summer,” Smaltz said.