Community gardeners hone their skills

Sarah Lawson

Fires have scorched the plains of Texas and substantial rain has yet to come to Austin this summer, but wildfires and a severe drought aren’t slowing down local gardeners.

On Saturday the Sustainable Food Center hosted the first in a series of three gardening classes at the UT community garden located at 2108 Concho Street.

The Sustainable Food Center uses these classes as the first step for someone to become a “citizen gardener.” To become a citizen gardener participants have to attend all three classes and log 10 hours of gardening time.

“My gardening experience is minimal. I am just trying to figure out how to make things grow when there is no rain,” said gardening class participant Tom Mitchell.

The class focus ranged from composting, companion planting, bio-intensive gardening and rain barrel harvesting to special gardening tips during times of drought. Volunteer instructor Khaled Jafar taught the class in a question-and-answer format, honing in on useful tips he learned from experience.

“Growth in drought is all about light,” Jafar said. “If you are getting a lot of sun with little rain, provide a lot of shade covering. Also, I would mulch. You need to cover the western side of the garden because that is where the sun beams in from and can be most harmful.”

Jafar introduced a water-conscious gardening method known as rain barrel harvesting.

“Rainwater harvesting is where you take a rain barrel and use it to capture rainwater for garden watering purposes,” Jafar said. “It recycles.”

Other types of gardening Jafar covered were composting, the process of disposing and reusing organic material; bio-intensive gardening, the systematic planning of plants-per-square-foot in a garden in order to maximize the number of plants in an area and companion planting, the practice of planting compatible plants with each other.

“Some advantages of bio-intensive gardening or systematic planting are that it maximizes the light and at the same time allows the plants room to grow,” Jafar said. “Also, companion planting is important because it is helpful to know what goes with what. Garlic is good because a lot of bugs don’t like the smell, and lemongrass is also ideal for warding off bugs.”

Jafar also suggested the use of a cayenne pepper mix to ward off bugs.

“This is a community garden. We wanted one, but couldn’t have it at our apartment and now we can,” said class participant Phillip Martin. “It’s great.”