RED BANK: GARDENERS FINALLY DIG IN

Members of Junior Girl Scout Troop 1556 working the soil on the first day of planting Saturday. Below, Linda Mulhausen stakes a plot. (Photo by Sarah Klepner. Click to enlarge)

By SARAH KLEPNER

From the intricacies of composting – weeds in or out? – and soil amendments to the development of a satisfactory water plan, the Red Bank Community Garden has finally come into being. And there’s still room for more gardeners.

After political battling last year over where to site the garden, gardeners got oriented last Tuesday night, meeting with RBCG committee members and several local experts who have been part of the two-and-a-half-year process of establishing the facility.

On Saturday, under bright spring skies, the urban farmers tilled soil for the first time.

Among those tending one of 16 4-foot-by-15-foot plots at the borough-owned Marion Street site were a Girl Scout troop and a resident of Grandville Towers who has always wanted a garden.

Juliane Randazzo, a Staten Island native who came to Red Bank two years ago by way of Marlboro, said of her garden-to-be, “It’s a fun thing to do in the summertime, an alternative to the beach, or a place to stop on the way back [home] to pick a snack.”

Under the leadership of Jenny Rossano and Beth Hanratty, 14 10- and 11-year olds from Junior Girl Scout Troop 1556 enjoyed studying the seed catalog, Rossano said. Last year, the troop labeled storm drains that connect to waterways; taking on a garden plot this year is especially fun because the garden sits near one of the drains they labeled. The troop will care for its garden in weekly rotating pairs over the course of the season.

Thanks to outreach efforts by committee founder Cindy Burnham, the gardeners have gotten guidance from experienced community gardeners such as farm engineer Tony Sloan; Linda Muhlausen, organizer of the community garden in Tinton Falls; and Evelyn Gaffney, a Monmouth County master gardener.

The garden itself, located between two homes, is receiving literal truckloads of support from the business community, as well as civic organizations. Molzon’s Garden Center in Lincroft is donating compost, while Ryser’s Landscape Supply in Little Silver donated topsoil. Builders’ General in Little Silver donated fence materials. Through the Navesink Garden Club of Red Bank, the garden qualified for a $1,000 grant from the Garden Club of New Jersey.

At Tuesday’s meeting, experts fielded questions from the gardeners. Gaffney emphasized maximizing the growing season, starting with cold crops such as radish and lettuce, which can be started outside now from seed, she said. She also pointed out that folks need to check before they apply pesticides to their plot, because the garden is adhering to Organic Materials Review Institute guidelines.

There will be a rain barrel on site, which will be supplemented by municipal water as necessary. Committee member Kenton Seydell pointed out that it’s good to let the water sit, because the chlorine in the water has a chance to evaporate. Gardeners will water their own plots with watering cans, which eliminates concerns about hoses being dragged through other’s plots.

The garden has been a long time coming. Burnham first proposed a riverfront community garden, adjacent to the Red Bank Library, to the borough Environmental Commission in November, 2010. When the question came before the borough council, many a meeting saw many members of the public weighing in on the virtues and vices of this location.

Burnham said she wanted to locate the garden near the high-rise apartment complexes a few blocks from the library, and hoped that the library could incorporate the garden into its programming. But the council rejected the library location on numerous grounds, and instead offered the Marion Street parcel, on the town’s East Side.

Saturday morning, things got underway. Farm engineer Tony Sloan tilled four large areas that will each contain four plots. About 15 people were on hand to tidy up the site and remove rocks and clumps of sod from the tilled soil. After preparing their soil and dumping the grass in the three-part chicken-wire composter, four Junior Girl Scouts got down to business, planting their first seeds, each with their own variety of carrot.

Those interested in securing a plot should visit the borough website or call 732-241-9532. There is a $25 fee for the season.  For those with gardening questions, call the Monmouth County master gardeners free helpline, 732-303-7614, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 pm.

Disclosure: Freelance reporter Sarah Klepner was a member of the Red Bank Community Garden committee in 2011.