SOUTHWICK — Although the bloom is off the Southwick community garden, its caretakers haven’t gone dormant.

Members of the town’s Agricultural Commission met earlier this month to discuss replacing deteriorating wooden fencing around the perimeter of the garden with galvanized steel. Commission Chair Burt Hansen said lumber for the fence posts and entrance gates was donated more than 10 years ago, and is not pressure-treated. As a result, the fence posts are rotting, and the gates are falling apart, he said.

“We have shored up many of the fence posts with metal posts, but the fence and gates really need to be rebuilt,” Hansen said. “We’ll see if we can get some donated, otherwise we’ll need to use budget funds. We haven’t started researching costs yet, but galvanized posts can run $30 apiece or more, and we would need more than 40.”

To date, most materials and all labor have been donated by gardeners and members of the community, Hansen said. There are plans to reuse the plastic deer fencing that currently rings the parcel.

The community garden lies within the confines of the Sofinowski Preserve along Mort Vining Road. The 122-acre preserve was purchased with a self-help grant from the state in 2002; it was opened to the public for passive recreation in 2003. The property has a series of marked trails, all of which are relatively easy to traverse, with some areas that are rocky and some with a slight gain in elevation. The community garden, established there in 2010, features a pollinator garden that attracts beneficial creatures such as bees and butterflies to the area. Community gardeners have contributed black-eyed Susan, Montauk daisy, and goldenrod, among other species, along with natives like aster and milkweed.

Gardeners can rent a 12- by 24-foot plot for $20. Of the 27 available plots, 14 were occupied last season, Hansen said. According to the application form, each gardener is asked to help with a minimum of one task per season, including construction projects, fall clean-up, and composting. Growing the typical seasonal produce — one individual last year grew only flowers, Hansen noted — many of these gardeners return year after year.

“My wife and I live right next door [to the preserve] and we rent a plot each year because of the full day of sunshine,” he said.

Sunshine was in short supply last summer, however.

“The past few seasons have been pretty tough — frequent rain last year, drought the year before, and rain the year before that,” Hansen said. “For small garden plots like these, abundant rain is actually good, because it reduces the need for watering. It’s a different story, of course, for commercial farms.”

The Agricultural Commission manages garden registrations and tills the garden twice a year, except for the “no-till” plots that gardeners are increasingly requesting. An easier and more ecologically friendly approach, the practice minimizes soil disruption, which destroys the pathways that channel air and water. Tilling also impacts the microorganisms that live in the topsoil and are essential for soil and plant health.

“We also handle maintenance which, except for the well, has been largely deferred,” Hansen said.

Hansen and fellow commission members Zach Barnett, Jenn Bernier, Ron Cecchini and Dan Cook conducted a site visit to the community garden in late December to target invasive plants, including multiflora rose and bittersweet, that Hansen said are encroaching on the property.

“We had hoped to get in a ‘work party’ to address the invasives before there was snow cover,” he said. “Now, we’ll probably wait until late spring to do that clean up and till the garden. It all depends on the weather and the condition of the soil.”

For more information on the community garden or for an application form, visit southwickma.org.

Rich J. Wirth
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