AURORA — As summer approaches, local horticulturalists have begun rushing to their plots. With about 80 avid growers, the Aurora Community Garden is approaching its 10th year.
And this year, for the second consecutive time, the city is again allowing non-city residents to lease plots.
The garden takes up an area a little bit bigger than a football field, with roughly 150 sites at the Margaret Harmon Property, 1157 Page Road, said Parks coordinator Bill Fellenstein.
"We have seven rows of plots and each one has 32 sites," Fellenstein added. "I’d say around 60 percent of them are taken, so about 80 spots are used. Each spot is 10 by 20 feet."
Most gardeners farm multiple patches. Bob Levy, one of the garden’s founding members, tends several at the garden’s northeast corner.
Levy, along with residents Shannon Osorio and Lauren Puhala, form a volunteer committee that helped organize the Parks and Recreation department program.
"Ten years ago, after a lot of us saw the Twinsburg Community Garden, we wanted to have a garden here in Aurora," Levy said. "The city pitched in $20,000 and the land and fenced it in — several of us went before City Council and got it done."
He said things got off to a rough start that year.
"The first year, we found the ground was a clay bed," he said, chuckling. "It was an old farm — we think it was an onion field — but it was solid clay, drain pipe and rocks.
"Over the years, the soil has improved," he added, explaining the city tills plots that long-term members are not steadily working on improving themselves.
Levy, who looks younger than his 81 years, wrestles a hand tiller to cultivate plots in the spring. As the summer progresses, he will raise cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, peppers, radishes, lettuce, Swiss chard, zucchini and "anything I can."
His garlic was planted last October and is up higher than a foot in mid-May.
Osorio is a master gardener, who shovels mulch as Levy tills his bed.
The two say they’re both available to assist novices, though Osorio modestly confides she is still learning.
Her training included 40-plus hours of lessons on topics ranging from botany to lawn care, pests and plant diseases.
"You get a lot of information," she said. "I love gardening. I learn something new all the time and I like to share what I know — which is limited — but I’m hoping other people get excited, too."
She grows lettuce, radishes, kale, peas, garlic, shallots and onion along with asparagus, a perennial crop she’s been cultivating for four years.
She said more than 10 pounds of the slender green spears came from her garden last year. "That’s a lot."
Another Aurora resident, Viet Le, has eight plots this year and is in his second year in the community garden.
Along with shallots and black and green beans, he also grows varieties of vegetables he says are commonly grown in Vietnam, where he came from 43 years ago. Along with bok choi, the other two dozen varieties of plants he starts from online seeds or cuttings include Malaba — Malabar spinach, Gai Lan — Chinese broccoli, and Molokhia — Egyptian spinach. Le grows his ginger at home.
Mid-may is a little early for summer plants, but Fellenstein said some gardeners use portable greenhouses to start growing early.
"They usually start growing around Memorial Day until growing season ends in the fall," he added.
An Eagle Scout last year built some raised beds for older gardeners.
"That makes it easier for people to garden since they don’t have to bend down, but it brings the plant to you," Fellenstein said.
"People that live in condos around, I think, like to come out and dig in the dirt a little bit," he said. "I think it’s a great way to go out and exercise. Not to mention people can go grow healthy food."
And there is room for more people to take up the hobby.
Levy said the city wants to encourage more people to come and put unused space into production.
"Last year we opened it up — anyone who wants to can rent a plot," he said. "All of the plots are not rented and we would like to rent them all."
The garden is always available, so people can do a little work no matter what their personal schedules may be.
"We make sure to close the fence so animals don’t get in, but it’s always open to the public," said Fellenstein.
Annual fees are $10 per plot for residents, and $20 for non-residents.
Planting must commence no later than June 15 and harvesting is to be done by Oct. 31. Those who lease space have the option of renewing their leases the next growing season.
More information is available on the parks and recreation section of the city’s website, www.auroraoh.com.
Editor’s note: Nicole Dietzen contributed to this story.
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or email@example.com.