Roanoke Island Community Garden recruiting new members

Published 11:23 am Thursday, April 27, 2023

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The Roanoke Island Community Garden has plots available for those who are just getting started in the hobby, as well as for the seasoned gardener.

The 34-plot garden is located just south of the airport on Fields Road. Members pay $25 for the year and agree to maintain their space, which includes weeding and watering. There’s a shed for members equipped with tools, hoses that stretch to each plot and manure for fertilizer.

“Everything you need to garden here, we have,” said co-manager Jennifer Evans, who has been a part of the community garden since its inception about 12 years ago.

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The land is leased from the Dare County Airport, and Dare County supplies the water. Additionally, Manteo Rotary is one of the prime supporters.

Gardeners have complete freedom over what to plant in their 25×25 foot space. In the spring, many plant tomatoes, peppers, onions, beans, peas and cucumbers. Co-manager Mike Bryant, a retired wildlife manager who has been a member for eight years, uses his space to grow food most of the year, using two-thirds of a plot for corn in the summer, and growing fall crops of broccoli, kale and butternut squash.

“The squash stores incredibly well and they’re delicious,” he said.

There are several “community plots,” which means that all members work together to maintain those spaces, as well as shared fig and apple trees, grapevines, strawberry patches and raspberry, blueberry and blackberry bushes.

There’s a bit of a misunderstanding about what a community garden is. All gardeners keep the produce from their plots. Though many do share with others, there is a strict policy (though kindly written on brightly colored signs) that you can’t pick it unless you’ve grown it.

“We like the word communal,” Evans said. “Community gives the impression that anyone can come and pick the produce. What you grow, it’s for your family, and the extra and abundance we share. But it’s not for community use, unless you want to have a plot and work for it.”

And gardeners do work for their harvest. Evans reminds those interested in having a plot that it’s a typical northeastern garden – hot and dry – and plots must be watered nearly every day in the summer and weeded regularly.

Gardeners are asked not to sell any of the produce they grow, but to enjoy for themselves, their families or to give away to others. And generally, the harvest is bountiful enough to share.

Bryant planted a cover crop of turnips last year just to protect his plot. The idea with a cover crop is to plant something so weeds don’t take over, and then instead of harvesting, gardeners just work the plants into the soil when preparing the ground for spring planting.

However, Bryant ended up with a surprisingly prolific turnip crop. He picked a few to bring home.

“The first time I bring something home from the garden, my wife is like, ‘wow!’ The second time it’s ‘oh’ and then a little while later it’s, ‘oh my gosh’ – and then I know it’s time to start donating,” he said.

Through a connection of a friend, Bryant donated 80 good-sized turnips to Bethany Methodist Church for their community dinner. Volunteers cooked the turnips as well as the greens.

“Those turnips fed 200 people as side dishes,” he said.

That’s just one of hundreds of examples of how the garden has blessed its community. Some share with the food pantry at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church. Others can the excess to save for the winter or to gift to neighbors and friends.

Several workdays are planned throughout the season to weed and prepare the community plots, and to have time together.

One of the benefits of being a part of the community garden is the knowledge shared among members.

“We’re always experimenting, trying to find new ways of doing things,” Evans said. “For example, this year, we’re not tilling, we’re just turning. We’re just trying it. And we are always learning about tomatoes. Some of us grow our plants from seeds, and we have extras that we share. Someone had an overabundance of potatoes, so now we’ve all got potatoes.”

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Roanoke Island Community Garden is invited to email Evans at