Community gardens are a great way to get the community excited about gardening, and they add a beautiful and attractive feature to urban neighbourhoods. However, if you are starting a community garden in an area that was once used as a commercial or industrial property, your soil may be less than ideal.
If you have a small budget for your community garden but you need to improve your soil, here are four cost-effective ideas to consider:
1. Add nutrients to the soil
If the soil in your proposed garden isn't healthy enough, plants won't thrive in it. However, you don't have to remove the soil and replace it. Instead, in many cases, you can just add more nutrients. Buying fertiliser, lime, organic matter and compost is relatively inexpensive compared to getting all new soil.
2. Encourage the neighbourhood to compost
In order to add nutrients without spending any money at all, start encouraging the neighbourhood to compost. Do this as soon as you start planning your community garden. That gives people weeks or months to cultivate fertile compost as you work on the other elements of planning a community garden.
3. Look for grants to deal with contaminated soil
Unfortunately, if the soil in your proposed area is contaminated, adding nutrients to it won't typically fix the problem. If you suspect contamination based on the previous use of your lot, you need an expert to look at your soil and possibly take samples of it to a lab for testing.
If the soil is judged to have unhealthy levels of lead, arsenic, pesticides, sewage sludge or any other contaminants, you may need to pay for contaminated soil removal. Unfortunately, this can be expensive, and it isn't something that you can safely outsource to any volunteer with a ute.
Luckily, however, there are a variety of grants just for community gardens offered all over Australia, and one of these grants could help you offset those costs.
4. Cover the soil and build raised beds
If your soil lacks nutrients, consider covering it and building raised beds. This process simply involves putting a piece of landscaping material over the existing soil, laying down railroad ties or other sides and filling the area with new soil.
In some cases, depending on the type of contamination you have, you may even be able to use the raised beds idea to help with contaminated soil. A soil contamination expert can advise you accordingly.