Communication is the Key to Gardening by Committee at the Kalamazoo Giving Garden

I was asked to offer more detail regarding communication and administration of our Giving Garden as sort of an epilog to the Kalamazoo Giving Garden blog posts I submitted earlier this spring.

When I was working for a living, we had a saying that “If something goes wrong, it’s usually because somebody didn’t tell someone about something.” How true I have found that to be in all projects.

Communication is key in managing our large community garden.

Garden Logs and Email Keep the Giving Garden Volunteers Up-to-Date

The old 'Mailbox' keeps people up-to-date on gardening activities
Our old mail box “communication system” for the Kalamazoo Giving Garden

Following each work shift, one of the two responsible coordinators prepares a “Garden Log” and emails it to all coordinators.

(Prior to email becoming “universal” we used a regular mailbox on site to leave notes for the next shift.  As you see (photo to the left),  it’s still there for sentimental reasons.)

The garden log is simply a report, in a standard format, that documents what happened during a particular work shift and shows what needs to be done during the next or future shifts. It lists the volunteers who were there, what was accomplished and provides a “To do” list for the next shift and if it rained, how much. There is also a “Notes” section for miscellaneous information.

I have posted a copy of one of our logs from last year below.  The Garden Logs not only provide a reference source for what was done and when, but combined, become a historical journal for the garden.

Sample Garden Log from the Giving Garden

Garden Log for July 25, 2011

Dale G
Ron H
Vai Kai
Jan Z
Jan P
Barb C
Bob P


Weeded Cukes, Okra and Egg Plants (about 100 lbs of mostly nut sedge)
Planted 5 rows of snap beans
Beans 14.6 lbs
Bell Peppers 25 lbs
Zukes 11.6 lbs
Summer Sq. 8.2 lbs
Okra 5.8 lbs
Roasting Peppers 4.8 lbs
Cukes 18.6
Banana Peppers 1lb
Total 89.6 (The Food Bank had a truck in town and said they would pick up even if we were under the 100 lbs)

Rototill peppers
Mulch squash (where the trailer of mulch is parked)
Weed where needed ( melons, pickles, Tomatoes where large weeds have grown,)
Mow grass.

Empty and wash the buckets with weeds in them left by the previous shift.

Empty rock buckets

If you have boxes and/buckets of various sizes, please ask before bringing them. The shed is filling with stuff we may not be able to use.

Please do not leave partially filled buckets of weeds. They rot quickly and stink. All buckets should be emptied and rinsed after each shift. SEE SOPs!!

There are black plastic bags in the shed that should be used for “bad Weeds” ( Nut Sedge and Purslane) to solarize them. We are putting them in back behind the “Good” compost pile. The “Bad” pile is the closest one near the rock pile. There has been some confusion and weeds have been mixed. I know we should mark them, we did once, but the signs disappeared.

The cookies and sweet bread at break were wonderful. Thanks to Jan P and Diana.

White and Bulletin Boards Help Communicate Immediate and Key Garden Information

We also have a white board in our shed where we leave notes regarding immediate issues so the next shift won’t forget or miss them. We also have a bulletin board where we post our planting guides, and contact information for key personnel and miscellaneous “stuff”.

Checking whiteboard for garden instruction
Master Gardener checking whiteboard for important notes
White boards encourage Giving Garden discussions among Kalamazoo Master Gardeners (from left to right) Bob Poel and Pete Bourgeois .

Garden Standard Operating Procedures Help Ensure ‘Best Practice’

Another important piece of communication is our Garden Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs.  We feel that SOPs are vital to standardize the way things are done and to ensure continued “best practice”.

It also serves as training tool for new coordinators. The SOP contains the following sections:

I. Introduction

II. Scope

III. Planting Guide The planting guide is a table that shows distances between rows and plants. This is important because it accommodates the use of our cultivating equipment without destroying the plants. It is posted in the shed on our bulletin board. This section also has a mulching priority list showing the order in which our plants get mulched.

Giving Garden sprinklers keep potatoes well watered
Giving Garden sprinklers keep the potato patch well watered

IV. Coordinator Responsibilities. This section covers things like working with volunteers, safety issues, cleaning equipment before storing, preparation of the log, lock up procedures before leaving and so on.

V. Growing. This section covers, thinning plants, pruning, weeding, rock collection and placement (we have many 5 gallon buckets placed around the garden for rocks so they don’t get thrown into grassy areas and hit by mowers). This section also addresses control of plant disease and insects. It lists acceptable pesticides if use of pesticides becomes necessary and how to use and store them. It also includes control of animals such as deer, woodchucks and ground squirrels.

VI. Harvesting. This section describes when and how our various vegetables should be harvested. It includes, picking (for example, stems must be removed from tomatoes so they do not bruise other tomatoes in the container when picking and during shipping) cleaning the vegetables, sorting and packing for pickup. Contact information for the Food Bank and local agencies using our produce is also included.

VII. End of Season Activities. This section covers garden clean-up, take down and storage of tomato cages,  preparation of motorized equipment for winter storage, storage of hoses, drip lines, picnic and wash tables, and wheel barrows. The last activity is to tell the company that provides our water, that they can shut it off and blow out the lines.

Year Long Coordination Keeps Things Rolling

About a month after we close the garden for the year, we have a coordinator meeting to review the growing season. We look at what we did and how – what worked and what did not, what we grew too much of or too little, and did what we grew match our volunteer base?

Based on that review, our mid winter meeting determines what and how much will be planted the next growing season. The planting guide is developed, and the seeds ordered and the SOP “tweaked” if necessary. Our final early spring meeting determines work shifts and responsibilities and what equipment needs repair and or replacement and what additional tools will need to be purchased or replaced.

It is this kind or communication and administration that has facilitated running the Kalamzaoo Giving Garden smoothly for more than 15 years and allows us to  “lead by committee.”

– JC Schneider
Kalamazoo Michigan Extension Master Gardener





Another Successful Year for Former SFE Award Winner

Below is an update from James Quinn, Regional Horticultural Specialist with University of Missouri Extension. With the help of James’ leadership, this project was honored at the 2009 International Master Gardener Conference as a Search for Excellence Award winner. Applications are currently being accepted for the 2011 International Master Gardener Search For Excellence awards

Work Party Potting Plants

The Central Missouri Master Gardeners (CMMG- located in Jefferson City/Cole County) placed third in 2009 for their innovative greenhouse project. A primary purpose is to produce plants for their annual spring fundraiser. Sales in 2010 were up a smartly over the prior year (20%)  to over $38,000. Since costs are controlled with  volunteer labor, recycled pots, and timely purchasing of discounted potting soil the ‘profits’ were about $28,000. This has allowed the Master Gardeners to increase more of its beautification projects, amplifying their volunteer efforts in giving back to the community. Master Gardener’s in St. Charles, MO have taken interest and come to visit and learn a couple of times.

The project was to fully develop a greenhouse and training facility in conjunction with Jefferson City’s Parks and Recreation Department (JC P&R). This included the design of the greenhouse, fundraising for the additional capital required, its construction, and all phases of plant production within it.

This project placed active Master Gardeners (MGs) in lead positions for implementing the project and for producing the flowering and vegetable plants within it for the annual plant sale. While many active MGs participate in ‘work parties’ at the facility, it has served the MG trainees especially well for acquiring their volunteer hours and learning about the ‘green industry’, which is Missouri’s largest sector in horticulture. The general public is primarily impacted through the project with the CMMG’s annual plant sale, which attracts and estimated 800 individuals. A hands-on vegetable class targeting the general public has been given each spring for the last 3 years.

The location of the greenhouse is in North Jefferson City (Callaway County), an area that is restricted from intensive development or housing, since it is in the floodplain of the Missouri River, but just across the bridge from Jefferson City. Examples of development in this area are outdoor sporting-type businesses, parks and athletic fields, a sod farm, and community gardens (vegetables). The primary partner was JC P&R. The city provides electricity, land and water at no charge. CMMG pays for gas, owns the structure and carries liability insurance. This arrangement is detailed in a general operating agreement contract. JC P&R also provided a no hassle tax deductible account (for free) for which donations were made. The Cole County Extension Council demonstrated their approval with a significant contribution. But perhaps most important was the financial support given by the community- 51 businesses and 46 individuals made a financial donation.

In some cities, MG plant sales have generated concern as competing with area greenhouses. This is addressed by focusing on it as a ‘Training Center’. CMMG believes a MG who has an enjoyable experience working in a greenhouse generates an appreciation for high quality gardening products, thus becoming an advocate for gardening, whereby they stimulate demand to the benefit of area garden centers. 

Submitted by James Quinn, Regional Horticulture Specialist- Central Region, University of Missouri Extension

 A great update for this award winning project!

Best, Bill Hofman – USDA/NIFA