Want to try growing something new in your edible garden? Check out a community garden to find out what’s hot and different.
A plant that’s unusual to grow in Tucson will spread through community garden plots like wildfire as growers try out what looks interesting in someone else’s space.
The midtown Presidio Garden organized by Community Gardens of Tucson is a good example.
“We’ve had quite a few Bhutanese refugees in the garden, and they bring in things that look sort of familiar but are kind of a different variety of a vegetable,” says Shirley McReynolds, coordinator of the 30-plot garden on private property.
One of those veggies was French breakfast radish, a well-known Gallic heirloom that’s seldom seen in these parts.
“That was not totally new, but it alerted us to the fact that it was something that could be done here,” says McReynolds.
In the season after the radishes first appeared, several other growers added them to their spaces.
In the past, the Presidio Garden has had a few plots with zucca, a Sicilian squash that McReynolds introduced to the garden by growing seeds from a friend who visited Italy.
At another point, gardener Mark Reynolds got people excited over Kentucky pole beans and black-eyed peas.
Seeing black-eyed peas growing around the garden was particularly gratifying because of the personal connection Reynolds has with the legume.
“My wife’s family is from the South, and they eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day,” says Reynolds, who works for the Tucson Unified School District’s community transition programs. “I grew (them) for her, just to have that tradition go on for her.”
Watching growers tending to culturally traditional crops is another way community gardeners add to their list of veggies to try. McReynolds knows that at other Community Gardens of Tucson locations, immigrants have successfully grown South African beans and Lebanese squash, which then showed up in other parts of the gardens .
It’s a typical scenario, says McReynolds. “It’s like any other project. When it’s new, everybody wants to try it.
“This is one of the benefits of community-type gardening.”
Trying out what grows well in a neighboring plot also takes some of the uncertainty out of gardening, says Reynolds.
“If it’s in the same garden that you’re in, it has a good chance to be successful,” he says. “It’s a proven thing.”