I was having dinner with some friends the other night at my favorite Asian restaurant in Tucson. Somehow, the conversation turned to organic food and gardening. Edward and his wife, six months new to Tucson, were sitting next to me. They're vegan and can't wait to grow their own food someday, Edward says.

"But we live in an apartment, so we can't have a garden," he says.

Ding! That was my opening — I'm like a Jehovah's Witness for community gardening.

I told them how to hook up with the Tucson Community Garden program online. And indeed, the garden off East Speedway near Craycroft — where I have two plots — is close to their apartment. And it still has plots available.

So for all of you who don’t have the space or the tools, check out www.communitygardensoftucson.org/

  • What: With 29 community gardens around the Tucson area, there’s likely one nearby, just waiting for you to dig in. Popular locations fill up and have waiting lists, but many others have openings and you can join at any time. The program has about 500 active gardeners, according to Rebecca Jensen, communications and outreach coordinator.
  • Security: The gardens are fenced and locked but each garden has its own combo code, so you can go anytime during the day. However, the occasional critter will make its way in sometimes. I’ve lost a cabbage or two and young broccoli plants that way, but I just replant and hope for the best.
  • Cost: $18 a month, which includes the irrigation system, water (twice a day in the summer), and use of tools. Scholarships are available for people who meet low-income guidelines. Gardeners pay for six months at a time, geared toward our two main gardening seasons here. So plot fees are due in advance in April and October, but you can join any time.
  • Tools are provided. Most sites have locking sheds with everything you need, even rototillers. You provide the seeds and transplants, and sometimes gardeners share seedlings with one another.
  • Amendments: Composting is done on site, as everyone contributes spent plants to the pile. You can easily find bagged, aged manure at garden nurseries; sometimes I’ll find backyard farmers on craigslist who have goat or chicken manure for free or at low cost if picked up. Depending on the soil quality, you might need soil sulfur, bone meal and other nutrients. Check with your site coordinator for advice.
  • Time: Doesn’t it take a lot of time? Yes and no. Initially, when you’re amending and planting for the season, it could take a few hours. But after that, it’s pretty easy. A little weeding here and there, a little extra water when plants are germinating, and then it’s just a matter of keeping an eye out for pests until it's time for harvesting. I like to stop by at least twice a week for maybe 20 minutes a pop.
  • What to plant, when: The Tucson area has two main growing seasons, although many plants quit producing during the hottest part of the summer. Click here for a basic planting guide. Click here for the FAQ page.
  • Meetings: Each garden holds meetings once a month, usually on the weekend, to answer questions, bring in experts and share experiences. Every garden has a site coordinator to help you get started.
  • Give it a try: Post a comment here on azstarnet about why you’d like to start gardening and I will choose one response and pay for your first month, at an open plot at your garden of choice (assuming a plot is available there.)

Happy digging!