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How does your garden grow? Community gardens are proving popular in Bemidji

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- A trio of public gardens have grown increasingly popular the past few years, with enthusiasts planting a variety of vegetables and flowers on an annual basis.

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Jan Kuleta waters her produce on Wednesday at the Rako Community Garden. (Jordan Shearer | Forum News Service)

BEMIDJI, Minn. - A trio of public gardens have grown increasingly popular the past few years, with enthusiasts planting a variety of vegetables and flowers on an annual basis.

"I think they're all full now," Bemidji Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson said. "It does vary per year on how quickly they fill up, but they've been really well received by the community."

The summer of 2019 will mark a decade for the department in opening sections of city parks to residents for gardening. The first of the community gardens opened in Nymore Park in 2009, followed by another along Rako Street Southwest in 2013 and the third, titled Neighborhood Garden, located along 19th Street Northwest in 2016. "With the first one, there was already somewhat of a garden space in Nymore, with some irrigation already available," Larson said. "When I first started, I talked to the staff about it and they said at one point it was a community garden. I said, 'Let's revive this,' because they are really popular elsewhere."

The gardens are funded through a statewide health improvement plan, Larson said, and each of them has a shed that belongs to the city. The sheds allow residents to store their own tools and equipment, so gardeners don't have to haul their belonging to and from their plots.

The gardens are usually available from late May to October. Larson said the soil is tilled and amended in the fall and again in the spring right before they open. Rental fees for the garden plots range from $15 to $20 and $30.

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"The fees don't cover all that we put into it. What we like is that when people pay the fee and put in an application with us, they are also kind of signing a contract with us," Larson said. "They agree to take care of their plot and weed it. The payment ends up to be more of a commitment."

Wide variety

Most of the gardeners who do make the commitment are often those who don't have space at home, Larson said.

"Before we opened Rako, we did a survey and what we found is the people who don't necessarily have enough space in their own yard or live in an apartment are the ones who use them most often," Larson said. "What ends up being grown there varies person-to-person. At Nymore Garden for instance, we have four larger plots, and there you see people growing things that take up more space like corn or pumpkins. Other people at their spot grow flowers while others do peppers and cucumbers.

"It all depends on what people like and what they want to grow."

Jan Kuleta, who's been gardening at Rako since it opened, grows vegetables ranging from carrots to peppers, as well as lettuce and tomatoes. She said having the city asset has made gardening easier.

"It's within walking distance of my home and it's well protected from the four-legged animals. I can't grow anything (at home) because of the deer," Kuleta said. "The water they have is also really convenient. They take good care of it."

The techniques also differ on a regular basis, depending on the gardener, Larson said.

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"Some prefer to mound and others don't, and then there are some who grow more flowers to try and mitigate bugs," Larson said. "Generally, I've found that the gardeners are a very social group, too. They'll share their produce and they'll weed together. They're a fun group to work with."

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