The Loaves & Fishes Community Garden plot in Naperville is dwarfed by huge industrial buildings that share the same property off of Ogden Avenue. There you will find a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Team that produces big results in vegetable crop yields that benefit the local food pantry clients.
Driven by the goal of Loaves & Fishes — ending hunger, empowering lives — Master Gardener (MG) Fritz Porter followed MG Richard Kaleba, formerly of Naperville, in the Team Leader role. Kaleba led for three years and oversaw a marked increase in food production on site while mentoring his team in the vegetable gardening.
“The first impression of many visitors to the site is how pretty the garden is,” said Porter. He gives partial credit to the 6-foot tall obelisks that carry ornamental Purple Hyacinth Bean Vine at each corner of the 20-foot by 20-foot plot. The purple tinged leaves and showy fragrant flowers attract insects, which help with crop pollination.
It is careful planning and an I think I can mentality that has allowed this garden to produce its big results. The raised bed garden is enclosed by wood beams that lift the soil height 20 inches above the ground. This method allowed the gardeners to bring in a rich soil mixture to improve crop production.
Porter explained, “This consisted of 5,500 pounds of a 50/50 top soil/cow manure mix which we rototilled in. Then ten pounds of 10-10-10 dry fertilizer was worked in over the whole plot,” to help plant growth.
In 2012 crop donations totaled 600 pounds. According to Kaleba this is 1.5 pounds per square foot, two times the average per square foot. This season’s third round of crops, including kale, radishes, spinach and lettuce, is being sown, and row covers will eventually allow production to continue into November.
Porter’s plans for the 2014 season will make use of the chain link fence that surrounds the plot.
“We want to grow vines like beans, cucumbers and peas on it, freeing up more space in the garden. Additionally, we’d like to add two corner gardens onto the existing bed for summer squash,” he said.
When asked what motivates the team to put in hundreds of hours over the growing season, Porter modestly stated, “We are providing a lot of sustenance to many needy people, and that’s really neat.”
Julie Moore is a Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County.