By Ron Leir
The garden is growing.
Drivers traveling southbound on Passaic Ave. need only cast their eyes towards the river to Riverside Park north of Skinner Bros. Automotive to see proof that the Kearny Community Garden – or “the Orchard,” as Mayor Alberto Santos likes to call it – is a work in progress.
Two-hundred straw bales are laid out in 11 parallel rows, implanted with the seeds of a variety of vegetables, and irrigated by an ingenious water system, designed by Kearny Public Works Superintendent Donald Gavin, consisting of underground PVC pipes linked to a roadside hydrant.
One end of the system, in turn, leads to a tap to which a hose may be attached to periodically spray the bales.
David Mach, who along with his spouse Jenny, created the nearby butterfly garden, now sprouting with a variety of flowers, are also part of the core group that devised the community garden experiment.
“May 11 was planting day for us,” David told a visitor from The Observer last week.
As of last week, we saw evidence of some produce – small cherrysized yellowish tomatoes – already beginning to take shape. Straw bales were selected over hay, for example, as planting beds because, as David pointed out, “they’re sterile, organic, and they have no seeds so you don’t have to weed it.”
The bales, in turn, sit on topsoil and peat moss – natural ingredients for ensuring healthy produce. The rows of bales are separated by deposits of wood chips, providing enough room for a volunteer gardener to roll a wheelbarrow through.
“The town got the bales at $3 apiece,” David said. “The topsoil, peat moss and gardening tools are all donated. And the woodchips we have to thank [Superstorm] Sandy for. We collected them from all over town.”
Pointing to a set of patio chairs positioned parallel to the roadside, David said someone happened by one day and just deposited them as a friendly gesture.
“Tons of people have stopped by to sort of check us out,” David said. “And they bring other people to hang out and learn what’s going on. So it’s been an education process. One person thought we were preparing for an outdoor church service or a sermon.”
Meanwhile, the work goes on. And every day brings a different batch of planters.
One couple, Beatrice and Pablo Vargas, together for 46 years, are planting tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, basil, Indian mint and onions. They also take time to enjoy the variety of flora abounding in the nearby butterfly garden.
Another volunteer gardener, Erin Donnelly, is teaching her 3-yearold daughter Maisie Kelly the art of cultivating tomatoes.
Jenny, who has an outof- town job, and David manage to visit pretty much on a daily basis to take stock of things, Erin notes.
And that includes weekend time, too. Typically, for David, a substitute teacher at Kearny High, that means an hour or two on Saturday afternoons. “I’ll be cleaning up, weeding if I’m noticing that something isn’t growing,” he says.
Aside from the veggies expected to flourish, David and the rest of the volunteers are counting on the eventual arrival of strawberries, melons and potatoes. Gesturing to a three-legged wooden structure, David says: “We’re made a string bean teepee to provide shade for the kids.”
The volunteers are also planting rows of Indian corn and pumpkins in the ground near the roadside, “but we’ll selling those only as (fall) decorations, not for consumption,” David said.
For this season, he said plans by the core group call for the sale of all bale-grown produce at the Kearny Farmers’ Market, with all proceeds being plugged back into the garden operation.
“In another two months, we’ll have plenty of produce available,” he predicted.
Next growing season, he said, “we’ll probably be able to assign individual bales to specific growers.”
To keep updated on the latest information about the enterprise, David recommended folks e-mail kearnycommunitygarden@gmail. com or visit facebook.com/kearnycommunitygarden.