Will garden expand from veggies to fruits?


A would-be Johnny Appleseed’s proposal to add fruit trees to the Kearny Community Garden may not bear fruit.

Chris Vasquez, a 25-year-old aspiring gardener who grew up in Kearny, is hoping to sow the seeds for growing the garden with a fall planting but the town’s governing body could squash it.

Not that the mayor and Town Council had no appetite for the plan but they did want more spadework done on the details.

Vasquez delivered his pitch at last Tuesday’s council meeting, distributing illustrated handouts to each of the lawmakers and to Mayor Alberto Santos.

Initially, he said, he wants to plant one Standard Pear, one American Persimmon and one Siberian Peashrub.

At maturity, in “three to five years,” the pear tree can grow to a height of “18 to 20” feet and “12 to 13” feet wide and produce “three to six bushels” of pears, while the Persimmon can be “30 to 40” feet tall and 25 feet wide, yielding “35 to 75” pounds of fruit.

The Peashrub, meanwhile, is projected to attain dimensions of “six feet tall and wide” and produce “edible pods/seeds.”

Vasquez said that KCG members would help perform seasonal maintenance of the trees, including pruning, “initial organic soil amendments, occasional organic sprays to fight diseases and bird netting where deemed necessary.”

No pesticides would be used, he said.

These plantings, he added, could provide shelter for birds and other wildlife and reduce erosion at the site.

Vasquez said that he’s already purchased the trees and shrub and that he can be counted on to furnish any and all gardening tools needed for the operation.

Councilwomen Carol Jean Doyle and Eileen Eckel both commended Vasquez for his initiative but said they wanted to check first with other interested parties – like the folks who tend the nearby vegetable and butterfly gardens, the dog park and bocce court – before committing to support the venture.

Councilwoman Susan McCurrie added that it was particularly important to check in with those groups now since, she noted, it was Vasquez’s “ultimate goal” to plant “six or seven” fruit trees by filling in part of the now-open KCG space next to the former Skinner’s service station.

No question, Santos said, that the enterprise “could grow to an orchard,” thereby creating all sorts of potential issues, whereas, he suggested, the more modest plan presented by Vasquez seems more “manageable,” if the other groups concur.

Other reservations, however, were expressed by Michael Neglia, the town’s consulting engineer, who opined that, “fruit-bearing trees can become a nuisance,” from any fruit falling to the ground, rotting and producing unsavory odors.

Councilman Richard Konopka worried that “down the road, we could be liable” for any fruit dropping on people from trees, assuming they do grow as high as 30 feet. And if they are that high, he said, how are folks supposed to reach the fruit?

Eckel reasoned that “there can be a lot of maintenance” attached to such a project and advised Vasquez “to look at the footprint [of the KCG] and figure out how much of that space do we want to fill.”

Even David Mach, one of the founders of the KCG, who has endorsed the fruit tree concept, is urging Vasquez to exercise caution before moving ahead.

In response to a query from The Observer, Mach said that he and Vasquez – a member of the KCG – had “staked out territory between the butterfly garden and the dog park” for the planting of fruit trees “and the council said, ‘hey, you need to be talking this over with the other groups involved.’ ”

“I had a concern about the trees blocking the sunlight to the garden,” Mach said, “so we adjusted the positioning” to a point where the proposed plantings would be 15 feet from the sidewalk.

From his perspective, Mach said there appeared to be “plenty of green space available to accommodate” the fruit trees.

But, he added, the council has asked “good questions” and, for example, if it turns out that “high maintenance” is required, “Chris may want to re-think” the scope of the project.

“He needs to be flexible,” Mach said, and work with the other groups to meet their needs. “We want to make sure this is an asset to the garden and not cause problems for others. I support the concept but I also want to make sure that everyone is happy.”

It remains to be seen what the final outcome will be.

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