The first-year plots in the Jack and Shirli Flack Community Garden at the Feith Family YMCA are turning green and prospects for a bountiful harvest are bright.
Ursula Cholewinska, who moved to Port Washington 12 years ago, remembers how much fun she had helping her grandfather take care of his garden when she was a young girl in Poland. She wanted a similar experience for her 7-year-old son Jakub Micha.
Now Jakub and his mother tend a flourishing garden in one of 16 5-by-10-foot plots in the Jack and Shirli Flack Community Garden and Playground at the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA in Saukville.
There was a waiting list for the raised-bed plots that went quickly for $20 to any community member.
There is a water spigot and hose in the center of the garden, a compost bin, a storage shed for tools and benches.
The most lush garden at the site belongs to Dick Webb, who put in plants and seeds the week before Memorial Day. He’s harvested bunches of radishes and will soon have kohlrabi, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers and carrots.
Webb used to have vegetable and flower gardens when he lived on Pierre Lane in Port Washington, but gardens aren’t allowed in his condominium development.
Webb jumped at the chance to have a garden at the Y, where he works out every morning. He checks on it daily.
“It’s organic only. I’ve never been an organic gardener, so I did a little research on-line and tried some things,” he said. “I found Ortho has an organic fertilizer called poultry poop, and it really works.
“I was really worried about rabbits and deer. I’ve seen them, but they don’t seem to bother it.”
Webb whipped up a deer and rabbit repellent from a recipe he found on the Internet and sprays it on his plants. He shared the recipe with several gardeners and believes the scent is keeping wildlife at bay.
A YMCA member who raised goats recently dropped off a load of goat manure for the gardeners to use.
Cindy Zozak, a third-grade teacher at Grafton Elementary School who also lives in a condo in Port, added the manure to her garden.
“That’s what’s fun. You get ideas from each other and e-mails about things you can do, like organic pesticides,” Zozak said. She grew tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables in containers on her patio until she learned about the community garden. She is not a YMCA member.
“When I learned about this, I called right away,” she said. “I used to have a grape arbor and huge garden when we lived in an old farmhouse near Stevens Point. I used to freeze and can everything.”
The small plot doesn’t compare to that garden, but it’s big enough for her and her two children, Caitlin, who is pursuing a master’s degree in school psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and A.J., who attends UW-Stevens Point.
Zozak harvested her first radishes last week and will soon add beet greens to her salads when she thins the plants. She and Caitlin also planted tomatoes, hot and mild peppers, zucchini, green beans and nasturtiums.
Amy Bley, who lives in Waukesha, enjoys helping her parents Joan and Leroy Bley tend their plot on weekends.
The couple, who are in their mid-80s and live in the Lighthouse Condos in Port Washington, check on the garden every day after doing their morning exercises at the Y. They planted tomatoes, beets, carrots, green beans, chives and lettuce.
“Every night, Amy calls and asks, ‘How’s my garden growing?’” Mr. Bley said. “With our limited mobility, this is something we can do.”
Valerie Stone said she and her husband Brad could plant a garden on their 1.5-acre property in Port Washington, but prefer the community aspect.
“We wanted our children to have the opportunity to be part of a community activity,” Stone said. “We went to the garden center together and everybody chose what they wanted.”
Their daughters Morgan, 8, and Mya, 3, like to help in the garden and play with the other children, their mother said.
Port Washington philanthropist Shirli Flack, who donated $50,000 for the garden and playground, was happy to see children helping or playing nearby when she visited the site last week. She was impressed with the gardens.
Two plots are for YMCA educational programs for adults and children. Another plot is being used to grow food for area food pantries.
“I made a pledge to do something for the Y,” Flack said. “But I wanted it to stay in Saukville or Port Washington.”
Flack said she asked Keelyn Lyon, YMCA Ozaukee director, to give her a list of possible projects for the Saukville site. She was immediately drawn to the community garden and playground and wanted to start it this year.
“I adore children, and I thought the playground and garden idea was neat,” Flack said. “I like to do things for kids. They’re our future.”
The garden is a dream come true for Shereen Callen, the volunteer garden manager who tried for several years to find a place for a community garden.
“We approached churches and looked at city land to find a place. Then I approached Keelyn and she said, ‘We want it here,’” said Callen, who is a preschool teacher at the Y.
Callen unsuccessfully applied for a grant for the garden and was having trouble finding funding until Flack stepped forward.
“Now, we have this beautiful playground and garden,” Callen said. “We started this year with a core garden and plan to expand it. It’s a learning process for all of us.”
Because there were so few plots available, Callen decided to continue gardening in a community garden in Random Lake. She also visited West Bend’s community garden for ideas.
Seed and food exchanges, a salsa party and a booth at local farmers markets to sell excess produce are among ideas being considered by participants, Callen said.
Enjoying the garden were (from left) Valerie Stone, Wendy Cross, Joan and Leroy Bley, Mary Fran Lepeska, Caitlin Zozakiewicz, Cindy Zozak, Shirli Flack, Ursula Cholewinska and her son Jakub Micha. Photo by Sam Arendt