Michelle Patterson knows successful gardening has little to do with having a green thumb.
Patterson is the garden coordinator for the Bigfork/Ferndale Community Garden, which kicked off its 2011 season last Wednesday when a group of Bigfork High School students helped prepare the garden for growing.
The garden is worked using the square foot gardening method, which Patterson said is three to five times more productive than large-scale farming.
Each plot consists of a 4-by-4 wooden box, which is filled with six inches of soil. The boxes are then divided into several smaller squares, each of which can hold a specified number of plants. That number varies depending on the crop.
Following the recommended guidelines for each type of plant almost guarantees success, Patterson said.
“Even the most novice of gardeners can be successful with this method,” Patterson said.
Square foot gardening also limits weed growth, Patterson said. The planting boxes are placed on top of a base layer made of flattened cardboard boxes.
“That chokes out the weeds underneath,” said Patterson. “The worst part of gardening is weeding.”
Areas of exposed cardboard are then covered with a thick layer of wood chips, creating a grid of walkways around the plots. That’s where the high school students came in.
The group of BHS juniors and seniors — all members of the National Honor Society — shoveled mounds of wood chips into wheelbarrows, transported them to the garden area and raked them over the base layer of cardboard.
“We wanted to put the wood chips in while we had a chance,” Patterson said.
Kate Lamm, an NHS member, said she was happy to volunteer for the organization and hopes other young people will follow suit.
“It think it’s important to lead by example,” she said.
Produce generated from 16 of the 72 plots is donated directly to the local food bank. According to Patterson, that amounted to nearly 80 pounds of fresh food last year.
Members of the public can rent the remaining squares for the entire growing season for a fee of $25 per box or $65 for four boxes. The garden also rents plots in exchange for donated labor.
“What people grow is their own, as long as they abide by the rules we have in place,” Patterson said.
The group strictly forbids the use of chemicals within the garden’s boundaries.
“One square can make everything you’d need for a summer’s worth of salads for a family of four,” Patterson said.
Patterson said anyone who would like the chance to work in a garden should come out, even if they can’t commit to a plot for the entire season.
“It is really a good opportunity for anybody who wants to grow this summer,” Patterson said, adding that the staff can always use volunteers to help tend to the plots reserved for the food bank.
The Bigfork/Ferndale Community Garden is located on Montana Highway 209 across from the Ferndale Fire Department. Regular work days are Saturdays.