By Gene Axton, The Weekender
WILKES-BARRE — Chris Rash calls his plot in the community garden at the corner of Ross and River Streets a plot; his fellow gardeners call it a science experiment.
“Theoretically I will not need to feed or water for 80,000 years,” the Wilkes-Barre native said. “I’m not kidding.”
Through a mixture of biochar (treated charcoal used in gardening) and the use of water-retaining biomass, Rash has managed to combine elements seen in the Amazon with high elevation growing techniques to create a patch of land that will theoretically sustain itself. For a long time. What does Rash plan to grow on his plot? This year, melons.
“I did them my first year in and they did amazingly well there and they kept getting stolen, but there were still enough,” Rash said. “It’s a high-traffic neighborhood, there’s a lot of excitement going on. Instead of me fighting the gophers I’m fighting the college kids.”
Security is an ongoing concern at the garden. Members have attempted to utilize faux cameras, threats of water balloons and strongly-worded doctrine to explain the community garden concept to members of the community, but according to founding member Pat Parks, the obvious method proved most effective.
“It’s very discouraging when you come back and you have four cauliflower plants and someone has taken one,” Parks said. “Theft is a problem, (but) we put the fence up and that slowed things down.”
Parks said the garden was started in the lot left by a demolished apartment building/deli. By the time the building was torn down it was owned by Wilkes University, and when that building became a lot, three Wilkes students decided to turn that lot into a garden. Three Wilkes students soon became one, however, which led to the university opening the garden to the public.
Collyn Hinchey joined the garden in 2013.
“I like to grow lettuce because I have this little half fridge, so I can just go to the garden in the summer and it saves me the trouble of driving to the store,” Hinchey said. “It’s so much better. I can walk my dog down there and just pick something to eat.”
Hinchey’s favorite aspect of the garden are the roots it has helped her lay down in the community; in particular, her connection with Rash.
“We met during cleanup (in November 2013),” Hichney said.
“I went to harvest like a dozen morning glory seeds to plant the next year but then I realized, ‘there’s a pretty girl at the back of the garden,’” Rash said. “I ended up paralyzed picking morning glory seeds for about an hour.”
There are still plots available in the community garden at the corner of Ross and River Streets. Interested parties should contact Pat Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org. The plots are approximately 10’ by 12’, can be shared and may or may not come with a significant other.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts