Organic Community Gardens: Frequently Asked Questions

How old are the gardens? Our gardens were founded by the Schuylkill Center in the mid-1970s. Believe it or not, a few of the original gardeners are still gardening here today!

How big are the gardens? Our gardens occupy 5.25 acres of land, which are broken up into 475 plots.

How big are the plots? Each plot is approximately 16 by 20 feet or slightly larger. Many plots appear larger because they are actually several joined plots.

What can I grow on my plot? You can grow whatever you want, as long as the plant isn’t on the PA DCNR’s list of invasive plants or a tree/shrub that reaches maturity over 6’ height. Most gardeners grow produce and vegetables for their family, friends and churches. A few will grow for restaurants or other business ventures, while many donate to local food banks or our Wildlife Clinic. Some gardeners plant to attract pollinators, some oversee horticultural research projects, some craft their gardens into a beautiful oasis in the city, and most combine some or all of the above.

What can I do with the fruit and vegetables I grow? If your harvest is abundant, you can give it away to your friends and family or donate fresh produce to one of the following organizations:

  • The Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic at the Schuylkill Center accepts produce donations, which they use to feed sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife under their care. They can accept everything except for tomatoes, garlic, or any type of onion. To make a donation, bring produce to the Wildlife Clinic during open hours (8 am to 8 pm daily). The clinic is located around the corner at 304 Port Royal Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19128. Read more about the clinic.
  • Roxborough Presbyterian Church operates a food bank, open on Thursdays from 11 am to 1 pm, located at 8230 Ridge Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19128.
  • North Light Community Center in Manayunk accepts food donations for their Friends in Supply Help (FISH) program. They are open for drop-offs on Mondays and Fridays from 1pm to 3pm, located at 175 Green Ln, Philadelphia, PA 19127.
  • Philabundance accepts food drop-offs at two locations:
    3616 Galloway Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148 (Main Office)
    302 West Berks Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122 (North Philadelphia Warehouse)
  • Find more food pantries here: http://www.hungercoalition.org/food-pantries

When are the gardens open? Sunrise to sunset. The use of power tools is prohibited between 6 pm and 9 am.

Where are the gardens? The gardens are located around the corner from the Schuylkill Center. Specific driving directions are available upon request.

How much does a plot cost? Plots cost $60 per plot per year. All gardens must have a current Schuylkill Center membership.

How do I rent a plot? To officially rent a plot: 1) complete contract with signature, and 2) send payment in full. Please email steve@schuylkillcenter.org with any questions.

How can I pay for a plot? We accept all major forms of payment at the front desk of our Visitor Center, located at 8480 Hagys Mill Road. If you can’t get to the desk, you can send a check in the mail or make payment with a card over the phone by calling our front desk at 215-482-8217.

How long will I have the plot for? Plots are rented for one year beginning March 14, 2020 and ending March 13, 2021 regardless of when the license or payment was submitted. Gardeners returning from a previous year can renew their lease for those plots.

How much work does it take to take care of a plot? It depends. As a guideline, expect to spend at least one day a week working your plot, with additional visits as needed. The workload varies depending on the number of plots you take, the condition of the plot when you start, the plants you grow, the amount of rain, and more. Generally, gardeners who spend more time working their plots achieve better results. We do not recommend renting a plot if you have a very busy schedule or will be taking long vacations this summer.

Will the Schuylkill Center help me work on my plot? Once you have rented one or more plots, the land is your responsibility. The Schuylkill Center is a non-profit and we have little time or money to devote to tending the gardens. However, we try to give all gardeners the resources to succeed, so please ask if there is anything specific you need. We coordinate several volunteer work days, where groups trim vines, mend fences, and otherwise maintain the gardens. We also are responsible for mowing the walkways.

What should I consider when I pick out my plot? All plots are rented “as-is,” meaning that you accept the plot in its condition and the Schuylkill Center is not responsible. Some of the available plots were recently occupied and are free of weeds or debris. Others are fallow and overgrown. We recommend you pick a plot that is a good fit for your experience and lifestyle. Consider the number of plots, the need for construction projects (ie fencing, raised beds), proximity to amenities (entrance gates, irrigation spigots, wood chips, compost piles), amount of weeds/brush, and the amount of sunlight or shade.

How many plots should I rent? We recommend that new gardeners start with one or two plots. You can expand in future years.

What are the garden’s rules? The list of rules is attached to each license, posted on the community board near the main entrance to the gardens, and available upon request.

Are the gardens really organic? Yes, any use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides, or additives is strictly prohibited. Any product used to improve plant health should be on the OMRI Product List, a list of approved organic materials.

Is there enough pollination at the gardens? Yes, we have on-site beehives and abundant native pollinators in the surrounding ecosystem.

How do I water my plots? How much water can I use? There are twenty-eight irrigation spigots throughout the gardens, two for each aisle. No plot is more than about 100 feet from a tap. Please conserve water, not only for the environmental benefits, but also because we do have to pay for the water from the city. Running the water while you aren’t there is strictly prohibited (no automatic watering systems). We ask that you don’t leave your hose hooked up or lying in the aisle, or it may be destroyed by our mowers.

Where can I go to the bathroom? There is a porta potty at the gardens from April to September. You can use the bathrooms at the Schuylkill Center’s Visitor Center around the corner at 8480 Hagy’s Mill Road. The Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Saturday.

Is there electricity at the gardens? No, we are not on the electrical grid.

Are there problems with invasive weeds at the gardens? What can I do about it? Gardeners deal with many invasive plants, and devote lots of time to weeding and trimming vines. Consult the PA DCNR's list of invasive plants and do not plant any invasives.

Where can I put all my green waste? We have two large piles of green waste, one by the main entrance and another by the woods. Though these piles are labelled “compost”, they contain many live seeds and should not be used to fertilize soil.

Where can I find compost for my garden? Affordable compost is available through several different sources:

Do I need to build or maintain a fence? Most plots in our gardens are at least partially surrounded by fences. Fences are not formally required but most gardeners have them to keep out deer and other animals. If your plot already has an existing fence, you are required to maintain that fence so that it does not fall into the aisles or a neighbor’s plot. If you are replacing the fence, you must maintain the original boundaries of the plot without expanding. If you share a fence with a neighbor, you must work together to coordinate its maintenance.

Are there problems with Deer and other pests? What can I do about it? Yes! Deer, groundhogs, and other animals frequently visit our gardens. Please keep all gates closed in the perimeter fence. To keep deer out of your plot, maintain a high fence (~8 feet) around them. To keep groundhogs out, make sure your fence is buried approximately 2 feet into the ground. To prevent crop losses, be sure to harvest your produce quickly before birds and other animals get to it.

Can I use the wood chips? Yes, the Schuylkill Center provides wood chips for gardeners to cover walkways within their plots and limit the growth of weeds. Wood chip piles are outside the fence along the edge of the gardens.

Can I borrow any tools? We have two communal tool sheds, both just inside the perimeter fence, one near the main entrance, and one along the side facing the woods. Sheds contain wheelbarrows, hoes, and other equipment that gardeners have donated. Feel free to borrow these, or to contribute your own equipment for the group’s use. But make sure you put back anything you take!

What is the garden inspection? When is it? The Schuylkill Center inspects all gardeners’ plots three times a year: mid-June, mid-July, and mid-August. Inspections are to make sure that gardeners are using their plots in accordance with the rules. Common issues include fences falling into walkways, overgrown vines blocking walkways, or absentee gardeners not tending their plots at all.



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8480 Hagy's Mill Road | Philadelphia, PA 19128 | Phone: 215-482-7300 | Fax: 215-482-8158 | Email: scee@schuylkillcenter.org
Wildlife Clinic: 304 Port Royal Avenue | Philadelphia, PA 19128 | Phone: 215-482-7300 x option 2 | Email: wildlife@schuylkillcenter.org

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