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Alive in the Harvard Community Garden

Overnight the trees have leafed out, hummingbirds are fighting at the feeder, fields are green, and the Harvard Community Garden has come alive, yet again. Asparagus spears are poking up and being harvested. Green onions are up. (What a good idea to have planted vegetables that greet you first thing in the spring.) Bulbs and strawberries are blooming. All this happens whether people are in lockdown or not.

The gardeners have started coming into the garden to check on their perennials and to weed, amend the soil with compost or manure, and plant. Each garden has its own style and aesthetic. Some display a straight-edged symmetry while others show a more free-form approach, some reveal a geometric pattern, one or two have a focal point, and a few feel like a room in a house, some casual, others more formal. Wandering along the grassy paths between the plots, studying each garden, feels a little like walking through an art exhibit, an exhibit that changes ever so slightly every day until each piece reaches its full expression.

Cecily O’Leary prepares soil for planting at the community garden on Littleton Road Tuesday, May 26. (Photos by Lisa Aciukewicz)

The gardeners agree that the food from their gardens tastes better and are pleased that it is also organic. An argument could be made that homegrown vegetables aren’t more economical than those in the grocery store when considering the supplies that go into the operation. On the other hand, three or four servings of asparagus could add up. One gardener said she feels joy in the whole routine, from being outside digging in the dirt to harvesting the food to tangling with nature. This year it’s the voles. The land gets plenty of sun and is not rocky, unlike many of Harvard’s home sites; plus the garden is surrounded by an electric fence that discourages local critters, if not the occasional turkey that might drop in. And just like artists, gardeners learn and gain insights into the whole undertaking by trial and error, close observation, and from each other.

Bob Benson weeds his strawberry patch at the community garden.

This piece of conservation land on Littleton Road, directly across from Orchard Hill, has been used as a community garden—off and on—for more than 40 years. Back then, water was carried from the stream in buckets or brought in from home. The current garden was started in 2008 by Harvard Local, a group focused on environmental sustainability. Most of the current 22 plots, 20-by-20 feet or half that size, were established at that time. In addition to maintaining the garden plots, there are communal chores: The paths around the individual plots have to be mowed, which is done for pay by the daughters of a gardener (mercifully), but the fencing is maintained and compost bins tidied up cooperatively. But first someone built the bins. This year two handsome gates were constructed.

The sign-ups and overall operation of the Harvard Community Garden are handled by membership coordinator Mary Keefe.

But this year, even during a stretch of beautiful weather, an invisible cloud hung over the garden during the shutdown. Would the garden, like the trails, remain open, or would it be closed like McCurdy Track? Preemptively, the gardeners implemented their own guidelines, based on common sense and respect for others: no sharing of tools or equipment, clean common surfaces that are touched, one family per work project, avoid overcrowding by limiting the number of cars parked along the road, and observe all social distancing rules.

So it was great news when Gov. Charlie Baker announced guidelines for the reopening of community gardens that were practically identical to the ones the garden had already established for itself. The gardeners joke that Gov. Baker stole his guidelines from them.

One 20- by 20-foot garden plot is available. A full plot is $60; graduated fees apply for partial plots. For more information, contact membership coordinator at

An ‘ingenious’ water pump

The ingenious water pump that disappears into the ground and miraculously brings up water from the spring was installed by a group of the garden’s founders in 2008, led by Joe D’Eramo. In an email to the Press, D’Eramo described finding just the right pump, made by a company in Rhode Island and normally used aboard boats. He wrote: “I had lots of help to dredge the spring that’s behind the garden and then run a roll of rigid polyethylene pipe to the pump, which we mounted on a stand inside the garden. In the spring and early summer that first season, people were bringing water jugs from home and scooping buckets of water from the spring, so the pump was a big improvement.”

For some history of the Harvard Community Garden, including more information about the water pump, go to, scroll down and click on “Description 2008” and garden/meetings/20080406.minutes.html.

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