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Public gardening takes root - Though demand for Blueberry Park P-Patch plots exceeds supply, efforts to build more gardens in Bremerton and Silverdale are stalled
With gardening season approaching, sign-ups are underway for P-Patch plots at Blueberry Park in East Bremerton.
Right now the city is giving plots to returning gardeners and people on this year’s waiting list. The general public will be eligible to reserve plots starting the last week of February.
But increasing demand for plots at Blueberry Park indicates the growing popularity of gardening, especially among those without the property to do so at home, and there aren’t enough plots for everybody interested.
City officials say there is currently no money to build a new garden in Bremerton and volunteer efforts to establish one in Silverdale have gone fallow.
About 18 people are on this year’s waiting list for one of Blueberry Park’s 68 plots, up from 15 on the list last year, said Robbin Small, P-Patch coordinator for the Washington State University Kitsap County Extension. The extension manages the plots through its Master Gardener program. Small expects about five or six open plots to remain after priority gardeners claim their spots.
“We’re getting more recognized in the neighborhood,” Small said.
Gardening at Blueberry Park has been available since the mid-1980s, when the plots were managed by the City of Bremerton. Back then, the size of the 44 plots ranged between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet — an overwhelming size for many amateur gardeners, Parks and Recreation Director Wyn Birkenthal said.
“It was bordering between a P-Patch and a truck farm,” he said.
After the park’s $479,000 renovation was completed in 2009, the city increased the number of plots to accommodate the oversized waiting lists, in which people were on the list for at least three years and never got a plot. However, that move also required the plots to shrink to between 200 and 400 square feet, which elicited mixed reactions. While the smaller plots were more manageable and allowed more people to rent a plot, they also drove some gardeners away, Birkenthal said. Since the renovation, the plots have been managed by Master Gardener, which also offers classes and advice to gardeners.
The demand for plots indicates a need for another garden, possibly in West Bremerton, Birkenthal said. But, while that need is on the city’s radar, there is currently a backlog of projects with no money to start them and a new P-Patch would take a place at end of the line.
“I think the demand is there and I think there’s a movement now where growing food locally has taken root,” Birkenthal said. “But right now there’s a very hard time getting capital funding.”
P-Patches are not very expensive to build and a new one could be possible if the city can find some underused land with good soil and access to water, he added. But that possibility is likely in the distant future.
Kitsap County’s only other P-Patch is in Raab Park in Poulsbo and is smaller, with about 50 plots.
Service club members in Central Kitsap have tried to build interest in a Silverdale P-Patch in recent years, with no success so far.
Bruce Van Woudenberg, a former member of the now-disbanded Central Kitsap Kiwanis, tried about two-and-a-half years ago to bring a P-Patch to the Markwick property, a piece of land in Silverdale, north of the Waaga Way overpass crossing Silverdale Way, where Clear Creak flows underneath the street.
“I kept driving back and forth by it for a number of years and I thought a community garden is something that could possibly be good in that location,” Van Woudenberg said, noting that the apartment residents off Ridgetop Boulevard and Schold Road would have good access to the area. “It occurred to me that if the property could be developed in to a P-Patch, there might be some interest in it.”
Van Woudenberg held public meetings to gauge interest in a P-Patch, which yielded little interest.
“I didn’t get any response whatsoever,” he said.
Tex Lewis, volunteer with the Clear Creek Task Force, wants to pick up efforts to build a Silverdale garden. He hopes to refurbish the garage on the Markwick property this summer by fixing the roof and opening up its sides to accommodate picnic tables. He also wants to have a shed where P-Patch gardeners could keep tools and supplies.
A garden can’t be built there until the county determines what land in the area is usable. Because of the surrounding wetlands, only a chunk of the property can be developed, but it hasn’t yet been decided where those boundaries fall, Lewis said.
However, if momentum builds for a Silverdale garden, Lewis will work with local service clubs to make it a reality, he said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing something like that happen,” he said.
Available P-Patch plots at Blueberry Garden will be open to the public starting the last week of February.
Sign-ups must be in-person at the WSU Extension office, located in the Norm Dicks Government Center, 345 Sixth Street, Suite 550, Bremerton.
10’x20’ plots: $40/year Bremerton residents, $46.25 non-residents
16’x25’ plots: $60/year Bremerton residents, $69 non-residents