Victory Garden Classes Offer Beginners Expertise on How to Start their Own Plots

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The District Nine Community Farm. Photos by Stephanie Ervin.

On the first day of the Victory Garden Class at the former Fire Station 12 in North Long Beach earlier this month, the instructors asked us why we were interested in gardening and what we hoped to learn.

When it was my turn, I stated that I had always thought I had a black thumb, not a green one.

I’d been able to keep a few succulents alive, but that was about it. Smith Prasirtpun, one of the instructors, addressed the group and asked, “We all have thumbs, right?” He stated it didn’t matter what color you thought your thumb was—everyone has the ability to help plants grow.

This encouraging notion was a main theme throughout the class. Instructors Jeff Rowe, Smith Prasirtpun and Phil Geisen listened to our questions and gave thoughtful answers while going over the theme for each day. They pointed out that the conditions in each person’s yard would be different, from the amount of sunshine to the quality of the soil. Through trial and error we would learn from our yards and the plants themselves what they needed and how we could help them grow. We were given helpful advice on where to find seeds, how to start small plantings before transferring them into the ground, and where to find books or products that would help us along the way. 

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A helpful guide originally published in 1944.

The other attendees in the class varied. In my early 30s, I was one of the younger people there, but I enjoyed learning with a mix of people who had their own experiences gardening. Some shared tips about which plants were easy to grow, which ones require a large amount of water, and what they hoped to grow in the future. Some had never planted before, and others wanted to become master gardeners like our instructors. After we all weighed in on whether one watermelon seemed ripe or not, one woman shared that there’s a saying in Korea that if you can pick the right watermelon, you can pick the right mate. We all agreed.

Each class followed a similar format. We would go over materials the instructors had printed out for us based on that day’s lesson, such as soil or pests. Rowe shared his experience as a master gardener and pointed out that if anyone had a question he wasn’t able to answer, he could easily contact other experts to find out more. Prasirtpun is a teacher who also operates a garden at a local school, and shared his stories of trial and error.

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Hand-plucked kale from the garden.

The class takes place at the former Fire Station 12, which is also the office of Rex Richardson, vice mayor of Long Beach and councilmember for District Nine. While the front is home to a great example of a sustainable front yard, the back is the District Nine community farm. After about an hour of discussion and going over the printed materials, we would head over to the garden to weed and plant. The property also has a few fruit trees, but we mainly focused on the vegetables, such as Swiss Chard, kale, and lettuce. We were also able to monitor the growth of corn, peppers, squash, watermelon, green beans, and a few others. At the end of each day we were able to pluck some of the produce and take it home.

Our last class coincided with the monthly crop swap, which takes place the first Saturday of every month. Sponsored by Long Beach Fresh, local members of the community bring in produce from their home gardens to share with one another. We were able to share vegetables from the community farm, such as green beans, kale, lettuce, a single butternut squash, and corn. It was great to meet other home gardeners, who brought in seeds to share, avocados, guavas, fresh herbs and succulents.

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The herbs and vegetables we presented at the monthly Crop Swap.

The classes, which range in size, are part of the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative, led by UC Master Gardener volunteers in multiple locations throughout the county. If you’re interested in attending, the class will continue in the winter. The entire four-day series is $55, or $15 per class. If you’re available to tend the garden during the week, it’s $20 for the series and $5 per class. The classes take place at 6509 Gundry Avenue in Long Beach.

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