A History of the Sens Activity Center Bluebonnet Master Gardener Demonstration Garden
By Faye Beery, Master Gardener
Bluebonnet Master Gardener Association
The original garden was started by then Master Gardener Judy Mead in 2001. It was a program started with the Boys and Girls club at the old Bellville High School. Due to planned construction, around 2003, the garden was moved to the jail with the help from then Sheriff Dewayne Burger, and was called the Jail Garden. Members decided that a more appropriate name would be the Chesley garden when the garden was moved from behind the jail to beside the jail on Chesley street. Ed Linseisen, Larry Miller, Harry DeFoy, and Marvin Schindler, along with other members, were instrumental in getting the garden established.
The garden remained at the Chesley street location until 2015. Many interns earned their hours there as well as learning about vegetable gardening from Master Gardeners. Vegetables were given to the food pantry; some were sold to the Farmer’s market and some brought to meetings for sale to the members. Some were given to the inmates for use in the jail kitchen. Many hours of friendship were forged working in the beds and learning from one another about vegetable gardening.
In 2015, Sheriff Brandes announced that the sheriff’s office would be constructing a new building where the garden was located and asked that the garden be moved. The board of directors at Sens Activity Center had contacted me for help with the landscaping at the Center. The Center had adequate land for a garden and access to water, which was not included in other sites that had been explored for a garden. In December of 2015, Garry Kroeger submitted a proposal to the City of Bellville to use the Sens Center land for a new Master Gardener demonstration garden. In return, the Master Gardeners would care for the flower beds around the Center. The city agreed to provide the necessary water and parking space. In 2016, Garry and a team of Master Gardeners and community help moved all the bedding materials and the shed to the Sens Activity Center.
Many hours of hard work went into plowing the land and establishing the beds. The first year, deer and rabbit, and probably other small animals also found the garden rewarding. Unfortunately, some vandalism also occurred, and it was decided that a fence would be built around the garden. This provided security for the garden, and no further crops were lost to marauders. Garry Kroeger had been instrumental in finding a good site for the garden and had also done much of the work including using his own tractor to plow the land, and has spent many hours working to see that the garden is as productive as possible.
The Master Gardeners decided to name it Garry’s Garden, and Elery Kimes, also a Master Gardener, made the sign to put on the fence in his honor. Pete Smith has also been instrumental in working the garden, and fortunately lives in the subdivision, giving him easy access to working there. Pete has been managing and directing efforts to pick and prepare vegetables to be sold at the Farmer’s Market on the square in Bellville.
The garden has been extremely prolific under Garry’s and Pete’s direction. It is still giving interns and Master Gardeners opportunities to work for their hours and to develop friendships and knowledge. Usually, around 5 to 7 people work the garden each Wednesday starting around 7:00 to 8:00 am. In 2018, 1,208 lbs. of vegetables were harvested from the garden. Some were sold, some were given to the food pantry, some were taken to meetings, some were taken home by those who worked there. In 2019, 1,505 lbs. were harvested from the garden. Vegetables included beans, peas, corn, blackberries onions, chard, cucumbers, okra, eggplant, cabbage, turnups, carrots, broccoli, squash, potatoes, peppers, bell and jalapenos, cantaloupes and some herbs.
Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the garden. Hopefully, we can have some sort of a celebration and educational activity to let everyone know about the history and successes of the garden. Everyone is welcome to come and work with us in showing what can be done to raise your own produce and lessening dependence on outside sources. Not only does local produce taste better and is better for you, but it reduces transportation costs and reduces waste.
Hope to see you there!