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Coronavirus COVID-19 Gardening Local News

CRRC Invites Residents to Grow Their Own Produce During Coronavirus Outbreak

Ryleigh McElroy and her grandmother, Lori Parker, weed their garden plot with the help of Community Resource and Recreation Center of Canyon Lake's (CRRC) community garden manager Jo Ed Lyles.

While the public flocks to grocery stores, panic-buying, retired New Braunfels landscaper Jo Ed Lyles heads calmly each morning to Community Resource and Recreation Center of Canyon Lake’s (CRRC) community garden by the Rec Center on Mabel Jones Drive.

For years, he and a handful of volunteers have grown up to 800 pounds of produce each summer for CRRC’s food pantry, which feeds hundreds of area residents who can’t always afford groceries.

Nothing’s changed this spring, except right before the COVID-19 outbreak, Lyles decided to up the ante and CRRC’s harvest by inviting residents to the Rec Center garden to grow their own vegetables with seeds, beds, water, fertilizer and expert advice all provided for free.

The caveat, he said, is that any excess produce must be turned over to the CRRC.

“I’ve never met anyone who could eat everything they grew in a garden,” he said earlier this month.

On March 14, about a dozen residents showed up to weed plots and “amend” the soil organically using whole ground cornmeal and molasses.

Lyles said he can prepare more beds if others would like to sign up. Sizes range from 64- to 100-square-feet in size.

“For those who need it, I will be available to guide you through the process of having a successful garden,” he said. To contact him, email jeldado@gmail.com.

Lyles also makes house calls for those who would like to stick close to home, growing gardens on their own land.

However, he does have rules. Prospective gardeners must pay $20, sign a contract, and develop their own garden plans with his help, if necessary, and the support of Comal Master Gardener Andy Hannibal.

“My job as garden manager is to help you produce a good crop of whatever vegetables you want to plant,” he said in an email to participants. “Success in gardening requires a good garden game plan. The first step in that is determining what you want to accomplish. It would be helpful to me if I knew your goals such as why you want to be a pantry partner, why do you want to grow your own vegetables, what vegetables do you want to grow? You need to develop a game plan that starts with getting the crops in the ground, what crops, when to plant. To help with this is the following planting time schedules:

Beans Lima March 20- April 25
Beans Snap March 14- April 25
Cucumbers March 20 -April 25
Eggplant March 20- April 25
Okra April 1- June 30
Pepper March 25- May 5
Potato, Sweet (Slips) April 5- June 30
Squash March 20- April 30
Tomato March 20- May 30

All spring vegetables can be planted up to the end of April, Lyles said. Several others can be planted through May.

“There is plenty of time left to start a spring garden,” he said.

CRRC Development Director Maureen Schein described last year’s produce as “beautiful, and so fresh, too, of course. The way our volunteers react when it is brought in is precious.”

This year, she said San Antonio Food Bank CEO Eric Cooper says fresh produce is the wave of the very near future for food banks.

“So we are right in the mainstream on that,” she said. “This could become a vital program for many families as we face this time of health crisis. The coronavirus is already affecting so many families, without making anyone sick in those families. Economically, so very many are going to be having a very difficult time.

“The gardening experience for the whole family does several things. It provides sustenance and nutrition. It gets people working outside and experiencing the energies of the sun. And, done correctly, it can be a family project that brings them closer.

“I am certain CRRC can find a way to make more plots if there is that kind of demand,” she said.

CRRC Executive Director Darin Zumwalt agrees.

“I think it’s a great idea to get the community involved, and also for them to learn more about what CRRC is, and does,” he said.

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