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Pea Patch: Community Gardening at its Best

By Dawn Fradkin, Assistant Horticulturist and Horticulture Programs Coordinator

Arapahoe County CSU Extension has several demonstration gardens where Colorado Master Gardener volunteers educate citizens about gardening and horticulture topics by giving classes and presentations and being on-site to answer questions. Pea Patch in Littleton is just one example where volunteers have created a special community for gardeners.

The Pea Patch garden started in 2011 and was designed to be “mean and lean,” according to Rana Van Leeuwen, Master Gardener who started the project. It began with only one volunteer working three times per week. Volunteers had to deal with difficult site conditions and obstacles including “every terrible, invasive, destructive bug known to Littleton.” “We had to say goodbye to beans due to bean beetles, the tomatoes had thrips, and cucumber beetles were rampant!” But the Pea Patch Master Gardeners persisted, and they have learned and adapted to the challenges through the years.

Pea Patch in full swing in the summer, Photo: Rana Van Leeuwen

A decade later, Rana is still the volunteer team lead. She emphasizes a learn-by-doing philosophy that often goes along with Colorado gardening. “Over time, we have learned to work with what works. The garden is on a north/south hill, so the beds are situated east/west to mediate water absorption and runoff. We have garden neighbors who water only overhead so we grow plants (mostly cabbage and kale) in the bed closest to them that can endure the humidity without getting powdery mildew. We have the aisles lined with burlap coffee bags to cut down on weeding time. We grow things that produce quantity and that are easy for the foodbanks to handle. We try to grow what we have heard people want to eat. We don’t get a great harvest of jalapenos, but because they are a favorite of many, we grow them.”

The Pea Patch has two 20’ x 20’ plots featuring four raised beds that Eagle Scouts built for them in 2017. This community garden is comprised of 120 plots. Gardeners in the 118 other plots seek help from knowledgeable Arapahoe County Master Gardener volunteers for answers to questions and advice about their gardens. Early in the season, one Master Gardener works three days per week in the morning from 8:00am to 10:00am. The schedule shifts to two Master Gardeners later in the season when harvest begins.

Photo: Rana Van Leeuwen

In 2021, Pea Patch Master Gardeners donated a whopping 3,125 pounds of fresh produce for the Grow and Give program. Mission Hills Life Center, St. Mary’s Parish Pantry and the Kings Pantry at South Fellowship Church were the recipients of the massive bounty, providing nutritious and healthy food for the surrounding community. Volunteers at the Pea Patch provide an impressive community outreach effort.

For more information about the Grow and Give program and how you can donate your home-grown produce to your local community, click here.

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