Harpswell Community Garden grows on solar-powered irrigation

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HARPSWELL — The fruits of a new solar-powered watering system in the Harpswell Community Garden will soon be more widely realized.

A hydration system equipped with photovoltaics was installed in June. Now, an irrigation system purchased with a $400 grant and installed by volunteers last week will make watering plants at the site easy and sustainable.

The garden, which was established six years ago at Mitchell Field, offers either 10-by-10-foot plots for $25 or 10-by-15 plots for $35, as well as the opportunity for gardeners to name and pay a rate they can afford.

It also has a “common good” section, where produce is specifically grown to be donated to local food programs. So far this year, the garden has given away 1,325 pounds of produce.

While the garden is part of the town of Harpswell’s recreation program, it is not funded by the town. Harpswell Heritage Land Trust provides its yearly operating budget, but residents can access the garden application on the town’s website.

Judith Stanton, committee head for the garden, said periods of drought in 2015 and 2016 caused a well used by gardeners at Mitchell Field to run dry.

The droughts not only “reduced productivity” of plots, but also forced people to bring water from home to keep their plants alive.

“We really realized that we weren’t going to be successful getting any gardeners to stay if we weren’t going get a reliable water system,” Stanton said.

Through grant funding, members of the garden committee were able to hire an excavation company to extend the well’s depth, which allowed for a sufficient water supply last summer.

Implementing the solar-powered hydration this year was the second phase of the effort. ReVision Energy planned and installed the pressurized system to transport water from the well to two 275-gallon storage tanks.

Stanton said the committee used the solar-powered water storage tanks at Tom Settlemire Community Garden in Brunswick as a model for the Harpswell system.

ReVision installed the system free of charge, which the committee was “really grateful” for, Stanton said.

Before the solar-powered system was installed, the pump connected to the well was run by a battery, which, if accidentally left on, would need to be re-charged, leaving the garden without water for two days.

The solar panels in the new system keep storage tanks full to a certain level at all times, allowing for a reserve supply of water when it is needed.

Another piece of improving the water flow involved installing an irrigation system. The system was purchased last year with grant funding from Winslow-based company Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

The recently installed irrigation system features underground pipes connected to the water tanks, which supply water to all parts of the garden through spigots.

Lance Demond, a gardener and mechanical engineer by trade, installed the system recently with the help of volunteers. The workers dug trenches to run the pipes underground, built a shed to house the pressure tank and also built the stand for the storage tanks.

Demond said the assistance was helpful.

“I volunteered to put this system in, but if I’d done it by myself it would have taken me, I’m sure, two weeks,” he said.

The irrigation system, which was expected to be functional this week, will also make working in the garden more efficient, according to Stanton.

“Instead of all of our volunteers spending their time watering, we have more time to spend doing the harvesting and weeding,” she said.

She added the improved system will also hopefully attract gardeners to continue renewing plot subscriptions, though this year had “the highest proportion of returning gardeners than ever before.”

And, she said those that have participated recently have been especially enthusiastic.

“People have been really great about volunteering,” Stanton said. “We have a really great bunch of gardeners this year.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Lance Demond and Judith Stanton of the Harpswell Community Garden behind a spigot connected to a newly installed irrigation system at the site.

The garden’s new features include a solar-powered pressurized system, which carries water from a nearby well into a new irrigation system.

A new irrigation system feeds into the Harpswell Community Garden’s “common good” section, where food is grown specifically for local hunger prevention programs.

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