Community Gardening While Staying at Home

COVID-19 Update & Gardening Recommendations

Residents of the City of Columbia and Boone County are currently under a “stay at home” order until April 24. Please help mitigate the effects of the new virus by staying at home except for essential activities. (For more details on the order and coronavirus resources, see here.)

We want our gardeners to know that your community gardening activities are considered to be essential because they are for the purpose of food production. City staff have assured us that gardeners can continue to use their community garden plots. However, there are new rules in place.

Here’s what Stephanie Lilly, health educator for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services has told us:

“Community gardens provide food, therefore are considered essential. There shall be no more than 10 people working in the garden at a time and shall practice social distancing at all times!”

There is a possible $1,000 fine for violating this rule, which means that gardens should not have any group work days until the shelter in place order ends.

Below are our recommendations for gardening at this time:

  1. Do not come to the garden if you are not feeling well or someone you live with does not feel well.
  2. Do not enter the garden if there are already 10 people there; come back later. According to the Boone County order there is a possible fine of $1,000 if you violate this rule and it is reported.
  3. Keep your distance (6 feet or more) from other gardeners. The CDC says this virus can be spread by persons before they have any symptoms.
  4. Clean off tool and hose handles before and after use because the virus has been found to survive up to 3 days on hard surfaces. We recommend you bring a towel or rag and use a solution of 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water to wipe down any tools that you use after removing any dirt.
  5. Please wash your hands with soap and water before and after gardening. If soap is not provided then consider bringing some with you.
  6. Use your own hand tools if you have them.
  7. Wear gloves if possible. Although they can spread the virus, they may help you remember not to touch your face.

The Community Garden Coalition is still figuring out how to safely facilitate a distribution of cool season transplants, row cover, hoops and additional seeds to member gardens. Stay tuned to news from your garden leader in the coming days!

Community Garden Coalition

We hope you’re able to enjoy spring weather and make use of your gardening opportunity this year, despite the unusual circumstances. Stay safe, respect your fellow gardeners and happy gardening!

Native Plants Can Help Your Garden Thrive

The Missouri Prairie Foundation and the Grow Native initiative have put together a fact sheet about the relationship between native plants, pollinators and fruit and vegetable production. See which native plants attract the pollinators your vegetables need.

Did you know? Native plants help fruits and vegetables thrive. (Handout from Missouri Prairie Foundation.

Perhaps there’s a corner of your garden plot, an area around the edges of the garden or a communal plot that could be home to some of these important native flowers. The CGC can help connect you and your community garden leader with a native plant consultant from the City of Columbia and our group may be able to offer some funding for native plant projects. Just get in touch with us at

2020 Spring Thaw Kick-Off Event Sunday, February 23

girls planting in a raised bed

Spring Thaw Community Gardening Kick-Off

Sunday, Feb. 23
3-5 p.m.
Activity & Recreation Center
Drop in anytime!

The Spring Thaw is the kick-off to the community gardening season. There will be representatives from all the gardens, so you can join a garden as a newcomer or confirm a plot assignment for previous gardeners. Plus, everyone can network and get gardening advice from other gardeners.

There will be educational information about cover cropping and water conservation, and we’ll have a free seeds available for gardeners at member gardens.

If you know someone who’d like to get a community garden plot this year, please share these event details!

Thanks & Happy New Year!

A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who supported community gardens during the CoMoGives local donations campaign!!! Whether you were able to give $10 or $200, or even just passed on our message, we are very grateful for your support!

We’re excited about a new year of gardening and hope that we can supply lots of new and continuing gardeners with the means to grow some of their own food in 2020. Our first meeting of the new year happens Wed., January 8 at the Columbia Public Library at 7 p.m. We welcome funding requests from member gardens, and we’d be happy to meet any volunteers who’d like to get involved.

Ann St. gardeners — thank you for sharing the love!

P.S. If you missed the CoMoGives donation deadline of Dec. 31, you can still give to the CGC anytime of year online or with a check via the good old USPS.

Support Community Gardening for Another Season

There are just a few days left to donate to your favorite local organizations through the CoMoGives local giving campaign! Share your support for community gardens in Columbia with a donation by December 31.👍❤️🥕🌱👏

The CGC has been helping gardens grow since 1983. Here’s a look back at some of the gardens we supported in 2019.

The support we receive from donors like you allows us to fund fences, tools, water, mulch, compost, plants, seeds and equipment at gardens like these. It only takes $10 to show your support for another great year of growing community through gardens.

Thank you for being a part of our community!

Cultivating Gardens & Community — With Your Help

In 2019, the Community Garden Coalition was pleased to support over 1,000 gardeners through another season of growing food and cultivating community. Our member gardeners include people stretching their food budgets, students learning about growing plants for the first time, people growing produce to donate to others and gardeners keeping alive food traditions from distant cultures.

To help community gardens thrive in Columbia, our all-volunteer group offers seeds, plants, water, insurance, tools and supplies. We believe that small gardens can have large benefits. They provide healthy food, stronger communities, greener neighborhoods and a sense of pride and shared accomplishment.

For the third year in a row, we’re joining the CoMoGives local giving campaign. Our goal is to raise $5,000 during the month of December – and we need your help!

We hope you will show your support for community gardening with a donation to the CGC through CoMoGives between December 1 and 31!

Even a small donation can go a long way in our budget! Your dollars stay local, and they’ll go directly back into supporting community gardens used by your neighbors and friends with hoses, wheelbarrows, lawnmowers, seeds, compost and more.

We would also like to spread our message further this year. Can you help us spread the word about community gardening and our mission, by sharing this message with someone else you know?

You and your friends can also stay in touch with CGC and check on our progress by following us on Facebook. Thank you for your support and consideration, and happy holiday season from your CGC Board of Directors!

Kathy Doisy, President
Jenny McDonald, Vice President
Bill McKelvey, Treasurer
Lauren Godsy, Secretary
Ann Marie Gortmaker
Kristin Hatton
Sarah Kendrick
Zach Pietryla

Thank You, Gardeners, Volunteers & Donors!

Congratulations on another great season of gardening!

The Community Garden Coalition would like to thank all our hardworking garden leaders and volunteers and all our generous donors for their efforts. We are so appreciative of what you do and how you help your community!

Collage of garden images from 2019 with thank you message and request to donate through CoMoGives in December

We’re already thinking about the 2020 gardening season. We’re grateful to the City of Columbia social services granting program for continuing to support us next year. And we’re pleased to announce that the Community Foundation of Central Missouri will be supporting our seed and plant distribution with a grant next year.

We also depend on the support of many individual donors through the CoMoGives local giving campaign in December. Can you help us this year with a donation or by passing on our message to your friends and family?

You can donate to the CGC and many other great local organizations through CoMoGives starting Dec. 1.

Season’s End 2019

chicory seedlings in a raised bed wih light snow coverWith record cold temps and snow so far this November, most garden plots are finished producing for the season. Before you shift away from thinking about gardening for the winter, though, please do the following.

  • If you’re at a community or group garden, let your garden leader know whether you’re planning to return next year. This will help leaders know what plots will be available for newcomers next year.
  • Clean up your plot. If you need tips on how to put your garden to bed for the winter, consult your garden leader.
  • Consider making a year-end donation to the CGC to help with maintaining your community garden next year. We’re a very small, all-volunteer non-profit, and even modest contributions help us fund water, mulch, tools and more to support community gardening in Columbia.
    Donate here today, or wait for December when the CGC will be participating in the CoMo Gives local giving campaign.
  • Consider donating some of your time. Individual gardens need good leaders and team members and the board of the CGC could use new members, too. Contact your garden leader or our board members to get involved.

Sustainability Speaker Series

Learn about pollinator conservation from three speakers at a free event sponsored by the City of Columbia.

Sustainability Speaker Series:
Pollinator Conservation

Thursday, November 14, 2019
6-8 p.m.
City Hall, Room 1A/B

Wildlife experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MO Dept. of Conservation, University of Missouri, and the City of Columbia will talk about pollinator conservation challenges, habitat restoration, and policy that are occurring at all levels of government.

Come for the entire event or just for a little bit. All are welcome including children.

Cover Crops in Community Gardens

Prepared by guest contributor Samuel Garrett McKee with assistance from David Neely and Margaret Rossano. Garrett is a garden leader of the Circus-Lyons Community Garden.

Cover crops have become increasingly popular in the past several years, seeing use from large-scale producers down to mid- and small-scale operations. Originating in pre-industrial times, cover crops have been an organic and sustainable, tried-and-true, method of using naturally occurring cycles to benefit soils for hundreds of years. The benefits are clearly seen once implemented, even at the community garden plot scale (10×10 ft, for example). At the Circus-Lyons Community Garden, we have been using cover crops for the past two years with solid results.   

Essentially, when a garden plot would otherwise be unused, we “cover” that soil with a special crop of plants, the purpose of which is to feed the soil, rather than to feed the gardeners. Several weeks before you want to use that plot again for annual planting, the crop is cut down and the plant matter incorporated back into the soil. Fall is a great time to start implementing a cover crop at your garden. Read on for more information and detailed advice.

cover crop planted in October that survived the winter and is growing well in February
Feb. 3, 2019. Cover crop planted in late October, cereal rye, Austrian winter peas and crimson clover. Established before coldest weather hit, overwintering well even with a real winter.  It’s merely waiting for longer warmer days and will likely be a foot tall by April 1.

The amount of information on cover crops can be daunting when you first begin the research, however, clarity can be found by thinking of cover-cropping as reminiscent of natural cycles. Central Missouri was once home to native tall-grass prairie ecosystems: perennial grasslands that harvest sunlight during the growing season and put the resulting carbon into plant  tissue, which is in turn harvested by grazing animals or consumed by wildfire, thus promoting plant competition and further unimpeded growth and diversification. This cycle was carried on without human intervention, adding yearly inputs to the soil.  

Typically, gardeners and farmers plant annual crops during a growing season, fertilize with off-site inputs, harvest, remove any residue of the crop, and then consider things finished. This leaves our soil more or less bare during the winter season, opening up invasion opportunities for weeds as well as the potential for erosion. This system is not reliably found in the natural world where there is continuous biological activity in the soil, year-round. This is what cover crops aim to fulfill.   

rye and clover cover crop with soil probe showing deep rich soil
Jan. 28, 2017. Cereal rye and crimson clover cover crop with soil probe showing the color you’re looking for!

Effective cover-cropping imitates a prairie system in that it provides more overall diversity and duration of biological activity to a plot. It can also stabilize soil; armor against weedy species and erosion; improve water capture/infiltration into subsoil; and improve the soil’s physical, chemical and biological makeup. Many resources exist for guidance on the matter, however, I will speak for what has worked for us at the plot level in our community garden.

Species Selection

Species used are many and again can be daunting to the beginner.  I tend to think about them in botanical terms; grasses (graminaceae), forbs (many families, but you can think of them mainly as flowers), legumes (fabaceae). 


Species include cereal rye, oats, annual ryegrass, winter wheat and sorghum.

Pros: Grasses are competitive against weeds (including Bermuda grass!), they establish quickly and reliably, and they can be harvested for grain, mulch or hay, or even grazed. Grasses scavenge soil nutrients that would otherwise leach out or be taken up by weeds. Also, they are usually very winter hardy, easy to plant in fall and inexpensive. Species include cereal rye, oats, annual ryegrass, winter wheat and sorghum.

Cons: Grasses can easily out-compete forbs or legumes planted alongside them, detracting from overall benefits of diverse cover crop plantings. Cereal rye, upon termination, suppresses weeds and/or seed germination allelopathically in the soil, meaning that compounds released by the rye as it is killed will stifle germination of other species for a short period.  A solution to this minor issue would be to allow two to three weeks of inactivity between termination and the next planting.

cover crop planting at community garden
April 23, 2018. Cereal rye, crimson clover, winter wheat adjacent to hand tilled, just terminated cover crop


Species include radishes, turnips, buckwheat, and sunflowers.

Pros: Forbs usually have deeper root systems that scavenge/capture nutrients in the topsoil that are unavailable to many crops. The, provide bloom and beauty, and some can be harvested for seeds or flowers, or they can be grazed.

Cons: They are sometimes slower growing or difficult to get established, and they sometimes cost more.


Species include clovers, vetches, winter peas, black-eyed peas (cowpeas).

Pros: Legumes sequester nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available to plants in the rhizosphere (rooting zone). They provide beauty and blooms for pollinators, and can be grazed or harvested for hay/mulch.

Cons: They are they usually slower to establish than grass, and the seed should be inoculated prior to planting. Red clover is a perennial and will persist when not desired, and vetches are semi-aggressive invaders into both urban and wild environments.

Fall Cover Crops

After the summer garden crops have played out and freezing temperatures are on the horizon, you should be thinking of cover cropping by October through mid-November.  The trick is to get the crop established and at least 4- to 6-inches tall before the harsh temperatures set in. Species that work well at this time include Austrian winter peas, crimson clover, cereal rye, winter wheat, and oats. Doing a two to four species mixture seems to work well, as each year is different and having multiple species to fill in unexpected gaps is ideal. Cereal rye, crimson clover and winter peas have been a good combo for us at Circus-Lyon garden. 

Late Winter/Early Spring Cover Crops

Similar species as work in the fall will also work from late February through March and even into early April. Snap peas could be viable for this outcome, as well, since they are a legume. We’ve even had seed sown in January warm spells that germinates in early March and grows vigorously all throughout spring. 

Summer Cover Crops

After a spring crop is harvested, you can plan to seed a cover crop into an otherwise fallow plot.  Species which work well for this would be buckwheat, mustard greens, annual sorghum, black eyed peas or anything which can handle heat, sunshine and long growing days. Buckwheat puts out a long taproot, bringing otherwise unavailable nutrients up into your plot’s topsoil as well as providing much-needed blooms for pollinators. However, if left to go to seed, buckwheat will seed your plot in many little individuals that will compete with desired crops when given the opportunity! Cowpeas (or Black-eyed peas) are a great legume choice for summer. 

buckwheat cover crop planted in summer amongst other garden vegetables
Aug. 5, 2017 Buckwheat establishment following sweet corn.

Terminating Your Cover Crop

Cover crops must be “terminated” once the time rolls around for planting of desired food crops.  Many ways exist to do this, but I will detail the way which has worked for us. First we mow or weed-eat the cover crop about two to three weeks prior to our desired planting date. We let the residue of the cover crop sit for several days after mowing, then turn it by hand into the soil using a shovel or a tiller.  Small plots are best done by hand. Be sure to break up the clods and root systems while turning it over, and try to get dead plant matter buried. This provides food for earthworms and countless other micro biota in the soil to consume and make available for your soon-to-follow food crops. Some warmer season cover crops, such as oats or buckwheat, will self-terminate, or winterkill, when exposed to cold temperatures. This is also a convenient time to incorporate compost into the soil to feed the incoming crop.  

cover crop mowed down and tilled in
March 30, 2018. Mowed cover crop adjacent to mowed, then tilled cover crop.

Optionally, legumes and forbs can be allowed to flower before you terminate them, which provides blooms for native pollinators and honey bees (crimson clover is worth growing for the flower alone!). Buckwheat seed can be harvested easily enough by hand and used the following year, or ground into gluten-free flower. Cowpeas and snap peas can be harvested for consumption.     

A good cover crop is a species that “behaves” in an agricultural setting, meaning it doesn’t escape or become invasive, is an annual, doesn’t persist after termination, and is consistent in establishing  and flowering like any other crop. A cover crop’s ability to suppress weeds is perhaps its most powerful feature, as the ideal period after termination to planting is a very short window, excluding many undesirable weed species otherwise abundant in our community gardens.


In summary, cover crops provide a suite of benefits to your garden plot including improving soil structure, fertility, water holding capacity and overall diversity; weed suppression; carbon sequestration; soil conservation; and supporting earthworms, pollinators and wildlife habitat. We have ordered cover crop seed through Wilson’s Garden Center or picked up larger custom amounts from Bourn Feed and Supply Inc., both located here in Columbia.   

Another wonderful benefit you will notice immediately is the aesthetic beauty the verdant, lush cover crops provide during otherwise dreary times of year. As the great conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote,

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Cover crops can help community gardeners accomplish this simple yet powerful truth.