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Advice for gardeners - from the experts at Newton Community Farm

Newton Community Farm will reopen to the public June 1.
Newton Community Farm will reopen to the public June 1.Allison Pirog

Barney Keezell is known in his Newton Centre neighborhood for the pumpkins he grows in his hedge.

As a longtime urban gardener, Keezell grows leafy greens, beets, cucumbers and more at his home. He said one of his favorite parts of gardening is the time spent outside with family.

“It feeds the soul,” Keezell said. “It’s incredible watching a seed turn into a tomato. It’s a practical and spiritual experience.”

Keezell, a former Newton Community Farm board member, spoke at the group’s free, virtual home gardening event April 22. He advised first-time gardeners to start by choosing three or four easy-to-grow vegetables, such as lettuce and potatoes, and plant them in large pots.


Gardeners should wait until late May to plant their seedlings outside, Keezell said. Insects are less likely to eat seedlings planted later in the year, he said, because they have more food options outside of gardens.

Many Newton homes have had lead paint, Keezell said, so it is important to test soil for lead before gardening. The University of Massachusetts performs pH and lead testing, he said.

Worms can help aerate a garden and speed up composting, Keezell said, and gardeners should focus on watering the bottom of stems and avoid the leaves to prevent fungus growth on plants.

Beginners should persist through small harvests, Keezell said, and enjoy the process.

First-time gardener Martin Summers, who attended the virtual talk, said he enjoyed Keezell’s advice to focus on the gardening process instead of the results.

“I very much appreciated the way that he talked about it as medicine and as therapy,” Summers said.

Summers said he and his husband recently moved from a condo to a single-family home and wanted to start a garden. He said Keezell’s tips to get their soil tested and wait until May before planting have been helpful to them as they get started.


Jay Vilar, the farm’s operations, communications and events manager, said the farm will hold weekly, in-person classes for children ages 5 to 13 in July and August. Kids can attend one or more of the $200-per-week classes to learn about farming, sustainability and other topics, according to the farm’s website.

Vilar said the farm will host another free, virtual talk with author Crystal Stevens on May 19.

The farm is set to reopen June 1, Vilar said, and they plan to launch a self-service and self-checkout stand where community members can purchase produce.

The nonprofit had a record number of sales for its online, contactless seedling sale last year, Vilar said, as more people started a garden during the pandemic.

“This year really was no different,” Vilar said. “The trend of backyard gardening and home gardening for sure has at least stayed with us in the second year of a pandemic.”

Needham Garden Center owner Garrett Graham said his store saw about a 70 percent increase in customers purchasing gardening equipment last year.

The cost of growing a garden varies depending on what gardeners are looking for, Graham said.

“If you are willing to just dig up a sunny part of your yard, add a couple bags of manure,” Graham said, “for 30 bucks you could be a gardener.”

To watch the talk, visit the farm’s YouTube channel.

Allison Pirog can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.