By K.C. MYERS April 11, 2010

WEST BARNSTABLE — Despite the warm weather, master gardeners caution against a full-on planting effort this early in the season.

Yet the yearning to work the soil was hard to overlook at the Meetinghouse Farm's first Gardener's Swap yesterday.

Taking root

What you can do now in the garden:

  • Turn the soil
  • Add compost, manure
  • Divide and move plants
  • Start indoor seedlings
  • Plant cold crops, e.g., cabbage, lettuce, peas, carrots

Source: Master gardeners Lynne Dowdall and Donna Lawson.

Gardeners brought old tools, then got to take home what others brought. It was a quiet swap, fruitful for Lynn Parker, of West Barnstable, who donated books and a glazed pot and scored a handmade bird bath. Someone also walked off with antique wood working tools.

But beyond the garden tool swap, the event served as the season opener for Meetinghouse Farm, which after years of organizing is transforming rapidly now from an abandoned landscaping business into a community garden site complete with a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse.

New 15-by-15 vegetable plots — 20 in all — have been cleared and are ready for those who want to grow food alongside other gardeners, said Judy Desrochers, president of Meetinghouse Farm Inc., a nonprofit contracted to run the farm.

And one plot is available in the Community Floral Quilt. The quilt — also new this year — will consist of 10, 15-by-15 plots of cutting flowers. Each square will have one or two colors producing vivid quilt-like effect on a background of green grass. So far the purple/blue, yellow, red and herb-growing squares are among those that have been spoken for, Desrochers said.

Meetinghouse Farm volunteers plan to sell the cut flowers to raise funds to continue rehabilitation of the 23-acre site.

The quilt will be visible from Route 149, Desrochers said.

Enough has been accomplished on the farm now for Desrochers to look back with a sigh of satisfaction. The town was convinced by local residents to buy Fred Conant's landscaping property — thereby saving it from development — for $1.7 million in 2000. A combination of Land Bank funds for open space and other donations secured the purchase.

But it wasn't until 2007 that Meetinghouse Farm Inc., a nonprofit made up of local board members, signed a management contract with the town. Their vision is a farm "to foster horticultural and agricultural values and practices in the community," according to their mission statement.

"I live in a condo complex and there's no place to garden," said Barbara Ryshavy, a board member from Marstons Mills. "It gives me a chance to dig and work in the soil. I walk my dog here. It's just beautiful."

The place is as good as any to admire the early spring. A walking trail winds past holly trees, fields soon to be alive with a butterfly garden and community plots.

Six years ago the Cape Cod Times described the grounds in late April as having "bare trees, brown grass and buildings in need of repair or replacement."

This year, even earlier in April, the grass is Easter-basket green, and tufts of color dot the trees. There are still buildings in need of repair, but volunteers have done a lot to improve them already.

Many master gardener talks and other events are planned, with the list available at the Meetinghouse Web site, Click on the Meetinghouse Farm link.