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Pilfered Peppers, Purloined Peas Plague Community Plots

May 27, 1996

RESTON, Va. (AP) _ Community gardeners beware: somebody’s been pilfering the peppers, purloining the peas and pinching the potatoes.

After several thefts from community gardens in this Washington, D.C., suburb, the plots of green have turned into fields of paranoia.

Now, mesh fences previously used to keep animals out have been boosted to human height. Stronger chains have been added and gardeners have been warned not to pick vegetables from plots other than their own.

Last summer, Pat Grebe tried to catch thieves stealing vegetables from her plot at Baron Cameron Park. While hiding in the bushes, she snapped pictures of a fellow gardener helping herself to someone else’s mint.

Despite her efforts, Grebe’s garden was raided again in the fall.

``They dug up my dahlias,″ she said. ``They dug up my herb plants. They even dug up someone’s rosebushes.″

``This year, instead of a fence, I wanted to put land mines in,″ she said.

Community gardens are a prized bargain here _ $30 a year to rent a 20-by-30-foot plot of prime real estate. And as waiting lists for plots grow by the hundreds, more cases of plant-napping are cropping up.

Paul Kovalski, who landed a plot in the community garden in nearby Annandale after a two-year wait, said neighbors already have warned him about vegetable marauders.

``That’s one of my fears,″ he said. ``But if people are that desperate, they can have it.″

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