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How does your garden grow?

Posted: April 22, 2012 - 12:00am
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Seedlings incubated in the dining hall of the Glory Hole, cared for by patrons and Garden Coordinator Emily Rooney, will be ready for planting outside soon if the weather holds.  Photo by Chris Peloso
Photo by Chris Peloso
Seedlings incubated in the dining hall of the Glory Hole, cared for by patrons and Garden Coordinator Emily Rooney, will be ready for planting outside soon if the weather holds.

On an unseasonably sunny and hot (by Southeast Alaska standards) day, the dining hall at the Glory Hole was relatively empty, but for a woman checking on some seedlings on racks by the front windows and a few men seated around tables. More people could be seen chatting in small groups outside, a couple on the sidewalk, but mostly around the back where the once bare and littered hillside has been transformed into a terraced garden. A handful more stood on the roof, now fitted with paths of wood decking and dozens of planters filled with soil. It’s springtime for everyone.

The Glory Hole garden is in its third year, though growing has only been going on for two. The first year, Director Mariya Lovishchuk said, was pretty much all building.

“They built this, one block by one block. So they carried this all. Up the stairs.” Lovishchuk said, gesturing at the curving stone walls that separate the garden into different tiers, with one wall acting as a retaining wall against the sliding hillside.

There are stairs leading from the South Franklin Street sidewalk up behind the Glory Hole building and still higher, up to the roof. The stairs give access to the different levels of both the building and the garden, where some early spring plants can be seen, bright green against the dark soil.

Most of the plants are still seedlings under lamps in-doors, though Garden Program Coordinator Emily Rooney said the next step might come soon if the weather holds.

“I think we’ll start (putting them in the ground), as long as it keeps staying warm and if the nights (stay warm) — there have still been kind of cold nights — probably next week we’ll start putting things in the ground that are cold tolerant like peas and radishes and stuff. We’ll wait on (plants) like cucumbers and zucchini and beets a little longer. But we can start putting some things in soon, they’re big, they want to go into the ground, I think.” Rooney said.

The main reason for the garden is to provide fresh vegetables for the Glory Hole’s meals, though the benefits of the garden extend far beyond that.

“We get different foods from different sources, we get food from Costco and Safeway, the food bank, all sorts of other vendors. Getting quality food, especially vegetables, is tough, so this is a good way to improve the food quality.

“Fresh vegetables are always kind of an issue,” said Lovishchuck.

“We get a lot of donations,” Rooney said, “we get a lot of food from grocery stores, but a lot of it is breads and sweets and supplemental things, but when it comes to vegetables, other than canned peas and corn, we don’t really have a good supply of that. So it’ll be nice to be able to make a quiche or something with leeks or onions.”

The garden should yield a variety of vegetables and herbs, even some flowers. A line of yet-to-bud tulips are already about 10 inches tall. There will be hardy cold climate resistant vegetables greens and vegetation that grows naturally in Southeast Alaska. Due to popular demand, there will also be a couple tomato plants, though Rooney doubts they will be very fruitful.

“Last year arugula and chard and kale did super, super great, so hopefully we’ll get a lot,” Lovishchuk said. “And we’ve got garlic and we’re also trying to do this thing where we’re hoping to get a bunch of stuff that already grows here, so we’ll just plant it one year, transplant I think — nettles and miner’s lettuce and wild mustards — we’ll put them here and they will just keep on growing and coming up every year and will grow well.”

“There are all sorts of cool things here, there’s this thing called the Egyptian walking onion, that’s what’s coming up there too, it’s this big fat onion thing and it comes up with a big green onion like a leek and forms an actual onion thing on top and then it drops and it actually propagates itself over and over again… and it comes back every year. And hopefully we can do that with chives and mint and other stuff that just regenerates.”

Juneau residents, garden enthusiasts or not, won’t be surprised to see rhubarb on the list, though it seems the patrons have not requested strawberries to accompany it.

Rooney had a long list of vegetables, a non-exhaustive list, it seems.

“We’ve got a couple different things going now that we’ve started as seeds; we have a variety of lettuces and mustards — we have a lot of greens, really — kale and some New Zealand spinach, so a lot of cold weather plants,” she said. “And root vegetables; we have some beets and some turnips and I think we’re gonna get maybe some rutabagas and potatoes going too. And a lot of herbs; some basil, parsley, dill. And peas, definitely a lot of peas, and fava (beans). Peas and fava beans are the only kinds of legumes that do well. We’re kind of limited.”

The vegetables grown get incorporated in the daily menu at the Glory Hole, with Rooney and Lovishchuk, as well as volunteers from Slow Food Southeast, contributing recipes to the cooks’ repertoire.

“We have a couple different cooks that work here throughout the week and so they plan their menus and I’ll be working with them too on what’s coming into season and getting different recipes, like how to incorporate kale or other greens. I think last year (there were) a decent amount of salads and stuff.” Rooney said.

Lovishchuk recalls the first Glory Hole experience with fresh greens vividly, as it was only a few years ago.

“When I first started, like three years ago, we put out a salad bowl and at first nobody would eat salad, and now salad goes. I think if you make it, people will eat it.” she said.

“We worked with the (4H) cooperative extension service and the (Slow Food Southeast) folks and they came over a couple times a month and showed people what to do, like how to incorporate it into bread pudding and soups,” Lovishchuk said. “It’s really nice, too because a lot of our staff are also our patrons and it was really nice to see people learn what kale was for the first time and what chard is and what arugula is, a lot of folks just kind of had no idea. It was really kind of exciting.”

Along with providing fresh, healthy foods for meals, the garden provides a lot more for both the Glory Hole patrons and the community, Lovishchuk and Rooney believe.

It gives patrons purpose and it shows.

“I think on multiple levels it’s a beneficial thing, not only the food, but morale and creating beautiful space, and turning what was once kind of wasteland into something productive.” Rooney said.

“I know that when they were building the garden, doing all the building work, as opposed to when they are not building … we did not have any troubles…” Lovishchuk said, “I can’t back it scientifically, it just feels better, way better.”

“I feel like, in my experience, I’ve only been here a short time but morale has been great, people are excited. I feel like I walked into something really great.” said Rooney, who has been in Juneau less than a month.

Rooney is from Vermont but spent the last three years in Washington. She studied anthropology and environmental studies and has been doing landscaping and farming since high school. She was excited to combine both through her work at the Glory Hole, creating a “beautiful, edible landscape.”

Aside from the planting and tending of the garden, tasks taken on by patrons include building and adding to structures and expanding the garden.

One patron had the idea of building a shed under the stairs, constructed of plywood. Another patron improved on the doors. It is, along with much of the rest of the area surrounding the garden, freshly painted with paint donated from Valley Paint. The doors are also adorned with a mural.

Another mural is planned for the side of the building with the stairs. It will be designed and painted by a Native artist and patron who Rooney said is very excited about the project.

The garden is meant to also be a space for patrons and the greater community to spend time. The hillside gets sun and the patrons are consistently working to improve the space.

Lovishchuk and Rooney spoke excitedly about the little things that make it unique. There is a small garden statue of a couple wolves guarding a lower bed, and above the highest terrace is a shrine for Lovishchuk patrons made of an old bath tub and a Virgin Mary statue.

“Just recently it got a little halo,” Lovishchuk said.

“It’s a space that people take ownership of and people add to,” she said, “The next thing is sitting. We’ve got to have sitting. So folks can start hanging out there.”

“Especially on days like today.” Rooney added.

“And then they can keep the ravens out too,” suggested Lovishchuk.

“Human scarecrows!” was the response from Rooney, which met with laughter.

The only obstacles Lovishchuk and Rooney see are climate and pests. The rest, they said, has been addressed generously by the Juneau community.

“I don’t know if there will be that many obstacles that we aren’t able to deal with because the community has been very helpful with it, so I think that’s great. Any problem that we’ve kind of come to, we’ve had somebody to help with it. Whether it’s a landscape specialist or a landscape architect or a fellow farmer or gardener. So far I haven’t come across any huge obstacles and I don’t know if Mariya has the past few years.” Rooney said.

“We get a lot of people volunteering, especially with the seeds when we were starting them, that was a big volunteer project, so we got a lot of people who were helping us to start seeds and get plants going,” she continued. “But I’ve got guys painting right now and we have somebody who’s mending the soil, some of it’s volunteer work and some are getting a stipend to help out and people are definitely really on board with it. In the morning people come in like, ‘what can we do,’ to get assigned tasks. The patrons are all really helpful.”

Lovishchuk and Rooney are both interested in working with the community and even getting tourists invested in this garden space. Everything so far has been funded by grants and donations and they hope the program can be sustainable, which may take some creativity.

If you are interested in volunteering or even just checking out the Glory Hole garden, Lovishchuk, Rooney or any of the patrons would likely be happy to oblige. The Glory Hole is located on South Franklin Street. They would like to emphasize that it is not just a Glory Hole space, but a community space.

• Contact Neighbors editor Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com. Illustration by Melissa Griffiths.

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