Homegrown Challenge

Juneau's cool, wet climate can make growing vegetables difficult, gardeners say

Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2007

It just seemed appropriate that lots of rain fell on Saturday's harvest celebration at the Juneau Community Garden - the climate of a temperate rain forest makes growing vegetables difficult in the Southeast.

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Scores of hardcore gardeners and connoisseurs of fresh food in rainwear and Xtratufs gathered for the Harvest Fair to eat and judge a crop produced during what most local gardeners considered a decent growing season.

Situated in the Mendenhall Valley on a plot of land cut into Juneau's most prolific crop - trees - the Community Garden contains 130 plots bursting with strawberries, flowers, salad greens, zucchini, garlic and herbs. Noticeably missing, though, are ripe red tomatoes.

"Potatoes are easier," Master Gardener Sandy Williams said. Tomatoes are possible in Juneau, but other vegetables do better, he said. Most tomatoes are grown in greenhouses. Williams grows two small-sized varieties that do well in some years.

Debbie White grows a little bit of everything when she has a plot. As a master gardener, her favorite aspect of the community space is gleaning good growing tricks from others working their plots.

The basic key to good gardening in Juneau is a raised bed containing a soil that drains well combined with a planting selection that can grow here. Oh, and stick with it in sunshine or rain.

"We've never had a bad garden if the person just sticks with it," Williams said. "Don't give up."

Root crops such as potatoes, carrots, garlic, lettuce and zucchini all do well in Juneau's growing climate. Some beds just contain strawberries; others are full of flowers.

Williams said peas did well this year, but last year, as they often do, peas just mildewed on the vine.

Community Garden

• Garden plots: $30 per year.

• Good growing options: Flowers and root vegetables.

• Commitment required: From one to several times a week, depending on the crop.

• Contact: Juneau Community Gardening Association at P.O. Box 33395 Juneau, AK 99803

After 13 years of working her plot in the community garden, Marilyn Helle best summed up the reality for even the most hardy gardeners in the bunch: "Juneau is a difficult place to garden."

Judging tables held a smattering of the best the gardeners had to offer in squash, beans, berries and flowers. Topping all the categories, two grand champion ribbons were awarded. The children's award went to Crowin Kelly for healthy bluebells and nasturtiums.

The adult ribbon went to Janice Taylor for her display offering of six perfect green beans.

"We wonder what her secret is," Master Gardener Ed Buyarski said. Overall this year's bean crop did not do well.

"It's very difficult to grow them here; they like heat," he said.

The toughest aspect of growing food in Juneau is the average summer temperature of 60 degrees.

"Ten degrees warmer would make a big difference," Williams said.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258, or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com



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