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At first Bonnie Herbold was disappointed with her crop at Juneau Community Gardens. But that was before she spotted the two-foot zucchini hiding under dinner-plate-size leaves.
"I love it out here," Herbold exulted, cuddling her six-pound prodigy.
What does it take to grow a giant zucchini?
"Plastic," said Herbold. And she didn't mean credit cards. She meant heavy, transparent sheets able to withstand wind, draped over her plot of yellow and green summer squash. The covering allows sun in, keeps rain out and hikes the heat; in other words, instant greenhouse effect.
Herbold was one of dozens of gardeners weeding, gleaning and swapping growing tips at the eighth annual Community Garden Association Harvest Fair, held Saturday among the 150 10-by-20-foot plots nestled in a big clearing in the rain forest on Montana Creek Road.
Under awnings, judging of the harvest was going on. Categories included harvest baskets, prepared foods, "largest and unusual," and herbs. Those divisions were subdivided into classes such as annual blossoms, pickles and potatoes. Penny Beiler entered Huckleberry Chutney, while Betty Marriote had her hopes pinned on Siberian tomatoes. Root vegetable entries had been scrubbed as if they were the faces of toddlers devoted to chocolate.
Larry Buzzell was judging the 139 occupied plots. "I like to see innovations like greenhouses made of recycled materials. I like to see robustness. I like to see colorful flowers blooming at the same time; it takes forethought and careful planning to make that happen," Buzzell said.
Buzzell was also trying out the latest batch of an evil green anti-slug spray, dubbed Larry's Gardeners' Revenge.
"If you squirt the slug on a vertical surface, it falls right off," Buzzell said, demonstrating on half a dozen of the slimy marauders.
Buzzell would not divulge all the ingredients, but admitted ammonia, herbs, a surfactant and detergent were present. Some appear ready to benefit from the formula.
"We've had chickweed wars and slug battles this summer," said Susan Arnold, who has two beds of herbs and vegetables under her green thumbs.
"I live in Douglas, where you can't grow vegetables very well," Arnold said. "There's more sun here; it's a micro-climate."
Jan Carlile was pulling carrots. "I got lucky; I have never had slug problems, no animals and very few weeds -- although I hate to say that out loud."
Susan Hagstrom, president of the Community Garden Association, was fending off porcupines with star and crescent dangles snipped from aluminum pie pans, strung on cord. "It's OK to give them a little bit ---- but not everything," Hagstrom said, as she observed her thriving red onions, burgundy Revolution lettuce, horseradish, kale and potatoes.
Hagstrom pedals her bike 25 miles round trip from the 42-foot boat she lives on downtown to tend her crops. "Gardening is a quiet but graceful activity, and I'd like to see it encouraged in a society where noisy technology seems to be taking us over," she said.
Those who missed the fair may still partake of the harvest; locally grown carrots will be on sale at Super Bear and Alaskan & Proud through September.