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Gardeners amp up for season

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Bill Osborn plants his small vegetable garden at home he has to worry about those 1,200-pound Alaskan pests.

"The moose will eat it," Osborn, of Kenai, said about his cabbage and broccoli that he typically grows in the summertime.

That's why he plants one of the 16 plots at the city of Kenai's community garden on the corner of Main Street Loop and First Street adjacent to the park strip.

"The one downtown the moose won't bother," he said, explaining that the city's garden is fenced in to keep out those unwelcome visitors.

The City of Kenai is getting the soil rototilled for the season this year, with plans to have the plots ready for planting at the end of the month, according to Bob Frates, Kenai's parks and recreation director.

The site provides gardeners with 500-square-foot plots and access to water (bring your own hose) in exchange for gardeners keeping their areas weeded and tidy. Frates said there are still six open spots for this season and he's encouraging interested people to register for one. Each plot costs $20, plus tax, and the garden is open to all Peninsula residents.

"Sign up through my office," Frates said. "First come, first served."

He said that given the current economy, the community garden is an especially valuable asset to the community to produce fresh, and free, food.

"I look at it as organic," Osborn said.

And it's not just limited to vegetables, Frates added.

"People can come in and plant flowers. It adds a nice element," he said.

"I wish we had more folks over there working those plots," said Rick Koch, Kenai city manager. "It's underutilized."

Kenai's community garden is really a one-of-a-kind on the central Peninsula, an area where a resident can have a plot of one's own.

"Ideally, those who take advantage of it live in apartment buildings," Frates said.

Started more than 25 years ago by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service by contract with the City of Kenai, the city took over the garden's organization and management when the extension service decided not to manage it anymore in 2003.

Memorial Day weekend seems to be a big planting time annually, with many people getting crops or flower beds started.

"That's when I get in and put my potatoes in first," Osborn said. "And then I get in and put my vegetables in."

Osborn grows kohlrabi, spinach, English peas, carrots and zucchini.

If any residents are interested in gardening but not necessarily reaping the fruits of their own labor, there's also a garden at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank that's seeking volunteers.

"We welcome volunteers to come and help plant produce and harvest produce in the fall," said Linda Swarner, the executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

The vegetables grown there are only for the food bank, though, and are used in its soup kitchen, the Fireweed Diner.

"We do encourage individuals to plant an extra row in their garden and share with the hungry," Swarner said.

Part of the joy Osborn gets from gardening, he said, is sharing his crops with his friends and family.

"I enjoy giving stuff away to people and of course they enjoy it, you know," he said.

But in order to have a plentiful harvest to share, committed and prospective Kenai community gardeners should take note: Osborn said weeds could almost rival moose as a plot killer.

"The key to a successful garden over there is the ground cloth," Osborn said. "If people don't use the ground cloth the weeds overtake the garden."

And take it from him. Osborn has been battling weeds and pests and crop growing at the community garden for the last 25 years.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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