Despite temperatures in the low 30oF, 25 people came out to enjoy our annual Community Open Garden event at the Barrow Test Garden Saturday, June 18. Now in our third season, the Barrow Test Garden is a project of Iļisaġvik College’s Cooperative Extension Program, in partnership with the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital’s Diabetes Prevention Program.
We have successfully been able to grow a lot of different food plants outside in what Garden Director Laura Thomas calls “modified raised beds” made out of used coolers and visqueen, along with some cold frames and mini-greenhouses made from fluorescent light safety covers. The Barrow Test Garden features classic garden crops like carrots, beets, radish, potatoes, and spinach, along with what Thomas calls “loving cousins”. “Loving cousins are grocery-store counterparts to traditional plants that have been part of the Iñupiaq diet for millennia. So, for example, quaġaq (sourdock), quŋuliq (mountain sorrel), and ippiq (Pink Plumes) are all part of the Buckwheat plant family- as is their grocery-store counterpart rhubarb. Not everyone is able to get out on the tundra and gather traditional plants, so we honor traditional Iñupiaq cuisine and foodways by planting the loving cousins”.
One of this year’s Open Garden highlights was learning how to plant potatoes in cold frames made from repurposed windows. A big surprise for Thomas this year was that the rhubarb over-wintered. Rhubarb is a type of plant known as a perennial- in warmer climates like Fairbanks and Anchorage, rhubarb plants come back every year without much intervention on the part of the gardener. “The fact that the rhubarb over-wintered reminds us that plants are much more resilient than perhaps we always appreciate”, says Thomas. “With the Barrow Test Garden, we are trying to demonstrate that it is possible to grow an outside garden in Barrow. Our project currently focuses on low-barrier and low-cost ways to grow food using recycled or scavenged materials”.
The Barrow Test Garden is located at 2186 Itta Street in Barrow. You can drop by any time, or call 367-3755 to arrange for a tour. You can also visit them online at www.GatherGrowEat.com.