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Neighborhood House volunteer revives and expands garden by plowing under playground

Produce from the Neighborhood House garden.Sharp-eyed walkers who traverse the south side sidewalk of Southwest Capitol Highway between Thinker Toys and Multnomah Antiques have noticed a transformation over the last few years.

The vegetable garden next to Neighborhood House — 18 raised garden beds as long as a shuffleboard table and a foot wider — are productive again. How productive?

"Elizabeth, who used to be the food pantry manager, told me the yield last year was 800 pounds of produce," said Dan Simchuk, volunteer garden master.

"I'm shooting for well over 1,000 pounds this year and I'm pretty sure I can do it because I reclaimed 700 square feet of what used to be a children's playground and we'll plant tomatoes there," he said.

Only a fool would doubt Dan Simchuk on this matter. He took charge of the effort to restore the garden, which had fallen out of use, three years ago.

Dan Simchuk at the garden before his turnips started growing."I've been a volunteer with Neighborhood House for 15 years, and when the garden looked like it needed a manager I stepped up and here I am," he said.

Everything grown goes right down the block to the Neighborhood House Food Pantry, which distributes emergency food boxes from a store front at 3445 S.W. Moss St.

"This is easy because volunteers just carry what we grow down the hill and put it on the shelves," Simchuk said.

He can always use more volunteers.

"Its a great way to learn how to garden. If you don't know what you're doing, that's fine. The only risk is you'll be learning from me," he said.

So here's what he's growing these days. Carrots, radishes, beans, peas, climbing peas, three kinds of potatoes, squash, onions, chard, eggplant and tomatoes.

"I look for volume and fast growing vegetables. Take those radishes," Simchuk said, pointing to leaves already showing. "They spend no time lolly-gagging. Those you see there just got planted last week."

He started planting before April turned to May and before that last frost.

"I get a lot of sun down here and the soil was warm so I just decided to go ahead with it. So far so good," he said.

Once the first plantings are harvested in mid-June, he'll switch spots for the second planting so the same crop in the same spot doesn't deplete the soil.

Still to be planted are 90 heirloom tomato plants.

"They'll go up here," he said, pointing to rows ready for planting just below sidewalk level.

Then he shares his secret for where to get the best heirloom tomato plants and when to plant them.

"I'll buy 50 or 60 tomato plants from Greg at Seasons and Regions Restaurant on Capitol Highway. He has fields where they grow them and he sells about 600 plants. When's a good time to plant them? When Greg's selling them," Simchuk said.

For more information about volunteering at the Neighborhood House Garden call 503-246-1663.

Bill Gallagher

Editor

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