On garden duty

Scott Gregorash leads the volunteers who maintain the thriving 70-plot Hales Trail Community Garden
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Scott Gregorash’s hobby allows him to socialize, but the similarities stop there in comparison to how his wife Jody jokes about his nearly everyday volunteer job.

“My wife calls the garden ‘the bar,’” Gregorash said.

Gregorash is committed to the upkeep of Port Washington’s Hales Trail Community Garden, serving as its lead volunteer and tending to his and Jody’s plots.

“I’m here every day, for sure, every other day,” the retired electrician said. “There’s always something to do in the garden.”

Although his grandmother and father had gardens, Gregorash didn’t grow up with an interest in growing fruits and vegetables.

He spent much of his youth traveling where his father Lawrence’s job took him as a builder of smokestacks. Gregorash has lived in Venezuela and Chile, as well as a few American states.

His father built the old power plant smokestacks in Port, which he boasted about when they were blown up to be replaced.

“He was proud because one didn’t come down the first day. He could go to his coffee klatsch at McDonald’s and say he built them too well,” Gregorash said.

The family settled in Port when Gregorash was a junior in high school, and Lawrence had a garden at their home. Among his produce was an herb that Bernie’s Fine Meats used in its mustreipen recipe. As Lawrence aged, Gregorash began to take over the garden.

He got to liking the hobby so much that he started a garden at his first home in Port.

When he and his wife moved to a different house that had too much shade, Gregorash longed for a small piece of land to work.

Jody bought him a community garden plot for his birthday several years ago, and it has been a source of joy ever since.

“It’s great. You hear the birds. Deer walk around the fence,” Gregorash said. 

Gregorash said he was told by a gardener who used to live in Germantown  that Port’s garden is “leaps and bounds” better.

“You feel a sense of pride when the bicyclists go by and say, ‘Look at the garden,’” he said. “It’s so beautiful.”

It comes with a price. Aside from $40 per plot per city resident, gardeners are required to work two hours per year watering, cutting the grass, filling the water tanks, spreading compost, picking up trash or taking produce to the food pantry.

Equipment can be found in the garden’s shed that has “about every tool anybody could use for the garden, most of them donated,” Gregorash said.

Gregorash said he acts as a “head coach” in his lead volunteer position. “I just try to keep us all on the same track,” he said.

The garden has 41 people, including someone 82 years old, who rent 70 plots of 225 square feet each, shaped in 15-by-15 squares.

People going on vacation leave a note so other gardeners can water their plots.

“We have a real good group this year,” Gregorash said. “You couldn’t do it without so many volunteers.”

While gardeners tend to their own plots, they all contribute to a communal herb garden.

His own plots come with successes and setbacks.

In only his second year growing asparagus, one plant reached eight feet.

Gregorash has learned a lot about gardening in eight years of having a plot.

“The longer you stay, the better you can make your dirt,” he said.

The garden isn’t 100% organic ­— it allows products such as Miracle Grow — but it doesn’t allow chemical pesticides.

“You get every insect, every disease. Your bugs are your neighbor’s bugs,” Gregorash said.

“It’s always kind of a challenge. Some years something does great and some years it doesn’t, and you wonder why and you work at it,” he said.

This year, Gregorash is growing peas, beets, cucumbers, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, red and white potatoes, garlic and onions.

“Everybody does something different. That’s what makes it interesting,” he said.

His wife visits the garden from time to time and tells Gregorash what to plant. This year he was directed to grow “burpless” cucumbers.

Onions are a staple every year. Red need to be used fast, then white. Yellow ones can be stored as late as March, as can garlic.

That’s where Jody comes in.

“She’s going to be making French onion soup in the next couple of days,” Gregorash said.

The challenge with garlic and onions, he said, is they can’t tolerate any weeds.

“We have people who grade plots,” Gregorash said. “If there are too many weeds, they get an email.”

One of Gregorash’s favorite dishes is beets, which he pickles.

“We like a little sour aspect to all of our meals,” he said. “You can’t beat it with a fried perch or bluegill dinner.”

Another delectable is beefsteak tomatoes — “the things you can’t get in a store that are always better.”

Tomatoes get diseases, he said, “but you can’t keep a tomato down. It’s going to grow in a parking lot if it has to.”

He just started growing peppers the last couple of years, and he has learned not to pull carrots until after a frost or two.

This year has been dry, he said, causing the two 250-gallon water tanks to get more use. They get water through a hose to a fire hydrant up a nearby hill and across the street. “Sometimes, we go through both in a day,” he said of the tanks.

Gregorash gets excited when the seed catalogs come out each season. Gardeners often trade seeds to be able to grow a few of each plant.

A private, potluck party of the gardeners’ harvest is slated for Aug. 31. It will be the first time Gregorash sees some of the gardeners for months. He likes to tend to his plants in the morning, while others with jobs come after work.

Besides devouring his own produce, Gregorash gives some to his siblings, children and the food pantry.

The garden closes Oct. 31, but some winter gardeners are given access through Dec. 31.

Apple and grape trees require trimming each February, and rhubarb needs work in winter as well.

All that work is worth it come mealtime.

Aside from meat, “I like that we go weeks at a time eating nothing but what the garden grows,” Gregorash said.

He said he also loves it that gardening causes him to shed 15 pounds every summer, although he puts the weight back on during winter.

People interested in the garden may see it up close and personal on Saturday, Sept. 10. An open house will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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