ELMHURST – Passersby might have noticed Elmhurst firefighters tending to their garden outside Fire Station 1 on York Street.
"It's fun sitting out there, watering, and people come up and talk to you about it," firefighter Bill Solka said.
He and a few of his fellow firefighters replaced a patch of dull daylilies with fruits, vegetables and some herbs two years ago.
"This is the first garden I've ever grown," Solka said.
Bill Stoike, who has his own garden at home, helped start the Station 1 garden. Now that he's moved to Station 2 on the south side of Elmhurst, he asked to start a garden there as well.
While the Station 2 garden is less visible from the street and gets less attention from those passing by, Stoike said he has plenty of help tending to the zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and other fresh produce.
"Everybody's a part of this garden," Stoike said.
Each part of the Station 2 garden was donated by the firefighters themselves, from the top soil to the fencing that keeps the rabbits out.
Since firefighters work 24-hour shifts, each pitches in for groceries during their day at the station. The garden helps supplement some of the items they buy for their family-style meals.
"We like cooking everything," Solka said.
He said at Station 1, they like to use basil on their sandwiches. They also use it in a lot of Italian recipes, which tend to dominate the station's menu for several days in a row each summer.
"We make a lot of tomato stuff in one week," Solka said because the tomatoes all ripen at once.
Even though watering plants is much less familiar than putting out fires for some of the firefighters, food seems to be another one of their fortes.
"We eat pretty good," Stoike said.
Stoike said he's probably best known for his biscuits and gravy, but he easily makes use of the garden items.
"It's kind of nice when you can use fresh stuff," Stoike said
He grills zucchini or makes bacon-wrapped poppers using the array of peppers growing at Station 2.
They're still deciding how to use the burning bush chili peppers they've planted, which are labeled "extremely hot." In the meantime, they're mostly eaten on a dare.
Firefighter Dan Vogel's coworkers describe him as a chef. While he's rumored to know his way around the kitchen, gardening is a new endeavor for him.
When the weather gets chilly, Vogel makes a lot of soup using herbs he's dried from the garden.
"We tried a few new things this year," Vogel said.
In addition to the vegetables and herbs, Station 1 added cantaloupe this season.
They've also added a couple of "cool-looking" plants, like pineapple mint and pineapple sage, that can be used to make tea.
Vogel also said seasoned gardeners who spot the firefighters pulling weeds or watering sometimes offer up tips.
"We're still fine-tuning it," Solka said.
When they aren't busy with their daily duties or an emergency, residents might catch the firefighters testing their green thumbs.
"It's a fun hobby when we're here," Vogel said.
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From the garden
Here's a summer sampling of the different items firefighters grow in their gardens at Stations 1 and 2:
• New: Cantaloupe
• Green peppers
• Snap peas
• Brussel sprouts