Facility expansion has made winter growing possible

There is always lots of work to do at Yukon Gardens

Growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan, and during his high school days, no one knew Lorne Metropolit’s name. But they did know that he was Mac Metropolit’s son and he did good landscaping work. So, he was known as “Mac’s son” and if anyone needed a tree planted, a hole dug or a lawn planted, they would call Mac’s son.

Metropolit got the horticulture bug from his grandmother. He started working with soil and plants as ‘Mac’s son’ and the love of growing has been in his blood ever since. That love has resulted in a 34-year career in the Yukon as the owner and operator of Yukon Gardens. Metropolit doesn’t have a horticultural degree, but has taken every course he could since opening the Gardens, studied on his own and has brought up consultants to fine tune their growing abilities at Yukon Gardens.

Sitting in his tiny office in the new vegetable production facility, Metropolit recounts the early days of Yukon Gardens.
“I created Yukon Gardens in 1985. The area was solid bush and there was no road access or car wash or veterinary clinic. The first access off what was then South Access Road was created by our business to access the gardens. We started out as a botanical show garden, but the Hamilton Boulevard extension cut through it and those days were over. We lived in a small trailer on the property for 12 years before we moved into what is now the veterinary clinic. We lived there for 18 years before selling it.”
The long hours are the biggest challenge for this type of business according to Metropolit.

“You have to be willing to work seven days a week. Horticultural plants need to be taken care of daily, just like feeding chickens or cattle. Not many people are willing to do that. I could be working here 10 to 12 hours a day. We are always on the lookout for insects and disease. As an example of the precautions we take, staff who work in the greenhouse twenty feet away [from the new vegetable production facility] are not allowed in this facility and the staff who work in the vegetable production facility are not allowed in that greenhouse; all because of concern about bugs and disease.”

The question about whether he gets four or five months off in the winter is greeted with an emphatic – no!
Metropolit notes that the new vegetable production greenhouse facility operates for most of the year, and there is plenty of paperwork to do in the winter, such as the ordering of flowers and vegetable seeds because so many new varieties come out every year. For example, there are probably 70 different varieties of white petunias and they have to be checked out to see which ones are best for our climate.

Metropolit noted that when he takes a holiday in January, he always takes his computers with him so he can do research on seed varieties, prepare quotes for the City flower order, and prepare quotes for landscaping requests that are coming in.
But how is Yukon Gardens continuing to grow? The new vegetable production facility is, according to Metropolit, high tech, state-of-the-art and one of the best equipped greenhouses in Canada.

“The boiler system is the heart of the facility. It operates on burning wood chips from Haines Junction. The system is so well designed, there is almost zero pollution. If it wasn’t for the steam, you wouldn’t know it was here.”
When asked about the challenges of running a nursery north of sixty, Metropolit noted the lower night time temperatures, the heating required and the higher heating costs. Heating costs are why they switched to the biomass heating for the new vegetable production facility.

“The new vegetable production facility is expanding our business big time. For example, we can now provide the Whitehorse grocery stores with cucumbers continuously, where previously, there were gaps where we had none available. It’s all about farming. It’s a business. We need to make adjustments and usually measure production per square meter.”
Responding to a question about what he is most proud of, Metropolit, highlighted the new biomass vegetable production facility, the fact that they’re one of the few garden centers in town that grows most of their own bedding plants and that they are having more weddings than ever in ‘The Wedding Gardens.’ According to Metropolit, there are a lot of people in town who got married here and their kids come by and want to get married here too.

When Lorne Metropolit is ready to take it easy, Yukon Gardens will remain in the family.
“My youngest daughter Kelsey got a Kinesiology degree, but she wasn’t happy with that direction, so she took the Olds College horticultural program and got a two-year horticultural diploma. Someday, but not too soon, she will operate the business.
“But I will be here for quite a few years yet. I am very proud of the gardens. I put in a lot of hours, but I love my job.”