A while back I had a reader ask me if I was really going to be able to plant a garden here. The answer is yes!
Of course living where I am living poses some pretty big obstacles, which meant that I did a lot of research and planning and general milling about in anxiety. I thought I would share the beginning of this journey!
Location. The garden will be located behind our house. I did find out that there was an elder that grew a small vegetable garden here but she did it far out of town, to avoid the dust and exhaust. We decided to use our back yard, which is protected by several buildings, some dense tall willows, and the luck of being shielded from the road by some neat tricks of the wind. Since we have dried meat there we know that it gets good air circulation, sunlight galore, with very little contamination, which is a must. Plus it will be closer to monitor and work on!
Cold. The cold is probably the biggest barrier. The permafrost layer is not far beneath our feet, and this chills the earth so much that it will prevent or hamper most vegetable plants from growing. So I will be using above ground warming techniques. My husband is building several raised beds from wood, in which I will fill with soil from a fertile spot away from town that I know has escaped being contaminated by human beings. The beds will be taller than what you usually see in most areas, at least a foot high, and long and slim rather than more of a squarish bed. Having the earth exposed to the warmer air temperatures will keep them warmer. I also plan to use an army of plastic buckets and bins for the plants that can tolerate being in a container, this will give me the option of moving them inside to a more protected area (in the arctic we call this part of our homes the 'kunnichuck' or 'vestibule' in English.) Since I plan to have a few water loving plants I am going to try and build a few self watering buckets. I will also be using some plastic covers to warm the beds before planting and while the seedling are germinating, once they sprout then I will remove the covers. The cold at the beginning and end of the season will be the problem, but in the summer the temperatures usually get to 80-90 degrees. The date for the last frost here is June 1st, which gives you an idea of how cold it gets and how short the season is!
Sun. Believe it or not the 24 hours a day sunlight will be a problem. Here the growing season is a very SHORT. And most of that season will include the sun never setting. This limits the types of plants that I can grow, though I plan to experiment with one: soybean. Soybeans require nighttime, and I have researched several techniques that I am going to try and trick them into thinking it's night time. Hopefully if it works I can get a good harvest and start creating a plant that will do well here, I am starting with two types of soybean, one of which is a short season plant. My husband, like so many Natives, is lactose intolerant so a 'milk' source for him would save us a ton of money. The never setting sun will also make it so that we are watering more than usual.
Plants. This was probably the area I spent the most time. Some of the plants I have chosen are known to do well here. Some are just experiments. But I seriously think that people should warn you of the incredible urge to BUY. I seriously think I over bought seed ...but it was FUN. Such an addicting FUN. I did set myself a basic rule though: buy only heirloom seed, and buy a couple of really good seed saving guide books...so hopefully next year the seed buying spree will not be as ...big. I bought seed from several areas: Denali seed company (specializes in Alaska friendly plants), Etsy (some amazing varieties in there!), and a few here and there from more well know large online companies (if I couldn't find the variety I was looking for at the first two places). I also bought a soil tester kit, a couple of good fertilizers, some seed starting kits and soil, silica gel packets, and some very cheap growing light bulbs (cause I found I can't afford actual grow lights!). So what seed did I get? The list is embarrassingly huge, so I'll try and be brief.
Hulless Oats - I love oats and will be buying a 'roller' later in the season to make rolled oats to use for food and for my products I sell. This plant will act as a barrier between plants that might try and cross pollinate. It will also work to condition the soil, as I will be rotating this crop every year.
Peas - I have two types: Green arrow and dwarf grey sugar.
Cabbage - every Alaskan veggie garden has cabbage! They love sunlight. I also love kimchi and cabbage soup.
Calendula - works to help keep your garden pest free and I will use the petals in my products.
Onion and chives - evergreen bunching and Alaska loving chives. Pretty much use onion in every meal.
Sunflowers - cause OMG you can grow these here!
Spinach - Bloomsdale long standing - got these as a free packet so I will give then a try even though they bolt early in the Alaska sun. Hoping I can get a couple of quiches at least!
Leaf lettuce - grand rapids variety - Probably the plant I will love the most, getting a good salad here is a rare treat and much loved!
Winter squash - gold nugget - I am a bit afraid of squash in general but I thought I would give it a try. I know I like eating them.
Radish - oddly enough we love this in some seal oil.
Herbs - i love cooking. Love it. I will be growing Cilatro, Sage, Basil, and Rosemary. I will have to figure out how much I will actually use in the year and what space they will take to get a feel for this area.
Round carrots - a short cute carrot that I know will go well in seal oil and also the nephews will LOVE.
Peppers - hungarian sweet wax- seems to me that this plant will need to be babied but I want to see how well it will do!
Soybean - Butterbean and edible early hakucho - or experiment one and experiment two as I like to call them
Tomatoes - i fell in love with the idea of tomatoes. Which is probably why I ended up with so many. I bought 'spoon' tomatoes, which have a shortish season. One called 'early wonder' which is also short season, and I received a free packet of a random variety which the seller told me contains several Russian and Siberian varieties. Who can say no to tomatoes?
Sweet corn - well I said to only buy heirloom but when I ran into this variety my curiosity wrestled me to the ground and put me in a headlock. This variety is called 'Trinity hybrid' (sounds scary I know) and is a short season and short stature corn (it will grow only about 4-5 feet tall). I am only going to try and plants one small bed with it to see how it does.
Echinacea - Pretty, and extremely useful.
Poatatoes - cause it's Alaska. My husband is going to design a series of boxes that I can stack on top of each other to make a 'potato' box, to get the most yield out of them.
So that's the list! I seriously think they should have a Seed Buyers Anonymous, because it took me a while to shake that seed buying fever. I have every inch of my backyard planned out, and I plan to use some vertical space for my herbs. So far I have mapped out my lay out, and started the tomato, peppers, and echinacea. They are pretty little plants sitting next to me here in my lab/office, under the cool light of a full spectrum light bulb. The stevia did not germinate and I'm thinking it is because I could not get the soil warm enough. Next year I will give it another try. Next week I will be transplanting the seedlings to a larger peat pot as they have almost completely taken over the little peat pellet thingies. At the end of this month I will be starting the Squash. I have started keeping a journal for my garden and have kept good notes on what I am doing, because I plan to do this every year and I know it will pretty much be a 'learning' year for me. I told my husband that I expected at least half of our plants to not do very well, he frowned a bit and told me that he will be helping too, which pretty much upped the percentage to at least 80%. Out of the two of us he has the greenest finger whereas I rely on luck!
Hope this finds all of you warming up in the spring weather!