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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gardens In the arctic a quick start giude

I have dove in and now I am raising money to put garden boxes into household here in Anaktuvuk Pass Alaska!  You can donate to our cause here:  GARDENS IN THE ARCTIC.  I tried including as much info as possible but feel free to ask questions!  Please feel free to copy the address and email it to friends and family and to share via facebook! 

I am also pursuing funding beyond the requested $4,000 simply because I will need more boxes than planned...which is super awesome because more families are interested than I thought would be!  And I really want to do set ups that are big enough for the families to be able to get good nutrition out of them all summer long.  I really appreciate any type of funding leads but keep in mind that our window is short....We start our first seedling inside the school mid-April and our plants have to be outside by June 1st...and I am NOT a non-profit....just simply a person that believes that this will work.  And I am fully committed to making it work!

Though I am doing this here only in Anaktuvuk Pass, I have been getting tons of questions about other people in other arctic villages that want to start small gardens.  So I thought I would post a primer on what types of things I using and where I am getting stuff.  Keep in mind that I have a few constraints.... This is beginner friendly, which is why I am going with a set up that is not homemade.  Later on if someone is interested on going beyond these small boxes I will be happy to help!  This set up is for extremely short and cool growth periods....ours here in AKP is 60 days.  So the plants that I am pointing out to you are specific to that type of gardening.  This is not the cheap way to do it.  But the most expensive bits are re-usable. 

To green house or no?
If you live on the coast in the arctic I would suggest building a basic greenhouse.  At most all you need is to frame out with 2 x 4's a lean-to on the SOUTH side of a building (or just where you get the most sunlight and the least amount of the cold winds).  Buy some heavy plastic and staple that on there.  leave a flap so that you can get in there ...and viola.  A greenhouse.  I have bought cheap plastic off before (heavy duty construction sheeting works),  but all you need is something that will cut the wind, hold in heat, and let in light.  The coast has tons more wind in the summer than us inland, not to mention salt and fog.  That thin layer of plastic will move your garden south in temperature by 100 miles.  I have also seen some of these quick greenhouses with two layers of plastic (with a gap of air in between) and those are neat because you actually moved your garden 200 miles instead of 100.   Be aware that just because it's foggy and rainy there is still sun rays making it to your plants!

Tips: Buy the thicker construction plastic and it will last longer.  I got two summers out of it. If you have money to spend you can look at the plastic used for greenhouses that last way longer and are made for that purpose.  You can also use panels made from all sorts of stuff like acrylic, plexi-glass, fiber glass etc.....

More tips:  Add rocks to the floor of your greenhouse to hold more warmth that will be released at night... create some way to vent the air ( a flap that is easy to leave open at both ends) just in case you get a freakishly hot day which can kill young plants.  

Garden Boxes
I have built my own but for beginners you can purchase these: EARTH BOX which you can also find on HERE and if you have Prime you get the shipping free!  The boxes are re-usable and the next season you will only have to buy the covers and the fertilizer and dolomite. 

Tip: Buy the darker colored boxes or spray paint your boxes black so that they absorb more heat from the sun.

The tundra is notoriously imbalanced in nutrients.  For beginners I suggest buying and importing soil.  Have a relative ship some for you from the city. Or buy potting soil online.  You can also get this neat stuff called coconut coir (click HERE) that you add water to and it expands to make tons of soil...just be aware that you have to add stuff to it like compost and fertilizer.  There is simply so much to LEARN about soil to be able to use tundra that it usually freaks people out a bit.  If you DO however want to learn how to use soil from your tundra neighborhood then I am happy to jabber with you! It is literally the ONE thing I obsess about with my own garden. 

You will ALWAYS need fertilizer.  There are some things to know.  Like organic or chemical?  Chemical fertilizers are usually funky colors like blue and the type you mix with water like miracle grow, and organic fertilizer is usually funky smelling and brownish.  I always push for organic because chemical fertilizers will essentially 'kill' your soil and make it very hard to use in the future and you will have to buy and bring in new soil.  You also will be eating chemicals.  The other thing to think about is that you will have to put fertilizers in your soil before planting....use a slow release type .  It will make a big difference!  I use this HERE. Or something similar.  I also make my own fertilizer but that is another topic to talk about off to the side!

Tips: always good to google for pictures of what happens to your plants if you feed them TOO MUCH fertilizer.  You can over feed them and kill them!

Many people don't think about this much but when you live in a tiny arctic village you kind of have to. Our drinking water is full of chemicals.  We filter our water to drink or bring home spring water when we can but for the garden I almost ALWAYS use rain water.  Never pour on super cold water as it will shock your plants.  If you know you are going to be using city water then fill a bucket with water and let it sit over night next to your plants and let the chlorine evaporate as much as possible. The earth boxes are neat because you never have to actually pour water on the top!  This prevents problems with mold and such.

I am a bit of a seed hoarder!  haha but be ready to BECOME one.  Some good places to start are these to online place:  BEST COOL SEEDS and FOUNDROOT 

Tips: try stuff you never thought you would like or even if you don't know how to use them.  We found our that we LOVE kale (not the variety you get at the grocery stores), chard, and arugula.  Try plants for the heck of it and you might be surprised.  I like to have a few boxes of 'fresh' cut greens like romaine lettuce (two types), mustard (the leaves are amazing in salads), a leaf lettuce, and green onions.  A box or two of 'cooking' greens like chard and kale and turnips (later you can eat the roots but the greens are FANTASTIC).  A few summer squash plants, tomatoes, radish, peas, broccoli, and some boxes of plants I just want to corn, melons, edible flowers and such.  Make SURE you leave your greenhouse open for the bugs on the hot days so they can pollinate your plants so they can produce fruits.  OR you can learn how to do it your self...I do it by hand for my squash.  I still squeal when I get surrounded by bees in the garden but I have gotten to the point that I don't run anymore. lol  You need pollinators for your plants to make yummy things.  Which is hilarious because I know that most Arctic Alaska Natives are terrified of them!

Starts: Starts are what people call baby plants that you can grow yourself inside or buy.  Some plants need more than 60 days to grow and 'starting' them inside ahead of time is an option.  I have a grow light and small pots and soil inside that I use.  I usually start around mid April with tomatoes and peppers.  Beginning of May I start flowers, herbs, melons and such. Anything needing more time than the 60 days or so needs to get a head start.  If you are looking in catalogs the description will have 'days' for each plant.  It's a whole new world of planting though I will be happy to jabber about it to anyone interested! 

Extra things to get:
A frost cover - Keep your eye on the weather forecast and if it drops below 32 degrees run out there and cover your plants.  You only need it in the spring really while your plants are young. 

scissors - just to use for cutting plants or dead parts of plants.  I also use them to cut off leaves to eat from my lettuce plants. 

Thermometers - for your greenhouse or an outside thermometer near your boxes temperature will become important!

Camera - To show everyone your awesome plants!  It also helps later on when you want to remember details about your garden...modern digital photos come with an imbedded date so it's nice to have!

Some place to keep your seeds dry and cool.  A shoe box on a back shelf will work.  You can use them for a few years if you keep them in good shape depending on variety.

Books - I have tons!  On everything from soil, to compost, to seed saving.....everyone should invest in a few good ones.  Let me know if you need suggestions!

This is not a full discussion on this topic but it's a good start.  If you think I should at some stuff let me know!

I know there is tons of amazon links but if your rural village it's one f the few cheaper places that will ship to you.  Feel free to add other places to get stuff in the comments below! The more the merrier!