Grit Blogs > Close to the Earth in Alaska

Portrait of an Alaskan Garden

Using the old John Deere to clear space for the garden.

In 2006 my husband, Matt, cleared a space for our garden. He used the old John Deere to drag cottonwood logs cut from our property as raspberry bed borders.

The garden in March

March may still look like winter, but it’s spring in my head, and I start thinking about what I’ll plant in May. The gardening books come out, I review previous years’ notes, and rattle my leftover seed packets because I like the sound of all that potential. Weeding and back pain don’t even cross my mind.

Spinach plants and leaves in a laundry basket.

One summer, the spinach leaves grew to the size of salad plates! I washed out a laundry basket for hauling my favorite greens to the kitchen for processing. We eat lots of spinach salads, and blanch and freeze the rest.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is an Alaskan staple.

Crimson Giant radishes

Crimson Giant radishes from Denali Seed Co. (based in Anchorage) really did grow into giants. They have great flavor and are crunchy with just enough heat.

Broccoli

Broccoli grows surely but slowly and is ready by mid-late August.

Boyne raspberries

We grow three varieties of raspberry. Boyne, shown here, are the best for just popping in your mouth as a snack or dessert, but our Goldens and Killarneys are tasty too. All three make excellent jam.

Containers with chives growing

I’ll try transplanting one of these chive pots to a permanent place, and try over-wintering the other inside.

Hot peppers in the greenhouse

Hot peppers did well one sunny summer in the greenhouse, but I had to bring them indoors in fall to fully ripen.

Yukon Chief corn

This year, we’re trying corn for the first time—Yukon Chief from Denali Seed Co. We only have 16 plants, but if it’s successful, we’ll try lots more next year.

A cabbage as big as my head

My first attempt at growing cabbage yielded one as big as my head!

A rustic fence to deter moose

Most of the time, this rustic fence deters moose. Now, if it would only do the same for weeds…

chuck mallory
8/30/2010 9:47:42 PM

@Susan: What an education! I had no idea about gardens in Alaska. In fact, I don't know much about Alaska except aurora borealis, cold, and Sarah Palin. This was quite an education. P.S. I'm jealous about your spinach!


susan_7
8/17/2010 2:23:15 PM

Cindy: Good luck with the fall planting! My second batch is coming along nicely, probably bcs it's been such a cloudy, rainy summer. Margaret: Hello fellow Alaskan! We've thought about growing potatoes, but we can buy them from local farmers in the Mat-Su Valley so cheaply all year that we just do that instead. FBX sure has had some hot weather lately. Good luck to you and your garden! Susan


margaret e. kellogg_2
8/16/2010 5:02:46 PM

What wonderful crops you are getting. I'm in Fairbanks and I have had wonderful success with turnips this year. I have a wonderful crop of potatoes coming too. This is only our second year of being able to have a garden. Great to see you are having good crops. Margaret


cindy murphy
8/8/2010 9:48:46 PM

Oh! Bloomsdale is the spinach variety I planted this year - it was the first year I tried it. I was impressed how slow it was to bolt. My mustard greens bolted early, but the spinach continued for another few weeks, (though initially a few of the leaves scorched when it got so heat when we were out of town for a few days). I've got another packet of Bloomsdale for fall planting, which I'll hopefully get in at the end of August. I'll let the leaves grow instead of picking them young...some of them anyway, I still like the smaller leaves for salads. Thanks, Susan.


susan_7
8/6/2010 11:34:06 AM

Dave: I don't know yet if our corn is producing any kernels, but the silk is starting to turn brown on some, so I'll try one soon and see! Fresh corn sounds soooo good right now. Have fun on your road trip--sounds like a great adventure. KC: We're growing tomatoes in the greenhouse, and so far I've counted 5 appearing. They're only about the size of my thumb, but we've grown tomatoes in there before and had good luck with them ripening before the cool weather sets in. This summer has been very rainy, but temps are about average, so we'll just wait and see what transpires! Cindy: Our fence keeps our crazy dog out too, but not the cat! He likes to "help" me in the garden, but thankfully only when I'm in there. The spinach leaves were especially large that one year only--2008--which was also a very rainy summer. Variety was Bloomsdale Long Standing. I've tried a couple others (Melody, Tyee Hybrid) but BLS seems to work the best. I usually get two plantings of spinach each season. I plant the first batch in mid May, harvest as I can, and pull the plants by early-mid July when they bolt. Then I plant another batch and it does ok, but is not quite so vigorous. So far this summer I have about 13 pounds of spinach in the freezer (that's weighed after blanching, so part of the weight is water), plus what we've eaten fresh! Thanks all for stopping by! Susan


cindy murphy
8/6/2010 7:36:41 AM

Hi, Susan. I love the look of your garden with its rustic fence that keeps out the moose. If only such a fence around my garden would keep out the moles, rabbits, and tearing-through-the-yard-like-a-mad-woman dog! That spinach looks amazing! Leaves as big as salad plates - wow! Hubs and I love spinach - mostly in fresh in salads, or chopped and cooked in pasta dishes. I usually pick it when the leaves are small - what you'd pay extra for in the grocery just because someone decided a higher price should be tacked on to the cute name "baby spinach". Do you remember the variety your salad plate-sized spinach? I'd be interested in knowing, if you do. I'm thinking I'd wait for them to grow if the leaves got that large. Enjoy the rest of your summer.


k.c. compton
8/5/2010 3:42:29 PM

What a wonderful treat! I loved the photo of you with the cabbage. :=] I visited friends in Anchorage once and rode my bike 222 miles in six days. It was hairy and also wonderful, and I have never gotten over that scenery. One of the few times in my life I ran out of words. You can only say "spectacular" so many ways and so many times. I'm also surprised by how well gardens do up there. Is it because of the long hours of sunlight when it finally does get light around there? I grew "Arctic" tomatoes when I lived in Wyoming and they were about all I could grow up there. I'd think Alaska might be even less of a good fit for tomatoes. Although ... with a hoop house, many things are possible. Thanks for sharing, KC


nebraska dave
8/4/2010 6:26:35 PM

@Susan, hello up there in Alaska. It was great to stroll through the months of Alaskan garden. I can’t imagine having such a short growing season that corn struggles to mature soon enough. Here in Nebraska it’s the main crop and by the middle of June the roadside market growers are selling sweat corn and tomatoes. I on the other hand have to wait about three more weeks before I can harvest a juicy tomato out of my garden. I’ve never tried to raise cabbage or lettuce. I expect that I really should. We are still up in the 90s during the day and 70s at night. The cooler weather begins to drift in around Labor Day. I am still outside much of the day working on projects trying to get as much done this month as the next couple months I’ll be traveling around visiting relatives far far away. I think I’ll be driving about 3000 miles in just over two weeks. I’ve been working on my truck brakes today. I seems there’s always one stubborn bolt that won’t come out. I finally gave up for today and will try again tomorrow. It’s good to hear from our way up North friends. Have a great garden day.