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Winter Gardening Alaska-Style

2/12/2010 10:06:31 AM

Tags: Winter gardens, Winter gardening, The winter garden, Alaska garden, Alaska agriculture

veggies in bowlAh, yes, winter in Alaska. Today it’s 33 above and raining on top of a foot of brand new snow. Spring, however, is around several corners yet; it’s only February after all. Three more months till the birch leaves are the size of mouse’s ears, and I can work the garden soil, start pressing vegetable seeds into rows. Three more months of enduring a palette of white, blue, and dark, then brown and muddy.

But in my mind, the picture is clear and bright and full of green. My winter garden comes to life in visions of tender spinach leaves growing bigger every day under the long northern summer sun, until they are themselves like salad plates; feathery green carrot tops waving gently in the breeze as their orange roots reach ever deeper; purpley-red radishes ready to eat in no time; tight little broccoli heads forming and expanding despite my worries they won’t.

spinach in the garden

Even the mosquitoes are welcome in these dreams, for the smell of Off is our summertime perfume. Inside our little old run-down greenhouse, tomatoes bask in the heat. The raspberry bushes – Boyne and Killarney and Goldens – are forming fruits, luscious and juicy, ruby red and yellow. Salad tonight! Jam tomorrow!

These are the dreams that sustain me through the rest of winter.

I fertilize my garden visions with seed catalogs and photos from last year’s crops, water them with research on irrigation methods for our planned garden expansion, light them up by talking to other green thumbs. I even plant some actual seeds for basil, parsley, and cilantro, and when they sprout, set them in a cool room on a table by a big window. I build a fence of sorts with cardboard and duct tape around the edge to keep the cats out. Can reality rival my imagination?

veggies in bowl

It’s a common saying that gardening is an act of faith. So is living in Alaska. I was born and raised here, but left a few times in my twenties, convinced the grass was greener elsewhere. Literally, it was, but metaphorically, not so much. Alaska always wooed me back with promises of wildness and midnight sun in June. Eventually I settled down, settled in, got married, and moved to an old homestead property with plenty of space to plant our own food. As our garden takes root, so do I. And I put up with the fickle winter weather and months of bundling up because I know the snow will melt and the world around me will come alive again and sustain my body and soul. In the meantime, my winter garden thrives.



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Deb LaCombe Fitzgerald
10/22/2012 8:31:12 PM
I only discovered your blog today 10/22/12.... hope you write more, your an inspiration to me here in western (no where) Pa!!! I've just tried winter gardening this fall, though today was in the 70's!!! My peas are growing nicely as my cabbage and turnips are.... hope they fare well as the weather cools!

Cindee
1/6/2011 10:25:18 AM
Susan, what a great blog. I'm lucky to have such a great neighbor! I liked seeing all of your pictures too. I'm going to have to get better at taking pictures this year. I tried mulching last summer and I hardly got any weeds, but it seemed like there were more slugs. So, now I'm planning on surrounding my veggies with beer! :-) I got my Territorial Seed catalog in the mail yesterday, so I've already started the dream!

Susan_7
2/23/2010 10:58:52 AM
Alice: Have you tried quick-growing veggies like spinach, radishes, and lettuce? All three of these do very well in AK, and though we have the long days during summer, they might also work for you in Butte. You could even try starting some seeds indoors to get a jump on the season. Good luck! MountainWoman: Alaska's not so far away--come visit anytime! I dream of living elsewhere sometimes, too, where I could get in my car and drive any direction instead of only north (basically to Fairbanks or to the Alaska Highway and Outside) or south (to some smaller communities). I've driven all of our main roads a million times, and though I'm always up for a road trip, I do tire of the same scenery. The trick to living happily in AK, I think, is to get away every so often! But I never want to leave in summer--only in winter! Alaska Susan

Alice P._1
2/22/2010 2:07:13 PM
I was glad to hear about gardening in Alaska (or any cold weather place). I live in Butte, MT. While some parts of Montana grown beautiful crops, we here in Butte have a very very short growing season. Some years it is as short as 2 months. Short of a green house does anyone have any suggestions for growing things. Rhubarb grows beautifully.

Mountain Woman
2/19/2010 11:42:48 AM
Susan, I'm so glad to see Alaska represented. I dream every day about moving to Alaska but I know it won't happen and I'll just be content in Vermont. In some ways we share your weather; spring won't be here until April (or May) and we can have frost at any time even during the summer. But I love the winter and the snow and the cold for then I appreciate summer even more. I was so interested to read what you wrote about mosquitoes. We don't have them in our part of Vermont. Also, the long sunny days must be incredible. I loved your entry about your garden and just can't wait to read more about you and your adventures.

Pam_6
2/16/2010 10:49:21 AM
Hi Susan, I am having those same dreams about planting and growing vegetables here in Georgia. Our high today is suppose to be around 40F. And..we had 5 inches of snow a few days ago. Very unusual weather for these parts. The spinach plants look beautiful. Normally I would already be planting spinach and greens in the raised beds here. But you are right, spring is just around a corner or 2. It is a hard wait though. Have a great day. Pam

Susan_7
2/13/2010 4:35:36 PM
Vickie: Thanks! It's a short growing season, but plenty of daylight, so as long as it's not a cold, rainy summer like we had two years ago, the garden usually turns out pretty good. Nebraska Dave: We grow tomatoes in the greenhouse, though some people do grow them in pots or hanging baskets outside. If you have a nice warm outside wall that gets lots of sun, they do fine. We've done regular (big) tomatoes and cherry. One year the plants were literally reaching through the roof of the greenhouse--totally out of control! I even once grew sunflowers that got to be 6 feet tall. They were against a bright white wall, and protected from the wind. It's fun experimenting.

vickie
2/12/2010 11:20:18 PM
Hi Sue, Alaska sounds like a wonderful place to live and garden! I can't imagine the sight of a midnight sun. Your pictures are so nice to look back on and your garden looks so good. It won't be long and the snow will melt and you'll be back out in the dirt- winter all forgotten. vickie

Nebraska Dave
2/12/2010 9:04:11 PM
Susan, I’ve heard that Alaska is beautiful, but I’ve never had the opportunity to take a trip there. Your garden looks great. I too have visions of the garden to be in my mind’s eye. I am surprised that you would be able to raise tomatoes there but I expect the extra sunshine would make them grow faster. It takes from May to July to get the first tomato here in Nebraska. Are you talking about the cherry tomatoes? I’ve heard that the soil in Alaska is so good that vegetables grow bigger, faster, and better. Is it true? I’m similar to you in that I’ve moved away from where I was born and raised but for me there’s just no place like home. I vowed 35 years ago when I finally landed where I am now that I would never move away from this area again. Many have tried to woo me to a warmer climate but I will live and die right here where the four seasons are about equal length, there’s dirt to grow plants, and tree leaves that rustle in the wind. Thirty three degrees, wow. We have had the coldest Winter on record for our part of the country and literally celebrate when it gets above freezing this year. We’ve had twice as much snow as normal which I’m sure compared to Alaska would be a humorously small amount. I hope to see more of your blog entries.



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