Winter Gardening Alaska-Style

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Ah, 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.

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?

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.