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April 21, 2014

In My Cottage Garden: “Extend the Season, Expand Your Mind”

by Linda Kellen Biegel

Elliot Coleman's Four Season's Farm

Thanks to the help of friends here on Mudflats, I was able to attend yesterday’s Alaska Botanical Garden 6th Annual Spring Garden Conference with the theme “Extend the Season, Expand Your Mind.”. It was an absolutely wonderful experience; my brain is overflowing with what I’ve learned and I only wish I could get out into the garden and start now!

As you can imagine, I have tons of information to process. At the bottom of the post, I was able to upload the first part of Elliot Coleman’s keynote speech from yesterday for you to enjoy. It was very different from the speech he gave at the Friday Night Annual ABG meeting, which was a step-by-step history of his quest to achieve year-round crop yields in a northern climate (Maine) without the expense of artificial heat or light. The picture below shows the low-tunnel and high-tunnel greenhouses he uses today:

Elliot Coleman--High & Low Tunnel Greenhouses

As he explains it, each layer of protection takes the plants inside farther south climate-wise. Plants growing uncovered on his farm are “in Maine.” Plants inside the low-tunnel greenhouse would be “in New Jersey.” (Yes, there were jokes.) Plants inside a low-tunnel which is under a high-tunnel are in the equivalent of Georgia. He believes the two-layers of protection is the maximum that can be used while still allowing the plants to get enough sunlight.

He also explained the progression from using a tractor to move the large high-tunnel structures to a system where it requires only two people to slide it down a long bed as required for the season changes.

Preparing the high tunnel for the move

I was unable to gain permission to video Mr. Coleman’s speech on Friday due to Anchorage Museum rules. However, both of Elliot’s speeches were recorded and should be on the Alaska Botanical Garden Website in podcast form within the next two weeks.

Like I mentioned earlier, I have a lot of information to process. I attended some really exciting Conference sessions where folks in Alaska are using Elliot’s techniques to extend their season and including some of their own for year-round crop production in Alaska. You’ll be seeing those sessions and more in upcoming Sunday Garden posts. The second portion of Elliot Coleman’s speech I’ll use in an upcoming (maybe tomorrow) post regarding the Legislature…yes, the Legislature. (I strive to keep the Sunday posts non-political.)


(Elliot Coleman Keynote Speech, part 1)

I loved the theme of Elliot Coleman’s speech: Nothing is Impossible. After attending this conference, I believe that Alaskans can improve the duration and the yields of our growing season. Now I get to convince everyone else!

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17 Responses to “In My Cottage Garden: “Extend the Season, Expand Your Mind””
  1. Zyxomma says:

    How I would love to have a plot to garden. I satisfy my cravings by working at a tiny community garden, but it’s a shade garden, so we don’t raise food. We do have a few small herbs. Sigh.

    • Alaska Pi says:

      How shady is the shade garden?
      There are a number of things which can be grown in a shade garden. “Bright lights” variety Swiss chard adds beautiful color to a flower planting-I do it every year.
      http://organicgardening.about.com/od/vegetablesherbs/a/shadeveggies.htm
      A lot of the cool weather lettuces and spinaches do well too.Some of the lettuces are stunning visually .
      I string peas up a shady fence every year behind flowering perennials. Beets grown for greens like bull’s blood variety can be stuck in here and there for lovely color too :-)
      Winter red, white russian, and nero de toscana kales will do ok if it’s not just flat dark and they like some shade if temps are high. They also add beautiful texture and color to a flower garden.
      Stuff some veggies in here and there and see what happens :-)

  2. merrycricket says:

    Tunnels, now I need to figure out some tunnels. Yesterday, I planted red potatoes, garlic and red dutch onions. I have all sorts of veggies started in seed pots inside right now. It was beautiful and a warm sunny 60 degree day yesterday. Rain today.

    Linda, I am looking forward to future garden posts and learning from you.

  3. UgaVic says:

    I am a devotee from this part of Alaska!!

    I had strawberries until Oct and ‘greens’ until Nov just inside the high tunnel. We even got 2 edible ears of corn off a short row.

    I used a tiny bit of his work, having learned last winter, in my high tunnels this year. I did get my mache, a type of European lettuce to survive this winter in my high tunnel. It did the second layer of crop cloth to keep it going in -15 degree outside weather.

    In a short time I think we can make a HUGE impact on our ability to grow more of our own food in many parts of Alaska.

    Thanks for sharing this. Am thrilled you went and can share with us!!! Look forward to more posts.

    • UgaVic says:

      Oh I am curious about the direct in the ground deal for the Brassica family!! I have ground in the high tunnels that is without snow and workable to about 6 “. The soil temp monitor tells me it is right at 31.5 degrees or high 8″ down.

      Any tips are appreciated!!

  4. As soon as the snow is gone, I plan on planting my Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, etc…) seeds directly in the ground and covering them with plastic as was suggested to me. I also have plans for a hoop house!

  5. Alaska Pi says:

    Linda- you lucky ducky!
    Waiting to hear more when you get it all sorted out.
    A friend you and I have in common sent me Mr Coleman’s book and a challenge to try it out- the 2 layer dealie.
    I was and am still flabbergasted at what I was able to start outside way sooner and keep going longer.
    Since then I’ve been talking to a Master Gardener here in my town who uses the methods to great adavantage in ways my lil mind hadn’t conjured.
    It’s so fun to have goodies to eat- FRESH- sooner, longer !

  6. laurie says:

    I can imagine that the photos of green shoots, flowers and vegi’s must be like heaven to those of you covered up in snow. Dirt therapy time will be here soon.

  7. Conscious at last says:

    YUP! Since we are talking about such things– I grew up in Brooklyn on a cobblestone street with a dairy farm at the corner of the block. My mother picked out live chickens at the poultry store. Some folks in the area had small vegetable gardens and fruit trees including fig and olives trees which were wrapped up for the winter.

    • Zyxomma says:

      Gardens and chickens have returned to Brooklyn in a big way in the past few years. Community gardens, beehives, it’s all coming back.

  8. leenie17 says:

    I spent the afternoon enjoying the unusual 60+ degree temperatures on my patio. I tidied up some perennials I never got around to last fall and did a little pruning on the climbing rose. But then I decided to sit and read some gardening magazines and enjoy the birdies swarming around the feeder instead!

    There was one robin that hopped right across the patio, stopping about a yard from me, chirped a few of times and continued on his way. I wondered if he was one of the robins that hatched in my rose over the last couple of years, coming back to say hi!

    There were some alarm calls made by something that sounded like an old metal pipe being hit, immediately followed by a loud whoooosssshhhh…the sparrows diving into the arbovitae. Seconds later, a hawk swooped through the yard, looking for lunch. He circled above a few times before heading off to better hunting grounds.

    Magazines perused, seed lists begun, interesting articles and photos marked…it was a good afternoon in the backyard! :)

  9. Conscious at last says:

    Linda -

    I loved your posts in the past which had photos of your own garden. I’ve enjoyed learning about the possibilities of gardening in Alaska over the last few years. This report about the guy from Maine is helpful too.

    I do want to make a small point — you said that there were jokes about the low tunnel green house that replicated New Jersey. Did you guys realize that NJ’s nick- name is THE GARDEN STATE??? Just as some of my own stereo-types about life in Alaska have been challenged, perhaps you might ask yourselves why NJ has this name. One may view oil tanks from a certain section of the NJ Turnpike, but for a very densely populated state, it is MIGHTY GREEN. There are mountains in the north, seashore on the east and south, pine barrens in the center and many towns that are full of trees and gardens.

    • beaglemom says:

      New Jersey used to be (maybe still is) home to lots of “truck garden” farms. In the summer, the farmers would pack up their trucks and take the produce around towns even where I lived in suburban Philadelphia. I remember when they would come down the street. All of the moms would be out buying beautiful tomatoes, corn on the cob, lettuce, green beans, etc. The New Jersey pig farmers collected our food garbage too.

    • When I lived in Philly, I used to spend time during my high school summers in Asbury Park, NJ at my friend’s beach house…I love New Jersey! It’s also well known that New Englanders aren’t so fond…there’s sort of a rivalry there on the East Coast. I’m sure it’s all good-natured! *hides*

    • John says:

      If all you know about NJ is the Turnpike, it isn’t a destination tourist place. But I’ve been to other parts that are truly wonderful.

    • UgaVic says:

      It is also one of the big ‘horse country’ places and has been for years. Part of the reason is the ability to grow great food for them!!

      It is a beautiful part of the country!!

    • beth. says:

      The jokes and laughter were probably from folks who know the state more for Snooki’s Jersey Shore doings, than for its plots of land growing succotash fixin’s. [grumble -- grumble] Dang TV… beth.

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