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November 23, 2017

In My Cottage Garden: Personal Scale Urban Farming

Cottage Garden of Anchorage Mastergardener

By Linda Kellen Biegel

The ABG Conference session where I received the most personal motivation was on “Urban Farming” and was run by Dohnn Wood. It was motivating because his journey was similar to mine: from he and his family discovering that fresh, Alaska grown produce actually has taste and intoxicating aroma unlike the shipped-in variety to year by year, trying to improve their vegetable gardening and increase their yield.

Dohnn Wood

However, his story today is one all home “farmers” would like to achieve: in 2011 he was able to harvest over 1500 lbs of food from his 5000 sq ft Anchorage home lot.

Of course, to some of us 5,000 sq ft sounds huge. However, considering over half is taken up by his house the amount of produce he pulled out of it is quite amazing.

As you can see from my photo above, I was in a lousy position to get any good pictures. Folks were very animated during his discussion and quite frankly, I was often too riveted to take any photos.

Mr. Wood talked about his “scientific method” of determining what strategies to used in his vegetable gardening. Like most of us, he just tries things until he finds what worked the best. He also discussed “stealing” ideas and adapting them for use in his “limited area.” Sound familiar?

He also freely gave details, when asked, on some of the things he found worked well in his yard.

— He found, like Eliot Coleman and Tim Meyers, that hoop houses are cheaper and seem to work better than cold frames. His hoops are 36″ and are made from 1/2″ PVC pipe. I can’t tell exactly from my notes if if he was the one who said this (but I think he did)–but I believe he uses painters plastic for the covering. (If he didn’t, one of the three men I mentioned above did.)

— Inside the hoop houses when it’s cooler, he uses 9 gauge wire to run across the top of the plants, 12″ inches above the ground. He then lays garden fabric on top of it (like Eliot Coleman and Tim Meyers).

— The Woods, as soon as their garden soil is free of snow (usually March or April…probably not this year), plant the seeds to the Brassica family of vegetables directly into the soil. Yes, you heard me right…directly into the soil. (The Brassica family includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, rutabaga, kohrabi, turnip, mustard, Brussel sprouts, etc…) After the seeds are planted, cover the entire bed with plastic and they will sprout nicely on their own. (Yes, I’m going to try it.)

I discovered since the Conference, I now have a ton more questions for the man. Luckily, before the snow melts at my house, I’ll be able to see and speak to Dohnn Wood one more time. He is doing a session for the Anchorage Garden Club on “Growing Vegetables In Containers.” The event will be on April 5th at 7:00 pm at the Pioneer Schoolhouse and I will bring all of my cameras in order to bring as much information as I can back to all of you!

If you have any ideas for questions, please let me know in the comments.



30 Responses to “In My Cottage Garden: Personal Scale Urban Farming”
  1. AKblue says:

    The garden in the first photo is stunning! Does the owner’s first name start with the letter “D”?

  2. leenie17 says:


    With a concert that I was singing in last night and two more that I’m interpreting tomorrow, I had to baby my back this weekend so I didn’t get out to the garden like I’d wanted to. Plus it was drizzling all day yesterday and this morning so everything was a bit damp. I was feeling a bit frustrated because the weather last week was so hot that my seeds would have started quickly, but maybe I was rushing things a bit after all.

    I just checked the weather for tomorrow and the high is supposed to be 39. Quite a drop from the 80 degree temps we had the other day!

  3. jimzmum says:

    Hold on. I have never in my life seen delphiniums so tall. Incredibly beautiful.

    There may be a problem with the lettuce(s) being grown inside, because it is probably too dry. Lettuces are cool and damp(ish) crops around here.

  4. UgaVic says:

    BTW- is 25 outside, some sun and the high tunnels are at 80.5 degrees. Soil is sticking right now at 31.5!

    If we can stay in the 20’s or more I will be seeding in the high tunnels in short order!!

  5. Zyxomma says:

    Wow. Too involved to snap photos. That’s immersion! Everyone, enjoy your gardens.

  6. Stephen Gingrich says:

    Denali Seed Company is locally owned, and everything they sell has been tested in South Anchorage. Other seed companies sell a lot of things which do not grow here at all.

    They sell my favorite ornamental annual vine, Canary Bird. They are related to Nasturtiums.

    • Alaska Pi says:

      Canary Bird is soooo neat! Blooms right til freeze!!!!!!!!

      • AKPetMom says:

        You are lucky if you can do that one. I have clematis that cover the SW side of my house up to 20′ but I cannot get a Canary Bird vine to do anything ANYWHERE in my yard! I’ve tried a few years but they just won’t get more than 6′ with one vine and a few flowers.

        • Alaska Pi says:

          I think mine is luck of place. I had admired a neighbor’s Canary Bird vines and she gifted me a pack of seeds the next year. Mine have been really bushy and way too tall for my tiny yard but so charming with lots of lavatera which lasts until first freeze too.
          I mostly have perennials- lots of primrose varieties, multiple varietes of lilies, iris, snow on the mountain, ligularia, geums, astilbes,sedums, bee balm, colombines galore, a much smaller clematis than yours 🙂 and many more – all lovely well behaving perennials. Just so enjoy the whimsical Canary vine and dazzling pinks and white of the lavateras for pizazz!
          and nasturiums of all colors and varieties for more pizazz!
          Oh dear.
          it is getting very difficult to wait .

          • AKPetMom says:

            Holy Moly, you have so many things in your yard that I love! The Geums are particularly over-looked in Alaska and treated like weeds but I’ve moved some great specimens from woods to my gardens. Also Astilbes are so beautiful and love our climate although mine never grow very tall.. I grow many Ligularias both in my work garden and at home. I have two species “przewalskii and rocket” both at home and in work garden. They are a good fit both in rainy and dry climates. I’ve yet to find the perfect place for our columbines at work, although we have a shady corner where the Aquilegia canadensis “wild” columbines do well, the hybrids are never happy and are over run with aphids each summer. I’ve had spotty success with Monardia (Bee Balm) and it tends to fare well in hot sunny summers and never perform in rainy summers. It smells so great when it does grow though! As far as sedums go, we have had moderate success with Sedums in the work garden but we lost them all last winter when there was no snow cover. I’ve ordered some new Telephium specimens and I hope they might survive. The only Sedum I have success with at home or at work is Sedum kamchaticum; it’s the basic hearty Sedum with the yellow/orange flowers. It’s basically invasive so it does well for everyone, anywhere! I love those kinds of plants!

          • Alaska Pi says:

            Look at “Postman’s Pride” sedum. I mostly have the lil sedum kamchat-however-you spell it too and have had limited life with other varieties too. Have gotten to where I treat them like short lived perennials. Got some Postman’s Pride on a lark and have had it now for almost 10 years.
            I have 2 varieties of astrantia too and multiple varieties of saxifrage. Love them.
            Sure wish we could sit down so I could pick your brain for ideas and knowledge! I had to learn all that about bee balm on my own and got very discouraged until I decided to enjoy it when it does well in a sunny summer and camoflauge it with colorful annuals in a wet cool summer.
            Mostly I fly by the seat of my britches 🙂 as a gardener and hope for the best.

  7. AK Raven says:

    Also.. I believe that the people who get the above results- if they exist- spend all their time in their gardens in the summer. that’s what it takes up here.

    • UgaVic says:

      See what is working in neighbor’s yards to also get ideas. I have found, up here, that taking it a little slower and watching how things do helps me be more successful.

      Actually once you find the micro zones in your yard, mentioned above by AKPetMom, get few plants that do well, you spend time mostly in the spring and fall.

      I found lots less then tending a lawn:-)

      If you do food in amongst flowers…you get part, sometimes all, of a meal for your efforts. Best pay off to me!!

      • AK Raven says:

        Hey, my neighbor has the most extensive yard of dandylions that I have seen anywhere in Anchorage. Maybe that’s a good place to start?

        • Zyxomma says:

          Would someone tell me why the lovely dandelion is so reviled? It’s pretty, every part of it is edible, and it’s medicinal as well. I just don’t get the suburban desire to wipe it out, and I’ve never understood (especially since it’s notoriously hard to delete).

          • Alaska Pi says:

            The dandelion is not reviled in my yard, nor has it been hard to delete.There just wasn’t and isn’t any.
            Now the $@$^^ing goats beard that had filled every inch of this place after being untended for 30 years- that I revile .
            It has been deleted 🙂

          • AK Raven says:

            I love dandylion leaves in a salad and cooked, especially in the morning with eggs. they are best when found growing along a stream. tender and huge.

    • AKPetMom says:

      My summer job is in gardens other than my own, so I try to set my own yard and gardens to require the least amount of maintenance possible as I don’t have enough hours in the day to do both my home and “work” gardens 🙂

  8. AK Raven says:

    Oh, seriously, It’s hard believe that garden actually exists in Anchorage. I am so tired of planting stuff that doesn’t grow, doesn’t produce or perennials that disappear over the winter. I am beyond giving up.

    • AKPetMom says:

      Gardening in the Far North is a hit or miss affair. Keep in mind, perennials like Delphiniums have a life cycle. Often a Delph will only be a producer in your garden for 7-10years. Here in Alaska it is always better to start with a 10″ pot, when planting perennials. They cost a bit more but the plant is generally mature and will better withstand even a harsh winter. Gardens are very dynamic beings; even my perennial gardens change drastically every few years as our trees grow larger and shade more areas of our garden. I have 6 Peonies that I will be chucking out this year because their area has become to shaded for them. I’m replacing them with a shade garden as that is what their space has become. Don’t be disappointed when things don’t work, just keep a journal and try something else. Make sure that you are planting things that are “zone specific” for a certain area of your yard. We have everything from a zone 3b to a 5a, in our yard. I have some Rhododendrons in the 5a southern zone, against the house. I have and Alaskan alpine rock garden in the northern areas of my property. Some parts of my property I let be natural, as Nature knows best! It takes a bit of work but you have to familiarize yourself with the different zones in your yard and gardening areas. Hope this helps, and remember, start with the biggest perennials you can afford and you’ll not be as disappointed. I’ve found that less is more and forgo the smaller plants and go for the larger plants and shrubs instead as I know they will fare better.

      • Alaska Pi says:

        True, true, true.
        Lots of flexibility of mind needed for gardening here. I have a tiny yard and want tons of color and blossoms all season . Some things do fine for a few years and other things need to be moved round to find right spot for them… and so on.
        I have what I want most years and learn something new each year.

      • Ottoline says:

        Just curious: why “chuck out” the 6 peonies? Why not transplant to a location they like better? In N Minnesota, untended clumps of peonies blossom each year. Planted in spots that presumably got care in an earlier time, I am catapulted into a time warp each time i see them doing well in an alley, or at the border of a property that I speculate must have been closely enough tended in earlier times to plant a peony. N MN is perhaps not as cold as AK. I am envious — peonies do not like the too-warm winters of the CA coast.

  9. UgaVic says:

    Just the realization he is putting the seeds directly into the ground for that family of veggies is HUGE!!

    Is he hooping those seeds or just laying clear plastic over them until they sprout? What happens from there?

  10. WinBeach says:

    I’d like to know how to move things like lettuce into the house at the end of the summer and keep it growing in my cool basement under lights. I’m sure you have seen the price of produce lately. I tried doing this a year ago but it did not work. Seems like the lettuce didn’t like my house. So I tried growing lettuce from seed under those LED lights. As I recall that was not very successful either. Hope you come up with good ideas.

    • That’s probably a question for both Dohnn and Tim Meyers. Now I have to find Tim’s card.

    • Alaska Pi says:

      Have you tried leaving it outside and double covering with row cover and a hoop? I had fresh lettuce to eat every day from May 1 to end of October doing that last year. Seeded outdoors on March 29 under double covers- a full 6 weeks ahead of last frost date 🙂
      Likely could have gone longer in fall but got sick and tired of end of the summer bears who use my garden paths as a freeway and shorter days and longer dark to argue about right of way with them. (Course I don’t really argue with them- I go inside -eek)

    • benlomond2 says:

      chuckle… be a bit circumspect about growing a garden indoors… law enforcement dials in on energy useage around these parts – indoor growing of the hemp plant causes an increase in utilitiy bills, and infrared sensors highlites houses growing plants indoors…. now, if you can tap into your neighbor’s power line….. 🙂

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