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July 22, 2014

In My Alaska Garden — A Tale of Two Gardens

High Tunnel at Steller Gardens in Homer

My friends at Anonymous Bloggers reminded me of something this week: I cannot think of a place where the internet and social media has made more of a difference in intra-state communication than Alaska. In a place this size (663,266 sq miles) where the majority of the land is not accessible by the road system, people who otherwise would rarely converse can carry on regular conversations and build relationships.

Such is the Alaska gardening community.

Thanks to AB and a friend’s Facebook page, I was tipped off to two fascinating garden projects separated by roughly 600 miles, as the raven flies.

Homer, AK

The first was Steller Gardens, mentioned by my intrepid Homer rancher and farmer friend, Jan Flora, on her Facebook page:

This is what grassroots food activism looks like. One small girl with a high tunnel and a half acre of land to farm. She’s feeding 20 families beside her own and making a living doing it. All organic, fresh & local.

You can see a picture of her high tunnel at the top of the page, which reminds me of how much I love Homer!

Her business approach is inspirational to those who want to serve a limited local customer base. Per their website:

Hello my fellow organic veggie lovers,

I started Steller Gardens in 2008 with the mission of providing locally grown organic vegetables to the community of Homer. I was born and raised in Alaska and have helped my parents in their garden since I could walk. After graduating from Homer High School, I attended the University of Oregon, where I received a bachelors in Psychology. After college I traveled the world and began to take interest in sustainable agriculture. I took a permaculture design course on the Big Island of Hawaii that inspired me to jump into gardening and agriculture on a much larger scale. Thus, I started a CSA.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between a local farm and a community of “shareholder” consumers. Shareholders invest financially in the CSA at the beginning of the summer and receive weekly allotments of vegetables throughout the growing season.

In an era when food travels an average of 1500 miles before reaching the dinner plate (and about 3500 miles for Alaskans), the CSA relationship provides a direct link between the production and consumption of locally grown food. As a shareholder, you receive wonderfully fresh and nutritious hand-crafted, high-quality seasonal produce that is picked the day you get it and is grown without chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. I practice sustainable, ecologically responsible agriculture with a focus on improving soil quality and biodiversity, minimizing fossil fuel inputs, and working with our natural environment instead of fighting against it. By becoming a member of a CSA you are both receiving beautiful vegetables, and you are also making a difference in how and where your community’s food is grown.

She guarantees at least 15 or 16 weeks of fresh produce…clearly an extended season as a result of the high tunnel.

This kind of sustanable food partnership is exactly what the US Department of Agriculture High Tunnel Grants are meant to encourage.

The second garden project is in a very different location and is courtesy of Anonymous Bloggers:

Anaktuvuk Pass

One of our favorite Alaskan blogs is Nasugraq Rainey Hopson’s Stop and Smell the Lichen . Rainey lives in Anaktuvuk Pass, a village in the North Slope Borough, north of the Arctic Circle.

Rainey’s art and blog reflect her love of her home and community. These works of her hands and mind are as meaningful as her home place is beautiful. It is always a pleasure to find a new post on her site , whatever the subject is!

Rainey plans to learn how to grow vegetables in her far north home . She has agreed to share her 1st year gardening adventure here with us at Anonymous Bloggers.

I asked her if she had “before” pictures of the to-be garden space we could share here but, as it is apparently still buried in snow , we’ll have to wait for “before” until “after”… :-)
Thank you for sharing, Rainey!


An Arctic vegetable garden….the details of stage one.

A while back I had a reader ask me if I was really going to be able to plant a garden here. The answer is yes!Of course living where I am living poses some pretty big obstacles, which meant that I did a lot of research and planning and general milling about in anxiety. I thought I would share the beginning of this journey!

Location. The garden will be located behind our house. I did find out that there was an elder that grew a small vegetable garden here but she did it far out of town, to avoid the dust and exhaust. We decided to use our back yard, which is protected by several buildings, some dense tall willows, and the luck of being shielded from the road by some neat tricks of the wind. Since we have dried meat there we know that it gets good air circulation, sunlight galore, with very little contamination, which is a must. Plus it will be closer to monitor and work on!

Cold. The cold is probably the biggest barrier. The permafrost layer is not far beneath our feet, and this chills the earth so much that it will prevent or hamper most vegetable plants from growing. So I will be using above ground warming techniques. My husband is building several raised beds from wood, in which I will fill with soil from a fertile spot away from town that I know has escaped being contaminated by human beings. The beds will be taller than what you usually see in most areas, at least a foot high, and long and slim rather than more of a squarish bed. Having the earth exposed to the warmer air temperatures will keep them warmer. I also plan to use an army of plastic buckets and bins for the plants that can tolerate being in a container, this will give me the option of moving them inside to a more protected area (in the arctic we call this part of our homes the ‘kunnichuck’ or ‘vestibule’ in English.) Since I plan to have a few water loving plants I am going to try and build a few self watering buckets. I will also be using some plastic covers to warm the beds before planting and while the seedling are germinating, once they sprout then I will remove the covers. The cold at the beginning and end of the season will be the problem, but in the summer the temperatures usually get to 80-90 degrees. The date for the last frost here is June 1st, which gives you an idea of how cold it gets and how short the season is!

Sun. Believe it or not the 24 hours a day sunlight will be a problem. Here the growing season is a very SHORT. And most of that season will include the sun never setting. This limits the types of plants that I can grow, though I plan to experiment with one: soybean. Soybeans require nighttime, and I have researched several techniques that I am going to try and trick them into thinking it’s night time. Hopefully if it works I can get a good harvest and start creating a plant that will do well here, I am starting with two types of soybean, one of which is a short season plant. My husband, like so many Natives, is lactose intolerant so a ‘milk’ source for him would save us a ton of money. The never setting sun will also make it so that we are watering more than usual.

Please read the rest of the well-written post to see what she will be growing. We’ll continue to follow her progress!

Alaska Gardening & Agriculture News:

–In the Anchorage Daily News, Sheila Toomey wrote a piece on growing carrots in Alaska.

Mastergardener Jeff Lowenfels discusses a wide variety of gardening issues on his Anchorage KBYR AM 700 radio program “Garden Party” Saturday’s from 10:00 am to noon. You can also Listen Live on the Web.

Alaska Garden Clubs:

–Anchorage Garden Club is having their monthly meeting on Thursay, May 3rd from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. The discussion will be on Dividing Perennials by Debbie Hinchey.

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Comments
12 Responses to “In My Alaska Garden — A Tale of Two Gardens”
  1. benlomond2 says:

    Youse guys are gonna throw rocks , but my tomato plants have blossoms now !! Earliest I’ve ever had them show up ! Must be that plastic tenting I put over the entire tomato section, elevated the temp quite nicely…. now… If I can just keep the frigging deer off of them !! Back Fence is now going to 10 feet, Electric wire around the tomatoes sounds like a good idea, since the females of the house won’t let me use the “Remington Solution”…..

  2. I know that I have bunnies near my yard because of the tiny tooth marks made when they ate the newly-forming zucchini down to the nub last summer. However, they remain invisible until the wee hours of the morning, I believe. I’ve considered creating a “bunny blind” so that I can watch and catch them in the act!

    • mike from iowa says:

      LKB-I used to lay chicken wire on newly sprouted peas and lettuce to discourage raggits from chewing on tender greens. After the plants get some size I roll up the wire. Bunnies don’t like standing or chewing on wire I guess. Worked fine for me.

  3. leenie17 says:

    What inspiring stories and I wish them both good luck!

    I spent a little time this afternoon enjoying the sun and some gardening magazines on the patio. Naturally, the garden itself started calling to me and I headed out to the veggie bed to do some pre-planting weeding. As I started to pound in some of the edging that had been pushed up by frost, I noticed something moving under the plastic panel. As I looked closer, I realized it was the big toad who frequents my vegetable bed and scares the bejeebers out of me by jumping up at me from amongst the lettuce or dill plants when I least expect it. His leg was caught under the plastic but, fortunately, I was able to pull it up and release him before it did any damage. He hung around for a few moments, glaring at me with his toady eyes, and then slowly hopped away to the safety of the forsythia bush, clearly miffed that I had interrupted his nap!

    I also had a lovely chat with one of the bunnies that visits my yard (or local salad bar, depending on your point of view) on an almost daily basis. She hopped over to the edge of the patio and settled down about 4 feet away from where I was sitting. I took advantage of my attentive audience and clearly and politely explained the Rules of the Garden for Visiting Bunnies, reminding her that, as long as she followed the rules, she and I would get along fine. So far, she’s been focusing on decimating my dandelion population so, for the moment, we’re fast friends. If she gets into the veggie bed once the plants are in, it might be a different story!

    • UgaVic says:

      Giggling at the picture in my head of you disturbing a sleeping toad and the glare he would give off:-)

      Our bunny population seems to be down a tad right now so they do not seem to be a threat right now to the garden that will go in soon.

      Electric fence is about ready to go again this year to discourage Brown bear visitors from helping themselves to ANYTHING!!

      • mike from iowa says:

        My bunny population seems to have exploded and I’m looking for an vast increase in lynx pelts for the fall except we don’t have lynx in iowa other than through Fur-Fish and Game or Jim Klelgaard stories. As for toads,I till some up in my garden everyhear. They like the softer garden soil to hibernate in. Tiller does not do their soft bodies much good. Most do survive,though.

  4. merrycricket says:

    I got almost all of my herbs into my garden the other day. I only have basil left to go in. I need to wait until the nights are staying above 50 degrees. I have been installing a flower bed in a friends front yard and that’s been fun. Today, most of our neighbors were out working in our yards. It was as if we all agreed that today we will keep the mowers turned off and work on quieter things. The only sound today was children playing and birds. No mowers, chains saws or others gas powered outdoor equipment.

    The butterfly population suddenly exploded in my yard today. Many of them drying their wings on the steps of my porch or on the plants.

    Keep up the good work Linda. I’m learning from you.

    • UgaVic says:

      So nice your neighborhood left the power tools for another time this weekend…..that makes the time outside all the better!!!

      Oh how I miss all the butterflies I had in my garden on the East Coast. (I guess all the other critters up here will make up for it.)

      The hummingbirds are another thing I miss but with the weather changes I keep hearing they are moving up into Alaska so maybe we will get some.

      Our river finally opened up this weekend so it is flushing the all the ice out now. Seagulls, duck, cranes and a huge group of other winged guys will be showing up as the weeks progress into the summer!!

  5. Alaska Pi says:

    I’m getting addicted to these Sunday gardening posts!

    I’m happy to see the Homer CSA- what a nice list of goodies grown there too!
    I attended a Southeast Alaska Master Gardener’s presentation recently which turned out to be about the USDA high tunnel grant program. It was well attended and I have hopes that we will have a CSA in our future here in my area , or 5 or 6 :-) , with the enthusiasm the whole thing generated.

    Rainey’s project in Anaktuvuk Pass is one I’m following . I’m hoping excitement and well wishes across the miles help because I’ll be sending them everyday .

    Now off to read Ms Toomey’s piece on carrots!
    Thank you Linda!

  6. ~Sil in Corea says:

    Great links! I’ll be following the folks in Anaktuvuk Pass. It sounds like they will be doing valuable research under *extreme* conditions.

  7. UgaVic says:

    I so enjoy these Sunday gardening posts!! I can come inside from all the craziness and know there are some sane people and places left in the world.

    So much is going on in Homer, I continue to be amazed!!

    Now Anaktuvuk Pass seems like a place to watch from some of the newest efforts in gardening!!

    Thanks for bringing it all together for us.

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