In My Alaska Garden — A Tale of Two Gardens
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.
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:
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.