Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wait


By Dana Fedorchuk, an Alaska Master Gardener

Like a new page, Spring gives the feeling of newness and fresh opportunities. Posting my first blog post in Spring feels right in touch with the seasons, just like a planting the garden. In many parts of the world, planting begins with Spring, but here in Alaska we wait.

We wait because of that evening chill in the air.
We wait because the Farmers Almanac tells us to.
We wait because of the handful of snowflakes that fell with the chilly breeze.
We wait because of the time we didn't wait and green things became shriveled and brown from the frost.

Even when the temperature soars to the high 20s in mid-May, experienced gardeners
shake their heads and advise each other to wait. Even more than gardeners have to be
detail-oriented, with good skills of observation, and tuned-in to the elements; gardeners
need patience.

So whether you are looking forward to planting, anticipating the first green seedlings,
forecasting the harvest, or dreaming over seed catalogs for next year; the skill that the
gardener needs most is the ability....to....wait. I'm waiting for June 1 to get these sunflowers situated in their beds. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Alaskan Landscape

By Amy Reed, An Alaska Master Gardener in Anchorage, AK

Footprints outside the window.
This is my first time writing a blog, and I am excited to share my adventure with my new flowerbeds!  My husband, daughter, and I moved to Anchorage from Eagle River this past winter. Because our new yard was covered in snow, I had no idea what I was in for come spring!  The new house abuts the Chugach State Park, so from the grizzly bear prints in the snow, I knew I would be sharing the yard with nature. 

When the snow (FINALLY) thawed this past spring/summer, we were surprised to find how many perennial flower beds the previous owners had planted.  My in-laws were visiting at the time, and I put them to work helping me unearth the beds from the mounds of leaves, dead branches, and clippings. It was a daunting task, and it took almost three solid weeks to clean out all the beds around the house. I kept hearing shouts of, “Come check this out! There is a path here!” and “What is this plant?”  My favorite phrase, however, was “Do you think this tree is alive?”  My husband had the time of his life cutting down trees with his new chainsaw and chopping them into firewood. After renting a chipper, we were left with a mulch pile about seven feet high by eight feet across.  It was incredible!  I felt like I was being so “green” to spread the paths near the house leading up to the State Park with the mulch.  Little did I know that all it did was provide our friendly neighborhood bear with easier access to our yard! 

One of the main projects my husband and I overtook was leveling the previous owner’s raised garden beds. You might ask, why would you do such a thing?! The four raised beds were enclosed in an eight foot tall cedar board/wire mesh fence with a beautiful door.  In the center of the garden was a birch tree in a raised bed. The entire enclosure was a really neat concept, and for most gardeners a welcome sight as they would not have to construct their own raised beds. However, I decided that the area would be better suited as a firepit for my family to enjoy rather than another garden area. I started the deconstruction of the garden the last week of May while the ground was still frozen. It took almost a week of manpower tugging and snipping out the fencing and using a crowbar to remove all the cedar boards.  As I got further into the project, I was excited to see all the good soil that was still in the raised beds. It was basically a compost pile due to the dry leaves, sticks, and mulch that had accumulated in the beds.  The boards surrounding the soil, however, were quite rotten, and I felt that we had made the right decision to use this area for another purpose.  My husband used his tractor to remove the final posts and level the area.

The firepit.
We then contacted two guys in the area to help us construct our fire pit. They first laid weed control paper down, spread gravel, and hauled massive stones into the area for seating. A pit was excavated out and lined with stones. The final result was amazing!  It was a hard decision to remove the fenced in raised bed garden, but in the end, we had an area that we would use as a family for a long time.

I decided to take the Alaska Master Gardener Online Course, because I felt that it was now my job to keep the flowerbeds around the house alive and thriving. The owners before us obviously made it a labor of love to landscape with so many different perennials and create stone pathways around them. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I was only accustomed to growing marigolds and morning glories. After I married, we settled in Texas for five years, where xeroscaping was the name of the game. Water restrictions were so frequent there; my husband and I learned the art of conserving and landscaping with drought resistant plants.  Now, having been in Alaska for over six years, I am learning slowly by trial and error and also picking many a greenhouse owner’s brain about what works well here.  I felt I had just enough knowledge to not completely destroy my yard.  Now, having finished the Alaska Master Gardener Online Course, I feel I have at least more information to aid in keeping my landscape alive and thriving. Or at least now know where to get the information when I need it!

Multicolored delphiniums in the yard.
It has been an incredible summer watching the different flowers, from roses, to multiple colored delphiniums, to peonies bloom. 



When walking by every bed this past week, the constant buzz of bumblebees drones loudly.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Marigolds: Edible, Beneficial, and Beautiful

By Mary Hinkley, an Alaska Master Gardener in Tok, Alaska

 
I believe in marigolds.  Though marigold’s pest resistant qualities are mentioned on many of their seed packets, I feel they’re under rated. Most of my raised beds have a marigold border. This serves two purposes; the garden is beautiful and it’s safe from pest invasion. Early this season I went to the local nursery to get some for my greenhouse and found that it was too early for their marigold crop, so I bought some seeds, went home, and planted eight flats.
The vibrant orange of marigolds contrasts well with the blue lobelia. Photo by Heidi Rader.
I love marigolds. I remember my mother always included them in her garden; she said it was for protection. In fact, in the Northeast, where I’m from, most everyone I knew planted them and it was a known fact that they kept pests away. Snooks tells of the time he gathered a bushel of corn from his garden to give to his sister. His garden was pest free and protected due to its marigold border. However, when he left the bushel of corn on the porch overnight, away from protection, the raccoons devoured every ear by morning. They didn’t touch the standing corn, twenty feet away in the marigold-framed garden.

Here in Alaska, I’ve had two encounters with cutworms all year; I found a young bean plant taken off at its base and a severed young marigold. It seems that whatever worm did that, if he lived to tell about it, he never came back for more and warned all of his friends of the nasty encounter!  I don’t think marigolds are poisonous--just very distasteful. The bean plant succumbed, I believe, because the marigolds were still quite young and hadn’t established themselves.  Everything else in my garden is still standing.

I planted marigolds around cabbage to keep cabbage worms away. I’ve never read that they do, but thought I’d try it, and so far, so good.

'Giant Yellow' marigolds. Photo by Heidi Rader.
I learned something else about marigolds with the cabbage patch. They don’t like the cold. When I planted my cabbage in mid-May I edged the patch with marigolds and used row cover at night. The cabbage survived, but even with the row cover, not one marigold made it through the first night. I waited for another few weeks before I planted more.

The onion and garlic bed even has a marigold border. I wasn’t going to do it; I thought that they were pungent enough to keep any pest at bay. Then I talked to a friend who told me of a season he lost an entire crop of onions due to some kind of underground attack, perhaps nematodes. He said they looked perfectly fine until he harvested them, but then there was nothing in the bulb. The next day I edged the garlic and onion bed. I’ve found that the roots of marigolds are as protective as their leaves and flowers, and they work below the ground as well as they do above it.

Thanks to marigolds the rabbits leave my lettuce alone, peas and carrots as well. My asparagus patch is marigold free because there just wasn’t room for them. However, it’s surrounded by other marigold bordered raised beds and the asparagus has fared well to this point.

Marigolds come in many varieties and sizes and are even edible--particularly the 'Golden Gem' and 'Tangerine Gem' varieties. Their colors range from bright yellow to orange to maroon. They have lovely flowers with a kaleidoscope of color combinations and when I’m watering my garden they always make me smile--plus they attract beneficial insects.

'Lemon Gems' make the perfect addition to any salad.

 

 

 

 

Edible, beneficial and beautiful, marigolds are my greenhouse guardians and keepers of my garden.


 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tater Tires for Season Extension and Increased Potato Production in Alaska

By Mary Hinckley, an Alaska Master Gardener in Tok, Alaska


Several years ago on a trip Outside, Snooks and I discovered Andean Fingerling potatoes. Up until then we’d become increasingly disappointed in grocery store potatoes. They seemed to have lost their savor, containing only starch and no flavor. We agreed that they were more like filler than food. But in a health food store we discovered potatoes called 'Red Ruby Crescent.' Brand new to us, we decided to give them a try and paid the outlandish price of five dollars for a two-pound bag. We boiled them up for dinner and liked them so much that if the store had still been open, we’d have gone back for more. Delicious, like the potatoes of old, they were thick, smooth, creamy and with added butter, superb. We revised our opinions about potatoes right then and vowed to grow fingerlings.

At the time we were in our motor home in southern Missouri and our garden consisted of several 5-gallon buckets. We started the potatoes in one of these pails, on a small layer of dirt. We covered them with more dirt and watered. As the plants grew we kept covering them with dirt and paid attention to water. It was quite hot in Missouri and although our tomato crop flourished, heat may have been the reason our potatoes never got very big. Fingerlings are small to begin with, but these looked more like the bullets than potatoes. We decided to try again when we got back to Alaska.

Once back home, Snooks developed a growing process that was so successful with potatoes that we decided to use it for all our greenhouse crops as well. First, he starts with regular old tires. Any kind of tire will do and we use different ones for different things, but for potatoes we use the largest tire we can. First he cuts out the sides of the tire. Then the gorillas come in to help turn it inside out, but it doesn’t really take great strength or gorillas as turning gets easier once you develop your technique. Once the tire is turned inside out we have a planter, a tater tire!

Tires ready to plant. Photo by Mary Hinckley.

We wash the tater tire off and place it in the garden. A layer of fresh dirt is set in and seed fingerlings on top of that. The seed potatoes are covered with more dirt and watered. As the plants grow the process is repeated We make sure enough of both is added. The plants are watered even more once they flower.

The potatoes are ready to harvest when the plants start to die, usually after the frost. We cut them off at ground level. Now the tater tires really come in handy; all we do is flip them over. No digging, just hunting, gathering and brushing off the dirt. Each tire yielded 10-15 pounds of potatoes. We reserve the biggest ones for next year’s planting and bag the bulk of the harvest to store under our house for winter use.

Fingerling potatoes. Photo by Heidi Rader.
'Red Ruby Crescent' potatoes were a great discovery for us and as they are an Andean potato, they adapt very well to our Alaskan climate. We’ve grown other fingerlings here but have found our favorite to grow and eat is the 'Red Ruby Crescent.' Another reason the discovery was so good was because it resulted in the development of tater tires. They have proven to be very good planters. Though the Andean potatoes like cooler conditions than in Missouri, our cool, Tok spring was too harsh for the crops of some other potato farmers here. But our black, tater tires drew heat and kept our potatoes comfortable enough to grow.

We also use tater tires in our greenhouse. The inside planters consist of two stacked tires. In the bottom one Snooks puts fresh horse manure and above he puts our soil, a mixture of Tok dirt and aged horse manure. As the early, spring sun hits the greenhouse the tires heat up, more heat is generated by the manure so the soil in the top tire gets even warmer. So far, by incorporating this stacked system into our insulated greenhouse we’ve extended our growing season by more than a month.

Both as season enhancers and season extenders, tater tires work for us.

For more information, check out Growing Potatoes in the Alaska Garden.

And ALWAYS be sure to buy and plant Alaskan certified disease free potatoes. This is the best way to prevent potato diseases such as the late blight outbreak of 2011 in Alaska.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Watering Your Garden Without Running Water or Electricity


By Evan Stirling, An Alaska Master Gardener in Ester, Alaska


Welcome back for the update on starting a garden in Interior Alaska. One of the things I had tried to emphasize in my first posting was that a lot of gardening seems to be about patience. We’ve met a lot of people who use gardening almost as a sort of meditative practice, which seems really great. With that said, if you are just starting out like us, it’s hard not to go all gang-busters crazy with all the things to do, but make sure to enjoy it and remember that you can (and should!) only take on so much at a time. It should be fun, and when you get down to it you can’t rush nature—and after all, a garden is hopefully as best a reflection of the natural world as we can manage while still trying to feed ourselves (physically and spiritually).

Enough philosophizing and back to some more nuts and bolts of our new garden. Water—one of the most critical aspects of gardening. Remember, plants need soil to grow in, sun, water, and carbon dioxide. We’ve been through location (sun) and soil, and carbon dioxide is always present in our atmosphere, so now we’ll consider water. Without water, plants as well as people, don’t survive. And our annual vegetable plants that we love to grow, even in the desert of Interior Alaska, need a LOT of water to be productive. We’re talking an average of an inch of water per week, and in Fairbanks we only see about 11 inches of precipitation all year! Yikes. So, to have a successful garden here you have to really think about where your water is coming from. This is true everywhere, actually, as freshwater is an incredibly precious resource that is growing more scarce everyday. We would all do well to use it wisely and conservatively.

Our 55 gallon drum collecting water from the gutters.
If you live on city water or have your own well, you are probably covered and don’t need to read much more here. But if you are like us and live without running water in your home or on your land, then this is pretty crucial. I can’t claim to be any kind of expert, and I will tell you up front that we have nowhere near enough water storage yet for our own garden, but I will pass along to you what we have done so far and also what some other folks do. One of the simplest and best things you can do for your garden is to collect rainwater. This is a topic in and of itself, but the basics are just that: hang gutters and collect the water in some type of vessel. For us, we started with just collecting water in one 55-gallon and one 30-gallon drum because it was what we had. We then carried buckets of water to our fledgling garden last year when we were there. Not ideal, but it worked.

 This year we have upped our game and run PVC directly from the gutter downspout outlets to a 250-gallon storage tank in our garden. We already know that this amount of storage will not come close to meeting our needs for the subsistence-sized garden we hope to grow. We’ve gathered from friends that we would need more like 1500 gallons of storage for our size of a garden. If we could only find a tank that size without buying a new one…
Our raised, 250 gallon tank, with PVC pipe running to the garden.

All of this will clearly be determined by your own situation on your property and in your garden. We have the ‘disadvantage’ of our cabin sitting slightly lower than the top of our garden. This meant that we needed to keep the water as high as possible to be able to maintain pressure once it was in the storage tank. Many people construct a system where they have a smaller storage tank up high on a stand of some type and just pump water up to it from a larger holding tank on the ground when needed using a small electric pump. We don’t have electricity and haven’t invested in any type of powered pump so that is out of the question for us, for now.

Another method of collecting water that quite a few folks in Fairbanks do is to collect the spring snowmelt by funneling it somehow into either a holding tank or large collection pond. Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, relies on water collected in ponds from snowmelt in the spring to water a 3 acre farm. Water can then be pumped ‘uphill’ from there to various storage tanks to create pressure for use in watering. I should also mention at this stage that this is a good time to consider how you will be watering your garden. It is sufficient to hand-water, using a watering can or garden hose, but I would highly recommend creating some type of drip irrigation system. I won’t get into all the details of drip irrigation, but there are loads of great resources out there, including a nice blog post from Heidi Rader, with the Cooperative Extension Service: Got Gravity? 10 Steps to set-up a low-tech drip-irrigation system using gravity and rain. The principle of drip irrigation is simple: it uses water most efficiently and helps to send water deeper into the soil to encourage deeper root development. It also doesn’t take much pressure to run drip irrigation so you don’t have to worry about having a super-high water tank if you live without running water or even lack electricity.

I hope all of that helps somewhat for those of you who are gardening in Interior Alaska in one of the warmest June's on record without running water. Again, I’m no expert, but have been collecting ideas from many places for years. For now, this is where we are starting. We know we need more storage and we would love to collect the spring snowmelt in some type of pond if we can. We shall see!

We have loved this process of developing our own garden and hope the same for you. Never stop learning. There are so many wonderful gardeners in our town and things to learn all the time. Don’t be afraid to try something out and if it’s not working for you, do something different. Gardening is definitely not all science. Until next time, happy gardening!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Got Pests!? Identifying and Controlling Pests in Alaska using Integrated Pest Management Techniques


By Glenna Gannon, Alaska Master Gardener Teaching Assistant


Have you ever planted your beautifully pampered seedlings only to wake the next day and find them riddled with holes? This year that is exactly what happened to me. I noticed a smattering of holes all over my pak choi especially, and arugula to a lesser extent.

Step 1: Identify your pest 

 

When we find that our precious vegetables starts that we have nursed along through the Alaskan spring are attacked before they have a chance to thrive, it is easy to feel a bit demoralized. The good news is there are plenty of Alaska specific pest management resources that are widely available and free here.

Pak choi under attack!
The first step in managing a problem or a pest is to identify who or what the culprit is. This can be done by carefully inspecting your plants individually, often times it is hard to see what is causing the damage, so a close inspection is imperative. Take notes, if you have specific field notes, it will be easier to determine what symptoms belong to abiotic or biotic problems or pests. It is also a good idea to take pictures of the damage and of the pest if possible. This will be useful in identification.

Step 2: Consult and Research 


Now that you have documented your pest or problem, you can do a couple of things. The first may be to consult your library of gardening books to see if there is any mention of a species or abiotic cause that produces symptoms similar to what you are seeing in your garden. A few of my personal favorites are The Alaska Gardening Guide, by Ann D. Roberts, and The Vegetable Gardeners Bible, by Edward C. Smith.

The Culprit: Flea Beetles, small  jumping beetles of the Chrysomelidae family.
Another option that is available to Alaskans is the Cooperative Extension Services’ Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Integrated Pest Management is a commonsense approach to the management of pest problems with minimal impact on human health, the environment and non-target organisms. This approach focuses on the biology of pests and their relationship to the environment. The first step in an IPM program is to identify any organism in question, and to completely investigate the situation. IPM is not a single pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls. You can find out more about the IPM program, as well as find contact information for IMP specialists at: https://www.uaf.edu/ces/ipm/
 
Services that are available through the IPM program include: Evaluation and identification of insects, plant and disease specimens. Recommendation of IPM control options to reduce pest problems. And, site visits to examine tree disorders and invasive plants in the field (location dependent).

Step 3: Implement Control Technique


Depending on how you go about identifying your problem, your control techniques may be varied. For example, if you don’t have a confirmed ID on your pest or problem, you may do some trial and error control methods before your see results. Another go-to tactic is proper Cultural management of your garden, properly watering and placing the plant in proper location to reduce stress will greatly reduce your crops susceptibility to pests and problems.

If you do get a positive ID on your pest or problem, you can go about implementing the recommended control technique, and documenting the results. Keep in mind you may not see immediate results, especially when using organic control techniques.

Step 4: Evaluating Results


Once you have implemented your control technique, it is important to continue to monitor your plants to ensure that your strategy worked sufficiently. Keeping notes may be beneficial for future reference. Another reason to keep monitoring your crops if you are working with the IPM Program is that they often utilize information, photos, and observations recorded by you, Citizen Scientists, to aid their program and State wide database. Volunteer citizen scientists may be given opportunities to receive training from a variety of experts on a multitude of topics regarding IPM. You can learn more about this program, and submitting your photographs for identification here: http://www.uaf.edu/ces/ipm/cmp/

Summary

 

So back to the attack on my pak choi, I successfully identified my culprit, the flea beetle, through a number of gardening references including the aforementioned books and by using the Google Extension Search. This search engine exclusively searches Extension sites nationwide so you know that the information is research-based. I found a number of control techniques recommended, and decided to start with one that I a.) had on hand, and b.) was organic, and the least harmful to myself and other garden inhabitants. I started with a Neem oil spray on the foliage of my plants, and covered my upcoming seedlings with row covers to prevent further damage. Much of the literature I consulted regarding control of this pest recommended the use of a 'trap crop'. Effectively  that is what my pak choi is, as the beetles don't seem that interested in many of the other plants surrounding them. I am currently in stage one of controlling these pests. It seems to be keeping the problem down to a tolerable level, however if I notice a new infestation, I will be applying beneficial nematodes to the garden, and potentially applying Diatomaceous earth to better manage the beetles.
Neem Oil is an effective pest control, you can also buy agricultural grade.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Gardening North of the Arctic Circle

by Jennifer Dillard, An Alaska Master Gardener North of the Arctic Circle!


New to Alaska, my husband and I moved to Bettles Field, a remote Interior Alaska community, ready to embrace a new way of living. Having lived in Wisconsin and Illinois where I had my own garden and participated in a community garden, I felt confident in my gardening skills but translating these skills into Arctic conditions was a completely new and challenging journey for me. Fully aware that I lacked even the basic knowledge of how to garden in the land that boasts both permafrost and the midnight sun, I signed up for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service’s Alaska Master Gardener Online Course. Course completed and one full year of living north of the Arctic Circle under my belt, I embarked upon the daunting task of helping a friend in my local community, build, design, plant and maintain a garden from scratch.

Eager to apply my new found knowledge, skills and abilities to a local gardening project I began talking to local community members about the possibility of starting a community shared garden. After a very insightful conversation with a long term resident, I decided that my best course of action would be to start small and he suggested that I begin by helping him set-up a new garden plot on the property he is living on. Excellent suggestion - let the planning begin!

 

To-do List


Finally the time had come for us to celebrate the break-up of the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River and as we patiently waited for the snow to completely melt we spent some time assessing the garden area and coming up with our game plan. Here is what we came up with:

1. Get the water pump working again so we have a watering source for the garden

2. Rototill a large plot of his land so we could plant potatoes and have some additional soil to use in our raised bed

3. Build a raised bed

4. Use both seeds and starter plants

5. Purchase and use only organic fertilizer

6. Share the responsibility of maintaining the garden and harvesting

7. Plan an end of season harvest celebration

8. Share the responsibility for clean-up and winterization

 

Rototilling

 

The last week in May 2011 marked the beginning of this community garden project as we dusted off the rototiller and set to work getting our thumbs green. Using the rototiller proved to be quite an experience. It was brand new, but for some reason we had a really tough time getting it running properly. The earth was so dense and compact that we literally had to force it to run through the soil. After 2 days of back-breaking work, we decided to scale back the size of the space we were rototilling to accommodate a small plot for potatoes and additional soil for our raised bed. Incidentally, we found out later that we weren’t properly engaging the self-propelling mechanism on the rototiller’s wheel - making our muscles the only things moving this machine in the earth…uggh!

Soil


Earth moved, we quickly assessed the quality of the soil and realized that it was unsuitable for planting a garden. Why, you ask? Because the earth was full of fertile soil but it was bound together in large clumps by extensive plant root systems. I knew that we were going to have to contend with the effects of permafrost on the soil, but we didn’t even think about the fact that we would have to further process the soil before we could use it. My very creative and astute friend remembered seeing a neighbor use a homemade sieve in her garden and thought we might be able to do the same. Luckily, we had all the supplies to build a mesh sieve that worked like a charm.

We took the large clumps of matted soil and grated it along the mesh until enough useable soil piled up under the sieve. Because of this very time consuming process we were able to come up with enough soil to fill our raised bed, but the garden bed we were going to use to plant potatoes never came to fruition, oh well something to aim towards for next year’s garden. Thrilled that we had averted our first of many obstacles we set our sights on our next task at hand – building a raised bed!


Building a Raised Bed


Finally, a raised bed!
Building the raised bed was a much bigger job than we had initially thought it would be. We picked out the perfect spot, right next to the well house.  We measured out the space and then realized quickly that we had neither enough wood nor soil to make our raised bed as big as we wanted to. So we scaled ourselves back and set our sights on building a raised bed that worked within our constraints. The end of the day brought us an immense amount of satisfaction as we imagined what our garden would look like within this new wooden framework we had just built.


Planting the Garden


Planting day had arrived, we gathered up all of our supplies (i.e., gardening tools, gloves, watering cans, seeds, starter plants etc…) eager to get something in the ground we had so lovingly prepared. Because we had to change the size and scope of our raised bed, we had to spend some additional time re-designing our garden layout. This was the fun part, since now we could move around our little pots of plants to make sure we had enough space for everything to have adequate room to grow. Being that we are novices at this, we overestimated everything – we bought way too many starter plants so in the end we had to put some of them in pots and wooden planters.

Caring for the Garden Together


Mental notes made, we saturated our newly planted garden with a big drink of water and mapped out who would be responsible for garden maintenance (i.e., watering, weeding, thinning of plants, etc…) on our calendar. We agreed to share these chores equally, I would do all of June and half of August and he would do all of July and the other half of August.

Mosquitoes, Snowshoe Hares, and Puppies!


The summer season went along with the regular cast of characters: mosquitoes, snowshoe hares as well as many other pests and critters, affecting our garden and us as we tried to maintain it. We were well-prepared to deal with some of the regular factors involved in growing a garden in the Interior, but something new came into play that is an experience perhaps unique to Alaska – rambunctious sled dogs. My friend has over 20 sled dogs and added 4 furry, bundles of joy to his kennel over the winter. The adult dogs didn’t seem to be too interested in the garden when they got off their harnesses, but the puppies ran through the soft dirt collected in a big pile under the mesh sieve and tore through the garden on several occasions. One particularly ornery female puppy, named Sweet Sugar, loved to dig around in the garden. After one energy filled race around the yard, she promptly decided to uproot one of our lettuce plants. She spent the rest of the afternoon tossing it around, eating it and rubbing herself all over it. I couldn’t be upset with this young, curious pup, so instead I sat on the ground and tossed the lettuce carcass around the yard so she could hone her retrieving skills. I did feel good at the end when I spied her gnawing on the lettuce during one of her rests between play, I figured at least it wasn’t totally going to waste.

Harvesting


Harvesting was the pinnacle of success in our mind. We ran around congratulating each other the first day we saw something green sprouting or saw evidence of our starter plants growing. But when we made a salad with our first fully grown head of lettuce, we smacked our lips, smiled and beamed with pride over what we had accomplished. My friend continued to enjoy the fruits of his labor as his new garden provided him with fresh produce (i.e., different varieties of lettuce, kale, onions, spinach, herbs) throughout the entire season.

The end of the gardening season came much too fast; Fall was slowly but surely creeping in as we ushered in the month of September. As luck would have it my in-laws were in town during our end of the season harvest and we were able to put out a spread of fresh goodies from our garden to share with them and everyone who wanted to join us for our celebration. Around the table we shared stories of our gardening mishaps and successes; we solicited input and advice from my father-in-law who is a lifelong gardener with one of the greenest thumbs I have ever seen and most importantly we started to make plans for the following year’s garden. Despite having to contend with some of the unique challenges that come along with the Alaskan gardening experience like permanently frozen ground and sled dogs, the forgiving presence of sunshine as the perpetual garden food source made us look as if we were seasoned gardeners. We plan on writing a new chapter in this Bettles Field adventure, we promise to keep you posted as our garden continues to grow and we share our new found knowledge with others in our community.

Nothing beats fresh lettuce! Photo by Heidi Rader.