Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Is the "Permaculture Design" movement just another "New Age" scam ?

I am probably going to make a few enemies with this opinion, but I must be honest; we need to promote more self sufficient living. Why not plant a garden, raise a few chickens and preserve what we grow?


Then again, I don’t feel comfortable supporting the “Permaculture Movement” or the educational organization known as "The Permaculture Institute". I see no real value in their expensive classes – that reach a very small audience at a very high cost – or the “Permaculture Design Certificate” with very little value in return for the price. It seems to me that there should be a more equitable way to provide instruction without a profit motive. I may be wrong, and many associated with this movement may truly have good intentions, but I get a feeling that some “Instructors” sound more interested in teaching the “Permaculture Design Course” as a way to make money instead of really helping people that could use some good advice. Like many similar movements, they charge for classes to learn there ideology and for a higher fee you can become an "instructor" to teach classes for profit.  To be honest – I kinda feel like the whole “Permaculture Movement” smells like a scam. Some very well-meaning people have simply bought into the idealism as many did with “Transcendental Meditation”, “Feng Sui”, “EST”, and other “New Age” movements.  There will always be a few people that can afford to pay for the expensive classes, but many who could really use some instruction and encouragement, like low income working families, cannot afford the high price.  In this struggling economy we need to reach a large audience and show that anybody can grow some of their own food and not just a few of the 1% that can afford the expensive programs.  Teaching 1000 people, instead of 10 or 20, how to set up an indoor salad garden to grow lettuce, kale, chard, and grape tomatoes during the long Alaska winters with donations or a sponsor makes much more sense to me.

 
 

There are many good examples of "self sufficient living" information online for free - and I don't personally see very much in the “Permaculture Movement” that is new or unique. I have followed Robert Rodale, Elliot Coleman, Ruth Stout, Scott and Helen Nearing, Will Allen and others for years. They have been teaching the same principals for decades through Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News magazines, GrowingPower.org urban agriculture, many very affordable books, and now with free online videos... https://youtu.be/Pyd3sYmCPUM

I try to practice what I preach and provide complete plans for the Alaska Grow Buckets system online for free. It was not my original idea, but I made some changes and improvements. I put a lot of work into designing my very simple instruction booklet and even made a free video. I pay to host my Alaska Grow Buckets website and I reach 1,000-2,000 new visitors each week. I share my improvements and failures all for free. Anybody can get the complete instructions and make this simple growing system. I did it myself from parts I picked up locally or online for free or at very little cost. Some people prefer to buy my kits and I try to keep the price as low as possible. I would like to set up a donation system so that for every 10 kits sold I could donate a free kit to a local community garden organization. It will not feed your family after a disaster – but it is a simple step in the right direction. People in cities, like Anchorage and Fairbanks, still want Avocados in January, and much of what we eat cannot be produced here.  It is still cheaper to grow tomatoes in Mexico and ship them to Alaska all winter than it would cost to grow enough here to fill the supermarkets. I can grow enough fresh tomatoes in my living room for myself all winter and so can anybody else… sharing that knowledge should not be limited to a few that can afford to pay for an expensive class.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Soilless Grow Mix for Alaska Grow Buckets


You can buy commercial grow mix usually in large 3.8 Cubic ft. bales made from Sphagnum peat, lime, perlite, and vermiculite or you can mix your own. You can usually find commercial grow mix at Home Depot or Lowe's Home Centers and many local garden centers. The brand is not important, just check the label for ingredients. One large bale should fill six Alaska Grow Buckets.



Sphagnum peat moss is a stable organic material that holds 15 to 30 times its weight in water and decomposes very slowly. It contains about 1% N but little is released because it breaks down so slowly. It has a pH of about 4 so lime must be added to the mix with sphagnum peat, at the rate of 8.5 lb. per cubic yard of peat to neutralize the acidity.

Coco Coir comes from coconut husks and is a waste product of the coco fiber industry. It has physical properties much like peat but a higher pH of about 6. It holds up to nine times its weight in water. It can have a high salt content. It comes in compressed blocks that must be soaked in water for several hours or overnight before mixing with other ingredients.

Limestone is either calcitic (high calcium) or dolomitic (high magnesium; both are used to increase the pH of a mix but dolomite lime is preferable for supplying both Ca and Mg.

Vermiculite helps hold water and fertilizer in the potting mix, and it also contains some calcium and magnesium. It has a pH near neutral. Vermiculite comes in different grades; medium grade is usually used for starting seeds, a coarse grade may be used for larger plants.

Perlite is a volcanic rock that has been heated and expanded. It is lightweight, sterile and has a neutral pH. It can be used to reduce the weight of a potting mix and increase its aeration and drainage.

Mycorrhizae Fungi colonize the root system of a host plant, providing increased water and nutrient absorption capabilities while the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates formed from photosynthesis.

Most commercial grow mixes have the proper ratio of ingredients plus wetting agents and may contain Mycorrhizae Fungi and fertilizer - check package label for ingredients.


DIY Grow Mix Recipe:

Bucket = 5 Gallon Bucket to measure.

3 Buckets Sphagnum peat + 1 cup dolomitic Lime
OR
3 Buckets of damp Coco coir pre-soaked in water (follow pkg instruction)

Mixed with
1.5 Buckets Perlite
1.5 Buckets vermiculite

This should make enough to fill six Alaska Grow Buckets. You can also add your own Mycorrhizae Fungi and a slow release organic fertilizer at planting time.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Starting Seeds for 2016 in Wasilla

Getting a jump on the growing season up here is the secret to a successful garden in Alaska. That means starting seeds indoors while there is still snow on the ground. For some reason Mother Nature has decided to skip Winter this year and move directly into a very early Spring thaw. We have had very little snow, out here in my neighborhood. Although I can't complain, it would still be very foolish to expect this mild weather to last without some freezing nights. So you stick with your normal planting schedule and keep your seedlings indoors until all danger of a killing frost are over. Most of March has had daytime high temperatures in the 40's and even a few sunny 50 degree days, but nighttime lows can vary from the 20's to mid 30's.


I use a large wire shelf system for starting seeds indoors under florescent lights. The shelf racks are 48" wide by 18" deep  and come with 5 shelves that you can customize to your preference.

4 Light Heavy Duty Shoplight


The light system I prefer is the Lithonia Lighting 4 Light Heavy Duty Shoplight with 4 Phillips 32 watt T8 6500 degree daylight florescent bulbs at 2750 Lumens each for a total output of 11,000 Lumens.


I start my tomatoes around the first of March. I am trying Bush Early Girl Hybrid tomato this year that is supposed to be resistant to fungal disease and less prone to cracking than the Extreme Bush Tomato that I have been growing. I prefer the shorter bush tomato varieties as they do not grow too tall inside my greenhouse. I have been very happy with my Bio-Dome seedling trays that use foam grow plugs in a floating Styrofoam base. These are sold by Park Seed Company. Unfortunately they charge extra for shipping to Alaska.

http://astore.amazon.com/mygardenproducts-20/detail/B003ST9WQI

This year I found a similar tray system on Amazon and it is working very well. The Hydrofarm Smart Smart Float Grow Tray with plugs is a good option for starting seeds indoors.


These are my bell pepper seedlings in my new Smart Float Grow Tray. I am growing North Star hybrid, King of the North, Sibirskiy Knyaz, Miniature Red Bell, and Zolotistiy Yellow.


This is a tray of eggplant seedlings and I am trying Patio Hybrid and Satin Moon Hybrid - both are shorter container varieties that should do well in my Alaska Grow Buckets.

I also have broccoli, kale, and several herbs started indoors.  Follow along as I get ready for another Alaska garden season using my Alaska Grow Buckets self-watering garden system.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Time To Start Your Alaska Winter Garden ?

Have you started your winter garden yet? No kidding winter will be here much sooner than we all would like, but that doesn't mean you have to give up growing food at home.


We just have to move our garden indoors. Since many of us already start our own seedlings, long before it is warm enough to garden outside in Alaska, we already have what it takes to continue growing food all year long. The cost for fresh salad greens and tasteless winter tomatoes at our local grocery store can cause sticker shock and disappointment. So why aren't more Alaska gardeners growing a winter salad garden indoors? With little effort anybody can grow lettuce, kale, chard, spinach, ...etc with a few containers and a good grow light. Even fresh tomatoes in December are not difficult, with the many varieties of dwarf and super dwarf tomatoes available. An adjustable shelf system can do double duty growing seedlings in February and a full salad garden during our long Alaska winters.


You should start seedlings in late summer in order to have fresh tomatoes in mid-winter, but it is never to late, so what are you waiting for? There are 3 tomato varieties that I recommend: 


Red Robin dwarf tomato

Red Robin will grow 18-20 inches tall and produce 2" fruit. It will need a half gallon pot and some support. Perfect for a sunny window but will do better with a supplemental grow light during our short winter days.

Tiny Tim

Micro Tom

Tiny Tim and Micro Tom are 2 other varsities that only grow 12-14 inches tall and produce 1" cherry or grape sized tomatoes. Both will do well in hanging baskets also, but do best with a good grow light and I run my lights on a simple timer set for 16 hours a day.



Growing lettuce, chard, kale, ...etc. indoors all winter is a no-brainer that anybody can do with a widow box planter or any container that will fit your space. A shelf with a grow light is all that it takes.

So what are you waiting for? Let's grow food all year - even here in Alaska... Follow along on my Alaska Grow Buckets Facebook page and share some of your indoor garden pictures this winter.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

How Much Food Do You Grow ?

We can all grow some of our own food at home - or buy local grown. The sad fact is that it is still cheaper to grow tomatoes in Mexico in January and ship them 4,000 miles to Anchorage, Alaska - instead of the cost for heating and lighting the space necessary to grow them here commercially, or in Fairbanks, Nome, or Barrow... We have become accustomed to having fresh tomatoes, strawberries, bananas, and avocados all year long. We Alaskans are used to smoking, canning, and freezing salmon for eating after the fishing season - Whatever happened to preserving what we grow for eating after the garden season? There is a small group of dedicated gardeners who do - but it is not the normal practice - not even for most of the hobby gardeners that you meet on sites like this. What would it take for you to put up 100 or more pints of tomato sauce, or pickles, grow 100 lbs of onions, or potatoes, freeze 50 quart bags each of broccoli, peas, green beans ...etc. 


Yet anybody can grow 3 tomato plants and 12 lettuce, or kale plants in pots or containers in their kitchen or a corner of the living room - all winter long ...what is your excuse?


Our dependence on a small portion of the earth to grow most of our consumable food depends on a large transportation industry to deliver market fresh produce, meat, and dairy products on a just-in-time schedule - where almost 40% ends up being wasted due to spoilage. Disruption of this system could have disastrous consequences. Just look at the California drought as a warning that will expand as climate change impacts global agriculture. I recently saw a post online that brings this point home. 

Steven Johnson of Medium.com wrote"
"California has plenty of water to support its lifestyle. It just won’t have enough to support its crops, without significant changes to make those farms more water-efficient. It seems bizarre that a region like the Central Valley with just six million people — barely more than 10% of the state’s population — should use so much of the water. But then you realize that the vast majority of people benefiting from that water don’t live in California at all. The Central Valley takes up only 1% of the landmass of the United States, but it produces 25% of the food we eat, and almost half of the fruits or nuts we consume. California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country. The average Times reader sneering at those desert lawns from the Upper West Side might want to think about the canned tomatoes, avocados, and almonds in his or her kitchen before denouncing the irresponsible lifestyles of the California emigres. Because the truth is California doesn’t have a water problem. We all do."  
 ...read his complete article here titled Apocalyptic Schadenfreude.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Spring Planting Begins...

It is that time of the year again, when all of the gardeners in the Matsu Valley, here in South Central, Alaska rush to get everything planted out in their garden just as early as absolutely possible. The warm sunny days are so tempting to set out plants and yet the idea of another killer frost overnight is always in the back of your mind. I took the extra step years ago to purchase a home weather station and tracking overnight low temperatures in my home garden has saved my bacon several times. I found out that my garden can be 5-10 degrees colder than surrounding locations just a mile or two away. Just this morning, on Sunday May 17, I recorded an overnight low of 31 degrees. Luckily I took the time, before going to bed, to set up a small electric space heater inside my greenhouse that kept the temperature inside above 40 degrees.  

Click image for larger view.
My property is lower than my neighbors and slopes slightly to the northwest. I am also on the edge of a valley. So all of the cold air flows down to the valley overnight and right through my yard. It is not the optimal location to be sure. Yet, this has been another mild winter with a very early Spring warm-up. The climate here in Alaska is definitely warming faster than anywhere else. When I first moved to Alaska, 24 years ago, the well known Iditirod Sled Dog Race had their Official Start here in Wasilla, yet about 10 years ago they had to move 30 miles further north because of our lack of snow. For the second time, in the past 10 years, they had to move the whole race this year to Fairbanks and change the route completely due to the lack of snow on the traditional trail. So on Saturday May 16, I spent the day planting my cold tolerant crops out in my garden. I planted broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, and onions.


I also set up a covered hoop tunnel and set out some zucchini plants under plastic. 


I constructed these wire covered cages last year to keep the neighborhood moose from destroying my garden, as they regularly did in the past. I plan to be planting some winter squash, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers out under hoop tunnels later this week. My main crop tomatoes and some eggplant will be planted in my Alaska Grow Buckets inside the greenhouse.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Gardening Update Saturday May 9

The nights are just beginning to stay in the upper 30's, but I am still not brave enough to set plants outside just yet. Our average last frost date is May 20th and my front yard micro-climate can be 5-10 degrees colder than surrounding locations on a clear night. I have yet to connect my electric space heater or my propane heater out in the greenhouse. And my home weather station was still showing low nighttime temperatures below freezing just last week. My indoor seedling racks are just about bursting at the seams, so moving out to the greenhouse will need to happen pretty soon.


I believe the #1 cause for spindly weak seedlings is not enough light. I use 6 - T12 or 4 - T8 or 4 - T5 bulbs per shelf and my lights are on for 16 hrs each day. You might notice the placement of my TomatoCam in the photo. This is my new netcam that will be moving out to the greenhouse along with my plants soon. Come back as often as you like to monitor my growing season, here in Wasilla.