Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Last of the Greenhouse Veggies

I cleaned out the greenhouse today and picked the last of the tomatoes, peppers, and a few eggplant. I think I will make some green tomato chutney. This will go down as another summer that never was - as it rarely got above 65 degrees and rained almost every day.

I learned a lot this year about what works and what does not work for greenhouse gardening. I am still sold on the grow bucket system - but the key to good yield is not to be greedy and crowd  your plants. They need space to breath and allow air circulation to help remove excess moisture. Fewer plants will allow greater yield per plant and reduce disease.

The majority of the garden ended up as moose food again - so number one on my to-do list for next spring will be a moose fence.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Berry Season in Wasilla

We finally had enough rain free days in August to get out and pick berries. I added a second raspberry bed and the new plants produced a few berries, but they will do much better next year. So far we picked about 8 lbs of raspberries. There are still quite a few that are not quite ripe and and hopefully we will get a few more weeks before frost.

This was our first Gooseberry crop and today I picked a little over 10 lbs from 3 bushes that I set out 3 years ago. The berries are washed, spread out on cookie sheets, and placed in the freezer. After freezing solid they are sealed in Food Saver vacuum bags and stored in our deep freeze. Later this year we plan to use the berries to make some more Chateau Listeur vintage country wine.

We set a new all time record for consecutive rain-days this summer. I stopped counting somewhere over 30. Our best weather was way back in May with a string of warm sunny days. It turned cloudy and wet in June and never let up through July and into August. The neighborhood moose have had their fill of most of our vegetables. My decision to put off building a moose fence is something I have to accept.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Garden Disaster... it happened again.

 Sometime while we slept last Thursday night and again on Friday night the local moose paid us a visit. It has happens every summer. We were not able to catch the thief in the act. I believe they are passing along the knowledge from cow to calf and each new generation returns to the same locations annually. The only answer is a stout log fence topped with electric wire. I chose a greenhouse instead and put off the fence.  We really could not afford both at the same time. What can I say... that's a choice I made and I understood the risk. They didn't quite get everything - broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kohlrabi are pretty much gone and the snap peas took a hit too. I am afraid they will be back. We will still keep watching - but you can't stand guard 24 hours. The fence is still  #1 on our to-do list and hopefully this won't happen again next year. We still have strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, eggplants, peppers, beets, green beans, some peas and greenhouse tomatoes doing fine. They usually take their favorite plants first - and then work their way through the less desirable ones over time. We shall see. We have learned to accept these magnificent creatures as our neighbors. That's just part of life in the Last Frontier.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shortcake Tonight...

Looks like we are having Strawberry Shortcake tonight !

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July Garden Update

The greenhouse tomatoes are going crazy. I may have to start pruning them as some have already reached the ceiling. I am learning as I go and next year I will not plant so many buckets and certainly not so close together! I tried using a Blossom Set spray last week and I have started spraying with an organic fungicide spray as some of the lower foliage is showing signs of disease. It does stay very humid despite the ventilation. There are many green tomatoes and we should have plenty to pick in a few weeks.

A hungry Robin got our first ripe strawberry and I quickly put up a Bird Net to protect the rest.

The strawberry plants are loaded and it won't be long before we have enough to start making jam.

This will be our first Gooseberry crop and along with Gooseberry pie it looks like we may have enough to try some Gooseberry wine too.

The Eggplants and Peppers are looking much better after a slow start during our cool rainy June weather. I am learning that these plants are very temperature sensitive and can use all of the warmth that they can get. They seem to do better when I leave the grow tunnel closed even when the temperature climbs near 100 degrees inside.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June Garden Update

Gardening in Alaska really takes off in June and we have been very busy as usual. Memorial Day weekend is the official safe garden planting date and the garden centers and nurseries are crowded with last minute shoppers. Most of the popular plants are picked over or sold out within a week or two at the most.

Marna's flower garden is just beginning it's colorful summer show. The pink Forget-Me-Nots have filled in any open spots. The Iris opened up this week and the Columbine started setting blossoms. The big red Oriental Ladybird Poppies are ready to bloom any day.

The unique Himalayan Blue Poppy - Meconopsis Lingholm - opened it's first bloom just this morning. We have been told that  more true blue colored flowers do well in Alaska's short cool summers than any other region.

We added a rock garden in front of the greenhouse and it seems to be settling in very well. I really like the way Marna designed the layout and the plants that she chose.

We just completed a second flower bed yesterday and Marna set out Burpee's Giants Hollyhocks, Dwarf Stock, Foxglove, and Lobelia that she started from seed along with Iris, a Chocolate Sunflower, and Iceland Poppy that she picked up at a garden show.

Jim added a second raspberry bed and transplanted some volunteers from the first raspberry bed. The rest of the garden is really beginning to take off with our long summer days and the difference in just a few weeks never fails to amaze me.

The broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage are doing very well. The photo above left was taken  June 2nd and above right was taken June 22 - just 3 weeks later.

The onions are also looking good. Above Left was taken June 2 and above right was taken 3 weeks later. I am trying Stuttgart and Yellow Ebenezer onions this year.

The greenhouse tomatoes are going wild and I am afraid I may eventually run out of room if they don't slow down. This is my first time using the grow-bucket system and I am very impressed with the progress so far.

It looks like we are going to have a bumper strawberry crop this year and the gooseberry bushes are full of berries also.

We still don't have a moose fence and Jim has already had to chase away a pair of yearlings that were prowling behind the house and were in the process of sampling the neighbor's garden. We are on constant moose patrol and have a bowl of firecrackers by the door just in case.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Living on Alaska time.

Finding time to write my Blog during May has been difficult. In Alaska, time seems to defy physics and take on a life of it's own. Time seems to crawl by during the winter at a painfully slow pace. Watching the daylight hours shorten and slowly lengthen again seems to take an eternity. Then our beautiful long summer days seem to peak and begin to decline in the blink of an eye. Luckily you can spend winter researching seed catalogs in front of the wood stove and planning next summer's garden. Restraining myself from starting seeds too early never seems to work very well. As the snow finally melts in April and the bare ground returns the wish for a heated greenhouse to get a jump on the growing season makes more sense every year. Our simple plastic covered hoop house did not fulfill this need.

Timing is everything in Alaska. You get one shot each year to get your plants ready and set out at just the precise moment. Not too early, as the ground is slow to warm up, and not too late or they will not mature in our short growing season. Frost tolerant cole crops, root vegetables, onions, peas, kale, and chard can go in early, 3-4 weeks before the last average frost date. Green beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and squash are warm season crops that are generally not very frost tolerant without protection. I have found out the hard way that soil temperature is extremely important for these crops to do well. Investing in a soil thermometer is strongly recommended. Just because the afternoons are warm and sunny by mid May does not mean the ground is warm enough to plant green beans or set out pepper plants.

This summer I had planned to erect a moose fence around the garden, and I may still find time to fit in that project. One day in April, as I was browsing Craig's List, I found an ad for a used greenhouse that looked interesting. I thought we might be able to replace the hoop greenhouse and maybe add a propane space heater. Before I knew it, the greenhouse was on it's way and placed next to our garden. The ground was still frozen with puddles of melt water dotting our yard. Adding a raised insulated floor seemed to make sense. The greenhouse had a 2x4 frame covered with plastic sheeting and a shed style roof with one high 8 foot wall and one shorter 6 foot wall. Researching greenhouse plans, over the years, I found a similar style designed for a cold climate. I settled on a south facing shed style with an insulated north wall. The used greenhouse fit this design, but it seemed way too narrow for our needs. Expanding the dimensions by 3 feet seemed to make sense.

I built an insulated floor and added plywood sheeting to the north wall extended the side walls by 3 feet and re-framed the roof with new 2x6 rafters... whew! As it turned out I spent most of my free time in May dismantling and re-assembling the used greenhouse and I finally added the plants on Saturday, May 22.

The finished greenhouse is covered with 6 mil greenhouse plastic sheeting. I plan to replace this in the future with polycarbonate twin-wall panels. It has one automatic vent window and a solar powered exhaust fan.

I still need to install the propane space heater, but for now I am using an electric heater on cold nights.We have 12 tomatoes, 3 Bell Peppers, and 3 Eggplants in stacked 5 gallon bottom watering grow buckets.

This system was copied after the Global Bucket System and there are many similar designs on the Internet . They do a good job explaining the system in detail on their web site. They were not hard to put together. The buckets came from Home Depot and the other parts came from Far North Garden Supply. Any good Hydroponic supplier will have what you need.

All of the grow buckets are connected together with 1/2" tubing.

The system is attached to our house water supply by garden hose with an auto-fill float valve reservoir. It should be very easy to maintain. This is my first attempt at this system and I am anxious to see how it actually works.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Home Weather Station

Minor computer frustrations have interrupted my usual posting schedule lately. Specifically - I have been busy setting up a home weather station and configuring the software. I have always been interested in these devices and a close friend from California told me about one that they set up. So during the winter of 2008 I found a good deal at Costco and got one. The weather widget at the top of this blog is now displaying our home weather station data.

I am using a Honeywell model TE831W-2 home weather station. It has 2 remote temperature sensors, barometer, wind gauge, and rain gauge. I set it up last spring and I was able to monitor the temperature in our hoop greenhouse over the internet while I was at work. This involved connecting the base unit to a computer and required having the computer running all the time. The setup was not very convenient and it finally was disconnected. The base unit continued to operate and it was interesting to keep an eye on our local weather conditions. I did gather some good micro climate data from our property. This year I decided to try setting up an internet weather station again.

 I happen to have a very old Gateway computer sitting around and I bought a used Dell monitor on eBay and added a USB wireless network adapter. The software was installed and configured... this is where the fun began. Since I am not a network engineer this involved a lot of trial and error - and 2 expensive tech support calls to Linksys trying to troubleshoot my router. The router continues to cause connection problems and must be rebooted often.

 I looked at several weather software options and settled on Weather View 32. There is a trial version to try before you buy. I signed up with the Weather Underground Personal Weather Station network and they post the weather data on their network web site. You can easily embed your data to any  blog or web site that you manage. There are many other home weather stations in this area. My Personal Weather Station (PWS) ID is KAKWASIL18 and it is very interesting to compare data. You can click on the weather widget to bring up a more detailed page and from there you can link to other weather stations using the WonderMap located on the left of the page. I am hoping to use this data to better understand my micro climate and how it affects our growing season.

Monday, April 5, 2010

About Chateau Listeur... the name

I have been making home brewed beer since 1975 and started making hard apple cider and berry wines in 1980. After moving to Alaska it was very exciting to see all of the berries that grow very well  up here.  Growing my own berries in Alaska was a no-brainer. In Alaska I continued with my hobby making wine from produce that I bought. My goal is to make wine out of the fruits and berries that I grow myself.

I did plant a raspberry bed in my front yard in Anchorage and it was very productive as you can see.

My favorite resource for berry growing information is The Backyard Berry Book by Stella Otto.

When I moved out to Wasilla I brought some raspberry plants along and they are doing well out in my Wasilla garden. I have since added rhubarb, black currents, gooseberries, blackberries, and a strawberry bed. It is taking a few seasons for the berries to mature and become productive.

My country wine recipes make five gallons and require about 15 lbs of berries or fruit. I pick the berries as they ripen and wash and freeze them for later use. I have about 8 lbs of frozen raspberries saved so far. During my first summer in Wasilla I decided to visit Pyrah's Pioneer Peak Farm. They allow the public to pick their own produce. I came home with 25 lbs of rhubarb and set about producing my first vintage Chateau Listeur country wine... The complete step by step recipe for Alaska Rhubarb Wine can be found on my Alaska Home Wine-makers Blog.

Hence the name I chose to call the property is for use on my country wine labels as you can see. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Our Alaska gardening inspiration

Many Alaska gardeners are familiar with Les Brake and his Coyote Garden in Willow. His annual garden tour is well worth the drive into the Talkeetna Mountains about 2 hours north of Anchorage. There is a brief article about his techniques on the Home & Garden TV Web site. Les was featured in an episode of Gardening By The Yard with Paul James in 2005.

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Seed Starting Tray

We stopped in at Far North Garden Supply in Wasilla today to pick up some seedling flat inserts for potting the flower seedlings we have started. I found a seed starting tray that was similar to the Bio Dome system we have been using. This tray also uses a foam grow plug so I decided to give it a try and see how it compares.

 We decided to start broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage in the new tray system. The tray did not come with a clear germination dome and the clerk said they did not advise using one - but I had decided to use one to help keep the seeds moist. I will take it off when the seedlings are up.

The tomato plants are doing great in their 4" pots and it was necessary to raise the light fixtures today. They are looking very sturdy without any leggy growth. I believe it is from adding another light fixture to each shelf and buying all new bulbs.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Potted tomatoes today...

 Today Jim re-potted the tomatoes into 4" pots. It has been just 20 days since we started the tomatoes in Bio Dome flats and as you can see they have developed a very healthy root system.

 We are a strong believers in the Bio Dome system. It is easy and practically foolproof. I also think that bottom watering is the way to go. I think it is easier on the tiny seedlings and may reduce dampening off.

We use a 2 tray system to hold our seedling pots. The inner tray  has an open mesh bottom and the outer tray is solid without drain holes. It holds eighteen 4" square pots. Water is added to the trays and absorbed through the drain holes in each pot. We use Black Gold seedling mix that seems to wick moisture very well.. With this system I only add water when the trays are dry but before the pots dry out. This worked very well last year and we shall see if it works again.

Monday, March 22, 2010

19 days and doing fine...

Last Wednesday, March 17 we planted flower seeds.  Some of the flower seeds were very fine and the planting instructions said to sprinkle on top of soil and keep moist. We planted Lobelia in a traditional seedling flat filled with seed starting mix and covered with a clear plastic germination cover. We planted snapdragons in a Bio Dome flat with grow plugs. The Bio Dome instructions said fine seeds are just sprinkled on top of the grow plugs the same as you would do with planting mix. The larger hollyhock and stock seeds were put into the grow plugs as usual.

The other 2 Bio Dome flats with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants were moved from the heat mats to another shelf in our plant rack to make room for the new germination flats.

The Tomatoes are all doing great and really could be re-potted today into 4" pots. The eggplants are almost ready to re-pot and the peppers will be ready in another week or so.

The lobelia really startled us. The normal germination time is usually 15-20 days. Our's only took 6 days. Hope this is a good thing. We followed seed packet directions and did not cover the seeds.

These (above from left to right) are snapdragons: Burpee's Tall Mix, Maya's Snaps, and Burpee Dwarf Mix. Maya's Snaps are germinated from seeds my granddaughter and I gleaned from a beautiful orange snapdragon my daughter planted last year at their home in Sacramento. I'm sure they were probably hybrid so I'm anxious to see what the gleaned seeds will produce.

Denali Seed Co. Dwarf Mixed Stock with a germination time of 7-10 days, 18 of 20 were up in 5 days. Burpee's Giants Mix Hollyhocks with a germination time of 12-21 days, 9 of 20 were up in 7 days.  The hollyhocks are on trial for us. We don't know how well they will do but are keeping consistent notes for next year.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Seedling Progress

Sunday 3/14/2010 - 11 days after planting and 99% of our plants are up. I took a few minutes to clip off all of the extra sprouts leaving one seedling per cell. Each cell contains a special foam grow plug that wicks water from the tray. This seems to produce very healthy root systems.

I removed the plastic domes and lowered the light fixtures as some of the tomatoes were looking a little leggy. Most of the tomatoes were showing their first true leaves. When all of the seedlings have their first true leaves I will add some organic water soluble fertilizer to the trays and after a few weeks I will transplant them into 4" pots. As soon as these veggies are potted up we will reuse the Bio Dome trays and start Broccoli and Cabbage. You must use new grow plugs for each planting.

We still have 2 empty 40 cell Bio Dome trays and later today we plan to start some hollyhock,  lobelia, and snapdragon flower seeds.We are attempting to plan appropriate seed starting dates for different plants according to growth rates and when we expect to set them out in the garden. Keeping seed planting records  along with local weather and frost dates will help us to improve our results each year. The goal is to match our methods to the local micro-climate in our garden. With a short season, deep frozen soil , and late spring frosts we have to take advantage of every warn sunny day that is available.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Starting Seeds

More snow today - another 4-6" so far and still coming down. About 18-20" on the ground now.

In Wasilla Alaska - Memorial Day weekend is the start for outdoor gardening. We are in in Hardiness Zone 3 to 4. Our last Frost date is about May 20. We have about 100 - 110 frost free days - but we have almost 20 hours of sun in June and that is the same as adding 2 extra weeks to our season. Those lucky enough to have a greenhouse can start earlier. Fighting the urge to plant garden seeds in the middle of another Alaska winter takes self control. Last year I planted seeds the first week of February and I had 24" tomato plants in gallon pots taking over the house by May! This year I held off until the first week in March.

I use a special seed starting system from Park Seeds called the Bio Dome that worked very well for me last year. There are 40 cells per tray and it is bottom watering so you only water the tray about once a week and I had nearly 100% germination. I also use electric heat mats under the flats.

I have a 7 ft high 4 shelf wire rack with 6 florescent lights per shelf. I bought all new 6500 degree daylight bulbs this year. I use a timer to control the lights set for 16 hours per day. I hang 2 inexpensive "Space Blankets" on the front and back as light reflectors.

March 3, 2010: Planted 80 vegetable seeds in 2 Bio Dome Flats. All early cold tolerant verities...

30 Tomatoes...
10 Beaverlodge Plum
5 Oregon Spring
5 Legend
5 Stupice
5 Early Girl

25 Peppers...
10 King of the North
5 North Star
5 Golden Star
5 California Wonder

25 Eggplant...
15 Millionaire
5 Twinkle
5 Fairytale

Saturday March 6 - some Tomato sprouts peeking through.

Sunday - about 10 Tomatoes were up and a few Eggplant.

Tuesday March 9 - 6 days after planting - 28 tomatoes are up and all 5 Twinkle and 3 Millionaire Eggplant. No Peppers yet.