Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

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.