Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer Weather in Wasilla

Summer is in full swing here in Wasilla and the mad dash to get all of your summer projects completed while the weather is nice out, does not leave much time for writing my blog. During our long winters there is simply more free time indoors. During the last few summers we have had plenty of cool rainy weather to keep us inside also. This year we are having one of our fantastic, warm and sunny Alaska summers. It is weather like this that causes us to proclaim our summers can be the best anywhere on earth. The reality is that perfect summer weather does not happen every year. There is a garden motto in Alaska - "There are bean years and there are lean years" showing that our climate in most areas can be very different from one year to the next and can greatly effect productivity. That variability has severally impacted commercial agriculture which requires a more consistent  climate with a predictable growing season. We had the latest spring warm-up this year that I can remember in 22 years living here. There were 2 late snowstorms in May with temperatures hovering around freezing much later than usual. This delayed transplanting outdoors and my seedlings suffered from extended time in small pots waiting for the soil to warm up. Then summer came along very quick. One week it was freezing and the next week it was 80 degrees. The sunny dry weather has continued this year and all we can do is keep our fingers crossed and hope it does not turn cloudy and cold any time soon. Many gardens are not as mature as they might be do to the delayed spring warm up. My broccoli was looking very good, but it was not as mature as usual for this time of year. It was just beginning to produce heads and was probably 2-3 weeks away from harvest.

As I have yet to put up any kind of garden fence I am at the mercy of the local moose to stay away long enough for my garden to mature and my vegetables to ripen. But sadly, I am fighting a losing battle. Once again a moose paid a visit to my garden the other night just when I was going to bed. Luckily I caught the young bull moose in the act and quickly grabbed a string of firecrackers to scare him off. The sad fact is that once he has learned where to find tasty  fresh vegetable to eat - he will return and continue to munch his way through almost everything. I can not stand guard 24 - 7 so he will be back when I am away from home or sleeping. That is just one garden pest that I have to live with until I spend the money to put up a sturdy electric fence. The cost is something that I will have to work out among the many other home improvement projects that are waiting to get done.

So I have learned to expect this to happen every year, but it is never a pleasant experience. I enjoy gardening and I will continue, despite this, and eventually I will have a sturdy electric moose fence. It is just a bump along the road of life. The young bull moose was a magnificent sight to see and I feel lucky to live in such a place that seeing one up close is not unusual.

I did pick my first greenhouse tomatoes this week and had them for dinner. They were more delicious that I can describe here. Nothing is better than fresh ripe tomatoes. Red, sweet, and juicy - right off of the vine.

So there is some good garden news along with some not so good garden news today. That is the way it goes most of the time here in Wasilla. You have to learn to roll with the punches or you would drive yourself crazy when things don't always turn out the way you would like.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Planning Ahead To Extend The Season

Now is the time to plan and build garden projects such as new raised beds, grow frames, hoop tunnels, etc for extending the growing season later this year or early next Spring. Planning ahead is very important. Here is a blog post that has some very good advice. How to grow vegetables all winter long  We may not be able to grow vegetables outdoors all winter long, but we certainly can extend our season.

Book Alert: This book is full of very good cold climate gardening advice. Growing plants outdoors all year may not be possible where I live - but this book will show you some secrets for extending your season. The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener


Don't wait until it starts getting cold, you must plan ahead. Here in Alaska that can mean starting a project this summer that you will use next spring to get the jump on mother nature.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April Gardening in Wasilla

The calendar may say April, but I still have at least a foot of snow covering my garden and our big Spring thaw is taking longer than usual this year. It is still too early to move any plants out to my greenhouse. The nights are still too cold with lows in the single digits when it is clear. The cost for propane to run my greenhouse heater is not economical until it warms up in May and the nights are much shorter. My greenhouse is plenty warm as long as the sun is shining, but cools off very quickly as soon as it gets dark. I am still keeping busy starting seeds and transplanting seedlings. My growing rack is about full and I will be moving some flats around to make room for more germination trays.

Starting seeds indoors is required to get a jump on our short season. I have been using the Parks Bio Dome germination trays for several years now and they seem to work very well for me with nearly 100% germination and no damping off problems.
I have been transplanting my seedlings when they have true leaves into small pots filled with a soil-less potting mix. And I continue to use bottom watering by filling the flats instead of watering from above. I believe this also helps prevent problems as the foliage stays dry. 

I have been trying a new easy to hang lighting fixture this year that I found at my local Wasilla Home Depot. 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.

This seems to be working well for starting seedlings that will be moved to my greenhouse or outdoors. I recommend the more powerful T5 High Output fixtures if you want to grow tomatoes or peppers and similar vegetables indoors under lights during our long Alaska winters.

The clear sunny days are nice and it is only a matter of time before we can get out and start playing in the dirt again. There is only a short window of time we can get our gardens in, so you can't put it off, or it will be too late for this year. Adding new beds, or building garden structures is usually a 2 year project as the time it takes to get the work done usually means you won't be planting that area until next summer. It takes more planning ahead to garden in Alaska and you are restricted by the short season, but it can be successful if you  look at the larger picture of what you are trying to accomplish.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tomato Seedlings Update

I transferred most of my new tomato seedlings from my Parks Bio Dome germination trays into pots today and they are all doing as good as I could hope.

I have about 35 tomato seedling potted so far and I still have a few left. I am always looking for cold climate varieties and many come from Russia and Northern Europe. I am also trying many dwarf or bush varieties. I am hoping they will do better in my low hoop tunnels and inside of my greenhouse. Many tomatoes I have grown in the past would reach the roof inside my greenhouse and needed to be pruned back frequently. I read some good reviews of one variety called Extreme Bush from Victory Seed company. Two of my new varieties called Alpatieva 905A and Yaponskiy Kerlik along with Siberian come from Russia. I am also trying several interesting new varieties that are named after Alaska landmarks including Sleeping Lady, Yukon Quest, Sand Point, and Iditarod Red. Most of these come from Titiana's TOMATObase web site that I am trying for the first time this year. Follow along throughout the season to see how these tomato varieties do in my garden here in Wasilla and let me know what tomato varieties work for you.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring in Wasilla

My Front Yard - Sunday, March 30, 2013
The shortest day, in my location, is about 5 1/2 hours on December 21 and we do consider it a very special day to remember as most people look forward to the time when the days start to get longer again - even if it is only psychological - it is worth toasting with a mug or two of grog.

On our longest day we get almost 20 hours of sun on June 21. The extra daylight is like adding almost 20 extra frost free days to our growing season. This is great for flowers and Anchorage is known as the hanging flower basket capital of the world - but it can also be too much light for some plants and cause some vegetables to bolt or go to seed before they are ready.

Remember this is official daylight and does not count dawn or dusk when the sun is down - but it is not dark yet. In June it really doesn't get completely dark all night. In December it is light past the official sunrise and sunset times. We are past 12 hours of sun right now and it is 40 degrees outside. That is plenty of light to grow plants - but the ground is still covered with snow and will remain frozen until May and our average last frost date is May 20. In reality - soil warmth in Alaska is more important than daylight for gardeners.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

PRODUCT ALERT for Alaska Grow Buckets !

PRODUCT ALERT !!! Good News for people that are making Alaska Grow Buckets. I found a great source for the perfect Plastic Colander that fits nicely inside a 5 Gal. bucket without handles that stick out and must be trimmed off. 

On the BuyTheCase.net web site you can purchase 12 Arrow brand 4 Qt. Plastic Colanders for only $31.08 which is $2.59 each (plus shipping) ...just ignore the photo on their product page as it is not correct. I checked with this supplier and they are selling the newer model that I recommend.

Arrow model #289 4 Qt Plastic Colander

Monday, March 18, 2013

Seed Starting In Wasilla

Here in Wasilla timing is very important. The last week in May is usually the time we can safely move cold sensitive plants outside - and you can't be late or they may not have time to produce in our short summer. You don't want to be too early either - or you end up with large plants that take over your house and are just too big to easily move and transplant without damage.

I am trying many shorter bush or dwarf varieties to try and maximize my space inside my greenhouse and shorter hoop tunnels.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Indoor Tomato Update

Just a quick update on my indoor Dwarf Tomato progress, The fruit is finally ripening and I tried my first fresh tomato last week. The taste was spectacular, especially when compared to the tasteless hot-house tomatoes available in local supermarkets.

Micro Tom Dwarf Tomatoes

The Micro Tom Dwarf Tomatoes are loaded with fruit and continue to develop blossoms. I am anxious to see just how long they will continue to bare fruit. They are growing near a window that gets intense morning sunlight and under four 24" T5 Florescent bulbs set for 16 hours per day. The fruit is about 1" cherry tomato size and the plants are about 12" tall and growing in 8" pots. I think they would also do well in hanging baskets.

Red Robin Dwarf Tomatoes

The Red Robin tomatoes are a little larger plants. They are about 18" tall growing in 12" two gallon pots under six T12 Florescent bulbs. The fruit is just turning ripe and seems to be about 1.5 - 2" in size. There is a little browning of the lower leaves and may be due to poor light penetration or inconsistent watering cycles. I an growing in Peat based Pro-Mix and bottom watering.

This is my first year with indoor tomatoes during our Alaska winter and I will be doing this again,. Why Not ?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I must apologize - my first attempt at hosting a public online discussion - failed to happen. I will try again and  eventually figure out how to make this work. It turned out to be a little more complicated than I thought it would be. 

I would still like to host Alaska gardeners for a Google Hangout over coffee every week. This would be an informal discussion group sharing stories and information and the challenges of gardening up north. A Web Cam is preferred, for video chat, but audio only is okay for slower internet connections, and headphones or ear buds to eliminate echo. You would need a Google+ account and up to 10 people can join a Google Hangout at a time. It is very simple to join the group just by clicking the link Gardening in Alaska and please leave some comments about what day and time would work for you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Winter Tomatoes in Wasilla Update

My indoor Dwarf tomatoes are setting fruit now - the last week in January - and I hope to get a decent crop soon. My plants are full of blossoms and I see no signs of any disease or pests.

I use a Blossom Set spray and have not tried hand pollinating. I might try adding some Epsom Salt to the water and see if it helps.

I am using six - 6500 degree daylight T12 florescent bulbs in three 4' shop light fixtures for grow lights set for 16 hours a day. I used Pro-Mix peat based soilless growing medium and set the pots in bottom watering trays. I feed with Safer Brand Oxygen Plus Liquid Plant Food. I cover my shelf racks with inexpensive camping "Space Blankets" to serve as light reflectors.

I have been harvesting lettuce and kale for several weeks and those plants are still going strong. Winter here in South Central Alaska is only about half way over - but that doesn't stop me from growing fresh veggies all year long. What food crops are you growing indoors during the winter months? Share your advice and any special techniques that you use. I am sure there are other indoor gardeners out there and we are all interested in learning what lighting, irrigation, nutrients, and containers work for you.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter Tomatoes in Wasilla

A new year and a new garden to plan... I have already placed a few seed orders and will be trying out many new tomato varieties. Since my space is limited by the size of my greenhouse and the hoop tunnels in my garden, I have decided to try out some of the smaller dwarf tomato varieties. Inspired by the Dwarf Tomato Project started in Australia. One source that I recommend for dwarf tomato seeds is: Tatiana's TOMATObase  and I am anxious to see how they do in my garden. I am trying out some dwarf tomatoes indoors under grow lights this winter. I have Red Robin, Tiny Tim, and Micro Tom growing in pots. They just started flowering and hopefully will be setting fruit soon.

One of my problems in the past has been overcrowding in my greenhouse as the plants grow up to the roof and require pruning along with poor air circulation and high humidity that leads to fungal disease. I hope to add more ventilation to my greenhouse also.

I am also growing some salad greens indoors again under my florescent grow lights and have lettuce and kale ready to harvest. I have been using a lot of kale lately and really like adding it to my recipes. The trick for cooking kale is to give it extra cooking time to become tender. I love cooked greens with bacon and vinegar. I also add finely chopped kale and broccoli to chicken stock and simmer for 20 minutes then puree along with some half & half and shredded cheddar cheese for a great broccoli-kale cheddar soup.

I really enjoy having some fresh veggies in the middle of our long Alaska winters and I don't see why any serious gardener would stop growing food when the snow flies. The added color along with the light is a welcome bonus to our monotone winter landscape.