Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

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.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Introducing the TomatoCam

The TomatoCam is my new wireless netcam. I will be posting daily updates showing my Alaska Grow Buckets from inside my greenhouse so you can follow the progress throughout the season. At this point in time I have the camera pointed at one of my seedling shelves showing my tomato plants. I will be moving out to the greenhouse very soon.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Alaska Grow Buckets Update - April 17

I finally have DIY Self-Watering Alaska Grow Buckets kits available on my Alaska Grow Buckets website. These kits contain everything you need to construct a complete Self-Watering Alaska Grow Buckets garden system out of your own 5 gallon plastic buckets. **Sales are limited to the U.S. and Canada only.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Alaska Grow Buckets - March 12th Sales Update

I want to thank all of my Kickstarter supporters and everyone for their patience while I get my DIY Alaska Grow Buckets distribution system up and running. I am still working out some of the details with my suppliers to keep my prices and shipping charges as low as possible. Working from my location in rural Alaska has presented some logistical challenges. Shipping the individual parts to Alaska from multiple vendors for packaging and distribution is taking a little longer than anticipated, but I still plan to have kits available in time for spring planting. I will be offering 3 kits for sale. A complete 6 Bucket Garden kit including everything to make 6 Alaska Grow Buckets combined with the Float Valve Control kit to make a complete self-watering garden system. In addition I will have 6 Grow Bucket Expansion kits available, without the float valve control, for increasing your growing capacity. You can add as many extra 6 Bucket kits as your space will allow. I will also offer the Float Valve Control kit for sale without the Grow Bucket parts.

I do not have the final retail price yet, but I plan to keep the price close to what I listed on the Kickstarter project. You can still sign up for my Customer Email List on my Alaska Grow Buckets website to be notified as soon as kits are available.

Up here in Alaska, I always start my garden plants indoors and get a jump on the season. You can read all about my seed starting system on my Wasilla Alaska Garden blog. Starting your own seeds is always something I would recommend to anybody using the Alaska Grow Bucket system.

Purchasing a good wicking grow medium is also important and shopping around at your local home and garden centers will help you to find a the lowest prices in your area. You can make your own grow mix but it should contain at least 60% sphagnum peat or coco coir.

Collecting used free buckets from local food and grocery outlets is another project, or comparing prices for buckets you can buy in your area. I use the familiar orange buckets from Home Depot.

Make sure that you have a good electric drill and a 3/4" step drill bit for converting your buckets into Alaska Grow Buckets. I found that a cheap 3/4" flat spade bit but will NOT work. The low cost spade bits make a jagged hole that will not allow a water tight seal around the rubber grommet and barbed fittings causing water leaks.

Thanks again for your patience...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

DIY Alaska Grow Buckets Kits

My Alaska Grow Buckets - Kickstarter project - Has Ended

This Kickstarter Funding project has ended - and I did not meet my funding goal. I want to thank all of our backers. We are setting up a solution to fulfill the requests from our dedicated supporters in March. So if you are interested in ordering your own DIY Alaska Grow Buckets Kit - sign up for our E-mail list on the website at Alaska Grow Bucks Kits and we will notify you when kits are available very soon. Thanks.