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 price – 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
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.


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.