Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Black Currant wine 2019

I am growing Black currants in my garden, but due to moose damage every winter they have not yet produced a large crop of berries. Last winter I put a fence around my plants to protect from moose and they are finally recovering and had my first real crop this year.

Two years ago I purchased 15 lbs of Black Currents from a local Wasilla grower on Craigslist. I washed and de-stemmed the berries and froze them on sheet pans then packed them into vacuum bags and stored them in my deep freezer. I just thawed them out - crushed them and mixed the ingredients for 5 Gal. of Black Currant must on 7/14/2019. Black currents are usually very acidic and high in tannin so the recipe did not include additional tannin or acid adjustment...
15 lbs frozen and thawed Black Currants - crushed
12 lbs Sugar
5 tsp Yeast Nutrient
3 tsp Pectic Enzyme
1/4 + 1/8 tsp Potassium Metabisulfite
4 Gal. water
7/14 Mixed and waited 24 hours...

7/15 - Original S.G. 1.102
Pitched 2 pkgs of Lalvin 71B wine yeast
Stirred daily and punched down the "cap"

7/24 - S.G. 1.034
Removed the berries and pressed the pulp. Transferred to a glass carboy to finish fermenting under an airlock.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Easy Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce

It's that time of year and here is my tomato sauce recipe:

Tomato slices are drizzled with olive oil, Garlic Powder, and Salt and roasted in my convection oven at 425 degrees F for 60 mins.

Then pureed in my Victorio Strainer...

The roasting removes over half of the water and concentrates the flavor for a thicker and much more flavorful sauce. Better than slow cooking all day as the roasting caramelizes the natural sugars.

The sauce is packed in freezer containers.

Once frozen I pop out the frozen sauce and put in vacuum bags for long term storage in my deep freezer.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tomato Varieties For My Greenhouse

What Tomato varieties do you grow? Here in Wasilla, Alaska our season can be short so early season varieties do best and cold tolerant varieties are preferred. I started growing the local popular varieties: Early Girl, Early Tanana, and Stupice in my Alaska Grow Buckets, but quickly learned that standard tomatoes can outgrow my greenhouse and needed to be pruned when they grew up to the roof! 

I decided to switch to Bush or Dwarf varieties. I was very happy with a compact sturdy variety called Extreme Bush from Victory Seed company. They were very prolific, cold tolerant, and full of 3-4 oz fruit. About golf ball to baseball in size. Extreme Bush are an open pollinated heirloom variety and great for seed-saving. 

Extreme Bush
Extreme Bush tomatoes are prone to cracking when ripe, but since I make tomato sauce it really didn't matter. They also seemed so suffer from early blight or fungal disease and would turn yellow and then brown with disease at the end of our summer growing season. Pinching off the lower branches and spraying regularly with a fungicide helped and I recommend starting early and spraying every week with Green Cure brand Fungicide that is labeled as safe for organic growers. You can get it here on my Amazon Affiliate Store.

Last year I tried Bush Early Girl tomato variety from Tomato Growers Supply and was very pleased with the results. I have grown standard Early Girl tomatoes before, but as a standard tomato plant they would grow too tall inside my greenhouse. Bush Early Girl is a hybrid that is a more compact and sturdy bush type tomato and also listed as VFFNT disease resistant. Which stands for: V = Verticillium wilt FF = Fusarium, races 1 & 2 N = Nematodes T = Tobacco mosaic virus-resistant. The plants held up very well just as indicated. They also produced larger fruit about 6-8 oz a little larger than baseball size and big enough for slicing on a burger. Also cracking was not a problem with this variety.

Bush Early Girl hybrid

Bush Early Girl hybrid is the first large slicing tomato I have grown in Alaska and the larger size made for a good harvest. They did ripen a few weeks later than Extreme Bush, but that may have been due to our weather. I had plenty and they made excellent tomato sauce. This photo was taken in mid September and I had to add a small space heater to my greenhouse for the chilly nighttime temperatures. 

So when do you start your seeds and when to you plant them out in your unheated greenhouse? I am lucky to have a home weather station that tracks the overnight temperature and lets me judge when it is safe to move my plants or if I need to add a space heater.

An electric oil filled space heater seems to keep my 8x16 ft. greenhouse about 10 degrees above the outside temperature. I try to keep the overnight low temperature above 40 degrees whenever possible.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What Do You Do With Kale ?

I will admit kale is not my favorite veggie, yet I know it is good for me. It is very easy to grow, very frost tolerant, and therefor a great staple crop for my garden here in Wasilla, Alaska. Kale has become the new zucchini with bountiful yields and the quandary of what to to with all that kale? I am not a big kale smoothie drinker and blending veggies with sugary fruit juice is not my style.

Baby kale is still fairly tender and is great for adding with other fresh greens for salads, but older kale will develop thick, woody ribs and stalks and the leaves take on a leathery texture that is not pleasant to eat raw. Removing the ribs and stalks will help, but the leathery leaves are better if you cook them. Wilted kale is pretty good, but the texture will improve by first braising the trimmed kale covered in a small amount of broth, stock, or wine for 15 minutes then removing the lid and letting the liquid reduce and finish with crumbled bacon and balsamic vinegar and a pat of butter.  

I enjoy processing my garden veggies and berries in season and put them away for use all year long. Processing kale can be a challenge. Canning or blanching and freezing my fresh produce are two methods I use. One method I found for using my prolific kale crop is to trim and cook it covered in a seasoned stock and then puree it in my blender. I then freeze the puree in plastic sandwich containers and once frozen I will pop them out and seal in vacuum bags for long term freezer storage. 

This pureed kale takes on the flavor of your stock and is great as a soup base for cream of kale or kale cheddar soup. I add this pureed kale to many of my other hearty soup recipes. I make split pea soup with carrots in a chicken stock and add pureed kale and some bacon crumbles. This will warm you up on any frigid Alaska winter day. Adding split peas, lentils, or leftover chicken to a basic vegetable soup along with pureed kale from my deep freezer is my go-to winter dinner. I will make a large pot of hearty soup on Sunday and freeze meal portions for using all week long. Add a salmon burger, wrap, or salad and you have a sit-down dinner.

What about kale chips? I have tried packaged kale chips and they are a good snack choice, but they just seem too fragile. Not good out of a bag and I was not impressed with the wasteful expensive protective packaging some producers use. Homemade kale chips are a better choice, but I like a chip that can stand up to salsa or dips and kale just does not work. I am going to try making baked kale crackers using pureed kale with almond flour plus egg and olive oil. Rolled very thin, pricked with a fork and baked. If anybody has tried this before, please share your results in the comments section below.

So do you grow kale? Share your experience and what you do with your harvest. Share your frost and winter harvest stories too. Is kale the new Zucchini?

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 have been using 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. At some point I would like to upgrade to LED lights to save power.

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 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.