Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Warming up in Wasilla

Yesterday was the first day of summer 2011. Spring in Wasilla has been pretty good this year with just enough rain lately to green things up. Lack of Spring rain can be a problem and usually leads to frequent wild fires. Things got off to a slow start with plenty of sunny days to melt the snow - but that meant clear cold nights that didn't warm the bare soil and the local word is that many plants are slow starting this year. The Iris in my yard are just now starting to bloom and many other bulbs have just began to emerge from the ground. It's all about soil temperature here in Alaska.

Alaska Iris
I am learning many techniques for taking advantage of the abundant sun to speed up soil warming. Along with plastic covered hoop tunnels I have mentioned before about covering soil with special plastic film that transmits the infrared spectrum called Infrared Transmitting plastic mulch (Irt Mulch®) and I am sold on using it for my garden to grow peppers and eggplant. The product I use is purchased from Far North Garden Supply in Wasilla and I believe it is called SRM® Olive plastic mulch made by Ken-Bar, Inc.

Eggplant and Peppers under IRT row cover
I am also learning about irrigation and how important it is when planting inside hoop tunnels. It may seem obvious - but it is easy to overlook when it is raining outside and you must remember to water your covered plants. I am still planning to try adding programmable timers to control the watering cycles. We don't get the heavy rain showers that I remember from growing up in the Midwest. An all day light rain here in Wasilla may only add up to 1/2 inch in many cases. An afternoon shower in Iowa could dump 1 - 2 inches of rain in one hour and flooded streets were a common sight. I remember a rule of thumb for irrigation - one inch of rain per week. Using my bottom watering grow buckets in the greenhouse eliminates the need to monitor the moisture  as long as I keep the reservoir filled they take care of themselves.

First pepper 2011
The right combination of long days, warm soil, and correct irrigation can lead to some surprising results and this King Of The North pepper is my first example this year.

It is also important to be patient and not to plant crops that don't do well in cold soil before it has time to warm up. I learned this the hard way, as usual, and my first attempt at growing green beans failed to germinate in the cool soil of late May several years ago. This year I waited until the first weekend in June and I am using a technique called mounded rows.  I constructed a raised mound about 12 inches wide and planted two rows of bush beans in each raised mound. I ran a 1/4 inch soaker hose down the center of each mound for irrigation.

Beans planted in Mounded Rows
I tried this before and did help, but this time I am running the rows east to west instead of north to south. Little details can make a big difference. In this configuration the sun will warm both sides on the mounded row as it moves through the day. As you can see the beans have germinated well using this technique. I will see how this planting pattern plays out this summer.

You never know what mother nature has in store and it can stay cool and cloudy for extended periods very easily. You will often hear people say jokingly that summer is over after a week of cloudy weather. There is also a saying that goes back to the first farmers to settle her in the Matanuska valley: "There are bean years and then there are lean years - it all has to do with the weather".

Alaska Fireweed - full bloom in mid-summer

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