Sunday, June 21, 2015

Challenges and successes in a northern Alaskan garden

Its officially week three into our safe planting time and we’re now harvesting baby kale greens, rapini (or also called Broccoli Rabe which is pronounced raab),  some lettuce, arugula, micro greens and oddly enough, mustard greens which were from last year.  They obviously reseeded themselves.
  As of today I harvested our first two radishes, and wow, surprise, no sign of root maggots! Little victories!
Our tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and watermelon are looking better than they ever did last year which gives me some hope that we’ll actually harvest something more than greens and potatoes this year.  As of today we have about five unripe tomatoes on the plants, most of which are all on the tomatoes in our greenhouse.  We have harvested our first bell pepper recently which came from one of the few plants we purchased from one of the many greenhouses here.
I purchased two weekends ago  two white eggplants which I’m seriously hoping we see something out of.  My husband pestered me when I purchased these that they’ll never produce.  Here’s to hoping he’s wrong and we end up eating ratatouille and eggplant parmesan come late July.
Our strawberries are growing, albeit slowly, and I anxiously wait for their small red fruits.  I know I’ll never get enough for jam or pie but it would be nice if we could get some to snack on.  Thanks to a few Facebook friends along with my husband’s job we now have raspberries growing all along the exterior of our fence.  Last year we got enough to get a bowl or two filled.  I have the oddest feeling that while right now we watch them anxiously and whisper to them “grow grow”, later we’ll be yelling at them to stop growing and to stop sending out runners that start up raspberry bushes in the middle of the yard. Regardless, I’m still looking forward to all you can eat raspberry buffet in my back yard. 
This year we veered far away from space hogs and heavy feeders like corn and we’re going more with what we’ve had success with in the past.  Last year we had an awesome amount of zucchini squash so once again we’ve planted that along with summer squash.  I am really hoping we get even more this year out of those squash plants since I have had my eye on a vegetable spiralizer at Amazon for the past year.  Who knew you could make noodles out of vegetables!  Here is a list of recipes we used last year when we were swimming in zucchini. 

At the time we had to, by hand; sculpt each and every zucchini into a noodle type of shape.  Now this year we’ll have this spiralizer that we can use to speed up production when we’re making dinner in the evening!
We’ve moved our snow peas to a part of the fence that won’t cause them to shade all the other plants and we’ve also planted less of them.  Snow peas don’t do so well with freezing so if we do not have a surplus of snow peas in the freezer this year I won't have my feelings hurt.
 We have also added to the yard this year blueberry bushes which I seriously hope manage to survive the winter.  I read after the fact that these variety of blueberries  can only survive up to -20 which is no good for us as our winters typically can get down to -40.  My husband picked the first blueberry today though and he reported that it was delicious.
Visitor in our garden. We're trying to make friends with him/her
We did have a nice surprise recently.  Last year we planted a mixture of trees that I purchased from a University of Alaska Fairbanks fundraiser.  All of them approximately three weeks later were mowed over by the lawn crew our home owners association hired.  The only survivor, it seemed was the small Amur Maple tree which is still extremely small.  We now have it protected by a metal pole stuck near it with a small flag to notify anyone who is trying to mow that to please avoid this tree.  It's there on purpose. Just this past week we noticed that three of our high bush cranberry bushes are regrowing from the little stubs that were left behind.  Amazing, we thought they were done for.
So, with this all said, I have to get back to work. Our peony bloomed and it's now time to go make some peony jelly!  I love the color of the finished product from these beautiful peonies!
This is the recipe I like to use for my peony jelly. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Getting back into the swing of things, our Alaska springtime garden

So now here we are, in the middle of our second spring back in Fairbanks, Alaska after a reasonably mild winter.  In late March we started our seeds, mostly tomatoes, a mixture of beans and a few herbs.  This, I knew going into it, would be challenging since we would be going on a weeklong vacation in May.  Trying to keep little seedlings going for a week without any attention what so ever would be tough. 
Lo and behold our own dumb mistake took care of that worry. One mid April night when my husband and I were both exhausted from work we forgot the seedlings over night in our new light weight greenhouse.  The next morning we peeked in and every single one was dead, the mid 20’s temperatures killed them all. 
Our greenhouse now in early June.  A lot of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, hot peppers and believe it or not, ORANGE & LEMON TREES!

The weekend of the 25th of April we did manage to directly sow a lot of seeds.  All kale, lettuce, radishes, turnips, broccoli rabe, spinach, yarrow, edible flowers,  multiple types of herbs and I even decided to try to directly sow some shelling beans called Carson.  Almost everything has come up and now by early June it is all flourishing, except for the beans and the turnips. 

There we have another problem.  This year we have bigger pests that once again have found our garden.  Voles.  Not only have they apparently eaten every single one of our specially ordered garlic bulbs that we planted last autumn but they have eaten any other larger seed that I planted.  After speaking with many of my neighbors, they too have noticed the increase in the vole population. 
So call me mean, but I went to war.  First, I tried sticky traps with peanut butter in the middle of the trap.  The voles proved to be too heavy for these.  They obviously would get slightly stuck but then would manage to eat all the peanut butter off the trap and then leave the now used and ruined trap behind.  So, next I grabbed the poison I used for our rat problem in Maryland.  I got to scream a few victory yells here, as I rubbed peanut butter into each and every poison block, threw them into hidden areas under our porches and within a week found carcasses of voles.  I believe we still have some frequenting our garden but not in such large numbers now.  Voles-30 some garlic bulbs and numerous bean and herb seeds along with a daylily; Me-a few voles.  I think they’re still winning.
I guess I can still be grateful that as of writing this today they have left my potatoes, my 9 year old Peony, my other daylilies, along with now all the other plants that are now in the raised beds.  I get the feeling I will be battling these little stinkers all summer long. 

As for all the other plants, we’ve purchased numerous tomato plants, strawberry plants, summer squash, zucchini, brussel sprouts, broccoli, watermelon, butternut squash, cucumbers and a couple of simple herbs like parsley,  basil, summer savory, chives, and a few varieties of mint.  I really hate to have to purchase plants now a days since I have the seeds for so many of these, but since our needed supplies list was so short this year it didn’t hurt as bad financially.  Now, if these plants produce enough for us for me to can a good amount, I’ll be really happy. Honestly, I’d love to get a really good amount of tomatoes! Last year was exceedingly cool and wet, perfect weather for kale, spinach and lettuce. Not so good for heat and sun loving tomatoes so as a result we canned several pints of green tomato salsa.  We managed to can 2 pints of spaghetti sauce which really saddened me.  We typically use a lot of tomato products in our cooking so this changed my cooking a bit this past winter since I didn’t have as many homemade tomato products on hand.

On the other hand, kale was the star of the show last year.  We had tons of it, along with salad greens both of which was actually hard to keep up with because we signed up with Rosie Creek Farm, a local farm with a CSA share.  Between our farm share and garden, we were eating salad breakfast, lunch and dinner and if someone wanted a snack, well then they could have a salad.   We did manage to can approximately 15 pints of kale, mustard greens and broccoli and brussel sprout greens. 
This year we have decided to opt out of the CSA share so now it is completely on our shoulders to produce good, healthy fresh fruits and vegetables from our own yard in a very small space.  Our goal throughout the summer is to do our best to limit our grocery shopping to the bare minimum so that we can save for another house in the near future. 

As for now, we’re stuck with what we’ve got. A medium sized townhome in downtown Fairbanks with a small urban garden.  Bees and chickens are just completely out of the question.  There is no room for those in our yard.  Those will be for the next house in the future which will hopefully have a larger yard than what we’ve currently got.  
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