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Gardening in Alaska~Winter Returns

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Life in Alaska moves infinitely slower than it does where we came from on the East coast but our gardening season is much much faster.  So much so that it stunned me how quickly it ended.  By the middle of September we were getting close to the type of temperatures that would kill the cold loving brassicas so we knew, the time has come to harvest what was left.
Gardening here is so much more different than it was in Maryland.  I knew what it was like to grow tomatoes here, I knew that aphids here are tough little monsters when compared to their Maryland cousins, I knew some of the troubles with growing cucumbers and herbs and yet, I learned it again through this year.


Tomatoes: This summer was a super wet and cool one which frustrated many of the gardeners and farmers I spoke with.  Locally grown tomatoes were scarcer than hen's teeth and what were found locally grown were ridiculously expensive.  Our plants (9 of them) provided beautiful foliage, they grew tall, but they had a hor…

Rendering Beef Suet to Tallow

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I'm always looking for something new to learn, whether it be spinning my own yarn, canning a new recipe, or making soap so when I came across a really good deal at my local grocery store I just couldn't help it.  I had to try something that I had only read about previously.  Rendering animal fats into solids.
If I were to render pig fat the end result would be lard; while if I render beef suet (fat) the end result is tallow.  While shopping at our local grocery store I inquired in the meat department if they sold beef fat.  The butcher excitedly jumped up and said "Sure Ma'am, how much would you like! We've got lots!"  Not knowing how much it would take to create how much I just stammered to the gentleman working the butcher shop area "Uhhh, 2 or 3 pounds, I guess?".  He jumped away to fulfill my order, he almost seemed excited to give away these scraps that sooner or later I would turn into something wonderful.
As I waited another store patron aske…

A week after compost tea application

Compost tea application & Status of the Garden

Building a Garden; Alaska Style

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Ever since the snow has melted, about a month or so ago, we have been adding bits for our garden.  Buying small bits here and there and all the while waiting for the day when we can really start building.  I knew the day would come, and once it did we would be super busy.  Of course, I was right. In Maryland we started our garden in 2010 and it took us 4 years to build it to the point where it was producing a pretty impressive amount.  Our hope here was to jump beyond that, put to use all the knowledge we gained from there, all while going as cheap as humanly possible.  We were just breaking even each month with a tiny bit to spare when we first moved here so money was tight.  Early May we purchased 50 concrete blocks and some hardware cloth at Home Depot that set us back around $100.  Thanks to problems with voles, here we have to use hardware cloth under each raised bed otherwise our root veggies will be eaten.  This added an additional $20 per two beds. Not thrilled, but the situa…

My Top Five tips for lowering an Electric Bill

I write this now, coming from about 4 months, give or take, experience now at reducing our electricity bill each month.
Energy here in Fairbanks, Alaska is expensive.  In fact per the US Energy Information Administration only a few other states are higher.  In case you're curious, Hawaii is the most expensive with New York and Connecticut following.  We're number four on this list.  Unfortunately for us here in the Golden Heart City though, we have a nasty little surcharge added onto our bill due to a legal issue that our Electricity company had some time ago, so it pushes that cost per kWh up around an extra .9 cents.  That doesn't seem like a lot but when you multiply that times 400, 500 or 800 kWh. It adds up.
The most important thing one has to keep in mind when trying to lower an electric bill is, while keeping an eye on your cost per month, you really want to look at your total kWh usage per month.
If you do this you will be able to dissect the appliances and electr…

Cutting our electricity bill: Exciting Conclusions

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Since the last time I have written on our electricity bill and our efforts in reducing it we’ve had a few developments. 
Now keep in mind with all of this.  We do not have some of the typical high energy items that many have.  We have no water heater that draws energy nor do we have electric heat.  We do have, however, an ancient waterbed.  Thankfully that will be replaced very soon.  Another item to keep in mind is this is Fairbanks, Alaska so we have to plug in our vehicles if they are parked outdoors when the temperatures go below -20.  That happens quite frequently here in the winter months so to combat that problem I have purchased an outdoor timer that will only turn on power to the vehicle plugged in for two hours prior to our possible departure time.
Also, originally as I began writing this, my husband had been at home each month, anxiously searching for a job.  That means that we have had one adult around the house for almost 24 hours a day, 6-8 of which he spent with a com…

An update to Paydirt: Sunchokes.

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Yet another step made to prepare our backyard for our move from Aberdeen, Maryland to Fairbanks, Alaska.  This past weekend our goal was to dig up as many Jerusalem Sunchokes as possible and since the weather was dry and sunny we figured it was time. First a bit of history, after all, you know if you've kept up with me in the past I love reading the histories of each plant we grow.
The plant commonly called a "sunchoke" is actually called a Jerusalem Artichoke. No, it is not from Jerusalem and no, it is not to be confused with a typical artichoke.  Supposedly Italian Settlers in North America named the sunchoke girasole which is the Italian word for Sunflower.  It is believed that English settlers corrupted the name girasole artichoke to Jerusalem Artichoke.  It is indigenous to North America and was cultivated for its valuable roots.  It is a perennial (meaning it grows back on its own every year) and is actually part of the sunflower genus; Helianthus.
Growing it, I can s…

Cutting Our Electricity Bill

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Fairbanks, Alaska, dubbed the Golden Heart City has a lot of positives to it.  The people here are welcoming and friendly.  The town is a great place to raise kids; it has a small town feel to it; there is very little traffic except for the two usual times of day and even that, after driving in I95 traffic on the East Coast is nothing.  All in all, after all the places I have seen in the US, it’s the type of town that I feel I can really settle down and put down some roots.  However, a big negative here are the energy costs.  Unfortunately, gas for cars and generators, fuel for heating and fuel for electricity runs high here so this makes the cost of living much higher here than it is in many places in the lower 48.  When moving here, we moved from a townhouse in the military community where we did not pay for our electricity, back to our house where now we do.
When I first saw our very first electricity bill I was shocked.  $299 for one month, our usage was 1427 kWh.  At first I th…

Patience is the key

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Once again, we are rebuilding, starting from scratch.  A new yard, new plans, this time more permanent than the last time in Aberdeen, Maryland. Originally, as we moved back into our home in Fairbanks, Alaska we had plans, great plans, for a garden of permanent raised beds, for chickens and honey bees.  Then it was just the honey bees.  Then it was just the chickens.  We’re still certain about the raised beds.  Now we have decided however that what is needed more is patience.  Saadi, a Persian poet from the medieval period once said “Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy”.  I think that applies here. Fairbanks growing season is extremely short.  Our last Frost free date here is approximately May the 25th.  Our first usual frost is approximately August the 30th.  That gives us a little more than 100 days total to get our raised beds built, filled with soil, compost and vegetables and fruits and try to see if something will grow.  We learned after our first …