Building a Garden; Alaska Style

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 situation is what the situation is.
Thankfully, I've been using Swagbucks for some time so it helped but it still really hurt to spend as there are so many other projects in the house demanding attention as well.  Still we knew time is of the essence here so proceed we did.  
After dropping enough at Home Depot, well I had enough. I started scouring Craigslist. Posting ads that said I was looking for Concrete blocks and while earlier I didn’t have any bites this time I hit pay dirt. 
We managed to find a family further outside of Fairbanks who had an enormous collection of all types of concrete blocks so we ended up getting approximately 100+ blocks.  All for a great deal of about $55.

Next, we needed dirt.   I had priced fill dirt earlier and came up with an approximate cost of $150 or so to fill all the 6 beds.  Turns out, once again we found pay dirt, literally.  We found that the Water Treatment Center here in Fairbanks gives gardeners free composted dirt.  I was a tad bit worried considering that it was coming from a water and waste treatment center but in the end, the lure of free fill dirt won. 
 Of course, the fact that other Fairbanks gardeners advised us that it has grown good produce for them in the past definitely won us over as well.

We were running low on money, low on energy, and low on time.  We had to keep moving.
Once, the building phase was completed we moved onto testing the soil.  I’ve learned in the past it is better to get the soil in a somewhat reasonable shape before planting than trying to amend the deficiencies later.  Previously in Maryland, it took us around 2 years to get our soil to the point where it would actually grow anything! We were hoping for a bit better than that as we have bigger plans here for the long term.  We typically prefer to increase the fertility of the soil slowly but we were really hoping to see how well we can do this year. So yes, we went for instant gratification. Turns out, this composted soil is really great in everything but one important mineral.

Phosphorous. 
Without phosphorous our plants will grow sluggishly, even with the almost 24 hours of daylight that we will get by June 21st.  What’s worse, phosphorous deficiencies tend to hit plants like lettuce, carrots and spinach especially hard. We’re growing all of those!   After testing the soil I ran over to our local Nursery and picked up a bag of bonemeal which is helpful in dealing with phosphorous deficiencies.
 Now keep in mind, we live in Fairbanks, Alaska. Zone 1.  We have approximately 90 some days of growing time. This means we have to work fast.  The good news is even though our official "safe date" for planting is June 1st, this doesn't really apply to seeds planted outside.  We've grown things like Red Russian Kale and Mustard Greens before so I figured those were definitely safe.  New to us were things like Brussels sprouts (that I miserably failed at in Maryland) or Romensco Broccoli (which I've always wanted to grow) but I figured these were all in the brassica family and quite hardy so they should be able to weather the colder temps in early May.  If there was a freeze or frost in the forecast we would just simply cover the beds with plastic or cloth.
Our only cheats this year?
·         One borage plant
·         One Catnip plant
·         One hyssop plant
·         One fennel plant
·         One Lavender plant
·         One Corsican Mint
·         Two Romensco Broccoli
·         Two Brussel Sprouts
·         Four eggplants, two Fairytale, two Ivory
·         Five tomatoes, Black Cherry, BeaverLodge Plum, Early Tanana, Genovese, and one that I could have sworn was named Fern Leaf tomato but the label has mysteriously vanished.
·         Four peppers , green bell pepper, 2 hot peppers (I think they were cayenne)
·         Thai Basil
·         Pineapple Sage
·         Approximately 30 strawberry plants. Some just mere bare roots. Others are full plants.
·         One buttercup squash plant that I would have started by seed myself a while ago. Too late now to start from seed. 


The rest that we planted, all seed?  Well here it goes!
·         Red Russian Kale
·         Curled Scotch Kale
·         Arugala, Rocket Salat
·         Arugula Wild
·         Swiss Chard, three varieties
·         Mache
·         Mustard Greens
·         European Mesclun
·         Spinach, Bloomsdale Lonstanding
·         Cumin
·         Red Leaf Lettuce
·         Buttercrunch Lettuce
·         Broccoli Raab (Rapini)
·         Snow Peas
·         Sugar Snap Peas
·         Chamomile
·         Calendula
·         Marigolds
·         Basil, Sweet
·         Scarlet Rose Runner Beans
·         Bush Beans, many varieties
·         Carrots, 5 varieties
·         Rutabaga
·         Radish, Red Meat
·         Parsnips
·         Turnip, Hakurei
·         Leeks
·         Garlic Chives
·         Potatoes, Red and Purple
·         One tomato that we started in an Aerogarden. Then later transferred it to a pot.
·         Sunflowers, several varieties
·         Amaranth
·         Red Quinoa
·         Several varieties of edible flowers

We are now rapidly approaching Summer Solstice which is a big thing here for Fairbanksans.  Unfortunately for the gardeners here in the far north it also means we will be losing sunlight after June 21st.  The cold biting wind of winter will soon be on its way. 
As I expected our Red Russian kale was the very first to come up. 
Now that we're in the second week of June, its become apparent that we planted the kale a bit too aggressively.  Its crowding each other out so some thinning out is in order.  We will be picking bits of baby kale here and there and adding it to salads, omelets, and sautes.  The mustard greens, as if competing with the kale came up almost immediately after.  A big surprise.  The Broccoli Raab that I have never had luck with, that I bought seed packets for actually came up!  And now it's doing amazingly well.  Come to find out, after speaking with one of the farmhands from Rosie Creek Farm, broccoli raab does really well here. It likes the cold nights and warm days.  I love broccoli raab so I'm super excited to enjoy this, from garden to table.  There is never anything better than super fresh vegetables straight from your garden. 
Another big surprise for us. Red Quinoa. Something I never expected to come up, actually did.  Right after planting this, I even managed to find an article on the Fairbanks DailyNewsminer all about Red Quinoa, and surprise surprise. It does do well here.  Next year I will be putting more in as we thoroughly enjoy quinoa.
Late May, disaster almost struck.  We were lured by the warm weather and warm forecasts into deciding to plant any of the plants that we had purchased ahead of time, which included tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, corn and cayenne peppers, all heat lovers.  On a warm Saturday morning, we planted all of it, reveling in the beauty of the bed now filled in.  Later that afternoon, it got a tad bit breezy. 
 By that evening, after watching the forecast anxiously, we covered it all up.  It was possible that here in the valley we would be getting a frost.  Everything was covered as rapidly as we could.  All the tender young shoots of kale, all sorts of varities of greens, carrots, peas. All of it had to be covered. 
Thankfully, it was just a mild frost and barely touched us, but the heat loving plants did look a tad bit unhappy at the 35 degree temperatures for the next week or so.
We are now in the second week of June.  Almost everything planted by seed has come up which has shocked me.  I don't think I've had such a successful germination of seeds before!
Greens bed. Two types of Kale, Mustard Greens, Broccoli Raab, Spinach, Three types of chard, Romanesco Broccoli, Buttercrunch lettuce, Red Leaf Lettuce, European Mesclun, Mache, Nasturiums here and there.

Peas & Carrots Beds

Ever since Maryland I have tracked how much we spend on gardening through a budgeting program.  I can say now, that since Mid April, when we started purchasing items for our garden we have spent a whopping $375 on our garden.  Now we don't have our greenhouse yet.  We really want one for our tomato bed to get the heat we need to get them  growing faster.  We have also talked about getting a greenhouse for germinating the heat loving plants, as its so much cheaper to start a plant from seed than it is to buy an established plant.  That will probably be waiting a while longer.  We still have projects inside our house that need completion and some that have been put off quite a while that are hitting the critical stage.  For now we are content that our garden is growing, everyday there is something new going on there.  It has become our habit to visit the plants on Saturday mornings, while enjoying a hot cup of coffee.  I personally love it, on chilly weekend mornings, the coffee cup warming my hands, the steam rising from it, as I bend over to point to this bean coming up or that lettuce sprout coming up. 
In the evenings, we go to our shangri la, just outside our dining room to see "what has the garden been up to today?" Any new surprises? And so far, our garden has surprised us almost each and every night. 

I know, the way the greens are coming up now and the fact that we belong to a CSA that right now is producing also massive amounts of greens that by July I will be tired of the required salads for lunch and dinner.  Just like I know that by Mid August I will be tired of tomatoes.  Or at least I hope I will.  Nature can be fickle, nature can be kind.  We just never know which way it will be until long afterward, when we sit down and write all that has happened over the past month.

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