Kachemak Gardener: Encouragement for the growing season ahead

I’ve been reading about allotments in England. These are plots of land, about the size of a doubles tennis court or smaller, that gardeners can rent. Keep in mind that these gardeners are probably taking a train to get to their plot, for which they pay a yearly fee, and they are not stepping out their door and spending 15 minutes or so tending and harvesting for a meal.

But here’s the interesting part – they can wait as long as 15 to 18 years to acquire an allotment. The Nottingham City Council has a waiting list of over 6,000 applicants. Can you imagine this? What patience, what perseverance to wait that long to marry seed to soil. Daunting.

Great Britain and Europe in general don’t have suburban sprawl. The populations are concentrated, thus not a lot of land is immediately available to use for a garden – hence the allotment concept was born. Here we are, in this little city of Homer; here a house, there a house surrounded by grass.

When I’m out and about, I’m on the lookout for gardens. They are few and far between. What are you thinking? We are so very fortunate to have the space to create a small vegetable plot, some flowers to brighten our souls, to make a stab at fending for ourselves.

I just finished reading Seth Kantner’s “A Thousand Trails Home” where he maps out in no uncertain terms what it takes to survive in the Arctic. There is no way I would put myself through that. No way that I would ever eat a warble larva (Google that one). So here we are in the sub Arctic and we do have enough of a maritime climate to make a go of raising some of our own food, thankfully. But it takes doing it, and this, readers, is your year.

Mother Nature is leaving her calling card in all capitals this year. We haven’t seen snow like this in years. We should be grateful for every inch. This snow is insulation for the perennial plants, or those that return every year, and it will add much needed moisture to our natural environment. The ski trails are groomed and snowshoe trails are marked. Take advantage of this.

Think of Fairbanks, dazzled by the snow, rain, snow event they have been experiencing. We here in Homer can tell them a thing or two about this. I want to tell Fairbanks gardeners to get out there with a pitch fork or potato fork and break up that layer of ice that is covering your perennials. Poke as many holes as you can to let the air get to your plants, they are suffocating. This is a recurring theme for us, and we are learning how to combat the effects. With the climate askew, these events will become more common. We really need to get this freeze thaw figured out, how to either fight it or live with it, how to compensate for it. While SpaceX strives for Mars, we gardeners will carry on growing food, and that includes you.

“Landrace: noun: a local variety of a species of plant or animal that has distinctive characteristics arising from development and adaptation over time to conditions of a localized geographic region and that typically displays greater genetic diversity than types subjected to formal breeding practices.”

Thank you Merriam-Webster. Ahna Iredale, a local potter, peony farmer and excellent gardener, has allowed her greens (chard, collard, mizuna, etc.) to go to seed for 15 years. The results are a harvest of mixed greens, some of them unidentifiable, at the end of May. These are greens that have crossed pollinated, have become determined to carry on in our challenging growing conditions, and they return year after year.

This is something for all of us to think about. As drought continues to be a factor in the Lower 48 where our seeds are coming from, we might be thinking about saving seeds from open pollinated vegetables. This is going to be tricky for me. I use hybrids because I really want results. I’m dependent on Arcadia for broccoli, and so the list goes on. The seeds saved from hybrids might not produce a plant like the parent, whereas seeds saved from an heirloom (Brandywine tomato for instance) will come true. Food for thought.

All of this somehow brings me to our stored vegetables. We don’t have a bona fide root cellar and we never will. The drainage on the property is interesting, as it is throughout Homer, so we’re not digging any holes. But our answer to storage for carrots, beets and red cabbage is in its second season and seems to be working just fine for us.

We started out with two totes and are now down to one. We drilled holes in them, layered the vegetables with damp wood shavings and have been happily eating our way through the harvest. Our granddaughter, Cecilia, is amazed that our carrots taste as good now as when they are pulled from the garden. Not only are they happily stored, but the variety, Bolero, is excellent both eaten fresh and stored. I’ve tried storing Nantes and was disappointed, not being aware they just are not meant to be stored. Keep that in mind.

I’ve been adding a little water to the shavings as the season progresses. When we had single digits, we took the totes to our neighbor and stored them in her garage, and I will be forever grateful. As it is, we drag them in and out from the covered porch during the day to the entry at night. It works.

The red cabbages weighed in at about six pounds apiece and we had six of them. Believe me, a six pound cabbage is akin to Dorothy Parker’s saying “Eternity is a ham and two people.” I have actually made gifts of red cabbage. Hopefully this season, I won’t plant six. Learn from this. So, if you have vegetables stored in wood shavings, keep an eye on them. They might need a little water.

There is not one single inch of cool space in this perfectly heated house, somewhat of a drawback to a Five Star structure. The onions are doing fine in a wicker basket in the basement; the shallots and garlic are right here in the kitchen and that has been working for us for years.

There you have it, a little more encouragement for the season that is surely ahead of us.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.