You may not be thinking about gardening, but I am, so welcome aboard my train of thought because January is THE month to do some thinking and some planning.
Now is the time to leaf through those gardening books that are stacked up by your rocking chair or the endless magazines that are toppling over next to them — all garden-centric. What about the photos you took of last years garden all nicely dated, labeled, categorized so you can remember what you put where and how well/not well it did in that location? Oh well, I didn’t do that either.
Gardening in the Far North is a gamble at best, and with the climate oﬀ kilter, it is even more so. Once we accept the fact that this is no ordinary gardening experience, we can move on and accept the challenge because a challenge is what it is. Those of you who have a deep love of gardening coursing through your veins don’t really need to read this column. I like to focus on those of you who have yet to bite oﬀ more than you can chew — those of you who have done just that and vowed to never garden again. I’m here to give you a lift, a touch of encouragement and a few tips on how to get it done.
I also like to focus on you raising your own vegetables. With our (Alaska’s) food security always and forever in question, it is really only logical that we do what we can for ourselves. All of that Alaska posturing of how independent we are, how “we don’t give a damn how they do it Outside,” goes right down the drain when that barge or truck doesn’t make it in due to weather, earthquakes, volcanoes or politics.
Take it upon yourself to raise then freeze, dry or can your own vegetables. You can do this. The Cooperative Extension oﬃce oﬀers a zillion Zoom classes on gardening and preservation. There is also a KBBI radio program. There is your neighbor who already is a successful gardener and is more than willing to get you started.
The factor here is that every foot in elevation influences the growing conditions. What works here at elevation 396 feet won’t work at 1,466 feet. This is merely a fact. No, you don’t need a high tunnel. Leave those to the die hards, those who are selling at the Farmers Market, supplying CSA boxes and the Food Hub. Take advantage of these if you must, but keep in mind that you can grow, too. You can harvest a fresh salad five minutes before it goes on the table — no need to pick through your box that needs to last a week. You can make a daily harvest and it isn’t that big of a deal. Humanity has gardened for eons.
Take a look around your property and deck. Look where the snow is piled because that will be the last to leave so, logically, that isn’t where you want to plant a vegetable plot. Look where the spruces are — their shade is dense and can throw a wrench into a garden. You want as much sun as possible. Think about how far the outside water is, will you use a hose or watering can or perhaps you don’t have running water, so think about how far you are willing to tote buckets.
Think about recovering water from your roof into a barrel. Think about how far the plot is from the kitchen. What about a fence? Moose protection is a given or else you won’t have a harvest.
You’ll need raised beds for sure. When the snow is gone and you have already determined where you want your plot, don’t fret about tilling the ground. You will lay cardboard down on the ground, throw some dirt on top and plant. More on that later as we get closer to actually planting anything. The cardboard will smother the grass, our most invasive weed, and the cardboard will break down and eventually the vegetable roots will find the ground because that’s what roots do.
Right now, here in January, I want you to think about what you and yours will eat. Really think about this. Why plant something that no one wants? If this is your first garden, you are aiming for success, and that includes enjoying the fruits of your labor. Be realistic; this isn’t a watermelon or okra sort of climate. Greens, root crops and cruciferous vegetables excel.
There are readily available seed racks everywhere in this little town, so use them. Leave the garden catalogs. We have excellent nurseries that grow glorious seedlings for a reasonable investment considering the rewards.
And you really need to think about how big you want this plot. This is where so many trip up. Keep it small, please. Becoming overwhelmed with your garden is the worst. You probably work or have a family and can’t imagine adding one more thing to your life. The thought of gardening seems so out of your reality. But if you think about what I’ve just written (read it again) and use this information, you can have a reasonable garden that won’t take more than 15 minutes of your time and the rewards will be extravagant. Trust me, you can do this. Even if you have a deck, put a container on it and grow lettuce, radish, peas.
Make the most of January, it is a glorious month.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.