Few climates are stranger than the climate in central Alaska. Winters are long and dark and so cold that nobody believes me when I tell them. Summers are short and the sun never sets. When I was a child, we never had much luck with a vegetable garden in Alaska.
Since I’ve grown up and moved away, others in central Alaska have adapted their gardening techniques to this unique environment and are reaping a magnificent harvest. I never get tired of hearing about how they are doing it.
Land of the Midnight Sun
I grew up in central Alaska in a small community some 100 miles south of Fairbanks, our “big city.” As kids, the central Alaska weather was all we knew. It seemed normal to us, but it was far from what others might classify as normal.
To understand the difficulties of gardening in central Alaska, you first must get an overview of the weather and climate. Our area was in USDA hardiness zone 2A, and winter temperatures regularly hit -60 degrees F. (-51 C.). When they dropped to -70 degrees F. (-57 C.), we got to stay home from school.
The growing season runs a short 10 to 12 weeks, with late June, July, and August being the warmest months. Temperatures could run as hot as 65 or 70 degrees F. (18-21 C.) and the sun never set. The ground is permanently frozen below the top 10 to 12 inches (25-31 cm.) of soil, so the most common trees are stunted spruce.
Start Cool Season Veggies Inside
While we managed to eek a few potatoes out of the ground, our dreams of tomatoes and peppers were crushed every year. Today, however, gardeners in the same regions have learned how to make the most of the extremely long summer days to get a good harvest.
To get the most bang for the buck during the short growing season, the University of Alaska recommends that gardeners start cool season veggies (like cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, broccoli, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts) indoors in May and hold off transplanting outdoors until the soil is warm in June.
Keep Warm Season Veggies Warm
For smaller warm season vegetables like turnips, carrots, radishes, beets, and lettuce, the U of A experts recommend planting the seeds outdoors as summer arrives. They should be planted at a shallow depth so that they experience the sun’s warmth.
For the tomatoes we longed for, they should be started indoors as early as March to be planted outdoors when the weather is warm. Still, it is a good idea to use mulch and plastic covers to warm the ground and keep the tomato plants happy. The use of other types of protection, from greenhouses to high tunnels, help with these and other delicate, warm season crops.