The Challenges With A Vegetable Garden in the Alaska Interior

By Tamara Bell | July 1, 2015
Image by Tamara Bell
by Tamara Bell
July 1, 2015

Welcome to another edition of Gardening Know How’s weekly guest blog! This week’s guest blogger is Tamara Bell of How does our garden grow with an enlightening post on the challenges of maintaining a vegetable garden in the Alaska interior!

Remember to tune in every Wednesday to get another unique perspective on gardening!

Thanks to being a spouse of a retired Army soldier, I’ve lived in all sorts of climates and as such I’ve also kept a garden in all sorts of climates. Hawaii, Northern New York, South Central Alaska, North Eastern Maryland and then finally here.  The gateway to the Interior, Fairbanks Alaska.

Each location has its own challenges. Hawaii had bugs; a LOT of bugs.  Northern New York had a slightly shorter growing season and wet snowy winters.  Aberdeen Maryland had slugs, woodchucks and squirrels, and slimy moss that would grow over everything with the wrong PH.

Fairbanks is unique from all of them in the fact that we have a relatively short growing season of 90 days.  This means we typically start our seeds in late March under a grow lamp and cannot move them “officially” outside till June 1st which is our “safe” in ground planting date.  From that point, the race is on.  Almost all gardeners here feel it; the race to get your plants producing before the first frost at the end of August.

Cold loving brassicas like kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower excel here with our cool temps and long summer days.  Many growers will break records with their super sized cabbages or broccoli thanks to our long summer days.  While our summer day’s help some plants produce massive sized vegetables, our almost 24 hours of sunlight in June also hurts some of our plants. Plants in the nightshade family like tomatoes or peppers are hindered by all the light; they need their beauty sleep to produce their tasty fruits. Temperatures are a challenge here too.  Once again the kales, cabbage, lettuce and onions do well while the heat loving tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, eggplants and peppers need a bit more help.  As a result this year we have purchased a cheap greenhouse to assist with that.  Last year we tried growing without a greenhouse and got a bowlful of green tomatoes, one small cucumber and no peppers.  I’m hoping this year we see more success there.

Now, if one does manage to start growing a beautiful crop of kale, or some lovely broccoli plants, you better hope you have a really large fence around your garden.  Adult moose have been known to jump fences in order to get to the lovely buffets that the gardeners so lovingly placed outside for them. Moose will eat almost anything so most gardeners here know not to plant anything outside of a fence that they are not willing to lose.

Of course, we also have the smaller variety of pests to contend with.  We currently are waging a war with voles this year which have managed to get every single one of the expensive garlic bulbs we planted last autumn along with numerous perennials and seeds for this year’s plants.  I have never had to deal with voles and I hope I never have to again.

Even smaller, we have some of the most stubborn aphids I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet that routinely attack our cilantro, dill, chamomile, calendula, and verbena.  Most of my typical ways of battling aphids like soap water, neem oil, hot pepper oil have all had mixed results.  In the end I typically have to run to the local greenhouse and purchase several thousand ladybugs.  This year I’ve been slightly lucky.  The ladybugs so far have been coming to my house, saving me the trip to the greenhouse.  I only hope that continues.

Even smaller than the aphids are the root maggots that attack everything from onions to broccoli.  Since moving back here to Fairbanks we have had almost no success in regrowing our green onions nor have we gotten a substantial radish crop.  The root maggots tear through them all and either out right kill the onion or just eat through the radish.  While it is frustrating, we plant those in hopes that they will leave our brussel sprouts and broccoli alone.  So far we have been successful in diverting the root maggots attention to the radishes; I just hope that continues.

It is June now and we’re one week from the summer solstice. From that point on we begin losing our daylight. About a month from now the fireweed will begin to bloom which tells us six more weeks before our abbreviated Autumn begins.  Summers here are beautiful but short as other gardeners in the interior can attest to.  Soon the mad race will begin to preserve whatever we can out of the garden to last us the long winter.  In the mean time we enjoy the warmth of the sun and the chance to walk through our small urban garden and delight in helping our garden grow.

Connect with Tamara Bell on her website How does our garden grow or on Facebook!

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