Thursday, April 29, 2010

Planting Onions, Planting Garlic and Tilling

What wonderful weather we have been having!!! Suddenly it is spring and I can't believe how warm it is and how warm the soil is. Tuesday I checked the soil under some IRT (green plastic) that I laid last fall and found it incredibly warm. Even though it was still April, I couldn't resist and immediately planted some onions and garlic! Those two plants will withstand frost, warmer ground is what they need. I can hardly resist planting the broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower seedlings, but nine times out of ten if I do, they will die, so I am restraining myself.

I am keeping busy. Yesterday I managed to till my big hill garden and my mom's garden. They are somewhere between the size of large gardens or small fields, so getting them tilled is an accomplishment. I also removed all the mulch from my flower beds and discovered many perenials already growing--hooray! I mowed the lawn, raked the leaves and dead grass and spread fertilizer. Today I will water the lawn and by this time next week it should be green--I know it happens every year, but it's always a miracle to me.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Future of Alaska's Agriculture and Planting Corn

I didn't write las week because I was much too busy and not in the greenhouse. Oh, the greenhouse needed work done, and I did the maintenance watering and checking, but I had much more important work to do. That is an odd statement coming from me, because this time of year nothing really gets in the way of me working in my greenhouse. My family can attest to that--laundry goes undone, the housework slips, meals are not the best prepared and I even occasionally have to buy a loaf of bread. But last week something more important than the greenhouse work took place. That was the Alaska State FFA convention.
FFA stands for Future Farmers of America and it is fabulous! The convention was here in Palmer and it was truly inspiring! The youth in attendance came from across the state. They competed in competitions related to agriculture and leadership. This was a group of youth fired up about agriculture and dedicated to the future of agriculture in this state. I was able to help in a small way, coaching on of the teams and helping with the food preparation and I feel it was a great privilege to have been able to rub shoulders with the FFA. If you ever see them in their blue jackets, support them any way you can. They are our future!
Now for the present--this week is for corn planting--not outside, that will come next week. Every year at the markets people are amazed at the price of sweet corn in Alaska. We farmers do charge from $1.50-$2.00 an ear which sounds way expensive to those from the lower 48 who are used to paying that much for a dozen ears. However, for me, my corn is a bargain! Let me explain why. First of all, not just any corn will grow in our cool Alaskan soils. We must purchase specail seed which is quite expensive. Then we must plant the corn the end of April into six-packs and grow in in the house (the greenhouse night temperatures might be too cool). That is twoenty five flats of corn which need to be housed on tables thoughout my mom's and my house (not a great interior decorating theme).
Next week we will cross our fingers for a nice sunny day with no wind-what are the chances of that happening? When that happens (it must happen before May 10th) every other activity must cease and we must plant the corn. My sister who lives close by will be enlisted, my three married daughters will drop anything they are doing and my mom and dad and I will plant corn. The fragile corn seedlings will be coaxed out of their six-packs. Hopefully the roots aren't too long and coming out the bottom. We will have already fertilized and tilled the corn patch. We will make individual hills for each corn plant, six inched deep, eighteen inches apart. We will carefully plant each seedling in it's hole, giving each a drink of fertilizer laced water. The water must be warm water, brought in buckets from the house so that it will help warm the soil. After each seedling is planted we will stretch drip tape beside each row for irrigation. A trench will be dug all aroun the corn patch and then we will stretch 6 mil clear plastic over the whole patcth (this is why there can be no wind. Once the plastic is stretched, we'll bury the edges with dirt, place big rocks stategically on the plastic throughout the corn patch and hope it holds through all of our spring winds.
About the first of June we will need to carefully cut the plastic at each corn plant and gently pull it out into the open air. The irrigation hose will need to be attached to each drip tape and several times fertilizers will need to be applied. After all of this we hope for a 'good' summer, one with plenty of sunshine and some warm days. If all this goes well, and we get the sunshine and heat we need we can expect to harvest two marketable ears from every corn plant.
About every other year is a 'good' corn year, meaning that half the time we don't get a marketable corn crop and all the work and the expense yeilds only enough corn to satisfy the family. Bet you don't wonder now why I think Alaska corn is a bargain. You are probably asking why we, or any other farmers would even bother with growing corn since it's so much work and so unprofitable? Well, it's just because we can. Growing corn is like the Mt. McKinley of Alaska farming, you feel like a champion when you grow a successful corn crop and there is nothing like the rush of picking the first ear of corn of the season!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Spring is always my best time of the year. I just love the lengthening daylight, the bright sunlight and the crisp air. I am always have an abundance of extra energy in the spring. I wake up in the mornings anxious to get to my greenhouse and I am always sorry when it is time to go to bed at night--there is always one more seed I could plant. It takes alot to get me down in the springtime. Last week when it was 18 degrees when I woke up and the greenhouse heater was struggling to keep the temperature up to 40 could have discouraged me, but I just decided that the cool air would make the plants more compact. Little seedlings suffering from damp-off virtually destroying my foxglove and allysum might have gotten to me, but I just shrugged it off and decided I'd just have more salvia in the flower gardens to take their place. Today, though, planting tomatoes in my mom's greenhouse while a snow storm was raging outside was a bit discouraging! I am looking out my window on four inches of snow everywhere and more is falling fast. Oh well, I can't waste too much time lamenting. I am picking up 150 tomato plants on Friday so my work is cut out for me, getting those planted in the gro-bags. Nothing chases away discouragement like more planting and of course some sunshine!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Transplanting and seeding & first harvest!

It's hard to believe that we have only been in the greenhouse for five days. It is filling up so fast! I sepnt Monday and Tuesday making up hanging baskets. That is always so fun. They don't look like much right now, but in six weeks majic happens and they become fairy-tale lovely! We have grown some beautiful wave petunias and bacopa this year, with some new varieties that I am dying to see in the flesh (not sure 'flesh' is the right word, but I mean in reality and not just the picture in the seed catalog.) We're also busy transplanting seedlings into six pack flats and tomatoes and peppers into 6-inch pots and onions into trays. There is so much to do and it is all so fun! Last night I planted alyssum seeds and calendula, malva and lavatera. It is also time to plant some veggie seeds. Oh yes, last night I also made my first harvest. I noticed that the basil was ready to pick and hooray I cut a good bit and put in the fridge. Tonight I think I will make some pasta to use it on--yum!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Moving Day

Today I moved into the greenhouse! That is a major event that I always want to happen by April 1st, but it doesn't always work out. This year it worked. I, well, actually my 77 year young mother and I moved about 60 flats of seedlings from both her house and mine into my wonderfully organized greenhouse. Last fall we started adding twelve feet onto the greenhouse and the project didn't get finished until last Saturday. Doing the addition gave me the opportunity to completely clean out the greenhouse, put down new floor covering and get things organized just the way I want them. This is not my normal modus operandi. Usually I am having to move around piles of pots and flats and I hang the baskets where ever there is room. This year, I have all the tables set up, the rods in the right place for the hanging baskets, and all the pots of dirt stacked in my empty barn, waiting to be moved to the greenhouse as needed.
Today was also specail because it was my first real vegetable planting day. I planted some lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and swiss chard. It is a little early for planting those, but if we have a great spring, it will be fun to eat fresh veggies the first part of June and if not, the seeds didn't cost much!