Herbs—Easy to Grow, so Many Ways to Use

In the summer, there’s no reason to settle for dry, colorless herbs that may have been in your cupboard just a little too long. Simply trot out to your backyard herb garden, ideally as close as possible to your kitchen, and snip your herbs as needed. Another advantage? They’re a great thing to grow in a small space.

a variety of herbs planted, bordered by rocks.

In the winter, herbs are one of the easiest edible plants to grow indoors as well. You’ll need grow lights and some type of aeroponic or hydroponic system also helps.

What herbs lack in calorie count and volume, they make up for in flavor and variety. In addition to a wide range of herbs like basil or Perilla (shiso), there are many, many varieties of each herb. For example, there are sweet basil, purple basil, lemon basil and on it goes.

purple basil with blooming orange flowers

Here, purple basil is interplanted with calendula and fox glove. Purple basil is tasty, but pesto made with purple basil is very unappetizing looking.

Give herbs similar growing conditions that you would give vegetables—neutral pH, sunny location and well-drained, fertile soiland they will thrive. But there are several ways that herbs differ from growing vegetables. One big difference is that you’ll generally only need to grow one or two plants, unless it’s something like basil that you like to eat a lot of. Continue reading

A Conversation about Food Sovereignty and Food Justice in Alaska at the Alaska Food Festival and Conference

A primary focus of the 2020 Alaska Food Festival and Conference was food sovereignty and justice.

As a governing board member of the Alaska Food Policy Council, I helped organize the conference that happened virtually November 6-7, 2020. Although the format removed one aspect of the conference that I always look forward to—tasting a wide variety of local and wild foods—it offered the chance to hear voices from all over the state, country and beyond, all from the comfort of our own homes or offices. The conference kicked off with the film Gather, which focuses on the “. . . growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.” This was co-hosted by Native Movement.

There is a Gather grant opportunity helps address tribal food sovereignty issues.
Continue reading

Don’t Grow Food to Save Money—Do it for so Many Other Reasons

Food is cheap in the U.S. and we spend a lower percentage of our disposable income on food than any other country. We cook less and eat out more where a large portion of our food budget goes. But we pay for cheap food in other ways. Industrial agriculture takes a toll on the environment and contributes to climate change, impacts our health, and makes it more difficult for small farmers to be competitive and make a living.

Thumbnails of various crops that grow well in Alaska, including: Potato, zucchini, carrots, broccoli, beans, cabbage etc.es,

Because food is so efficiently produced and inexpensive to buy, having a garden probably won’t save you money especially if you factor in your time and labor. Establishing a new garden can also cost a bundle to start, this article from the Journal of Extension outlines a cost-benefit analysis of starting a home garden. Gardens add daily chores to your schedule and require someone to water while you’re gone fishing/hiking/hunting this summer (unless you install a drip-irrigation system like I talked about in this article). Continue reading

COVID-19 Could Make Small Farming More Competitive and Offer Plenty of Non-remunerative Rewards

Previously, I talked about how to scale up your garden to grow more food. Now I’m going to talk about scaling up even further. Just like with scaling up your garden, starting a small farm provides not only some food security for you and your family, but also for your neighbors and community members. It might add a few jobs and infuse money into the local economy.  

A colorful and well designed farmer's market display table.

Attractive displays go a long way to selling your crop.

While I’ll be the first to point out that as a small farmer it’s very hard to turn a profit, let alone make a livelihood, our current situation might make small farms more competitive with large farms. Food prices increased nationwide by 1.1 percent from a year ago, and current restrictions might work in favor of small farms with a short supply chain that minimizes handling and transportation needs. Also, COVID-19 brings into focus what’s essential and important in life – like food and having something productive and helpful to do.

This thesis, Assessing Food Security in Fairbanks, Alaska  is dated, but still provides insight into the demand for and challenges of farming in Interior Alaska. And, this market analysis also provides important information for Interior Alaska on the demand for local produce. Continue reading

Good Garden Reads—What’s on my Bookshelf

If you find yourself with any extra time these days, you know, because there’s a pandemic, check out one of these inspiring garden reads. Here’s what’s on my book shelf.

Books reccomended in this article on a bookshelf.

Recommended garden reads

The Garden Classroom by Cathy James is an excellent resource for teachers, parents, or those involved with children. It’s intended for kids aged 4 to 8 and has all sorts of fun, creative ideas for integrating learning with the garden whatever subject is the focus (math, science, reading, and art).

Brenda Adams, is an award-winning landscape designer in Southeast, Alaska and has written two books: There’s a Moose in My Garden and Cool Plants for Cold Climates. Although you’ll need to filter her plant recommendations through the lens of an Interior gardener, the books are inspiring, beautiful, and backed by a very experienced Alaskan landscaper. They will help you whether you’re designing a new flower bed or an entire landscape.

Not only will Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties  by Carol Deppe spark your interest in saving seeds, it might also inspire you to develop a new vegetable variety. Deppe explains it’s easier and more fun to develop new varieties to suit your own desires and location. We live in a unique climate and have a relatively small population so it’s worth trying! If you’re inspired, then check out the Ester Seed Library and ‘borrow’ some seeds that other local gardeners have been adapting for Interior Alaska. The seeds are free, but you’ll be expected to save and replenish the seeds. While you’re there, look for books on this reading list at the John Trigg Ester Library or other books on sustainability and agriculture. Continue reading

The Princess Garden—Beautiful, Productive and Sustainable

One day when I was biking around town photographing flowers and gardens (yes, I love my job!), I was surprised and delighted to discover a gem of a garden, farm even, behind the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge. Both the size and appearance of the garden impressed me. I’ve seen tiny hotel or restaurant gardens with oversized claims of sustainability and farm-to-table practices. But the Princess garden is different.

Vibrant display of nasturtium flowers at the Fairbanks Princess Lodge garden.

Vibrant display of nasturtium flowers at the Fairbanks Princess Lodge garden.

Not surprisingly, I found Gretchen Kerndt busily tending the garden. Gretchen has operated Basically Basil for more than 20 years in Fairbanks, with an emphasis on herbs and, well, basil. I interviewed Gretchen and Mark Winans, the food and beverage manager at the hotel, to learn more about why and how they created the so-called Chef’s Garden.

The hotel has always purchased locally grown food from local farmers, including Gretchen, but in the past few years, it’s gotten harder to fill their orders.

Mark explained, “We had the space out there. It was a no-brainer. We had the perfect opportunity. The tourists love it.’ Continue reading

Want to Grow More Food? First, Make a Plan!

There are so many reasons to grow more of your own food. It’s healthy, it can improve your food security, and it it can be highly rewarding. If you’re hoping to ramp up your production to make a bona fide contribution to your diet, first make a plan.

Containers of Raspberries, strawberries, saskatoons, currants and rhubarb harvested in late summer.

I created a completely customizable Google Sheet to help you do this. Based on the size of your family and preferences for various vegetables and berries, the sheet will help you calculate how much row and square footage you’ll need to grow enough food to reach your desired goals. You’ll have to download it to enter your numbers and you will need a google account. Continue reading

Homer is Passionate About Local Food–and Those Who Produce it

In spring of 2018 I had the happy excuse to visit five farms in Homer–to film high tunnels and season extension techniques for a YouTube series called, In the Alaska Garden with Heidi Rader. While I was there, I kind of fell in love with those farmers. Their passion, tenacity, and creativity was infectious and rekindled my own dream of being a farmer I discovered they’re innovating in lots more ways than high tunnels. I say farmers but they all also identify strongly with the term “market gardener”–a term that describes farmers who grow food predominately for direct markets using mostly low-tech, hand tools on small acreage. They are voracious readers, watchers of YouTube videos, and sharers of ideas. Some of their favorite authors and vloggers include Eliot Coleman (The Four Season Farm), Ben Hartman (The Lean Farm), Curtis Stone (The Urban Farmer), and Jean-Martin Fortier (The Market Gardener).

Heidi Rader stands with Katie Restino while she demonstrates how to cut greens with her Quick Cut Greens Harvester. The harvester is powered by a cordless drill.

Carey Restino demonstrates how to cut greens with her Quick Cut Greens Harvester. The harvester is powered by a cordless drill. Photo by Jeff Faye.

My first stop was Homer Hilltop Farm where Carey Restino has carved out a farm that winds through forest and devil’s club on Diamond Ridge. Carey exuded energy as she showed me her high tunnels and hoop houses that have helped her dramatically extend her season in a microclimate that is cooler than Homer proper due to its higher elevation. She had an impressive lineup of the latest, low-tech tools designed for market gardeners including a six-row seeder, a Quick Cut Greens Harvester, and a soil tilther to name a few. Continue reading

One Family’s Extraordinary Commitment to Grow, Gather, Hunt, and Fish for most of their Food in Interior Alaska and to Help Others do the Same

When some Alaskans retire, they head south for warmer, easier, sunnier lives. They take their stories and their adventures of Alaska life and that’s enough. But Terry and Paul Reichardt are different. They’ve ramped up what they’ve done for decades – wresting nearly all of their food from the Alaska landscape.

While it’s not unusual for Alaskans to hunt, gather, fish and grow their own food, it is unusual for a family to obtain most of their food this way, especially while working demanding jobs. Paul Reichardt was a chemistry professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks starting in 1972 and the provost from 1998-2007, and Terry Reichardt founded and ran Love In The Name of Christ for 16 years.

Terry Riechardt poses with two baskets of vegetables from her garden.

Terry Riechardt and the bounty from her garden. Photo courtesy of Terry Reichardt

When the Reichardts settled in the hills above Goldstream Valley in 1973, they grew their own food, in part, to save money. And because it was something Terry had always done. Their garden adapted to the needs and demands of a growing family. Less time meant more weeds, but three kids meant a lot of extra helping hands. Continue reading