This year, I decided to document my garden through the seasons. One of the incredible things about gardening in Alaska is how your garden transforms overnight. It’s magical, amazing, and perhaps why I love gardening. Only this summer Things. Did. Not. Grow. Until July. But then there were some pleasant surprises.
Evelyn Sarten and her late husband Ed (Dwight) have gardened in Ruby, Alaska, for a quarter of a century. Evelyn, who was raised on the land on a Native American reservation in Taos, New Mexico, estimates she grows about 30% of her food.
She was taught to live with the land and she’s always grown her own food. Their garden in Ruby is characterized by innovation and making do with what is available. For instance, their chicken coop fence was constructed from an old couch frame, old bed frames, and leftover fencing from the school. Now her one remaining chicken lives in her Arctic entryway.
In addition to growing her own large garden, she also works for the Native Village of Ruby as the natural resources and agriculture program director, helping others in Ruby garden as well. With Evelyn, I and the Tribes Extension Program (www.uaf.edu/ces/tribes) sent out vegetable and flower seeds and organized gardening and plant foraging workshops at the school. We also purchased and built a raised bed garden for the school.
Gardening for the first time can be daunting, especially in Alaska with the added challenges of a short growing season, sometimes too-cool weather, and sometimes very hot weather. Although the internet provides a wealth of information, when you’ve never done something before, sometimes you don’t even know what questions to ask. Here are some questions you may not have known to ask.
The first thing to think about when starting a garden is where are you going to put it?
An ideal garden spot would get eight or more hours of direct sunlight; have rich, loose soil free of weeds, rocks and roots; be a good distance from trees and shrubs; have an easily accessible water source; and have an 8- foot-high fence to keep moose and other pests out. That’s the ideal, but many of us garden in less than ideal spots because that’s what we have available. However, it’s something to work toward or arrange if you can.
Gardening in raised beds offers a lot of benefits, and a few drawbacks. Raised beds are a great option for gardening on top of a porch, concrete, or on poor, rocky soil. They’re ideal for corralling good soil while keeping it from getting compacted. They make it easy to employ no-till gardening and to eliminate weeds in the aisles, especially if your walkways are made of concrete or something else that completely keeps weeds from growing.
Whether it’s your first time gardening or you’ve been at it a long time, this handy garden calendar will help you get started. Villages in Interior Alaska can request a free virtual or face to face workshop with Heidi Rader or another Tribes Extension Educator. Cooperative Extension offers a variety of workshops statewide.