The Year-round Alaska Gardener

Click to listen to the full audio story:
pre garden final

Today we’re starting a garden. Most people would probably assume that gardening season begins in early spring. But for garden blogger Jamie Woodside, the season never ends.

Woodside is already planning her 2014 garden, even though her current one is still producing vegetables.  “This is what’s left of the garden for this year. Here’s some Swiss chard that I’m still eating even after all the frost, which is why it looks kind of spindly,” says Woodside, as we tour the property.

Woodside's plan for the 2014 garden is already taking shape.
Woodside’s plan for the 2014 garden is already taking shape.

The garden, located right outside of her house in the Big Lake area, is a constant project. She says that’s because a great garden needs great diligence. “There are some things that are going to do great no matter what you do like broccoli, you can’t go wrong with that. But if you want pumpkins or cauliflower or anything like that, procrastinating doesn’t do you any favors,” Woodside says, with a laugh.

Even though it’s only October, Woodside is wasting no time. She says she needs to be ready for Alaska’s short growing season, and that means doing everything she can now. “The last thing you want to do is be tearing up last year’s garden when you have a two week window to get everything in the ground. When the sun comes here it’s hard and fast; all of a sudden it’s summer. You want the garden beds ready to go,” says Woodside.

So for all those people who have always wanted to start a garden, but always run out of time, Woodside says now’s your chance to do it without getting stressed out next year. “The best thing you can do is start a compost pile if you haven’t already, get your garden beds built even you don’t have any dirt in them, and give yourself some structure so you can look at your notes over the Winter and have time to figure out where you’ll plant things instead of having to think about where you’ll have to build things first,” says Woodside.

And if you’re still skeptical of this strategy, Woodside offers this: “In Alaska in the winter if you’re not on a snow machine or something, what else are you going to do when you’re sitting inside and it’s dark? Look through your seed catalogs!”

The noisy goose in question.
The noisy goose in question.

Woodside likes to order seeds from around the globe during the long winters. She’s already got her eye on a Russian squash for next year, and this year, she grew some Jerusalem artichoke right next her goose pen.

“Have you ever heard of a Jerusalem artichoke? It’s a tuber; looks like a peanut potato. This is a new thing I’m trying this year,” Woodside explains as one of the geese honks rudely over her, “You actually slice that up and put in your salad or cook it like a peanut potato.”

Woodside says with all of her prep work done ahead of time, she’ll be able to start planting right when May hits. This will give her enough time to harvest two full crops of each vegetable before the season is done. She says the trick to planting early is simple; cover your produce. “I use bed sheets, I use milk jugs. If you have left over Visqueen or even Saran Wrap, that would work. Just something to cover them to give them a little protection,” Woodside explains.

It might seem like this is all too much work, especially considering that Alaska doesn’t get a very long growing season. But Woodside says Alaskan grown produce makes it all worth it. “All of our produce we grow is sweeter than everywhere else because it has more sunlight, and then that cold at the end of the year brings those sugars out. So it’s just like everything, but better when you grow it in Alaska.”

Woodside displays some of the lingering bounty.
Woodside displays some of the lingering bounty.

Woodside also says it’s because of our long winters that we don’t have to worry about as many garden-destroying pests as the lower 48. This makes it easier to manage our gardens, and to grow organic as Woodside does.

Between her garden blogging, her mail order seeds, and all this planning she does every year, Woodside says she occasionally gets teased about her hobby. “’Don’t you ever shut up about that garden?’ But then they come over and get some of my home grown produce and then change their mind very quickly about what I’m doing out here. My whole family has been converted, and I’m working on the neighbors.”

Read more from Jamie Woodside on the Town Square 49 blog.