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Thread: Help with tips on setting up new garden

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    Default Help with tips on setting up new garden

    I'm planning on setting up raised bed garden next to our garage.



    It's south facing so should get plenty of sun and warmth reflected by the wall of the garage. The question is, with the dream of successfully growing tomatoes and other vegis that prefer a warmer climate than we naturally have, what can I do to maximize the effectiveness of this area? Is it worth covering the soil with black visqueen to further harness the sun, or do I run the risk of the soil not breathing enough or getting mold or root rot?

    I've had enough disappointment with unsuccessfully growing in our previous garden that I gave up, but I'd like to give it ago at the new location. I'm planning on roughly a 20' wide 2' deep bed. Also what is my best soil to build up the bed?
    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

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    I may post more later but if you are serious about tomatoes and peppers you need a greenhouse. Attach it to your south wall.

    Claear plastic heAts your soil. Black plastic kills weeds. I don't think either does both, but there are some plastics that do do both. I used them last year and they worked well, but I won't use them again this year because it makes it hard to water. Root rot is not a concern.


    Variey matters a ton. If you want some variety advice tell me the crops you want to grow and I will try to help. Be warned that I have not had good success with tomatoes and cucumbers in Anchorage as I don't have a greenhouse anymore

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    We get way too much wind for a greenhouse but perhaps I could figure out a temporary means of attaching a greenhouse for the summer.

    We'd like to grow tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini and some greens, lettuce, chard, cabbage and probably some root vegi's, carrots and taters.
    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

    If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.

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    Supporting Member Old John's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul H View Post
    We get way too much wind for a greenhouse but perhaps I could figure out a temporary means of attaching a greenhouse for the summer.

    We'd like to grow tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini and some greens, lettuce, chard, cabbage and probably some root vegi's, carrots and taters.
    You could grow some of the cold resistant varieties of tomato, Such as Stupice, up next to the Garage. However, I don't think you'll have much luck with cucumbers outside a greenhouse. Everything else you listed should do fine in raised beds.

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    Here are my varietal recommendations, with a catalog in parentheses that I know sells it:

    zucchini - Cash Flow (Stokes). Zucchini grows well but needs warm soil. I grow them in raised beds inside of an old tire. The black rubber absorbs heat. My mom puts clear plastic down on the soil and that works well.

    some greens: I think all new gardeners in Alaska should grow Kale. Winterbor is my favorite variety, but there has been a crop failure two years in a row, so those seeds aren't available. Starbor and Redbor are also hard to find this year. I think that I recommend Red Russian this year. It won't be quite as productive as Winterbor, but it will still be the most productive plant in your garden. When you harvest it, make sure to leave a couple of the smaller central leaves, and it will grow back quickly. I'm trying Scarlet as a substitute for Redbor, but I don't have experience with it.

    Pac Choi grows well. All varieties I've tried have been about equal.

    Any slow bolting spinach grows well. I prefer Flamingo (Johnny's)

    lettuce: I have slug problems in Anchorage, so my varieties are chosen specifically with regards to that. I find that Romaine is the best head lettuce that both attracts fewer slugs and also is easy to clean. I like the Salvius variety (Johhny's) but grow others as well. For leaf lettuce I pretty much exclusively grow Black Seeded Simpson, but most leaf lettuces grow fine. I just don't grow much because of the slugs. In Eagle River I dont' think you will have the same slug problem.

    chard: Fordhook Giant is the most productive, and I think the best tasting. Northern Lights is prettier and still very productive. All Swiss Chards grow very well, and they are easy to harvest. Just cut the entire plant an inch or two above the soil, and let it re-grow

    cabbage: Storage #4 (Johnnys) is my most productive cabbage and also stores the best, but it's a late season cabbage. I also grow Red Express (Johnnys), which has a much smaller head, still stores well, but is much earlier. I get too many slugs in my Savoy and don't particularly care for the flavour, so I don't grow it anymore. I've never had success with Chinese or Napa cabbage.

    carrots: SugarSnax54 (Johnnys) is my best eating carrot, but doesn't store well. Also, they have very long fragile tap roots, so if you have shallow raised beds, they may or may not work well. Bolero (Johnnys) is my best tasting storage carrot and is probably my most productive carrot, but Sugarsnax gives it a run for the money. I grow some YaYa (Johnnys), but don't like them as much as the Bolero and they are less productive.

    Potatoes: Whatever you get, get certified seed potatoes. Don't introduce potato scab to your new garden. Some people think that scab is native to our soils, but I don't necessarily believe that, and I ruined a couple rows for years by planting uncertified potatoes. I really believe in trading seeds, but I won't accept potato seeds from anybody that I don't significantly trust. That said, you best all purpose variety, I believe, is Yukon Gold. Romanze is productive with great flavor and grows large. Norland Red is productive and some people really like the red skin. Kennebec is a pretty reliable starchy potato. Potato production can vary a lot according to site, so try a few varieties each year and find what is best for you.

    Every Alaskan, in my opinion, should grow some Magic Myrna's fingerling potatoes!!!!!! They were developed in the Mat-Su valley and are one of the best tasting fingerlings I've ever tasted. They are reasonably productive. Nothing great, but have some local pride and grow a couple plants. You can get them at Dimond Greenhouse, and probably lots of other places. (Hint: bake your Myrna's, don't boil them. They fall apart if you boil them.)

    Others that you didn't mention: Sugar Anne Snap Peas. Northeaster or Fortex Pole Beans (Fortex is round, Northeaster is flat. I think that Northeaster is more productive, both are very tasty), Fontero Beets (oblong, if you want round beets, go with Red Ace, but Red Ace is less productive), Utah 52-70 Celery (you should have started this a couple weeks ago if you want it to grow), Afina Cutting Celery (if you want celery for soup broth)

    For Herbs, Summer Savory and Winter Thyme both grow well. Basil is marginal, but in a good summer you can have good basil from June 15 through early August. Oregano grows better than basil, but not as well as Savory or Thyme. All of the herbs grow best in boxes, but I grow them in beds reasonably well. Cilantro grows ok, but doesn't develop much flavor in our cool temperatures. Mint grows well.

    Hardneck Garlic gets planted in the fall, but I have had good success with most varieties. I'm not sure what variety I grow, as I started with 5 varieties, and just kept replanting the best cloves, so now I have one of those 5 varieties. Garlic is highly epigenetic, so if you can find a neighbor who grows garlic see if you can beg some from them. If you PM me in the fall I might be willing to give you a couple cloves of mine. I'm hoping that this low snow year didn't impact my crop too much.

    As far as fruit goes, I have good success with Raspberries and Perennial Strawberries. I got my Strawberries from Ace Hardware a couple years ago, and I just grew every variety they sold and have let the dominant varieties take over. Strawberries need warm soil, so I built an artificial hill with a bunch of logs and such that I covered with topsoil, and they are happy so long as I get them plenty of water in June and early July before the rains come.

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    Dan,

    Muchos Gracias!!!

    That's some great information and I'm printing it out.

    Raspberries are one thing we've had no problem growing. Years ago a friend of my wife's gave us some raspberry transplants and before long our little patch was yielding about 5 gallons in the fall. I did transplant a few around the new yard so hopefully some of them take root and before long we'll have them established. We never did that well with strawberries, a few would fruit but bugs would usually get them before we did. But vine ripened strawberries are incredible. I think the problem with our previous attempts is our yard just had too much shade.

    So for starting the new bed, other then building a box and filling it with topsoil, any suggestions on what we might want to mix in with the topsoil to have the best possible soil? I have some old tires I've been using to keep the tarp from blowing off the woodpile and am due for some new tires for the truck, so will probably use those as well as the bed.

    I was hoping we'd be able to grow herbs in the kitchen as we have a greenhouse kitchen window, though it's on the west side of the house so won't get full day sun.
    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

    If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    For soil, I strongly recommend you consider going with Susitna Organics' garden soil (or something similar) rather than topsoil. I started a garden the same year as a friend who has warmer temps, less wind, and arguably better sunlight exposure (and years more experience), and my garden was far more productive. I'm convinced it was because of the soil. He was too, as that is what he put in his next garden. It's a bit more expensive up front, but is much better quality than anything else I found locally.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul H View Post
    So for starting the new bed, other then building a box and filling it with topsoil, any suggestions on what we might want to mix in with the topsoil to have the best possible soil?
    Brian probably gives you good advice. I used topsoil when I moved to Anchorage, and mixed in a lot of manure. Of course, the rabbit and horse manure I got brought in lots of weeds, but I was able to get enough nutrients in the soil quickly. I think that I supplemented with a little bit of chemical fertilizer my first few years. At this point my only chemical fertilizer is a little bit when I transplant.

    I maintain my soil health exclusively with grass clippings, wood ash and salmon. That's right, salmon. I compost the heads and guts from about 80 red salmon every year, layering them with kitchen compost, grass clippings and wood chips. You must have plentiful wood chips, but if you are diligent about keeping your compost aerobic by turning it, it doesn't stink (it has an odor like a zoo, maybe), it doesn't attract bears or dogs and my crops love it.

    Salmon provides mostly nitrogen with some potash and phosphorus, while wood ash provides about equal amounts potash and phosphorus with little nitrogen.

    The result, is a weed free, chemical free garden.

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    Thanks for the additional info. Brian, where did you get the Susitna Organics garden soil? Do they sell it by the bag, or can you get a truck bed full?

    We generated a few wood chips in the process of clearing the lot.

    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

    If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    They set up next to Locals (pizza pub) in Wasilla on the weekends in May and June and will fill your truck bed with a Bobcat.

    http://www.susitnaorganics.com/

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    Supporting Member Old John's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian M View Post
    For soil, I strongly recommend you consider going with Susitna Organics' garden soil (or something similar) rather than topsoil. I started a garden the same year as a friend who has warmer temps, less wind, and arguably better sunlight exposure (and years more experience), and my garden was far more productive. I'm convinced it was because of the soil. He was too, as that is what he put in his next garden. It's a bit more expensive up front, but is much better quality than anything else I found locally.
    I definitely agree with the advice Brian and HikerDan gave you. When we moved into our current house (Mat Valley) I bought 2 ten ton dump truck loads of what they called "Top Soil". It wouldn't even grow good weeds the first year. Took about 3 years tilling in Native Alaskan Peat, bags and bags of steer manure, buried salmon heads, and compost, to get some decent soil in my raised beds.

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    Thanks again for all the tips!

    My kitchen herb garden is starting starting to sprout so will be going under the lights tonight. I took most of Hiker Dan's tips for an order to Johnny's and should be getting them just in time to get my seedlings started.

    I think a truck bed load of organic soil should be enough for my raised bed and a few tire planters. I'm thinking for the beans I'll put a tire planter at the bottom of each of the deck posts and add some trellace to give the beans a place to climb.

    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

    If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul H View Post
    I'm thinking for the beans I'll put a tire planter at the bottom of each of the deck posts and add some trellace to give the beans a place to climb.
    That will work. If you really only want beans on the post you can nail a 3/4" rope vertically to each post every 3 feet or so. Leave it a little bit of slack, and the bean plant should be able to climb the rope. It won't be able to climb the post without a little bit of help, I think. I have a similar deck and have nailed chicken wire horizontally from the left post to the right post, and my beans and peas grow on that.

    Peas only grow about 6-feet, but those beans I recommended will easily grow 14-feet by the end of the summer. I bring them to the top of my deck railing, and then train them horizontally along the top railing.

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    I was thinking of using trellis between the posts, but I have a roll of chicken wire in the shed so will probably use that. I ended up ordering:

    Super Red 80
    (F1) Cabbage Seed-Packet
    Bolero
    Pelleted (F1) Carrot Seed-Packet
    Outredgeous
    Organic Lettuce Seed-Packet
    Sugarsnax 54
    Pelleted (F1) Carrot Seed-Packet
    Brandywine
    Organic Tomato Seed-Packet
    Purple 68
    Treated (F1) Carrot Seed-Packet
    Red Russian
    Organic Kale Seed-Packet
    Flamingo
    (F1) Spinach Seed-Packet
    Northeaster
    Organic Bean Seed-Packet
    King Richard
    Leek Seed-Packet
    Sugar Ann
    Pea Seed-Packet
    Moskvich
    Organic Tomato Seed-250 Seeds

    Hopefully I'll have better luck than in the past!
    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

    If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul H View Post
    Hopefully I'll have better luck than in the past!
    Start your tomatoes and leeks immediately if you want success and don't be discouraged if they fail. Tomatoes are really difficult without a good greenhouse, and I suspect that you should have started your leeks in January. Certainly onions need to be started that early, I've never grown leeks. I
    'll post some suggested start dates for the cabbage later.

    I have mixed feelings about starting peas and beans ahead of time. You certainly don't need to, but you might give yourself a 2 week head start. You can plant a seed in late May, but wait until "birch leaves are the size of squirrels ears" before transplanting. I think you are best off doing multiple seedings. First seed is May 10, next seed is May 27, etc. Some of the early ones will come up to early and be killed by frost, but that's ok because the later ones will come up a couple days later. You can get away with this with peas and beans because you don't sow that many seeds, so your opportunity cost is low.

    Your carrots and kale are going to be productive, so give them a decent spot in the garden and revel in the success you have with them. Then, in future years you can build on that success. One of the mistakes I made when I had first moved out of my mom's house was to try to grow everything that she could grow and I would be discouraged when I didn't succeed. Gardening became much more enjoyable when I corrected my expectations and focused on the easy productive stuff while viewing the difficult stuff as an experiment. As it became more enjoyable, I became better at it and started having more success with the marginal stuff.

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    If you think there is too much wind for a greenhouse, check this out. I built mine with these polycarbonate panels. Kind of spendy, but last for years. Without pouring a slab under the greenhouse I would....
    Dig out area under greenhouse. Lay blue board. Cover with good material like D-1 gravel for the thermal properties. Compact material. Grow in pots. Seedling mats are cheap and can be placed under pots to heat grow medium and plants.
    http://anchorage.craigslist.org/mat/4921413055.html

    Mine, almost completed. A simpler design with straight panels would be fairly easy.


    Admittedly a lot of work, but I am already seeing 90 degrees during the day. My orange is almost ripe as are the limes. Flowers blooming all winter. Hard to beat. Great place to hang out.
    Live life and love it
    Love life and live it

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    Bull:

    Do those polycarbonate panels come pre-bent, or are they flexible enough to fit your curve?

    Also, I am surprised that you don't have clear vertical walls. Do you feel like you lose much useable light, or is your idea that when the sun is low enough to need clear vertical walls, it doesn't have enough power in it to account for much?

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    I'm pretty darn sure there will be too much wind for a traditional greenhouse I was talking to the mom of one of my son's friends who lives in the neighborhood and she said greenhouses are a no no, people have had trailers blown over in their driveways. 100 mph gusts may not be an annual event, but they are a given.

    I have thought of doing something with less exposure to the wind like a subterranean greenhouse



    but I'm debating building a shop on the lot and between an area for a shop, septic system and easements at the edge of the lot I'm almost out of areas for such a structure. That and I need to landscape the lot this summer which is going to take the bulk of my project time.

    Hence a small ~16'X2' raised bed and a few tire planters seems like enough to yield a few vegi's and for me to get a feel for the issues I'll be facing.

    Dan, yeah I know getting maters to maturity w/o a greenhouse is probably a fools errand, but I gotta try. There is such a huge difference between the picked green tasteless tomatoes at the stores and vine ripened that it's worth the try. When my wife and I were first married we lived in a little apartment in California and planted some peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers in a 1' dirt strip between the sidewalk and fence. Aside from occasional watering, the sun and heat did their thing and we had some nice fresh vegi's with little effort. I wondered what all the big deal was about gardening

    Looks like I'll be getting my seeds from Johnny's tomorrow So far my dill seedlings have started, cilantro is just emerging and I'm not sure about the basil yet. I figure with the herbs I'll start a new set of seedlings every month so we have a fresh batch going.

    So for a 2'X4' seeding bench is a single t-8 sufficient for light, or should I run a pair of them?
    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

    If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.

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    Supporting Member Old John's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Paul H;


    Dan, yeah I know getting maters to maturity w/o a greenhouse is probably a fools errand, but I gotta try.
    ?[/QUOTE]


    Paul,
    Several of us out here in the Valley have had pretty good results growing Stupice tomatoes outside. I'm sure there are probably several other varieties that do as well.

    John

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    Quote Originally Posted by Old John View Post
    Paul,
    Several of us out here in the Valley have had pretty good results growing Stupice tomatoes outside. I'm sure there are probably several other varieties that do as well.

    John
    I'm trying stupice this year in Anchorage. I've never tried it before. As I've said before, I've gotten Glacier and Oregon Spring to produce in Anchorage, but the flavor isn't nearly as good as it is in Fairbanks. Anchorage's cold nights cause most varieties of tomatoes to be bland. I've been told that a single night of 40F or below while a tomato is green will keep it from developing flavor when it ripens, and my experience confirms that.

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