It's Grow Time
April 28, 2022
As the ground thaws and the breeze warms, gardeners around toQwn are itching to start digging in their soil. In many areas of the Chilkat Valley the ground is thawed enough to begin sowing cold hardy vegetables. Here are some things to keep in mind as we embark on another season of bounty.
Your planting should be scheduled according to the last hard frost date for your garden. Here in Haines, we have many different micro-climates. A raised bed in town can have a drastically different last frost than an in-ground garden in Mosquito Lake. Around Alaska, Memorial Day weekend is considered traditional planting weekend so take comfort in the fact that you have plenty of time to get that garden in. We recommend waiting two weeks after your soil has completely thawed before planting and protecting those early season crops with row cover or greenhouse plastic until the summer weather truly hits.
Many of your seeds are not meant to be started indoors and won’t transplant well. Root crops and legumes are just some of the plants that can (and should) be sown directly into the soil. We direct seed all our greens and when we have an early spring, members of the Cucurbit family like zucchini. Their shallow roots don’t like to be moved. When you look at your seeds, many packets with say whether the plant should be “direct seeded”, planted right into the garden, or “start indoors” according to weeks before last frost. In our sunny sheltered south-facing garden in town, we will be doing our first seeding this week of carrots, beets, arugula, mixed greens, and some cold hardy herbs and flowers such as cilantro, dill, and nasturtiums. Our last planting of carrots goes in late June and arugula will be sown through early August so again, take a breath, time is plenty for many of our staple crops.
As you get those seeds in the dirt, be sure to plant your seed twice as deep as the longest part of the seed. Planting depth will also be indicated on your seed packet. Planting seeds too deep can result in poor germination and some seeds are so fine that they should be sown on the soil surface. Those fine seeds should be watered with a spray mist until they take root or if they are in a garden bed, cover them with row cover directly on top and keep it moist.
Plants need plenty of space. If you have a container garden or shallow raised beds, make sure the soil is deep enough for roots and wide enough so plants can leaf out. Think of how long you want your carrots to be or how big you want your head lettuce. When you direct seed in the garden, be prepared to thin. You will pull out the extra sprouts so the final plants are spaced according to the packet recommendation. It’s a painful process to get rid of some of your thriving sprouts but wholly necessary to make sure your plants have enough room to come to full maturity.
Soil drainage is key. Compacted soil and poor drainage will inhibit root growth, whether in containers or in the ground. With our heavy snow and rain, Alaskan gardens get hard packed and waterlogged annually. Every year we pull back our mulch and fork our beds to aerate them and make sure the soil can breathe. If you don’t till your garden, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t touch your soil at all. Make sure those roots have somewhere to go.
Label your plants. Don’t forget to label your plants. Always, always label your plants. Easy plant markers are a cut up yogurt container or a wood paint stick and a permanent marker to note the plant type, variety and date that it was seeded. Write down what you did so if and when there is a setback, you can readjust your methods for next year.
When starting your own seeds, you gain complete control over your garden and the food that you eat. You can choose flavor over uniformity, storage quality over size, and ensure that you are filling your garden with varieties that thrive in our region. It looks like we have been gifted a sunny early spring this year and the season feels bright and promising. Happy planting, gardeners.