Foraging Spruce Tips

I’ve been determined to do more foraging this year. Believe it or not, Alaska wilderness has a lot of food to offer, not just ice cubes and snow cones. One of those treats is spruce tips. There’s a fairly short window for foraging spruce tips. I managed to pick a few right at the end of the season.

Foraging Spruce Tips and How to Dry Them - IdlewildAlaska

We have both white and black spruce trees in Alaska, but we only have white spruce on the homestead. Spruce is an amazing tree. The needles, pitch, tips, twigs, and inner bark are all usable. It has many medicinal, cosmetic, food, and more uses. The Boreal Herbal is my go- to book for all the tips and uses of the amazing spruce tree.

Spruce tips are wonderfully high in vitamin C, to the point of being used to ward off scurvy (just ask Captain Cook and his spruce tip beer). When eaten fresh and young, they have a surprising lemony taste with a hint of resin. The best time to pick the light green spruce tips before they start to open, when the brown, thin casing starts to come off. The tips should be tender and very pliable. As they grow and harden, the resin flavor becomes much stronger.

Foraging Spruce Tips in Alaska - IdlewildAlaska

Thanks to this high vitamin C, spruce tips are a great immune booster. Brewed as tea is a very common way to take advantage of this. Since I’d like to have this booster around for the rest of the year. I decided to dry the tips for storage.

READ NEXT: FORAGING FOR WILD BERRIES

Whenever foraging, please be sure to do so in a sustainable way. Don’t pick every spruce tip off the tree. Those tips are the trees new growth for the year. A good rule of thumb is to never forage more than 5% per tree, area, bush, etc.

Drying Spruce Tips - IdlewildAlaska

After removing the brown casings from the tips, I washed them and let them drip dry. I then put them in the dehydrator at 135 degrees for about 5 hours. Time may differ for you depending on your area’s humidity. You want the tips to snap when you bend them. Removing all moisture helps to ensure the spruce tips won’t mold. I’m storing mine in a mason jar until I’m ready to make some tea.

Storing Spruce Tips - IdlewildAlaska

Pretty purple jar!

 

Foraging Spruce Tips Tea

In a single serving mug, place about 1 tablespoon of the dried spruce tips (broken up is fine) in a tea ball. Pour lightly boiling water over and allow to steep for 5-14 minutes, depending on your preference for the flavor. I’ll be adding a little bit of local honey to mine too!

I’m hoping to get enough tips next spring to try spruce tip jelly!

Check out this tasty Trout Salad Recipe that uses spruce tips! And find more great uses for spruce tips HERE.

 


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Instant Organic Fertilizer for the Garden

Its still a little too cold here in Alaska to plant my tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. However, while I wait for spring to warm up a bit more, I now have time to give the soil in my greenhouse a nice boost. I’m going to use homemade instant organic fertilizer for an amazing harvest this fall.

Instant Organic Fertilizer for the Garden - IdlewildAlaska

I currently have two compost bins going. One I add to, one that is full and cooking everything down to that beautiful black gold. But I’m impatient and the soil in my greenhouse could really use a boost. When we first built the greenhouse two years ago, we bought soil by the cubic yard from a local company. The hubby shoveled it all into my metal raised beds and I filled it up with tomato plants and peppers. We’ve had a fairly decent harvest these past two years.

But much like in container gardening, the soil in the greenhouse has been giving up nutrients, without very much replenishment. So instead of adding to the compost bin, I’ll be adding a few things directly to my greenhouse soil.

READ NEXT: FREE ORGANIC FISH FERTILIZER FOR THE GARDEN 

Coffee Grounds

Almost every long-time gardener will tell you what a wonder coffee and coffee grounds are in the garden. Leftover coffee (I’ve heard of this phenomenon, but have yet to see it myself.) can be diluted with water and used to water acid loving plants. Used coffee grounds can be spread (not too thick!) around plants like mulch to help deter slugs and act as a slow-release nutrient. It does beautifully added to the compost pile. Read more on the science and uses of coffee in the garden HERE.

Coffee grounds for the garden - IdlewildAlaska

Egg Shells

Tomatoes are a calcium loving plant. A sure-fire cure for blossom end rot is to add more calcium. Egg shells are a perfect way to add this. Dry the egg shells (Some people do this in the oven after rinsing the shells. I just toss mine in a bowl. Thanks to Alaska’s very low humidity, they’re usually totally dry within 24 hours and I haven’t used any extra electricity.) Pulverize the shells. Depending on how many I have, I’ll either crush them with my mortar and pestle or use the food processor. Most of the time, I’ll feed these crushed shells back to my chickens. Chickens need the calcium to make egg shells – it’s a perfect circle. The shells can also be added to the compost pile. Supposedly crushed shells sprinkled around plants in the garden will also help deter slugs.

Egg shells for the garden - IdlewildAlaska

READ NEXT: ALASKAN COMPANION PLANTING

Banana Peels

Roses love bananas. But I only have wild Alaskan roses in my yard, which I figured they’re doing just fine on their own. I love dehydrated bananas, personally. All plants love potassium, so banana peels are a wonderful addition to the compost pile, which is where mine usually go. Either toss them in the bin whole or allow to dry a little and grind up in the food processor, which will help the breakdown process go much faster. Check out all the wonderful ways bananas are great for your garden HERE.

Banana peels for the garden - IdlewildAlaska

Instant Organic Fertilizer Recipe

Mix crushed egg shells, ground banana peels, and coffee grounds. Don’t worry too much about ratios, although you don’t want the coffee grounds to be in large clumps or overwhelm the other ingredients. Spread around the base of your plants, mix into your soil, or layer it under wood chips. Done!

 

We’ve been transitioning our garden to the Back to Eden gardening method for the past year, and I’m planing on adding wood chips to the raised beds in the greenhouse too. Before I add the chips this year, I’m going to add my instant organic fertilizer as a layer over the soil, and then place the wood chips on top. The tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers should love it!

READ NEXT: GARDENING GOD’S WAY

Remember, for this to be a truly organic fertilizer, your ingredients must be organic. The hubby and I drink organic coffee, my chickens are fed only organic feed so the eggs are organic, and I only ever buy organic bananas. Even if you don’t have these ingredients in the organic form, they’ll still be very good for your soil, but may add some unwanted pesticides, chemicals, etc.

Looking for more options of homemade fertilizer? Check out this chicken manure tea for seedlings or 5 Natural Fertilizer Recipes for Your Vegetable Garden. Got comfrey in your yard? Check this out! And who knew herbs were for more than cooking with! Also check out my Homemade Organic Fish Fertilizer for the garden too!

 


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Hardy Perennial Flowers for Alaska Part Two

Snapdragons, nasturtiums, marigolds, sweet peas, pansies, and so much more. Flowerbeds can be beautiful even in the short Alaskan growing season. But the cost of replacing annual flowers every spring adds up fast and can often push your garden over budget, not to mention all that replanting is a lot of work. I think I’ll just stick to hardy perennial flowers for Alaska. Check out the first part of my perennial list HERE.

Hardy Perennial Flowers for Alaska Part Two (And other zones too!) - IdlewildAlaska

Garden phlox (phlox paniculata), also known as a border phlox, can grow to a fairly good size, around 3′ tall and spread 1′ to 3′. Be sure to plant your seedlings 1′ to 2′ apart to give them lots of room to grow. They will do well in full or partial sun. Phlox prefers moist, well draining soil and will love lots of compost. Don’t forget to deadhead your flowers for more blooms. Grows in Zones 4-8. Bonus- it attracts butterflies!

Growing Phlox in Alaska - IdlewildAlaska

Comes in white, pink, and lavender.

READ NEXT: GROWING FRUIT IN ALASKA

 

Rock wall cress (arabis caucasica) is a great low-growing border plant, especially along the edge of a retaining wall. They do best in full sun and need good drainage. They do well on a hill or slope, even where other plants will not, because they are an alpine flower. Slightly acid soil is good. Water well when newly planted and then only when the soil is dry once established. Plant 15″ to 18″ apart, as it will fill in. Very good plant for a new gardener. Zones  4-7. Bonus- Both the flowers and leaves are edible, as rock cress is part of the mustard family!

Rockcress in Alaska - IdlewildAlaska

Blooms are pink or white.

If you’ve got a large blank wall or fence you want to have filled in, yellow clematis (clematis tangutica) is the way to go. This strong climber will grow quickly up a trellis and shower you in pretty yellow blossoms and then give you Dr. Seuss-like seed pods (they’re very cool). It does well in full sun to partial shade and prefers medium moisture. Zone 4-8.

Growing Yellow Clematis in Alaska - IdlewildAlaska

Dr. Seuss pods!

Dianthus (dianthus) is a nice filler plant for flower beds. These carnation-type flowers can be white, pink, magenta, or red. Deadheading keeps the blooms coming. Up to 20″ tall, these are good “middle of the flower bed” flowers. They are also good cutting flowers. Grow in full sun, getting at least six hours of sunlight, and prefer neutral to alkaline pH soil. It does not tolerate wet soil. Zone 3-9.

Dianthus in Alaska - IdlewildAlaska

So pretty.

Looking for some color to last the summer? Try blue oat grass (helictotrichon sempervirens). This steel blue foliage grows 24-36″ and looks good in formal and informal gardens alike. Not only is it good ground cover, but it helps with erosion control too. This grass is very low maintenance and grows well in beds and containers, provided it is in full sun. Read more HERE. Zone 4-9.

READ NEXT: HARDY PERENNIAL FLOWERS FOR ALASKA PART ONE

Creeping Jenny (lysimachia nummelaria) is a great ground cover or a trailing edge over a container or rock wall. It does well in full sun or shade with good drainage. Be sure to plant them at least 2′ apart, as it will fill in quickly. It does have an invasive nature, so be sure to keep an eye on it. Zone 2-10.

Growing Creeping Jenny in Alaska - IdlewildAlaska

Daylilies (hemerocallis) will steal the show in your flower bed. These big, brilliant blooms come in yellow, orange, or maroon and smell wonderfully. Extremely hardy, they’ll bloom year after year with hardly any attention. They do best in full sun with moist, well draining soil. Plant them 12″ to 18″ apart and mulch well. Zones 3-9.

Growing Daylilies in Alaska - IdlewildAlaska

Yarrow (achillea millefolium) is a wonderful choice for your garden; it even grows wild in south central Alaska. It is practically care free. It grows great in full sun and will survive in a variety of soils. It is both an edible and medicinal plant with many uses and benefits. Joybilee Farm has several articles on the many benefits of yarrow, including uses for high blood pressure and for coughs and fevers.  Tenth Acre Farm can show you five reasons to grow yarrow. It’s even good for your chickens! Zones 3-9.

Growing Yarrow in Alaska - IdlewildAlaska

Looking for more perennials? Be sure to check out Part One of Hardy Perennial Flowers for Alaska!

 


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