Gardening in Alaska can be quite the feat. Not only are we in the far, frozen north, but the State itself is almost as large as the “Lower 48” put together, hence splitting the State into several gardening zones. Toss in the northern most rain forest, arctic tundra, mountains, hurricane force winds, blizzards, months with no sunshine and months with no darkness, more coast line than the rest of the US, and permafrost, you have to get creative when growing your own veggies. Our homestead is more or less in a zone 4 garden area. Thanks to a family of gardeners and several articles from The Tree Center, the hubby and I having our own garden, and lots and lots of studying, I’ve come up with a few Garden Tips for Zone 4.
Tip 1 – Build a greenhouse.
Whether it’s a high tunnel, low tunnel, cold frames, professionally built, or pieced together windows, a greenhouse will not only extend your growing season, but it will help those veggies that prefer a bit warmer weather grow too. We grow our celery, bell peppers, jalapenos, cucumbers, and lots and lots of tomatoes in our greenhouse. Ours is a jigsaw puzzle of windows and I love it. It’s still not quite finished, but it’s usable and will hopefully stand for many years in our harsh Alaskan weather.
Tip 2 – Find out what everyone else is doing.
Not only do my aunts, uncles, parents, cousins, and grandparents get into gardening discussions every year, but I’ve learned to listen to any local source I can. There’s always someone out there who’s been around longer and been doing this for a while. Learn from their mistakes. The Alaska Gardening Guide is my go to book, but I’ve also found several Alaskan gardening groups on Facebook. There’s a group for the entire State and a group for my local area too. I’ve learned so much just from reading other people’s questions and the posted answers, I’ve hardly had to even ask any of my own. I’ve discovered several things that will grow up here that I had never dreamed I’d be able to grow myself. These groups have also been great for keeping an eye out and warning each other about surprise frost predictions and such too.
Tip 3 – Just because the store sells the seeds, don’t assume they’ll grow here.
It’s so easy to get drawn in by the beautiful, shiny display of rows and rows of seed packets. “Ooo, let’s try this!” “Oooo, I’ve always wanted to grow that!” Especially for Alaska, the big box stores will put on their shelves whatever their distributors send them. Just because there’s watermelon seeds for sale, it doesn’t mean you’ll have a field of watermelons at the end of the season. Do your research. Find out what grows in your area, and what varieties of that grow in your area. Last year, we discovered the King of the North bell pepper variety. I’ve never seen anyone’s bell peppers do wonderfully up here, until I discovered these. King of the North is a short season variety pepper and did AMAZING for us! I also discovered two kinds of tomatoes that not only do well up here, but don’t have to go in the greenhouse! I NEVER thought that would be possible! It may take time, but research is worth it! (See Tip 2- Find out what everyone else is doing!) See what we grew last year HERE.
[bctt tweet=”Do your research. Find out what grows in your area, and what varieties of that grow in your area. Buy the right seeds.”]
Tip 4 – But with that said, don’t be afraid to experiment.
This goes for just about every zone. Plan your garden, do your research, find out what will work for you. But if you see that one fruit or veggie that keeps drawing you in and no one knows for sure how it will do, give it a shot! Try it out. I’ve decided that I will have at least one experimental plant growing every year in our garden. You just may find something that no one else thought would work. (That was my outdoor tomatoes last year!) Of course, I’m not going to go out and plant a whole field of that cool variety of watermelons to just see how they’ll do, but that’s not going to keep me from planting one or two…
Tip 5 – Be aware of water temperature.
Our homestead is supplied with an amazing well. It’s the coldest, cleanest, tastiest water you’ll ever have. But my garden hates it. Not that I blame it. I hate cold showers. Brrrrrr! Straight from the hose, our well water will send all of our plants into shock. We are sure to keep a couple of clean trashcans in the greenhouse, under rain spouts, etc, and fill them every couple of days. This gives the water a chance to warm up and not freeze out my tomatoes with a cold shower. (I prefer using dark colored trashcans too, which helps gathering solar heat.)
Tip 6 – Raised garden beds are your friend.
Not only do raised beds give your garden and nice, tidy look, but it also helps your soil warm up faster in the spring. Makes weed control easier too! My grandpa used to take buckets of boiling water out to his greenhouse in the early spring and poor it all along his beds, to help the soil thaw out and warm up faster. (Do this in the early morning, so that if it does still drop below freezing at night, the beds will have the full day to dry out and not get covered in ice again.) I love my metal raised beds in our greenhouse.
Tip 7 – Collect extra heat for your greenhouse.
My grandma used to fill rinsed-out gallon milk jugs with water and stash them behind the plants in her raised beds in the greenhouse. Through the day, the water would warm up and retain that heat to help your tomatoes through the chilly nights. I’ve seen people build a rock wall on the north wall of their greenhouse for this same purpose.
Tip 8 – Shovel the garden.
If it was a snowy winter for you, once it starts warming up, shovel the snow off of your garden. Many people here in Alaska, along with removing the snow (or most of it), will cover their garden beds with ashes, coffee grounds, dark herbivore manure, or plastic to help melt the rest of the snow and start heating up the ground a bit faster. We haven’t had nearly as much snow this year as we usually do, so I don’t think this will be a problem for us.
Tip 9 – Plant north to south.
Or south to north. Whatever works for you. But keep your rows nice and straight and this way your plants will receive maximum sunlight. For people in hot areas, it’s usually suggested that rows are planted east to west to help shade each other.
Tip 10 – Keep a garden journal.
I kept a very basic garden journal last year, but even just that little bit really helped me for this year. I know what seeds I started when. I meant to put a lot more in it, but the little notebook I was using wasn’t really set for much. I highly recommend something more like this Garden Notebook from SchneiderPeeps.com. It’s a custom printable e-book that is perfect for you to track anything and everything in your garden. It has how-to’s, calendars, lots of room for your to fill out your own records for each stage of the garden, garden layout pages, monthly journal, and so much more!
For all of Alaska’s challenges that it throws at gardeners, I love it. I can’t imagine gardening anywhere else. What zone is YOUR garden in? Do you have any garden tips to share? Comment below!
Looking for tips for other gardening zones? Check these out!
Joybilee Farm in Canada
The Northern Homestead in Canada
Homespun Seasonal Living in Montana
Grow a Good Life in Maine
The Homestead Lady in Utah
Learning and Yearning in Pennsylvania
Little Sprouts Learning in Oklahoma
Pierce Ponderosa in Georgia
Homemaking Organized in Washington
The Farmer’s Lamp in Louisiana
Preparedness Mama in Texas
SchneiderPeeps in Texas