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Are you ready to plant???

We have been waiting so eagerly to put our hands in the soil and grow…whether you started your plants from seed 😉 , purchased them from an Alaskan farm, garden center, Master Gardener plant sale or the Palmer FFA – plants need to be hardened off to your landscape prior to being transplanting.

What does this mean and why? For those plants grown indoors under lights or glazing (greenhouse coverings) they have enjoyed a lot of cotteling. Including but not limited too: constant consistent temperatures, timely watering, frequent feedings, reduced UV light exposure, minimal wind, limited pest pressure and lack of exposure to the soil ecosystem.

All of these protective measure have grown strong healthy plants but can they withstand the forces of nature on your landscape? If we take our juvenile plants and place them directly into the outdoor environment without a hardening off period, there may be some rather shocking impacts.

Suddenly plants that have adapted to a protective environment are now subjected to fierce drying winds, massive fluctuations in temperature, intense UV exposure, “pest” pressure and cooler soil temperatures. A period of gradual transition to their new home will allow for adaptation to occur so that they may thrive in nature.

Excluding the warm loving plants that may suffer tissue damage below 45F (tomatoes, peppers, squash, pumpkins, corn, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias and others) many cultivated varieties can handle cooler temperatures. What they cannot handle is direct and immediate exposure to UV rays. Sunburn and sunscald are the most common concerns that will come up during this time of year.

Taking a broad focus to include as many plants as possible:

In a protective location out of the wind and direct light- away from pets, littles and wild animals

Start hardening off with time: setting plants out plants each day for a period of time (start with one hour and increase every day over a 10 day period)

Use directional hardening off: start in the North, move to the East, then to the West and finally the South

Increase watering and fertility: we want to give our plants the best chance at survival and the capacity to fend off “pests” and disease. Restricting food and water (although are adaptations in the wild) decreases a plants health and vitality. We are growing in managed ecologies with a goal of food production…our actions should reflect that.

Once your plants are in their new homes you may find that they are not looking so well. This is a period of adjustment as plants are taken from the current vessel that lacks all the biodiversity that living soil has to offer. Once transplanted, new relationships within the soil will begin to form with millions of microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and protozoa. Your plant is now the new kid at school and it will take time for the root system to become part of an even bigger system. Help your plants through this phase with light feedings, warm water, staking and of course wind protection.

Once our trees fully leaf, the temperatures are consistently in the 60Fs and soil temperatures are above 50F…we will begin to see a massive influx of insects who are hungry! Will your plants be strong and healthy enough to fend off this initial pressure? They will because you have hardened them off 🙂

 

 

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What does this even mean “as soon as the soil can be worked”???

As the snow melts and the ground thaws, many folks are ready to transplant, to seed and start the growing. I have the itch myself after what has seemed like a hard Alaskan winter.

Nature is giving hints that our time is approaching. Flowering bulbs are pushing through the soil with some even blooming in warm microclimates. Certain perennials are beginning to put on their new growth. Fruiting trees are are showing leaf buds and insects are making their first appearances.

With all these signs of life and the desire to awaken our growing spaces…there are still many other indications that we need to have some patience.

Nightime temperatures are still in the “killing frost” zone for many cultivated plants. Areas of the soil are still frozen below 6″. Soil life is just beginning to emerge and make new economies for trading resources.

We are still covered in feet of snow albeit melting quickly. Soil is nature’s water catchment…soil needs time to allow the water to infiltrate and turn mud into a thriving ecosystem to support plants.

So what is “as soon as the soil can be worked”? There are specific plant scenarios but we will stick with a broad focus to include as many plants as possible.

Soil temperatures around 50F – not only is this nearing the optimal temperature for soil life but it is a great indicator that those seeds that appreciate a cooler soil temperature (peas, cilantro, spinach and others) will germinate more evenly and timely. If we seed too early there is potential that the soil is too cold for germination. Seeds will sprout with the soil temperature and soil moisture nurture life.

Soil is dry (ish) you can squeeze a ball and it is not dripping wet. If we seed too early…for those seeds that do not have a hard coat (carrots, lettuce, arugula) they can rot with too much soil moisture. If we transplant too early into heavy mud, roots can rot as well. Soil life, air, water and nutrients need to move freely throughout the soil. Think “would I want to grow in this soil”?

Nightime temperatures consistently in the 40s for cold hardy plants (caution here…too cold and broccoli will button instead of crown). Our current temperatures are perfect for perennials and biennials to emerge from their sleep. They are extremely hardy and are prepared for what lies ahead.

As for the warm loving plants (squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, dahlias, zinnias, eggplants and others) many will suffer tissue damage at 45F. It is truly best to wait until night time temperatures are in the upper 50s to transplant. This may be the first week of June for Southcentral.

Many folks may be new to gardening or new to Alaska. I will say as my 15th Spring that anything goes…it is the wild! When in doubt look to when the trees leaf- around the second or third week in May. This is an excellent time to grow!

 

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To soak or not to soak…that is the question (?)

The ecological relationship between seed and soil is like a symphony; there are natural cues that promote germination.

One of the major cues is moisture level! When the conditions are right, the seed will follow its own instinct and begin to swell. Once the seed coat is soft and moist the new seedling erupts into life.

The germination time for seeds varies greatly depending on the species. Some seeds can take years for germination (peonies) and others germinate in less than three days (cabbage family). We can use a mechanical force to speed the germination time (soaking).

Large seeds with hard coats (sunflowers, honeywort, peas, beans, corn and sweet peas) will appreciate a longer soaking- up to 24 hours.

Larger seeds with softer coats such as pumpkins, squash, chard, beets, nasturtium and cucumber are perfect to soak overnight.

Small seeds like lettuce, radish, carrots and tomatoes can become mushy and sticky if soaked too long (15-30 min) is appropriate.

Find a shallow bowl, place your seeds and top with water. Set away from pets, kids and spouses out of direct sunlight and in a warm location. Warm water is best but any water will do (what would nature do).

Once seeds have soaked and swelled…it is time to plant! Follow your seed packet guidelines for planting depth or reference our write up: https://seedsandsoilorganics.com/…/seed-starting-simply/

When in doubt…ask the question: What would nature do?

Alaska Sown-Alaska Grown

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Give me shelter from the storm

People have basic needs: food, air, shelter and water. The plants that we grow in our gardens and farms also have the same basic requirements.

The beneficial insects and “pests” have these same needs too. When we observe our growing space at the start of the season, we reflect and ask are all their needs being met and if not… how can I meet those needs?

If an issue arises such as an infestation or disease, it is a time to pause and determine if all needs are being met at the proper amounts. An overabundance of water may have some not so desirable results and too much nitrogen can be a detriment to a plant’s system. Too much food and water may inhibit proper growth.

Now is the perfect time to design which elements can be incorporated into our growing spaces to invite life back onto the landscape. Maybe some shallow dishes filled with stones will provide the local pollinators with a drink of water. Another option would to pile rocks with damp leaves so that ground crawlers can seek refuge. Even adding some mulch on top of the soil to reduce evaporation and retain moisture will aid microbial life and provide an opportunity to thrive.

Systems thinking… we become a part of the system in which we grow.

Alaska sown-Alaska grown

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Garden Design Dreams

My dreams started in the garden…

I remember gazing over the blank slate each Spring with a vision of an overflowing edible cottage garden. A place where butterflies, bees and birds congregated to enjoy the landscape together.

It has taken a long time, a lot of labor, many costly inputs and laughable failures to arrive at my dream garden. When sized up to the space in which we grow seed and vegetables for our small farm business- my garden pales in comparison. Yet, I have a piece of refuge that is one of the most valued growing spaces on our landscape.

There are many other attributes to appreciate outside of girth. When I close my eyes in my garden I can hear the hum of life. I can smell the perfume of the flowers and the oils of the herbs. The song of the Pine Siskin echoes in my ears as a gust of the Palmer winds nearly knock me over. This space is a reflection of my spirit and I all the things I wish the world to be.

As we begin to design, outline and prepare for the growing season, I am drawn to my exceptional parterre and the moments of peace I will find there. I reflect on the tenets of garden design, color application and edible landscaping. It is apparent that we have borrowed these themes from the original architect.

The sun is returning and now is the time to observe all the charm that nature has to offer. The components of diversity, structure, shape and color are the details I would like to replicate into my garden.

I am incorporating more local flora to allow this cultivated space to transition seamlessly into the surrounding forest. As a mirror of my life I wish this space to be less structured and more wild and free.

Happy Dreaming!

Alaska sown-Alaska grown