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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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What seeds are we starting this week?

Cabbage!

Cabbage seeds are small and should not be planted deeply. 1/4″ depth is perfect for them. Germination temperature is vast: 45F-85F…try to stay within this range. The more consistent temperature/moisture is present the more consistent and timely germination is possible.

Cabbages are heavy feeders- they are large plants with a long growing season. As we are providing all of their needs indoors, remember to feed them often.

Not all cabbages are alike…some are great for rolls, wraps, wilted veggies bowls and fresh shredding. Others are perfect for sauerkraut and long term storage.

Cabbages are large plants and take their time to grow. The target indoor start date is between 8-10 weeks of killing frosts (28F). One thing about my favorite cabbage is that it is exceptionally cold hardy and has overwintered in the field.

The cold hardiness allows it to be transplanted out earlier than other types. It can withstand really, really cold temperatures and with just a little protection can be set out as soon as the soil can be worked.

What does as soon as the soil can be worked mean? When the snow and ice have melted, your boot isn’t covered in soil mud AND you can no longer wring the water out of the soil. Using a soil thermometer is another tool that can help guide us to know if we are at/above 50F (the ideal soil temperature for cabbages).

Brunswick Drumhead cabbage is my favorite! This cabbage is perfect for kraut, storage, rolls, fresh, wraps and wilted.

We do have seeds available: https://seedsandsoilorganics.com/product/brunswick-cabbage-brassica-oleracea/

Alaska sown-Alaska grown

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What seeds are we starting this week?

Asparagus!

Purchasing crowns is another alternative to starting from seed. Crowns are about two years older and will be at a harvestable size earlier.

Starting from seed does require more time and a delicate transplanting hand. Seeds can take up to 21 days for germination so patience is a virtue.

Asparagus seeds should be started in 4″ pots and sown at approximately 1/8″ deep. Avoiding multiple “potting ups” is one of the keys to success.

These beautiful perennial edibles can supply food for up to twenty years! Bed preparation, soil fertility and nutrition will certainly pay off immeasurably.

Female asparagus typically produce less than their male counterparts but produce tiny flowers that the chubbiest Bombus occidentalis (a vulnerable species of Bumble Bee) will attempt to squeeze themselves into. The striking red berries on the wispy fronds are quite a sight to see in the fall.

We have had enormous interest in purchasing our divided Spring crowns…our household has yet to come to an agreement as the mouth watering flavor of our Asparagus is priceless (I am being humble here).

Another inquiry is if we have Asparagus seeds available: not yet…we are putting our energy into the future.

Happy Growing!