Juneau Commission on Sustainability



Grow and Harvest

Woman in GreenhouseJuneau’s cool and wet weather and varied microclimates pose challenges to gardening here.  But we can still grow a surprising diversity and quantity of good food.

Successful gardening relies on several basic principles.  Start with crops that do well here.  Give them a fighting chance by making sure they have fertile, well-drained soils and as much light as possible.  Protect them from our few, but determined, pests and diseases.

Southeast Gardening Basics

Some crops that do well in Juneau:

  • Potatoes:  … practically foolproof. You are almost guaranteed a crop, regardless of the weather. Pests don’t bother them and they require little care. Harvesting is a bit like checking your stocking Christmas morning; you don’t know for sure what’s there.
  • Root Vegetables:  Carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas all have similar culture, and as long as the soil is reasonably drained and not acidic, they will do well.
  • Lettuce:  Leaf lettuce grows quickly and likes our cool weather. Plant a short row every two weeks and you will have a continuous supply through the summer.
  • Kale:  It loves our weather, grows easily, and doesn’t seem to attract pests. It is excellent nutritionally and you can keep harvesting the outer leaves and let it grow. Red Russian is an excellent variety here, but experiment.
  • Cole crops:  All of the cabbage family vegetables do well here, but they are subject to root maggots and you would do well to cover them with remay (also called “floating row cover”) for the first part of the season. Always choose early varieties.
  • Garlic:  Garlic is normally planted in the fall… it grows very well here and pests don’t bother it. It is a special treat to cook with your own garlic. The hardneck varieties are recommended for their keeping qualities.
  • Rhubarb:  Another basic in this area. If you like it, you can grow all you can use with almost no effort.
  • Zucchini:  The summer squash usually like warmth, but under plastic they do well with our long days. … they have a tendency to rot at the flower end, so remove the flowers as soon as the fruit sets.

From:  Juneau Community Garden http://www.juneaucommunitygarden.org/Gardening_Tips.php

Based on air temperature and light, Juneau has at least a four-month growing season, though that can be stretched by modifying the growing season.  But cold soils mean slow growth for many crops.

The conventional wisdom is that the chance of killing frost is about gone by May 8th. Potatoes can go in before that and some seeds, but tender started plants are risk.  Many gardeners plant most seeds outside by May 1, except for carrots and parsnips, which need more warmth to germinate, and can go in by the middle or end of May, depending on your location and spring weather conditions.

For a local example to provide inspiration and information, read the late Cliff Lobaugh’s “Monthly Calender” ( pp.174-176  Gardening in Southeast Alaska, 3rd ed. 2007).  It describes his yearly sequence of eating from his Admiralty Island garden, including when he prepared beds, planted and harvested garden produce, harvested wild edibles, and prepared and stored produce.  By April he would be harvesting both wild and cultivated greens.

For best results, use raised beds

Raised beds provide many benefits in Southeast Alaska.  They enhance plant growth by improving drainage and warming the soil. They can be enclosed with boards, rocks, or many other materials, or the soil can just be mounded up. Good gardening soil should be loose and well-drained and supply good nutrition for your plants. For heavy, clayey soil, consider adding sand and organic matter such as aged manure or compost.  Our frequent rainfall tends to leach out nutrients, especially through the fall and winter, so you need to add organic matter each year. Our soils tend to be acidic and you may need to add lime each year, except where growing potatoes, which like the acid. The Cooperative Extension Service provides information on soil testing and recommendations for improving soil composition, pH, and nutrient content.

Another common practice is to cover your mounded beds with a layer of at least 3-mil black visquean and cut an X-shaped hole just big enough for your plant. This eliminates a lot of weeding and tends to raise the soil temperature.

For more information see:  Raised Bed Gardening in Alaska

This PDF guide includes tips to overcome cold soils, excessive or inadequate rainfall or poor soil conditions through the use of raised planting beds. It includes benefits, designs and the actual construction of raised beds. For those gardeners who do not have a garden spot located in a south-sloping, well-drained, sunny area, this guide is a valuable tool.

To grow plants that require warmer conditions and/or drier soil, you might consider covering a portion of your plot with clear visquean supported by a wooden framework or plastic pipes bent like covered wagon staves to make a sort of greenhouse. This approach requires monitoring, so that you provide adequate ventilation and don’t cook your plants, and hand watering since they don’t get direct rain.

Typically Juneau’s growing season is from June through September.   Root crops can be left in the ground or stored in a root cellar, and a variety of crops can be frozen or canned.

But with some ingenuity and simple technology you can extend both the growing and harvesting season.  With simple covers of plastic and agricultural fabric salad greens can be reliably harvested from about mid-April through December or even January in warmer areas of Juneau.

Eliot Coleman, of Four Season Farm in Maine, has popularized this system of using layers of protection to start gardens earlier, keep them going longer in the fall, and harvest them through the winter.

In this hour long talk, entitled, “If We Can Do It In Maine, You Can Do It in Alaska,” recorded at the Alaska Botanical Garden conference in spring, 2012, Coleman shares vegetable and fruit-growing techniques to extend our season here in the far north:  Extending the Season

Links to some of his materials, and a video of part of the keynote speech he gave at the conference –“Extend the Season, Expand Your Mind” can be viewed at:  http://www.themudflats.net/?p=28650

Quick Hoops

  • Double your garden’s productivity with these simple, inexpensive low tunnels:  Quick Hoops