In so many ways Alaska gardening practices have changed over the years. We are much more organic, much more sensitive to bringing in invasives and yet still expanding our palate of plants. There is one big thing, however, that has not changed. We are still operating on a one-harvest-per-year basis.
We plant our broccoli, my crop for example, over Memorial Day weekend, expecting the season to be over Labor Day weekend. Not only do we harvest it all the same week or so, many limit the number of starts because we know we can’t eat it all at once.
At some point, Alaska gardeners, as well as our nurseries, need to step up to two ideas. The first is that we should use a system where we stage the dates of the harvest of the first crop we plant. This requires starting, again by crop of example, a few broccoli seeds over the course of three weeks in the spring, not all at once. Our nurseries could come up with a simple color code so we could buy six or four packs of different weeks’ seedlings and have an extended harvest season.
The second concept is to start planting seeds for a second round of a crop sometime in June or even July, depending on what you want to grow. All of the cole crops with the exception of Brussels sprouts, for example, are great candidates for this. Perhaps nurseries could restock shelves and have a “second opening” for a couple of weeks in mid-June, selling more seedlings.
Snap peas usually sputter out halfway through the season, as do chards and spinach. Other candidates would be head lettuces, arugula and, if you have an outdoor greenhouse, determinate tomatoes and cucumbers. On the flower side, a second crop of sweet peas might work. They should do great in the cool weather later in the season. You also could replace some of those cosmos and marigolds and other annuals that slough off and stop flowering in mid-August.
You can put second harvest starts directly in the gardens, or, you can fix up a few new planter containers. These will look a fresh as spring when your other baskets and boxes will be getting tired.
You get the idea. It is not complicated. Give second cropping a try. Global warming has extended the season here and the little effort it takes to start a few seeds versus the potential returns makes this a sensible move. And, finally, you can start something without me yelling you need to use supplemental lights. Just start things outdoors in the sun. And, you have to water the gardens and greenhouse for your first harvest crops, so watering a few extra seedlings off in a corner is not going to be a big chore.
Unfortunately, most of us — and all our nurseries — stop starting seedlings in May. We fold up the seed packet of that broccoli and put it somewhere we hope it can be found next spring. Just because we have planted our gardens, however, doesn’t mean we should stop. This season, double up. Give it a try.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Water: Don’t let newly planted starts and rows of seeds dry out. Keep an eye on things; check every a.m. and p.m.
Plant: Lettuces, radishes, chard, snap peas, bush peas, beans, carrots, beets.
Delphiniums: Check for and hand-pick defoliating caterpillars.
Starts: Keep ’em watered.
Lawns: Should be greening up. One inch of water a week between you and nature should do it. Mow high.