Moose Munch

 Posted by  Alaska, Gardening
Dec 162013

Moose tracks in the snow and munched raspberry stalks

Every winter, a moose stops by to prune the raspberry stalks.

Raspberries pruned: check.

Moose: Quality, dependable service, year after year.

I used to dread this and wish we had a real fence around the raspberries and strawberries, but this year, I don’t care. You see, I had a lesson in Growing Raspberries and was advised to cut back the first-year stalks at the end of the season. I’ve never done that, and thanks to our dependable moose, I don’t have to.

Our moose-munched and scrawny raspberries produced better than ever this year, so I’ve stopped worrying about winter moose pruning. I will still make an effort to keep them out of the berry bed during the summer and fall, but they seem far less interested then anyway, what with the abundance of yummy willows and fireweed.

This gardening-with-moose situation is working out all right.

Moose in snow, munching on branches

In December, raspberries are better than aspens.

Oct 302013

Since I’m not decorating my home for Halloween, I’ll decorate my blog. I did, after all, make the effort to grow a Great Pumpkin. This was my first attempt at pumpkins.

It began like this:

Pumpkin vine

My own Audrey II creeps out of its bed.

I planted two pumpkin plants, telling myself I’d pinch off the weaker one once they got established. Of course, when pinching time came, I couldn’t do it. I hate killing plants, especially the weaker ones that are making such a good effort. Grow little pumpkin plant, grow!

And it did. The pumpkins were in a warm bed (covered with plastic) shared with green beans, zucchinis, and second-string collards that filled holes or replaced plants that had died.

I forgot that pumpkins like to wander, but I’m not sure I would have done anything differently had I remembered. All my garden plants are welcome to wander. Ask the green onions.

Tiny green pumpkin

Well, what do you know: A baby pumpkin arrives!

Pumpkins were a long shot. Maybe somewhere between zucs and cantaloupe, perhaps? Besides needing some heat, they take a long time, and I got a late start due to spring caretaking.

Well, we got heat this summer. Take a look at my cantaloupe.

Cantaloupe plant with two flowers

It’s a cantaloupe, and it flowered!

I’ve never gotten a cantaloupe this far! It actually flowered, and at the end of the season, I had a cantaloupe about a quarter inch in diameter. Way to go, cantaloupe!

I took good care of my baby pumpkin and its two siblings. I even asked Mike to pinch off the other flowers so the plants would give all their energy to the growing pumpkins. I was pretty excited to have pumpkins; I think I could have pinched those other flowers if Mike had not been home to do it. Uh-huh. It’s so easy to say that now.

Growing pumpkin

It grows!

It was actually hard for Mike to pinch the flowers, too, but for different reasons, I think. He wants maximum production, but is never fully convinced whether that comes from concentrating energy into fewer fruits or allowing the maximum number of fruits. And he was probably concerned about my feelings regarding the brutal killing. Nevertheless, he pinched flowers, and I was mostly glad he did.

All three pumpkins grew. These pics are of the middle-sized pumpkin. When the first frost hit, both the larger and smaller pumpkins showed some damage, but this fellow stuck it out. It was just starting to turn orange-ish, while the others were still green. I picked all three and brought them inside, not really sure if they’d continue to turn orange or not.

They hadn’t gotten all that far when I left to come here to the lodge. As much as I wanted to watch what would happen, it seemed kind of ridiculous to pack three pumpkins and bring them out to the lodge. I mean, I limit clothing in order to “pack light.”

So I packed just the middle pumpkin.

My ripe pumpkin

It ripened!

Mike wanted to carve it, but looking at his schedule over the next two weeks, I don’t image that will happen. I think I’ll make pumpkin soup with it. Other than pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, we’ve not had good luck with pumpkin recipes, but we had delicious pumpkin soup at a restaurant not quite a million years ago, so I’m willing to give it a shot.

Did I mention that my Great Pumpkin is just under five inches in diameter? It will be a small pot of soup.

Jul 192013

There will be no cucumbers. Those starts died shortly after being transplanted out into the garden. They’ve never done well—we still need and don’t yet have a greenhouse—but I usually try anyway.

2013 Gardening Tidbits to Date

  • I was late starting seeds due to spring caretaking at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge.
  • Spring took its time coming to AK. We had snow and freezing temps in May.
  • After a pretty lousy garden last year, I had my soil tested and discovered that my typically acidic Alaska soil is just on the alkaline side of neutral. Surprise! And while phosphorus and potassium levels were “very high,” nitrogen was “very low,” so I added bloodmeal this year, and the difference is huge.

Bok Choi flowering

  • After a week of spring at the end of May, summer hit hard with temps reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit more than once. Spinach and bok choi bolted right out of the starting gate.
Lettuce, radishes, chard, bok choi, kale, and rhubarb from the garden.

The first major harvest of 2013 included lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, bok choi, chard, and kale. The chard, half the kale, and some of the rhubarb are in the freezer for winter use.

  • I’ve been eating fresh herbs since mid June and had arugula, spinach, and beet-green salads by the end of June. I had my first major harvest a couple of weeks ago, bringing in lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, bok choi, chard, and kale.
  • I had my second big harvest last week, bringing in and processing collards, kale, and rhubarb. A few days ago, I brought in more chard and kale. I pick lettuce, spinach, radishes, and green onions as needed and available. Oh, and I picked three turnips recently, too.

Three small strawberries

Now we’re all caught up and I can just post little tidbits as they arise. For instance, I just harvested strawberries for the first time, not counting the one I ate yesterday.

It’s going to be a sad year for strawberries. Last October, the temperature got very cold and we had no snow. What I call the “domestic” strawberries froze and didn’t come back. These are the big, pretty red strawberries. The “native” strawberries survived. Yay, hardy AK strawberries! They are small and not so red, but they are survivors, producing and reproducing. And they taste like strawberries.

A few of the domestic plants are coming back, and we will rebuild from there (I hope), but it’s going to be a light strawberry year.

I know: I should mulch the strawberries to protect them. Maybe I will. Or not. This is the only winter it’s been a problem, after all. There’s a lot of strawberry territory to cover. What material would I use, and where would I get it? How’s this mulch going to be removed next spring? What will I do with it then?

It’s funny: I am in some ways a very attentive gardener; there are no weeds in the main garden beds. In other ways, I demand my garden plants be hardy and survive sometimes harsh conditions, like freezing winters and long dry spells in the summer when I’m out and about, not home watering. Go figure.

We’ll see what happens. We do like strawberries, so I’ll make some sort of effort.

Blue Food

 Posted by  Alaska, Gardening
Oct 262012

If you ask me, there isn’t enough blue food.

That’s a line from the Bridget Jones’s Diary movie. I agree: there isn’t enough blue food, especially if you discount fake-blue raspberry products, which I do.

Blue cabbage with broccoli and snow peas

Our purple cabbage is a lovely turquoise blue!

We are currently enjoying some gorgeous blue food. I know this vegetable as “purple cabbage,” but I see on the Web that some people call it “red cabbage.” So far, I’ve not seen it referred to as “blue cabbage,” though that seems most appropriate.

I grew this cabbage, sauteed it just a smidge, and froze it. Now I thaw it, cook it, and eat it. Some of this cabbage is more purple, but a lot is blue like this, and we’re finding it tremendous fun to work with and eat. It’s beautiful! I want to make blue egg rolls. I want to see if it will turn the whole solyanka blue.

In general, I’m not much of a cabbage fan. I grow it because Alaska is famous for giant cabbages, and I think it’s required in all Alaska gardens; there’s a law or something. I don’t like it raw, and I don’t like sauerkraut. But I do like it prepared a few ways, and blue is definitely one of them!

I wonder if, like hydrangeas, soil pH influences the color of cabbage. After an especially poor garden year, I had my soil tested. For years, I’ve been told by neighbors and Alaksa garden books that my soil is most likely very acidic. I was surprised to discover it’s actually pretty neutral, just slightly on the alkaline side. Or maybe it’s a nutrient issue: I’ve got tons of potassium and very little nitrogen. Anyone have experience with or ideas about this?

Time will tell as I alter the balance of nutrients in the garden, but in the meantime, I’m loving my blue food!

Jun 252012

This image has been sitting in my camera for three days (along with a month’s worth of as-yet-unpublished-blog-images), but it’s the first salad harvest of the 2012 season: spinach, arugula thinnings (hooray for a dedicated arugula patch!), mixed-lettuce thinnings, parsley, and chives.

just-harvested salad greens

We don’t buy greens—ever—so we only have green salads during summer and early fall. The rest of the year, it’s cooked greens: chard, beet greens, collards, kale, spinach.

We have much of what we need to build a greenhouse (except the time), and then I should be able to push the season on both ends for a longer salad harvest. We’re hoping to get the greenhouse up this fall. Fingers crossed!

Not that I mind cooked greens. But, boy, I’m loving my salads just now!

Cucumber News

 Posted by  Gardening
May 052012

Though I love the rhythm and sound of it, Cucumber News doesn’t seem quite right. I have a hard time growing cucumbers here. I think I’ll try out some different plants, veggies, and berries over time and see if I can find a custom fit.

Two days ago, I rolled out the black plastic to help the raised beds in the garden warm. One day ago, I woke up to this:

New snow on the garden in May

I started some seeds a few weeks ago, started some more a couple of weeks ago, started some more a week ago, and started some more today.


At Mike’s request, I’ll be delving into the horror genre of gardening: brussels sprouts. Normally, I’m happy to grow—or attempt to grow—veggies Mike wants to try, but I’m not so enthusiastic about these. I anticipate, “Just try them; they’re good!” which is precisely what I ask of young picky eaters. It’s okay to not like something, but we should be willing to try.

But I’m not a young picky eater. I’m an older picky eater, and it wasn’t all that long ago that I did try fresh “yummy” brussels sprouts, and I did not like them—beyond all doubts, I did not like those brussels sprouts! It’s bad enough I’ll probably have to smell them cooking. I might be secretly hoping a moose will step on the two plants I’ve agreed to grow.

On the sunnier side of the 2012 gardening adventure, I am trying purple basil this year. It’s really purple!

Purple basil seedlings

I’m also trying lettuce-leaf basil and two varieties of regular old sweet basil.

Ellen’s amaryllis is having another go.


And thanks to Ellen again, I planted nasturtiums in the boots.

Planted boots

The boots were all picked up at different times during Community Cleanup in the spring, though they are two matched pairs. One pair was picked up over two different years in two different places. I’m guessing they were tossed out the window of a moving car.

After June 1, they will join the wildflowers outside in the garden beds. They’re not trash: they’re flower pots and lawn ornaments.