Breaking Ground In Our Fairbanks Gardens!

Freshly tilled soil is a great for planting!The last week of our gardening adventure in Fairbanks, AK has been a roller coaster, but we’re happy to report that everything worked out much better than we expected.  It turned out there was quite a waiting list to get into the Fairbanks Community Garden.  With only 10 plots available, nearly 25 people had signed up and we were #13 and #16 for our two plots.  For several days, we were seriously concerned we might not be able to get a plot and might have to ditch to Craigslist to see if someone had some land we could work!

We attended the “give-a-way” meeting at FCG here last weekend and are super happy to report that we were able to get a plot for each of us, right next to each other!  Whew!  Major crisis of “where are we going to put these 400+ starts” is now a thing of the past!  We’re so excited to be joining such a diverse group of gardeners and to compare the various techniques people use.  So far, it seems like a fairly active and great group of folks to be gardening with.

In my mind, I’ve all ready started down the path of “have we bitten off more than we can chew here?” thing.  It’s a lot of space!  Nearly 1,500 square feet at FCG and another 150 square feet at the UAF gardens!  Yikes!  We have started to rework our plan into a final iteration and frankly, we don’t have enough starts to even fill our space!  Fortunately, we have a ton of flowers coming up and we’re also not incapable of buying commercial starts when the plan requires it.  We’re learning a ton this year, going from basically what most people would consider hobby gardens to a serious production effort.

This is our second plot at Fairbanks Community Garden

This is our second plot at Fairbanks Community Garden. We haven’t even begun tilling this side yet!  It is a lot of work to till out 1,500 square feet of soil.

So, now all the hard work begins!  One of our plots was fairly well weeded over and didn’t feature the wide-raised rows that we really want to try out this year.  The second garden is half-way tilled and raised, but half of it seems to be relatively unworked in the previous season(s).  With the current state, it seemed like it would be a good idea to start over and re-work everything from the ground up.  We generally prefer to practice permaculture and let the soil structure stay intact, but there’s also benefit in putting the work in to get things how you want, too.

We’ve started tilling the first garden plot and almost have that one complete after two hard nights of work with the rototiller, shovels and rakes.  Our concept here is to till down as deeply as we can since there’s benefits from deep tilling for an initial new-to-you plot and it’s probably good anyway, we’ve been pulling up all sorts of trash (old weed barrier, plant stakes, etc.) from the beds that appear to span 10+ years of gardening efforts!

Our in progress tilling effort at the Fairbanks Community Garden

Here you can see the first night’s work tilling up the majority of the first garden plot. After the second night’s work, it’s really starting to come together with three of the four wide-raised rows taking shape.

We are mostly pleased with the soil.  You can really tell that Fairbanks Community Garden has been an established garden for quite some time.  People have worked and reworked the soil many times over, so it tills up nicely and should really create some excellent gardening beds.  The quality of the soil leaves a little bit to be desired.  It’s clear we need to put some effort into composting as there was very little organic matter available and really not much in the way of worms to speak of.  We’re probably going to have to supplement Alaska fish fertilizer and other organic fertilizers fairly heavily to get through this first season.

The sun isn’t the best in the entire garden, but it should be sufficient providing a solid 8-12 hours a day until late in the season.  We’re up against the back wall, which is nice because we don’t have neighbors behind us, but bad because our garden is also shaded by mature trees from the early morning sun.  Also, we learned that there is a rather severe issue with voles, so we’ve been implementing natural techniques to prevent them which we’ll discuss in a future post.  I also have no qualms about actively catching voles, they’re a disaster waiting to happen and all the all of us gardeners will be happier with as many voles gone as possible.

We are not complaining though!  We’re just thrilled to have a home to garden in and happily invite the challenge of gardening in the sub-arctic, whatever it brings!

We’re learning a ton about planning out the garden, such that we can truly supplement our food requirements as much as possible.  Honestly, we have no idea here.  There’s guides you can find on the internet, but we’re really in the dark about how much food we can realistically use when fresh and also for our desired preservation efforts.  What we know is that our previous efforts have been largely insufficient and “more” is the answer.  Fortunately, we’re likely in a position where we can trade our fresh food for preserved meats such as moose, caribou and salmon, so a little bit of overproduction is only going to be a good thing.  Next season we should really have things honed in a fair bit more where we know what really works for us.

We’ll share our finalized plan once it’s complete.  Now that we have precise dimensions for everything, we can really get a finalized plan together.  We have things mostly planned out for now, as we’re reasonably confident about the number of starts that have survived.  We’re trying to figure out a few small details still and are also trying not to overproduce ridiculous amounts of food.  It occurred to me that one iteration of our plan would likely produce upwards of 600 to 800 potatoes and no one on this earth needs that many potatoes to feed two people!  So, once we’re done, we’ll put together a post with the full details about what we intend to do with detailed counts and look forward to following that up later in the season with how we did over the season!

Gardening season is on!

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