2018 Fairbanks Garden Season Is Upon Us!

Well, technically the garden season for us started back in March!  It’s now mid-May and I am just now getting around to putting up the first post of the year.  Apologies for the delay, it has been a tremendously crazy year for us.  And the only reason I’m writing this up now is because I hurt far too much to do anything else.

This year, of course, is the biggest one we have planned yet.  And we’ve thrown a few challenges on top of it all!

As you may have learned from last season’s blog, we finally were able to buy a house in Fairbanks.  This has meant moving in, getting things situated to our liking and a thousand other things you have to deal with in a new-to-you house.  Gardening-wise, though, it means that we’re finally able to have our own garden at the house!  And that is the reason I am hurting, we finally broke ground on our new garden this last weekend!  Putting in raised beds is very difficult work, mostly physically.

Four of our six garden beds installed and leveled

Four of our six beds are completed at this time. Here they are, fully installed and leveled! Still, there’s a ton more that needs to be done!  Raised beds are a ton of work!

We decided back in late March that we weren’t going to continue gardening at UAF community garden.  It has been way to difficult to support two community gardens, across town from one another, and live several miles out of Fairbanks.  This sort of forced the decision to put in a garden at the house, which was something we wanted to do anyway.  The climate and soil at Fairbanks Community Garden is simply not sufficient to grow root vegetables and any kind of warm weather crop well, so we needed a place for all this.

Let me tell you, planning out the specifics of a new raised bed garden space when there’s 5 to 6 feet of snow on the ground is absolutely impossible!  The elevation where our house is sits about 1,500 feet ASL and here it is mid-May, we still have snow on the ground!  I became so impatient with our extra long winter that I ended up using the snow blower to clear the area where we intended to put the garden, just so I could start to put together a plan!  I’m pretty happy with the design and it’s extensible in the future, should we decide to expand it later.  I’ll try to write more in the future, and of course you’ll see progress pics!

Garden beds built from douglas fir 2x12's and hardware mesh to protect against voles.

Our garden will comprise of 6 beds total. Two are 4×10, two are 2×10 and another two are 2×9. All will be lined with hardware cloth to protect against voles. We will be using black plastic to protect the sides of the bed and weed fabric will sit in the bottom of the beds.

This decision shifted how we approached our gardens a fair bit.  Previously, we split the UAF and Fairbanks community gardens with warm weather and cold weather crops, respectively.  With having easier access right at our house, we decided to bring all high rotation or cut & come veggies to the house as well.  (Think radishes, lettuces, etc.)  When I started looking at how we were going to accomplish this in a limited space, we had to change something about our techniques.  Even though our plan called for about 22 more square feet at the house (160 square feet), compared to what we had at UAF community garden (144 square feet).

We’ve decided to change our gardening technique at the house to something more akin to the square foot gardening method.  Or, more simply, intensive gardening.  The concept is to pack in your veggies as close as possible to allow more food in less space.  This demands a lot from the soil, so you have to be on top of your compost and fertilization game.  The soil must be built to sustain it as well.  I hope to put together a post or two about our experience as it will be helpful to other Fairbanks gardeners taking the same path.

One of our herb trays back in April!

This is our herb tray, as of a few weeks ago. They have grown a ton since then! Some won’t even make it to the garden, though. Both our catnip and marjoram has all ready started to flower on us, and we haven’t even been able to get them outside! This is because I’m using 18 hours of lighting, if I used less this probably wouldn’t happen.

I can’t start the year’s blog without mentioning a bit about the plants!  As mentioned, we started the first of our garden starts back in March of this year.  We experimented a little with our plant starting schedule, using Holm Town’s schedule as opposed to the Interior Alaska Extension Service schedule that we previously used.  It was about April that we determined that was a huge mistake!  I think Holm Town makes their schedule for growing starts in less than optimal conditions (low light, growing on windowsills, etc) and our setup is objectively more optimal.  Nonetheless, the CES schedule (slightly modified as we learn) is what we will continue to use in the future.

This year, we added another 8 square feet to our garden starting area.  Our total space is up to 24 square feet of indoor space.  We are growing several hundred plants in that space, and quite a few more than we did last year.  Some day, I hope to detail the transplanting techniques we’re using in more detail, but we modified a few things this year and it has worked out well.  The biggest change this year adding 36 cell 10×20 trays to the mix.  This has been marvelous for broccoli, Brussels sprouts and some herbs.  That said, with 15 days until last frost, our indoor garden is absolutely packed to the gills!

With 15 days to last frost, our indoor garden is as full as it can be. We have some choices to make soon.

We used a different seed starting schedule this year as an experiment. Unfortunately, it had us starting things way too early and we have to care for gigantic starts! This has been a challenge, but we’ve been able to adapt and won’t make the same mistake again in the future.  The good news, though, is that we have all ready had a substantial basil harvest when there was still several feet of snow on the ground.

The lighting system I talked about last year fired up great this year.  It has been an absolute dream to use those LED COB’s!  Not only is it easier on the electrical bill, but now that we’re refining our schedules, we’ve learned that we can shave at least a week or two off of most plantings.  The COB’s produce great, powerful light that have really gotten our starts off on the right foot.  I’m so convinced I think I’m going to spend the money and buy a third LED system, since this 24 square foot starting space will likely be our permanent method.

Anyhow, our next few weeks have an incredible amount of work planned.  I probably won’t be able to get to another blog post until after we’ve planted everything.  We hope to discuss some of the topics in more detail then.  I really want Frosty Garden to be a resource where people can learn about gardening in Fairbanks, Alaska!

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