State Of The Garden Address, 2024 Edition!

Every year, I try to put together a long form synopsis of where we are at and give you all a little bit of insight into our little “social gardening” operation.

You can kind of think of this as a “behind the scenes” post…

It’s hard to believe that Frosty Garden is nine years old this year!

We are also astonished at what we are doing today, so much of which was never in our plans.

When we started Frosty Garden, we thought maybe a few people might check out what we were up to.  We never envisioned we’d be operating the pre-eminent website on extreme northern cold climate gardening with literal global reach!

It’s crazy to think how far we have come.  And exciting to ponder what the future may bring!

We have you all to thank for that!

2023 Was Another Incredible Year

Every year that we do Frosty Garden, we try to push the boundaries even further.  2023 was no exception!

The biggest change for us was adding our YouTube and Rumble channels in 2023.  This was a huge stretch for us and allowed us to hit a milestone we’ve wanted since we started Frosty Garden way back in 2015.

We’ll go into that a bit more, later.

We’ve been really excited about the opportunities that have come up to come visit some of you through the various gardening clubs around Alaska.

While we’ve been doing this kind of thing for awhile, we had the opportunity to visit Soldotna and the Central Peninsula Gardening Club in 2023.

That was a lot of fun and we were super impressed by the turn out.  Nearly 130 people showed up and we received great feedback on our presentation!

We’re in the planning stages for more of them this year, so stay tuned!

A Tough Growing Season

The 2023 growing season was a tough one.

With snow hitting us a several days after our expected last frost, it didn’t exactly get off to a great start.

If we had to describe the season, it was overall cold and generally one of the poorer growing seasons we’ve seen since we started growing in Alaska.

As usual, climate extremes usually mean some things suffer.  But, it also means that some things do incredibly well.

Overall, we had a poor season across all warm climate foods like peppers, tomatoes and squash.  We had a record low harvest across pretty much all these things.

On the same token, we had an exceptional year for a lot of things.  We had our best carrot harvest ever.  Brassicas, greens and the overwhelming bulk of our gardens performed exceptionally well!

If you had a rough season, too, just know they aren’t all like this!

Our 2024 Garden Plan Is Complete

As we have done in years past, we use this post to document our full garden plan.  (We might do it elsewhere, too, as we get requests for it…)

Our container garden plan:

Our raised bed garden plan:

Our community garden plan at Fairbanks Community Garden:

Our garden has been working well for us, so minimal changes this year.  Of the major things we are going to change:

  • We are kicking all peppers out of our greenhouse.  They only do marginally better in the greenhouse compared to outdoors.
  • In place of the peppers, we are finally increasing cucumber production.  We’ll be growing 16 cucumber plants!  Yay, pickles!
  • We are adding two growing spots in our greenhouse, exclusively  for experimental tomato variety testing.  The theoretical goal, for now, is to rotate different varieties each season.
  • We have a new top secret (for now) outdoor melon project for 2024.  We are trying again!  And will until we figure it out!
  • We are trying a new variety of corn this year to compare it to the Cafe variety
  • As usual, lots of new flower varieties will be added into the mix
  • Some other significant variety changes, just to keep things fresh and try different things.
  • Not documented:  We’re going to try several Spoon Tomatoes at Fairbanks Community Garden this year.  The scope will be determined once that garden is planted.

Other than that, we’re looking at a major crop rotation and overall something pretty close to what our 2023 gardens looked like.

We Almost Dropped Facebook This Year

We hit a critical mass with our social media presence several years ago.

What we mean by this is that we sort of have “street cred” simply because of pure follower counts.  It’s much easier to get new followers when you have a chunk of existing followers.

That said, Facebook’s algorithm straight up punished us last year.  To the point where I was actively weighing whether we were even going to return to Facebook in 2024.

Our Facebook channel grew at the slowest pace we’ve seen in years over the entirety of 2023.  This is despite having record numbers of great people (like you!) that share our stuff…

If we had to guess, it’s because they really want us to advertise with them.  And when we didn’t, well, we paid the price.

Facebook really wants us to pay to play.  I don’t think they understand we don’t have an advertising budget as we don’t sell a product.  We are a shoestring operation, here!

As we were discussing the dropping of Facebook to go all-in on YouTube and Rumble, something changed.

In September, we were officially invited to Facebook’s brand new “creator” program.  This was terrible timing for us at the time as we were shutting down our season.

But, it was a bit curious

It appears Facebook has finally recognized that we’re not some business, incessantly advertising our products.  That we are creating genuine, helpful content on their platform.

Side note:  Yes, we do believe that our phones are listening to our conversations.  This is just more evidence to add to that pile…

We’re at least going to stick it out through 2024 to see if things change.  Our follower counts have coincidentally picked back up since then, so we’re a little hopeful.

So, Zuck, consider yourself on notice!  (Not that he’ll be reading this…)

Video Content Is So Hard!

As mentioned above, the biggest shift for us has been the addition of video content into our social media mix.

Honestly, this was a target we’ve had since we started Frosty Garden nine years ago.  If you look at the age of our YouTube channel, you’ll notice it was established in 2017.

But, we only just started actually using it last year.

We had a lot of concerns going into it.  The extreme public exposure being one of them.  But more so, the added workload of creating, producing, editing and publishing of video content.

It’s a lot of work.  It takes many, many hours to produce a single video.  And we are even kind of “lazy” about it.

But, the reception we’ve received thus far has been overwhelming.

This is our current top video.  Over 60,000 views so far, well beyond our expectations!

We blew way past our original expectations.  Our 2023 goal was to get to 500 subscribers.  We hit over 2,200!  In 2023, we received 87,813 views!

To put that into context, we added more YouTube followers in our first season than we have in the entirety of Facebook after five or more years!

When you read stuff about starting a YouTube channel, it’s straight up hard.  We seemed to blow right past the hard part.  But, it was still a lot of work!  And probably a bit of luck.

So, for now, we definitely see YouTube (and Rumble) being in our mix of social media.

We’re thankful to all the people who kept telling us we should do it.

Our Year In Numbers

As we’ve done in years past, we also want to touch on our website’s growth.

Our website remains our “primary focus” as it’s a great distribution point for our other efforts.  It’s also my personal favorite avenue since I enjoy the practice of writing.

We publish this information mostly for those that might be curious, whether you’re a budding web developer or just generally are interested in how websites work.  We also like to look back at it in future years.

Frosty Garden has continually grown since its inception in 2015.  Here’s our 2023 data:

  • We received 32,141 unique visitors, almost double what we did in 2022 (Almost 4% of Alaska’s population!)
  • We served 52,007 individual pages
  • Our average read time by new visitors is 2 minutes, 8 seconds (really good!)
  • Our average read time by returning visitors is 3 minutes, 25 seconds
  • 25% of our readers enjoy more than one post (really good!)
  • Mobile phones continue to dominate, with 17,364 visits.  Compared to 11,177 from desktops.

Our top three posts were different from what they were in previous years:

Here’s our distribution of visits from social media:

We are visited by almost every country on earth and all continents except for Antarctica!  As expected, we largely get visitors from the US.  Canada is #2.  The UK is #3.

Changes To Frosty Garden’s Infrastructure

For you “tech geeks” out there, we wanted to briefly touch on a major architecture change we’ve made this year.  We try use the winter to do any major work to our internet infrastructure, when our site is slightly less busy.

These days, though, there’s almost “never” a good time for maintenance!

Our visits per hour rarely let up!  Sure, there’s 1AM, but we also need to sleep!

We’ve always operated a rather hardened web service.  When you have anything on the public internet, it’s bound to get attacked on a very regular basis.

Especially web servers!

We get multiple attacks every second!  While we know what we’re doing security wise, this firewall is yet one more step to make sure our systems stay available!

In 2024, we took our security one step further and put a primary software firewall in front of our web services.  This gives us some unique capabilities we didn’t previously have:

  • Fully automated intrusion prevention to detect & mitigate attacks
  • Better logging of attacks & easy long term blocking of known bad actors
  • Much lower attack surface across our systems
  • Full isolation of administrative access with dual layer encryption for back end access
  • We haven’t done it yet, but we may enforce GeoLocation.  Meaning, we might block regions that produce a lot of hackers and likely have few legit reasons to visit our site.  (e.g. a lot of SE Asia)  We don’t really trust open source GeoLocation data, though, so we might also not do this.

This definitely gives me a little more peace of mind.  I’m always worried about our sites, especially this one, since I have so much time invested into it.

If you really want to geek out, we have a full technical article on our infrastructure that runs Frosty Garden & other sites we have on the ‘net.

Thanks For Sticking With Us

We just want to take a minute to again tell you how much we appreciate you.

We never expected this whole Frosty Garden thing to have such a large impact.  At no point did I envision hundreds of thousands of people would be interested in what we are doing!

It is so heart warming when you all reach out and chat with us.  We’ve received countless “thank you” messages from our website, telling us what a difference we have made in their gardens.

We are looking forward to the 2024 growing season and are hoping for a great season.  We are excited to be again growing with you and look forward to what the future will bring!

Lots more to come, but thanks again for putting us on the map!

That’s All We Wrote!

Having a good time?  We have an ever growing list of insightful and helpful subarctic & cold climate gardening articles, waiting out there for you!

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