Going Local

by Mary and Todd Logan

springnotfoundAnchorage in general is in a sulk. Three or nine inches of snow fell yesterday and today, depending on where you live in the Anchorage bowl. This snowfall gives Anchorage a new record for the longest snow season on record, 232 days long. Bike to Work Day on Friday was rainy and then snowy. The Nenana Ice Classic, Alaska’s biggest guessing game on when the ice goes out in the spring on the Tanana, was the latest breakup in recorded history. Gardeners are frustrated, and even the skiers are tired of winter. We seem to be experiencing a cooling trend for Alaska due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and changes in the winter ice patterns–more in the Bering Sea and less in the Arctic. Alex DeMarban at Alaska Dispatch summarizes the study:

BTW Day Anchorage AK May 17, 2013 photo by Loren Holmes
BTW Day Anchorage AK May 17, 2013 photo by Loren Holmes

“The state’s overall temperature dipped 2.4 degrees during the first decade of the new century, a notable shift from the previous 100 years, which had generally trended warmer, according to a study published last summer by the Alaska Climate Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The authors suggested that growing winter ice in the Bering Sea — the result of cooler surface temperatures — led to lower temperatures across nearly all of Alaska. Meanwhile, thinning ice in the Arctic Ocean led to warming in one slice of the state: the North Slope atop Alaska. Those trends are continuing, according to follow-up papers released by Wendler, Blake Moore and Kevin Galloway” (DeMarban, 2013).


Arctic Entries

An earlier post on community storytelling described Arctic Entries, a storytelling organization which is not only still going strong, but is now dealing with capacity issues. Arctic Entries has expanded this month yet again to Anchorage’s Performing Arts Center, and it still sold out in less than two hours with new online ticket sales. Todd even told a story this month, about an outing that “seemed like a good idea at the time.” Here are some recent 7-minute audio files from Arctic Entries, beginning with Saskia Esslinger’s permaculture talk on Eating Local in Alaska.

And here is Bree Kessler, who is pursuing a degree in environmental psychology, talking about going really local, in Bettles, Alaska, in I’m an Urbanist.

Here is Kyle Stevens on the adventures of just doing your job in Living the Dream is Chasing the Dream.

And Angela Gonzales on Growing Up in Fish Camp.

And SJ Klein on Building a House is a Neighborhood Affair.

And here is Todd’s story from May.

We had a lot of trees fall in several sequential storms last fall. Here’s Todd storing wood for  future winters.

Our chickens suffered through the long winter we’ve just had, henpecking each others’ feathers in a neurotic attempt to deal with their frustrations. Here’s Todd, or should I say Chicken Van Gogh, painting their rumps so that they’ll stop.

Growing things

Our vegetable garden and greenhouse are evolving. This is year number two for our greenhouse.  Lesson learned from year one–don’t over-plant!  We warmed up the greenhouse to 50F mid-March, put in lettuce starts, and began enjoying nightly fresh salads on April 25.  In mid-April we set the thermostat to 60 degrees and added tomato plants, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and egg-plant.  All are doing well. This year we are especially grateful for the greenhouse, and I’ve noticed many hits on the website from Alaskans and Canadians curious about how to build one.

GardenShovelingHere in Anchorage our average “last frost” date is May 4, and our “safe planting” date – when there is a 90 percent chance of no more frosts – is May 15.  Traditional knowledge dictates waiting until Memorial Day. And here we sit on May 19 with 3″ of snow on the ground and a temperature of 26F.  Fortunately, this cold snap and snow was forecast a week ago, so the garden was not planted last week as originally planned.  Next week we should be good to go.
Alaskan garden pest
Alaskan garden pest

While we haven’t planted the garden yet, we have gotten it ready.  This began by shoveling and snow-blowing 18″ of snow off of the raised beds and big garden (1200 sq. ft)  on April 22 so that the sun could start thawing the soil. The anti-moose electric fence had to be restrung.  Last fall a young bull moose apparently discovered that he could break the wires with his antlers and not get shocked.  He and a friend browsed garden residue repeatedly late fall.

GardenThis will be year number three for our main garden, and we are transitioning from full-till to minimum-till.  We rented a tiller and deeply tilled our raw rocky/sandy/clay soil the first two years to loosen it up, remove rocks, and add organic material and nutrients.  A soil test last fall was quite revealing.  We had achieved a good pH balance, good organic matter content, and best levels of phosphorous and potassium.  We now lack only nitrogen for good growing.  Previous seasons we fertilized with locally produced fish bone meal (5-6-1) and then added ash from the wood furnace for potassium.  This year we just hand tilled in some blood meal (12-0-0) and we should now be good to go.  Minimum till reduces disturbance of the amazing ecosystem of healthy soil.  We will rotate crops from last year’s locations, though it will be less than perfect in that so much of what we grow are Brassica (cabbage family) – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and turnips.


Anchorage summers, at least at times, can be sunny and warm.  Gardens do need some watering. In years past we’ve put our garden sprinklers on a timer.  This works great when it’s sunny and warm, but you over water if you are not around and cool, cloudy rainy weather settles in.  Over watering has many downsides:  it leaches away nutrients, it encourages one of our few garden pests – slugs, it wastes energy, and it slows growth by chilling both plants and soil (our well water is 42F).  So as a pre-gardening season project, Todd assembled a more sophisticated timer system that includes a wireless moisture sensor.  With this new set-up, we’ll set the timer for warm-sunny conditions. A moisture sensor, with probes in the garden soil, measures moisture and cancels scheduled watering when moisture is good.  We expect this will be a better watering system.  Time will tell.

Here is a conversation on KSKA with the Anchorage Permaculture Guild on how to start growing vegetables in Alaska, with many local links.