Thoughts on the gardening season (2013)

We just pulled the last of the potatoes and carrots out of the garden today, and I figure its time to reflect on this year’s growing season. 2013 was one of the nicest summers in recent memory. We received a ton of sunshine, and multiple days (and even weeks) in the 80’s. That’s unheard of for this part of Alaska. In addition, this was the first year we had a greenhouse, so I had the opportunity to grow veggies that I’ve never been able to grow before. Below are a series of notes about our season, and some reflections upon it.

The Greenhouse

All of our plants in the greenshouse did well, though our weeks of heat certainly stressed them, particularly the tomatoes. Even with a big wall fan running and all the vents and doors open, the greenhouse was still hovering around 100 F. I think that had a detrimental effect on the tomato growth, as the leaves curled and growth was slowed for nearly a month.

Speaking of tomatoes, we grew three different varieties: a wild cherry, a large slicing type, and Amish Paste. The slicing variety was by far the most productive. Overall, I had hoped for a larger harvest, but the aforementioned stress likely diminished our harvest. Next year I plan to try both determinite and indeterminite varieties and test which type is best for our short growing season.

Our first year of cucumbers was a huge success. We planted pickling cucumbers and an English-style greenhouse variety. They both did phenomenally, and both seemed to deal with the heat well. Our only complaint was that the picking cucumbers became bitter from heat stress during the hottest part of summer.

We planted three different varieties of peppers: jalepenos, a ristra type, and bell peppers. All the peppers did well, though the bell peppers weren’t nearly as prolific as I would have liked. I’m not sure if we planted them in too small pots, or if the variety we had was not ideal, but I’m thinking we won’t be planting many of them again.

Total Failures:

We tried pumpkins, sweet corn, cantaloupe, and watermelon in the greenhouse in containers this year. It was a total failure. Only the pumpkins put out decent blossoms, but even after having hand-pollinating them, the fruits rotted and fell off before maturing. We’ll use that space in the greenhouse for more tomatoes.

Speaking of failures, our onions were a complete failure this year. I bought onion starts and also grew a bunch from seed. I think the heat, combined with a very late spring, did them in.

While our fruit trees blossomed, none of them produced fruit this year. I’m not sure what that was about, but I suspect our strange spring (snow very late into the spring, then sudden, unseasonable warm temperatures) messed with the trees.


Currants, raspberries, and rhubarb all did very well. We picked over 10 lbs of raspberries from our humble raspberry patch, and I  was finally able to harvest our domesticated currants before the chickens got them. Wild berries were unbelievable this year as well. I’ve never seen larger blueberries in my life.


With the warm summer came an excellent honey harvest. The bees had many, many days to fly and collect nectar. However, two factors worked against me this year. First, the spring was ridiculously cold. I literally had to dig through 2 ft of snow to find ground in order to set up my bee hives. I think the cold weather meant the colonies did not build up their populations as quickly as normal. Second, I had serious queen problems. In one hive, I tried to set up a 2-queen system, but for the second year in a row, it didn’t work out. In the other hive, I had a rogue queen hiding in there somewhere. She killed three other queens before I could confirm she was in there and producing eggs. What a pain. Nonetheless, we ended up with 45 lbs of honey from the two hives. Next year I’m shooting for 60-70 lbs.

Other Notes:

Cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, turnips, zucchini, salad mix, peas and lettuce all did well. They seem to be the consistently good veggies up here.

We did a bunch of canning this year! With the greenhouse produce, we had the opportunity to try canning a number of different things. We canned tomatoes, salsa, pickles, garlic scapes, and jalepenos. While the canning can be a lot of work, it’s satisfying to finally be able to preserve more of our harvest for the winter months.

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A selection of some of the canning we did this year…

The freezers are full of salmon, halibut, moose, and caribou, and the last of the yard chores are done. It’s finally time to wait for our first real snowfall, and look forward to the beginning of trapping season. Once trapping season is over in February, it will be time to start thinking about the growing season once again…

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