Alaska Living

Summer dresses

Over the years, Ashlee has become more interested and adept at sewing. Her latest project was a few summer dresses she sewed without a pattern — just ideas she had in her head. She managed to sew all three with River, Aurora, and our nephew Summit in tow!


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Way too much snow

Today we broke the Anchorage snowfall record. As of right now, we’ve received 133.6 inches of snow this winter. That’s over  11 feet. Today Alaskans, cabin-crazed from the winter, are all talking excitedly about how we broke the record. I’m thinking about my garden and bees and feeling like Scrooge. River, however, is undeterred and has welcomed spring:


Time to turn off the lights, ladies.

This week those of us living in southcentral Alaska have 14 hours of daylight. That means our chickens no longer need supplemental light. Chickens lay best when they get at least 14-16 hours a day of sunlight. We reach that milestone this week, so turn off those lights and save yourself some money! Those of you living in the area know we haven’t need heat lamps for a while now. My heat lamp has been off for about a month and the solar heating from the sun, and the heat of the chickens, has been more than enough to keep the coop above freezing.


Make a seed organizer for under $10


A seed organizer for less than $10

A seed organizer for less than $10

I just put up a tutorial about how to make a seed organizer like the one above. You can find it here.  I hope you enjoy!



A Guide to Starting Seeds and Planting in Alaska

I recently got a message asking for advice regarding putting in a garden and starting seeds. I was so thrilled to be asked advice, that I’m writing a whole post about it. After all, it’s time to start seriously thinking about garden plans for the coming summer.

Most seeds need to be planted in pots long before the garden is ready. In order to grow varieties besides the fertilizer-drenched options at the local box store or greenhouse, you’ll need to think about picking out seeds from local seeds racks, or ordering from online seed companies.

 Seed Planting Calendar:

Below is a general planting calendar for starting your seeds indoors. Keep in mind:you will likely want to stagger your plantings. In other words, plant a few seeds a week over a couple of weeks. That way you’ll be able to harvest continually and not end up with 200 lbs of cabbage at once!

Fishy Peat is a local potting soil


  • Bulb Onions  (1-2″ cell packs)

Beginning of March

  • Celery (4″ pots, may need to transplant into larger pots before placing outdoors)


  • Cabbage/Brocolli/Brussel Sprouts (6-pack deep cell-packs)
  • Lettuce (2″ cell packs)

May 1st:

  • Peppers/Cucumbers/Tomatoes (4″ pots)
  • Corn (4″ pots)

Plant directly in the garden by Memorial Day:

  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Roots crops (turnips, rutabagas, beets)
  • Green onions
  • Salad mix
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes
Soil for Your Seeds:

Many books say that you need sterilized soil for your seeds. I think that’s nonsense. In Alaska, I create a mixture of  half topsoil and half local potting soil called Fishy Peat. You can find it at Alaska Mill and Feed in Anchorage, or Budget Feed in Palmer. I find that it contains a little too much peat — it can get easily water-logged — so I like to mix it with topsoil that tends to contain more sand. Soil should drain well but retain moisture. It should contain enough nutrients to give your plant babies a good start! Any mixture of topsoil, potting soil, and finished compost should work just fine.

**NOTE: I have tried using the MiracleGro “organic” potting soil before. Don’t bother. My plants never really thrive in the stuff.

Click below for the next page!


The economics of chickens


Our buff orpington

I recently sat down with a pencil and a piece of paper to determine how much our home-grown chicken eggs are costing us up here in Alaska. Obviously, we are not keeping laying hens for economic reasons, but for other reasons including compost, amusement, and knowing where our food comes from. With all this in mind however, I thought I’d go into detail about the economic breakdown of our chicken operation:

Monthly Costs:

Item Expense TOTAL
250W heat lamp 24/hrs a day at .10 a Kwh $18
100W light 14/hrs a day at .10 a Kwh $4.20
Feed 1 50lb bag of 20% layer crumbles $22
Bedding (straw) 1/2 bale per month $10


Monthly Value of Eggs

Eggs for 6 young chickens per month: 5/day x 30 = 150 eggs

Price for a dozen eggs: $2/dozen

Total value of eggs: $25 dollars

With all that said, in winter we’re paying an extra $30/month for eggs. In the summer, with the light and heat lamp off, we’re paying an extra $7 dollars a month for eggs. If we sold a dozen eggs a week for $4/dozen, we’re still looking at paying another $14 dollars a month for eggs. Drawn out over a year, factoring not using a heat lamp or 100w bulb for six months of the year, we are paying approx. $200 extra a year for our eggs. If we sold a dozen eggs a week, we’d still be paying $120 extra a year.

Again, keeping chickens is about more than mere economics. We get great compost, infinite amusement, a good way to get rid of kitchen scraps, and delicious eggs. More importantly, we feel a greater connection to our food and to the earth. However, for the potential Alaskan chicken-keeper, these economic considerations might be good information to have.




Nighttime Backcountry Skiing

With a nice cold winter and lots of snow, I’ve had the chance to do a little backcountry skiing in the mountains near my house. Although it seems like I can never quite make it out there during daylight hours, skiing with a headlamp has it’s own benefits. The world quickly coming at you five feet at a time forces you to live in the moment.


Ashlee’s anniversary gift

Although our anniversary was in August, I surprised Ashlee this weekend with this painting done by our talented friend Briana Sullivan. Our living room looks so much brighter now!



A garden update: lessons learned and a lot of onions

Fall is in the air, the leaves are quickly turning colors, and we’ll have the first frost in the next few weeks.

Once again, I wasn’t able to give my veggie garden the attention it deserved. (My garden is at my dad’s house, a half-hour drive away). All that said, most of my crops grew successfully. Below are a few of my notes on the lessons I learned this year:

  • Onions: This year, instead of buying onion starts through the mail, I started my onions in seeds in February. For whatever reason, this was a far better way to go. I think the onion starts one gets through the mail (which have entered dormancy) take a while to get going. This doesn’t allow enough time to mature. This year, I started the onions in seed-starting flats and then transplanted them into 2′” cell packs. I grew “Gunnison “variety onions from Johnnys seeds. They’re a storage-type onion and we should still be eating them in February.
  • Winter squash: This year I tried to grow acorn squash . It was a gamble here in Alaska. The plant that I put under a plastic hoop created several squash,whereas the plants that were on raised mounds did not produce any fruit (more on that later). I used the “Jet” variety.
  • Sweet Corn: I finally figured out how to successfully grow sweet corn!  I start it indoors at the beginning of May and transplant it under a plastic hoop, removing the hoop when the corn gets too tall. Once the ears form, I wait until the last minute to harvest it. (It takes a long time for the ears to mature in our cool weather.) This year, I used a variety called “Spring Treat”. It made much larger ears than the “Yukon Chief ” variety that was developed in Alaska.
  • Broccoli: I planted way too much broccoli this year and enjoyed a lot of it over the last couple of months. Big heads and lots of side-shoots this summer.
  • Cabbage: The cabbage did ok this summer. I grew several different varieties, including storage cabbage, “giant cabbage” (OS Cross), and red cabbage. We had a wet fall, and the slugs went crazy on the cabbage. I harvested the gaint cabbage before the slugs affected them, and the storage cabbages tend to not get terribly damaged. In terms of storage cabbage, I may have planted them too closely together. I’ve used “Storage #4” variety for the last several years. They store very well, but they mature late and I’m not sure if they’re going to form good heads before the frost.
  • Squash and Pumpkins: I tried squash, zucchini, and pumpkins again this year, but I placed them in a different spot. I tilled a new area of the yard and mounded the soil and covered the mounds with clear plastic. Unfortunately, I don’t think the plants got nearly enough water during the early part of the summer. None of the squash, zucchini, or pumpkins matured enough this year. They definitely need to be grown under plastic hoops in a warm location.
  • Carrots: I started the carrots about a month late due to a failed planting idea. However, they grew fast and we’ll have plenty of carrots this year. I’m going to leave them in the ground for a lot longer this year — until we get a few frosts.
  • Lettuce and Kale: The lettuce and kale did well this year. I tried another “baby salad mix”, but it bolted very quickly. I hardly got any cuttings out of it. The romaine and kale did very well; the only problem is that the romaine is not ready until mid-July, so we were a little short on salad greens for the first part of the summer.
  • Gooseberries: My dad has a couple of healthy gooseberry plants that produce red gooseberries. The taste is exquisite, and they grow to be almost the size of grapes. I easily picked three pounds off of the bushes, and will be trying a 1 gallon batch of gooseberry mead soon! (I’ll let you know how it turns out!)
Now that we flattened our yard, we’re planning on installing raised garden boxes this fall and tilling a section of the yard. Having the veggies closer at hand, I expect a much better harvest next year.


Yesterday a black bear got into our chicken coop. I was at work, and Ashlee came home from dropping Elias off at school to see the black bear in the chicken run with a chicken in its mouth. She grabbed River and drove down to her mom’s house to call her brother-in-law. He came over, grabbed a gun, and went up the hill to our property and shot the bear.

In that fifteen minute span, the black bear (who was pretty small) got inside the coop through the chicken door. The carnage was indescribable. Truly awful. The bear killed or maimed 22 of my chickens. Only five survived: two meat chickens and three of the laying hens. The meat birds were only days away from being butchered, so I spent yesterday afternoon putting well over 100 lbs of chicken meat into the garbage can — a waste of hundreds of pounds of chicken feed, and months of work.

Needless to say, I’m disheartened. It’s the second troublesome bear we’ve had hanging around this year. Between our steep lot, our bear problems, and the short growing season of living in Alaska, there’s a whole extra layer of difficulty added to the passions I’m trying to pursue, and it’s hard not to get frustrated…

Worse, Elias called me while I was coming home from hunting last night, crying and telling me how much he misses his chickens. His heartbreak was, in many ways, the worst part of the whole ordeal.

When I got home last night, I petting the three remaining laying hens as I closed the coop for the night. We’ll be fixing the fence this weekend, making the chicken coop entrance significantly smaller so that bears cannot get in, and looking for a few replacement layers.

And I echo Elias’ words: “I really miss my chickens.”