May 15 Gardening Workshop

There’s no right or wrong way to garden…

The day after our raised beds were built and filled with soil, the garden volunteers congregated on-site once again to attend the summer’s first gardening workshop. The workshop began with an indoor discussion and ended with some hands-on planning out in the garden. The following post was written by super-volunteer Suzanne Schafer with some editing and supplementation by Jasmine Woodland, the Garden Project’s Media Coordinator (me!). Joshua at MtnBoy Media took most of the photos seen here (thanks   again, Josh!) with a few exceptions. Enjoy!

What grows well in Alaska? What should we add to our soil to nourish it? How can we maximize our planting space? These are all important questions many of us new and eager garden volunteers had before we planned and planted our garden, until… Saskia, Alaska Master Gardener, came along and conducted an intensive Gardening Workshop that answered these questions and more.

Seedlings! The seedlings hesitantly sprout.

The workshop began with basic introductions followed by a fun activity that involved the gardeners getting close to the ground, mimicking seeds, and then “growing” into plants. It was difficult not to laugh and enjoy our short time spent as seedlings. Needless to say, this activity successfully broke the ice for the discussion that followed.

The volunteers "grow" at the beginning of the gardening workshop.

Our discussion focused on three main topics: gardening successfully in Alaskan conditions, choosing the best plants to grow, and some regular garden maintenance necessities.

Saskia shares her knowledge of Alaska gardening with the volunteers.

The most important matter we discussed was the Alaskan climate, and of course, our short growing season. Despite the lack of days, we have our round-the-clock daylight hours to speed up the growth in the garden and reap sizable harvests! We have approximately four months of garden-friendly conditions, beginning in mid-May, after the last frost. Gardening in Alaska requires that you choose hardy plants that reach maturity relatively quickly.

These include root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and radishes that can be planted before the frost is completely gone, leafy greens such as arugula, spinach, swiss chard, and lettuce, and plants in the Brassica family such as cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, and cauliflower.

Looking through the variety of seeds for planting.

We also learned that incorporating rotating crop strategies could not only maximize our minimal amount of space, but also enable us to double our harvest by replanting. Plants such as zucchini and squash are vegetables that need a nurturing start indoors and then should be “hardened” (slowly introduced to outdoor conditions before planting in the ground), and planted in the garden later.

Melody, the Garden Caretaker, explains where certain plants should be placed.

Other gardening techniques explained include: companion planting, staggering seed rows, and container planting certain species that may become invasive to the other neighboring plants (a technique we later used to isolate our thriving mint plant).

Saskia demonstrates the proper way to plant seeds. Saskia, being a very “natural gardener”, discussed several strategies to minimize the amount of maintenance needed in the garden. Using mulch atop a layer of compost comprised of straw and dried leaves will not only help moisture retention in the soil, but also stifle weeds. Additionally, weeds, discolored leaves, and organic matter from the kitchen can be buried right under the soil surrounding plants as a form of on-site composting.  You don’t even need to take your weeds or the apple you’re crunching on over to the compost! She also encouraged us to create a watering schedule in order to ensure that our garden never gets too dry. After this workshop, we were much more equipped with the tools we needed to get outside (and inside) to begin planting!

One point that Saskia made clear to the volunteers was that there really is no right or wrong way to garden. The basic necessities for planting include nutrient rich soil, plenty of water, sunlight, and space, along with a little TLC. Our plants may thrive and grow successfully, or they could die (hopefully not!) but the most important aspect of gardening is to discover through doing, treating each obstacle, triumph, or error as an opportunity to learn. Every experience we have with this garden will give us valuable knowledge and will help us to improve next summer’s project. The Sustainability Club envisioned that the garden would provide the UAA community with an example of small scale gardening in Alaska and this workshop was the beginning of building this example.

Learning about planting herbs in Alaska.

Post by Jasmine Woodland, Garden Media Coordinator

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