Category Archives: Alaska

Early Harvest

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The other day I posted about most of the stuff we are intentionally growing this year.  Here’s some of the stuff that just grows (good and less good):

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Yarrow

Yarrow is a “weed” that has lots of uses, besides just being pretty.  Mosquitos don’t much care for its scent.  Two years ago, I infused yarrow flower heads in oil, then made a salve with the resulting fragrant oil, a few drops of tea tree oil, and beeswax.  I probably should have made a lotion; because the salve was a bit heavy, we didn’t use it much, just kept using the stuff from the store.  This year, we ran out of store-bought bug dope, so I got out my old experiment.  I’m not sure if the mosquitos aren’t biting because of the scent or because they just can’t penetrate the wax/oil base, but I am definitely going to use this stuff from now on! (And the bunch of yarrow in the photo will become more – but I’ll try a lotion this time!)

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First Wild Strawberries

While I was out picking yarrow this morning, I noticed something red in the grass.  Wild strawberries!!  Our first berries of the season are not from any plants I purchased, and there aren’t enough of them to top a bowl of cereal, but there were enough for each of us to have a taste.

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After a day and a half of rain, the weeds are very happy.

It rained nearly all day yesterday and last night.  It is lovely not to have to water the garden, but my plants are not the only ones that like water.  The paths have fewer weeds because the ground is more compacted.  We are way behind with getting the garden mulched (have to rent a chipper to deal with the mountain of brush we’ll be using), and it can be discouraging to see the amount of work I’m going to need to be doing on my knees, but I still love seeing how life insists on having its way.

 

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One Way to Reuse a Wine Bottle . . .

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So, ages ago (years ago, really), I had an idea for a cool polymer clay embellishment for an empty wine bottle.  It has taken me a long time, working in spurts, to finally finish it, but here it is:

The front shows a little cabin in the woods, with snow-covered mountains in the background.  It is a spring scene, so the birch or aspen trees have yellowy green leaves, and there are wild roses and irises in bloom.  Sigh.  It’s really not spring here (-28 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, and that’s warmed up about 20 degrees since last week!), so I’m gazing wistfully at this little clay world, willing spring to get here soon. 🙂

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The back lets you see the backyard.  The axe is stuck in the chopping block, and there’s a path back to the outhouse (you can just see that necessity – it’s in the middle left of the photo, above the irises).

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And here are a couple of close ups.

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It is for sale in my Art Fire shop, Butterscotch Grove, along with a few other things.  I’ll be going through my old never-posted stock from when I worked the Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market a few years ago and adding those items to my shop over the next week or so.  Those things will be bargains!

The Land Provides

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Seed catalogs have started to appear in our mailbox!! Yea! Spring is coming!  I can’t wait to see dirt (outside dirt, of course.  Sadly, we have plenty inside…).  Well, of course, I can wait.  I’ll need patience for another three months. (Four, if this winter holds on as long as last winter did.)

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The Garden in January 2014

May 5, 2013

May 5, 2013

Still, I love when the catalogs start arriving.  I’m going to have twice as much space for growing veggies this year, and no away from home job to interrupt.  And last year the property gave us most of what we needed to make a green house.  That will be going up as soon as we can remove a few small stumps.  What’s that you ask?  How did the property give us a greenhouse?  Well…

We had been pondering how we could build a greenhouse cheaply.  I’d seen a prefab one at Sam’s Club; it didn’t really look big enough or sturdy enough, but the price was decent (less than $200).  Husband went to check it out and discovered the much larger carport for about the same amount.  With some modifications and additional structural support, he thought that would make a really nice greenhouse for between $300 and $500 dollars.  He thought he might even be able to use some old pipe he’d noticed half buried in the woods on the property to lengthen the carport, or as replacement parts, if needed.  Turns out, the old half-buried pipe was all the pieces of a similar carport.  Only a few were damaged, and of those, most could be repaired.  And it wasn’t super old.

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Pipes Laid Out on Driveway, Summer 2013

He got some new pieces to replace the few unusable ones and lengthen the structure a bit, and built the first end wall last summer. We already had most of the plywood for the wall, salvaged from remodeling the inside of our house.

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Structure Complete. Sorta

This is a good sign, I think.  It’s like magic.  We have a need and the land provides.  I’m tempted to go stand in the middle of our field and say, “Golly, I could really use someone to clean my house….”

Making a Better World: Shortening the Food Chain, Part 1

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We Alaskans like to believe in the image Outsiders have of us as self-reliant hunters and gathers, living off the frozen fat of our outdoor icebox.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many Alaskans who live a subsistence lifestyle, and even more who depend on hunting, fishing and berrying for a part of their yearly food supply.  Plenty of us, though, do most of our hunting in the aisles of the local Safeway or Fred Meyer store, where “local” usually means from Washington state or Oregon.
Both Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (deep bow to the high priest and priestess of locavoria!) cite the statistic that most food products eaten in the US have traveled an average of 1500 miles from place of origin to place of consumption.  I wonder if that average includes (and is therefore skewed by) the many, many miles almost everything in our grocery stores has come.  It is nearly 2000 miles just from Seattle to Fairbanks – and if it’s Iowa corn or California strawberries, it’s coming a whole lot farther than that.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan describes the tortuously complicated length of the industrial food chain, and how and why shortening that chain is in our best interests, as individuals and as a society.  Though The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces the chains leading to four specific meals, there are two general types of food chains:  1. food going from point A to point B;  2. food A being processed into food products B, C, D, etc.  Shortening the first type means:  less fuel spent in transportation and refrigeration; more biological diversity, since varieties don’t need to be selected for ease of shipment; better taste and nutrition – foods are picked when ripe, not ripened chemically or on the road (Kingsolver calls shipped produce “vagabonds who wasted their youth in a boxcar”); and more peace of mind, since any disruptions in the food distribution system become less problematic when you can walk between points A and B.  Shortening the second type means, again:  less fuel for transportation, refrigeration and processing; more biological diversity (because processed foods contain so much corn and soy, US farms are producing more and more of these two crops and less and less of everything else); better nutrition, because eating whole foods equals consuming all the nutrients those foods contain, not just those that Science has identified as important or beneficial this month; and more peace of mind.  If you are eating un- or minimally processed foods, you know what you’re eating. (For the most part, anyway.  Did you know that the wax that makes apples and cucumbers shiny is a corn product?)
So, how do we, as non-subsistence-living Alaskans, shorten those food chains?  There are certain things we are stuck with (or stuck without, I guess), for instance staples like wheat flour, COFFEE, sugar, COFFEE, tea, COFFEE and CHOCOLATE.  Those things just aren’t produced here. (I guess, wheat flour and tea could be dropped from our shopping list.) Much as I’d love to follow Kingsolver’s example of consuming only locally produced food (with a few exceptions – each member of her family got one special food during their year of locavory), I don’t think that’s realistic for Fairbanks. I don’t think it is, but I don’t know for certain, so this year, I’m investigating local food sources. Next year, maybe, will be our as-complete-as-possible Animal, Vegetable, Miracle year.  So far I’ve found:

There are also options like buying a whole hog or cow from a 4-H member, a barley flour processor in the Delta area, and friends who hunt or fish :). And of course, there’s the “grow your own” option – which has its own challenges in the Land of the Midnight Sun (aka the Land of the Extremely Short Growing Season).

That’s actually a longer list than I’d expected (Yea!) and this post is getting long, too, so I’ll finish next week.

What do you get locally? If you’re in Alaska – what’s your favorite local food source?

Making a Better World: The Nature of a Garden

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Random Sheet of Metal on Property

            Our land was once part of a pristine wilderness.  We hope to recreate that environment, to erase all traces of human interference with nature.  Just kidding.  It’s true that the land was once “untouched,” but that was long, long ago.  Much of the “wilderness” around here is at best second growth boreal forest.  The early history of Fairbanks – building and heating the town, mining the hills, stoking the boilers of the steamboats – took a lot of wood, and rearranged mountains of earth.  Before that, Alaska Natives hunted and fished throughout the Tanana Valley.  This area has seen the impact of humanity for millennia, and there’s no way we could ever return a little over an acre of it to its “original” state.

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  We certainly weren’t thinking “pristine” as we hauled car parts, balled-up, rusty wire fencing, miles of electrical wire and pieces of bone (not human, thankfully)  out of our planting area. 

Part of Scrap Pile:  Fencing, wire, and an old rug

Junk Structure on Property

We are not trying to get to untouched.  But if we are not trying to restore our bit of subarctic suburbia to its primeval grandeur, how can I say we’re “making a better world”?  Might seem like hubris.

            First, I don’t buy the idea that nature is necessarily at its best without human impact.  I also don’t think “dominion over the Earth” means we should develop, pave, or make junkyards out of every blessed parcel of land we can.  In his book Second Nature¸ Michael Pollan suggests that pitting nature against culture (human activity) creates a false dichotomy.  We are, after all, a part of nature, not apart from it.  In a garden, the influence of the gardener is thoughtful, intentional and blatant.  We protect plants that might otherwise fail to thrive.  We plant stuff we want to grow in rows or beds.  We weed and water (and weed and water some more).  Pollan calls a garden “a middle ground between nature and culture, a place that is at once of nature and unapologetically set against it.”

            When I say we are making a better world (in a tiny way) by making this farmlet, I mean that by making our influence visible and useful, we are saving that land from the hidden forces that were slowly turning it in to a junkyard, and from the overt force of the developers who at best would have built a multi-family apartment there, and at worst would have turned it more rapidly into a junkyard.  I don’t believe that our cultivation of the land will create an eyesore.  We are removing trees, but not all.  We are planting new trees as well, and the new ones and the ones we don’t take down will have a better chance to thrive.  The dead wood that makes the property a fire hazard that is difficult to navigate will go – but its nutrients will be returned to the soil, in the form of mulch.  We’ll have to protect our plantings from moose and rabbits, but those creatures will also continue to use the land.  (It’s kinda hard to stop them!) 

Visiting Moose

We’ll be ripping out non-native invasive species, like dandelions and purple vetch.  And, of course, we’ll be feeding ourselves with the products of our labor, happily increasing the nutrient value of our food and the quality of life of our food animals while reducing our dependence on shipped in food and the related use of fossil fuels required to get that food here.  Whew – that’s a heck of a sentence!  But it sure sounds like a better world to me. 🙂

Some of our food animals - not little yellow fluffballs anymore!

Some of our happy food animals – not little yellow fluffballs anymore!