Tag Archives: gardening

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.

 

What’s Growing – June 2017

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2017 is yet another year when we won’t be getting much from our gardening efforts to shorten the food chain; not having a spot to start seeds early enough really cuts down on what I can get out in the garden in time.  We are still working on it though.  Next year I WILL have an indoor seed starting area, somehow.  In the meantime, here’s what we’ve got growing this year (We also have 15 adolescent chickens who will be providing eggs in a couple of months, but I missed getting a picture of them.):

 

 

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!

Why?

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Why are we making a farmlet (really big garden, or really tiny farm) in suburban Fairbanks, Alaska? It would be much easier and possibly cheaper (in the short run) to continue as we have been, buying food from the supermarket, with the occasional purchase at the farmer’s market, and raising a small, usually less-than-spectacular garden. The property we’ll be farming is probably the last acre of undeveloped land in our neighborhood. That certainly doesn’t mean it is untouched. The previous owners stored a junk car collection among the birches, spruces and cottonwoods. Judging by the bits and pieces of rusted cans, empty bottles and campfire remains, the property has hosted humans at least a few times over the years. We have also recovered quite a bit of random junk: electrical wire, fencing material (sadly deteriorated beyond use), even a piece of railroad. Not a railroad tie, mind you. An 8’ length of track, bent into a curve no engine could navigate.
Preventing this piece of land from falling into the hands of our local junk-yard owner was our impetus for buying it in the first place. Making it productive enough to help us pay for it was our next goal. But as we’ve worked on it, and done a bit of research into what our climate can support, it has become, for me, a chance to make the world better, in several teeny, tiny ways.
1. Prevent another suburban junkyard/eyesore.
2. Rehabilitate the hidden junkyard we bought.
3. Reduce our reliance on shipped food (which has traveled even farther to us than the national average of 1500 miles.)
4. Provide another local food option to our neighbors.
5. Produce food which we know to be organic and genetically unmodified.
6. Provide a pesticide-free area for local honey bees to do their thing.
7. Help our children understand, in a very hands-on way, where food truly comes from, and help them develop a respect for (if not love of) the hard work involved in feeding people.

Next Post: Making this piece of world better. The Nature of a Garden