My Plan to Grow
When I became Assistant Groundskeeper at the Sitka Pioneers’ Home in almost five years ago I was really impressed with the amount of flowers that were now in my care. But it didn’t take me long to realize there was something lacking on the Pioneers’ Home grounds. I knew that a small vegetable garden would be a nice, attractive, and useful addition for the home. Fortunately I was not alone in this thinking as a former employee of the home had received permission to do just that on a small piece of the grounds (about 15 by 20 feet) that had some pretty decent exposure to direct sunlight from mid-morning until late afternoon. The obstructing local Sitka Spruce that are strategically and inconveniently growing in the wrong place for the past 100 plus years does not help in my farming cause but I’ll live with it, begrudgingly. I was also fortunate in that the former employee had made at least a half-hearted effort in making a useful and productive garden. I wasn’t at all familiar with the former’s way of gardening as all the usable and workable soil was piled in what seemed to be three elongated baseball pitchers mounds with a fourth long hill of soil that ran along the sidewalk path with a chain link fence that separates the two. Upon seeing the fourth hill I knew it would be a great spot for peas to traverse the fence and climb as they grow for support. I knew what to do with the fourth hill, now I figured would be an appropriate time to break out the trustworthy rototiller and attack the other three hills.
I was surprised to see how rich the soil looked, like black gold! My first year I did not amend the soil with any nutrients until the following fall. It was already spring and the soil looked real good so I just went for it with deciding to grow my garden. After much tilling and raking I was able to eek out seven consecutive rows. Since I was new to gardening and had little experience in what I should be growing and what will grow well in my area/ climate. I consulted with my supervisor over the issue since he has vast more experience in gardening and like me was grown up in the Southeast Alaska area. Unfortunately he is well versed in flower tending but has not done any vegetable gardening. During my short dilemma of what to do, I’d asked a few more locals their ideas. Someone mentioned to me that one of our local gardening residents of Sitka had just published a book on the subject. Being that the Pioneer’s Home is conveniently located just across from our local book store (https://www.oldharborbook.net).
The Book That Made It Possible
I decided to see if I could get a copy. The book is called, How to Grow Vegetables in Sitka, Alaska by Lori Adams, (Arrowhead Press, 2013). I found this book to be a great reference for anyone planning on gardening in Sitka or the surrounding area. It is especially great for the beginner and novice gardeners, like myself, who need the right information on how to do it properly. She starts from the basics of site selection for your garden and moves on to how to build your beds. She explains how to handle the weather and seasonal changes, as well as how to grow different types of crops here. She also covers how to make your own soil utilizing local seaweed and sand and how to compost to enrich existing soils you may have. Maximizing the space in your chosen site, starting seeds and types of vegetables that grow good in the area are also discussed in the book. Proper handling and transplanting as well as pests and remedies to rid yourself of them is another few items Lori writes about her trials, errors and what works best. In the book Lori does an excellent job of listing the types of vegetables she’s had success in growing and the ones she’s not had such a good return with. She even divulges her secret weapon for pests that is perfectly at home here and just loves their job–ducks!
Deciding What To Grow
After consulting with the kitchen chef at the Pioneers’ Home and showing him a list of what I could grow in our small area I asked what he could use mostly from that list to incorporate into the needs of the kitchen. We decided on lettuce, garlic, carrots, beets and potatoes for our garden. Over the years this has now been reduced by excluding beets. Carrots and potatoes are now grown separately as well, carrots in wood boxes and Yukon Gold potatoes are grown in longline tubs with holes punched in the bottoms for drainage. This method for potatoes makes it very simple come harvest time. You just simply turn the longline tubs over and the spuds are easy to gather. Over the past three summers I have not strayed from the list of vegetables we agreed to grow that first year I started . But for everything I’ve grown or attempted to grow I’ve always used Lori’s book as my go to reference before I begin because I know that it will explain what grows best here and how best to care for what you decide to grow. A beginner gardener or any gardener would find Lori’s book very useful as their go to manual for Sitka and Southeast gardening in general, she covers all the bases from Spring set up to fall wrap up.