Putting into Practice What I learned in the Alaska Master Gardener Online Class–What Worked and What Didn’t?

This piece will hopefully capture a bit of how the 2020 summer gardening season went.  This time around, we went into the season armed with information from the Master Gardener Course taken online at UAF in 2019.  What good is new knowledge if you don’t use it?  Better yet, if you try something new, it is always useful to actually observe and write down what you did and how it worked out.

As of today, the only thing still in the ground here in Anchorage is a 37-gallon trash can with potatoes.  There are also Swiss chard still available for harvesting.  The greenhouse has been shut down for nearly three weeks with trays and pots washed out.

Pruned gooseberries (left and center) and blueberries (right)

What we tried

  • Crop rotation in raised beds
  • Pruning berry bushes and rose bushes
  • Changing soil mix for planting starts
  • Grow lights for early yacon starts
  • Larger pots for greenhouse plants

What worked

The gooseberry and blueberry bushes really responded well to pruning, there was lots of production and new growth. This was the single best blueberry year we have had.

We finally started getting cherries from a pair of tart cherry trees planted 4-5 years ago.  I don’t think this was due to anything we changed in caring for it.

Our zucchini from seeds worked best and seemed to tolerate crowding in the raised beds.  It was a very productive zucchini year.  I bake low carb zucchini bread and put it in the freezer next to the summer’s salmon.  We should be eating it until January.

In the past, we planted new starts exclusively in compost, which seemed to work reasonably well. In the Alaska Master Gardener Online Course, I learned that for starts, equal parts of compost, soil and sand was recommended. This year, we used a 50-50% mix between compost and soil as the soil had a high percentage of sand. Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers seemed very happy and productive.

We managed for the first time to grow most of our yacon this year from corms stored in the crawlspace over the winter.  This year, when we brought them into the light, we blasted them under grow lights for more than 3 weeks.  This worked nicely as they never got tall and leggy.

We ended up using 2.5-gallon pots for most of our tomatoes, cucumbers.  Peppers did well in 2-gallon pots.  All of these were grown in the greenhouse and we mixed soil with compost planting them.

Our carrots were wildly successful this year, prolific and very sweet.

Crowded Swiss chard in a raised bed

What didn’t work

One of my personal problems is that I tend to crowd plants.  I know that and try to control myself which is occasionally successful.  I discovered this year that yacon, kohlrabi, Swiss chard and radishes are really sensitive to crowding.  This worked out really well for Swiss chard, which never got very big, yielding one plant harvested per meal.  On the other hand, kohlrabi and radishes were pretty small.

We had a great output of yacon tubers this summer.  Two of the plants were crowded and produced minimally. I noticed that yacon roots want a LOT of space when they were harvested.  I am thinking about dedicating an entire raised bed to yacon next summer and spreading them out. Their roots like a lot of space.

We purchased yellow squash plants from a greenhouse and put them into the raised beds.  They didn’t do well and produced nothing worth harvesting.

I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to weeding grass out of the berry bush beds or the strawberry beds and will have a lot of work to do after breakup.

Lessons learned

Don’t crowd yacon, kohlrabi or radishes.

Swiss chard and carrots are tolerant of crowding, though crowding carrots does yield highly variable carrots when harvested.  I need to develop some way to spread carrot, bunch onion and radish seeds when they are planted.  It is difficult to separate young starts from chickweed, which we have in abundance.  Separating seeds when planting is something we will try this next spring.

I need to aggressively continue to prune berry and rose bushes.

Our worm compost operation continues to surprise us.  As we use it in the spring for starts, we usually end up with a few mystery plants in the greenhouse.  This year was a round cucumber and a large, fluted tomato.  Turns out the cucumber was a lemon cucumber and the tomato was a Genovese tomato.  As neither were intentionally planted, we believe both seeds came in via food that was composted.  Of these, the Genovese is most personally interesting, as the only place we think it came into the house was via pizza, salsa or marinara sauce.  The salsa is the most likely.  These are amazing seeds that managed to survive the pasteurization process.

There was a BIG rush on plants and equipment both locally and online during the lockdown.  Many normal suppliers were out of seeds and supplies a good month or so earlier than the normal purchase time.

We had been using an old Aerogarden for starting seeds.  As it only had 6 openings, we were limited to starts and had to stage what we did. We found a small leak in the tank which gave us an excuse to purchase a couple replacements.  The new models have what they call a seed starting insert which increased the number of starts from 6 to 23 in the model (Harvest) we are going to use.  This will be yet another new tool to learn how to (or not to) use.


I would strongly recommend shopping early for whatever mail order things you need this year.  February may be too late. I intend to start in January. The problem will be getting seeds out of the mailbox before they are frozen.

For a relatively cool, wet summer in Anchorage, our garden seemed to perform fairly well.  As our eating habits continue to change over the years, we will follow those changes by decreasing some things we don’t eat that much of (cauliflower and kohlrabi) and increasing things we are eating more of (zucchini and yacon).  It is personally satisfying to find a lo-carb bread recipe that uses home-grown zucchini and blueberries that is both tasty and can be frozen for a while.

Finally, if it isn’t fun, we shouldn’t be doing it, and gardening this summer was a lot of fun, which I suppose is why we continue to do it.

About Alex Gimarc

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