Marion Owen

Courtesy of MARION OWEN

In this icon, hand painted by Inna for Marion Owen, shows Saint Herman leaning on a shovel among radishes, beets and cabbage in his garden on Spruce Island where he ran a mission school and taught singing, writing and agriculture.

Gardening today is relatively easy. Even in Kodiak. We can walk into a local store and choose from a staggering variety of seeds. Minutes later, we’re back in the garden. We tear a corner of a seed packet and tap the tiny seeds out in a straight row. Sprinkle a little water. Done.

Let’s travel back in time. Imagine trying to grow vegetables in Kodiak some 200 years ago...

In the early 1790s, Catherine the Great of Russia arranged to have missionaries sent to Kodiak Island. The missionaries, which included the Russian Orthodox monk Herman, arrived on Kodiak on September 24, 1794.

Herman and the other missionaries encountered a harsh reality at Kodiak that did not correspond to early explorers’ rosy descriptions. For one thing, the monks were not given the supplies that were promised them. Including gardening tools.

One monk, Archimandrite Joseph, recognized the importance of self-sufficiency in a world far away from the motherland. In the spring of 1795, he devoted “special attention to the cultivation of the gardens,” said Lydia Black in “Herman: Wilderness Saint” the book she co-authored.

Joseph wrote in a letter, “I would like to start at least a little potato, cabbage, and some other garden vegetables; the main problem with this is that we do not have proper tools. I have asked [Baranov] to at least make some spades or hoes, but I do not know if anything will come of it. For now, we are managing to work the soil with sharpened wooden chocks.”

To the monks, growing food from seed was a matter of survival. In modern-day Kodiak. Not so much.

Still, I’ve always maintained that growing your own seeds is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Let me count the ways…

Health benefits: Veggies and herbs are at their maxiumum vitamin content straight out of the garden.

Taste: Homegrown food simply tastes better. If you don’t believe me, here’s a test: Grow a strawberry or a tomato next summer. Then they’re rip, go buy one of each from thestore. Put them on plates and conduct a blind taste (and texture!) test with your friends or family. 

Do it for the children: It’s no surprise that many children don’t know where their food comes from. Plus, we’re in the midst of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Teaching your children how to grow peas, kale, and potatoes doesn’t cost much and the rewards are priceless.

It’s about growing money: By planting some seeds and investing a little bit of time and effort, a family can save hundreds of dollars – not only on the grocery bill, but from fewer visits to the health clinic.

One step at a time: Growing your own plants also gives you a head start on the growing season. I’ll share “when to sow” tips next.



With a pattern of warm winters under our belt, local growers continue to push the calendar back as far as February to for sowing and setting out hardy seedlings in the garden that were started indoors weeks earlier. 

Here’s a handy way to figure out when you should start seeds:

1. Decide the date you plan to transplant your seedlings outside

2. Check the seed packet to find out how long it takes for the seedling to reach a transplantable size, usually given in days or weeks

3.  Now count backwards from your transplant date, the time it takes for plants to reach a transplantable size.

Let’s take broccoli as an example: It takes 4 to 6 weeks from the time you sow the seeds to when you transplant it outside. Now counting backwards six weeks from May 15, you come to the first week of April.

The following timetable gives you the average number of weeks that are needed to grow seedlings to a transplantable (is that a word?) size:. 



10 to 12 weeks: celery, leek, globe artichoke

8 to 12 weeks: onion (bulb), green onion

6 to 8 weeks: tomatoes (greenhouse only)

4 to 6 weeks: Swiss chard, salad mixes, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale, mustard greens. Cucumbers, zucchini (for greenhouse/hoophouse)



12 to 14 weeks: chives, oregano, mint, yarrow, parsley

8 to 12 weeks: thyme, feverfew, valerian, catnip

6 to 8 weeks: dill, chervil, coriander, lemon balm, sage, arugula, savory



20 weeks: fuchsia, sweet peas

12 to 14 weeks: pansies, lobelia, coleus, impatiens

8 to 12 weeks: snapdragons, alyssum

6 to 8 weeks: calendula, daisy, nemesia, sweet alyssum, petunia, ageratum

4 to 6 weeks: African daisy, marigolds, godetia, nasturtium


In the fall of 1795, the monks gathered the first crops from their garden. The harvest yielded only potatoes, radishes and turnips. In years to follow, they managed to grow rutabaga, beets, gardlic and barley. 

“We made flour from potatoes and pickled the turnips [in sea water] after cutting them into small pieces,” wrote one of the monks. 

By 1809, conditions in Kodiak had improved little, leaving the monks to nearly beg for supplies, especially seeds. “… would it not be possible to provide, if you have extra, various garden seeds, particularly garlic and onion,” wrote Iven Kuglinov.

“I suppose that you surely have some, but not too many; so if it is possible I most humbly ask you to supply them, since there is none here. Please also supply other seeds as well.”

In due time, a supply ship arrived and delivered valuable cargo: honey, nuts, wheat, garlic, onions, and… seeds.


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