If they can do it in Bethel we can do it in Kodiak

Clipping salad greens on Feb. 6: Spinach and cress seeds were sown in September and then covered in October with hoops and plastic, creating a mini-greenhouse which protected the young seedlings from the winter elements. (Marion Owen photo)

It wasn’t much.

Just a handful of cress and spinach.

But it was green and fresh.

And it was early February.

On Super Bowl Sunday, a glorious, sunny day at that, Marty and I decided to take a spin around the yard to conduct a mid-winter check on things. He brought the power drill with him so we could remove a few slats that we installed on the edges of the raised beds to secure the plastic over the hoops.

I was curious to see if the garlic cloves, planted last fall, had sprouted yet. Notes from last winter said that garlic planted in October 2009 was six inches tall in mid-March 2010, so I had my hopes up. After removing a few screws, we lifted up the end of the plastic. I reached in, grabbed a spruce branch (placed on top of the soil in October for added protection) and peered underneath. No little green shoots yet, so we re-secured the plastic and moved on.

The next bed held more promise because last September I’d sowed five varieties of spinach in 15 rows. They sprouted and grew a couple inches – just enough to get them established before the weather set in. When we lifted the plastic last weekend, I danced a little jig. There, smiling up at us, where 4-inch high spinach plants and 6-inch bunches of Wrinkled Crinkled Cress.

I danced a jig because I knew that the days of waiting until late May to plant outside was a myth, an ancient practice, that is unfounded and needs to go away.

If they can do it in Bethel

At Meyers Farm in Bethel (meyersfarm.net), they’ve tossed out old beliefs, too. Using greenhouses, hoophouses and covered raised beds, they are currently supplying the local community during the growing season with affordable, fresh produce, free of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizer.

Their overall goal it to provide “locally grown produce year round for our community in Bethel, and as we grow throughout the rest of Alaska.”

Go sit in your car

In Bethel, they use the sun to full advantage. We can, too. You know nicely your car heats up on a clear winter day? It might be 25 degrees outside, but inside it’s toasty and warm. Covered raised beds do the same thing.

It’s all about daylight.

Take a look at this: By March 30, we’re experiencing 13 hours of daylight. By April 23, the spring shoulder season, we’re up to 15 hours, a gain of two hours in just over 3 weeks. (to calculate daylight length for the year in your location, go to: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/Dur_OneYearphp#notes).

The other shoulder season is mid-fall, when daylight is starting to wane, but the garden is still producing. It’s during the shoulder seasons that covered raised beds really shine …

Why cover your raised beds?

There are several advantages for placing hoops and plastic over raised beds that are used for growing annual vegetables, flowers and herbs.

First of all, your soil is protected from months of rain, wind, snow and sleet that dilutes and leaches nutrients away. Imagine pouring water through a filter of coffee grounds every day. At first the liquid coming through the filter would be a respectable dark color. But in due time it would run clear.

Second, you need water to make ice; no water, no ice. By covering your beds over the winter, your soil doesn’t become waterlogged and freeze into an ice block which refuses to thaw out until May. On Superbowl Sunday, when players were trying to run deep into the end zone, I was pushing my arm deep into the soil zone, all the way down to the bottom of the raised bed. Touchdown.

If you have a hoophouse

Having a hoophouse (a temporary greenhouse) in a sunny exposure is a recipe for success in extending your growing season into both shoulder seasons. As I reported in late December, Bruce and Midge Short were harvesting greens from their hoophouse — enough to host a feast for their neighbors.

If you own a hoophouse, then, according to Eliot Coleman, author of Winter Harvest Handbook, you could be growing a variety of cold-hardy plants such as beet greens (Bull’s Blood beets), lettuce, arugula, spinach, chard, mizuna, tatsoi, pak choi, Tokyo Bekana, kale, Claytonia, Komatsuna, cress, carrots, Hakurei turnips, and the list goes on. Experiment and see what works best for you. But don’t just sit there wondering what to do next. Be curious and think about the possibilities. Don a parka and go outside

Based on what I’ve seen and learned from my own experience over the past few years, I firmly believe that it’s possible for Kodiak residents to have a year-round supply of locally-grown fresh vegetables.

Sunday, after harvesting some spinach and cress, I dashed into the house and grabbed a packet of seeds, a salad mix, and sprinkled a few seeds in between the rows of spinach. Sound like a crazy thing to do in February? Maybe, but I have to at least try.

This morning, I received an e-mail from a friend in Anchorage.

“Guess what? Friday I purchased a small, tightly compacted cabbage at the Natural Pantry that was grown in Bethel at Meyers Farms. I paid $1.98 a pound. I used some in one of my vegetable stir-fry. I was thrilled.”

Marion Owen can be reached at mygarden@alaska.net.

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