Gardeners get growing

Greenhouses offer way to indulge green thumbs before weather does

Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2005


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  Jordan holds a leaf of sage Monday at the Fireweed Herb Garden greenhouse on Forest Drive in Kenai. Jordan said June 1 is recognized in the nursery world as the frost-free date when it is safe to move plants from the greenhouse to the outdoors. Photo by Layton Ehmke

Susan Jordan, Fireweed Herb Garden owner, tends to freshly transplanted herbs Monday as she stocks her greenhouse in preparation for gardening season. She said herbs like sage and thyme have been popular this year, but most people are already looking for blooming plants.

Photo by Layton Ehmke

As the Kenai Peninsula continues to get peeks of spring, area gardeners are itching to get green things growing.

Susan Jordan, owner of Fireweed Herb Garden and Gifts, said business picked up for the several days it was sunny and warm on the peninsula.

"Most people bought gift items and smaller things. Fresh herbs are very popular, too. People have herbs out in their greenhouses right now. But when it gets cold again, people just stay home," she said.

Jordan said most of her customers already were looking for plants and shrubs that reflect the feeling of spring.

"People want things in bloom, even though it's a little early for that. Some have started picking out what they want for their hanging baskets by putting up their geraniums," she said. "Those will really start taking off soon."

Jordan said vegetable gardeners are picking out what sort of tomatoes they want for the season.

"People are getting really eager," she said. "Now is a good time to get started and start looking for the seeds you'll need."

Janice Chumley of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service said gardeners finally get to fulfill long-harbored desires of getting their fingers in soft dirt and being around the smell of their hobby.

"If you walk into any of the commercial greenhouses, there will be a lot of planting and transplanting going on because it's been a long time since people have even seen green. Gardeners right now are in full-tilt boogie," Chumley said.

Gardeners already have started some major projects, and Chumley said it isn't hard to do.

"You can buy herbs and plant them by your kitchen window sill. There are a lot of good things that are easy to start. Gardening is one of the things anyone can do, and it gives you joy and satisfaction. It's easy to start and it's a good time," she said.

For starting seeds, it's best to get a sterilized mix because seedlings are prone to disease, she said. Also, put it close to a light source and place a small fan nearby. This will increase the stem strength as it grows.


Jordan holds a leaf of sage Monday at the Fireweed Herb Garden greenhouse on Forest Drive in Kenai. Jordan said June 1 is recognized in the nursery world as the frost-free date when it is safe to move plants from the greenhouse to the outdoors.

Photo by Layton Ehmke

She said many gardeners have started small things inside they will later move to their greenhouses once it thoroughly warms up.

"Go and get a seed because it's a miracle waiting to happen. Grow something just because it's great fun. With a paper cup and a little dirt you can do amazing things," Chumley said.

"People always think about all the things that you can't grow here, but I am really amazed at the things that will grow here — enough to fill your freezer all winter long," she said.

Donald Lashley, owner of Kenai River Nursery, said there are a lot of gardeners who have started tomato plants.

"We've given away more than 2,000. We always give away tomato plants in the first part of March. That gets people started on their gardens and greenhouses earlier than they would otherwise," he said.

Lashley said that as the spring season moves farther away from breakup, gardeners can start to move their bigger plants to a greenhouse.

"Depending on which varieties you've got, most tomatoes will do well in about three gallons of soil and continue to grow all season in that. Others will need 10 to 15 gallons of soil. Some can grow pretty tall," Lashley said.

As far as vegetables go, Lashley said cucumbers, peppers, zucchini and squash are being grown.

"Some people are planting seeds and buying covers so they can start their plants off in the house where it's still pretty warm," he said.

Lashley said gardening is a good hobby to take up and that more people are giving it a go.

"There is a steady increase in the number of people moving here, and there still seems to be a 20 percent turnover every year with gardening. I still get some of the same customers you've had for years," he said. "Either you're a gardener or you're not."

"We've been encouraging people to take up gardening for years. It's just a good hobby," he said.

According to Chumley, once seedlings have gone through the hardening process, it is safe to transplant those greenhouse plants to an outdoor location. Hardening is where gardeners leave seed-lings outside for a few hours per day for roughly a week, increasing the time every day until the plants are left out overnight.

"Generally, people feel it's safe to move plants outdoors after Memorial Day," Chumley said.

Chumley said people interested in getting into gardening can get free research-based information through Extension Service at 262-5824.

"We have free pamphlets that tell you the proper timing of when to start different plants. Why would you pass that up?"

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