Gardening in Alaska can be a challenge. Cool soil temperatures and short growing seasons dissuade many green thumbs from even attempting a garden, but for those in the know, it's quite easy to grow a successful and rewarding garden.
"I'm here to discuss what will flourish here in Alaska," said master gardener Janice Chumley, "and I say 'flourish' with confidence."
Chumley, in conjunction with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Services office, taught a hardy vegetable varieties class Friday at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. It was the first of several gardening classes to be offered over the upcoming weeks.
"Flowers are nice, but I like to grow things I can eat," she said.
Chumley discussed the myriad of vegetable varieties that can thrive in Alaska. She also passed out numerous handouts, including topics such as mini gardens and raised bed gardening, as well as a detailed seed source list.
One of the most notable pieces of literature distributed was a produce grower's variety list for the Kenai Peninsula. It broke down the individual microclimates of the area and discussed which vegetables grow best where.
"Homer is a banana belt compared to us," said Chumley in regards to the seasonally higher temperatures there.
She stated that since the climate is warmer there, things will grow and bloom differently compared to other locations such as Kasilof, Kenai, Soldotna or Seward.
Chumley went through the list of vegetables in a step-wise manner. Since most of the attendants in the class were from the Kenai-Soldotna area, she focused specifically on that region.
"Beet varieties such as formanova and cyndor are smaller, tasty and good for jarring," she said.
She also recommended ruby perfection or the stonehead varieties of cabbage, as opposed to some of the giant ones.
"They're smaller, for those of you who can't face 30 pounds of coleslaw," she said.
For carrot varieties, she suggested minicores for their sweetness. She said carrots grown in Alaska are known to be high in quality due to a greater accumulation of sugars in the root.
In regard to Swiss chard, she said why grow ordinary when you can grow extraordinary.
"City lights Swiss chard is one of my favorites," she said. "It's a prolific grower and its orange, yellow, red and white colors are beautiful to look at compared to the standard green and white variety."
As she moved on to lettuce varieties, Chumley said she has yet to find a variety that didn't grow well here. Butterhead, loose-leaf and romaine, they all grow great on the peninsula.
Chumley was passionate about peas.
"I don't understand why everyone doesn't grow peas," she said. "We have the ideal climate for them, and they're so easy to grow. You could fill your freezer and the freezer of all your friends in just one growing season."
Chumley also had strong feelings about potatoes.
"Anyone who doesn't grow potatoes shouldn't be allowed to garden," she said facetiously. "It's stupefying how easy they are to grow, and here in the state there's more than 100 varieties available."
Chumley wound down the free class by reviewing which species are best to grow in the ground, and which do best as starters to be transplanted later.
She also pointed out the 40 free plots available at the Kenai Community Garden for those who don't have the land available to practice horticulture at home.
She fielded a diversity of questions from inquisitive attendees, including rototilling -- yes or no, what to do with scabbed potatoes, and how and when lime should be used.
Chumley will present two more classes: Container Gardening on May 20 and Insects in the Garden on June 27. Both courses are at 10:30 a.m. at the food bank.
For more information, Chumley can be reached at the Cooperative Extension Services office at 262-5824.
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