Outside the snow is coming down, silent and calm. In the last day, four more inches have been added to the several existing feet. For Alaskans, winter brings the deep desire to cozy up inside and receive some respite from the chaos of the summer season. After our first growing season on our new plot of land, that thick white blanket is exactly that, a blanket, leading us to think of all the warmth and protection it is providing our future seed crop. Out of sight, beneath the snow and kelp-mulch, are our Carrots, Kale, Garlic, Brussels Sprouts, Romanesco, and the founders of a perennial herb and flower garden all biding their time. We have had quite the year.
After digging out the last of the root mass buried in our future garden, the rest of our beds were cut about 4 weeks into the growing season. This delay didn’t stop us and we still planted out our brassicas, potatoes, and anything else that could handle a hard frost in those lower beds. We then proceeded to fight a righteous battle. We diligently fertilized our new beds that were undernourished due to being a forest the prior year and robbing our plants of nitrogen with all the carbon-filled wood still breaking down in the soil. We fought the egregious amount of slugs that had survived the mild winter of 2016. We squawked back at the Stellar Jays that loved to pull out our plants (but not eat them) and destroyed a visible ring of crops surrounding the scarecrow Nick built. And yet, we did prevail.
As we established our subsistence garden, we quickly realized we needed much more space for seed production. Bob Henderson was a wonderful long-time farmer in the Haines community who passed away a couple years ago and deeded his 14 acre homestead to the American Bald Eagle Foundation. This land includes 3 acres of old farm fields and horse pasture that was designated for solely agriculture usefor the next 20 years. Considering that the Bald Eagle Foundation were in the bird business and not the carrot business, they were happy to fulfill Bob’s dream and lease us some land right down the road.
To that end we have shored up our bonafides by acquiring the most farmerly of instruments: a tractor. Because we stick to permaculture practices, we have shied away from using any machinery in the past. While a useful machine, a traditional tractor can require a lot of space to maneuver, making smaller plots or those with uneven topography totally inaccessible or left with a lot of wasted space. The solution was to purchase a Walking Tractor–a two-wheeled, self-propelled machine that can accept a variety of implements. A mini tractor, if you will. Our particular machine is a used US-built Gravely from the 1960’s which was saved and brought back to good health by an enthusiast in Portland, OR. It has some age on it, but it’s burly construction and utter simplicity have kept it in good working condition. Come this spring it will be invaluable in breaking new ground in a less destructive way than the infamous John Deere.
We are feeling increasingly encouraged by our decision to move to Haines due to its special microclimate. The winter hasn’t dipped into the negatives too often, the snow pack is thick and continues to protect our hopeful biennial crops. There are no moose around stomping through the land and our wind-sheltered mountainside has kept everything as we wanted it to. So far, so good.
We had several successful seed crops last year including two varieties of peas and two cut flowers, along with some noteworthy successes with heirloom beans and a multicolored sweetcorn that Leah will continue to fight for. We have invested in cloning stock of three cultivars of lovely fingerling potatoes and seven types of cold hardy garlic. We have 12 different herbs, 10 flowers, and 3 self-seeding greens that we have high hopes of seeing again once the snow melts. We are excited to add these to the seed stock we have been developing over the last 5 years.
Due to the challenges of 2016, we have made the difficult decision not to sell any of the the seed crops we have grown. We believe they are more valuable to us all staying here as we get steady on our feet and feel confident that we can replicate them in perpetuity. That being said, we have had some exceptional gardeners and farmers contact us over the years and are excited to offer our first Alaska Grown seed in 2017 from here in Haines. Folks in Haines don’t realize it is difficult to overwinter kale in Alaska because they have spread around a 10 year acclimatized White Russian Kale seeds. Now we all get to benefit from their community effort.
Keep on trucking Seed Savers, we’ve all got some work to do.
Here’s to an even more bountiful year,
Leah & Nick