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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Seed starting and advice for new gardeners

Yesterday a friend came over and we started seeds together.  I repotted my calendula, and Echinacea, into larger containers, and decided I needed more of the chamomile, calendula and Echinacea, so I started 9 more of each.  I also started all the plants the need to get started 4-6 weeks before the date of last frost, which is much of my garden, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, summer squash, cucumber, kohlrabi, chard, kale, lettuce and mustard.  Most of the greens can be direct seeded outdoors, but I like to get earlier greens so I start a few every couple weeks starting 4-6 weeks out.  As you can see, all of my racks are now full, just waiting for this darn snow to melt.

I’ve had a couple people ask me lately for advice on gardening in AK, and I think this really works for anywhere.
  1.  Start small - There is nothing more frustrating than spending a lot of time and money to get nothing out of it.  There is a learning curve, if you start small, you will learn a few things, and can get slowly bigger as you improve your skills.
  2. Start with live plants - starting seeds is a skill in it’s own, it’s easier to get going with healthy live plants.  Try to purchase from a local grower who grows varieties appropriate for your climate.  A large box store sends the same things to Alaska as they send to Arkansas, it generally doesn’t work well, at least not here.  (Ok I don't know this for sure, but I see plants not appropriate to my area all the time).
  3. Ask other gardeners what they grow and what grows well.  Your Cooperative Extension is a great place to start.  Start with what grows well in your area, as you learn skills, branch out and try new things.  Many plants that like warm weather don’t do well in AK, at least without a greenhouse.  It will just waste your garden space, and frustrate yourself if you start with these. 
  4. Follow the planting directions for each plant/seed, they are all different and won’t do well if they don’t get off to a good start.   Read up on how to best plant it where you live, that may differ also.  As you gain experience, you can experiment and branch out a bit. 
My other garden project is to figure out what I can do to warm up my greenhouse to extend my season a bit further.  I put a thermometer out there that records high and low, and it got as warm as 59, and as cold as 19, warmer that outside since we didn’t get over30 yesterday, but hardly what I’d call warm.  warm.   My idea (which I learned from someone, and I don’t remember who anymore) is to put milk jugs of water to absorb heat and release it at night, keeping it warmer.  

Another idea I have is surrounding a plant by bottles and covering it with plastic and see how warm that gets.  So I have 32 water jugs out there as of today.  I’ll leave them out 24 hours, then put the thermometer out again and see if that changed anything.  The next day I’ll see what happens with the group under the plastic.  I’m gathering more from friends, and have a few big tubs with lids I think I’ll fill and put on the floor.  I’m interested to see if it makes a difference.
Anyone have any experience with using water bottles to warm their greenhouse?  I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Sounds like a great idea. I'll be interested in the results.

  2. Good tips! Watching all my seedlings sprout and longing for warmth and sunshine for them. However, the evil forecast calls for sleet/snow/hail. :/



  3. I've heard of the milk jug idea as well. I suppose you just need to make sure they don't freeze solid LOL. I also collected 2L soda bottles last year and cut off the top to use as cloisters. I haven't moved the tomatoes out yet but I'm hoping it helps.

    I love your blog! I grew up in AK and my family still has land in Talkeetna and a homestead down towards Homer. I'll enjoy following your journeys.