Purple curly kale

Alaska Gardening 101: Dead plants tell no tales

If my garden had a theme this year, it might be something like “Lab Girl Walking on the Wild Side” … or something else implying a series of looming misadventures.

Experiment #1: I’m trying to grow bitter melon, despite never having eaten it.

Experiment #2: Despite zero evidence that other Alaska gardeners have been successful, I’m experimenting with loaf-shaped varieties of radicchio and chicory. The chicory seedlings already look delicious … but they have the growing season of a giant pumpkin!

Yesterday I interplanted the succulent green chicory and purple radicchio in one raised bed, where I’m hoping they’ll grow up to resemble exotic, multi-colored plant pillars. I also interplanted dark purple curly kale and green curly kale in a similar pattern in another raised bed.

Radicchio plant
Fiero radicchio seedling protected by a cutworm collar (top half of a 4-inch pot).

Experiment #3: This one has already gone awry. I tried germinating Snake Gourd/Guinea Bean seed purchased earlier this year at Monticello. These oddly-shaped seeds didn’t sprout on my tight schedule so I’ll try again next year.

Thanks to some unique challenges …. and procrastination … in determining a final layout for my raised bed plantings this year, I ended up with one more experiment.

Experiment #4: Yesterday morning, for the first time, I built an Excel spreadsheet for my raised beds, using 1-foot square grids and appropriately-sized circles or rectangles reflecting the space needed for individual plants or the total space available to a group of seedlings.

My husband is much more tech savvy that I am, so I was flattered when he called my spreadsheet “fancy,” even though I didn’t do a very good job of drawing my polygon-shaped bed. Last year, I used the same exact method to negotiate space with multiple organizations sharing a tiny booth at a large convention. It worked then, so why not in our garden?

The garden spreadsheet proved helpful yesterday while I planted the garden. I grow a lot of space-hogging brassicas (cabbage, collards, etc.) and plant them intensively in three raised beds. Despite pencil and paper garden plans drawn up in previous years, I usually “lose” some shorter plants – like beets and radishes – in the shade of potato or broccoli leaves. The spreadsheet helped keep me on point.

Over the last few days, I’ve been planting our garden and peddling extra cabbage, pepper, tomato, and runner bean seedlings to my gardening friends.

Given this year’s cabbage glut – mine didn’t germinate and I reacted by going on a buying and bartering spree – it’s unlikely that beets or carrots will be planted in our backyard this year. The good news: Mat-Su farmers up the highway grow beets and carrots that are larger and tastier than the ones that come out of our raised beds. Perhaps these root vegetables prefer the glacial silt of Mat-Su farmland. I’ll happily buy them at the farmers market and focus on growing tasty brassicas.

Circling back to the experiments, I’m not pinning my hopes on any of them this year. They are just for fun.

Bitter melons like hot and humid conditions. Even if they set fruit in our passively-heated greenhouse, they will probably be a bit unhappy with the cool monsoon season arriving in late summer.

The chicory and radicchio might bolt on me, or more likely, they will not develop into the exotic vegetative pillars of my imagination.

If you have some fun experiments underway in your garden this summer, please feel free to share them in the comment section!

2 thoughts on “Alaska Gardening 101: Dead plants tell no tales

  1. Louise says:

    I use Territorial Gardens garden design program. There’s a small fee ($30 for the year I think) but it works really well and it remembers what you planted last year to help with crop rotation. My experiment this year has been garlic from last year’s seed. So far things have gone well. I guess I will probably have to wait until fall 2020 to harvest though?

    The title of this blog made me think you were going to mention things that had failed. I always feel a little better reading about other people’s garden failures because then I don’t take mine so personally. Same thing when other people’s pets misbehave. 🙂

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