Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day two of rain!

Yippee skippy, happy dance happy dance!

This is day two of a stalled low pressure system, which has brought us rain, glorious rain :)

You won't hear me complain one bit about it either, because we seriously need a good soaking. We've had only one light rain in the past month, the rest of the month has been sunny and breezy. Which has meant extreme wild fire danger for most of the state, Southcentral included of course. Up near McGrath (sort of western central Alaska) a lightening strike sparked a wildfire which was originally estimated at about 500 acres-and overnight, it blew up to 5,000. Yikes! There has already been one wildfire on the Kenai Peninsula too, which is thankfully out.

Probably the biggest threat to the residents here (aside from spring flooding of course) is wildfire. One of these days, the Anchorage Hillside is going to torch off, and it's going to be very very ugly. The muni and forestry are doing what they can in the way of mitigation, but it's a large area with tons of fuel (underbrush, grasses, and beetle killed spruce) and a great number of very expensive homes up there. Access is not very good, its very tough terrain too-sure am glad I am not a firefighter.

On the home front, I managed to get the caulifower and broccoli planted. That leaves brussel sprouts, squashes, cabbage and dill. Whew. I should be able to get those in tonight when I get home, it's always best to transplant when it's cloudy and cool. Less stress on the starts. The baskets and containers are hardened off now, so they can be set out and hung where they need to go any time now.

Last night we drug the arena in preparation for delivery of sand today. The new drag worked pretty darned good if you can go slow and steady on the four wheeler. The drag is simply a heavy steel I beam with chain attached, much better than the lightweight chain link we had used before. Naturally, the drag loosened a whole bunch of rocks, so we spent about 40 minutes tossing rocks out along the sides. And, I really underestimated the size too, which means we will need another 10 yards of sand for sure. With luck, I will get two loads delivered per hour, and will stay within my budget.

We have reservations on a Bobcat (with auger) for the weekend. We'll use the Bobcat to help spread the sand, and then the auger to drill holes for the woodshed posts. It seems that will be about 18x24, which should provide us plenty of cover for a winters' worth of firewood. And maybe space to park our Dakota too, we'll see. Not looking forward to setting the posts, since they are going to be six by sixes, by at least 14 foot. Ugh! But gee, we will surely need some of those rocks we just picked up, right?

I keep thinking we are making headway on our list of improvements, and while that may be true, there is still the dirtwork to be done down below where the greenhouse is, and then the matter of the deck at the house and repainting the house itself. Maybe next year! In the meantime we are sure to come up with other projects that need attention in the meantime, lol

Monday, May 25, 2009

Third, a ramble.....

I am pretty sure that all Alaskan gardeners are in a scramble, just like me. Night time temperatures are coming up (yay!) and our sunny stretch looks to continue for Memorial Day.

And like most Alaska gardeners, I wake up this morning with assorted aches and pains from the efforts of the past couple of days. I am about half done with the planting, having managed to get the greenhouse plants potted up-tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and some corn. Naturally, I picked up more sweet corn and those need to be planted today-but I can see the end coming!

In the garden, we top dressed the two veggie patches with the organic humified compost (locally made out at Point MacKenzie by Susitna Organics, amazing stuff!) then got the black plastic mulch down on them too. More tedious is cutting the holes and slits into it, when the sun is beating down on your back and you are simultaneously sweating and slapping mosquitoes. I have not spent that much time upside down in a garden since last spring, and let me tell you, my thighs and back are letting me know about it, haha!

I have three rows of bush beans in, and two rows each of peas-sugar snap and shelling peas. Today it is carrots and onion sets, plus the broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, dill, and brussel sprouts. Keep in mind my two veggie patches are maybe 20 foot long, and one is about 14 foot wide and other about 16. So not very big gardens, as gardens go, but still ample space to produce goodies in abundance.

Carrots are very tricky to germinate here. Darned seeds are so tiny, and the surface of the soils can dry very quickly, so I will need to cut lengths of clear plastic and secure it over the carrot row to help hold in moisture and boost germination. I haven't had a lot of luck with onions here so this year it's an experiment only, in the newer bed. I was going to put in some beets but I honestly don't have room for another row, not with the amount of other stuff I need to get in too.

Today I need to continue hardening off. Everything is hardened to temperature, its daylight I need to work with. So, that means loading up everything onto a medium sized trailer-baskets, containers, squashes, etc-and moving them in and out of the garage for about five days. Otherwise, everything gets sunburned-not good. I start with about two and a half hours, then four, six, eight, and ten on following days. By the time they are out ten hours, they are good to plant out permanently.

The pile of dirt from the old garage wall beds (emptied and in a jumble back behind the greenhouse) is going to serve as my pumpkin area, and that will be covered with clear plastic sheeting over small diameter pvc piping. It sure works like a charm for those pumpkins. The rest I am going to stuff into one sunny bank that has a bunch of old horse manure in it, just to see how they do ;)

Yesterday I delivered the remaining summer squash to the other greenhouse. When I walked in, I immediately ended up helping customers who just kind of presumed I worked there, haha!! Of course I was clueless about all the bare root stuff, but I was tickled to see that the majority of the veggies I had delivered had been sold. It seems that greenhouse was about the only place to find cauliflower in the whole valley, haha. And the owner asked me to come work on weekends next year, since I am very very good with counter sales and helping customers. So I think I will probably do that, why not? Weekends are when they are busiest and its truly a three person job.

On a different front, today I am getting in a new horse for about a month. The gal who has been riding Sully (subject of another blog entry, coming soon) found an opportunity to get her horses up here from the Lower 48 for a reasonable amount of money. She decided to start working three horses to help pay for it-and one of them is coming here, and another will be hauling here at least three times a week for work too. I am happy to help out, enough that I lowered my board to a very thin margin just to help make this happen.

Today I need to broach the "I need sand in my arena" subject with my wonderful husband who has graciously agreed to just about everything I have ever said I wanted. However, I think I blew the wad on the greenhouse...........

Speaking of, will take some photos later today, even if the place is a jumbled up mess!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Second, a rave!

Just a shout out for a local business......Husky Electric, here in little ol' Wasilla. The greenhouse size presented a challenge for me. The builder generally puts in a single 16 inch fan, included in the price. However, given the 16x28 dimension, the cubic area was much larger than the single fan could move-by a lot. I found an online calculator for the amount of cfm I would need, and with that information, began the search for fans.

I first stopped at the largest greenhouse supply place we had-and promptly fell over in sticker shock. $645 for one 24 inch fan! Yikes! My hub suggested Husky Electric and we found one 16 inch fan in stock, yay! Got the price on the 24 inch, $332. Well I thought for sure I could beat that price on line somewhere but to my surprise it can't be done-not with shipping. So back I went to Husky Electric, and inside ten days, I had all three fans. They were great about keeping me informed about the order when I checked on it, and their employees are friendly and helpful. They don't often sell items for greenhouses there, and were pleased to assist me.

I think I will bring them a picture of it when it's all planted up and the fans installed, and you can be sure we will go right to them for our wire, conduit, thermostats and whatever else we need to get them wired up and working. And should I be blessed with an aboundance of produce this summer, I will definitely make sure to bring them tomatoes, or cucumbers, or peppers, or maybe even some corn :)

Great service, good prices, it pays to shop local!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First, a rant

Totally off my usual subjects, but you readers are just not going to believe this one.

The husband calls home every evening, and we look forward to his calls. It's the time when I get to relay my days' events, he complains how tired he is, and jointly commiserate the time we spend apart.

He rarely complains about the aches and pains of the physical labor-even though I know he suffers occasionally. So it came as a bit of a surprise to have him mention that he had a bit of a toothache over the weekend. Two nights ago he says it's been bothering him for a week (aiyee!) and it's pretty painful. Last night he says he needs to see a dentist and get the tooth pulled, and he needs me to get an appointment for him, asap. The tooth has broken and at least half the filling is gone and he is eating ibuprofen like candy.

He sounds terrible, obviously in a lot of pain, so this morning I set myself the task. The first call was to his dentist. All three dentists are gone this weekend, period. I called the other dentists he mentioned to me-no luck.

And so it went. 45 or 50 phone calls, not one dentist in the Mat Su Valley this weekend. A bunch of them have either left or merged into other clinics, as their phone numbers are no good. I even called Mat Su Regional Hospital, and exhausted the list they faxed to me. Flipping through the MTA book, I happen to notice a listing for the Anchorage Dental Society and called there in desperation. The nice lady called me back, giving me five more names and numbers to call.

Guess what? With a population of what? 400,000 people, there is not one dentist available this weekend.

Really. I have made well over 60 phone calls this morning, trying to find someone to help my husband, and there is no one available until Tuesday morning. When, of course, he can see his own dentist.

Gotta love living in Alaska!


I may have moved into the greenhouse a few days too early. Yesterday morning it was 37 inside, and everything survived. This morning I have more like 33 and there is a light frost outside. Sun should be touching the roof now and I know temps will come up rapidly.

Did I escape disaster?

Or have I lost just about everything?

I won't know until I get home tonight. The squashes are the most delicate plants in there, if they've been frosted then the leaves will be tented and dead when I get home tonight. No sign of freeze inside the greenhouse itself of course, since I have the fans going. And no sign of icing on the water barrels either, which is a little hopeful.

It's really too bad my row cover got thrown away by accident. I will make sure I won't be dealing with this risk next spring, you can bet on that. Despite our nearly three solid weeks of sunshine, it really has not been very warm at night. In most years, I would already have everything outside, including the veggies. This year, I am very glad fate has conspired to slow down my planting!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Taking a gamble......

After monitoring my greenhouse temperatures in the morning for four days, I am taking a huge gamble that tomorrow mornings' temp will also be above freezing. Cross your fingers and toes! I know I am, lol 95% of my stuff is now down in the greenhouse, well watered and spread out over 60 some feet of shelves. Most everything is still sitting in flats, and very tiny compared to the local greenhouse offerings of course.

I have my water barrels up and filled and they are now tempered. And I have two small fans which have served to keep the day time temps under about 85 (in full sun) as long as I have the doors wide open. Between the fans running and the water barrels, the plants should weather the colder temps fairly well. Some things are on the floor, like a few of my bowls, some veggies and two fuschia baskets which prefer shade.

I got brave and put in one nail to hang one nasturium basket-just because it needed doing. At this point I am not sure what I am going to set up for baskets, or where! And it dawns on me-I have a lot of room in there, yes indeed I do ;)

The big plant up will probably come a little at time, after work each day. With the radio, the fans, a comfy chair-they only thing missing is a cooler or fridge for beverages ;)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Progress is upon me, which presents me with a huge amount of more work.

And you know what? I don't mind a bit! The above photo is the reason why :) I am so thrilled with the new greenhouse, seriously! Yes I know it is not quite done, and yes I still need my fans and vents installed, but I am absolutely itching to have something green inside, lol!
It is 16 by 28 foot, a very generous dimension. Sitting upon a deck that is 16 x 34, with the ramp (for four wheeler and wheelbarrow access) and flanking steps as you can see. Inside are built in shelves around, with space for my water barrels. I also had them include a four foot long area where I can do my potting up, sitting down ;)
When complete, it will have one 24 inch and two 16 inch shutter fans on the rear wall, along with two 24 inch shutter vents on each side of the doors.
In celebration, I picked up a well matched pair of hanging baskets, as well as one for inside too!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Another sunny day :)

Here's a view of my overcrowded pantry growing set up. That is a pair of saw horses with two ten foot lengths of countertop on them-and, I had taken four flats out earlier in the day. Capacity is about 24 flats :)

We have had over two weeks of wonderfully sunny weather, and I am loving it! It's still faily cool overnight, sometimes even with a light frost, but the days have been into the 60s. I am not complaining, and neither is anyone else. A little light rain would be nice, to knock down the dust and ash, boost the green up a little bit.

Work has started on the greenhouse, yippee!! After a lot of running around, research, and phone calls last week, I finally have the fans the greenhouse requires on order. Knowing how critical air movement is to the health of the plants, I have gone just a tad overboard on sizing-ending up with one 24 inch and a pair of 16 inch shutter fans. On the opposite end, I will have two 24 inch shutter vents, plus the pair of screen doors. This week, I will be searching for shade cloth. Or something I can use as shade cloth, whatever that might turn out to be. My ideal option would be those bamboo shades that roll up, but I haven't seen any of those for ages. I may end up with cloth right from JoAnne's fabrics instead, lol

On Mother's Day, I managed to secure the help of a family member, and got my two veggie gardens rototilled. Man, what a lot of work! But the amendments are in, and the texture is very good. I had planned on doing it myself, but ended up with a marginal knee due to the antics of the new dog. I also took a couple flats of veggies to a neighbor whose own starts weren't coming up at all for some reason-made her day and a great relief as they rely on their garden for a good portion of their yearly food supply. I still have extra flats at home, and am hopeful I will find a place for them over the next week or so.

Thinking ahead to all the work left to do at home, makes me tired of just thinking about it. But that is being an Alaskan for you-burn the candles on both ends while the weather allows :)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Woohoo! Spring has sprung!

If you haven't been in Southcentral over the last week, you have missed something special. Really special, honest ;)

First, we have had one entire week of sunny skies. Actually more sun than we had the entire summer last year-no kidding!

Second, the cranes, geese and ducks are trekking on through our flyway in large formations. I love hearing sand hill cranes on the wing, they are unique in their calls and habits. In fact, a neighbor usually has a family who spends the entire summer there, raising chicks on their fields and the one pond.

Third, just this morning I can see a hint of green on the birch trees! With bright sunlight shining through, there is a definite faint fuzzy green showing. With any luck, we should have leafed out trees by the end of next weekend.

Fourth, the yard work and summer prep is in full force. Nearly everyone is out picking up, raking, burning, and tidying up their yards and we are no exception. My hub ran the thatcher over the lawn to loosen debris and then bagged the remains to start composting. The lawn is amazingly enough, showing a tiny bit of green under there.

Fifth, gardeners are getting twitchy. It's still too cold at night to even think about hardening anything off-and most vegetable gardens are still too frozen to rototill as yet. But boy are we all anxious! Nothing like a solid week of sun to get a juices flowing, and make plans :) Live plants are starting to show up at the big box stores, and greenhouses are seeing a flurry of customers, mostly window shopping at this point.

We have had a productive couple of days at home ourselves. One big chore for the weekend will be splitting and stacking about two and a half cords of firewood, plus moving another two cords. The plan is to build a wood shed, and for that, we need to clean out the area to make space to get a Bobcat (with auger) to drill the holes for posts. The other big chore is going to be moving all those pavers I scrounged up, and the old cold frame needs to be moved also. We are hoping we can literally tow it about 50 feet, and I am toying with the idea of taking the vertical legs off and placing it over a good portion of the vegetable garden. It might be the perfect way to ensure a good crop!