Monthly Garden Calendar for Alaska

Organic Gardening Month-to-Month Almanac

By Linden Staciokas

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JULY

It may be, as the 2005 Alaska Weather Calendar points out, "In only about 1 year in 8 is there no snow in Barrow in July, the warmest month at the 'top of the world.'" But in Fairbanks, July is usually way too hot for us. In 2004, we had seven days with the high at or above 80, even though our normal mean monthly temperature is 64.4. We notice the heat because we seem to be out in it 24 hours a day: at the start of the month we have slightly over twenty one hours of sunlight, by the end we still get over 18. It is perfect timing for our gardens to run themselves, so that we can do other things.

Are there any herbs that reseed themselves in this cold climate? Yes, and some of my favorites are among them: Anise hyssop, borage, chervil, chives, dill, sorrel, summer savory, sweet Cicely. The perennial chives, lovage and thyme also return every year, unless they have been killed off by a severe cold that arrived before sufficient snow cover did.

Which edible flowers would you recommend? The flowers of herbs such as anise hyssop, chives, cilantro, dill, sage and thyme are all edible, as are the flowers that sometimes develop on garlic. You also can munch down on your tuberous begonias, calendula, chamomile, chrysanthemums, daylilies, English daisy, Johnny-jump-ups, lilacs, marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, peas, roses, runner beans, scented geraniums, squash blossoms, strawberries, tulips and violas.

When I hardened off my plants, the leaves on a number of them seemed to lose their intense green and get a yellowish tinge. There was also some red along the edges. Did I do it too fast? This is normal and you probably noticed that once they were in the garden they went back to their usual color.

I grow my pumpkins and strawberries through plastic, in order to make the ground as warm as possible and reduce weeds and watering needs. However, if I put the plants in first and then try to pull them through the plastic, I always lose some to crushing. If I do it in the opposite order, I have to make the cut in the plastic so big in order to dig a hole for the transplant, I might just as well not bother. Any suggestions? I put the plastic down first, cut an X at the right spot, peel back the four corners and use a bulb hole digger. It works like a charm, biting out a clean deep opening that is usually too large—but it is much easier to drop part of the clump back in than to pull more out. After you are finished setting the transplant in, just let the corners flop back; you will find that very little soil is not covered by plant or plastic.

Virtually every year when the frosts hit I still have many flowers on my tomato vines, as well as a ton of green fruit. I don't want the mess of bringing the vines inside to hang them up to finish ripening, so is there any way to speed up the process outdoors? Are you topping off the tomatoes the first week of August and pinching off any blossoms? I take off six inches of the main stem, which usually has no tomatoes or some that are so tiny they are not going to mature anyway. By mid August, you should start cutting out some of the middle leaves, so that the sun can get to the inner tomatoes. I barber pretty severely, concentrating on the leaves that are close to the stem or shielding the tomatoes. Finally, about the same time that you are clearing out foliage, cleanly drive a well-sharpened shovel tip into the soil on two opposite sides of the plant.

I don't have a large garden but it can't be put under plastic because I spread my potatoes and root crops throughout it. Would it be effective if I cut large squares of plastic and then transplanted my tomato seedlings through those? I would use tomato cages and encase each one in clear 6 mil plastic. Some folks keep the plastic on the cage by wrapping string around it near the top and bottom, others staple the plastic so it is tight against the cage, and still others use clear packing tape where the edges meet. I wrap and staple the plastic shut before I lower the cage over the plant, keeping enough of a flap of plastic at the top and bottom that I can actually stick the prongs at both ends through the flaps for added stability.

I love honeysuckle. Are there any varieties that survive in cold climates? While they named five varieties that will thrive in Alaska, the interior where Fairbanks is located is largely Zone 2 and Sweetberry Honeysuckle is the only one that usually survives our winters. This is a five-foot high shrub with a four-foot spread and the expected yellow bell shaped flowers. Just in case it goes by other names in other places, the scientific name is Lonicera caerulea.

Last year my cauliflower heads ended up green. Why? In my experience, there are usually two reasons: the wrong variety or blanching has been neglected. By wrong variety I mean that there are over 100 versions of cauliflower and it is no longer unusual for nurseries to offer white, green, purple and even pastel orange. If you want white, be sure to plant white. You may find that you saw the label cauliflower and inadvertently picked up a green rather than a white. The other possibility is that you grew a type that needs blanching to stay white—not all of them do.

Enjoy the respite from gardening work that July provides. Weed, hill those potatoes and leeks, and just sit in the garden to relax, because August will be another labor-intensive month.

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