Top 10 Vegetable Seeds for High North Gardens

zf Davy's cabbage

52 pound cabbage

Alaska – where long hours of daylight grow record breaking cabbages, but cause watermelon vines to only produce male flowers. Cool summer temperatures allow us to harvest peas in July and August, but ripen mealy and unpalatable tomatoes (if they bother to turn red at all.) Fruit trees which can survive -40˚F in Minnesota begin flowing sap during sunny April days, then freeze and burst when nighttime temperatures drop into single digits or lower.

I’ve been a Certified Alaskan Master Gardener for 14 years, and gardening for … well, let’s just say longer than that. I experiment with a few new seed varieties every year, but have largely settled into a reliable list of cultivars which I consider my go-to vegetables. I start almost everything inside and transplant after the last frost date.

Tomatoes – Siletz.

100_2929A few years back we had a summer where I don’t believe we had a single daytime temperature over 65˚F, and this tomato produced delicious fruit without a hiccup. I grow the bulk of my tomatoes in an unheated greenhouse, but also grow two pots of Siletz on my south-facing front porch every year with great success. Siletz is a slicing tomato, and in personal flavor tests, it beat other early ripening varieties hands down, with a tender skin and nearly seedless fruit. The flowers set fruit even when nighttime temperatures dip into the 40’s. Determinate plants are easy to grow in pots with support. Start seeds indoors in mid to late March.

Cucumbers – Cool Breeze.100_2867a

Cukes are iffy this far north, even in a greenhouse, but I always harvest enough from a couple of vines if I grow Cool Breeze. The plants are nearly all female, and they set fruit without pollination, a must-have trait for greenhouse growing. The dark green fruits have fine spines, almost like fuzz rather than spines, are seedless, and they pickle beautifully. They are also great fresh in salads or munched for a treat while gardening. Start seeds indoors in early May for transplanting in the greenhouse in mid May. Be very delicate with the roots when transplanting or the vine will refuse to grow.

Artichokes – Imperial Star.

Artichoke These plants are grown as annuals in Alaska. I average three jumbo chokes per plant with several smaller side chokes. While the plant takes up quite a bit of space, it is also ornamental for those of us who have gardens in the front yard. Start plants indoors in late February, and plant more than you need. Cull the scraggly looking seedlings because they will not produce well (believe me, you cannot baby them into fruition. Cull them.) The key to bud production is to trick the plants into thinking they are two years old. I do this by placing the seedlings in the greenhouse in late April and exposing them to temperatures below 50˚F but above freezing. They need a couple of weeks in these low temperatures, and you will enjoy the sweet, succulent taste of your own artichoke hearts.

Zucchini – Partenon or Cavili.

Zucchini in wall o water

Zucchini in Wallo’ Water

Alaskan summers are so cool, bees and other pollinators often stay under cover when flowering plants like zucchini need their attention. The result? Tiny, bitter fruits that rot at the blossom end. Rather than trudge out to the zucchini hill every day with a small paintbrush to play worker bee (usually in the rain, I might add) why not choose a variety that sets fruit without pollination? Partenon is a dark green, traditional zucchini squash, while Cavili is a lime-green variety with a fantastic, nutty flavor. Both produce loads of fruit, no matter the weather. Start seedlings indoors in mid May and transplant with extra care to the roots to prevent transplant shock. You can get an earlier jump on things if you use a Wallo’ Water as a mini greenhouse starting out.

Pumpkin, Pie – Baby Bear.

Baby Pam PumpkinThese vines ripen 2 pound fruits even in less than ideal weather. I’ve grown them successfully in the ground, but my favorite place to grow them is on top of my compost pile right after I turn it in the spring. I warm the pile with some clear plastic for a couple of weeks, and then transplant right through the plastic in early June. Start seeds indoors mid May and be extra gentle on those roots when transplanting or the vines will sulk and refuse to grow. If bees are reluctant in your area, take the time to go tickle the flowers; better pollination creates more and larger pumpkins. The little beauties make the best pie.

Tango celeryCelery – Tango.

Celery seeds, like carrots, take a while to germinate. Start them indoors in mid February and be patient while the spindly babies develop their root systems. Celery enjoys our cool season, and with plenty of nutrients and moisture, will grow into tall, succulent stalks. I harvest from the outside of the plant all season, as needed for cooking, and then bring the rest of the plants in for munching and cooking at the end of August.

Kohlrabi – Eder or Winner.

KohlrabiIf you haven’t heard of this vegetable gem, you should give it a try. The stem of the plant forms a bulb which, in our cool weather, can reach the size of a softball before becoming woody. Some people compare the texture and flavor to a nutty apple, or the inside of a sweet broccoli stem, but I say try it for yourself to decide. I love it fresh, chopped into salsa, or lightly steamed. You can also eat the tender leaves like salad greens or kale. Kohlrabi requires plenty of steady moisture to bulb without splitting, and because the edible portion of the plant grows above ground, it won’t be damaged by root maggots if those are a problem in your area.

Cauliflower – Cheddar or Bishop.

Like the name implies, this cauliflower isn’t white, its orange. My kids say it looks like its already covered in cheese. Cheddar resists turning purple, and makes nice sized heads if given steady moisture and nutrition. Break a few leaves to shade the head from the sun once it begins developing. If you prefer white cauliflower, Bishop is a good variety because it is less picky than other types and self-blanches to help keep the head white. Watch for slugs, which will climb over the top of the ripening heads and leave you with a slimy mess.

Onion – Copra.

IMG_2514The long hours of daylight this far north make long day onions a must. Copra stores well, which is a requirement for me. I grow onions from seed because seeds are cheap and I don’t run the risk of introducing new pests or diseases from infected plant starts. Sprinkle seeds in a 3″ pot in mid February and keep them watered. Fertilize with a weak fish emulsion every couple of weeks. When it is time to plant in May, split the root ball and tease the individual stalks apart to transplant. Onions do not tolerate weed competition, especially early on, so I cover the bed in about an inch of good compost and anchor 6 sheets of newspaper over the top, watering well. To plant, I poke holes every 4-6 inches and tamp the seedling in. The paper prevents chickweed and other weed seeds from taking hold.

Peas – Maestro or Serge.

100_2892One might think peas would do well up here, no matter the variety, but our long daylight causes some varieties to outgrow support fencing, reaching well over 8 feet, so I try to choose bush types. Maestro and Serge are supposed to reach about 2 feet, but usually top out at around 4 feet. Maestro is easy to tell when ripe, because the pods do not fatten until the peas fill them out (useful if you have young garden helpers) and Serge is a nearly leafless variety that makes seeing pods much easier during harvest.

Other vegetables which grow well up here are Broccoli, Cabbage, Lettuce, Carrots, Potatoes, Swiss Chard, and Beets. For these, I choose whatever seed suits my fancy from year to year, although I am partial to Nantes type carrots because they are so sweet. Bolero is a great storage carrot and we are usually eating the last of our fresh carrots from the garden in March or April. Potatoes grown up here will also be Bolero carrotsunusually sweet because of our cool soil. My Yukon Gold potatoes were monsters last year.

A special note on beans. In Alaska, they say there are lean years and there are bean years. I’ve had seasons where I harvested enough green beans to can a few. But I’ve had many more seasons where the handful I got were not worth the time and the garden space. If you want to try your hand at beans in the High North, Provider is a good start. Include some season extending techniques like row tunnels or IRT mulch. The same advice goes for corn, which I have grown successfully, but which is a gamble from year to year.

If you’ve had a different experience with these crops, or something of your own to recommend, I’d love to hear from you!

Seed packets

Territorial Seed Company, Johnny’s Select Seeds, and Seeds of Change

Amended 1/30: Rhonda mentioned she’s been growing watermelon successfully for a few years in Tok, so you might want to check out Blacktail Mountain watermelon seeds, available from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. I plan on trying them this year!

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Get your copy of Taking the Knife while they last!

In case you don’t know already, Taking the Knife, my Botanicaust short story, is free through January 21st on Amazon. Even if you haven’t read Botanicaust yet, get your free copy while you can. One review says, “It reads like a fascinating and fully developed world even in the short format of Taking the Knife…”

You can read it on your computer, your phone, your iPad, your Kindle, and probably lots of other devices I don’t even know about. Get your copy now!

Taking the Knife

Did you get a shiny new Kindle for Christmas? How about a Nook?

In the spirit of the holidays, BOTANICAUST is currently on sale for only .99. Grab it while you can, the price goes back up January 1st.

Botanicaust

In an all-too-plausible future where Earth has been overrun by invasive, genetically modified weeds, a doctor with photosynthetic skin risks everything to save a man who refuses to be genetically altered. Together, can they find sanctuary in a cannibal wasteland?

Buy on Amazon today!

Buy at Barnes and Noble today!

Awesome Indies

I’m honored to have Botanicaust nominated for inclusion in the Awesome Indies list. The Awesome Indies website only includes independently published books which have been vetted by publishing professionals. Readers can be assured books on the list are of excellent professional quality. You should check it out.

Taking the Knife

Even cannibals have a code of honor…

The Tox is no place to walk alone. Sefe, a cannibal Healer, struggles to keep pace with his migratory tribe. His healing skills can no longer relieve his pain, and many tribe members have been encouraging him to do his duty and ‘take the Knife.’

But Sefe is not ready to die.

Alone at the Crossing, he stumbles upon Ana, a solitary flame runna girl. The green-skinned people are mortal enemies to every living thing on the Tox, burning the land and its creatures without mercy. Sefe’s crippling injury occurred during a flame runna raid, and he’s ready to take his revenge.

But Ana has other plans. She offers him a way out of his pain. A way to avoid the Knife. If he’s willing to pay the price.

Available exclusively on Amazon.

Romance Writers at Alaska Book Week

In celebration of Alaska Book Week, I attended an author panel discussion with fellow romance authors Jackie Ivie, Jennifer Bernard, Lizbeth Selvig, and Boone Brux. We had a wonderful time, and the panel was produced into a podcast. Yep, this is your chance to hear our voices. 🙂 Click here to visit the link. Have a wonderful week!

The UAA newspaper, The Northern Light, also did an article on the panel. Read it here.

Storytelling – The Owl, The Cat, and The Hornet Nest

My stepdad is a storyteller. At least he thinks he is. He’ll tell a tale that goes something like this:

So, out on the property, there’s this owl, see. Biggest owl I ever saw. Keeps the rabbits out of the strawberry patch real good. Damn rabbits and voles were eating all my berries. So when my friend Roger comes to visit, he brings his orange cat. The cat’s a-scared to go outside, but he’s a real good mouser. After a few days, he goes outside hunting. But when Roger packs to leave, the cat’s nowhere to be found. We go looking for the cat all over. I spot this strange shape down in the woods, and I go to investigate. Turns out it’s a hornet nest big as my head! I nearly stepped on it afore I realized. You know I’m allergic to stings. We found the cat under the trailer, and Roger got to leave in time, which is good ‘cause he had to catch a flight.

The end.

Really? Are you satisfied? Didn’t think so.

My stepdad’s tale began fine. The owl hunts rabbits, so we assume a cat might also be on the menu. And the cat is a pet we can easily root for. Listeners are drawn in and ready to find out what happens. But after that, nothing is related to the implied story question; did the owl attack the cat and what happened?

Many manuscripts I critique also start well, ramble along, then the author wraps things up by getting the hero and heroine together. The problem is that “getting there” isn’t satisfying. Sometimes the journey is downright frustrating. For instance, consider the hornet’s nest; the scene had nothing to do with the owl or the cat. Every element in my stepdad’s story should ratchet up the tension about finding the cat before the owl does. If he’d spotted the cat on the other side of the hornet clearing, near the owl’s roost as night was falling, but he had to turn back because of the hornet nest, then the scene might work. But the hornets are unrelated event. The middle of a story is like the filling in a sandwich – if I get a slice of bologna with a slather of peanut butter, I’m not going to be happy. To encourage readers to take more than one bite, make sure the sandwich makings belong together.

Now consider the ending of my stepdad’s story. He found the cat, so he wrapped it up, right? Not really. The owl – the threat which drew us into the story in the first place – never appeared again. Listeners expected the cat and the owl to face off. Maybe the cat is attacked and narrowly escapes with its life. Maybe the cat takes out the owl. Maybe they fall in love and make lovely owl-kittens. But we feel dissatisfied because we never find out. A happily ever after isn’t enough.

Have you encountered a story that left you unsatisfied? Can you pinpoint why?