Category Archives: Gardening

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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School has Begun – Time to Write

SeptemberNotice the new look? I’m generally not a fan of white letters on dark background, but I thought this looked pretty good. I need to figure out how to put those small button icons for Facebook and Twitter and email follows in my sidebar, so they take up less room. I might move into a premium WordPress theme to make this website look the way I envision.

I’ve been working on promotion the entire month of August – hope you’re not sick of me yet. I have a guest post with The Book Boost September 10th, a book signing at Gulliver’s Books in Fairbanks (the northernmost, full service bookstore in America!)Location of Fairbanks, Alaska September 13th, plans to participate in Alaska Book Week October 6-13, and a blog tour set up to begin October 23rd. I have been contacting reviewers to read Botanicaust, with several takers already. I entered one Indie author contest with plans to enter another, plus I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter.

The need to actually write is beginning to really itch.

So I’ve joined the September Writemotivation challenge. This month I had to include some real life items on the list, because, hey, it’s September, and we only have a few days of “work outside” weather left.

1. Write 15K words on next manuscript by month’s end. This is by far the most important item on the list. One reviewer is already looking forward to the sequel to Botanicaust, so I need to get cracking.

2. Contact 5 (minimum) review sites to ask for reviews of Botanicaust.  If you have a review blog or paper, feel free to contact me and we’ll work out a complimentary copy of the book.

3. Harvest the garden and shut it down for winter. Why am I so gung-ho in spring, but in autumn I barely want to look at the garden? Oh, yeah – that ugly word “cleaning” is involved. That must be it.

4. Read and critique 4 (minimum) stories on I have developed some wonderful author relationships via this website and I’d like to maintain the relationships.

5. Hunt moose (1 week.) Like I said – it’s September.

6. Read and critique CP partner’s manuscript. My local critique group keeps me sane.

7. Butcher pigs 1 week. By October, we’ll be working in snow, which sucks for butchering.

8. Post a blog a week (minimum.) ‘Nuf said.

9. Eat lots of #writemotivation cookies. *big smile* If you would like to join us, use the hashtag #writemotivation on Twitter.

Which of these items are you most interested in being updated about? I’d like to know. That way I won’t bore you with promotion.

Botanicaust Update

I’ve been working long hours readying the paperback of Botanicaust for printing, and finally put everything together just the way I like it. Proofs should be in the mail shortly! The rest of this week I’ll be uploading the ePub and Kindle versions to release hopefully this weekend.

I’ve developed some nice graphics for the interior of the book, which were easy to insert in the print version, but are turning out to be difficult to size correctly for the digital versions. But I’m determined to make reading on an eReader as rich an experience as reading the hard copy.

What I’m harvesting:

The garden is yielding green beans, strawberries, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and carrots. The artichokes are developing nicely, and soon the peas will be ready to pick. Time to make jam and pickles.

What I’m cooking:

We celebrated my daughter’s birthday by making Thai fresh rolls and gluten free raspberry rainbow cupcakes.

What I’m reading:

While I harvest, I’ve been listening to an audio book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. I’m enjoying the world building and descriptions a lot.

Until next time!

Cover Reveal

Drum roll, please …

Thank you to everyone at RWA Nationals in Anaheim who voiced their honest opinion and helped me modify my original cover during the week of the conference. I’m excited to be so close to publication!

While I was gone, the garden went crazy. The dill is flowering, well over my head, rather like the amarantox in Botanicaust, now that I think of it. Zucchini the size of small children are lurking beneath the leaves. And robins have cannibalized my strawberries (I wish they would eat the whole berry instead of half before moving on to the next morsel!) But I now have ripe tomatoes and juicy cucumbers, and the apples are plumping up on the trees. As soon as I do my allotment of proofreading edits, I’ll give a little love to all my plants.

Botanicaust will be released at the end of the month, so watch for it. And I got some hopeful news yesterday – my favorite Indie author (big name, but I don’t want to jinx it by telling you) agreed to read and give me a cover blurb! I’m so excited, I can hardly breathe.

Until next time, keep your fingers on the keyboard!

#Writemotivation Update

What I’ve been harvesting:

Well, the Kenai dipnetting trip was a success – 32 salmon in a few hours, then home to clean, freeze, can, and smoke them. You’ll have to take my word for it – as usual, I was too busy to take photos. I did manage to snap a photo of the wonderful lake we camped at along the way.

The chickens are all butchered, the garden is watered (thank you Mother Nature!) and the broccoli has been harvested.

What I’ve been writing:

Maybe some of you noticed the slight change in my website. I swapped out themes to allow me to have multiple columns. Let me know what you think. I know many of you enjoyed the aesthetics of the old theme, and I tried to maintain the look.

My list for #writemotivation in July is almost all checked off!

1. Finish edits on Botanicaust and send it for proofreading. I hit send to my editor a few minutes ago. We’re on the home stretch!
2. Complete my gluten free cookbook and format for self-publishing. Ta-da! All done! That feels good to cross off.
3. Publish GF cookbook, You Can Eat This! on Amazon. Check! Woo hoo!
4. Finalize cover for Botanicaust. I’ve decided I need a tagline on the front. Working on it.
5. Finalize book trailer for Botanicaust I will have to do this while I’m in Anaheim at the RWA National Conference, I think.
6. Create Amazon Author Page. Done! Come visit!

I also created a Tam Linsey Goodreads Author Page, on the advice of my friend, Susan Cartwright. Her book, Wolf Dawn, is free on Amazon July 23-27, 2012.

I now need to make my list to pack for RWA Nationals. Anyone else out there going? I’d love to meet up and say howdy!

What I’ve been crocheting:

While I listened to my computer read my final edit on Botanicaust (horrible computer voice, but you’d be surprised at how many issues I catch listening which my editing eyes missed,) I worked on the blouse from the cover of Austentatious Crochet. The book was a gift from my dear writer friend, Morgan O’Reilly. I’m making the blouse with blue crochet thread rather than purple, and the gauge is a little thinner, so it will be more lacy looking, but hopefully it will be as lovely as the one in the book.

Until next time!

The Versatile Blogger Award

My friend, fellow writer, and Triberr mate, Casey Wyatt, nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award, and I am honored. I don’t know how versatile I am, but I’m happy to think someone out there appreciates my posts.

First off, in order to be versatile, I thought I’d list 7 new things about myself by way of pictures. Here are seven photos of things I’ve been up to lately.

1. I’ve been working on a design for my book cover so I can self-publish later this summer. What do you think so far? I’d love design suggestions.2. Growing tomatoes in the greenhouse.

3. Baby chicks arrived early this week and are settling in.

4. My husband’s gluten free black magik birthday cake. Yes, I made this. And photographed it. I’m kind of proud of myself 🙂

5. Wall-o-Water protects zucchini plants from frost. We’ve been known to have snow the first week of June here at my house.

6. Repairing garden boxes and replacing wood with stone.

7. In case you hadn’t noticed, there have been a lot of garden photos. It is May, after all. So, here is my garden from Google Earth. It is a maze of raised beds.

So, I get to pass on the nomination to 15 other bloggers. If you are on my list, you’ve been awarded the Versatile Blogger award. Here are the rules:

  • Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  • Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  • Next, nominate 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
  • Finally, list 7 new things about yourself.

And my nominations are:

B.A. BinnsLaura BaumbachTerri MolinaLinda LovelyDonna HatchSamMarie AshePaty JagerJudith AshleyMae PenSarah RapleeBronwen EvansTiny Oklahoma GardenK.T. HannaRebecca LoperOh Cake

Planting by the Moon – Science or Myth?

It may seem unscientific to plant by the moon. But there is some logic to the practice. Several years back, I did a test planting with tomatoes, and was impressed enough by the results to swear I’d always pay attention to the moon when gardening. The test plot was small, but the comparative vigor of each set of plants was drastic.

I planted the first set of seeds in sterile, commercial growing medium during the fourth quarter. They took over a week to sprout and some seeds never germinated at all.

About ten days later, during the second quarter, I planted another set of the same seeds in medium from the same bag. The first seedling appeared in three days, and almost every seed had sprouted within five days.

After another three weeks of growth, with both flats of seedlings sharing the same light source, temperatures, and watering care, there was still an obvious difference in vigor. The seedlings planted earlier had weaker stems and smaller leaves than those planted on the later date.

The question was, why?

Not only does the moon add a tiny amount of extra light for plants to grow by when it is full, it also affects gravity here on earth. And gravity affects the flow of water – think of the ebb and flow of the tides. During and just after a full moon, the pull on the earth’s water increases, resulting in the highest tides. According to other research, it also means water in the soil is pulled upward and is more available to germinating seeds. So by planting my tomatoes in the second quarter, just before a full moon, they sprouted just in time to have the best possible access to water in the soil during a critical stage of their growth. Those I planted in the first quarter had just the opposite, with soil moisture at its lowest.

So next time you decide to plant a few seeds, it might just benefit you to look at the night sky. It certainly can’t hurt!

Deutsch: Der Vollmond, fotografiert in Hamois ...If you like articles like this, sign up for my monthly newsletter!

What’s in YOUR Food?

Today I’m at Romancing the Genres talking about my passion. I love to garden, I love to cook, and I love to eat. My novel, Botanicaust, is about about a future world where these things are taken away. Taken by a rogue genetic manipulation (GMO) that devastates food crops across the globe, and leaves humanity struggling for survival.

You might think this means I am anti-genetically modified organisms. I’m not. READ MORE HERE

Spring is Coming. Really

My last post talked about grasping for a taste of summer by making strawberry liqueur. Here is a photo of my tomato (and other) seedlings as we wait for spring.

It’s good there’s no gardening to be done yet outside, because I’m focused on my writing right now. My #WriteMotivation goals are on track, with a total of 7K words written so far on my next novel (plus a short story which is poking me for attention), my critiques for fellow writers done, and my chapters-to-date compiled for my beta readers.

In another month, there will still be snow, but the greenhouse will be cleared and I will be tending cutting lettuce and my other transplants within. And six weeks from now, I will be repairing garden beds, turning soil, and spreading cool weather seeds.

Hard to believe with that snow pack outside, isn’t it?

Breakup, as we call the spring thaw in Alaska, happens fast. Once the sun passes the equinox, snow melts fast. And I will be forced to put writing on a back burner as I take advantage of our short summer. Short summer, but long daylight. There will not even be time for writing after sunset. I’ve been known to pull dandelions at midnight.

So cheer me on, now. While the snow keeps me tapping away at the keys. I’ve got the gardening itch.

© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.

How to Make Strawberry Liqueur

Here in Alaska, it is still deep winter, with hip-high snow over the strawberry beds and temperatures well below freezing. Every summer, when the harvest gets too hectic to handle, I might get to picking berries, but not processing them. So I throw them in the freezer in a gallon ziplock.

The wonderful thing about this, is that now, when I really need a taste of summer, I can pull out a bag. The frozen berries work great for smoothies, or to create a quick sauce for a cheesecake or pancakes. Or I can whip up a batch of preserves if we have run out.

But today I’m needing something stronger.

So, here’s my recipe for strawberry liqueur. It takes a few months to a year to be ready to drink, but believe me, it is well worth the wait.

Mash 6 cups of strawberries in a glass jar or a crock with an air-tight lid (this will yield about 3 cups of mashed berries.) If using frozen berries, allow them to thaw a little before mashing. Do this by hand, careful not to crush the seeds, or the drink will be bitter.

Pour 3 cups of Everclear (I like liqueur with a kick – you can use vodka if you prefer a less potent liqueur.) over the berries and mix. Seal the lid and store it in a cool DARK place for a minimum of two months. Any light reaching the berries will leach them of color. Check the mixture a few time and shake or stir to make sure all the fruit pulp is covered with alcohol.

After two months, it is time to strain the fruit. Make a sugar syrup by combining 1 1/2 cups of sugar or honey with 1 1/2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Stirring to prevent the sugar from burning on the bottom, boil until the sugar dissolves. Allow it  to cool, then add it to the berries.

Run the liqueur through a jelly bag. DO NOT SQUEEZE the bag. If you do, the liqueur will be cloudy. You MAY however, eat the berries and pulp – it is great over ice cream.

The difference through a second filter

If you want crystal clear liqueur, strain it a second time through a coffee filter set in a mesh colander. You may need to change out filters a few times as they clog with fine particles.

If you want the liqueur sweeter, add more sugar syrup (granular sugar does not dissolve well in alcohol) to taste. Bottle it and age another month or two.

If not exposed to light or air, the liqueur will keep a long time. Don’t ask me how long, because it tends to disappear pretty fast around here.

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© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.