Cold Climate Growing, Oh the Possibilities!!


Jan 11, 2011

Hopefully by this time next year when we have days like this outside ……..

We can be growing things like this inside, unheated…

Originally my hope was that with the new ‘high tunnels’ we were lucky enough to get via a grant this past fall we could hope to have fresh produce of one kind or another for maybe 7-8 months out of the year if we used them without any added heat.

Then I got to reading and hearing more about full winter productions with little or no heat. Realizing with some addition of added protection over the crops planted directly in the ground we might be able to stretch that maybe another month. Again I was figuring most everyone who was doing the full winter growing was in a much milder climate than our zone 5 ish, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones.

Eliot Coleman has authored a number of gardening books, of which many of us have read or at least had heard about. Well this winter I decided to dig into the slim coffers and buy his newest one The Winter Harvest Handbook. He has been growing organic produce in the NE for a good many years, most recently in the great state of Maine. (Ok I have to say the few times I have been to Maine I have felt I could move right in. I enjoy the people, the history, the great seafood, just about everything I have gotten to ever see in my short times there, thus just the mention of the state gets my interest!!)

He has worked out a way to produce a fairly wide selection of winter, and the normal summer, vegetable fare year around in his zone 5 conditions. With more research I figured out we are of course on a farther northern parallel, which makes a difference for daylight as much, if not more, than just the temperature. There is a darn good chance that within a year or two we here, in this area of Western Alaska, can capitalize on his research and experience. To be able to even get close to maybe a full ten months of fresh produce would be fantastic. Something tells me we might well be able to accomplish this. I am not even getting so far ahead as to think we can tap into our low temperature geo-thermal when making these statements. (Remember those volcanoes we have here in Alaska …we have them as close as 20 miles from us …and one that steams almost daily!)

When I see all of this coupled with the work Tim Meyer is doing in the Bethel area in the summer, it seems  we here in some major portions of Western Alaska could quickly become much more self-reliant for a greater portion of our food consumption.

I was recently sent a decent list of  ‘gardening’ events happening in 2011 here in Alaska by one of my contacts.`This is the first time I have seen such an effort to get the word out like this to help educate a wider variety of potential food producers. Great things in the produce arena could well be on the way for our villages and outlying areas. Absolutely exciting no less!!


9 Responses to “Cold Climate Growing, Oh the Possibilities!!”

  1. marthauys Says:

    Number 1: Great post, Vic!

    Number 2: No, you can’t move to Maine!

    Number 3: You are making me hungry. Produce in the winter, shipped into most urban areas of Alaska is a luxury you don’t have, I know – but so much of it is has so little flavor or true color. I shouldn’t complain, but compared to locally home grown produce – well, hmmm…

    Number 4: Funny that I started thinking about greenhouses right after Christmas, too! The greenhouses you constructed look fantastic! If geothermal heat becomes possible, you could call it “Volcano Gardens”, or “Garden of the Volcano”, or ?

  2. ugavic Says:

    #1 – Thanks!

    #2 – Oh darn…had that picked out as the next place to consider as a living spot :-)

    #3 – It IS exciting! The whole idea has me pouring over seed and supply catalogs. Of course trying to keep things in portion to my space is a BIG task :-( Guess I will have to just get this part planted and plan for the ‘expansion’.

    #4 – I am already looking at Volcano View Enterprises to get things going.

  3. alaskapi Says:

    I’m so excited about trying out the ideas and methods Mr Coleman has worked out!
    March and April have always seemed “wasted” in the sense that we have plenty of light but the ground is too cold to work…
    There are a number of other interesting studies and projects going on

    which someday may help extend the growing season as well.

    Looking forward to your notes about the Conference this next week!

  4. jim Says:

    I’m always intrigued with potatoes. They pack a lot of food. Transplanting works well, but if you could just warm up the ground and plant earlier in the spring, you wouldn’t have to worry about heating the air above them for another month or so. It would be great if you could get spuds in May and keep them coming with or without tunnels until October of November.

    Speaking of greenhouses, I wonder if there are any that are partitioned so you could start out with a small growing area (less to heat) for seedlings and then expand your growing volume within the structure as the weather warms and plants get larger.

    Too bad LED grow lites are so expensive initially– they wouldn’t consume much electricity.

    Your comment about book purchasing costs raised a question: Is there any way to get library book loans where the book could be shipped to your remote address? Does the state library have a program?

    I remember last year this blog was getting advice from Robin in Maine and she helped with seeds too. If I recall correctly she was running extended or full season greenhouses there. Perhaps she’d be a resource? Maine is not Alaska but they do have a winter.

  5. fromthediagonal Says:

    Just googled “agriculture in Iceland” thinking they probably use geothermal energy in food production. They do. Did not delve into details, but there may be some helpful ideas somewhere? Just a thought.

  6. marthauys Says:

    Vic, just found this info from Colorado, Pagosa Springs:

    “In that model, one large greenhouse will be devoted to education. Private and public school educators…have expressed interest in developing an Agricultural Curriculum for students in grades K-12. … excited about the therapeutic value of programs for at-risk youth. Bill Nobles sees applications for participants in educational programs…the Dean of Agricultural Science at the University of Colorado…has suggested that graduate students travel to Pagosa Springs to study the application of renewable energy in the project.

    The second large greenhouse will be for testing commercial production of vegetables, increasing the availability of year-round fresh produce to citizens, local businesses, schools and visitors. It will serve as a prototype business model, which could be expanded to other venues, and provide internship opportunities to high school students preparing for a career in agriculture.

    The Committee envisions the third large Dome as a Community Garden. It, as well as many of the outdoor beds surrounding the geo-thermally heated structures, will involve the largest number of local, small growers possible. Additional proposed facilities include a visitor’s center, public rest rooms, a cold-storage facility and a permanent site for the Farmers Market. Gardeners currently cultivating plots in Centennial Park, members of the High Mountain Gardeners Club, the Farmers Market Committee and Southwest Organization for Sustainability have all offered valuable suggestions and enthusiastic support.”

  7. UgaVic Says:


    Potatoes has long been a good crop to grow here. The yields do vary and to be honest I have yet to hear anyone have a REAL clue as to why as much as just accepting. I have gotten better yields by using low tunnels that do heat it up some.

    We did design one structure so that we can partition it in time for a warmer area. We will not be adding heat for a few years while we see what we can do without heat. We are going to see how much we can push out of things without putting more costs into it. As much as it is to have fresh we have to, like all business people, look at costs for the final product.

    Lighting, except for starts should not be an issue for us as we actually get more clear days in the winter and spring that summer. Plus we overtake the lower 48 for length of day pretty quickly in the year.

    I WISH there was a library loaning system for the state of AK. NOPE! When I first came to AK and living in the bush I ran into one wall after the other trying to find a way to check out books when you do not have a library in your village. Just not something that seems to be a priority.

    I hope to touch base with Robin from ME, just been busy so far.

    I have done some good reading on the geothermal in Iceland. They grow bananas there in places!! Most of it seems to be high temperature whereas we most likely would do low-temperature geothermal which is much easier and cheaper to do. The wells you dig are not as deep. No matter what I believe this will be more common in the near future and used in many ways.

    Marthauys …
    What an example. Wouldn’t be nice to see Alaska decide to do something like this and lead the way? Between now and then maybe we can learn some good things and see where it can be applied!

  8. alaskapi Says:

    I’m having such fun reading Mr Coleman’s book! I’d be all the way through if I didn’t keep running outside to look at my cold frozen garden patch and dream about trying out some of the ideas.
    I was quite interested in his section about the intensive Parisian market garden period in France and all the techniques folks developed to extend their season and boost their crop output.
    His work has built on some of those ideas quite nicely.

    I drove everyone behind the scenes at AB bats, for months, talking about a study I’d seen about potatoes in Peru but couldn’t find again.
    We had been talking a lot about ways people have adjusted their farming methods to cold climates all over the world … throughout time.

    Once I finally found it , we didn’t think there was much that could be used here but it remains a fascinating story of rediscovery and farming magic.
    Maybe you will see some way to “alaskanize” the method here…

  9. Nan (aka roswellborn) Says:

    I don’t know if this is the right place for this comment, but this website: – oops, that page of that website has a “Polar Baby” tomato – developed in AK no less.

    Or if you just go to the home page, click on “early season” tomatoes and enjoy – lots of cooler weather varieties.

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