From inside a warm high tunnel looking out!
Securing food for your family if you live in the more rural areas of Alaska can take on variety of methods that can be just as diverse as the climates in Alaska.
Most villagers can order in groceries via mail through a number of sources, some within Alaska, some from the lower 48.
A good portion of villagers also have access to some ‘wild’ or subsistence food stuffs. This can be from hunting, fishing, gathering or a great neighbor who does one of these things and will barter or trade!!
One of the drawbacks no matter where you are located is usually getting ‘fresh’ produce on any type of a regular basis. Variety is also an issue for many. It is easy for many to get caught up in only eating processed foods, as they are much easier and cheaper to secure.
In choosing to ‘get serious’ about not only raising more of our own food but also wanting more variety than is currently available, the issue of supplies to allow this has come up, like never before.
Most of us, who grow at least a portion of our food, are usually facing the issue of not enough space given all our ‘desires’ of what we want to plant.
For me, and I have learned the majority, in rural Alaska it is not a case of enough land, it is all the other ‘needs’ that cause the issues. Almost no support items for the agriculture area actually are produced in Alaska. You start with trying to do something more ‘local’ by having to ‘go out’ for your starter supplies. It is a sad situation.
Fertilizers, equipment to work the land, compost, hoses, and even such basics as hand tools become a challenge. There are no libraries to head to for looking through magazines you don’t get yourself, unless you are lucky to have a great ‘hub’ village library. There is no running to a garden center when you realize you need an item.
Wheelbarrows or carts to move things, shovels, hoes, rakes, all become an issue due to their bulk. Last time I priced bringing in a shovel it was over $43.00 in postage, due to the handle length!!
Containers, even things like newspapers that you tend to accumulate when you live on the highway system are harder to come by. Each year I am here I find myself finding something else I took for granted when I lived in more populated areas.
Three high tunnels and a stepped up effort to add a few more ‘hooped’ areas to our normal gardening has made the task of finding supplies all the more interesting this year. I stumbled across a planning program to help me map my growing spaces out. It is free for the first 30 days and very reasonable after that. If I read correctly it also lets me do rotations and keeps track of plantings year to year. Considering we are doing high tunnels for at least part of the crop this might well turn into an asset.
I do have to share that watching any cooking channel while you are planning your planting list is not a good thing UNLESS you are making notes about which veggies are going to be used in which recipes that gave you the notion to plant them in the first place!
We will move the warm house veggies like tomatoes, cukes and peppers inside versus just stakes in lower hoped rows. This means finding twine and ties that will work to figure out the best trellising system. We want as much to be compostable when done for the season to keep the labor costs, always an issue, down too.
One problem solved. Martha Stewart has these in the April issue !
Also since we are coming close to tripling the total land we will have in production the need for fertilizer, compost and still more watering ability has increased. These are all items that tend to be heavy, are not available locally so the need to be creative is being tested. We will use some fish waste and make ‘tea’ but until it has been run for testing to get an idea of the make-up, what it adds will be a guess at best. The same goes for the use of any chicken waste, which takes years up here to become useable
If there is more fish waste used we realize we will need to take the precaution of running an electric fence around the place too. Bears have been enough of an issue these last few years we do not need to add their destruction to the list of possible worries. In our cooler soils the ability for any nutrients to be useable takes time. There will be lots of trying things, and also sending out for test results too until we have an idea of how fast things are happening.
Making sure there is a way to get water to all of what we are growing on an easy basis is another concern. On the Alaska Peninsula we can go between years of daily rain, as it was last summer, to hot dry times in the 80’s. Being familiar with drip irrigation since the 70’s we have decided to use it. I am sure weeds are going to be an issue, especially in the tunnels, and our hope is the water getting to just the needed root zones will cut down on them. This is the biggest task right now, besides getting seeds started, is getting our basic watering system planned out.
A typical drip set-up with water going only to the plants that need it
By fall green manure crops will be planted to build soil. More compost will be generated this year for recycling back in next year, if nothing else because we will have still more waste from cooking and hopefully canning or freezing the extra. (Ways to preserve what we hope will turn out to be extra are being explored too)
We are looking at ways to mulch to keep weeds down as we’re sure there will be more of an issue in the tunnels. (I did some checking and our local shopper/flyer and local Bristol Bay paper are printed with soy ink so we can use them) In researching it was amazing all the options. We can get cellulose that breaks down, long-term plastics, ones with imbedded fertilizers, porous ones that let water and fertilizer through but not weeds. This is in addition to the red colored ones to help ripening, or silver coated ones to reflect light….just lots and lots of options.
Who knew the desire to furnish more of your own food would lead to all this??