Winter Outside, Greens Inside!


The river is showing some serious 'ice building' on this 9 degree day.

Well after being battered by storms these last few weeks all up and down at least the west coast of Alaska we are wondering if this is how our entire winter is going to play itself out.

For those of us on the Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay the weather has actually been pretty mild in many areas with only a few cold snaps, into the 20s and not a lot of snow. The  storms have had lots of rain and sleet associated with winds upwards of 70+ kt.  So when this real ‘cold snap’ hit we were all a little surprised.  We had become accustomed already to watching for winds speeds and not paying too much attention to temperatures.

We had been harvesting the last of the outside cold tolerant crops like cabbage, any potatoes left in the ground and covering the perennials that we are attempting to grow through the winter these last few weeks.

This week was the time to see if the things we are trying to grow and  harvest late into the winter are going to make it or if our efforts were now killed with these hard freezes. Ground temperatures are holding right now at 34/35 degrees even through the night, as measured by probes down about 6″-8″ under the surface inside the high tunnels.

Late fall planted greens under row cover and making it through the first few freezes and so far at least one single digit night and day.

So far, so good. We clipped a salad from the chard (rainbow) just a few evenings ago, letting these greens get bigger and pulled a few other things.

The last bits of cold tolerant crops, as they have been now clipped off by the chickens.

In our high tunnels we still have green onions, some spinach and carrots still being harvested. I was told a week or so ago that at least one high tunnel grower in Dillingham was still getting kale, and a number of other crops the last week in October. They generally have colder, wetter weather than we do further south in this part of Bristol Bay, even being only about 50 miles away by way the crow flies.

The last few years have been fast-moving as a lot more information is being shared, projects considered, even other set of high tunnels in our tiny village, and generally an effort to be more sustainable in our own areas.

We will keep you posted on how the winter efforts go to furnish at least part of our own fresh things up here in Alaska!


11 Responses to “Winter Outside, Greens Inside!”

  1. fromthediagonal Says:

    I grew up right on the coast of the North Sea in Germany, and we never harvested kale until after the first frosts, and well into the season of freezes. The old farmers explained that the cold was “sweetening” the kale. I guess it breaks down chemicals in the plant causing bitterness. So, if you have any kale left on the root, experiment with late harvests by cooking the ruffled parts of the leaves immediately after bringing them in to wash. You are probably already doing it,but just a thought if you are unsure of how long cabbage can be harvested.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    This is wonderful! I know in my area, NW Washington State we are getting tomatoes in May under our high tunnels. I’m wishing you the best. Carrots are another crop that can handle some freezing. Here, we can leave them outside, in the ground, all winter.

  3. UgaVic Says:

    Since this is the first full year, and with enough time to plant in the late fall, for the high tunnels we are still trying to find out all that will work.
    @ from the diagonal –I first learned of ‘winter salad’ from my grandma (Oma) in Germany when we took a trip back there when I was pretty young. My dad brought home seed from what I now know is Mache and we had it the while time I was growing up. I did not get Kale planted soon enough to get it up enough to make it into this fall. It is on the list to do ‘for sure’ this next year.
    My cabbage got eaten before it got cold enough to learn much so will have to plant more next year :-)
    @ Elizabeth
    My carrots are doing OK so far but we do not have any cheap easy source of mulch, no straw,clipped grass or even bark type stuff so trying to figure out how to do that and keep the ground from freezing inside the tunnels when we get weeks of single digits. Right now I have multiply layers of cloth and tarps over them but might not work long.

    We just keep trying and learning. I will be sharing info with others in the area over the winter so it will be fun to see what we all have worked out. It is nice to just have the possiblities of fresh stuff as we work it out!

  4. fromthediagonal Says:

    UgaVic, I am glad your Oma was there to give you some pointers. Red and white cabbage make great winter salads, as do celeriac roots. All three use a simple vinaigrette dressing (salt, some sugar, pepper, vinegar and a little oil and water) and all may keep for some time in underground burrows. I agree, the shortage of straw etc is a real problem, not only because of the insulation factor, but also because the vegetables need that relatively dry “bedding”.

    May some of this Oma’s ideas work out for you.
    Have you tried planting Brussels sprouts? If I remember correctly, they also can be harvested into the first frosts. They are funny looking plants, with the little “baby cabbages” growing along the high main stem, sheltered by the overhanging leaves on top. Don’t know if anyone ever tried to eat the leaves. Might be worth a try as well.

    As for cannning kale, brussels sprouts, and red cabbage, they do well.

    Sorry this is late, but maybe it is something worth considering next season.

  5. fromthediagonal Says:

    PS: You may not be familiar with celeriac.
    It is a type of celery, planted in spring. The greens and roots are great flavorings for soups and stews in summer. But the best part is that the roots store well. When raw, they are hard, scruffy looking things usually the size of grapefruits, with whitish insides. When boiled to semi soft and cooled enough to handle, the skins peel off rather easily. Let cool, slice add vinaigrette and let sit at least a couple of hours to absorb. It is a very healthy winter salad and tastes great. But of course, that’s one old German’s opinion… :)

  6. alaskapi Says:

    I only recently became aware of celeriac and your description of it as a “hard,scruffy looking” thing made me laugh in appreciation .
    I found myself wondering why in the world I had spent time growing the dang ugly stuff , good flavoring in soups notwithstanding.
    Now, I want to try your winter salad idea ! :-)

  7. fromthediagonal Says:

    alaskapi, keep growing that stuff! As for the summer green tops, I do with them what I do with parsley and other green stuff: I chop the bundle leaves and store them in the freezer in sandwich size ziplocks, flattened out with all of the air gone. That way I can just break off however much I need. Though I live in Florida, cooking for one can be wasteful. I have found that saving the stems of herbs either raw in the freezer, or briefly cooked in a small amount of water and then frozen makes for wonderful flavorings. If you try the celeriac salad, you may want to add fresh or some of that “quick frozen” “parsley.Just break off a piece and mix it in. It makes it look less bland, and also gives you a nice health benefit.

    While we are talking… I was in Juneau for two weeks in August with my not-quite 10 year young grandson. Bear Woman had planned for us to get together, but as you know, it did not happen.
    We stayed in the Valley at Bears Den Inn B & B, and were all over the Mendenhall area. Did the Tracy Arm full day run and the flight to Glacier Lodge. My grandson is a full-blown nature kid and we had a most beautiful experience, one he told me a mere three days into our adventure “Granma, I will never forget this”. He will be back, and “Fate willing and the creek don’t rise”, so will I.

    Sooo, don’t lose hope on plants with which you are not familiar!
    The other root you may have overlooked is the parsnip! It looks like a white carrot and once again, it keeps well into winter, and if it gets too cold, you can make a “soup bundle” out of celeriac, parsnip, carrot and onion/garlic and just blanch it before cooling and canning/freezing in small enough portions to add to your soup stock.

    I am probably redundant with some of this, but…
    I know that the Juneau temperate climate is much more forgiving that it is further up, but by using different methods of preservation one can maintain a healthy diet even in inclement climates.

  8. UgaVic Says:

    Oh I have lots to consider this coming year!! Can’t wait for the seed catalogues to start arriving, almost better than Christmas gifts :-)
    That vinegarette dressing is VERY familiar …having grown up with it and use it often.
    We did try Brussel Sprouts but they did not get transplanted soon enough to develop into much.
    Use to love parsnip and carrot soup, will have to try the parsnips. I haven’t done celeriac and it sounds like one I will have to look into. We are lucky overall in that IF I get moving fast enough and plan we have plenty of room for growing outside. Am figuring we will have to low tunnel more but that is fine.
    Spouse is excited as he did not grow up around gardening, outside of the neighbor lady’s strawberry patch they would sneak into to partake of her crop:-)
    In this all I am still working out on how to get some good carbon source for the likes of mulch and compost. Am thinking a cardboard shredder is going to be needed and would help with the mulch/compost/carbon issue some.
    Just lots of ideas running around in my head, which tends to crowd out fish thoughts many times :-))

  9. fromthediagonal Says:

    Dammit, wrote stuff and wiped it out… don’t know how to retrieve.
    Anyway, keep going!
    As for spouse not growing up with gardening and then sneaking some of neighboring old lady’s strawberries, tell him he needs to grow some of his own (strawberries that is)… ;)…
    As for using a cardboard shredder to get some mulch, that sounds like a good idea, but I have another question, knowing that there is some thawing of permafrost in the northernmost reaches.
    If there are any bogs developing in your area, you may be able to exploit them by digging down a few feet, excavating the thawed soil which would probably be very wet and drying them over the summer to use the resultant peat for mixing with the regular soil.

    Trust me, this is slave labor ( I am talking about the Time of the Dinosaurs in the 1940ies). The men would cut the peat with something like a 6 inch broad sword, first horizontally, then vertically, and throw it up from the hole. From there on it would be the equivalent of a bucket brigade (from the strongest to the weakest kid) until it would be stacked din circles for drying over the summer.
    At the end of fall it would distributed to all who worked…
    was it rough? Hell Yes! But I regret nothing.

    Anyway, don’t know if you have anything similar at this time.
    (Seems like you will before too long, unfortunately).

    Have you thought of trying a major purchase of burlap for your winter storage? It may be cheap if a bunch of communities combined their needs of yardage.

    Just thoughts… In Northern Germany farmers still use straw to insulate the vegetables from the freezes, but now they also use
    blue tarps on top of the mounds, held into place by car tires.
    Not pretty, but it works for them.

  10. alaskapi Says:

    I’m so sorry it didn’t work out for us to get to meet when you and the grand were in the area. Sure hope you have already marked off some dates and are planning a return :-)
    We have specific issues and challenges growing foods here that keep it all interesting .
    While more temperate than further north, portions of the borough, including where I live, are very, very wet in July and August. Battling mildews, molds, and rot is a constant .
    Playing with raised beds and row covers and so on has increased yield for me. Seed choice makes a huge difference too.
    I’ve been concentrating on getting more food grown in the earlier drier months , May and June, as well as finding ways to offset the later wet, wet months.
    I grew potatoes last year quite successfully in wire cylinders.,6
    Also, there is very little true soil in a lot of spots here. Mostly glacial till or “flour”- powdered rock dust from glaciation- a lot of gravel and rock and very little organic content.
    There are places where it is drier and soil-ier :-) within the borough and people grow astonishing amounts and types of things- we have many microclimates .
    I always get something out of your ideas so please keep em coming !

  11. fromthediagonal Says:

    Potatoes in wire cylinders… what a great idea!

    It is often difficult to find the right plants for not only the climate, but for the “dirt” into which one plants. I have lived in a number of different areas, from my native Germany, to New Delhi, India, to Suffolk, England, to the Eastern UP of Michigan, to finally, Florida.
    My in-laws are old “red clay country” Alabamians My husband and several siblings “escaped” at an early age, but the ones still living there have maintained the old ways of gardening. I have always been interested in trying to understand the different ways of farming/animal husbandry in the diverse regions I have been privileged to live for a while.

    Wish I could visit again next year, and if I do, I will be in touch.
    Take care, Ing

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