Arctic Gardening Environmental Factors

Welcome to the Gardens in the Arctic blog! Thank you for visiting and showing your support! Since starting our gardening adventures here in Anaktuvuk Pass we have gotten a lot of questions from other Arctic gardeners (and curiosity and interest from non-Arctic gardeners) regarding the unique growing environment we have up here and how our successes and failures might help their own growing projects. So what better way to share all that we have learned with other gardeners out there than a blog?! Follow us and learn as we learn!

First, lets start with some info about the gardening environment here to give you a picture of what we are dealing with. If you look at the map below you will see that we are located in gardening zone 2b. Anaktuvuk Pass is not labeled on this map but we are in the pink area just above the southern edge of the North Slope Borough and north of Bettles.  The plant hardiness zone refers to temperature ‘zone’ we live in and thus determines the amount of days available to us to grow plants.  Our low temperatures translates as a very short season, for us it is an average of 60 days without frost.  This helps us pick what type of plants to grow here and when to start them.

AK zone map

Due to the short growing season we also had to utilize a few warming techniques to hopefully extend our growing season a little bit. The biggest warming technique we are currently using is the high tunnel which was graciously donated to us by Petro Star. Another technique used both in the high tunnel and in the backyard and family gardens is raised beds. We have also been experimenting with different seed trials and plant types that might do well in our environment as well as reach maturity within 65 days out doors.

The weather during the summer here ranges from heavy rains in the spring and fall to a very hot and dry season mid-summer. There is also typically high winds coming from both the north and south ends of the valley. This makes choosing plants to grow, and maintaining the plants we are able to grow, difficult since we are constantly having to ensure adequate watering during the dry season without over watering during the rainy season. Also, most of our young/ seedling plants do not do well when exposed to the high winds. Another issue we faced this past summer was extreme high temperatures that reached up to 120ºF in the high tunnel during the hot and dry season. Unfortunately last summer we did not have vents installed in the high tunnel so we lost most of our hot peppers and about half of the shade-loving plants. This summer we plan to install vents to prevent over heating.

The vents will also remedy another situation we faced last summer where we had pollination issues since we did not set up the high tunnel in a way that would make it easy to roll up the sides (or instal vents) to allow pollinators in. We are also currently researching plants to grow that will do well here as well as attract pollinators.

The sunlight also plays a big part in our growing environment.  We swing from two extremes over the year…we go between absolute darkness and very little sunlight for most of the winter to non-stop daylight and nary a setting sun in the summer.  This causes some issues for our plants and so we are restricted to plants that are not bothered by (or even thrive in) continuous daylight with very little or no nighttime.  Some plants we are unable to grow, like soy beans, due to their growing requirement for periods of darkness.

The local soil, as is, was not ready for growing produce due to its low nitrogen content and low organic matter. The soil here is mostly rocks, sand and/ or silt. To remedy these issues we added organic fertilizers and amendments for example: fish emulsion and blood meal for nitrogen, coconut core and sphagnum moss for organic matter, and worm castings and chicken manure which remedy both problems. In the future we plan on incorporating biochar into our soil for long term soil conditioning.

So far the newest issue we are dealing with is pests! We have had issues with rabbits, insects (aphids and root maggots are the most prominent), slugs and birds. We are looking into possibly using fencing, corn meal or copper tape to deter the rabbits and slugs. We are also researching other organic ways to deter these pests.

 

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