Like people all over the country, I spent Memorial Day Weekend gardening. It took me exactly 2 full days, from Sunday afternoon till Tuesday afternoon to take the garden from raw, untouched state to completely planted. Let me walk you through my process....
Step 1: Step 1 actually started a year ago when I picked a new garden site, plowed it, hauled out the clods of dirt and hauled in load after load of every type of old manure, ashes, alder leaves and other organic material I could find, and worked it into the soil by hand. I put on about 6 inches of good stuff last summer, built the fence (Note that 1 1/2 sides of it are corrugated plastic. That is to break the wind from the mountain & glacier sides of the garden.), and let it set.
Step 2: Over the winter as my neighbor gave me ashes I spread them on the garden to make the snow melt faster and get the soil warmed up sooner. As it was, I could not get into my garden until just over a week ago (without sinking 6 inches into muck).
Step 3: Six weeks ago I started my cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini and herbs inside, then transplanted them into bigger pots as they grew. My daughter is great with plants, and a wonderful help.
I also drew up a plan of what plants were going to go where, and about this time I also got the compost bin started again (4 pallets standing up and wired together work great for me).
Step 4: The first thing I did on Sunday was dig out the remaining clods of grass that were left from last year. I don't have a rototiller, and didn't want to rent one, so dug all the weeds out by hand. I had at least 15 large buckets full plus a few tubs of grass clumps and weeds, so this was an essential step! I missed putting in manure in a few places last summer, and amazingly, when I watered those sections, the water just sat and didn't drain at all. Where I had added stuff the drainage was excellent. The soil has virtually no organic matter in it naturally, and it is thick and clay-like.
Step 5: I planted spinach and lettuces in the raised beds, watered them and stapled plastic to the top to hold in the moisture and warmth until they germinate. Planting the peas, kohlrabi, potatoes, onions and carrots was easy. I did soak the seeds first so they would germinate more quickly. Then in the garden I made my string line, hoed a shallow trench, scattered the seed, covered up and watered them with my manure tea (fresh horse manure soaked in water for a few weeks and drained--if stinky is good these plant will rock!).
Step 6: Next the kids and I heaped up the dirt about 12 inches high in 4 rows. I probably should have done this for the whole garden, but would not have had enough room for all the plants I wanted to plant. In colder climates, this heaping is supposed to allow the sun to warm the soil so the plants grow better. When I tried this in Michigan the plants in the heaped areas died, so while I was a little hesitant, everyone up here seems to heap their dirt, so it must work.
Step 7: Cucumbers, tomatoes and squash are generally greenhouse plants in Alaska (some exceptions exist). Since we're renting, I didn't want to invest large amounts of money in a greenhouse (My husband finished my greenhouse in Michigan months before we moved to Alaska; I never even got to use it!), so we rigged up a little lean-to greenhouse/cold frame with the corrugated fence on one side, plastic stretched over a wood frame and plywood for the ends. I planted my zucchini and parsley in this, then stretched a soaker hose through it for easy watering.
Viola! Garden done! Well, it is planted. Now I have to watch very carefully to make sure it grows! At the moment my cauliflower is looking a little stressed. I didn't want to plant till June 1, but I am going to be camping from June 1-10, so thought I'd get the plants going a few days before I left. That way, if my transplants die off I have enough time to run to town and buy more and plant them!! All in all, it's a grand experiment. The most expensive part of this whole garden has been the seedling and starter soil I purchased from a local garden shop. Nearly all the fencing, plastic, wood, railroad ties, pallets, ashes, manure (cow, horse & chicken), etc. have come from our generous neighbors, who will share in our bounty when we begin to harvest!