Anja’s Greenhouse

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Gardening in Interior Alaska is a major pain. There’s just no other way to put it, even if you are as crazy about it as I am. I was raised in a moderate climate in Germany’s Rhine Valley where my grandparents owned a plant nursery. I literally grew up in the family orchard and my green thumb came naturally – at least for that particular climate. Fast forward to Alaska.

My husband and I live at an altitude of 1500 feet, just outside Denali National Park. The USDA considers this area as plant hardiness zone 2a where strong winds prevail and the average low temperature in winter can reach -50F. Our growing season is less than 90 days long and very few garden plants thrive in such a harsh environment. I start all my vegetables and flowers from seed inside our home, sometime between early March and April. By May, every square inch of window space is occupied by seedlings and transplants, competing for light. In many regions of the lower 48 States, gardeners can already harvest their first crops at this time.

Back here, I begin shuttling the transplants to our greenhouse for the day, once the outside temperature reaches about 50F degrees. Since it still freezes at night, I have to bring them all back inside our home in the evening; this takes up at least two hours each day. Our greenhouse isn’t heated – the cost would be prohibitive and who would enjoy a tomato at $5 a piece? Usually, it is safe to plant outside around the first or second week of June, but we have had frost and even snow in July, so it is always a gamble.

After nearly a decade and a half of experimenting I was able to successfully grow 54 different varieties one summer. The next summer was a wet, cold disaster. I have stacks of tarps and insulated coverlets piled up in our garden shed and on cold nights I go out and tuck the veggies in under the blankets. Gardening in Alaska – it’s a major pain AND a love affair.

-Anja Phenix