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It’s early spring in Alaska. That means it’s time to plant something indoors.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: March 28, 2019
  • Published March 28, 2019

The verdict is in. It has been in the headlines all week: “Monsanto Weedkiller Roundup Was ‘Substantial Factor’ in Causing Man’s Cancer, Jury Says,” read one, in The New York Times. Since it was only the second of over 8,000 cases against the manufacturer of glyphosate, it won’t be the last. The damages could be in the billions.

So, first up this week, please, Alaska gardeners or “yardeners” who planned on using RoundUp or any other formulation of glyphosate this season, toss in the towel. You should be asking how to get rid of it. (Treat it like a hazardous substance and take it to the Central Transfer Station or the Anchorage Regional Landfill.)

More importantly, The Municipality of Anchorage (and all cities and organized towns in Alaska) as well as the state itself while operating our state-owned railroad, are on notice. The arguments (finally) are over. Glyphosate? Use it no more! Find other methods to prevent mountain ash seedlings from growing after cutting down a mother tree or to clear weeds from the track.

In fact, it is my hope that when Alaskans go and visit nurseries this weekend, that we won’t even be able to find any RoundUp/glyphosate on the shelves. Finally liability does what science could not. Are you listening, public entities?

And visit nurseries and the like, you should! It is time. We are finally finished with winter and into early spring. In Alaska, “early spring” means it is time to plant something indoors. Why? Because you are not a real gardener unless you start something from seed for the season. Buying everything already started doesn’t count. You need to start something from seed. Anything.

Over the next few weeks, check the garden calendar that accompanies this column and choose something. If you are new to this, there are plenty of things that still need starting, ranging from peas and lettuces to cosmos and marigolds. Oh, make sure to include those younger Alaska gardeners, too. If they start something and get it into the outdoors, they are much more likely to enjoy gardening, and that translates into help out there.

Of course, starting seeds means you need a few supplies. The most important is a good compost-filled starting mix, suitable containers and, of course, seed. Notice I did not include lights there. We are finally getting enough daylight to grow seedlings without them, though it is far better that you use them if you do have them.

Seed is available locally from seed racks. Do buy what you need now, however, especially the stuff you will be planting directly outdoors, as these seeds tend to disappear and you don’t want to be left empty handed. Visit several different racks of different companies. You should use living soils, not sterilized products. Compost is great. Add some coir or perlite or biochar for drainage. If you are not going to roll seed in an endomycorrhizal mix, then mix some into your starting soil.

Containers are the one item you don’t need to buy. There are plenty of suitable things to recycle. When I was a kid, egg cartons were the go-to for the frugal seed-starter. Today there is so much more available!

I am particularly fond of those clear, clamshell type containers (that cookies and pies are now packaged in) as they make great mini greenhouses. When it gets too damp, open the top. Just make sure you have adequate drainage. However, I must admit I like those stackable, black, plastic trays and seed cell paks, too. They fit together nice and neat.

Finally, before you spend much time shopping, (as always) I advise the reader to make a quick and dirty garden plan with a list of plants that will be needed. Do this before you wander around too many places that sell plants and supplies. It is simply too tempting to go into a nursery unprepared.

Jeff’s Garden Calendar

Alaska Master Gardener Conference: "Urban Gardening in the Last Frontier.” This is open to the public, so go! At the Lucy Cuddy Hall at UAA.

Wildflower plant ID: Five-day, hands-on field botany class with Marilyn Barker at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Learn about local plants, their identification and uses. Class meets Wednesdays in May (May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29) from 6:30-9 p.m. Must register. $160-$175.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Info on Summer Camp, Guided Garden plots, plant sale, membership and more.

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes

Flowers to start from seed: Cannabis, cosmos, snaps, ageratum, seed dahlias, godetia, aster, celosia, malva, salvia, lupine, Achimenes (tubers), brachyscome (15C), dianthus (5), Stock(10L), Lockspar (20C). (The numbers represent the days to germination. C means grow cool and L means seeds need light).

Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel, parsley

All stored plants: Should be out of storage and starting to grow. Pinch back to shape and cause branching.

Tuberous begonias: Start as above.

Dahlias: Expose last year’s tubers to light so eyes develop before dividing and replanting.