Interest in vegetable gardening has been on the upswing for a number of years, even without the presence of “The Virus.” Boredom from self isolation, fears of shortages, worries about grocery store surfaces, the prospect of prolonged unemployment and an onslaught of articles saying everyone needs to garden have only helped this interest to surge. The facts of the matter — i.e., how to grow veggies — have not changed, however.
Given all this interest, here are what I consider the easiest vegetables to grow in our northern climate. Sure, we can grow anything, but some things that would be on the list in the Lower 48, like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, really require a greenhouse to get top results, despite global warming. If you have a greenhouse, fine, but we want easy and guaranteed here.
Let’s start with peas. No matter what kind — bush, snap or in between (and there are plenty of different types) — they are foolproof. You will get plenty of produce during the two to three months we have, enough to eat and freeze some for the winter. They are easy to plant and can be planted directly in the garden or outdoor container as soon as the soil can be worked, which is early. Or you can start some now in individual containers for transplanting.
The big tip for growing the most peas in the north or south is to roll seeds in a “pea inoculant,” a powder full of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. You can get some when you visit your favorite nursery (note: they are open because you follow the virus-distancing rules. They need our support to remain in business for future years). You don’t need it to grow peas, but your plants will produce better. Add an endomycorrhizal powder to the mix for top production.
Next, bush beans are just as easy as peas and almost as prolific. The big difference is they won’t germinate in cool soil. Wait until things really warm up before planting outdoors, say June 1, and there’s time to produce plenty of beans. Better yet, you can start them indoors using individual containers and them move them outdoors in mid May.
Since you are going to the nursery for inoculant and fungi, I will include potatoes on this list. You could use grocery store potatoes, but these were probably sprayed to stop or slow sprouting of eyes. Obviously, not so with those sold at nurseries, which are also certified disease free.
Wait until early May and then cut potatoes so each resulting “chit” has at least one eye. Expose these to air for 48 hours. Then place chits on soil and start to hill soil or mulch onto the chits as the eyes grow into sprouts. Leave a few inches of sprout above the soil as you continue to hill. You can use a well-draining garbage can, put a few inches of soil in, and gradually fill the can with soil or leaves as the shoots grow. In the fall, dig the spuds!
What would an easy-to-grow list be without leaf lettuces? There are all manner of types and mixes. Just prepare the soil, sprinkle and see results in a matter of weeks. My father used to fill styrofoam fruit crates with soil and we had container-grown lettuces all year. Why wait for the soil to warm up? Start indoors now in similar, shallow flats.
What have I left off? Radishes, of course, but how many can you eat, even if they are incredibly easy to grow? Kale should be on the list as they germinate easily — but you must be sick of kale by now, even if they grow quickly, do well in containers come in lots of varieties. Zucchini are certainly easy to grow, but the trick is getting the flowers pollinated. This is easy in a greenhouse, but not so easy outdoors during a wet growing season.
Of course, to the list of easy-to-grow Alaskans should add any vegetable starts they can buy locally. Just be aware that tomatoes, cucumbers and most squashes really do best in a greenhouse or cold frame. The rest? Well, what have you to lose? The nurseries have done the hard work and they don’t start things that won’t grow here. They don’t want you to fail.
Finally, regardless of what you grow, if ever there was a time for Planting A Row For The Hungry, it is now. It may be spring, but we are looking at an Alaska summer with greatly reduced tourism, at best, possibly no commercial fishing in places like Bristol Bay and extremely low oil prices. People will go hungry. Plant at least one row to give to someone that will need it. It is as easy as anything on this list. Enough said.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Alaska Botanical Garden website: There are all manner of things going on via the internet. Check them out at alaskabg.org. Join while you are at it!
Flowers to start from seed: Dahlia, shizanthus, nigella, phlox, portulaca, nemisa, marigold and nasturtiums.
Vegetables: Broccoli and cauliflower
Gladioli: Lots of concern about the height some have reached. Not to worry as you bury them a few inches deeper when planted outdoors.
Nurseries: Don’t wait. You should be buying plants and supplies. Just follow the rules. Do not even think of going if you are sick. Leave the family at home. Respect and applaud the employees. Wear a mask and don’t touch what you don’t want.