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Gardening

Popular Alaska garden crops like kale, cauliflower and broccoli should be started from seed now

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: March 24
  • Published March 24

Broccoli is harvested at Sun Circle Farm in Palmer on September 17, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)

There are certain vegetables grown by Alaska gardeners that have always been our go-to plants. I don’t like to call them short-season crops, but rather Alaskan standards. Outdoors, these standards are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Indoors, meaning backyard greenhouses, peppers and tomatoes are standard fare.

These outdoor crops match our climate and day-length conditions. Oh, and the greenhouse tomatoes and peppers simply allow us to garden someplace where it is not always raining.

Anyhow, if you are going to grow any of these Alaskan standards from seed, now (and over the next few weeks) is the time to start them. All are pretty easy to germinate, and we now have enough daylight hours to skip the supplemental lights (though using yours another few weeks won’t hurt and will probably improve germination and growth).

You should know how to start vegetable seeds by now. The rules are to use living, organic soils only, no sterilizing seeds, provide drainage and air circulation. Don’t ever touch roots if you have to transplant, but try and grow in containers large enough so that you only have to do so when you move to the outdoors garden or final container. Finally, make sure to label everything you grow with the variety name and the date started.

With the exception of Brussels sprouts, it is not only possible to get an extended harvest, it is the best way to grow. No one wants to have to consume six heads of broccoli all at once. How about one every four or five days? Just stagger planting your seeds instead of doing them all at once.

For those who don’t want to start seeds this early, you will be able to buy starts from nurseries. The longer you wait to do so, the higher the price and the sparser the pickings. Just keep this in mind, and don’t wait too long to get what you need.

Over on the flower side of the ledger, now is the time to start cosmos, always a favorite and an extremely easy plant to start from seed. There are several sizes and petal formations.

Now is also the time to start a first crop of auto-flowering cannabis — or regular cannabis, provided you understand they won’t flower until nights get longer than days unless you control things. Tall snapdragons are always hard to find. Start your own if you want them.

How about a little reminder of where we are in the season. On April 15 last year, there were birch trees in our yard with leaves the size of squirrel ears and no more frosts thereafter. Darn. This means I will soon start getting questions about thatching those bare lawns (don’t) and what to use as fertilizer (nothing, probably).

It is time to have that reluctant-starting lawn mower looked at and to sharpen mower blades. Don’t wait until the weekend in late April when you want to take yours out for a cleanup spin.

And, start acting on some of the sales on garden goods in big box and hardware stores. These are not timed for the start of our season, but rather the Lower 48 states, where it is warmer. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy a new weed whacker, a hose or two, or replacement watering nozzles and the like. Shop the spring sales.

Finally, local nurseries are open for business.

Jeff’s Alaskan garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Summer Camp, guided garden plots, plant sale, membership and more: alaskabg.org

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), Larkspur (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.

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