Autumn assignments for gardeners: Grab garlic bulbs and get soil tested

Garden writers have a recurring, living nightmare: We sometimes forget to tell readers and listeners to do things on a timely basis.

This is particularly important in places where the growing season is short. As you know if you miss the moment, the window for that event closes. That means readers have to wait a whole year to partake or do the timely thing.

There are two things I always forget to tell readers. When I do remember to pass on the timely information, one of my two omissions always stimulates a tremendous amount of attention and activity. The other is the most ignored advice a garden writer ever gives no matter how many times I actually do put out the word on a timely basis.

My first usual omission is telling people to order garlics now so that they have bulbs/corms available when the time comes to plant them. It is usually an amazing discovery for an Alaska gardener to realize garlics can and do grow well here. Here is the rub: they go in the ground a week or so before the first frost is expected. You are on notice so get supplies.

There is an exceptionally good cooperative extension service pamphlet on growing garlic in Alaska. There is no reason for me to summarize it. The PDF version is at and it really is a must-read before you plant garlic here.

One reason you need to read the pamphlet is to figure out what kind of garlic you want to grow. There are hard neck varieties and soft neck ones. So read the advice of the cooperative extension and then acquire garlic. Now. You can use last year’s or check out internet offerings. Using supermarket garlic is not recommended. Do not delay as it is almost the middle of August and with our weather luck, you never know when the end is near.

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OK, the second thing I forget to tell readers probably doesn’t matter to them, but it should. Fall is the time organic gardeners need to feed their soils organic matter so that the microbes can work all winter to make necessary nutrients available by spring. Gardeners should have their soil tested now so the right organic inputs can be acquired and applied in the late fall.


Most gardeners never take a soil test. Still, information is power, they say. It surely is true when it comes to growing plants. The proper way to garden, the soil food web way, is to make sure your soils have adequate nutrient at the start of the season so you do not have to try to figure out what is wrong the middle of the season. It is much harder to correct than to start out with ample nutrients. And, it takes time to correct which Alaska gardeners do not have.

I like to get what is known as an Albrecht or a Kinsey/Albrecht test. If you tell the testing lab you want to use organic inputs, they will do some calculations and make NPK recommendations for you. The Kinsey in these tests has a lab and you can find others using the internet.

Once you fertilize you can use microbiometer tests to determine who your organics are affecting the microbial biomass. Learn more at

Whew. There. I remembered this year. Now it is up to you.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join. Check out If you are interested in learning to draw plants with colored pencils, sign up under the site’s events & workshops tab.

AMGA Late Season Plant Sale: Saturday, Aug. 12, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Alaska Botanical Garden parking lot. The sale will feature plants, gently used good pots and tools for sale, plus three classes that run from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Harvest: Come on. Don’t waste food. Give it away if you must.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.