Alaskans love challenges. They thrive on facing adversity. I have even heard there is a movement to change the state motto from, “North to the future,” to “Anything worth doing, is worth doing the hard way, and should hurt.” There are endless examples of that philosophy, but none stands out so well as gardening.
It may come as a surprise to many, but Alaska is not a gardener’s paradise. Shocking, but nonetheless true. It could be because the ground often doesn’t thaw until early June, and frosts can be counted upon to appear anytime after the first week of September. Here on the Kenai Peninsula, it might be attributable to normal summer high temperatures not reaching seventy degrees. The high acidity of the soil also creates problems.
“Hubert, the rose bush fell over.”
“Damn! The soil dissolved the roots, again.”
Then, there are the garden pests we must deal with. Cutworms? Ha! Mere child’s play. Root maggots? Minor issue. Slugs? Okay, you got me on that one. Alaskan slugs may be puny compared to their Lower 48 brethren, but they are more voracious than a starving vegetarian with a tapeworm at an all-you-can-eat salad bar. However, there are no garden pests like a cow moose with two calves in tow. Any flit gun of less than 30-caliber provides little deterrence. We once planted 150 tulip bulbs in our yard. Just as the tulips started blooming, a single moose wandered through the yard and left us with 150 green straws poking up valiantly against the elements.
All that being said, gardening is popular with Alaskans. (So is golf, but we’re not discussing insanity in this particular post.) By late February, when the outdoor world sports nothing but various shades of white (with an occasional speck of black provided by a raven), Alaskans begin to feel the color green is merely a baseless myth. We become desperate for something, ANYTHING, green and growing. Local merchants have learned to capitalize on the situation. Seed displays spread throughout the community faster than jock-itch in a dirty locker room, and pop up in the most unlikely places.
“Bad news, Mr. Poynor, your brake rotors are completely shot. It’s gonna take awhile to replace them. We have coffee and a complete Burpee’s Seed display for you in the waiting room.”
The result of such clever marketing is that no later than the first week of March, seeds are sprouting inside homes throughout the community. We water them. We fertilize them. We stake their spindly little stalks so they don’t fall over and hurt themselves. Ultimately, we plant the few survivors.
This year, Mrs. Poynor tried something new. We started earlier than normal, and planted sunflowers. Mrs. Poynor loves sunflowers. The very name is cheery. We started with over a dozen seedlings. Four made it into the ground. Three formed blossoms. One actually started to resemble a sunflower. The picture below was taken three days ago, right after the first frost, before it had time to shrivel. No seeds, but the challenge was met.