CHAPTER 3 - May

The following subjects will be covered for th e month of May:

  1. Gardening Schedule*
  2. Proper Seed and Fertilizer Will Yield Healthy Lawns*
  3. Plot Out Your Family's Garden*
  4. Pick a Good Spot for That Perennial Strawberry Patch*
  5. 'Everbearing' Strawberries*
  6. Harness the Sun Against Cold Soils*
  7. Pumpkin Patch*

Gardening Schedule*
May

*Reference: "Starting Dates for Vegetable and Flower Seeds to Grow Transplants"--University of Alaska Cooperative Extension.

Date           Time Fra

me to          Vegetable          Flower              
               Setting Out at the                                            
               end of May                                                    
May 3          4 weeks                cucumb

ers**,                           
                                      pumpkins**,                            
                                      winter squash**                        
                                      and head lettuce           

          
  
May 10         3 weeks                summer squash**                        
               Vegetables which can   beets, parsnips,                       
               be seeded in the       carrots, peas,                         
        
       garden prior to June   chard, potatoes,                       
               1, but not before      dill, radishes,                        
               May 15 with little     lettuce, spinach                       
               danger of loss

 due     mustard, turnips                       
               to frost are:                                                 

** Since roots should be disturbed as little as possible, plant 3 or 4 seeds in a 3 - 4 inch pot. Before or after tran splanting into the garden, then to one plant.

Proper Seed and Fertilizer Will Yield Healthy Lawns*

*Reference: University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardening Class and Wayne Vandre, horticulturist. Pa mphlet: A00239: "Establishing a Lawn in Interior Alaska." Interview with Lee Risse.

In the weeks ahead the snow will be melting. Homeowners will be seen standing on the bare areas of their lawns, hoping for the dead brown grass to be replaced by gre en. A lawn is a group of low growing perennials subjected to constant abuse, as we all know.

A lawn can mean different things to different sorts of people. To one homeowner it may be an expression of great pride and care which is placed in his home and property. To another person a lawn may be merely another chore to keep him from enjoying other varied weekend activities in Fairbanks.

For homeowners who look forward to a beautiful lawn each season, it means a certain amount of time, effort and planning must be expended. Initial lawn establishment requires the maximum amount of work. Yearly maintenance is also critical, if you expect the same results from year to year. If your lawn is one third weeds, you should redo it.

THE BASICS. Initial establishment requires getting right down to the basics--the soil. Start by determining the best grade fro your lawn. Fill in the low spots, slope it away from buildings and try to eliminate any steep slopes. When a slope exceeds 20 percent, se ed establishment becomes a problem and the soil is vulnerable to erosion with soil loss.

While you are working with your soil, eliminate the sticks, stones, roots and other debris which will interfere with germination and cause mowing problems later.< p> This is also the time to insure that the soil has the important characteristics of porosity and capacity. In other words it should be able to allow for adequate drainage of water through it, while retaining sufficient moisture for good plant growth. If your soil is lacking in one of these characteristics you can add organic matter to improve it. Remember, watering is a must for all successful plant growth.

Lee Risse, one of the foremost specialists in plant growth with a tremendous savvy in law n maintenance in Fairbanks, suggests there should be 10 cubic yards of peat moss per 1000 square feet for a good start on a lawn.

When we think of topsoil, we think of the accumulation of many years of decomposed organic matter. On cleared land down to the subsoil, most all the organic matter is gone. So, you have to reconstruct the top layer with organic matter, such as peat or compost in order to build up our soils filled with loess. If you are going to buy topsoil, make sure you have a look at where it comes from, since a few species of weeds can come in with it and eventually dominate your lawn!

FERTILIZER: After you have your lawn area sloped, the soil should be rototilled to prepare a good seed bed. Lime and fertilizer can be wor ked into the soil at this time. A soil test will let you know what to apply and how much. You can obtain information on soil testing by contacting the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Office.

Generally speaking, a complete fertilizer is re quired for initial planting and each following spring, like 18-18-18, 10-20-20 or 8-32-16. Applications of Nitrogen (22-4-4) later in the season will keep your grass green and growing. Nitrogen added to a lawn with a yellowish tinge will green it up with in a couple of days. If you are going to use lime, however expensive it may be, incorporate it with rototilling it 6 inches down into the soil. It takes from 30 to 45 days for the lime to work into the mass of soil.

SEEDING: The next step, a fter your soil is rototilled and you have prepared a fine seedbed, is the important one of seeding. Important points to remember at this time are: proper variety, application rate, good seed to soil contact and a continuous moisture supply during the ger mination phase.

Kentucky bluegrasses, as a group, do well in Alaska. There are many varieties to choose from. Nugget, Park, Merion, Fylking, Sydsport, Pennstar, Baron, Newport, Troy Adelphi and Common are notable kinds that do well in Alaska, out of the 30 to 40 different varieties that are grown across the nation. Each variety differs in hardiness, growth, resistance to drought and disease. Check with the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension and local nurseries, they will be able to recomme nd good seed.

Check out the characteristics of your grass seed before you buy. Don't be misled by bargains on grass mixtures not adapted to Alaska. You may save money initially. However, when your lawn is winter-killed, the bargain price no long se ems important!

Another group of grasses for Alaska is the red fescue. There are several varieties to choose from. One of the best for this area is Arcta Red Fescue. Boreal and Pennlawn are two other types. All of these kinds are shade tolerant.

It is worth incorporating fescue with bluegrass for a good seed mix. In fact, blending several varieties of bluegrass and/or fescues is a good idea. Your lawn will then have a better chance of surviving some factor which would wipe out a specific variet y of grass.

For an open lawn (a60 percent Kentucky bluegrass, 35 percent red fescue and 5 percent annual ryegrass) is recommended. For a shadier area (45-55 percent Kentucky bluegrass, 40-50 percent red fescue and 5 percent annual ryegrass) is recomm ended. For erodable areas, increase the annual ryegrass to about 10 percent.

Seeding rates should be sufficiently high to insure a good stand of grass. The seeding rate, however, should not be so high that overcrowding and competition occurs.

For bluegrass, a rate of 2.5 to 3.0 pounds per 1,000 square feet should be adequate. For red fescue and mixes of the two types of grass, a rate of 3.5 to 4.0 pounds per 1,00 square feet is recommended. When you compare the cost of seed with your other cost s of labor, topsoil, fertilizer, rototilling and time, you will realize that it is worthwhile to buy quality seed and to apply it in sufficient quantity.

Spread the seed evenly and then make sure you have a good contact between the seed and soil. If you cover the seed it should be very shallow; no more than one quarter of an inch. Compacting the soil with a roller will insure good contact for proper germination.

PROPER WATERING: Moisture is the other important ingredient for good germinati on. When you put in the seed, you are committed to insure that the soil surface does not dry out! Spraying or misting is one method. Be careful, since displacement of the light grass seed can easily occur.

Mulching is another method to insure the p resence of soil moisture. Applying straw, peatmoss, burlap or clear polyethylene will conserve the soil moisture and reduce the need for water. Remove the mulch as soon as the seedlings emerge. This is especially important for clear polyethylene, becaus e of the heat buildup underneath the plastic.

Establishing grass on a steep hillside may require attachment of the mulch to the soil with stakes. Mixing annual ryegrass, which can be considered a "nurse crop" that comes up within five to seven days, with the bluegrass and fescue mix will insure a quick germination and establishment and thus lessen the chances for erosion on steep slopes.

Don't add more than 10-15 percent ryegrass by weight to the fescue and bluegrass mix or it will be too competi tive with the other grasses. Zoysia grass, advertised nationally, does not grow perennially in Alaska any longer than the first summer. This type of grass does not come out of dormancy until the soil temperature reaches 70deg.F!

GROOMING: The results of your hard work should be a green healthy lawn throughout the rest of the season. Mowing it can be viewed as another result and perhaps even as a reward by those who look forward to exercise.

Mowing should start when the grass reaches appr oximately three inches. The final cutting height should be set at between two to three inches.

Cutting grass too short reduces the amount of leaf surface available for photosynthesis. As a result the growth and food storage capability is restricted. Grass must be able to store food in reserve, if it is to survive through our winters.

Other factors which will increase winter survival are adequate soil moisture, removal of thatch to reduce disease and the absence of fall fertilizer.

Watering lawns will make a difference in its health and growth. Lawns should be watered less frequently but deeply, rather than frequently and shallow. It is important to use a power rake, available through local nurseries and rental stores, to aerate the groun d and rid your lawn of old grass.

Removal of the old thatch provides for rapid growth of grass in the spring. An excess accumulation of thatch promotes growth of grass roots into the thatch layer. This causes problems with healthy lawn growth.

For more information on planting and caring for lawns in interior Alaska, request a copy of "Establishing a Lawn in Interior Alaska," from the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service.

Plot Out Your Family's Garden*

*Reference: University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardening Class with Wayne Vandre, horticulturist.

Gardening in Fairbanks is a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. Your object in gardening is to control the light, temperature, nutrition and water. You should select your gardening site where it is well drained, sunny, fertile and away from trees and shrubs. Slope your garden to the south or southwest if possible. If the slope of your garden is excessive, run the rows across th e slope or terrace the gardening plot.

You should have in mind a garden plan. You can determine the size by the varieties desired and the space they require, family preference, size of your family, or whether you plan to eat only fresh vegetables or store them for later use. You should draw yourself out a garden plan to scale on 1/2 inch equals 1 inch graph paper. Draw your plantings to scale. Space for the size of plant and the type of cultivation. Place the tall plants on the north side of the garden plot, such as trellised peas. Place your garden perennials to one side or at the end. Run your rows north-south, especially if you use the ridge type of gardening. Don't waste space, as weeds will just fill right in. Plan for successive crops.

You should select your varieties on family preference, those varieties that are recommended for Fairbanks and those varieties that satisfy nutrition needs.

Seeds are the cheapest part of gardening. You should remember to order early, if you use ca talog sources. If you save seeds, keep them dry and cool. You can save some seeds for five or six years. But, check their germination when they are over 1 year old. If the germination is less than 75 percent, discard them or plant them thicker. Be su re and don't save seeds from hybrid varieties, as they will be different from the parent plants.

When preparing your garden soil, you can plow or spade in fall or spring, unless wind erosion or spring runoff is a factor. The soil should be worked toa bout six to eight inches deep. It is workable when it can be compressed and then broken with the fingertips. This is an easy check for ideal moisture conditions too.

Don't forget to test your soil. Fall is the best time. Make sure sample is repres entative. Test is for the nutritive needs of your soil. Fertilize and lime according to the soil test recommendations. The availability of nutrients is dependent on the soil's pH. Side-dress your garden with fertilizer during the growing season. If y ou haven't had a chance to get your soil tested, a complete garden fertilizer such as 8-32-16 is recommended.

Prepare your seedbed by raking it smooth. This will give better soil to seed contact. It will also allow for a better growing media for roo t crops.

You should try to determine which varieties you want seeded directly and where (cold season versus warm season). Select those for planting before and on frost-free date of June 1. It doesn't hurt to wait until the first week of June, howeve r. Seeds are dependent on hardiness. You should plant the hardier types two weeks prior to the frost free date. These are radish, turnip, carrot, leaf lettuce and peas.

If you wait until mid-July to plant your first radishes, you will avoid the roo t maggot, since at that time its cycle has past. Transplant your crucifers and the warm season crops. Seeding and transplanting will be covered later. Remember that the planting depth is two to three times the diameter of the seed. This insures germina tion in our cold soils. The seed and seedlings must stay moist. This is a problem with shallow depths.

Pre-emergent herbicides can be applied at seeding time. There are benefits and problems using herbicides. You also need to use the proper chem icals to control the cutworm and root maggots. Fungicides can be used when needed.

Your plants need warm soils and moisture in order to grow. Be sure to use clear polyethylene mulch, since it raises the soil temperature, conserves moisture (water be fore applying the plastic), keep down the weeds, prevents wind from cooling soil. Black Visqueen is not appropriate for gardening in Fairbanks, except to act as a weed control. Scientists say it keeps the soils too cool in comparison to clear polyethyle ne. However, I have hard of some people using black Visqueen, instead of clear Visqueen, to grow beautiful strawberry crops.

Your garden may require a windbreak. It can be made of clear plastic to let the sun through. You should keep the downhill e nd open for cold air drainage. The windbreaks prevent evaporation and the cooling of the soil.

You can increase the air temperature over parts of your garden with the use of a plastic tent. This extends the growing season. Using this method, you migh t be able to put in another short season crop. These clear tents increase the growth rate by the higher temperatures. You should always be aware of overheating. In these cases, pull the tent off or regulate the openings.

Thinning your seedlings is important. Thin them so the leaves do not overlap. This is a continuous process. At your final thinning, the plants should be about 4 inches apart, depending, of course, on the crop. You can use beet greens and lettuce as they are thinned. Without thin ning, the tops grow...but not the bottoms.

Prevent weeds by cutting nearby weeds before they set their seed. Avoid non-composted manures, seed directly after cultivation or soil preparation to give your garden a head start over the weeds. You should hoe on a continual basis, especially after the soil is damp. Pick up pieces of weeds such as chickweed and put them in a cardboard box, since the hoed parts will re-root. When you are hoeing, try to avoid cutting into the root systems of your garden pla nts. Black plastic, newspapers, mulch of leaves or grass clippings, will definitely help keep your weeds down. You can use herbicides, if your wish. But, elbow grease is a sure shot method!

Remember to take produce from your garden at the proper tim e to insure maximum storage life. Storage will always reduce the quality, not improve it. Storage facilities can be a cool basement, root cellar, pit storage, buried garbage can or refrigerator. Plan to utilize your stored produce before the end of its recommended storage period. Tomatoes can be picked green, rutabagas waxed. Cabbages can be pulled slightly to prevent burst of the heads. Then, the lower leaves are left to produce more. Remember that root crops transform starch to sugar when subjecte d to cold temperatures.

Pick a Good Spot for That Perennial Strawberry Patch*

*Reference: University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardening Class with Wayne Vandre, horticulturist. Interview with Rudy D omke.

I always enjoy the thoughts of having a good crop of strawberries to eat in the summer. Today I will talk about the perennial type of strawberry. A perennial is one that comes up year after year after year.

The most important factors to as sure successful product of strawberries in the sub-Arctic Fairbanks are: an understanding of strawberry plant growth and development, choice of variety, choice of planting site, soil fertilization, a water supply for use during dry periods and pest contro l.

Strawberries of the perennial type have a coarse, sparse root system compared with other types of strawberry plants that are treated as annuals here in the sub-Arctic. The plants will grow 8 to 20 inches tall, depending upon water, nutrient supply and variety. Leaves and branched flower stems emerge in the spring from the crown. Runners emerge from the crown as well and by mid-June radiate out from established plants to develop one or more new plants 12 to 18 inches from the mother plant. When you plant your strawberry crowns, be sure to keep the crowns at ground level.

There are two recommended kinds of perennial "June"-bearing strawberries for the Fairbanks area. Pioneer was developed in the 1960s by Arvo Kallio, who was with the Univers ity of Alaska Experimental Station. The second type is Toklat. These "June" strawberry plant types are July-bearing in Fairbanks, Alaska for about two weeks. Another kind of strawberry, called the Sitka D, has survived in Fairbanks and may have been the kind used by Harry Badger, who in the 1930s grew strawberries for sale.

At a meeting of master gardeners last winter Rudy Domke, a perennial strawberry grower, lectured us. Both his parents and grandparents cultivated fields of strawberries in Michi gan. Today, he carries on the family tradition at his home on Chena Hot Springs Road. He harvests about 100 quarts of strawberries annually.

Rudy recommends you pick a sunny area to establish your strawberry patch. Remember, plants are dependent upo n their environment. Sun exposure, temperature, humidity and soil composition are some very important factors that may vary with your individual locations. After your soil has been tested to determine what sort of fertilizer is recommended, apply your f ertilizer. Then, your new crowns should be planted 18 inches apart. You should keep in mind to try and keep your strawberry rows into which you plant your strawberries at least two feet wide, using a matted row technique in a flat bed. Rudy recommends planting your strawberry rows 6 feet apart. This makes it easy to get in between the rows with either a rototiller or hoe for weed control. A herbicide called Dachthal is useful on weeds, if applied early enough in the season. You can apply a liquid fe rtilizer such as Rapid Gro or 10-522-17, when the first leaves start appearing.

Strawberry mites can be controlled by using a miteacide such as Calthane applied every seven to ten days before the immature flowers open. Benalate is a fungicide that is used to control mildew and fungus diseases. Leaf problems created by mold can be controlled by Zenab. Use Zenab if your leaves look brown and are spotted purple.

In late May you should keep your patch moist. Be sure to set in a good watering syste m before the flowers come out. Remember, strawberry growing is like growing any fruit. With yearly care the plants produced one year will be next years fruit! Do not fertilize during the time when the fruits are being set. After the fruit has set you can continue to fertilize them until the end of August, since the runner plants created this year will be next year's producers.

As you establish your strawberry patch, you can grub out a few of the old plants annually. This will make a place for new plants to start to heavily produce next year.

Plants will survive as long as they are dormant in ground temperature that does not fall below 20deg.F. Although air temperatures may drop to -50deg.F in the sub-Arctic, ground temperatures will seldom fa ll below 20deg.F because of the accumulation of snow on top. So, according to Rudy, mulching in the fall is not necessary. The year he did mulch, the mice enjoyed the haven of straw covering the plants and ate up a great percentage of his plants!

Fo r further information on growing perennial strawberries, get publication P34, "Strawberries in Alaska," from the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension office.

'Everbearing' Strawberries*

*Reference: University of Al aska Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardening Class with Wayne Vandre, horticulturist. Interview with Don Schell, Ann Lillian Schell and Gordon Herried. Cooperative Extension pamphlet "Growing Everbearing Strawberries as Annuals in Alaska."

Tod ay I thought it might be appropriate to go through the highly successful technique of growing everbearing strawberries as annuals in Fairbanks, Alaska, a true sub-Arctic city.

In the late 1970s Don Dinkel, Pat Wagner and Grant Matheke from the Univers ity of Alaska's Agricultural Experimental Station developed a technique for high yields of strawberries. Circular 35 available at the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Office, goes through the technique in wonderful detail.

The technique is to grow high-yielding, everbearing strawberries called Quinault with a clear polyethylene mulch and row covers. The method has created an interest to such commercial growers as Gordon Herreid, who had six acres of 40,000 Quinault berries planted last yea r. He had enough strawberries to have people come and pick their own from the latter part of July until frost hit in September.

Don Schell and Ann Lillian Schell have also been growing Quinaults for a few years and have found them to be 20 percent sweeter than the perennial berries, such as Pioneer or Toklat.

The Quinault berry is actually a perennial strawberry that comes from California. However, in the sub-Arctic it has to be treated as an annual. This means you have to plant it each year. The plants are inexpensive enough to buy annually for the lovely return you get in the late summer. It is truly incredible we are able to have such a bounty with our normal 90 day growing season here in Fairbanks.

The sy stem involves planting nursery plants each season, as early as possible, through clear polyethylene mulch (1.5 mil) and using row covers of the same material at the early part of the season.

Harvest will begin in the m iddle part of July and extend until freeze-up. By using the polyethylene mulch method, the fruit is always clean and easy to pick. The harvest season can be extended in the fall by again using the row covers for frost protection. Don Dinkel mentioned y ou can get about 13 tons of strawberries per acre!

Home gardeners can obtain Quinaults from local nurseries, retail catalogs or commercial growers.

As early as possible in the spring your gardening area should be fertilized with 10-20-20 fertilize r at the rate of 1,500 pounds per acre, rototilled and raked smooth. A twin-wall drip irrigation system should be laid above the ground on each bed. Soaker hoses will work; your weed problems will be worse, however. A herbicide such as Premerge, Dachth al or Teneron can be used to fight the weeds that grow under the polyethylene. You should wait 10 to 14 days before transplanting your strawberry plants into soil treated with the herbicide.

The row cover system consists of a 4 foot wide sheet of 1.5 mil clear polyethylene for the mulch and two 3 foot wide, 1.5 mil, clear polyethylene sheets for the side covers.

About 6 inches of plastic on each edge must be covered with soil to anchor the sheets, leaving the inner edge of the 3-foot sheets free. Wire hoops are inserted inside and the side sheets brought up over the hoops to form a tunnel. Twelve-gauge construction wire, cut into 6 foot lengths, are placed in the row at about 5-foot intervals.

This allows for 1 foot of wire on each end to be inserted into the ground. When placed in the beds, they make an arch 30 inches wide and 18 inches high.

Placing all hoops at the same height along the row produces a more wind resistant cover than if the height and width varies very much. Side cover s can then be fastened at any height on the wire with pinch-type clothespins or binder clips that you can buy at any office supply house. The side covers are rolled all the way down until the plants are planted in the beds. Then, the sides are put up wi th only a 1- to 2 inch opening at the top for the first two to three weeks after planting.

Transplanted strawberries are placed in a diagonal arrangement so that about 30 plants can be planted in a 10-foot length. Each plant occupies about a foot squ are of space. A bulb planter, well sharpened, is used to make planting holes. A single plant is placed in each hole and soil filled in around the plant so that the crown of the strawberry is at the normal planting depth and the roots adequately covered. After transplanting, plants should be watered both from the top and under the plastic mulch with the drip irrigation system.

Because of a gray mold that forms on the berries after long periods of wet weather, Gordon Herried uses Benlate to combat th e problem. He dips the whole plant in a Benlate solution before he plants it. You can spray Benlate every couple of weeks to combat the problem. Herried also uses a propane torch with a copper pipe welded on the end to melt the polyethylene above the p lanted strawberry plants underneath, instead of using scissors. This is a great way to accomplish the task when you have 40,000 plants planted!

When the plants begin to flower vigorously, it is necessary to let the sides down further so that the inse cts can pollinate the flowers. If the sides are left up a few inches, some protection is provided from the wind. A slightly warmer temperature is obtained for the strawberries by doing this. You don't have to pick off any of the runners throughout the growing season.

It is important to keep the soil moist in order to obtain larger plant size and the highest yield. It is very important to water your strawberry patch once a week during the warm season.

When the plants begin to fruit heavily, the y should be fertilized through the irrigation system with a soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20, 9-35-15 or 10-20-10. If water or fertilizer is inadequate, the fruit size and yield will drop dramatically.

Have fun with your strawberry patches, whethe r it be annual or perennial types.

Harness the Sun Against Cold Soils*

*Reference: University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardening Class with Wayne Vandre, horticulturist.

Certain advantag es and disadvantages come with gardening in the sub-Arctic.

The advantages are there are fewer insect varieties than in any other part of the United States and long summer days. While near-perfect for plant growth, longer days can also cause bolting in some varieties of spinach or radishes. It is always best to get the recommended types of vegetable seed that has been field-tested at the University of Alaska Experimental Station.

On the other hand, gardeners have to deal with cold soils.

Soil warming techniques permit growing of such warm-season crops as corn, pumpkins, other squash, string beans or Quinault strawberries.

There are three ways to deal with cold soils: raised beds, ridges, and the use of clear polyethylene film.

* A ra ised bed, which uses a framework of boards or other materials, increases soil drainage and allows for faster warming by the sun..

A wet soil is a cold soil, especially in these spring days. To speed up warming, use polystyrene boards to insulate th e raised beds from the ground. However, remember to allow for drainage.

* A ridge increases drainage and warming by elevating the garden box to an angle.

Construction of the ridge is important. The long axis of the ridge should be as close to no rth-south as possible to allow for equal exposure of both sides during the day. The sides of the ridge should be close to 45 degrees. This allows the sun's rays to strike the surface at close to a 90 degree angle for most efficient soil warming.

The width of the ridge should be sufficient to allow for growth of plants and to allow the plants to be placed away from the edge where soil drying occurs first.

The sides of the soil enclosed should be 10 to 12 inches high to effectively raise the soil temperature. The mound should b 12 inches across the top, wide enough to plant two rows. If the bed is too narrow, the mound will dry out very quickly. The wider beds will warm more slowly. A constant warmer temperature with an adequate level of soil moisture will produce a healthy and mature crop earlier.

* Clear Visqueen or poly-film, which traps heat between the plastic and soil, is especially recommended for the sub-Arctic.

Black plastic, used in other parts of the United States is not re commended here because it blocks the sun's rays and may even result in soil cooling. Black plastic or Tea cloth does work well in keeping down weeds in flower beds and with such Cole crops as broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi or cauliflower.

The Visqueen do es not have to be heavy: 1.5 to 2.0 mil is satisfactory. Prepare the soil, fertilize and plant the seed as you normally would. Pick up "The 16 Easy Steps to Gardening in Alaska," from the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Office.

Be sure to release the seedlings, such as string beans or any other broad leafed plants, from under the plastic as soon as they emerge from the soil. If they remain under it, they will scorch and die. The exception is sweet corn, which can remain under the plastic until it is 4-6 inches tall.

Clear plastic is also used in row tents, as discussed in gardening information about growing everbearing strawberries in the sub-Arctic. This method increases air temperature, facilitates plant growth and protects plan ts from chilling.

Don't forget about winds when constructing a row tent, or you might find it draped over your neighbor's fence or tree one day.

Pumpkin Patch*

*Reference: Interview with Robert Fox. Pumpkin article in the American Horticulturist Magazine.

This week, let's go from the cabbage patch into the pumpkin patch.

The other day I talked with local gardener Robert Fox, whose pumpkins last year seemed to inflate like rubber life rafts. His champion pum pkin weighed in at 651/2 pounds at the Tanana Valley Fair.

The terms squash and pumpkin are confused at times and not applied with precision. The pumpkin is the name given to the fruits of certain varieties of Cucurbita pepo. The name squash, as use d in North America, refers to various varieties of Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata and Cucurbita Pepo

For bigger and better growth, Robert starts his seed around the first of May. He indicated if you start them any sooner, they will be too hard t o transplant into the garden. He sets his pumpkins into the garden after they have lavished in his greenhouse, watering them with 80deg.F water and fertilizing them frequently with applications of 10-52-10.

In the garden, he provides them with a poly ethylene tent windbreak which offers them protection from the annual June winds that can burn and dry out tender leaves. This hardening-off period lasts for about a week to 10 days. The plants are grown through 1.5 mil clear polyethylene, which helps war m the cold soils.

Next year Robert is going to insulate his growing area with Styrofoam. Beyond this he says the pumpkins need plenty of sunlight. A white board placed behind the plants, which grow on the south side of his home reflects heat to thep lants.

The pumpkin plant needs well-drained soil and plenty of room. They need water daily and fertilizer every other day. Robert grows only one pumpkin plant to a given area, which is filled with composed material made of aged horse manure or cow m anure and other organic material. The University of Alaska Experimental farm applies 10-20-20 to their soil before rototilling their pumpkin patch.

It is a myth that pumpkins can be milk-fed by cutting off the branch tips and keeping them in a dish o f milk. Maintaining the vigor of the vines is most important.

Robert got his first blossom on June 14. When his baby pumpkin was 5-8 inches in diameter, he pruned away the ends of the vine so all the energy would go into his young whopper.

You ca n't just walk away from your pumpkin patch . You have to water and fertilize it regularly to make it gain about a pound per day. The pumpkin vines grasp out into our sub-Arctic summers to grow six inches or more in 48 hours.

Robert pays attention to the "knees" of the vine, which are knobby junctures in the vine where tendrils reach down into the soil and anchor the plant firmly. These tendrils then fan out into a sort of secondary root system. The pumpkins are a thirsty plant and can drink gallons of water a day.

In order to grow enormous pumpkins, you have to start with the right seed. Stokes Seed Company (5008 Stokes Building, Buffalo, NY 142240) has the Connecticut Field pumpkin seed, which can grow into 20-pound pumpkins in Fairbanks, Ala ska. Gurney Seed and Nursery Co. in Yankton, SD 57079 has the Atlantic Giant type of pumpkin squash that can grow to more than 400 pounds in some areas of the eastern United States.

Whatever kind of pumpkin you decide to grow, enjoy the fantastic e xperience.



4/28/95 - gardener@polarnet.com
Copyright © 1995 Pat Babcock