TIPS: Getting ready to garden

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Alaskans--like many Americans--are eager to garden this year. Many are relating it to the COVID-19 crisis and the desire for a little more food security.

"I think it's essential to get back to some of the basics and grow your own, to learn to do that," says Sheila Macias, garden class instructor with Alaska Mill & Feed. "It never hurts to have some backup food or some raspberries in the freezer, just something to help extend your grocery budget."

Macias also says if you're beginning have fun with it.

"Choose a few seeds from things that you'd like to try. If they fail, try again, don't be disappointed, just try again. Or buy some starts at the garden if you're not brave enough to start from seed," says Macias.

Though Memorial Day weekend is the traditional time for planting outside (in Anchorage), there is plenty to do ahead of time. Macias says to clean up the garden and amend the soil with compost or fertilizer if needed and start hardening off your plants.

"Hardening off is a process of bringing your plants outside, exposing them to the sun, the wind, the outside temperatures and it truly changes the cell structure of the plant and it hardens the stem and skin if you will of the plant," says Macias. "So it's the process of bringing them out maybe three hours the first day, four hours the next day, maybe six hours. If it's windy or chilly that day, be careful where you put them, keep them closer to the house." Macias says you want to harden off your plants for five or six days.

Other veggies can be sown directly into the garden and can go in once the soil is workable, including carrots, peas, beets.

Macias says, "In the garden beds, you can grow anything that's about 70 days. If you look on the seed packet and it has 70 days to mature, you can do that." Using a greenhouse can extend the growing season. "I do well with carrots and beets, a lot of root crops. Potatoes, we know, do really well here in Alaska... There is a lot that you can grow that would help make a salad on your table or provide some potatoes next to your steak."

Not only will you be able to eat fresh from the garden, Macias says there are more rewards.

"It's the fun of watching things grow," she says. "It's the gratification of the seed germinating, come up in the soil, getting it into the garden bed than being able to eat something you've grown yourself. It's really gratifying to me. I mix flowers in here, marigolds for the bugs, different things, we'll snap off lemon marigolds for the salad. There's just that gratification of eating something that you've grown yourself besides the fact it helps with the grocery bill."

Alaska's growing season is short so Macias says if you haven't started seeds yet, you'll want to go with plants that germinate and mature quickly, like radishes and some lettuces. Most garden stores also have plants start so you can catch up and be ready to plant near Labor Day.

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