Our NRCS High Tunnel Program update

As part of our high tunnel program results report to the NRCS, I decided to create a post with LOTS of pictures from this gardening season.  We had a few setbacks early on this spring; health issues and a vehicle accident (no serious injury) caused a very late start on getting the high tunnels up and running.  We didn’t get things planted till very late May and into June.  But, we got ‘er done.  Because we had to move soil for the house high tunnel (hht), we ended up with very sandy, rocky soil to plant in.  That was a bit discouraging, but we followed the NRCS soil enhancement recommendations and hoped for the best.   We rented a rototiller to incorporate the lime and fertilizer into the beds.

Craig Smith, Alaska State Agronomist, knows his stuff.  Despite the late start in planting, the hht did pretty well.  We planted potatoes, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, summer squash, a variety of herbs, purple snap beans and we had red and golden raspberries already on the site.

Coming up is a photo tour of our house high tunnel garden for 2015.  Hope you enjoy it!

Early spring.  The frame was finished fall, 2014, but beds are not moved yet.


Beds are redone in the right place.  From the left, potatoes are up (Magic Molly, Peanut, and All Blue).  The next bed (with the red frames) has Sun Gold tomatoes and one Stupice tomato plant.  Past the tomatoes are a couple of cucumber plants, a bed of Calendula flowers, purple snap beans, four hills of summer squash, and raspberries.  Next row (3rd from left) are herbs and sugar snap peas.  The far right bed has potatoes; German Butterball, Party, Red, Peanut, and Yukon Gold.


Watering is a big issue with so much planted.  Curt set up a drip irrigation system that runs from the pumphouse.  We had two soaker hoses in each bed; will probably do three for each bed next year.  You can see Curt working on the pea trellis in this photo and also see the potatoes on the far right bed.  The green board you see running along the side of the hht is about 4-1/2 feet high.  We have monster potato plants!IMG_1091

Potatoes on the left side.  They’ve started sprawling from their weight and height, and they are blooming.  I think potato blossoms are beautiful.  (You cn see the side is rolled up about 2-1/2 feet for ventilation.  We had no problems with overheating or mildew this year.)   We also found that leaving some of the chickweed in the beds helped retain moisture.  (a living mulch?)  When I removed it, the dried out faster, so we started leaving it alone once the plants were big enough to not be choked out.  I also use some of the weeds in herbal infusions.




Riley in the hht, potatoes on the left, Calendula on the right.  Beans just behind the Calendula.

riley in the high tunnel

Sun Gold tomatoes.  Best flavor ever!


Some of our herbs.


Couldn’t resist this shot.  Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (along with lavender, tarragon and basil) (You’re singing now aren’t you?)




Leaf lettuce and basil.  These were scattered throughout the hht.


Purple beans and raspberries.


Moving along to harvest.  From the back, German Butterball, Party, Peanut, Red and Yukon Golds.


Other side. Some of the Peanuts and All Blue. (I do see a Magic Molly in there, too.)


How about these Red potatoes?


Some of the purple beans.


Using our loot!  Roasted chicken with homegrown herbs, potatoes, and snap bean in the glass dish.


Tomatoes in various stages of ripening.  The smaller are Sun Golds, and the larger are Stupice.  Both yummy!

tomatoes 7.2015

New potatoes.  Peanuts and Magic Mollys

first potatoes 7.2015

Homegrown salad with buttercrunch and Forellenschluss lettuce, baby carrtos, and SunGold tomatoes.

garden salad 7.2015

The perfect meal.  Freshly caught and herb-grilled Red Salmon from the Talkeetna River, with yellow and purple potatoes.

salmon and potatoes july 2015

The hht with the end and side open for ventilation.  The horses mowing the grass.


Lovely taters!

I wanted to share some of the beautiful potatoes we grew this year.  (I read The Martian and we saw the movie yesterday.  I’ll never think of potatoes again without thinking of Mark Watney!)

For breakfast this morning.  From the left, Yukon Gold and German Butterball, Peanut (in the middle), top right is Cherry Red, and lower right is Party.

taters not cut 2015

Here they are cut (with All Blue on the left and Magic Molly (purple, almost black).  Peanut at the top, Party have the pink streaks, German Butterball lower right, Yukon Gold lower left, All Blue left, and the purple-black in the center is Magic Molly.

beautiful taters cut 2015

Soon to be sauteed with sweet onions and eggs.  Deelicious!

beautiful taters 2015

Soap Challenge September 2015

Another soap challenge, this time using a technique by Clyde Yoshida of Vibrant Soaps in California.  He is quite an artist!  This challenge is hosted by Amy Warden of Greatcakes Soapworks.

I used a bastille recipe to give me time to work with the colors of red, yellow,green and orange against a background of white.  Scented with Them Apples and Home for the Holidays, both from Mad Oils.  Love the way this smells.  Very fresh green apples and a very light cinnamon.  Very Autumn!

My pour was a bit quicker than optimum; I think moving slower would have made it more interesting.  But still beautiful.

apple clyde slide 9.19.15

This is batch #2, scented with Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, and Grapefruit.  Smells intoxicatingly AWESOME!   The pink top was going to go in the soap, but the batter thickened so quickly, the feathery swirls didn’t form.  Love it anyway.

clyde slide sandelwood, blend

Garden and High Tunnels (and rogue moose)

Our major project this year (and the end of last year) was building two 26 X 48 foot high tunnels.  It sounds easy; screw the frames together, set’um up and bolt the whole shebang together.  Hmmm.  Not quite that easy.  Our first big discovery was that Curt and I could not lift a single frame unit.   So, hired a couple guys and Curt and they worked madly last fall to get the frames up by the deadline.  This is the one in the back field, frame is complete!



Here’s the high tunnel by the house, shortly early in the season.



This spring we moved a lot of dirt and rocks while building new beds.  The beds in the high tunnel by the house T the old beds, just moved.  Unfortunately, in moving all that soil a lot of rocks were picked up and now in the beds.  So, we are always picking rocks; it never ends!

House high tunnel.  The pea trellis Curt is working on is 8 feet tall.  The potatoes to the right of the trellis are over 4 feet tall and still growing.  The board running along the side of the high tunnel is 4 feet high.  Sun Gold and Stupice Tomatoes are in the red cages on the left of pic.  My herbs are just past the post with the hoses at the front of the picture.



Some of our early harvest.  Tomatoes, potatoes,  dinner with fresh Talkeetan River Red Salmon, our herb and potatoes.

tomatoes 7.2015first potatoes 7.2015      salmon and potatoes july 2015

Sun Gold Tomatoes, Calendula flowers, and a salad.

IMG_0998     calendula in high tunnel 8.6.15   garden salad 7.2015

The high tunnel in the the back is in the horse pasture.  The soil is very minimal; fine for grass but that’s about it.  We purchased garden soil from Susitna Organics in Wasilla.  Pricey, but high quality with added compost.  I wanted to be able to plant and have something not only grow, but thrive.  We’ve gone the route in the past of using “topsoil” that is mixed locally.  It looks great, but is sterile.  It has no soil structure, no  mycorrhizae, the pH is wrong and it needs fertilizer of some sort.  In short, time-consuming and needs a large infusion of money.  Our plants in the field tunnel are doing very well.  We are eating beautiful beets and beet greens, carrots and lettuce.  We have beautiful Toscano kale, De Cicco broccoli, Romanesco Broccoli and Calabrese broccoli, and Costata Romanesco squash coming.  All heirloom varieties.  If the weather continues to cooperate, we’ll be happy.

We also had a bed of Sugar Snap Peas outside the high tunnel.  Peas do so well outside here.  Sadly, a moose came one night and decimated those peas.  In the process, she also knocked down the pea trellis  which smashed into the raspberries.  Luckily, raspberries are hard to kill.  We do have peas in the high tunnel, so hoping they do well in there.   And lastly (for now), the horses enjoying the grass by the house high tunnel.


Embracing Opposites Soap Challenge July 2015

Sponsored by Greatcakes SoapworksThe idea is to show opposites using soap as the medium and utilizing a log mold and a center divider.

Ohhhhh… I thought and thought and thought some more.  A vision of colors.  Blue on one side and orange (not just any orange but neon orange), and then a  purple neon swirl in the orange and a yellow neon, glow in the dark swirl in the blue side.  (I’m not totally blind yet!)  I envisioned wispy, jubilant swirls of color in dazzling neon glory.  Hmmmm…. Maybe one neon color would have done the job.  I decided on a summery citrus/floral fragrance I’ve used many times, it’s cooperative, and I love it.   I used a predictable Bastille recipe, high in olive oiI,  but also did a significant water discount,and  it moved quicker than I had planned.  OOPS!

Oh my, this began to accelerate.  Not soap on a stick, but working on it.  I don’t scare easy, I’ll tell you, so I continued.   This will not be the wispy, carefree swirls I envisioned, rather  like some weird pop art thing.  Swirls!  Quick, where’s my hanger tool?!?!?  Oops, don’t have a tool for this size mold.  Plan B:  find a spoon!!! Or a knife!!!  Anything!!!   Knife, not ideal, but will work.

Well now, It’s in the mold, and we’ll see tomorrow.

“Here comes the Sun!”   IT IS NEON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT IS BRIGHT!!!!  Definitely when the vision and reality are in different universes.

neon 1

You may wonder if I’m colorblind. No…it only appears that I am. This is an awesome, luscious recipe, it smells beautiful, and it’s glow in the dark neon.  Win-win I’d say!

Here are a few more pics.