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Land of the midnight sun

Sunlight casting its spell in spring as the daylength increases...
Sunlight casting its spell in spring as the daylength increases...Di Braun

Here in Anchorage, gardeners face a problem most plant lovers in the rest of the world never face... upwards of 21-22 hours of daylight during the height of the growing season! The unique latitude of gardens in Northern climes, means the tilt of Earth's axis toward the sun in the summer extends our daylight far beyond that of gardeners in the lower 48. Combined with the mild climate provided by the warm Japanese Current flowing across the equatorial latitudes and swirling up along the coast of the U.S. and Canada, these factors create quite unique growing conditions in South Central Alaska.

Though cool-season crops perform quite well (check out the record-setting heads of cabbage from Mat-Su Valley) and root crops are usually reliable in this area (carrots, potatoes, turnips, beets, radishes and parsnips are staples in local gardens) it can be down-right frustrating to grow heat-lovers like tomatoes, corn, squash, peppers and eggplant that are easy subjects in gardens elsewhere in the world.

LONG days can be used to your advantage in growing heat-loving crops if you use just a little fore-thought in planning your garden. Though extra daylight means you have to cut the lawn twice as often... weekly or twice a week if there's considerable sunlight during the summer, it can also mean shade plants that normally thrive in our climate can suffer from overexposure to light. Fortunately, by July we're usually "enjoying" a monsoon season, so it's rarely sunny for multiple days in a row, but all the same, xcess daylight is not a problem most gardeners ever cope with.

To use our long Alaskan days to your advantage when growing heat-lovers, shelter them in some way from the elements. Tattering winds, pelting rain and cool temperatures can be blocked by growing such plants in a greenhouse, surrounding them with wall-o-waters, simply draping them with plastic over a frame of some kind, and you can even mulch your garden with black plastic to absorb extra heat units from the available sunlight, thereby speeding the metabolism of growing vegetables.

Raised beds are also an effective method of speeding a garden along during the long days of summer. The extra height and exposure mean the soil in raised beds heats up faster and drains better than surrounding soil. It is often to your advantage to build a raised bed to minimize the shading by nearby trees and fences as well. More sunlight, means better growth for nearly all garden vegetables.

A good rule of thumb for light requirements is to grow any vegetables that put on fruit in full sun. As odd as that sounds, any vegetable that contains seeds surrounded by flesh of some kind are true fruits. Therefore tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, melons and the like are all really fruits and need full sun to thrive. However, vegetables that are roots or stems, such as taters, turnips, celery, broccoli or the like can be encouraged to maturity in less ideal conditions. (You might notice the list of root and stem vegetables coincides with a list of what grows well in Anchorage gardens!)

Either way, it's wise to have your garden planted and thriving in all other capacities by the time our long summer days arrive, that way, you get the full benefit of the extra daylight. To a lesser degree all gardeners can use the longer days of summer to maximize their gardening efforts.

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