Hot Springs Gardening of Yore

There are several hot springs around Alaska and most have been used at one time or another for gardening. The ground around the springs usually stays frost-free year-around and the warm water was used for irrigation.

One example is Pilgram Hot Springs (originally called Kruszgamepa Hot Springs) which is located on the left bank of the Pilgrim River some 60 road miles north of Nome. In the days of gold mining on the Seward Peninsula (1989-1918), the property was a recreation center for miners attracted by its spa baths, saloon, dance hall and roadhouse. A fairly large area around the hot springs is free of permafrost and was used for gardening/agriculture starting in the 1890’s. First the produce fed the miners in and around Nome. Then the roadhouse and saloon burned down in 1908 and the property was giving to Father Lafortune who turned the ranch into a mission and orphanage around the time of the 1918 influenza epidemic. Now the farm and gardens of the mission helped to make it, in large part, self-supporting.

Gardening was conducted around other hot springs in Alaska as well. The below images are from Manley Hot Springs from around the same era.


Corn needs warmer soil temperatures than we currently have in Alaska (outside of the hot springs areas that is) but according to work done by Nicole Swenson for her master’s project the soil temperatures in Alaska are predicted to rise. She used SNAP projected air temperature data in a modified soil thermal flux model and projected soil temperatures to the end of the century. So corn might become a viable crop in these latitudes in the not so distant future.

And below is an image from an interior view of a greenhouse in the Tanana Valley (if you look closely you can see a squash with “Caro Hot Springs” carved onto its surface):


Vegetables, Tanana Valley, Alaska.
Photo credit: Wickersham State Historic Site. Photographs, 1882-1930s. ASL-PCA-277.


Things are growing in the garden

Despite the non-existent spring this year, the summer has been fabulous for growing things. Lots of zucchini, of course, but also strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, herbs and lot of other things. Check out the latest pictures from the UAF Community Garden:


(click to go to the photo album on our Facebook page)

Weekend Work Party

Lots of gardeners came out last weekend and helped to get the garden ready for the summer. We now have 102 garden plots and there are 11 plots that are still unreserved (so if you still want a plot, make your reservations now). We also extended the fence and installed the water tanks.


(click to go to the photo album on our Facebook page)

The soil was obtained from Great Northwest and is a 70/30 gardening mix (70% peat and 30% sand). All that is left for the gardeners to do is add some organic compost to the mix. It takes about 2-20 lb bags of composted manure per gardening plot (one option is composted steer manure from Lowe’s for $2.50/bag, another is compost from the Wastewater Treatment Plant for $20 a truck load). Adding compost helps the growth of the plants and retain soil moisture (cutting down on watering requirements). To determine which manure is best, the soil can be tested with a soil testing kit or by dropping off a soil sample for testing at the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District (FSWCD).

The Fairbanks SWCD publishes a poster with all the relevant soils in the Fairbanks area (To download the large format .pdf just click on the picture below):

Soils of the Fairbanks Area

The resource page for Alaska soils at the UAF Cooperative Extension Service is located here, and the page at the Fairbanks SWCD is located here

“It’s-finally-spring” Garden Update


(click on image for more pictures)

The snow in the gardening plot has almost fully disappeared and the ground has started to dry out. And it’s warm outside. Time to start getting serious about prepping the garden and thinking about planting 🙂

So next weekend is the Botanical Garden Annual Plant sale (May 17) and our garden work party (May 18 & 19)! Please come on out and help if you can. We are going to re-plumb the water tank, build additional planting boxes, extend the fence and do general clean up. Meet your fellow gardeners, enjoy the sunshine and an after-work BBQ!


How hardy do your plants need to be?

Alaska Hardiness The USDA has been publishing Plant Hardiness Zone maps for a while now and the one on the left is for Alaska (click to enlarge). Typing in the zip code for our campus garden (99775) the plant hardiness zone is determined to be 2a : -50 to -45 (F). So that numbers gives us the coldest temperatures for the region which is useful for perennials but not necessarily for annuals. Most seed packets have the information printed on the back and also tell one when to plant the seeds based on the zone. Problem is that starting your seeds following those recommendations does not take the last spring frost in the area into consideration (article here). So here we are getting some help from NOAA who compiles data to determine the average last spring frost with accompanying probabilities. And for Fairbanks (at the College Observatory on campus), the date at which the probability is 10 or less that the temperature drops below 32F is June 7. (The date at the airport in Fairbanks is March 23, quite a bit earlier.) Unfortunately, that information is a bit old as the averages are calculated from data between 1981 and 2005. And since the climate has been changing, this date should be taken with a grain of salt but gives a ballpark to go by.

Square Foot Gardening

SquareFootGardenThis technique is useful for limited space in your garden and more intensive than planting in rows. The layout of the garden is done in a grid of 1-foot by 1-foot squares (examples here). That gives us here at the UAF Community Garden 48 squares in our 12′ x 4′ planting boxes.


The spacing for different plants can be found here and more info on different vegetables here. Or check out the visual graphic below:


Other things to consider: space can be further maximized by putting root vegetable next to leafy vegetable as one needs more space underground and the other above ground (you might also want to consider plant compatibility). Furthermore, once a crop matures and gets harvested, another can be planted in its place later in the season. Here is a list of vegetable varieties that do well in Alaska. And maybe you want to consider some flowers as well?!

And finally here is a pdf with more info on organic square-foot-gardening.