Edible Perennials for Anchorage

backyardI am filling in my back yard with fruit and berry trees. So far I have 2 Norland apples, one Parkland apple, one Hyer-20 apple, one hardy (Arctic) kiwi (well – 2 actually – a male and female planted together), 2 Redlake currants, one Pixwell gooseberry, one Smokey saskatoon, various unknown strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. My recent additions are a Summercrisp pear, which will need a pollinator, a Northstar pie cherry, and Compass and Black diamond cherry-plums. The trees come from Arctic Organics (local apples – at the downtown farmers market), Bell’s Nursery, Alaska Mill and Seed, and one apple that I grafted myself last year at the Pioneer Fruit Growers event (by far the cheapest way to go at $10 for 2 trees, one of which made it…so far). I also need to put in an order with St. Lawrence Nurseries. Among other things, I need a mate for my pear and some experimental (for Alaska) Hazelberts (hazel/filberts).

On many maps we are borderline hardiness zones 3/4 here. I have seen 4 listed as Anchorage’s official hardiness zone, and all my trees are 4 or better. I just typed in my zip on a site to find your updated hardiness zone (Arbor day foundation updated them with more recent data in 2006) and got a 5. That may be stretching it, but certainly we are heading that way. By most accounts, and I believe it, we’re not gonna escape warming of about 4 Celsius. At least. Of course, there are still some issues – our days won’t get any longer in winter or shorter in summer (barring a highly unlikely shift of the rotational axis of the Earth!), so we still have photoperiod adaptation issues. Our ground temperature won’t match that of places further south, so cold and shallow roots will still be something to pay attention to. Our summer growing season will lengthen, but not so much that anything goes. Varieties that can bloom, set and ripen fruit – chop-chop – quickly, will still be necessary. But I think it may pay to plant a broad variety of species, some of which are currently considered marginal; or cold hardy enough, but too long a season needed for bearing. Adaptation. Sigh. I’ll keep trying to burn less carbon too. Drier springs, the stress to native forests, and more variable, intense weather that may include some lower lows with the higher highs and unpredictable snow-cover (which can make or break a perennial’s winter) mean that climate change is not, truly, a northern gardener’s friend.

As for my growing brood of fruiting bodies – we’ll see how they do. I am discovering that my soil needs some work. Most of the yard is rocky at best, even with decent fertility (as evidenced by lush grass and dandylion and plaintain – which indicates well balanced/fertile soil). The pear and cherry went into a part of the yard that apparently had to be brought up to grade. A razor-thin organic layer holds dandylions, some grass, toadflax. Below this it is compacted sand for a few inches and then chunks of waste concrete! I dug the tree holes extra big. I mixed in a bit of the better and loamier soil from another part of the yard, and some half-decayed leaves (the only organic matter readily available). I will try to add extra nitrogen sources to counteract these decaying leaves this year – including the clover I planted as base mulch. I also need to get a bunch of manure and dig it in around the perimeter. Every year I will try to widen the area I have loosened and amended so that the roots don’t get potted inside the hard sand. That is, if these guys make it through this winter! At least the worms are everywhere in the soil – huge fleshy ones and little, naked pink ones. The trees make me happy. I am planting things in makeshift guilds – clover and peas around the trunks for nitrogen and mulch, strawberries in the outer leaf-mulch ring to grow into a permanent ground cover, berry bushes close by, siberian peabush between trees for nitrogen fixing and food (the peas) for the eventual chickens. My paltry annual beds are in sheetmulch beds, some attached to the mulch ring of the trees. I am whittling away the lawn! Somehow I am managing, with a lot of help from the kid, to keep most of it low with the scythe, no other mowing has been done this summer. There is still about again as much planting and sheet-mulching as I have done for next year, then perhaps we’ll be more into a longer-term maintenance/improvement cycle.

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