As a post-apocalyptic fiction writer, I’m all too aware that Alaska may not be the ideal place to live if the world goes belly up. We ship in over 95% of our food. Our growing season is a meager 101 days here in the Anchorage Bowl, and even shorter further north. Then there is the issue of ripening fruit in summer temperatures that may never go above sixty-eight. But in spite of the challenges, I manage to supplement my family’s food supply with hundreds of pounds of potatoes, gallons of pickling cucumbers (in a greenhouse,) and lots of everything in-between.
Right now I’m picking apples. I have 23 fruit trees on my half-acre lot, and last year I harvested enough to make 10 quarts of pie filling and 15 gallons of cider, not to mention what we ate out of hand. Alaskans must grow what are generally considered “summer” apples; if they ripen in August down south, they ripen in September up here. And by mid-September, we usually have a killing frost. No Fuji for us. We grow a lot of Yellow Transparent, Rescue Crab, Parkland, and Norland. (My favorite is Parkland.) The apples aren’t huge, and they don’t store well, but they survive and ripen in our unique conditions. And I make a mean, hard cider to help us keep warm on those frigid winter nights. ;)
Hardiness zones are only one step on a long path of survival for plants in Alaska, because zone 3 in Minnesota is very different from a zone 3 up here. For one thing, our long hours of daylight fool a lot of trees; they swell flower buds in early May before the last hard frost, or they don’t shed leaves in September when snow is just around the corner. Secondly, our winters are capricious. In the middle of January, a Chinook wind often carries in a few days of forty or fifty degree temperatures, fooling trees into thinking spring has arrived. They happily start sap flowing to the branches, only to freeze and rupture when temperatures plummet below zero when the wind shifts. Growers up here call this a “test winter,” and every new plant variety is on trial until it has survived one of these. I’ve lost more trees than I’ve planted.
This is not a comprehensive list of the challenges we face. So why do I keep trying to garden under such extreme conditions? I think I like the challenge. If I can coax enough plants to survive and feed me, I feel like I can make it if disaster hits. I guess you could say Alaskans themselves are on trial, and only the hard-core people stick it out. But you know, I think we may survive the zombie apocalypse. I hear zombies don’t move well in the cold.
--Tam Linsey writes speculative romance as well as gluten free cookbooks. You can learn more about her at www.tamlinsey.com