The Challenges of Gardening in Alaska

When we first moved to Alaska, we actually thought we were deliberately giving up any dreams of farming and gardening. We had no clue what it was like up here except that it was the arctic and you can’t grow stuff in the arctic, right?

Boy, I am sure glad I was terribly wrong about that! However, coming from Oregon, we did soon discover that the learning curve is steep. And if we wanted to become self-sufficient, it was going to take some serious planning, a whole heap of learning, and ample prayer.

There are some challenges to growing any crop in Alaska that are unique to living in the arctic.


First, our soil is noticeably cooler. Cool soil has advantages but there are also some downsides. Where we live, we have to wait until June 1 to plant just about anything outside in the house garden, partly because our last frost can run until June 1 but also to give the soil time to gather warmth from the sun.

One way to warm the soil is to plant everything in raised beds. Another interesting fact about Alaska is our sun is never overhead, it actually circles us in the sky in the summer, it is never directly over us. Because the sun hits the ground at a slant, raised beds are necessary for most crops, especially warm weather crops.


Another challenge is that our season is very short. Like I said, we can’t even plant outdoors until June 1, but most years, our season is well over by mid-September which makes a very short growing season.

Our short season is partially made up for with our daylight hours. From mid-May until mid-July, we have 24 hours of daylight. It’s glorious! However, daylight sensitive plants like certain spinach will bolt before they are even ready. We are careful to choose plants that will do well with long daylight hours.

Potato harvest
Part of our potato harvest


One thing that you can count on each summer is that summers in Alaska are completely unreliable. Some summers are cool with lots of precipitation, other summers are hot and dry. This makes planning tricky. For instance, on a good summer, we can grow our green beans outside. However, if the summer is cool and wet then green beans must be planted in a greenhouse.

One crop we grow commercially on our farm is cantaloupe. We’re the only commercial cantaloupe growers in the state and we’ve been growing them for eight years. We start the plants inside in March and move them to a big greenhouse in May. We do have to heat the greenhouse at night in May, but by June, it’s always warm enough that we no longer need a heater. We’ve never had a summer that they didn’t produce well for us. Until last year. Last year was very cool and very wet, and we ended up having to clean out the greenhouse mid-June because the plants never rooted and grew. We can’t afford to heat the greenhouse all summer, so we just didn’t have a cantaloupe crop last year. It was a bummer but hopefully that won’t happen again for a while.

*One tip about growing cantaloupe in Alaska, we do three soil warming techniques PLUS we heat the water for them. First, they are in the greenhouse. Second, we put landscape fabric down (partially to control weeds but also to warm the soil). Third, we mound the rows slightly so there is extra heat hitting the sides of the rows. Last year, none of that helped.

Cantaloupe ripening in our greenhouse in Alaska
Here’s a cantaloupe ripening in our greenhouse

However, there are some really cool advantages to growing crops in Alaska.


Okay, that’s not quite true – but we don’t have near the bugs or nuisance critters that are prolific in the lower 48 so that certainly helps the fight. Also, we don’t have moles, gophers, or snakes! (I know snakes don’t hurt your garden, but they scare the bejeezus out of the gardener!)

Many of the diseases that folks in warmer climates are fighting, we simply don’t have to worry about. That’s a blessing for sure!


The first time I planted cabbage here, I planted with Oregon spacing. Haha! I had a disaster of squished cabbages as they thrived in the cooler summer air and grew to GIGANTIC sizes! I’ve learned to plant less than half the number of cabbage, and I still have more than enough.

Giant cabbage
Giant cabbage!

It’s not just cabbage, though. Carrots, broccoli, and other crops that like to bask in our cool sunshine can get huge! It’s pretty fun.

A big onion from our garden in Alaska
Here’s Abbi’s prized onion


Another fun thing about Alaska is that it seems like, even though there are things we can’t grow here like oranges, peaches, and some berries – there’s always another plant that does well up here to replace it! For instance, we do well with Sea Buckthorn Berries – but we can’t grow oranges. That’s okay! The Sea Buckthorns have more Vitamin C, and the trees are gorgeous! Rather than blueberries (which only grow wild in our area, domesticated ones don’t do well), we plant honeyberries and saskatoons that thrive – and have a higher antioxidant count! They are crazy good and we never would have tried them had we not lived in Alaska.

A handful of honeyberries
A handful of honeyberries

Overall, farming and gardening in the arctic is a challenge that’s well worth the effort. We just had to learn how to work with the land and the climate instead of working against it. Now we grow a majority of our food. It’s very possible, even in Alaska!

3.4 5 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dolores Arendall
Dolores Arendall
4 months ago

I enjoyed reading about growing food in Alaska- I believe it would be to cold for me – but be lots of fun to try .

Share lehman's

also by this author


Lehman’s loves to help folks lead a simpler life.  Submit your email address below, and we’ll send new recipes, simple living tips, and announcements to you.

Follow Us

people also enjoyed reading