By Lilly Milman

The warmer and drier weather this season has helped boost production at Jewell Gardens and the size of produce at Lazy Daisy Farm, although it also has meant constant care.

Jessica Blinman, who started as produce manager at the Gardens last summer, grew up gardening in California and is no stranger to this type of climate. She combats the effects of the hotter temperatures — specifically in the hoop house, a type of greenhouse that traps the sun’s heat — by watering the plants more frequently and “babying” them more.

“The warmer weather doesn’t really trip me out so much,” she said. “Actually, I really feel like it’s done a lot of positive. Some of it, I mean. We’ve had a lot of prolific growth.” 

Christine Ellis, born and raised in Skagway, is self-taught and began Lazy Daisy Farm a few years ago after experimenting with a home garden and working in landscaping. While she mostly grows cold-weather crops that have not grown as well in this year’s climate, she has noticed that certain crops like zucchini and carrots are larger than ever before.

“I can’t pick them fast enough to sell them, so they are turning into these monstrous things,” Ellis said. “One of our biggest challenges is Mother Nature. She throws curveballs every year.” 

July was Alaska’s warmest month ever, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not all curveballs are harmful, though. Ellis has been able to grow corn for the second year in a row, despite the fact that experienced farmers told her it would be impossible without a greenhouse in the typical Southeast Alaska climate. She will be harvesting the corn next week — three weeks earlier than she did last year, she said.

Blinman grew up helping her father in his garden and later volunteered at an ashram where all the food was served farm-to-table. In addition, she has experience working in landscaping and in a botanical garden.

One method that Blinman has successfully implemented this year is companion planting, or planting different crops in close proximity to each other to maximize the use of space and increase productivity. Maximizing production is one of her goals as produce manager. 

“We’ve been really trying to push for doing more production,” she said. “Before this, it was not really as much of a priority. For me, it is. I’m really, really passionate about this. I would love it if Poppies (the on-site Jewell Gardens restaurant) was 100 percent farm-to-table and that’s what I want to strive for. I think over time we’ll be able to work at it more and be able to have records and see how much we can really grow because I know we can grow a lot.” 

The farm-to-table model is largely informing how Blinman manages the produce grown at Jewell Gardens, she said. She prioritizes Poppies, but also sells extra produce to other restaurants around town like Olivia’s Bistro, the Station Bar & Grill and Happy Endings Saloon. Anyone in town can purchase fresh produce at the biweekly Farm Stand Friday event at Jewell Gardens, as well as at Garden City Market. Last year, Skagway School received a grant to purchase local produce from the Gardens, and Blinman is hopeful that the partnership will continue in the future.

Lazy Daisy Farm is a much smaller operation. Ellis does not work with other business in town because she does not produce enough crops, she said. One of the challenges for Ellis is predicting the demand from week to week, as her farm stand only operates from Saturday to Monday, and she cannot anticipate the turnout, she said. Whatever she doesn’t sell, she either takes home or composts.

To minimize waste at Jewell Gardens, Blinman gives the produce that she doesn’t sell to the staff. Any produce that is too damaged to sell or is spoiled is put into the large compost heap that helps create soil for the following year.

Anyone looking to learn about farming is encouraged to reach out to Blinman at Jewell Gardens to volunteer. No experience is necessary. She is always looking to teach anyone who wants to get their hands dirty and return home with some produce, she said.

Ellis does not grow her carrots in a hoop house — a type of greenhouse that stores the sun’s heat and is cooled by the wind — unlike Jewell Gardens. Jessica Blinman helps keep the temperature inside the hoop house low by opening the doors at times. (Photos by Lilly Milman)