A Wednesday ritual*. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
*inspired by a great flower site –floret
Our mostly mild winter here in Alaska has been trying to push us into spring. First we are warmer and cloudy, then sunny and cold but the warm and at least partially sunny is coming right around the corner.
The warmer winter this year has allowed us to harvest things like Kale and Leeks all winter long. However it has many of us worried about the effect on the growing number of commercial peony fields and native berry crops. The lack of snow cover with freezing and thawing cycles will extract a toll. It is just a matter of seeing how much once our warmer weather gets here.
A Wasilla peony farmer says he’s worried that recent warm Alaska weather will damage his crop.
Harry Davidson of North Star Peony says that the thaw-freeze cycle could kill the roots of his plants.
He planted about 7,500 roots of the perennials when he started his farm and estimates he’s lost half over the last two winters.
The plants lose thermal protection and when it gets cold again, it kills the roots.
Alaska peony growers last year harvested and sold more than 100,000 stems. Most were shipped out of state.
Our last short spell of cold, down into the single digits, seems to have left this portion of Alaska. The river is flowing, but still ice choked at times. At the same time the ground is slowly thawing, especially in the open areas.
For farmers, seeds and supplies are being ordered. Grow lights and greenhouses are being dusted off. CSA memberships are being offered and Farmers’ Markets organized.
Fishermen follow much the same cycle. Ordering nets and supplies. Outboards and boat engines are overhauled. Upgrades are being finished up. Processors are completing contracts and projected start dates for their plants.
Although many think of Alaska as ‘going quiet’ in the winter months, they are actually filled with a furious set of activities prepping to burst forward in a few short months.
The number of households that are keeping poultry has skyrocketed in the last 5 years. You hear all the time about cities changing their zoning and animal laws to allow for small numbers in a ‘backyard’ flock.
Zoning laws are seldom the reason chickens are not raised here in rural Alaska. Three issues affect our ability to raise chickens out here in Western Alaska: Getting the chicks out here alive in the first place, keeping predators at bay, and, of course, keeping them warm enough in the winter.
Most of us bring the chicks in via mail in the spring. You order weeks in advance and try to guess when the temperatures will be mild enough not to kill them off in transit.
It is most important that you keep them at 90+ degrees for the first 3-5 weeks, as they feather out and can then regulate their body temperature.
Yes, heat lamps can help but I have found if the general room temperature is not at least 75 degrees they will just pile up on top of each other, under the heat lamps, to get warm and your losses will be huge.
When you run your household and business off as much as 70% renewable energy, wind in our case, loading on a few 250W heat bulbs or a 1300-1500 W heat lamp the costs start to rise quickly, making the project less sustainable.
This year we decided to try something a little different, starting the process in the fall.
We got chicks the week before Thanksgiving, during one of the few weeks that had negative temperatures. The pilot on the mail plane was kind enough to make sure the box of babies was kept away from drafts, covered with a blanket and in the warmer area of the plane. As things went a couple, originally from Texas, that were on their way out of the area sat next to the box of chicks coming IN from a Texas hatchery!!
They arrived quickly (less than 4 days) from the hatchery which greatly improves the chances of getting them off to a good start.
The first 2-3 days are the toughest so I have found if I keep them in a box or tub in our house, with a heat lamp or two, we can keep the rate of death to almost nothing. One small complication we found this time is that one of our (new at the time) kitties is a very determined hunter. Now the box or tub must have a screen or metal rack of some type over it at all times or we will find the count down and stray feathers showing up here and there.
Into this adventure almost two months now, all seems to be working well. We have found that our brooder, located in an outbuilding that has electricity but not heat, works well down into the single digits for temperature. It is insulated between the concrete floor and bottom of the chicks, has some insulation on the top and sides and a couple of places for lights, heat or otherwise. We did not hook our 1500W infrared heater up this time and have not used the thermostat to turn off one of the heat lamps just yet.
Given our success this time we hope to use this same method through the summer and into the fall to try to raise more meat birds. They are harder to raise than these replacement layers but we are hopeful we can do it and have another source of meat.
There are number of other issues to consider -like figuring out alternative food sources for the frozen times of the year and housing so they can ‘free range’ once they are feathered out.
The possibilities for having local and ‘fresh’ sources of food seem to be possible, just working to figure out the details to make sure they are sustainable too!!
For those of you who have followed our efforts to address rural issues from the very beginning, you might remember the majority of us hoped we would be able to make a difference, not only in the short-term, but to help find some answers for the long-term, at least on some issues.
Sponsoring a food drive for the hungry year after year was not something we wanted to do. Although it was greatly needed and did help a number of families, and ALL of us will forever be thankful, we did not feel that being just another group with some form of a handout was what was wanted OR needed.
We feel the great majority of people in these great United States prefer to earn their own way and to be as self-sufficient as they possibly can be. This might be contrary to the stereotype, but we have seen it too many times to believe the opposite.
(picture above is of a farmer field in Fairbanks. Amazing bounty and variety)
On that note it has been fantastic to see the food ‘movement’ from the lower 48 and around the world start to reach all the way up here and into the Arctic. A great variety of organizations and individuals have devoted a lot of time and energy to reach out, teach, encourage, offer forums, and other methods to spur all of the activity we have seen in the last 2-3 years towards growing at least a portion of our own food in the state.
Alaska has always had a great dedicated group of people of all types here that make their living by farming. What has been so rewarding in recent times to see their continued interest and support in helping others learn the skills needed to grow food.
Through their industrious efforts they have formed the Alaska Community Agriculture Association which has the following as a mission:
The Alaska Community Agriculture Association is an organization of Alaskans growing crops and livestock for direct sale to the public. Its members are committed to promoting, supporting, and working towards healthy, sustainable local food systems. We want to encourage agricultural practices that benefit our environment, our communities, and our customers.
This offers both new, and established farmers, an organization to work together to gain wider markets, much-needed research, and a variety of other needs. This in turn makes available even more options for healthy, fresh, local foods.
Other efforts have brought about such things as the establishment of the Alaska Grower’s School, which focuses on rural Native, specifically Tanana, residents. However, it is open to all on a space-available basis. Classes are offered via a number of methods, from the Internet and conference calls to guest speakers and even study at your own pace, to help everyone from thevery beginner who wants to farm or garden to out-of-date farmers re-entering the industry. They do this over a course of 22 lessons, sharing great ideas and resources. All this is capped off, for those who complete the beginning, advanced class work and an essay, with a full week of hand-ons on a working farm in Fairbanks. You can follow them on Facebook if you are inclined.
There is now a strong Farm to School program in the State of Alaska. It is not as fully functional as some other states’ programs but it is still just a few years old. The program brings local farm products to our local schools across the state.
This helps our farmers or ‘producers’, (those who do grow food but do not feel they are a ‘regular’ farmer) and our kids. The schoolchildren are introduced to products, often grown near their homes which they might otherwise be unfamiliar with. The taste difference is noticeable and the kids are ‘getting’ that message.
This program is part of a larger national program and an important avenue to increase the nutritional value of the meals our kids get at school, for many the only well-balanced meal of the day.
It strengthens our economy not only on the statewide level but also in our more rural areas. As this effort grows many of us believe you will see foods being supplied from closer and closer sources to all of our schools. Opening up lands not typically thought of as ones suitable to grow foods, makes our state more sustainable but also helps the local villages and their boroughs.
(picture above, Bristol Bay Wild Salmon, huffington post supplied)
On the heels of the Farm to School program Alaska has now started a Fish to School program. This first began in a couple of different school districts back in 2009/2010 and has spread to more villages along our western coast line. Getting our local fish and seafood into the school lunch program is still another way of helping our kids get better meals while also supporting the local businesses.
To help facilitate all of this Alaska also now has a Food Policy Council to assist with the growth of a sustainable food system in Alaska. The council first began working together a couple of years ago to evaluate the present food ‘system’ in Alaska and how they might facilitate the growth and strengthening of it so as to assure ALL Alaskan’s access to healthy, affordable, and local foods.
This is an exciting time to share with you what we are learning and the impact the food movement is beginning to make in our state. (the work the council is doing can take up a number of posts on it own. We will fill you in on some of the happenings in the coming months)
Has it been since July that we last had a new post up? Unbelievable! You can tell most of us just can’t make ourselves sit in front of a computer when so much is happening to share it in as timely of a manner as we would wish.. If we could work out how to clone ourselves for that activity, we are open to suggestions!
Well the weather is getting colder, and the days shorter. Most of us have done the most critical things to prepare for the winter, now we are left with just some of the detail work to be completed.
Over the coming months, as things change pace, but seldom get really ‘slow’, we hope to catch you all up with some of the great things that have been happening across our great state.
Everything from fishery and by-catch issues to our Community Development Quota, CDQ, organizations reviews that are supposed to be coming, we have things to share.
Of the trips taken to learn new things so we can share with those around us. Lots of updates on past discussions are coming.
Village and rural issues that deal with food security, in the widest of views….everything from availability of healthy food to preparing for emergencies. Of course we will have to share the updates on the food we have been growing and the efforts across the state in some of the most far-flung places to grow more of their own food. From swamps to almost rock beds, you will be amazed.
Rural power issues are also on our radar, as well as some of the efforts being done by villages to make their villages sustainable in as many ways as possible.
As you well can tell by the lack of posts, we have not been sitting still or in front of our computers, so get ready!
With fewer than 723,000 people spread over its roughly 586,000 square miles, Alaska is the least densely populated state in the United States. However, almost 388,000 folks live in the Anchorage/MatSu region , so most of the state has considerably fewer than the 1.2-1.3 persons/square mile so often quoted.
We think of ourselves as neighbors, however far flung we are, and the internet has made visiting with each other regularly a delightful reality not possible before the advent of the “tubes” due to distance and dollars. When weather and electricity cooperate, email allows for daily visits . Blogs by Alaskan neighbors expand the visiting further and have become a wonderful way to peek in on projects , join conversations, and keep up with each other.
Rainey’s art and blog reflect her love of her home and community. These works of her hands and mind are as meaningful as her home place is beautiful. It is always a pleasure to find a new post on her site , whatever the subject is!
Rainey plans to learn how to grow vegetables in her far north home . She has agreed to share her 1st year gardening adventure here with us at Anonymous Bloggers.
I asked her if she had “before” pictures of the to-be garden space we could share here but, as it is apparently still buried in snow , we’ll have to wait for “before” until “after”… :-)
Thank you for sharing, Rainey!
A while back I had a reader ask me if I was really going to be able to plant a garden here. The answer is yes!Of course living where I am living poses some pretty big obstacles, which meant that I did a lot of research and planning and general milling about in anxiety. I thought I would share the beginning of this journey!
Location. The garden will be located behind our house. I did find out that there was an elder that grew a small vegetable garden here but she did it far out of town, to avoid the dust and exhaust. We decided to use our back yard, which is protected by several buildings, some dense tall willows, and the luck of being shielded from the road by some neat tricks of the wind. Since we have dried meat there we know that it gets good air circulation, sunlight galore, with very little contamination, which is a must. Plus it will be closer to monitor and work on!
Cold. The cold is probably the biggest barrier. The permafrost layer is not far beneath our feet, and this chills the earth so much that it will prevent or hamper most vegetable plants from growing. So I will be using above ground warming techniques. My husband is building several raised beds from wood, in which I will fill with soil from a fertile spot away from town that I know has escaped being contaminated by human beings. The beds will be taller than what you usually see in most areas, at least a foot high, and long and slim rather than more of a squarish bed. Having the earth exposed to the warmer air temperatures will keep them warmer. I also plan to use an army of plastic buckets and bins for the plants that can tolerate being in a container, this will give me the option of moving them inside to a more protected area (in the arctic we call this part of our homes the ‘kunnichuck’ or ‘vestibule’ in English.) Since I plan to have a few water loving plants I am going to try and build a few self watering buckets. I will also be using some plastic covers to warm the beds before planting and while the seedling are germinating, once they sprout then I will remove the covers. The cold at the beginning and end of the season will be the problem, but in the summer the temperatures usually get to 80-90 degrees. The date for the last frost here is June 1st, which gives you an idea of how cold it gets and how short the season is!
Sun. Believe it or not the 24 hours a day sunlight will be a problem. Here the growing season is a very SHORT. And most of that season will include the sun never setting. This limits the types of plants that I can grow, though I plan to experiment with one: soybean. Soybeans require nighttime, and I have researched several techniques that I am going to try and trick them into thinking it’s night time. Hopefully if it works I can get a good harvest and start creating a plant that will do well here, I am starting with two types of soybean, one of which is a short season plant. My husband, like so many Natives, is lactose intolerant so a ‘milk’ source for him would save us a ton of money. The never setting sun will also make it so that we are watering more than usual.
Plants. This was probably the area I spent the most time. Some of the plants I have chosen are known to do well here. Some are just experiments. But I seriously think that people should warn you of the incredible urge to BUY. I seriously think I over bought seed …but it was FUN. Such an addicting FUN. I did set myself a basic rule though: buy only heirloom seed, and buy a couple of really good seed saving guide books…so hopefully next year the seed buying spree will not be as …big. I bought seed from several areas: Denali seed company (specializes in Alaska friendly plants), Etsy (some amazing varieties in there!), and a few here and there from more well know large online companies (if I couldn’t find the variety I was looking for at the first two places). I also bought a soil tester kit, a couple of good fertilizers, some seed starting kits and soil, silica gel packets, and some very cheap growing light bulbs (cause I found I can’t afford actual grow lights!). So what seed did I get? The list is embarrassingly huge, so I’ll try and be brief.
Hulless Oats – I love oats and will be buying a ‘roller’ later in the season to make rolled oats to use for food and for my products I sell. This plant will act as a barrier between plants that might try and cross pollinate. It will also work to condition the soil, as I will be rotating this crop every year.
Peas – I have two types: Green arrow and dwarf grey sugar.
Cabbage – every Alaskan veggie garden has cabbage! They love sunlight. I also love kimchi and cabbage soup.
Calendula – works to help keep your garden pest free and I will use the petals in my products.
Onion and chives – evergreen bunching and Alaska loving chives. Pretty much use onion in every meal.
Sunflowers – cause OMG you can grow these here!
Spinach – Bloomsdale long standing – got these as a free packet so I will give then a try even though they bolt early in the Alaska sun. Hoping I can get a couple of quiches at least!
Leaf lettuce – grand rapids variety – Probably the plant I will love the most, getting a good salad here is a rare treat and much loved!
Winter squash – gold nugget – I am a bit afraid of squash in general but I thought I would give it a try. I know I like eating them.
Radish – oddly enough we love this in some seal oil.
Herbs – i love cooking. Love it. I will be growing Cilantro, Sage, Basil, and Rosemary. I will have to figure out how much I will actually use in the year and what space they will take to get a feel for this area.
Round carrots – a short cute carrot that I know will go well in seal oil and also the nephews will LOVE.
Peppers – hungarian sweet wax- seems to me that this plant will need to be babied but I want to see how well it will do!
Soybean – Butterbean and edible early hakucho – or experiment one and experiment two as I like to call them
Tomatoes – i fell in love with the idea of tomatoes. Which is probably why I ended up with so many. I bought ‘spoon’ tomatoes, which have a shortish season. One called ‘early wonder’ which is also short season, and I received a free packet of a random variety which the seller told me contains several Russian and Siberian varieties. Who can say no to tomatoes?
Sweet corn – well I said to only buy heirloom but when I ran into this variety my curiosity wrestled me to the ground and put me in a headlock. This variety is called ‘Trinity hybrid’ (sounds scary I know) and is a short season and short stature corn (it will grow only about 4-5 feet tall). I am only going to try and plants one small bed with it to see how it does.
Echinacea – Pretty, and extremely useful.
Potatoes – cause it’s Alaska. My husband is going to design a series of boxes that I can stack on top of each other to make a ‘potato’ box, to get the most yield out of them.
So that’s the list! I seriously think they should have a Seed Buyers Anonymous, because it took me a while to shake that seed buying fever. I have every inch of my backyard planned out, and I plan to use some vertical space for my herbs. So far I have mapped out my lay out, and started the tomato, peppers, and Echinacea. They are pretty little plants sitting next to me here in my lab/office, under the cool light of a full spectrum light bulb. The stevia did not germinate and I’m thinking it is because I could not get the soil warm enough. Next year I will give it another try. Next week I will be transplanting the seedlings to a larger peat pot as they have almost completely taken over the little peat pellet thingies. At the end of this month I will be starting the Squash. I have started keeping a journal for my garden and have kept good notes on what I am doing, because I plan to do this every year and I know it will pretty much be a ‘learning’ year for me. I told my husband that I expected at least half of our plants to not do very well, he frowned a bit and told me that he will be helping too, which pretty much upped the percentage to at least 80%. Out of the two of us he has the greenest finger whereas I rely on luck!
Hope this finds all of you warming up in the spring weather!
Quite some time ago here at Anonymous Bloggers, we tried to start a conversation about worms. I would love to revive that conversation and would hope people can bring more ideas and information we can look at.
Composting is tough for me for a number of reasons. Tiny garden space, bears, trying to keep it all hot enough during the cold months, bears…
Some small success with in-season composting keeps me trying, but I have been bummed about how much kitchen stuff is just flat wasted through the winter.
Late last summer I was given a “Worm Farm” by someone who was leaving Alaska for retirement near family Outside. She sent hubby on ahead by air to scout for a home, loaded up her rig, her dogs, and dropped off her worm buddies with a few instructions about care and feeding at my place on her way to the ferry.
The homemade worm bin allows liquids to drop into the bottom container, has a lid, and the nested containers fit quite nicely in my front coat closet.
The lil boogers, red wigglers, settled in quite nicely and busily worked their way through everything I gave them through the winter.
Recently I realized it was time to harvest the compost.
That got interesting as I also realized I had not asked enough questions of my departing neighbor and didn’t know anyone with a worm bin. (I’ve since met someone who is just starting out.)
I looked round the “tubes” and found a number of descriptions of how to separate the worms from the compost depending on one’s set up.
Given the size of my container the “manual harvest” was the only real option as mine doesn’t have room to pile old stuff to one side and encourage the worms to migrate to fresh bedding and food.
Holy moley and sweet merry!
What a mess I made!
I did not take any pictures of that project for fear of ruining my camera.
In the end I had lovely compost, happy worms, and need of a shower.
I have written myself a note for next time to lay the plastic out in the bed of my truck to discourage all the neighborhood dogs who showed up to “help”.
We would love to hear from any of you who have worm composted, in or out-of-doors, and any tips you have would be much appreciated.
For folks who are interested in trying out a kitchen waste bin, this HOW TO is pretty good.
I imagine Alaskans will still have a bit of a go, in most places, in getting worms and wonder if anyone knows the best way to go about that, in hopes the wormies make it here safely, unlike our neighbor in the original post here who had his go missing along with his luggage!
UgaVic and I are excited that one of our favorite Alaskan bloggers has agreed to share her garden experience from above the Arctic Circle with us this season. Look for our guest blogger soon!