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
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)
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!
It’s been a wild winter for much of Alaska. Extreme cold, oodles of snow, warm interludes, high winds – lots of normal winter type weather, only squared or tripled.
The latest warm spell in my area has pushed me right past cabin fever into spring fever.
To quiet it some, I’ve been looking at garden notes from last year. My notes always start out great and as the season wears on get more and more scant and peppered with remarks and abbreviations I can’t understand this far away from events. “NO!” scribbled on empty seed packets usually means whatever it was was not a success , but who knows what “ftt” or “snf” or “fgqh” mean now?! Once again, I’m promising myself I’ll make a list of terms and abbreviations… sigh… and know that I’ll probably forget by July.
The one section of notes which is easy to understand is “Potatoes”.
I tried something different last year and it was so successful I’m doing it again.
A 7 Ways to Plant Potatoes article I found outlined a number of methods and the author’s notes about what did and didn’t work and their notions of whys and hows of each result.
My criteria for choosing the wire cylinder method included suited-to-my-climate, cost in dollars and hours of work, and space needed in an already overcrowded garden.
Suited to my climate:
I wanted a method which drains well.
Southeast Alaska is just plain tough in a lot of ways. Summers are cool and wet and cloudy for the most part.
The last half of April, and May and June tend to be the driest months here. July and August are wet, averaging 4.5+ and 6.0+ inches respectively, but often exceeding those averages, in recent years, by as much as triple rainfall amounts. Gardens which start beautifully early on can simply melt or rot by late July or early August.
Native soils don’t help much with the rot thingy in many parts of my area as we are, in many places, mostly glacial till or flour (powdered rock dust) left behind by retreating glaciers. It packs almost as tight as clay soils do if it is not amended heavily.
I wanted a method which didn’t cost much to put in place and didn’t take a lot of time to manage through the growing season.
I wanted a method which would make maximum use of space as I’ve stuffed the small area I have very full but am always looking to expand what I can grow.
Potatoes do ok here in containers but most are expensive. After the last of the barrel type I used for years bit the dust I liked the inexpensive hardware cloth and zip-tie container idea!
My cylinders were almost 30 inches in diameter, much more than the 18 inches the article author made. I put leftover pieces of weed cloth in the bottom in anticipation of what heavy late summer rains might do in terms of washout in my larger cylinder. Given we had 12.91 inches in August, 15.06 inches in September, and 12.63 inches in October, I’m glad I did and will do so again!
The sticks are to keep curious ravens out – they sometimes dig around in or dig up fresh plantings. I’m not sure what is going on in their birdly brains when they do that but I try to discourage them, whatever it is that they are doing.
I used peat to fill up around the plants as they grew as it is readily available here.
This ended up being an almost no-maintenance way to grow spuds for me. The darn plants got to be almost 5 feet tall and worried me some that too much energy was going to above ground greens.
Harvest? Just yank the cylinder off!
The yield in the end was very high and very good quality so I guess they were just happy spud plants in all ways!
For Alaskan gardeners, here’s a list of certified seed potato sources here in Alaska, along with a list of all the mouth-watering varieties available. If I have to have spring fever, you do too!!
My order is ready to go. Yours?
Well after being battered by storms these last few weeks all up and down at least the west coast of Alaska we are wondering if this is how our entire winter is going to play itself out.
For those of us on the Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay the weather has actually been pretty mild in many areas with only a few cold snaps, into the 20s and not a lot of snow. The storms have had lots of rain and sleet associated with winds upwards of 70+ kt. So when this real ‘cold snap’ hit we were all a little surprised. We had become accustomed already to watching for winds speeds and not paying too much attention to temperatures.
We had been harvesting the last of the outside cold tolerant crops like cabbage, any potatoes left in the ground and covering the perennials that we are attempting to grow through the winter these last few weeks.
This week was the time to see if the things we are trying to grow and harvest late into the winter are going to make it or if our efforts were now killed with these hard freezes. Ground temperatures are holding right now at 34/35 degrees even through the night, as measured by probes down about 6″-8″ under the surface inside the high tunnels.
So far, so good. We clipped a salad from the chard (rainbow) just a few evenings ago, letting these greens get bigger and pulled a few other things.
In our high tunnels we still have green onions, some spinach and carrots still being harvested. I was told a week or so ago that at least one high tunnel grower in Dillingham was still getting kale, and a number of other crops the last week in October. They generally have colder, wetter weather than we do further south in this part of Bristol Bay, even being only about 50 miles away by way the crow flies.
The last few years have been fast-moving as a lot more information is being shared, projects considered, even other set of high tunnels in our tiny village, and generally an effort to be more sustainable in our own areas.
We will keep you posted on how the winter efforts go to furnish at least part of our own fresh things up here in Alaska!
Gardening or farming in Bristol Bay seems to be taking off again with gusto! If you ask around you find almost everyone gardened until relatively recently. Many things point to the high salmon prices of the 80’s as the main mover but sometime, somehow, the desire and then the skill went away.
Growing your own food has taken off again for a variety of reasons, amongst them high cost and generally low quality of produce which has to be shipped in, coupled with lots of new ideas about how-to-grow from the lower 48 figure prominently.
A variety of projects are assisting the effort from grants to help pay for high tunnels, to a ‘growers school’, to tours and cooking classes. In Dillingham, for the second year, a Gardening Symposium will be held later this week. Everything from canning to helping figure out what ails your plants will be covered.
All summer all over Alaska many have been taking part in Alaska Growers School in variety of ways. From study at your own pace, conference calls , and webinars people have been learning the basics of gardening from botany to how-to specifics for growing in the various part of Alaska. The first group of students then gathered in Fairbanks for some hands-on skill building. Over 40 of us from 26 different villages, a number in the Bristol Bay area, ended up with a wealth of knowledge backed up by great handouts and links to keep us going.
Some villages, like Igiugig, have community greenhouses and outside garden plots to help residents get into the mood to grow more of their own food. Some residents and villages have those who grow for personal use but some are also looking at supplying near-by lodges with produce.
In touring and talking to a number of participants it’s obvious there is a learning curve. Many community operations are ‘staffed’ by volunteers and a number of issues have arisen, from learning how quickly the houses can warm up in the spring, easily over 100 degrees as early as May, to the onset of gray mold or botrytis in those with circulation issues. Hopefully, as these issues have come up, they are identified and solutions have been worked out so the efforts of many can be built upon.
In the past, weeds and the spreading of those darn things, has caused some villagers to give up after a few years of trying but hopefully as more people learn how to deal with these issues they will give producing their own food a try again.
The Bristol Bay sockeye fishery started well and then dropped off well short of projections.
From an email note from Ugavic this morning:
“Our season has been totally odd. We, as did most of BB, started at least a week early, hit hard and then came to an almost dead halt for about a week. Due to gaps in the test fishery from weather there was no real warning and it spooked all of the fishermen. Ugashik has historically had a two peak season so hubby and many old time fishermen handled better than many, but his wife has not
That’s not to say that anyone is getting to lollygag , however.
Far from it!
All the hard work during our short Alaska spring to plan, start seedlings, and plant gardens in the cold houses and outdoor beds is starting to yield food for the table .
This short respite allowed for catching up on weeding and mulching, checking on let’s-see-if-it-works projects like this corn
and taking a quick look around to see what the “neighbors” are up to
What a funny place for a robin nest!
Holy moley! A visitor not seen in these parts for many years…
Fish started running again some a couple days ago :
There are a lot of questions about why the projected fish return may have dropped off . Margaret Bauman from The Bristol Bay Times, in an article reprinted in the Alaska Dispatch, spoke to a number of people about what may or may not be going on.
While it may be honest for a biologist to say they don’t have a clue what happened to the projected but no-show 2-2s, it’s sure worrisome to folks who have a few short weeks to make the bulk of the year’s income.
Sending best fishy wishes to all in Bristol Bay region, especially Ugavic and hubby!
Note to self: Ask Vic the next time she gets a break about how her potatoes are doing. Mine are growing so big and so fast I’m starting to have dreams about Attack-of-the -Giant -Spuds. Since we ordered the seed potatoes from the same farm in the Interior I’m wondering if it’s the climate in my part of Alaska or the stock…