• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing potatoes in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 3 of the Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING POTATOES

I am relatively new to growing potatoes, but they are so fun to grow and do so well here that I am absolutely hooked.

Potatoes can be planted in almost any kind of soil and grow just fine.  I have heard people say they grew them in nothing but a pile of seaweed and I have seen someone plant them in a cleared lot with no food at all and they did great.

They are not super heavy feeders and prefer acidic, loose sandy soil with a moderately steady supply of organic material and phosphorus (bonemeal, starfish or fish bones and heads).  They can be grown right in the ground, but I prefer to grow them in tubs because it makes harvesting so much easier — no lost potatoes in the garden to volunteer next year!

Potatoes are very susceptible to a disease called “scab.”  It looks just like it sounds — rough brown scabs on the surface of the skin.  Scab is in the soil and although there are ways to try to avoid it, it seems inevitable.  Fortunately, although scabby potatoes are undesirable for market they are perfectly edible for home use.

To prepare the ground or tubs for potatoes do not add high-nitrogen food or lime.  New dirt is the best, and never plant potatoes in the same spot for at least three years. Just add some beach mulch for some organic material.  Buy certified scab-free seed potatoes from a garden supplier to avoid introducing “blight” (another disease), to the garden, or get some from a friend (they will probably have scab), and plant them outdoors mid-April.

Seed potatoes do not need to be large, in fact, it is preferable to obtain small ones with at least two “eyes” – dimples on the skin where sprouts emerge.  If you have large seeds potatoes you should cut them in several pieces and let the cut edges dry before planting them.  Whole seed potatoes do better in Sitka gardens than ones that have been cut.  They get off to a better start and are more resistant to diseases.

It’s best if your seed potatoes have already started to sprout, if they haven’t then they will just sit in the ground for a month before sprouting.  If yours haven’t sprouted by late March, expose them to 60 degree heat and as much sunshine as possible for two weeks before planting them.  Be sure not to break any sprouts off.

To plant, dig a 12-inch deep hole in the ground or tub that will not be below standing water when it rains, lay a fish head or a couple of starfish in the bottom and cover with dirt.  Or, dig a nine-inch hole and mix a handful of bonemeal into the soil.  Make a nest of straw or dried grass in the hole and set the seed potato in it with the sprouts reaching up, cover with more straw and then toss in a shovel full of spruce or hemlock needles (to made the soil more acidic to try to avoid scab), bury with dirt and beach mulch and top it all off with a couple inches of seaweed.

Potato plants usually sprout up fast and get quite large.  It is important to “hill-up” the plants a couple times during the season by burying the foliage so that only a couple of inches stick up out of the dirt.  This will cause more potatoes to grow on the buried foliage and dramatically increase your yield.

Potatoes can be harvested at any time for eating, but it is best to wait until the foliage has pretty much died back to achieve maximum yield. Early September is about right. Potatoes that have been harvested early have fragile skins and have a tendency to “peel,” like a sunburn.  If you want to store them all winter it is very important to wait until late September or early October to ensure that the potato skins have cured and will store well.

Now comes the fun part. Dump out the tub or dig a large enough hole to harvest every potato.  Lay them out on a tarp to dry. Lightly rub off the excess dirt and store them at 33-38 degrees in total darkness where they won’t get too dried out.  Be sure to save a few small ones of your favorite varieties to plant next year.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

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• Christi Henthorn wins Table of the Day at sixth Sitka Farmers Market

Sitka Farmers Market assistant market manager Jasmine Shaw, left, and Sitka Farmers Market market manager Johanna Willingham, right, present the Table of the Day Award to Christi Henthorn for the sixth and final Sitka Farmers Market of the season, on Sept. 15, 2012, at ANB Hall. Christi sold homemade baked goods, jams, veggies from her garden, jewelry and other artworks she’d made. The Sitka Local Foods Network board selects a Table of the Day winner from the vendors at each Sitka Farmers Market of the season, and the winners receive prizes such as a fifth-anniversary market tote bag, produce and a check.

The next Sitka Local Foods Network event is the annual Running of the Boots fundraiser this Saturday, Sept. 29, at Crescent Harbor Shelter. Registration opens at 10 a.m., costume judging is about 10:30 a.m. and the race starts at 11 a.m. A Sitka Farmers Market booth will be selling veggies and other items at the race. For more information about the Sitka Local Foods Network and the Sitka Farmers Market, go to http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/

• Sitka Local Foods Network to host planning meeting on Friday, Sept. 28, for Food Day events in October

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a planning meeting from 5-6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28, at the See House behind St. Peter’s By the Sea Episcopal Church (enter by the statue of St. Francis) to discuss plans for this year’s Food Day in October.

Food Day is a national celebration on Oct. 24 each year about healthy, affordable and sustainable food. Food Day highlights issues such as health and nutrition, hunger, agricultural policy, animal welfare and farm worker justice. The main goal of Food Day is to transform the American diet so it includes more healthy and real food. All Americans — regardless of their age, race, income or geographic locations — should be able to select healthy diets and avoid obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related conditions.

Food Day events are held in thousands of communities in the United States, including several in Alaska. Click here to learn more about Food Day. There also are several resources available for people outside Sitka who want to plan Food Day activities in their communities. Click the link below for a one-page informational flier about Food Day (opens as a PDF file). For more information, contact Lisa Sadleir-Hart at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• One-page informational flier about Food Day

• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing cabbage in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 6 of the Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING CABBAGE

Cabbage does really well in Sitka.  It is a crop worth growing, if you have the space for it.  I find that the most important thing about growing cabbage is picking the right variety.  Loosely knit heads allow too many spaces for slugs, so choose varieties that produce tightly packed heads.  Purple varieties mature really late but the slugs don’t bother them as much as they do the green varieties. I always grow both colors.

Cabbage is a moderately heavy feeder, so prepare next year’s bed this fall by loading it up with fertilizer (or compost, seaweed and salmon carcasses) and lime (or seashell sand).  Plant seeds indoors mid-March and transplant outdoors mid-April. It’s important to transplant cabbage plants while they are still young.  If they get too old the plants will stunt and never reach their potential size.

Make a dish-shaped depression in the soil and then plant the seedling in the bottom of the depression burying it up to its first set of true leaves.  Cabbage that is planted too close together produces small heads so be sure to give them plenty of room.  I like to use about 2 foot spacing.  Mulch the entire row with seaweed (without herring eggs) to retain moisture, but be sure the seaweed touches the tender starts as little as possible to avoid rot.

Cabbage is from the brassica family and as with all brassicas it is very important to cover the entire bed with floating row cover to protect the crop from the dreaded root maggot fly.  For best results use hoops to support the row cover up off the little seedlings so they do not get flattened by the rain. Leave the cover on until at least July 15.

Slugs are the mortal enemy of cabbages.  They get in between the leaves, live in the cracks and crannies, and just riddle the heads with holes.  It is quite unpleasant to cut into a cabbage and find slugs, worms and slug poop.  GROSS!  My ducks do a good job of eliminating the slugs, but they also love to eat cabbage so during the summer I need to lock them out of the garden.  Consequently the slugs eventually move back in and take up residence in the cabbage.

The only thing that can help this situation is preventative measures:  Don’t plant cabbage next to slug habitat (brush, groundcover, piles of boards or stones), be vigilant with the slug bait/traps, try some cabbage collars or copper flashing when transplanting, when the plant is sturdy enough remove leaves that are touching the ground, and keep the bed weeded to reduce slug habitat.

Cabbage is ready to eat at any time but it is a waste to harvest a head that is the size of a softball. Try to be patient and start harvesting your first heads when they are about the size of a cantaloupe. Use a knife to cut the head at ground level leaving the root in the ground to avoid disturbing the plants nearby.  It can be removed later in the season or even next spring. The loose outer leaves are edible but not as tender and sweet as the head itself.

Do not feel that you have to harvest all the plants in the row before the weather turns cold.  Cabbage is very hearty. It can sit in the garden covered with snow and still be perfectly edible.  Of course it can’t withstand that type of weather forever, so by November if you haven’t eaten them all harvest the rest and store them in the fridge in plastic bags.  They have an amazing shelf life.

One more note, sometimes gardeners have trouble with their cabbages splitting.  General information says that this is caused by too much rain, but I have heard that too much nitrogen can also cause splitting. If you notice a head has split, harvest it right away.  Split heads start to deteriorate quickly if left in the garden.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

• Running of the Boots raises funds for Sitka Local Foods Network

It’s time to dig your XtraTufs out of the closet and gussy them up. The 18th annual Running of the Boots begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Crescent Harbor shelter.

So what is the Running of the Boots? It’s Southeast Alaska’s answer to Spain’s “Running of the Bulls.” Sitkans wear zany costumes and XtraTufs — Southeast Alaska’s distinctive rubber boots (aka, Sitka Sneakers). The Running of the Boots raises funds for the Sitka Local Foods Network, a non-profit group that hosts the Sitka Farmers Market and advocates for community gardens, a community greenhouse, sustainable uses of traditional subsistence foods and education for Sitka gardeners. The network also has a representative on the Alaska Food Policy Council.

The Running of the Boots is a short race for fun and not for speed, even though one of the many prize categories is for the fastest boots. Other prize categories include best-dressed boots, zaniest costume, best couple, best kids group and more. The course involves a run from Crescent Harbor to the corner of Katlian and Lincoln streets and back, with a short course for kids looping around St. Michael’s Cathedral.

The entry fee for the Running of the Boots is $5 per person and $20 per family, and people can register for the race starting at 10 a.m. Costume judging starts about 10:30 a.m. There is no longer a lip synch contest after the race. Prizes will be awarded right after the race so folks will have time to get to the free Season’s End Celebration food booths on Lincoln Street, which are being sponsored by the Alaska Cruise Association and the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce.

Local merchants have donated bushels of prizes for the costume contest, including a flightseeing trip for three from Harris Air and a new pair of XtraTufs from Russell’s. Honeywell, the maker of XtraTuf boots, is helping sponsor the event and all prize winners will be provided with a new pair of XtraTuf boots (Honeywell is providing 50 pairs of boots). The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a Sitka Farmers Market booth with fresh veggies for sale. The booth will be able to take debit cards, WIC vouchers and Quest cards.

“This is a really fun way to advance the Sitka Farmers Market and our other Sitka Local Foods Network projects,” Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Kerry MacLane said. “This is a must-see annual change-of-the season tradition in Sitka.”

To learn more about the Running of the Boots, contact Kerry MacLane at 752-0654 or by e-mail at maclanekerry@yahoo.com. Historical information about the race (through 2005) can be found online at http://www.runningoftheboots.org/, and info about the Sitka Local Foods Network and more recent Running of the Boots events (2008-11) is online at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/ (type Running of the Boots into the search bar at the top of the page).

• 2012 Running of the Boots flier (feel free to print a few copies and post them around town)

• Alaska Farm Bureau wonders if it’s time to create a Southeast Farm Bureau chapter

(from the Alaska Farm Bureau)

There will be a teleconference at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27, to discuss whether there is interest from Southeast gardeners, greenhouse operators, farmers, ranchers and mariculture growers in forming a new Southeast Chapter of the Alaska Farm Bureau.

The Alaska Farm Bureau is the largest agricultural organization in the state and currently has six chapters:  Fairbanks, Delta, Mat-Su, Kodiak, Kenai Peninsula and the Copper River Valley.  Those who live in the Southeast are currently members of the Mat-Su Chapter.

Farm Bureau membership benefits include a subscription to the Alaska Farm and Ranch News, (Alaska’s only monthly agricultural newspaper), discounts at Grainger and Office Products, (both offering free shipping to Alaska for on-line orders); full service banking at Farm Bureau bank, farm policy insurance as well as all their other services from COUNTRY Financial, a prescription drug discount program for you and your employees and a $500 discount on GMC, Chevrolet and Buick new vehicle purchases.

To participate, call 1-800-528-2793.  Enter the conference ID of 7807353 and press # at 7 p.m. on Sept. 27.  There is no charge to participate.

If you are not able to participate that evening, please send an e-mail to Alaska Farm Bureau Executive Director Jane Hamilton at janehamilton99737@yahoo.com or mail a note expressing your interest to the Alaska Farm Bureau at PO Box 760, Delta Junction, AK 99737.  Please include your name and contact information — mailing address, e-mail addresses and telephone number.

People who are not actively growing agricultural or mariculture products may join the Farm Bureau as Associate Members.  Associate Members pay the same $40 annual membership fee and receive all of the same membership benefits.  While they may join in discussions during chapter meetings, they do not have voting privileges.  Their membership supports their local chapter as well as the state association.  Any individual person or business is welcome to become an Associate Member.

If there is an interest, potential SE members will select a one person to represent them at the Alaska Farm Bureau Board of Director’s meeting that will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Anchorage on Nov. 8.  The Friday Forum (conference day of agricultural speakers), Awards Banquet and Scholarship Auction will be held on Nov. 9 and the Annual Meeting will be held on Nov. 10.

The Board of Directors will pay travel expenses for your representative to attend the three-day event.  The Board of Directors will decide whether there is enough interest to form a Southeast Chapter at their Nov. 8 business meeting.

• Lori Adams discusses herbs she has grown in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

HERBS I HAVE GROWN

Herbs are a fun addition to the garden and do not take up very much space. I do not have vast experience growing herbs, but each year I learn a little more and now have an area in the garden that is set aside exclusively for herbs. When I can’t start them from seeds I buy them as starts from Penny out at Garden Ventures.

CHIVES: Every Sitka garden should have a clump or two of chives, they are so easy to grow and seem to love our climate. They look beautiful, taste delicious and attract beneficial insects for pollination. Chives are perennial so don’t bother with seeds, just get a division from a friend or neighbor. Each year your clump will get bigger and bigger and soon you will be looking for someone to share your divisions.  They grow in any type of soil but grow much larger and healthier if mulched with compost spring and fall. Chives can be harvested at any time (they taste like mild sweet onion). Simply grab a handful and cut them off three inches above the ground. The flowers are edible but the stems they grow on are extremely tough and fibrous. If your clump starts to look ragged and  turns brown, just cut the entire thing down three inches above the ground and it will start to send out tender new blades.

FRENCH SORREL:  This is the first year I have grown sorrel and I am in LOVE with it. It is a hardy perennial that multiplies quickly with deep roots and has a decidedly lemon flavor.  It can be planted by seed, but I recommend you buy a start or get a division from someone that is growing it in their yard. Sorrel can be harvested at any time, simply cut the stems to harvest the leaves. Do not take more than a third of the leaves at any one time. I use sorrel to make a pesto that is delicious with fish. Do not let the plant flower, if it does just cut the stalk off and throw it away.

OREGANO:  I have had pretty good luck with oregano.  It is an annual here with only rare instances where it survives the winter.  I usually start mine from seed indoors and transplant out in April.  There are several different varieties which range from bitter to sweet.  To harvest just cut a stem close to the ground and harvest the whole sprig.  To cook with it snip the leaves off and throw the stem away.

DILL:  Dill does okay here, and on a good year can grow quite large.  I grow two types, one for flowers and one for foliage.  Start seeds indoors in March.  The seedlings can get tall and unmanageable but once transplanted in April seem to straighten up and grow strong.  To harvest foliage just cut the ferny sprigs free from the stalk, mince and use.  It’s great with fish and cooked carrots and cheese balls look beautiful covered with it.  The flowers are used for pickling and look beautiful in flower arrangements.  If the flowers are left on the plant to go to seed it is possible they’ll reseed themselves the following spring.

STEVIA:  Stevia is a curiously strong flavored sugar substitute that does well here most years (it didn’t do well this year for me).  Fresh out of the garden it is 15 times sweeter than sugar.  It can be started from seed indoors in March and transplanted outside in April with cover.  Harvest the leaves, mince and add to fruit salad or iced tea.  It tastes stronger by the end of the summer, almost bitter, and will not survive the winter.

MINT:  Mint is EASY to grow but is invasive so plant it in a pot that is lined with landscaping cloth.  You can start it from seed, but almost every garden in Sitka has a patch of mint so get a start from a friend or neighbor.  Although it will grow in any soil it will be more lush and healthy if you feed it with compost spring and fall.  To harvest just cut a sprig loose at ground level.  Use leaves fresh or dried and discard the stems.

PARSLEY:  Parsley does well in Sitka.  I grow both the flat and the curly varieties.  Start seeds indoors in March and transplant outdoors in April using 12-18 inch spacing.  The flat parsley is an excellent green to mix in salads that tastes a lot like strong celery.  The curly parsley is even stronger and is used mostly for garnish.  I have noticed that parsley does really well in partial to full shade, especially the curly variety.  In full sun the leaves are tightly curled and in partial shade they seem to loosen up and look more lush.  To harvest just snip the outside sprigs from the plant leaving the center to continue to grow.

BASIL:  My customers always ask for basil but I have had many challenges trying to grow it.  As a rule it does not do well outside, but I have had some survive in pots right next to the house.  The red variety seemed to be the hardiest.  It is just best to grow it indoors.  Start seeds in March and be sure to keep the seedlings warm.  Transplant to bigger pots as needed.  My biggest problem has been aphids.  The soap/water treatment did not take care of the problem but I found some very effective organic insecticidal soap that I am going to use from now on — really it is the difference between having basil or not, so I am using the spray.  Wait to harvest any basil until the plant has grown at least four sets of true leaves.  Then pinch out the tops just above the second set of leaves to encourage the plants to branch out.  There is just nothing like the aroma of fresh basil.  There is a big demand for it here in Sitka so if you have the room please consider growing it to sell at the Sitka Farmers Market.

SAGE:  Sage can survive for several years before it dies.  It is another one of the herbs that can run from bitter to sweet depending on variety.  A mature sage plant is sort of like a small shrub with woody branches.  I recommend buying a start rather than planting seeds.  In the spring when you see new growth, prune the plant to remove dead branches and encourage new tender growth for harvesting.

OTHER HERBS: I have grown rosemary and thyme and they have done okay. I know there are some creeping thymes that do well here for ground cover.  I hear people talking about the chervil they are growing but I have no experience with it at all. Cilantro grows great here for about a month and then all it wants to do is bolt, bolt, bolt.  You have to cut it down many times to keep it producing and then it has mosly small leaves. Comfrey does well but be sure you want it — it gets quite large, spreads easily and has deep, deep roots so it will probably be there forever.  Someone recently gave me a horseradish start so I guess it grows here too.  I hear it has a deep invasive root system and the roots are the part of the plant used during harvest so I think I will grow it in a pot.  If you have an herb that does well here that I did not mention please let me know.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/