• Blatchley Middle School students learn about local soils and local foods

(The following is a letter to the editor sent to the Daily Sitka Sentinel from Blatchley Middle School earth science teacher Karen Lucas. The letter ran in the Thursday, May 16, 2013, edition, and Karen provided the Sitka Local Foods Network with a copy to post on our site.)

Dear Editor,

For our soil conservation studies, the seventh grade earth science students at Blatchley Middle School had a local soils expert come to class.

On a very sunny Monday, a couple weeks ago, Kerry MacLane, clad in bib overalls and broad brimmed hat, with his loaded-up wheelbarrow with five types of local soil, mini-greenhouse, plant starts, a very informative visual presentation, a tubular water wall, and a scavenger hunt up his sleeve that included a solar electric panel, solar powered fan, kale plants, newest compost pile, garlic and raspberry canes, wheeled his way down the halls of Blatchley.

After a concise basic powerpoint on local soils, greenhouse productivity, where our food comes from, and how Sitka disposes of waste; and learning that optimum soil for Sitka is one-third native soils, one-third compost and one-third sand; that starfish and herring eggs are good for the garden, too, and the lively discussion therewith; two teams were supplied each with a different scavenger hunt, and the class departed for the Blatchley Community Garden behind the school to identify items on their list.

Students nibbled on chives, kale and rhubarb, and generally exulted in being outdoors on that fine day in spring. Returning to the classroom, discussion ensued about the Farmer’s Markets, community greenhouse project, and the Sitka Local Foods Network, and how students could get involved in local gardening at home or in the community.

Kerry has certainly helped raise the consciousness of Blatchley students, and Sitkans alike, has been, and continues to be, instrumental in helping Sitka to progress toward sustainability in growing our own food, promoting community gardens, spearheading the Sitka Farmers Markets, and local greenhouse project that is underfoot, for all this, and for spending that Monday with us in the indoor and outdoor classroom, the Blatchley Middle School seventh grade earth science students are grateful; so, on their behalf and mine,  thank you, Mr. MacLane, for sharing your knowledge with us about local soils, making relevant and useful, the ‘dirt on dirt.’

Karen Lucas
Earth Science Teacher
Blatchley Middle School

• 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/