• 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

• Chena Hot Springs greenhouse a model for Sitka greenhouse project


One of the five focus areas for the Sitka Local Foods Network is to build a community greenhouse in Sitka. This will serve several functions, such as extending our growing season, allowing us to grow a wider variety of produce and expanding our capacity to grow fruits and vegetables in Sitka. The Sitka Local Foods Network has been looking at several locations around town and recently submitted a proposal for a possible site (more details as they become available).

Anyway, there is a model for a successful greenhouse here in Alaska, and it’s worth looking at so people from Sitka can see the possibilities.

Chena Hot Springs, located about 60 miles from Fairbanks, is working toward becoming a more sustainable community and an important element of this vision is being able to produce more of their own food locally. In 2004, Chena Hot Springs Resort installed a 1,000-square-foot test greenhouse that has become the only year-round producing greenhouse in Interior Alaska (click here to read more).

The hoop house greenhouse was able to maintain an interior temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit, even when outside temperatures dipped to minus-56 (the 134-degree difference is the largest ever recorded for a controlled environment facility in the U.S.). The greenhouse is heated by geothermal energy from the hot springs (165-degree water running through pipes embedded in concrete floor slabs). Click here for a downloadable report (as a PDF file) on the economic benefits of the project.

After the successful first year or two of production, Chena built a new 4,320-square-foot greenhouse to provide the resort’s restaurant with a greater variety of fresh produce on a year-round basis. Under optimal conditions the nearly 14,000 lettuce plants can grow nearly 150,000 heads of lettuce in a year. They also have 450 different tomatoes, including six Dutch varieties, a cherry tomato variety, a grape tomato variety, a beefsteak tomato variety and three intermediate cluster varieties. They also grow green beans, peppers, cucumbers and numerous greens and herbs (click here for a photo gallery). Chena Hot Springs Resort is working in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (click here for a link to the UAF AFES).

Chena Hot Springs Resort, which uses geothermal and other waste heat for power, will host the Fourth Annual Chena Renewable Energy Fair on Saturday, Aug. 22. Click here for more information.

• Two garden columns of interest in the Anchorage Daily News

Thursday’s issue of the Anchorage Daily News featured two garden columns of interest for people interested in local foods in Sitka. While written for the Anchorage audience, a lot of the information can be used here in Sitka.

Click here to read the garden column by Jeff Lowenfels, which discusses the importance of making a photo record of your garden so you can plan for future years. Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Association Hall of Fame.

Click here to read Anchorage Daily News photographer Fran Durner’s “Talk Dirt To Me” blog post about a family in Clam Gulch (on the south end of the Kenai Peninsula) that lives off the grid but still has three greenhouses full of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers and other vegetables. There are lots of great photos guaranteed to make you hungry.

• Reminder to submit nominations for Sitka’s best gardens

Cindy Westergaard, left, and Kerry MacLane pick lettuce from the St. Peter's Fellowship Farm community garden in August 2008

Cindy Westergaard, left, and Kerry MacLane pick lettuce from the St. Peter's Fellowship Farm community garden in August 2008

Last week we posted an item (click here to read it) seeking nominations for an informal survey about Sitka’s best gardens. We’ve had a few nominations come in, but it doesn’t hurt to remind everybody that the deadline to submit nominations is Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Check the original post linked above to see all the categories. You can nominate your own garden, or you can submit a neighbor’s garden (please double-check with them first). Hopefully we’ll be able to set up an informal garden tour, so other Sitka residents are inspired to grow their own gardens next year.

There are two ways to submit nominations. You can click the “Leave a Comment” link below and post it to this site (please keep them family rated and realize that all comments go to a moderator before they show up on the site). The other option is to e-mail the information to charles@sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org. When you submit your nomination, please write a note about why you enjoy this garden and include the address since we might want to go take pictures and feature the garden on our site.