Internship Program Helps Arctic Communities Run Greenhouses

The Inuvik Community Greenhouse hosted a week-long workshop with community greenhouse coordinators from several Northern communities.

An innovative project led by the Inuvik Community Greenhouse Society is helping small, isolated Arctic communities, where access to fresh produce is scare, set up their own greenhouses and start raising fresh food. In June, community greenhouse coordinators from Aklavik, Fort MacPherson, Paulatuk, Sach’s Harbour, Tsiigehtchic, Tuktoyaktukc and Uluhakaktok attended a week-long internship program in Inuvik.

The program covered everything from soil preparation through weeding, trellising, pruning, and soil care to harvesting and worm composting. The interns worked in the greenhouse and in outdoor gardens around the community, even receiving instruction in raising chickens.

At the end of the course, each coordinator delivered a 30-minute workshop to prepare them for giving workshops in their own communities. The coordinator from Aklavik focused on engaging young people in the greenhouse, since it has been shown that when youth participate in community greenhouses, vandalism decreases significantly.

Emily Mann, coordinator of the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, said that being gathered in once place allowed community coordinators to learn from each other and to establish a network for troubleshooting and sharing knowledge—the coordinators have since set up a Facebook page.

The interns are now busy in their own communities, reaching out, teaching workshops and bringing local people in to garden together. In Aklavik recently, local children made hanging flower baskets for the Elder’s home. Every Elder received one. As Mann said, flowers are important for pollination, but they help to build community too.

To see Emily Mann’s presentation on the internship project, watch the Northern Food Network’s Webinar # 3

Lambsquarter: Taste It Before You Toss It

Lambsquarter is now Suzanne’s favourite raw foraged leaf. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It may be time to start looking at lambsquarter in a different way.  Much like chickweed, this common garden weed (sometimes also known as pigweed) is another often-overlooked plant that has great potential as a wild food.

A prolific grower, lambsquarter is well-suited to Dawson gardens, and does well in many Northern regions.

Lambsquarter leaves are delicious raw and are not bitter like many other edible foraged leaves.  Suzanne reports that she loves the taste, and they are her new favourite foraged leaf to eat raw. Sometimes called “northern spinach,” the leaves can also be cooked and used as a spinach substitute in stir fries or baked dishes like lasagna.

The leaves keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or for the long term can be dried or frozen and stored for later use in sauces, soups, or stews.  Lambsquarter is rich in Vitamins A and C, so the dried leaves can be a great source of these vitamins in wintertime.

One cautionary note: lambsquarter absorbs pollutants so avoid harvesting near roads or industrial areas.

Growing Northern Ginger and Tumeric

Here is a follow-up on Louise Piché’s ginger that she planted earlier in the winter from a piece of ginger root from the grocery store.

It is still alive and well and certainly growing — it is now 4 ft tall!

ginger-at-4-ft
ginger-close-up

Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Louise’s success with growing ginger from ginger root in Dawson has inspired her to try the same thing with a piece of tumeric root. It successfully sprouted, and is now growing beautifully.  Will keep you posted how it does.

tumeric-sprout
tumeric-growing

Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Have you had success re-growing a plant not typical in the north? Share it with us. 

 

Troublesome Chickweed Is a Tasty Treasure

Chickweed is a prolific grower, but also edible. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Chickweed, another common garden invader, is also an edible wild plant. Before you pull it from your garden, take some scissors and harvest as much as you can. Cooked chickweed tastes just like swiss chard!

Suzanne learned the hard way that it is better to harvest it for eating by cutting it with scissors, so you don’t have to painstakingly wash out the garden soil that gets trapped in the roots. After you harvest it, then go ahead and pull the roots from your garden.

Cooked, chickweed can be eaten on its own or added to stews, soups, or pastas, or used as a replacement for spinach in other recipes. It can also be used to supplement basil in pesto.

Chickweed can also be eaten fresh as a salad green, or instead of sprouts in a sandwich or in dips. And it can be juiced (like nettle) and frozen in ice cube trays or it can be blanched and frozen (like nettle) for a shot of green vitamins in smoothies, soups, and stews during the winter.

Chickweed is rich in vitamins C and A as well as the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Not that you will, but apparently, if eaten in excess, it can lead to diarrhea, and pregnant women should avoid the juice and just eat small amounts.

> See a recipe for Chickweed and Herb Fritatas

Yum! Fresh Northern Asparagus

Louise Piché’s fresh northern asparagus. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Louise Piché, one of Dawson’s great home gardeners, has success growing asparagus in the north and she generously shared some of her first asparagus harvest with Suzanne. It was the freshest asparagus Suzanne has ever tasted  – delicious!

Asparagus growing in Louise Piché’s garden. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Louise’s secret?  Check out Louise Piché’s Seed Guide. In the case of asparagus, buy roots, not seeds. Plant the roots in spring in 1⁄2 dirt and 1⁄2 sand. The harvest will be in the second year. Harvest by cutting from June till mid July, and then stop cutting.

 

Northern Popcorn?

Popping corn for Suzanne and her family growing on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

One of the things Suzanne and her family really love eating is popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast. She’s hoping they’ll still be able to indulge their craving during the year of eating only local foods, thanks to Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby.

Grant’s Island is located on the Yukon River about 10 km upriver from Dawson. It has a microclimate unique to the Klondike area that has previously allowed Grant and Karen to grow sweet corn outdoors – something that is usually very difficult to do this far North. This year, they are experimenting growing Tom Thumb popcorn for Suzanne, since this variety takes only 60 days to reach maturity.

If it works out Suzanne may have some popcorn for the upcoming year after all.  She will certainly have butter.  Next she’ll have to look for local options for toppings as there will be no salt and no nutritional yeast available.  Any suggestions for locally available popcorn toppings for Suzanne and Family?  If so, let us know.

Tess (foreground, left) helping Grant Dowdell (right) with the planting. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Surprise Dawson Cold Snap Takes Its Toll

Unusually cold temperatures struck the Dawson area bringing frost and crop damage. Ice on grass in Henderson Corner.  Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s preparations for her year of eating local suffered a setback this week as the lowest  temperatures in 35 years descended on Dawson, bringing three days of frost . Microclimates abound in the Klondike, so depending on their location the severity of damage to gardens and farms varied, with the town only mildly affected, while outlying areas saw temperatures as low as -4.7°C.

Suzanne covers her garden in preparation for possible frost. Photo by Tess Crocker.

Where frost did occur, even some plants that were covered suffered — especially brassicas (plants like cauliflower and broccoli) and beans.  Many of those who suffered losses were veteran growers, who had taken precautions to try to mitigate the frost damage.

Brassicas (plants like cauliflower and broccoli) were especially hard hit by the frost. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Klondike Valley Nursery in Rock Creek,  where  they are adapting fruit tress to the north, was especially hard hit. They lost their haskap berry crop as well as their early apples, even those that were in shelters with kerosene heaters.  Only the apple trees that were in greenhouses heated with wood stoves made it through.

Lucy’s Plants and Vegetables in Henderson Corner has a sprinkler system that is thermostat controlled and turns on automatically when the temperature hits zero.  The sprinkler system and the row covers saved the day.  There was still some frost damage to early peas and early potatoes, but hopefully they will recover.  The rhubarb was frozen hard, but there’s still time in the season for them to bring out new shoots.

Kokopellie Farms in Sunnydale irrigated their plants and put them under row cover but still suffered frost damage to some of their cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and early potatoes.  Fortunately for Suzanne’s hopes of getting some grains, their winter rye is doing well.

Kokopellie Farm’s crop of winter rye survived the frost. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Growers have always been at the mercy of the weather, but occurrences like this one underscore the challenges of gardening and farming in the north. Northern growers have developed techniques for weathering frost, including irrigating well before and during the frost, covering crops, and moving what one can into heated shelters and greenhouses.

Do you have other ways of dealing with frost or some lessons to share with us? Let us know.

 

 

Plant. Water. Worry.

Bolted Spinach
There’s a frost warning in Dawson, and baby plants will be especially vulnerable. Photo by Suzanne Crocker

According to Environment Canada, the next three days will see the chance of frost in the Dawson City area. This is much later in the month than even the most pessimistic of local planting advice that Suzanne had to consider when planting her garden.

While this particular frost warning is a local issue — and even in Dawson, temperatures and exposure to frost will vary based on altitude, terrain. and proximity to water — it highlights a point about sub-arctic/arctic growing, and the quest for Food Security North of 60.  Our colder climate brings its own set of challenges and risks.

Suzanne will be busy the next few nights trying to protect the plants in her garden by covering them with row cover and sheets.  John Lenart at the Klondike Valley Nursery will be putting kerosene heaters in his greenhouses to keep the precious Dawson apple trees with sensitive blossoms warm during the next few nights.  Lucy Vogt at Lucy’s Plants and Veggies will be irrigating her fields to help keep the frost away from her growing produce.  Lucy has a sprinkler system attached to a thermostat.  The sprinkler system automatically turns on when temperatures drop below freezing.  Fingers crossed that Dawson gardens and farms will make it through the next three nights unscathed!

Easy Tip for Re-Growing Celery

Regrowing celery - photo by Claus Vogel
Regrowing celery – photo by Claus Vogel

Claus Vogel is growing celery from celery!
This is a great way to get more veggie from the bottom of a veggie that you would usually cut off anyway. Take the base from a stalk of celery, rinse it off, and put it in a shallow cup of warm water on a window sill. Change the water daily and keep an eye on it to see if any regrowth begins. You’ll see remarkable results in days and if you want, you can transplant the celery outdoors and have a great harvest at the end of the growing season.

Apparently this also works with romaine lettuce and green onions, and veggies similar to celery like fennel and celeriac.  Louise Piché was successful at re-growing ginger from a piece of store bought ginger root, and some adventurous people have even re-grown pineapples from the tops!
Anyone else had any success with re-growing veggies?

Home-Grown Dawson Onions Still Looking Good in May

Louise Piché, home gardener in Rock Creek, has great success growing onions.  She stores them in a cardboard box in a cool corner of her house and they last all winter.  Here are what remains in May – still firm and looking good.  Her secret to storage is to let them dry very well on newspaper in the greenhouse before boxing them up for the winter.

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Download Louise Piché’s Seed Guide. Louise is well-known as a wonderful gardener in Dawson, and a frequent prize winner at the Discovery Days Horticultural Fair in Dawson City, Yukon.

Download Louise Piché’s Seed Guide

“Le Refuge” – France Benoit’s charming farm in Yellowknife

France Benoit in Le Refuge - Photo by Up Here Magazine
France Benoit in Le Refuge – Photo by Up Here Magazine

In a beautiful article by Up Here Magazine, France Benoit opens the gate to her home and farm “Le Refuge“, which she has lovingly built and tended to for the past 25 years. On this property, by the shores of Madeline Lake in Yellowknife, France grows a variety of vegetables to feed herself as well as to sell in the local farmer’s market, of which she is a founding member.

France has been kind enough to share many growing and homesteading tips with Suzanne, which we have featured on FWE, and her creative and smart solutions for northern greenhouses keep us inspired.

Thanks, France!

Celery Flavor All Year Round

One way to have celery year round from the garden is to grow celeriac root. Weird looking but quite flavorful, celeriac root is edible raw or cooked, and tastes similar to the stalks of common celery. 

It grows well in the North, keeps well in cold storage all winter, and apparently can have a shelf life of approximately six to eight months if stored properly. You can serve it roasted, stewed, blanched, or mashed, or added to your favorite stews or casseroles.  Peel it and chop it and use it in place of fresh celery in cooking.  Excellent combined with potatoes when cooking mashed potatoes! 

Celeriac Root - Wikimedia Commons
Celeriac Root – Wikimedia Commons

 

Our Baby Spinach is Growing Up

You may remember an earlier post  where we mentioned Riley Brennan’s success growing an early crop of spinach in an unheated greenhouse in Dawson and France Benoit’s similar success  with an early crop of Asian greens.  Suzanne tried planting spinach seeds this year in mid-April in her unheated greenhouse and they have sprouted.  Hopefully they’ll provide a crop of baby spinach by the beginning of June!

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Don’t Judge a Vegetable By Its Cover!

Another tasty, although not so pretty vegetable that grows well in the Yukon is the root called salsify.  Don’t let the hairy dark exterior intimidate you. Peel it, and it tastes similar to a very sweet parsnip, and you can eat it raw or you can cook it as you would cook most root vegetables.

Salsify, peeled and unpeeled - photo by Suzanne Crocker
Salsify, peeled and unpeeled – photo by Suzanne Crocker

Salsify might not be easily found in the average grocery store, but it actually grows wild in many places in the world, especially the Americas.

Purple Salsify flower- Wikimedia Commons
Purple Salsify flower- Wikimedia Commons

But not everything is under the ground: the flowers from the salsify root are gorgeous to look at, and also edible! The shoots can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked, and the flowers can be added to salads.

 

 

Ginger in the North?

Louise Piché is experimenting growing ginger this year – by planting a piece of ginger root from the grocery store.  So far it’s doing well!

Louise Piché's ginger is looking great! Photo by Louise Piché
Louise Piché’s ginger is looking great! Photo by Louise Piché

Did you know you can re-grow other vegetables from what you buy in the grocery store? Apparently, you can re-grow celery, romaine lettuce and even herbs like mint and basil. All it takes is a little patience!

Have you re-grown any store bought veggies at home? How did it go?

Early Leafy Greens in a Cold April Greenhouse?

Asian Greens - Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Asian Greens – Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Take advantage of your greenhouse in April and May,  before you plant your tomatoes and cucumbers, to give you an early crop of spinach or Asian greens!

Riley Brennan, of Dawson City, direct seeds spinach in her greenhouse as soon as the soil thaws in April.  She leaves the greenhouse unheated and the seedlings don’t require any covering.   By the time she goes to plant her greenhouse proper in late May, she has a crop of baby spinach to harvest.

Continue reading “Early Leafy Greens in a Cold April Greenhouse?”

Peanuts and Ground Cherries Growing in the North!

Ground cherries in their husk - wikimedia commons
Ground cherries in their husk – ph. Wikimedia commons

If there is something exotic you wish to grow in the North, ask Louise Piché of Rock Creek, Dawson City, Yukon.  Louise is a well known gardener in Dawson and a frequent ribbon winner at Dawson’s annual Discovery Days Horticultural Fair.  She loves experimenting with new and colorful varieties.  She has successfully grown peanuts and ground cherries (aka golden berries) as well as asparagus, giant pumpkins and buckwheat.

Louise has generously shared her ‘tried and true’ cultivars that grow well in Rock Creek, which you can view on our seed page.   This year she is experimenting with ginger, turmeric, artichokes and pink potatoes.

We will keep you posted!

Continue reading “Peanuts and Ground Cherries Growing in the North!”

Local Fertilizer in Arviat, Nunavut


When you live in a fly-in community in the North, shipping by plane can be very expensive, especially for heavy items such as soil and fertilizer.

The people behind the community greenhouse  in Arviat, Nunavut, have taken on the very important issue of food security by devising a strategy to grow their own produce.

And one of the biggest obstacles they have found is that the local soil lacks nutrients. Commercial soil works fine, but it is costly and it needs to be flown in, which impacts the sustainability of the project.

Arviat's Greenhouse, Photo by Arviat Goes Green
Arviat’s Greenhouse, Photo by Arviat Goes Green

Continue reading “Local Fertilizer in Arviat, Nunavut”

Sweet and Crunchy Local Carrots in January in Dawson?

Klondike carrots
Klondike Carrots! – Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Yup!  Suzanne has been munching on sweet & crunchy carrots from Kokopellie Farm all January.  “They taste like they are freshly picked only even sweeter!” offers Suzanne.

Otto Muehlbach, whose farm is in Sunnydale (Dawson), has designed a large root cellar to store carrots, potatoes, cabbage, beets, and other root veggies all winter long.  The trick seems to be 2-4 degrees C and keeping the humidity and condensation low.   If you can find a way to get to Sunnydale, Otto’s fresh root vegetables are sold from his house on Saturdays between 2 and 5 pm as long as it is warmer than -30C.

It is definitely worth the trek!

Grant Dowdell Shares His Best Seed Varieties

After close to 40 years of supplying fresh local produce to Dawson City, Yukon, Grant Dowdell, a legend in local growing, is retiring.

Grant Dowdell
Photo by Suzanne Crocker

As his retirement gift to the community, Grant is generously sharing some of his tremendous farming knowledge accumulated over 40 years of growing vegetables in the Klondike: Grant and Karen’s ‘tried and true’ seed varieties as well as their planting and harvesting schedule

Grant Dowell and Karen Digby's Seed Guide
photo by Suzanne Crocker

Let us know your ‘tried and true’ produce seed varieties that grow well in your area.

Continue reading “Grant Dowdell Shares His Best Seed Varieties”