CHAPTER 6- August

The following subject s will be covered for the month of August

  1. Composting: One Gardener's Way to Give Silty Soil a Helping Hand*
  2. Condominium Owners Enjoy Container Gardening*
  3. Gardens Thrive with Hydroponics*
  4. Pioneer Familys' Lawn-Garden a Delight to Flower Fanciers*
  5. Pioneer Community Pride Blooms at Flower-Filled Schoolyard*
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Composting: One Gardener's Way to Give Silty Soil a Helping Hand*

*Reference: Interview with Eloise DeWitt. Note: Eloise DeWitt passed away in 1995. She wrote a wonderful gardening book "A Beginner's Guide to Successful Gardening in Fairbanks, Alaska." It is illustrated by author, Pat Babcock.

When the late Eloise DeWitt came to Alaska about 25 or more years ago, many old-time pioneer gardeners told her that upi couldn't mulch in Alaska because the gro und was too cold. She was also told that one couldn't compost in Fairbanks because the summers were too short for the compost to decompose.

Eloise proved them wrong.

Not only can you mulch and compost successfully, it is a big advantage to do bot h." she said. "You will spend time and energy making compost and laying mulch, but by doing so you will save much more time and energy by having no weeds to pull and much less watering to do. But, better still, there is the satisfaction you have of growi ng superior vegetables."

The silty soils around Fairbanks have the consistency of talcum powder and compact very hard. Without humus the soil can not produce large vegetables.

There are many ways to add humus to the soil through composting, and many ways are listed in the Cooperative Extension Service pamphlet, "The Compost Heap in Alaska" (P-1-022). Please contact the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, 1514 S. Cushman St.. Room 303, Fairbanks, AK 99701-6285 (Tel: (907) 452-1548) for a comprehensive list and price of all the many wonderful pamphlets they have.

DeWitt makes compost in bins. By saving the leaves from the fall in plastic sacks and storing them in a shed during the winter, one of her humus sources lies waiting. In the spring she uses a chicken wire-covered drying rack raised four feet above the ground for good ventilation. The rack is covered by 3-foot-high A-frame trusses over which poly-film can be placed to ward off rain.

To begin the composting procedure, layer fresh-mown grass with the dried leaves in a large plastic garbage can. The leaves and clippings should remain together for a couple of weeks. Turn periodically with a pitchfork. With the addition of old hay, t he leaves and clippings are next placed into a shredder, which chops the mixture into a fine consistency, perfect for further decomposition. At this time you can add weeds, garden refuse, old flowers or manure into the shredder.

The bins into which D eWitt puts the shredded leaves, clippings, hay and manure are made of 1-by-4 boards that are four feet on a side and held by four solid posts. The front side is left open. As the shredded material is added, a new front board is nailed up. The bin is fi lled with six-to eight-inch layers at a time.

The composting material generates a lost of heat (150deg.F) and decomposition starts almost immediately. She sprinkles each new layer of material with water. IF the mix gets too dry, the composting stops; if its too wet, it will putrefy. (DeWitt says one soon learns how much water is best.)

When the bin is full, DeWitt covers the entire top with clear poly-film weighed down along the edges with boards to conserve moisture. Since Fairbanks air is so dr y, the evaporation from the layered material can be very rapid. There is always the danger that the bins will be too dry, rather than too wet.

"The object of a compost bin is to provide an environment best suited for materials to spoil, to rot and to mildew," DeWitt said. "This means it has to be damp with enough air to promote spoilage. The air is important too. So, allow all layers to remain as light and fluffy as possible. In other words, don't compress the compost materials.

You can make a full bin if you have enough material. Or, you can keep adding material as you acquire it. If you do this, be sure to replace the clear poly-film each time an addition of shredded material is added. It is always nice to have more than one bin, if you h ave the space. DeWitt has three bins side by side.

DeWitt suggests if you don't have a shredder, a lawn mower works well on various dried materials such as leaves. Shredding speeds up the composting. A mixture of dry leaves and wet lawn clippings i s ideal for composting. Fresh lawn clippings form a gooey mass, as you well know, if allowed to be left alone in a pile. Since lawn clippings are high in nitrogen, the decomposition process of compost material is greatly aided with its use.

By the su mmer's end, the humor or compost will be ready to add to the garden by rototilling or hoeing it into the top few inches of soil. You can also save the compost until next spring to be used as a side dressing to the holes into which you transplant your veg etables or flowers. Or, you can feed the compost throughout the winter to an indoor colony of earthworms the castings of which make the best fertile soil.

Try composting. You have everything to gain when time comes to garden in Fairbanks, Alaska. Condominium Owners Enjoy Container Gardening* *Reference: Interview with Marianne Noble, Pat Rogge, Ann Wien, Judy Christopherson, Lola Tilly, Kay Berry, Dorothy Jane Wood and Phelpsie and John Sirlin.

You don't have to own an acre of land to have your own garden. In fact, the other day I couldn't help but notice the colorful landscaped entranceway to the condominiums on 11th Avenue, a home of many pioneer families.

Marianne Noble of Marianne's Display planted the area with small lemon and golden gem marigolds, red bouquet petunias, queen of hearts Dianthus, yellow and gold jubilee tall marigolds and red seven star marigolds to make a brilliant red, yellow and green showplace.

It was a happy occasion to visit s ome of the condominium occupants. Ann Wien had her balcony alive with colorful hanging flower baskets filled with purple, pink and white petunias, blue lobelia and Martha Washington geraniums. Since she is on the south side of the building, watering was done twice daily, during the hottest weather. A weekly application of full strength 10-52-17 or 10-52-10 soluble fertilizer has made her pixie tomatoes and other plants thrive.

Near her south-facing window a terrarium, English ivy and African violet s grow profusely. She uses an incandescent light bulb over her violets in the wintertime.

One of our old family friends, Pat Rogge had her balcony filled with several varieties of beautiful roses. Double Delight is her favorite. The roses are fed a systemic insecticide to combat the occurrence of aphids and are nurtured with weekly applications of fertilizer. Pat feeds her healthy house plants a solution of soluble 18-18-18 fertilizer to make them bushy and healthy.

Judy Christopherson, living on the north and shadier side of the building, had shade-loving impatiens and orange tuberous begonias thriving along with parsley, geraniums, white petunias and lobelia. She feeds her plants a half-strength solution of 10-52-17 weekly.

At the 10th A venue condominiums, I visited Lola Tilly, who had a large balcony on the south side of the building filled with Pixie, Tiny Tim, Sub-Arctic and Early Tanana tomatoes in containers. She also had healthy-looking red geraniums that she started with cuttings in the spring from plants she overwintered. Mint, onions and parsley are also growing amidst the wind chimes and comfortable setting.

Kay Berry and Dorothy Jane Wood live on the north side of the same building. Dorothy Jane has pretty petunias and l obelia on her balcony. Kay had Swan River daisies, marigolds, red-flowered lotus vine and verbena flourishing nicely from the early morning sun.

Mrs. Tilly took me outdoors to show me the mini gardens of various condominium occupants. The John Sirli ns are successfully growing Quinault strawberries. Other people are growing rhubarb, string-beans, squash, peas, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables. A nice patch of gladiolus planted by the Woods and a large patch of roses will soon b loom into a wild array of pastel colors.

Container gardening is a great alternative to tending a plot of land. Those of you who have balconies and decks may enjoy the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension's pamphlet called "Window Boxes" (P-37) Please contact the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, 1514 S. Cushman St.. Room 303, Fairbanks, AK 99701-6285 (Tel: (907) 452-1548) for a comprehensive list and price of all the many wonderful pamphlets they have.

Gardens Thrive With Hydroponics*

*Reference: Interview with Ron Cortte of Fairbanks, Alaska and Joe Whittenberg of Anchorage, Alaska; "The Nutrient Flow Technique for Growing Plants" by Hydroponic Growing Systems, 32 Richardson Road, Ashby, MA 01431.

Last week I had the pleasure of talking with two master gardeners. Although each had a unique greenhouse setup, both enjoyed the hydroponic nutrient-flow gardening technique.

Joe Whittenberg, of Anchorage, Alaska, has an 8-by-12 foot greenhouse in which he grows Sweet 100 and Vendor tomatoes and the European type cucumber called Sandra Improved Tosca 70. He plants in his thermostatically controlled greenhouse by the first week of March. A 11/2-foot opening for a ventilation fan and a small household fan help with circulation. So far this season, he has picked over 135 pounds of tomatoes. He gets twice as many Vendors as Sweet 100s.

Fairbanksan Ron Cortte has a large 24-by-30 foot greenhouse with a 12-fo ot ceiling. He uses a double barreled-wood stove to heat his greenhouse, which is raised on the roof of a barn. A 48-inch exhaust fan was installed for ventilation. He to grows Vendor and Sweet 100 tomatoes with great success.

The nutrient flow sys tem is a technique that continuously moves a film of solution over the bottom of a channel, sometimes matted with capillary mats, into which plants are planted in perlite, grown in "Jiffy 7s" or in slotted plastic pots.

Cortte's fertile solution is co nstantly recirculated and periodically enriched for several weeks.

Whittenberg pumps his nutrient solution through sterilized pea gravel placed in beds made of 1-by-10s with a 3/4-inch plywood bottom. He puts two layers of 6-mil Polyfilm in the beds before adding the sterilized pea gravel. Pea gravel can be sterilized by using vinegar and bleach. It is important to do so, since tobacco mosaic virus can strike tomatoes.

Cortte and Whittenberg both use a test kit meter to keep the pH of their sol ution between 6.6 and 6.9. Unlike Cortte, Whittenberg pumps the nutrient solution through the pea gravel four times a day from a 90-gallon fiberglass tank, pumping it one or two inches from the top of the gravel to avoid any algae growth.

So, you see , the nutrient flow technique can be used with or without a growing medium. Its easy to assemble and can be set up with either horizontal or vertical growing beds. Here's all you need:

* A growing bed of some sort;

* Two containers (plastic garbage cans). The first container supplies the nutrient by gravity feed to the growing bed. The second container acts as a receiving basin to collect the fluid after it has trickled past the roots; and

* A pump, connecting pipes or tubing and some screw cl ips to be used as control valves.

The fertilizer solution is contained in the elevated nutrient tank and travels by way of tubing to the growing bed. The flow rate is easily controlled by the screw clips on the tubing. The liquid passes through the growing bed, which has a minimum of 2 or 3 percent tilt, and drains into container number two, picking up oxygen as it spills in. The fluid completes the cycle when a pump in container two is cued by the tripping of a float switch in container one. The p ump kicks on and sends the nutrient on its way upward.

In addition, a third container, which hold water to replace liquid losses caused by transpiration and evaporation, can be added to automate even more the process. The water is introduced in contain er two when a float valve trips.

Every week to 10 days Whittenberg replaces the solution in his tank, "just to be on the safe side," he says. He finds it fairly inexpensive to buy nutrient supplies, which last a long time stored in airtight containers . Whittenberg waters his garden with the old solution and has 9-foot tall sugar snap peas as a result!

While Whittenberg uses a Green Giant epoxy-coated sump pump, Cortte prefers a Simmer utility pump.

"When using this system the plants should be spaced, as you would set them out in soil, to get adequate light," Cortte said. "You should always monitor the nutrient solution for pH, maintain the water level and have a spare pump or parts available.

In case you' d like to give hydroponic gardening a try, here's some of the advantages and disadvantages as Ron Cortte and Joe Whittenberg see them.

According to Cortte you can use vertical space in a large greenhouse and produce more crops by stacking them. With h is large greenhouse, he's going to try to fool his plants into thinking it's warmer in early spring by giving them warm nutrient solution in the evening. This would also act as a heat sink to keep his greenhouse more constantly warm. There is less water stress. Also, Whittenberg says he sees more production per plant.

The principal disadvantages are:

* You are dependent on electricity to keep you going.

* You are dependent upon your pump-No pump, no crop.

Other local Fairbanks gardeners are using hydroponics in their homes in the wintertime under grow lights.

Here is a list of books or sources if you'd like to know more about hydroponic gardening:

"How to Build and Operate Your Greenhouse," by Charles Ellwood, Hydro-Gardens, Inc., Box 9o707, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80932.

"The Nutrient-Flow Technique for Growing Plants by Hydroponic Growing Systems," 32 Richardson Road, Ashby, MA 01431.

Please check out the gardening centers for nutrient supplies and set-ups; your local li brary has many books on the subject. Also please check the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, 1514 S. Cushman St.. Room 303, Fairbanks, AK 99701-6285 (Tel: (907) 452-1548) for a comprehensive list and price of all the many wonderful pamp hlets they may have.

Pioneer Family-Shuttleworth's Lawn-Garden a Delight to Flower Fanciers*

*Reference: Interview with Babette and Jack Shuttleworth

Beautiful landscaping so that one can have a lawn and garden part y anytime is a dream of many people.

Jack and Babette Shuttleworth who live on Riverview Drive have accomplished a wonderfully landscaped yard which they filled with a reception party of mostly pioneer families. The occasion was a party for Glenn Fra nklin and Pat Sather, pioneer gold miners who recently married.

The Shuttleworths spend a great deal of time caring for their bright flowers and velvety green lawn. All of their flowers seem as bright as gold in the bottom of a pioneer's gold pan.

Jack fertilizes his lawn three times during the summer with a weed and feed fertilizer to knock out the dandelions and other broad-leaved weeds.

A hedge of false spirea is effective at the front of their east-facing front yard. A large chokecherry t ree offers beautiful flowers in the spring and gives shade in the summer to their eye-catching front yard.

A small wheelbarrow, planted with non-stop begonias, Schizanthus and lobelia, greets you as you walk along tan entranceway planted with giant Cl imax marigolds and hanging baskets filled with tuberous red and yellow rose form begonias, trailing sapphire and blue lobelia and no weeds.

The soil in the hanging baskets and raised flower boxes comes from Lee Risse's Triple R brand soil, which is on e of the best potting soils produced in Alaska. All of the many local nurseries also have potting soils of various brands. Perennial dusty miller, iris, Iceland poppies and bleeding heart adorn their front flower beds.

On the north side of their home, Pacific giant delphiniums and ferns grow profusely. On the south side, sweetpeas, African daisies, more delphiniums and rhubarb flourish.

The west side of their home and open backyard is landscaped with a raft of many colors of flowers tastefully ac complished by container planting. Beautiful roses are surrounded by the Blue Frost variety of single purple petunias, fringed with white. hanging baskets are ablaze with many varieties of fuschia, red begonias and blue lobelia. Canarybird vine reaches f or the top of their roof and covers a woodpile nearby that is used in winter. Along the edge of the lawn, nuggets of small golden marigolds are planted with blue compact lobelia. Red salvia planted with small marigolds offers an interesting foliage comb ination.

Large round flower beds planted in pieces of steel pipe from our "Black-gold" Alyeska pipeline are ablaze with johnny-jump-ups, red geraniums, a wide range of different petunias, lobelia and nasturtiums. Other containers are filled with Meda llion, Imperial Orange and Mammoth giant pansies. Many of the containers are placed by cottonwood, chokecherry and white spruce trees to give snaps of color to the large backyard.

A nicely shaped patio has a surface that was su itable for the pioneers to kick up their heels dancing to the wonderful music produce d by organist Jim Bell. A small fountain built by Babette in a ceramics class softly spilled water near the patio.

It takes Babette two hours each time she waters al l of the flowers in the yard. She fertilizes them periodically with a solution of soluble 10-52-17 solution, and removes all of the old flowers. Here's to the wonerful pioneer families that take the time and effort to make our community beautiful.

Community Pride Blooms at Flower-filled Schoolyard*

*Reference: Interview with Dale Durwachter

Hunter School on South Gillam Way is a perfect example of a beautiful landscape with hordes of flowers accomplished by 100 perc ent volunteerism complete with pioneer spirit.

Principal Dale Durwachter, his sister Diane, students, Valerie Kincaid and custodians, all volunteered their spare time to beautify the school grounds.

Durwachter has a keen gardening knowledge. He bo ught all of the fertilizer and hanging basket frames for the mammoth project. And even though he has many years of gardening experience, he still seeks advice from Eloise DeWitt, a member of the Top of the World Garden Club, when gardening problems arise .

When the work started, everybody got involved. Merchants donated seed left over from previous gardening seasons. Custodians with carpentry skills built raised flower boxes out of donated scrap lumber. Valerie Kincaid, a member of Mid-Acres Garden Club, and other custodians spent hundreds of hours watering, fertilizing and weeding —sometimes from 5 p.m. till midnight.

Students helped plant seed, transplant seedlings into flats and after a month stay in the school's greenhouse transplant the gro wn seedlings into the school's flower beds. The school district provided 10 yards of top soil mixed with sand and peat, Redi-earth or Jiffy Mix for transplants and some flower boxes. Parents, children and teachers all helped with cookie sales to raise m oney.

With direction from Durwachter, about 500 Hunter students planted the various flower seeds.

Petunias and lobelia were started first. As the different flower seeds became larger, they were planted according to Durwachter's schedule. The seed lings were transplanted into flats placed near south-facing windows until April 15. Then they were moved to the school's thermostatically controlled and ventilated greenhouse to stay until around May 15.

The project has made the Hunter grounds a highl ight in the neighborhood. Remember, Hunter School is a public building. Public buildings usually have a habit of looking dreary and drab.

And, although Durwachter experienced vandalism in years past, it's been near zero since beautification efforts s tarted.

Youngsters and oldsters respect the beauty of living plants. With the close participation in the project, the students respect Hunter School.

Driving by, anyone would be impressed with the beautiful sight. Parents become involved in Paren t-Teacher Association, with enthusiasm and pride. Also, each spring Durwachter gives away about 40 hanging baskets to parent volunteers of PTA.

Here are a few gardening tips from Hunter School's Principal Dale Durwachter:

* Flower beds: Beds were rototilled with a Troy-Bilt rototiller donated by one of the janitors in the early spring and 10-32-16 fertilizer was added to each flower bed. Soluble fertilizer (Rapid Gro) was used every 10 days to two weeks. One tablespoon per gallon was used on pr e-moistened hanging flower baskets and bedding plants.

* Perennials: Tiger lilies donated to the school by Exxon are of the Asian type, as recommended by Don Dinkle. Ferns were donated by the Lounsberry family of the Ester area. They are planted on the east side of the building and do quite well. Shasta daisies are a pleasant white flower that looks neat. Wild delphinium and chokecherry trees brighten the landscape at certain times of the summer.

* Marigolds: The tall ones are the colorful gold, orange and yellow Jubilee. They are brighter than the just as tall, paler Climax variety. They are prolific in flowers, having far less foliage than blooms. You should stake them. The short marigolds with large blossoms are the Pumpkin and Pineapple t ypes. They are compact and loaded with large blooms.

The short marigolds with small flowers are the Mexican (orange) and the Lemon or Golden Gem (yellow). The Mexican type has far more flowers than foliage. The Lemon Gem, although bright and cheerful , has more foliage than flowers in comparison. Seed from the Mexican marigolds is easily retrieved and germinated in the spring with almost 100 percent success, since it is not of the hybrid sort as the tall Jubilee or Climax.

* Hanging baskets: Prot ected from the rain by overhanging roof, baskets are filled with two types of petunias. The grandiflora includes the cascading types (red, pink, white and blue). The multiflora are the compact upstanding plants. The cascading petunias have to be spaced far enough apart to gain good air circulation. Blossoms and old flowering branches are nipped off to improve budding throughout the summer.

Never spray the foliage of petunias. Water only the soil surface. The hose can be brought up to the hanging baskets with the aid of a long piece of plastic pipe bent on the end to point toward the soil surface. Geraniums and trailing lobelia add a gusto of color.

* Canary Bird Vine: Grows 20 feet high on the east side of the building and has more foliage t han flowers. In comparison, the canary bird vine planted in full sun has far more flowers than