Friday, May 29, 2015

Alaska Public Media produces birch tapping video

Palmer Extension Agent Julie Cascio and Forestry Resource Specialist Val Barber star in a new five-minute YouTube video produced by Alaska Public Media.

“We Are Birch Tappers” shows both women tapping birch and talking about how birch sap can be used, either as a beverage or boiled down for syrup.

According to Cascio, it takes 100 to 120 gallons of birch sap to make one gallon of syrup. After collecting the sap, she says, “You bring it up to a boil or just under a boil, and you cook it and you cook it and you cook it.”

The video was taped in mid-April at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.  It is part of the Indie Alaska series, produced by Alaska Public Media in partnership with PBS Digital Studios. According to the program’s website, the series seeks to “capture the diverse and colorful lifestyles of everyday Alaskans at work and at play.’’

Barber said that about 200 individuals have participated in birch tapping workshops led by Cascio and herself at the farm and at Alaska Mill and Feed during the past four years. They have also developed a publication on the subject, “Backyard Birch Tapping and Syrup Basics.”  Barber,  Assistant Professor Jan Dawe and Dulce Ben-East of the Kahiltna Birchworks will give a talk in June at the Birch Syrup Conference at Paul Smith’s College in New York. The birch tapping video will also be shown.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Music in the Garden series starts June 4

The Fairbanks stompgrass band, Rock Bottom Stompers, leads off the Music in the Garden series at Georgeson.

The free Thursday night concert series in Georgeson Botanical Garden kicks off June 4 with “soulful stompable tunes” by the Rock Bottom Stompers.

UAF Summer Sessions and Lifelong Learning hosts the Music in the Garden series and the garden provides the venue. Concerts begin at 7 p.m. every Thursday night (except July 2) through Aug. 13 with a variety of music, ranging from string bands and jazz to bagpipes and the blues.

Here’s the full schedule:
June 4: Rock Bottom Stompers
June 11: Leighton and the Loners
June 18: Marc Brown and the Blues Crew
June 25: Headbolt Heaters 
July 9: Fairbanks Community Jazz Band
July 16: Dry Cabin String Band
July 23: Concert Black
July 30: Fairbanks Red Hackle Pipe Band
Aug. 6: Cold Steel Drums
Aug. 13: Emily Anderson

Read more about the bands here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Citizen scientists aid research

Fairbanks elementary and middle school students are helping SNRE’s OneTree Alaska program conduct science.

Fourth-grade student Peyton Ferguson sorts birch seeds in an Anne Wien Elementary School classroom.

Research Assistant Professor Jan Dawe has been working with eight classrooms this spring to resolve an ongoing question: How are local birch trees responding to climate change? She said some students just wanted to know what was behind “all those brown things on the ground.”

Dawe said birch trees put out an unusually high number of seeds last year. She also noticed that there were few male catkins on birch branches last fall and very few female catkins on branches this spring. The male catkins produce pollen needed for pollination.

About 150 students used branches harvested this March at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to count the number of seeds produced last year and also to count the number of male and female catkins.

“This is citizen science data we will use,” said Dawe.

Dawe said the students were enthusiastic. One fourth-grader excitedly brought her teacher a birch branch she found near her home that had a female catkin on it. The activities are part of the OneTree/BAKLAP K-20 STEAM education.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

SNRE celebrates 2015 commencement

Dean Stephen Sparrow gives Ph.D. recipient Watcharee Ruairuen a hug at the UAF graduation Sunday. UAF photo by Todd Paris

At Sunday’s UAF Commencement, students of the School of Natural Resources and Extension received eight bachelor’s degrees, six master’s degrees and one doctorate.

SNRE graduates gather at Sunday's graduation.
Watcharee Ruairuen received a Ph.D. in natural resources and sustainability. Her dissertation is titled “Evapotranspiration in a Subarctic Agroecosystem: Field Measurements, Modeling and Sustainability Perspectives.” She found that evapotranspiration comprised a large portion of the energy balance in a high latitude agroecosystem. Understanding surface energy dynamics is important to understanding the vulnerabilities of Alaska agriculture to climate change.

Watcharee earned a bachelor’s degree in 2002 and a M.S. degree in 2006 from Walailak University in Thailand. Her primary professors included Research Professor Elena Sparrow of SNRE and Associate Professor Gilberto Fochesatto of the Geophysical Institute.

Other degree recipients included:

Baccalaureate degrees
Melissa Dick, B.S., Natural Resources Management: High Latitude Agriculture
Nicole Dunham, B.S. Natural Resources Management: High Latitude Agriculture
Justin Fletcher, B.S., Natural Resources Management: High Latitude Agriculture
Paul Lambert, B.S., Natural Resources Management: Humans and the Environment
Daniel McEntee, B.S.,  Natural Resources Management: Forestry
Elle May Robbe, B.S., Natural Resources Management
Katie Shink, B.S., Natural Resources Management: High Latitude Agriculture
Nicole Warner, B.S., Natural Resources Management: Humans and the Environment

Master’s degrees
Brian Atkinson, M.S., Natural Resources Management
Emily Dickson, M.S., Natural Resources Management
Michael Gibson, M.S., Natural Resources Management
Celia Jackson, M.S., Natural Resources Management and Geography
Haley McIntyre, M.S., Natural Resources Management and Geography

Randy Peterson, M.S., Natural Resource Biometrics, Management and GIS: Interdisciplinary Program

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

SNRE promotes two faculty members

Milan Shipka                         Dave Valentine

The School of Natural Resources and Extension has promoted two professors. Dave Valentine has been named director of academic programs, and Milan Shipka will become director of research and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

The half-time administrative appointments are effective July 1, 2015.  The university created the positions following the announced departure of Interim Dean and Director Stephen Sparrow, who will retire June 30. Both positions will report to Fred Schlutt, the vice provost for outreach and Extension.

Valentine will direct and evaluate the school’s academic programs, and Shipka will oversee the faculty research programs and work with faculty to develop a long-term strategy for research. Both professors will continue to teach and conduct research, and Shipka will work with Extension.

Sparrow is pleased that Dave and Milan have agreed to their new roles. “Based on their wide work experience inside and outside the school, they are highly qualified for these positions,” he said.

Valentine, a forestry soils professor, has taught at university since 1996. He earned a doctorate from Duke University in 1990.  Shipka, a professor of animal science and Extension livestock specialist, has been with the university since 1999 and earned a doctorate from Utah State University in 1996.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Alaska Frostless potato travels to the other end of the world

Alison and Tom Short sort potatoes.
Andrez and Alison Short and their son Tom are a typical farming family living in a windswept, difficult land, rainy and hilly but undeniably beautiful. They raise sheep, as many farmers in the Falkland Islands do, but want to improve the food security of their homeland and have called on help from farmers on the other side of the world, in Alaska. Andrez Short focused on potatoes as his means of independence: Short estimates that 80 percent of all potatoes eaten there must be imported.

The potatoes begin to thrive in the the poly tunnels.
The Falklands have highly acidic soils, although the Shorts' farm is somewhat less acidic than normal and are subject to unseasonable frosts, so any potato grown there must be able to withstand light, unseasonal frost. Fortunately, just such a potato was developed by the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Its defining characteristic is that it will tough it out to temperatures as low as 28˚F (-2.2˚C). Dr. Curtis Dearborn, research horticulturalist for AFES for many years, began researching a frost-resistant potato in 1955 and released Alaska Frostless in 1969. According to Agroborealis, the potato was heralded as having great promise:
The capacity of a potato to survive light nighttime frosting can mean a lot in Alaska where it is not uncommon for frost-susceptible varieties to be killed in mid August. If Alaska Frostless grows in other potato regions as it does in Alaska, it would add measurably to the world food supply. West Pakistan has just recently requested and received 50 of Alaska Frostless. —Agroborealis, October 1970
Kurt Wold, owner of Pingo Farm/Zone 1 Grown, maintains many varieties of potatoes and Short, after a year of hunting on the Internet for someone who grew the ideal potato, ran across an article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner by Nancy Tarnai about Wold and the many varieties of vegetables he grows—including Alaska Frostless. According to Wold, one of the potatoes useful qualities is that it is also slow to sprout, making it a good keeper.

Frost-nipped Alaska Frostless survives the cold, even if it doesn't like it.
Short ordered 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of potatoes via DHL. Getting his import permit required a considerable bit of paper signing, as the government of the Falklands is quite mindful of the potential for invasion by disease. The potatoes arrived in October, and, true to type, took a while to sprout. "I have planted some outside as a trial but we are having a very cold summer," Short wrote in January, "so these are very slow."

Harvest was at the very beginning of May, with the first frosts, and the Shorts pulled in a respectable amount from the ground: 13.3 kg (29.3 lb) of seed size, 28.9 kg (63.7 lb) of eating size, and 4.7 kg (10.4 lb) of small ones. Andrez Short writes that most of these came from inside their poly tunnels and will be used for seed potatoes for next year and in experiments for planting at different times and locales. They won't need to order seed potatoes next year.

The potatoes planted outside the tunnels suffered two frosts and on both occasions only lost about 50 percent of their leaves, said Short. He was very pleased with their performance, especially given the short growing season and the cold summer.

Washed potatoes drying.