Friday, September 8, 2017

Forest regeneration project of 30 years yields results

Looking southeast, this photo shows part of a regeneration treatment research
area in the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest in 1986, one year after the
 treatment and three years after the area was burned in the Rosie Creek Fire.
Roseanne Densmore photo

A spruce forest regeneration experiment in Interior Alaska that spanned nearly 30 years demonstrates which forest management practices produce the best results.

The experiment, launched by three Fairbanks scientists, looked at different combinations of ground treatments to reduce competition from other vegetation and of regeneration methods, such as planting spruce seedlings and broadcast seeding.

The results, published Aug. 19 in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, showed that planting white spruce seedlings is the best way to produce a spruce-dominated stand after 28 years. Broadcast seeding was the next most effective method. The two options were the most expensive among those tested.

The rectangular plots of dark green vegetation in this 2014 aerial photograph
 show white spruce thriving in the regeneration test area. Photo by Ryan Jess
University of Alaska Fairbanks forest ecologist Glenn Juday, who helped establish the experiment in the mid-1980s and is a co-author on the paper, said the recent research shows the environmental and management situations in which different techniques work best and the situations in which they are unnecessary or even counterproductive.

Juday was a young professor in 1983 when fire swept through the Tanana Valley State Forest southwest of Fairbanks, burning 8,600 acres. The Rosie Creek Fire, whipped by wind, burned into a section of the forest known as the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest.

Juday and two other scientists, John Zasada and Roseann Densmore, realized that the fire provided a perfect setting for a forest regeneration experiment. They wanted a controlled set of experiments to test which methods worked best to establish white spruce.

White spruce is the Interior's most valuable commercial species but also the most difficult to re-establish, said Juday. Other species, such as birch, establish or resprout readily, grow faster and compete with spruce.

“Regenerating white spruce is our biggest challenge,” he said.

The researchers established a 66-acre treatment area in 1985. The plots received four different types of ground treatments to reduce competing vegetation and five different white spruce regeneration treatments, including planting seedlings and broadcast seeding. Some control plots were left to regenerate naturally.

Andrew Allaby is shown here in the field. Allaby worked
with Juday to follow-up on the regeneration project.
Results from the research were published in a 1999 article that concluded adequate numbers of spruce were established in most treatments. But in 2010, Juday took an aerial photograph that showed much more definitively how the treatments had worked.

“After another decade, it was a lot more obvious who the winners and losers were,” he said.

It was time to revisit the experimental area, now known as the Rosie Creek Fire Tree Regeneration Installation. With the help of an assistant, Juday located nearly all of original metal corner posts of 180 plots, which ranged from 40 by 40 meters to 40 by 60 meters.

In 2013 and 2014, while earning a master’s degree in natural resources management, Andrew Allaby worked with Juday to design a project that would re-examine the type of trees and the total growth in the plots.

Allaby sampled the trees on 135 of the plots, measuring about 10 percent of the trees in each, and he measured all trees in six plots to check the sampling system. Allaby analyzed the total biomass, stand density and basal area, which is a cross-section of the surface area of a stump if the tree was cut at chest height. Brian Young, who worked for the Division of Forestry and had just completed his doctorate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, helped with the analysis of the data and on the paper.

Their research shows that white spruce basal area in the planted seedling plots was six times greater than in the naturally regenerated plots, and the number of white spruce stems in broadcast-seeded plots was three times greater.

Juday said that when the regeneration experiment began, the production of new stands of large white spruce was the goal almost exclusively. Now some forest landowners want wood of any type for biomass energy and the regeneration installation provided useful information about other trees.

A disk trencher removes vegetation in the slope unit in 1985.
The ground treatments did not have a significant effect on the spruce regeneration but it did encourage an increase in the size and density of birch trees. The researchers also found differences between which regeneration practices worked best on the upland slopes and the ridgeline. The distance from unburned seed sources also made a difference.

Juday is excited about the research, which was supported by a state capital appropriation. Overall, the study is one more important piece of information that shows the state’s reforestation practices are working, he said. The Alaska Constitution calls for sustained yield on forestlands. Now this study and a recent long-term study by another graduate student, Miho Morimoto, have directly examined the regeneration of harvested forestlands.

“We’ve got much more evidence now that the regeneration practices have worked,” Juday said.

As part of timber sales, the Division of Forestry evaluates each site and prescribes different regeneration techniques, based the topography of an area, the distance from seed sources and other considerations. Some of the more successful regeneration treatments examined in the study, including ground treatments, broadcast seeding and planting seedings, are among the treatments required by the state, said Juday.

A science and technical committee established by the Division of Forestry used the new information and research from the Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research site to revise state reforestation standards.

Allaby, the lead author on the paper, received his master’s degree in 2016 and works for the Division of Forestry. Young, who earned his doctorate in natural resources management in 2013, is an assistant professor at Landmark College in Vermont. Juday retired from the university in 2014 but continues with his research.

Milan Shipka and multistate research team honored

Milan Shipka
One of the multistate research groups that SNRE Research Director Milan Shipka leads has been recognized with a Western Region Excellence in Research Award. Only one multistate research group is honored regionally each year.

The multistate group studies the reproductive physiology of domestic ruminants and includes members from 34 states from Florida to Alaska. The work of the research team was highlighted Aug. 24 in National Institute if Food and Agriculture's Fresh from the Field highlights. Look for “Chew on this: Ruminant research makes for healthier cows and sheep” and the infographic about the impacts of the reproductive research. Shipka’s research has focused on the reproductive physiology of reindeer.

Shipka has been a member of the research group since 1999 and its research leader for the past four or five years. The Multistate Research Review Committee chose the research project to honor. The committee includes representatives from the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors and the Western Extension Directors Association. The research group was honored in July at the joint meeting of Extension and experiment station directors and academic heads in Portland, Oregon. Shipka also leads multistate groups that study nutrient bioavailability and germ cell and embryo development and manipulation for the improvement of livestock.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

SNRE profiles: Leif Albertson does it all in Bethel

Leif Albertson coordinates the community garden in Bethel.
Photo by Cindy Andrechek

On any given week, Leif Albertson might present programs on canning fish, improving indoor air quality or eradicating bed bugs.

It’s all part of his job as the sole Cooperative Extension Service agent in Bethel. He is a health, home and family development agent, but he responds to diverse community requests and needs for educational programming in Southwest Alaska.

Albertson got involved with bed bug eradication when he realized there was a problem in rural Alaska and few resources existed for people trying to get rid of the persistent insects. Albertson, who has a background in public health and worked in an insect lab during college, studied up on bed bugs, gave presentations at state health conferences and co-authored an Extension publication on the subject.

As a new Extension agent, in 2008, he consulted with other Alaska agents about the kind of programs they were doing. He was advised to assess the needs of the region and to offer research-based programs to meet those needs.

Albertson said food preservation seemed like a good place to start because of the price of food.

“It’s much more expensive in Bethel,” he said.

Extension home economists showed him how to preserve foods and adjust pressure canner gauges. Interest in food preservation classes has remained high, he said, in part because of diminished fish runs some years on the Kuskokwim River. He offers classes in canning meat, fish and vegetables, pickling techniques and making yogurt. He also has taught classes on butchering moose and chickens.

Before coming to Extension, Albertson earned a master’s degree in public health policy and management from Harvard, and he managed more than 40 health clinics for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. As “the public health guy” in Extension, he provides programs on a number of health issues that affect rural Alaska, including indoor air quality, diabetes and tobacco use.

Albertson became interested in indoor air quality after he realized that children in Western Alaska younger than age 5 have some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the world. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in the Yukon-Kuskowim area, he said.

“It seemed like a need because there were a lot of sick kids,” he said.

A lack of ventilation in homes, high rates of smoking and living in close quarters all contribute to the problem in rural Alaska, he said. Albertson undertook training through the National Environmental Health Association to become certified as a healthy homes specialist, the first in Alaska. That led to a number of programs in Southwest Alaska and presentations at statewide conferences. He also became certified to train others, and a number of Alaskans now hold that certification.

Albertson grew up in Anchorage. After he graduated from college, he moved to Bethel in 2002 for a job as a health program associate for the state, providing educational outreach to individuals about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. When he left Bethel for graduate school, he said he didn’t plan to return but found that he really missed it.

He has many ties to Bethel now, but his first community connection came almost by accident. Shortly after he moved to town, he started volunteering with the Bethel Fire Department simply because it had the best gym in town, he said. He has volunteered with the department for nearly 15 years as a firefighter and now as a paramedic.

He also served on an energy committee affiliated with the Bethel City Council for several years before getting elected as a city councilman in 2013 and re-elected two years later. Another public role he has is coordinating the community garden, with the help of an advisory board. He assigns plots and sometimes offers gardening programs on soils, growing potatoes or handling root maggots.

Although Albertson’s district covers more than 60 communities in Southwest Alaska, a limited travel budget means that he often works with other agencies to travel to communities outside of Bethel. He also coordinates with Extension staff in Bethel, who provide nutrition education and work with the 4-H program and youth.

You won’t find Albertson in his office very much. He’s usually out doing programs and has his office phone forwarded to his personal cellphone. Because people know he’s the Extension agent, opportunities for community engagement present themselves often, at the grocery store, the airport or just around town. He gets questions on a wide range of issues, sometimes from people in the middle of canning salmon. Albertson likes taking those calls and finding answers.

“I like the flexibility and the variety and that any day someone might call me and ask a question that I don’t know the answer to,” he said.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Eight SNRE students receive scholarships

Congratulations to eight undergraduate students with the School of Natural Resources and Extension who received scholarships for the coming year.

The scholarship awards range from $500 to $1,800. A SNRE scholarship committee recommends students for the scholarships based on their criteria, and UAF notifies the students. The recipients for the 2017-2018 year and the scholarships are:

Hannah Christian: Paul and Flora Greimann Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to any natural resources management major, but students studying agriculture are preferred.

Jessica Herzog and Trevor Schoening: John B. and Mae M. Hakala Scholarship (two awards). The scholarship is awarded to students pursuing a degree in natural resources management, wildlife biology, biological sciences or nursing.

Kimberly Diamond: Bonita J. Neiland Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students in the natural resources management degree program who study the biophysical aspects of forestry or agriculture, or whose studies emphasize biology or ecology. The scholarship honors Dr. Neiland, who was director of instruction and taught natural resources management and botany at what was then known as the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management.

Abigail Steffen: Liu Huang Chou Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students who study plant pathology, plant biology or agriculture.

Dawson Foster, Mike Hoyt Society of American Foresters Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to a student who is studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

David Rhodes: Walt Begalka Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to a student who is studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

Sagen Maddalena: Richard W. and Margery Tindall/Society of American Foresters Scholarship. The award is given to a student studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

School hosting field seminar for Hokkaido University

Hokkaido University students and their professors, representatives from
UAF International Programs and Initiatives and Miho Morimoto
and Dave Valentine gather on the first day of the field seminar.

Eight students and two professors from Hokkaido University arrived Monday for the second edition of the Alaska Natural Resources Sustainability Field Seminar hosted by SNRE and UAF International Programs and Initiatives.

Miho Morimoto and Professor Dave Valentine are again coordinating the seminar and a busy schedule of field tours and lectures relevant to the natural resources theme Aug. 8-17. Conveniently, the group will fit in a 12-passenger van to be piloted by Miho, a postdoctoral researcher.

Valentine said the seminar will be similar to last year’s, with many of the same lecturers, but the students will visit the permafrost tunnel near Fox this time and will spend a night in Trapper Creek after visiting Denali National Park.

Valentine said that he got some good feedback from the students and professors who participated in the seminar last year. “Hokkaido wanted to do it again,” he said.

Seminar topics will include sustainability, the boreal forest, permafrost, the trans-Alaska pipeline, fisheries, permafrost, historical gold mining, Native corporations, timber use, wildland fire, forest and wildlife management, Alaska livestock and agriculture, and rocket research. Lectures will be given by UAF professors and representatives from agencies, businesses and a Native corporation. Lecturers from the School of Natural Resources and Extension will include Jan Dawe, Valentine, Morimoto, Glenn Juday, Milan Shipka, Mingchu Zhang and Art Nash.

The group will travel to the pipeline, a gold dredge, the Poker Flat Research Range, the permafrost tunnel, Denali National Park, Creamer's Field, Superior Pellets, the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, Georgeson Botanical Garden, the Large Animal Research Station, the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest, Northland Wood Products and other locations.

As before, students participating in the seminar reflect a variety of disciplines, including forest sciences, medicine and engineering. The two Hokkaido professors, Masahide Kaeriyama and Xiao Lan, are participating for the second year. Morimoto also has Hokkaido connections. She is from Japan and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hokkaido University before earning a doctorate from the School of Natural Resources and Extension.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

High school teachers study natural resources at O'Neill

Nineteen high school teachers from across the U.S. are at UAF this week, attending a training to help them use applied science with an agricultural theme in their classrooms.

Iowa teachers Susan Krummen and Alan Spencer
 examine soil to determine its texture in the O'Neill Building lab.
Most are agriculture or natural resources teachers. The School of Natural Resources and Extension provided lab and classroom space in the O'Neill Building for the CASE institute, which focuses on hands-on activities.

The Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska Association of Agriculture and Natural Resource Educators hosted the training, which runs from July 24-Aug. 3 and provides certification from CASE, which stands for the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education. CASE is sponsored by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.

The focus for this training is natural resources and ecology. The idea is to show and provide teachers a year's worth of curriculum and activities that they can use when they go home.

Dan Jansen, the national project director for CASE and its founder, was in Fairbanks for the first few days of the workshop.

“If you’re a new teacher, this gives you labs to take back to your classroom,” he said.

Jansen is a former Oregon high school agriculture teacher who also trained agriculture teachers at Oregon State University. He said the approach for the CASE institutes came out of his experience teaching. He saw how kids responded to learning practical applications of science that involve critical thinking.

Agriculture classes and FFA activities also serve as a natural pipeline to natural resources and agriculture university programs, such as SNRE, he said.

This is the first CASE institute offered in Fairbanks, but State FFA Advisor Kevin Fochs and Sue McCullough of the Alaska Association of Agriculture and Natural Resource Educators would like there to be more.

McCullough, who serves as a FFA advisor at Effie Kokrine Charter School, said only one Alaska teacher, in Palmer, is currently certified to teach agriculture and teaches the subject full-time.

“He’s the only one,” she said.
Iowa teacher Eddie Wadsworth helps measure
the slope of the ground.

Fochs said one of their goals is to increase the number of teachers who teach agriculture in Alaska high schools. The Alaska Department of Education recently added agriculture as a certification for teaching.

Although they reserved space for Alaska teachers in the training, only one signed up, from Fairbanks. The other teachers are from Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Washington State and New York. All are staying in Wickersham Hall at UAF.

Alan Spencer, an agriculture teacher from Red Oak, Iowa is attending his sixth CASE institute. The subjects he teaches in high school are all based on CASE institute curriculum, including basic agriculture, plant science, natural resources, animal science, food science and ag power technology.

There are definite connections between natural resources and agriculture, he said. “Part of agriculture is taking care of the land.”

Spencer grew up on a farm that raised cattle, hogs, corn and soybeans, and his father also taught agriculture at the high school level. He has been teaching agriculture for 20 years, and said he wished he had the curriculum as a beginning teacher.

He noted that the additional expenses needed to stage the labs often have been covered by grants he has applied for and other sources of funding he has pursued, but he considers the effort worthwhile.

The sees the value of the curriculum as opposed to lectures and students’ standard note taking. “They actually get to do these things that they are learning about,” he said.

Cheryl Sanders, who teaches earth science and natural resources at Hutchinson High School, is the only Alaska teacher attending the institute. She is taking the institute to develop a natural resources class that emphasizes physical science in addition to her class with a life science focus. The agricultural examples would fit in well with that curriculum, she said.

Sanders, who is the FFA advisor at Hutchison, said students there developed a raised-bed garden this past year and are already interested in agriculture.

She notes that natural resources education is particularly important in Alaska, which depends on natural resources such as timber, fisheries, mining, oil and coal.  At the same time, natural resources are interconnected with soils and agriculture.

“In order to have sustainable agriculture, you have to take into account natural resources.”

During their time in Fairbanks, the teachers have studied soils, water, air quality and agriculture. They toured operations at Chena Hot Springs one day and enjoyed a swim. Two teachers who are former participants in the institutes, lead the training.

Monday, July 31, 2017

University centennial celebrated with barley display

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm sculpted this celebration of the university's centennial,  and Dave Thomas used his drone to take this photo last week. Farm manager Alan Tonne said he and Bob Van Veldhuizen laid out the barley plots and and he seeded them. Similar arrays celebrated the farm's centennial in 2006 and its 75th anniversary in 1981. University Relations requested the homegrown artwork.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Variety trials return to the Georgeson

Glenna Gannon and Heidi Rader kneel by the research plots.

After an eight-year hiatus, limited vegetable variety trials resumed this summer at the Georgeson Botanical Garden in Fairbanks.

Tribes Extension Educator Heidi Rader is coordinating the five-year project. The idea is to see which vegetable varieties perform best in Interior Alaska and possibly other locations.

“Generally, seed companies aren’t testing to see if varieties are growing well in Alaska,” she said.

Four varieties of beets are planted at the garden.
Finding vegetable varieties that grow well in Alaska has been a goal of experiment stations from their earliest days. Agronomist C.C. Georgeson published his first circular that recommended vegetable varieties in 1905 — a year before the Fairbanks Experiment Station and farm opened. At the time, other experiment stations operated in Sitka, Rampart, Kodiak, Kenai and Copper Center.

The Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Fairbanks conducted vegetable variety trials annually for many years before they ended in 2009 due to budget cuts.

The current project got a slow start this summer because Rader only learned at the end of April that she would be taking over the trials, which are supported by a federal grant. Two people were hired quickly and, once they started June 1, it took two weeks to develop the ground at the garden for the vegetables, she said. Previously, trees and blueberry bushes occupied the space. Two 20-by-60-foot plots were prepared near the peony plots.

Altogether, four varieties each of carrots, beets, daikon radishes and turnips are being grown at the garden in Fairbanks Daikons are white radishes with a long root. Each variety is replicated in two additional plots to allow for variations in soil quality.

Frost cloth or row covers protect the radishes and turnips from pests, including root maggots, and yellow caution tape surround the plots — to announce that the research plots are off-limits to visitors.

Frost covers protect radishes and turnips from root maggots.
As the vegetables mature, they will be evaluated for yield, taste, plant and seedling vigor, harvest period and susceptibility to pests. Graduate student Glenna Gannon is doing most of the work at the garden this summer with the help of an assistant.

For the first year, Rader chose well-known cultivars or varieties that were previously tested here as well as other varieties that have not been evaluated before but are described by seed companies as cold-tolerant. New varieties are developed all the time, she said. The trials of those vegetables and others will repeat for three years with the end goal of updating an Extension publication on recommended varieties that farmers and gardeners can use.

Rader hopes to find a larger space at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to continue and expand the trials in subsequent years but, because of limited funding, the scope of the project will remain smaller than what has been done historically. Rader also hopes to expand the trials next year to the Matanuska Experiment Farm.

Four varieties of turnips, including these Golden Ball Turnips,
are being grown in the variety trials.
While Rader is enthusiastic about testing the varieties, she’s also continuing to improve and promote the Grow & Tell app, which allows gardeners and farmers around the state to enter data about the varieties they have grown. The idea is that others can see what grows well in their area. Rader says this is a much more comprehensive approach to field testing varieties throughout Alaska.

She hopes that the variety trials and the app will help gardeners to choose the best varieties for their location. The Georgeson Botanical Garden website at and circulars and variety trials on the School of Natural Resources and Extension website contain the results of vegetable trials at the farm going back to 1979. Rader said a database has been purchased to show the results of all past variety trials.

She acknowledges that the scope of the trials is pretty modest the first year due to several challenges. “We’re starting small but we’re getting the variety trials going again,” she said. “We’re launching and growing.”

While they are not part of Rader’s variety trials, six varieties of zucchini are being tested this summer at the Matanuska Experiment Farm, according to Director Susanna Pearlstein.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Ag Appreciation Day to be hosted Aug. 3 in Palmer

The Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer will host Alaska Agriculture Appreciation Day at the Farm from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 3.

A participant at last year's Agriculture Appreciation Day
at the Farm shows off a radish she harvested.
Steve Brown photo
The free annual event has the atmosphere of a country fair with educational presentations, hayrides, animals, and a number of kids’ and family activities.

“It’s just a country event to bring awareness of agriculture in the Mat-Su Valley,” said coordinator Theresa Isaac. The event draws more that 1,000 visitors every year.

This year's event will include presentations on edible berries and wild edibles, small grain trials, building a hoop house and the new meatpacking process at Mike’s Quality Meats, as well as an experiment farm update from its new director, Susanna Pearlstein. Demonstrations will feature search and rescue dogs, spinning and weaving wool, a biomass gasifier and a cabbage stir-fry. Kids’ activities will include vegetable bobbing, searching for “gold nuggets” in a haystack and a dunk tank. Continuing a popular tradition, kids may harvest and dig for several vegetables, including potatoes.

Mike’s Meats will provide free pork samples, and new and returning vendors will showcase a variety of food and nonfood products.

The farm, at 1509 S. Georgeson Drive, provides research facilities, classroom space and offices for University of Alaska Fairbanks research and Extension. Call Isaac at 907-746-9450 for more information.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Georgeson peonies and wine fundraiser set for July 21

Bradley Enzenauer gets ready to pour wine at the 2016 Wine
 and Peonies in the Garden event.
Participants at the 2016 event gather under the Beistline
The Georgeson Botanical Garden Society will host an evening of food, wine and peonies Friday, July 21.

Wine and Peonies in the Garden will run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Georgeson Botanical Garden at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The fundraiser will include a short tour of the garden, finger foods, wine and a peony bouquet. Tickets are $25 and are available at the event. The money raised will support garden operations.

Joy Morrison, who is coordinating the second-annual event, said food and wine will be served in the Beistline Pavilion. The garden is located at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, 117 West Tanana Drive. For more information, call Morrison at 907-687-4493 or email

Friday, June 30, 2017

Birch sap cooperative boosts OneTree's work

When Jan Dawe sought extra help this spring collecting birch sap for OneTree Alaska’s research, the response surpassed her expectations.

Sugar master Shaun Johnson filters the syrup that he has been
 processing in OneTree's facility.
Dawe said more than 20 people showed up at the first birch sap cooperative meeting OneTree organized, and people just kept calling and stopping by to check out the taps and buckets they needed.  Altogether, 43 households and school groups collected sap for the co-op.

Individuals who delivered sap to the OneTree facility in the old Lola Tilly Commons kitchen will receive a share of birch syrup in July based on the amount of sap they contributed.

OneTree's buckets hang from trees at Valene
and Rod Ebersole's home.
And they delivered. Beginning in mid-April, 3.5- and 5-gallon white buckets arrived daily during 30-day season when clear sap flowed in Interior birch trees. Some collectors delivered as many as 60-80 gallons a day. They tapped trees as far south as Salcha and in all areas around Fairbanks.

Altogether, volunteers collected 3,300 gallons of birch sap. That, combined with OneTree’s collection of 2,000 gallons, added up to 5,300 gallons — one sweet haul.

Dawe and her staff have been exploring processing techniques for small-scale birch sap production.  They are investigating different types of evaporators and methods to see how they affect the efficiency and quality of syrup production. Dawe, a botanist by training, is a research assistant professor of natural resource education and community engagement. She describes the birch sap work as a demonstration research project, and the OneTree facility an “incubator” to encourage entrepreneurs interested in the business.  

At least seven producers sold birch syrup in Alaska in the 1990s, she said.  Only one larger business near Talkeetna, Kahiltna Birchworks, still exists, along with a new small company in Fairbanks called Sample Alaska, LLC

Dawe said the co-op’s birch tappers included students, retirees, families and others. Some were curious about tapping trees and others want to sell products, such as candies and granola, made with the syrup. A few are considering whether to start their own business.

Shaun Johnson uses a digital refractometer to
 measure the sugar content of the syrup.
Valene and Rod Ebersole tapped 60 birch trees on their farm off Steele Creek Road and on their best day delivered 80 gallons of sap to the co-op. They averaged around 60 gallons over a 10-day period. Valene said the couple planted 1,000 peonies last year and were looking for other possibilities for their farm when they heard about birch syrup processing at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Fairbanks this spring.

She said, “We’ve got birch trees. Why don’t we try this?”

She said it went pretty well, although it was a lot of labor carrying around the buckets. They may try tubing next year and collect sap for the co-op again. After they see how things go next year, they will consider whether to start making birch syrup as a business.

Mary Calmes and her husband, Tim Quintal, learned about the co-op from a neighbor and decided to give birch tapping a try. After getting the equipment and instructions from OneTree, they tapped six birch trees on their property off Smallwood Trail.

Calmes said they collected about three gallons of birch sap daily, kept a half-gallon for themselves to drink and delivered the rest. Calmes said the birch water tastes a lot like water but has a hint of sweetness to it and contains a variety of minerals.  They plan to tap again next year, she said, because as retirees they have the time to do it.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Calmes.

Dawe has been working with a New York fabricator who sells small-scale evaporators and reverse osmosis machines for sap product operations. Steve Caccamo of Next Generation Maple Products came to Alaska this spring to install equipment in the OneTree facility and to participate with Dawe in birch sap processing workshops. The smaller, hobby-size equipment he sells makes it more affordable for small producers to get in the business, according to Dawe.

Birch sap is sold in many areas of the world as birch water, a tonic with a slightly sweet taste, and some countries have traditionally held birch sap festivals. Dawe said birch sap has gained attention lately because of what people believe are its healthful properties.

Concentrated birch sap awaits processing.
Individuals who have tasted birch syrup previously may think of a dark molasses-tasting syrup.  The darker syrup is developed with longer processing times and late season sap. Dawe and crew have been experimenting with quicker processing methods that produce a lighter-colored syrup with more subtle flavors reminiscent of honey with a slightly fruity flavor.

In OneTree’s facility on a recent afternoon, the program’s sugar master, Shaun Johnson, explained how the process works.  Sap is run through a filter and into a 150-gallon tank. From there, it runs through a reverse osmosis machine to concentrate the syrup and eliminate about 85 percent of the water. The concentrated sap is frozen until it can be further processed in a steam evaporator or in a heated flat metal pan.

As the water evaporates, he uses a digital refractometer to check the sugar level. As it concentrates, the syrup darkens. They use a variety of evaporators, but he says, “The faster the evaporator, the lighter the syrup.”

It takes, on average, 100 gallons of birch sap for 1 gallon of syrup. Maple sap is sweeter at about  40:1. First run birch sap collected during the first few days of sap season is the best because it contains some sucrose, said Dawe. In fact, OneTree’s early-season birch syrup won first place for taste this year in the second-annual Global Birch Syrups Challenge in Leningrad, which included entries from Russia, Alaska and Canada.

In addition to research and outreach, Dawe and her staff are experimenting with selling birch syrup-based products to help support the OneTree program. They are selling straws that contain birch syrup for $1 each and are also developing birch caramels and birch fudge. Dawe said that at least two university programs in Vermont and New York also help support their programs by selling birch products.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Georgeson to host birthday bash for its namesake

The Georgeson Botanical Garden will celebrate the 166th birthday of its namesake with a birthday bash from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 25 at the garden.

The Georgeson Botanical Garden in full summer bloom.
Activities will include a craft fair, raffle, educational stations on beekeeping, peonies and herbs, face painting for kids, food for purchase, a birthday cake and, of course, beautiful flowers to view. The Dry Cabin String Band will provide music at 1 p.m. and garden manager Katie DiCristina will announce a “birthday gift” pledge drive at 2 p.m. A garden sculpture of the herb anise hyssop will also be dedicated to longtime volunteer and herb expert Barbara Fay.

Charles C. Georgeson was a plant breeder and agronomist who came to Alaska as the special agent in charge of the U.S. experiment stations in Alaska. He helped establish a series of stations, including the Fairbanks Experiment Farm in 1906, and he stayed to conduct research on livestock, grain and fruit. Georgeson was an enthusiastic supporter of agriculture in Alaska.

This sculpture of the herb anise hyssop will be dedicated
to herb expert Barbara Fay during the birthday bash.
The garden is located at 117 W. Tanana Drive, about a mile west of the main University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The Georgeson Botanical Garden Society and the School of Natural Resources and Extension are sponsoring the event. For more information, contact Mathew Carrick at 907-841-4907 or

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Volunteers improve look of Matanuska Farm

Mat-Su Health Foundation staff and Matanuska Experiment Farm Director
Susanna Pearlstein, standing to the left of the sign, planted flower beds
on United Way's Day of Caring.

Thanks to a group of caring people, the entrance signs at the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center have a new look.
Elizabeth Ripley removes sod during the Day of
 Caring event at the farm.

Susanna Pearlstein, director of the Matanuska Experiment Farm, was looking for volunteers to help out at the farm and contacted United Way. She ended up submitting an application for Day of Caring, a United Way event that provides an opportunity for organizations and volunteers to work together to meet the needs of their community. 

Day of Caring took place on May 17, and the farm was fortunate enough to get an enthusiastic group from the Mat-Su Health Foundation who went right to work. The crew of 10 pulled out sod, laid weed prevention cloth, added soil and planted low-maintenance perennials, such as delphiniums, St. John’s wort, lilies, bleeding heart and poppies.

Mat-Su Health Foundation is no stranger to the farm and has provided grants in the past. Throughout the day, the volunteers and the farm staff shared information about each other while working toward a common goal — to add character to the farm and make it more inviting to the public.

Theresa Isaac waters flowers at the end of planting day
on May 31.
Pearlstein hopes to increase community involvement at the farm and create a permanent volunteer base. A Friends of the Farm group is being formed to assist with volunteer organizing and fundraising in the hopes of holding more events to beautify the farm. One such annual event is the farm’s Planting Day, when Extension’s Community Garden and Demonstration Garden members come plant their beds. The farm provides lunch for this fun event, which took place on May 31 this year.

For Pearlstein, beautifying the entrance is just the beginning. “The flowers are currently small, but just like activities at the farm they will continue to grow!”