March 15, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 11

Gardening conference blooms this week

The Greater Lynn Canal Garden Conference will spring up in Haines this weekend for the first time. Speakers from around the region, including Alaska Cooperative Extension agent Darren Snyder, will offer advice on growing food ranging from potatoes to fruit.

Resident Melissa Aronson said she’ll attend the $30 conference, and is most interested in presentations on fruit trees and the history of Chilkat Valley agriculture.

“Alaska is not the easiest place in the world to garden, that’s for sure, but it’s probably one of the most important places to garden, because we are so far from a lot of commercial agriculture,” Aronson said. “If we really want good, fresh, organic food here, especially the fresh part, we’ve got to grow it ourselves.”

The event features workshops at the Haines School, plus speeches by Bob Henderson of Haines, Charlotte Jewell of Skagway and Ed Buyarski of Juneau.

Buyarski organized the conference with George Campbell and James David Sneed. Buyarski said Southeast gardeners previously have gathered in Juneau and Sitka, and when there was a break in the calendar, Haines seemed like a great option to host.

“This time of year, gardeners are an optimistic bunch, even though snow is seven feet deep out there,” he said.

The conference opens 7 p.m. Friday at the Chilkat Center, when resident Henderson will share some of the knowledge gained during his more than 50 years in the Chilkat Valley.

Jewell of Jewell Gardens in Skagway will give the 9 a.m. Saturday keynote at the school, and the conference closes with Buyarski’s pruning workshop 11 a.m. Sunday at the Sheldon Museum.

Buyarski has lived in Southeast since 1983, with stops in Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka and Juneau, and said he turned to locals for tips. “Every year’s an experiment in Southeast Alaska,” he said. “Every place, from one year to the next, is different.”

Saturday features a full slate of workshops at the Haines School, with start times running from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

George Campbell’s 10:30 a.m. workshop is on landscape pre-planning that aims “to avoid some common landscaping problems by planning ahead for future development thinking about access, drainage and more.”

“A lot of what I do is commercial, so it’s a challenge trying to figure out a better way to do something,” Campbell said.

Also on Saturday, Buyarski will present on growing potatoes and garlic; Jewell on herbs and edible flowers; Jeff Smeenk of Alaska Cooperative Extension on high tunnels and gardening, and soils and fertility; Snyder of Alaska Cooperative Extension on homestead food production; and James David Sneed on “The Real Skookum on Seed Packets and Catalogs.”

Resident Rob Goldberg, who has grown fruit here more than 20 years, speaks 4 p.m. Saturday. Helped by a state grant, Goldberg recently built a greenhouse for his trees.

“A big challenge is the cool summer, because a lot of fruit won’t ripen here without a certain number of what they call heat units, and that is basically time over 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day,” Goldberg said. “We need sunny, warm days in order for fruit to ripen, and some of our summers just are not warm enough.”

Conference tickets are available at the door or at Babbling Book. The $30 fee includes lunch on Saturday and a panel discussion on political and economic realities of food. Donations will be accepted at the Friday and Sunday talks.

For more information, visit the Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners website at www.seakmg.org.