Chilkat Valley Orchard Project launches educational workshop series for residents

 

January 14, 2021



A free workshop about starting an orchard drew 80 participants on Saturday. The workshop is the first in a series hosted by the Chilkat Valley Orchard Project with the goal of educating residents about fruit tree cultivation in preparation for starting their own orchards.

Funding for the project comes from a two-year, $27,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant the Chilkat Valley Historical Society received last April to further long-term goals of increasing food security and economic development in the area.

Project manager Burl Sheldon said the turnout at the first workshop impressed him. “I don’t know how many were local folks, but I was really stunned. We had people from all over Southeast—from Juneau, Gustavus, Sitka, Prince of Wales Island and Petersburg.”

Attendees listened to an hour-long presentation from local orchardist Blythe Carter and Hoonah-based commercial apple tree grower Rob Bishop. The presentation was followed by a question-and-answer period.

Carter said she sees her involvement with the orchard project as an opportunity to pass on the knowledge she’s gained through starting her 120-tree orchard in the Chilkat Valley.

“It’s really a matter of trial and error. There’s definitely a learning curve—this tree did well, so this similar tree will probably do well here,” she said.

Both Sheldon and Carter said there’s a lack of information about growing fruit trees in Southeast Alaska.

“There’s just not a whole lot of research out there for Southeast, and especially for Haines, which is less rainy than the rest of the region,” Carter said. She said when she started her own orchard, she researched what worked well in somewhat similar climates like Fairbanks and filtered the information through her experience gardening in Haines.


Sheldon said he hopes one of the project’s outcomes is increased data about best practices for growing fruit trees in Haines. “One of our goals is to produce an updated guide to growing fruit for our region,” he said.

Year one of the Chilkat Valley Orchard Project focuses on educating those interested in starting orchards about fruit tree cultivation and gathering data about local growing potential. Year two will focus on applying newfound knowledge and Haines-specific data to begin orchards, including an experimental orchard at Henderson Farm with support from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.


In coordination with the orchard project, the Chilkat Valley Historical Society is raising funds to start a grant program to reimburse individuals who start orchards, or make fencing improvements to existing orchards. The initiative is called the Secure Orchard Starter Grant Program and the minimum award amount is $300.


Sheldon said the grant program has already received a sizeable donation. Participation in at least two Chilkat Valley Orchard Project educational workshops is required for eligibility.

A recording of the workshop can be found online at cvorchardproject.org, under the resources tab. The next workshop, on the subject of planting fruit trees, will take place via Zoom on Jan. 23 at 4 p.m. Registration is required. Sheldon said as of Monday, 113 people had registered.

 
 

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