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Peninsula farmers to learn good soil

All the dirt that's fit to grow

Posted: April 17, 2014 - 9:20pm  |  Updated: April 17, 2014 - 9:46pm

Kenai growers want good dirt.

Developing quality compost is becoming an integral process for organic agriculturalists on the Peninsula, and will be a subject at this year’s Kenai Peninsula Ag Forum on April 26, at the Land’s End Resort in Homer.

The topic was introduced after attendees from last year’s event reported a high interest in learning what tools and resources other regional gardeners are using to improve garden beds, said Amy Seitz, vice president for Kenai Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development District.

Jodie Anderson, soil scientist at HDR Inc., will speak the Ag Forum. She will present the benefits of using fish waste as fertilizer, a readily available material for Alaskan composters.

Anderson researched the effects of fish-based compost compared to the synthetic fertilizer “urea” on potatoes, the state’s biggest cash crop, and barley, the biggest grain crop, as a former instructor for University of Alaska in Fairbanks’ School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. She found them both to yield comparable crops.

“It wasn’t my hypothesis, but that’s science,” Anderson said. “It is still a good deal.”

Anderson said agriculture is nearing a wave of sustainable production. Supportable soil enrichment methods are part of the foundation for that process, she said.

Pete Kinneen, executive director of the non-profit Environmental Recycling Inc., will present a formula on fish-based composting at the Ag Forum.

Fish compost does not attract dogs or bears; the odor is virtually undetectable if done correctly Kinneen said.

The trick is to facilitate a balance of carbon and nitrogen, he said.

Fish should never be any closer than 12 inches to the outside of the compost pile, Kinneen said. A good ratio is, at minimum, 10 five-pound buckets of wood chips, to every single five-pound bucket of fish waste. Cardboard and dry newspapers are also good sources of carbon, he said.

It is equally important to stir the concoction every few weeks, as the fish product begins to decompose, Kinneen said. As it mixes together, pour a layer about six inches thick over the top, until about seven weeks in.

Kinneen advocates for personally exploring sustainable composting methods.

Not only is it an enjoyable pastime, he said, but he also predicts fish-based composting will be an essential part of dealing with fish waste from fish processing companies in the near future.

The sense that Alaskans can’t sustainably rely on outside produce, might be contributing to the increase in local gardeners, said Marion Nelson, president of the Central Peninsula Garden Club.

“Compost is of high interest to most gardeners,” said Nelson. “Some Kenai gardeners can go a whole winter with food they have dried, canned, stored. It’s quite amazing, quite impressive.”

Lydia Clayton, University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Horticulture Agent, will be moderating a soil health panel at the Ag Forum.

The panel will delve into building healthy organic matter, including aerating soil, green manure, cover crops and compost.

“Bad soil really limits possibility of production yields,” Clayton said. Taking a soil test for present microorganisms and pH levels, the measurement of acidity, in a garden bed is a great way to establish a baseline as a beginning gardener. Then it is easier to know what products to add, she said.

Kelly Sullivan can be reached at Kelly.Sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

 

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