Building Alaska Garden Soils from the Ground Up: Local Soils Research and Demonstration Projects

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $48,497.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Stephen Sparrow
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: potatoes


  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, organic matter, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, public participation, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Many Alaska communities have stated an interest in food production, but perceive that a lack of adequate soils inhibits gardening. Most Alaskan producers confront related soil problems, such as thin root zones, nutrient-poor soils with low organic material contents, and some issues with permafrost. Despite the high cost of shipping, some producers actually import all of their garden soils from the continental United States on a barge, unaware that many of the necessary soil components can be found locally. This project will address these concerns and perceived gardening barriers during the two community workshops and the subsequent video produced.

    The research component of the project will focus primarily on soil improvement methodologies in two different ways. First, the research component will compare the nutrient availability throughout the growing season in locally built and amended soils, with locally built and synthetically fertilized soils. Secondly, it will compare the vegetable yield grown in both types of soil, using potatoes as the common crop. Producers in five different locations, representing each “region” of Alaska, will build four raised-beds and will fill them with locally manufactured soils (with technical guidance). Two beds will be fertilized with local organic nutrient sources and two beds will be fertilized with conventional fertilizer. Using potatoes as an indicator crop, bi-weekly soil samples will be evaluated for nutrient availability and potato yield data will be collected. After soil data is analyzed, recommendations for further amendments will be given to the producers so they have a guideline for improving crop yields the following growing season.

    The outreach component of this project, in addition to meeting the soil issue outlined above, will also meet the Western SARE Subregional Conference goal of providing more education and outreach to producers. The outreach plan of the project will be more involved than creating a "how-to" bulletin or providing web-based information. Because of the diversity of Alaska’s climate and cultures, face-to-face workshops in all interested communities would need to occur; however, the high cost of travel makes on-site workshops in every community impractical. A good solution for this issue is to hold two soil-building workshops in rural communities that will give credibility to the project and result in better acceptance in other rural communities. These workshops would be filmed and a video would be created, which would be available on CD’s, the Internet (in focused segments on a site like YouTube), and delivered to agriculture professionals as a teaching tool. The video product will promote greater distribution to communities where budgets do not allow face-to-face interactions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Team: collect producers' provide input to guide project direction, coordinate the nutrient analysis of the local components sent to us by producers, teach the producers how to build soils, recommend soil development recipe for the producers, answer producer questions as they arise, develop SOP for research planting, soil sampling, and harvesting
    Five producers: survey local area for potential soil components and nutrient sources, collect and send research team samples of the mineral, organic material, and nutrient sources that will be used for the soil, learn how to build soil, build four identical raised-beds (at least 3 feet x 6 feet x 10 inches), mix the local soil components (less the nutrient amendments) as recommended by the research team and fill each raised-bed
    Professionals: storyboard the videos and the workshops, plan, hold, and videotape Southeast workshop, shoot the “classroom” video component, and plan Interior workshop

    Research Team: provide recommendations to producers on amounts of nutrient materials needed per bed, send out fertilizer and tubers, edit video, develop brochures and other outreach materials, collect and analyze soils samples and harvest data
    Producers: add nutrient treatments based on recommendations, manage all local crop management aspects, collect soil samples and harvest data, invite community members to view project (on-site, informal garden tours to highlight research project), send samples and yield data in to research team
    Professionals: storyboard additional video footage to be shot, plan, hold, and videotape Interior workshop

    Research Team, Professional Team, and Three Producers: delivery of outreach, formal scientific presentations, and posters

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.