Daily Archives: October 14, 2015

Record fruits of their labor — Soldotna family sets new state tomato title

Photo courtesy of Patrick White. Patrick White, of Soldotna, and his grandkids, from left, Mackenzie, Ethan and Caleb, show off the biggest of the giant tomatoes they grew this summer. They set a new state record of 4.5 pounds with a tomato picked in early September for the Alaska State Fair, and entered these four in the world tomato competition.

Photo courtesy of Patrick White. Patrick White, of Soldotna, and his grandkids, from left, Mackenzie, Ethan and Caleb, show off the biggest of the giant tomatoes they grew this summer. They set a new state record of 4.5 pounds with a tomato picked in early September for the Alaska State Fair, and entered these four in the world tomato competition.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

It’s hard to say what’s most impressive about Patrick White’s record-setting giant tomato at the Alaska State Fair this year — that it crushed (diced, stewed, pulverized) the previous record, that this was his first year growing giant tomatoes, that this was his first year growing anything in Alaska, or that the biggest specimens of his crop this year went on to far outweigh his own new state record.

Look out, world, here comes Soldotna.

“A lot of people have this for a hobby. They just grow giant vegetables, whether that’s parsnips or whatever. And, of course, Alaska’s always been famous,” White said.

To understand how any of this is possible, one first needs to understand a few things about White. He’s an engineer, he’s an inexhaustible researcher, boredom will absolutely ruin his day, he doesn’t do anything in half measures and when it comes to his tomatoes, he’s got a particularly potent source of motivation — grandkids who think the project is incredibly cool.

“They’re over every night looking at the tomatoes, looking at the chickens and it’s just good for the kids, so that’s the reason we did it,” White said, scrolling through pictures of Ethan, Mackenzie and Caleb White, ages 10, 8 and 6, grinning while two-hand hefting bulbous green tomatoes that are bigger than their heads. “As you can see, they kind of really enjoyed the whole thing.”

White is from Idaho. By trade he’s a civil engineer, having worked on designing drinking water plants at Eklutna, Juneau, Fairbanks and across the country. He’s now mostly retired, though he still takes jobs occasionally when he runs out of other things to keep himself occupied. By lifestyle they were farmers, raising two sons along with a big garden, hay, cattle and hogs, and being active in the state fair. When he and his wife, Cindy, moved to Soldotna in 2012, following their son, Stephen, who bought the Soldotna Gentle Dental practice, White at first thought he’d be leaving agriculture behind.

But it didn’t take long to realize what was possible with the combination of Alaska’s long summer days, a little ingenuity and the amplification of high tunnels.

He bought his first as a kit out of Missouri, a 30-by-96-foot, 14-foot tall, 3,000-square-foot affair with a heater as well as fans and thermostatically controlled vents for air circulation.

Then he decided he could do just as well himself and for a fraction of the cost. He ought a couple of fixed-radius tube benders from outfit in Texas, a bunch of pipe from Home Depot and some 6-mil plastic sheeting and put up two, 20-by-88-foot, 11-foot tall, 2,000-square-foot high tunnels, copying the design elements he liked from the kit model and rectifying those he didn’t. The curved roof ribs on the smaller high tunnels have diagonal support struts, like their big brother, to brace against winter snow load, but instead of a helical anchoring system, White went with duck-bill anchors jackhammered down three 3 feet past the clay layer providing 3,000 psi of pullout strength to keep them secure in high wind events.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Patrick White planted over 150 tomato plants in 14 varieties in his high tunnel this year. In his first attempt at growing giant tomatoes, he broke the state record and finished high in the world standings.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Patrick White planted over 150 tomato plants in 14 varieties in his high tunnel this year. In his first attempt at growing giant tomatoes, he broke the state record and finished high in the world standings.

“No, they’re not coming out,” he said. “The parts and pieces on this is about $2,500, as opposed to that at $20,000. This is a very doable thing because you can make it at any length you want,” he said.

He plans to add a roll-up system to the sides next year to help with temperature control. One thing he didn’t expect growing in Alaska was it could get too hot.

“The problem is it can be 45 degrees out here and once that sun comes out in Alaska, it’s 80 degrees in there. Once it gets to be 50 degrees, it’s 100 degrees in there, and without the roll-up sides you kill everything,” he said.

Moisture management also is key.

“Every day I get up and come out here in the growing season and I roll up those side walls and turn on those fans for about two hours,” he said. “And the reason is that all that moisture accumulates in here and it’s very humid, and if you don’t vent your high tunnels every day and get that humidity out you’re going to have mold and mildew problems. You just have to do it.”

In the smaller high tunnels he grew berries, raised chickens and attempted a giant pumpkin, but went a little overboard in helping Mother Nature along. He installed fluorescent lights and a hot water system with a PEX loop to keep it warm.

“But I think I actually caused verticillium wilt to start because they do need a dark cycle,” he said. ‘It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, 250 pounds, that’s horrible.’ I didn’t even take it to the fair.”

It’s hard to imagine a linebacker-sized gourd being a failure, but when the state record is over 1,200 pounds, a mere 250 is a lightweight.

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Firsthand egg take on fishing knowledge —  Students learn about life cycle in school salmon program

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Addison Havrilla, a third grader from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, touches a coho salmon during the annual “egg-take,” which took place along the bank of Bear Creek near Seward last Tuesday and the Anchor River last Wednesday. The events were part of the “Salmon in the Classroom” program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Addison Havrilla, a third grader from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, touches a coho salmon during the annual “egg-take,” which took place along the bank of Bear Creek near Seward last Tuesday and the Anchor River last Wednesday. The events were part of the “Salmon in the Classroom” program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

“Why don’t salmon have eyelids?” It may sound like the start of a joke but was a real question, one of many asked and answered during this year’s Salmon in the Classroom program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School District. The program took place along the banks of Bear Creek near Seward on Oct. 6 and the Anchor River on Oct. 7.

For the record, the answer is because they live in a liquid environment, so their eyes don’t dry out.

That’s a concept some of the students participating had never considered, which is partially the point of the program — to get kids thinking about the aquatic animals that many have spent their lives around, yet never really learned the basics about.

“It’s cute some of the things that they think and say when we start going over salmon identification, biology, life cycles and habitat requirements,” said Jenny Cope, a Fish and Game sportfish biologist from the Soldotna office.

During the course of the two-day egg take, Cope said that she hears just about every question imaginable, this year from about 300 students at Bear Creek and 400 at the Anchor River, as well as some reasonably well-thought-out, though still incorrect, answers to her own queries.

“No, it’s not fertilizer the male puts on the eggs,” she said at the Anchor Point location. “No, it’s milt with a ‘T,’ not milk that comes out of the males,” she corrected another. “Yes, there is a king salmon, but no, there is no queen salmon,” she added later.

While the kids were a little unclear how it all worked at the beginning of the day, seeing — and for a lucky few students — feeling how the process of salmon egg fertilization works became as clear as crystal creek water.

“We hope that this is memorable for them,” Cope said.

What wouldn’t be memorable about seeing a plump-bellied, ripe and ready-to-spawn female coho salmon sliced open and her thousands of fluorescent pink eggs plopped into a clear plastic bucket, followed by a crimson-colored male fish massaged down his large abdomen until he squirts a creamy stream of milt onto the eggs.

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State splits Chuitna water rights — Potential mine area must wait for permitting process

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Opponents and supporters of the proposed Chuitna Mine on the west side of Cook Inlet both found something to oppose and support in a mixed decision issued Oct. 7 by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

DNR announced its ruling on applications for in-stream flow reservations on Middle Creek, a salmon-bearing tributary of the Chuitna River, filed by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. Water reservations ensure that stream flows remain sufficient for fish habitat. DNR granted the coalition’s reservation application for the lower reach of the stream, outside the proposed mine’s boundaries, but denied the requests for the upper and middle sections, where Delaware-based PacRim proposes strip-mining for coal, most of which would be exported to Asia.

Representatives of PacRim and the landowner of the proposed mine site, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, expressed disappointment that DNR allowed any of the applications, and concern that a reservation was granted to private citizens. Water reservations in Alaska have only ever been granted to agencies before now.

In a statement issued in response to the decision, Dan Graham, project manager for PacRim Coal, said the company believes that “agencies, not private individuals, should be the proper entities to hold reservations of a public resource.”

Meanwhile, opponents of the proposed mine celebrated the precedent of the state granting a water reservation to private citizens. But Bob Shavelson, of Cook Inletkeeper, took DNR and Gov. Bill Walker’s administration to task for not approving all three applications.

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View from Out West: Bored to run — Training off the road system is exercise in monotony

Photo courtesy of. Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a marathon in Antarctica in 2010.

Photo courtesy of. Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a marathon in Antarctica in 2010.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

I yearn for the diversity of a Tsalteshi-type trail system in Bristol Bay.

Here in Dillingham, active runners — and I will tentatively include myself in that category — surrender variety for redundancy. They run, ad nauseam and mostly alone, on a limited selection of paths, city streets and road shoulders. And cross-country skiers here have it even worse, with little history of the sport and no established trails, only open tundra and mountain passes bounded by private property along roads with few plowed turnouts.

Dillingham’s three main paved roads total 28 miles, plus three short segments of multiuse paths that parallel the pavement. There are also a few gravel roads, the longest being eight-mile Snake Lake Road, the only connection to four primitive hiking trails. A lack of regular maintenance makes these trails problematic for running, and throughout the winter they are difficult to reach because only the first half mile of Snake Lake Road is open to traffic. The rest is buried deep in snow.

Consequently, in order to log their requisite miles, local runners must repeatedly travel the same main roads, the same backroads, the same pothole-filled city streets and fractured sidewalks.

Still, some athletes here do more than just survive on what they’ve got. They thrive.

Andrew Berkoski, 46, traveled in 2010 to Antarctica to compete in a marathon. A few months later he ran in an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China. To prepare for these two wildly different events, he trained exclusively in Dillingham, a community with no running culture and no indoor exercise infrastructure.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China in 2010, following a marathon in Antarctica a few months earlier. He trained for both by logging miles on the few running routes in Dillingham.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China in 2010, following a marathon in Antarctica a few months earlier. He trained for both by logging miles on the few running routes in Dillingham.

Berkoski, who lives about 13 miles outside the city, ran to work at the Dillingham City School District several days a week, throughout the year, in order to maintain his training. To prepare for the desert, he sometimes trained inside his family’s tiny sauna, jogging in place and performing situps and pushups in 140-degree heat.

Every other day during the winter, regardless of the weather, Berkoski ran to the school, leaving his house at 4 a.m., headlamp alight and work clothes in a knapsack, in order to beat the traffic on the shoulderless and mostly unlighted Aleknagik Lake Road. On nonrunning days, he rode his bicycle to work and back, then went for a short run (five to six miles) to keep his mileage up. On Saturdays, he logged roughly the equivalent of a marathon on foot.

He trained this way for at least two years in preparation for Antarctica.

Dillingham’s Cindy Tuckwood, who was preparing for a triathlon in Wisconsin in July and the Lost Lake Trail Run (near Seward) in August, trained by running and biking along a road construction zone at 5 a.m. every day, hiking and climbing mountains with her three young daughters, and, once the winter ice had melted, donning a wetsuit and swimming three times a week in a lake 20 miles from her home.

Even now, Tuckwood’s alarm wakes her at 4:30 every morning. A few minutes later, she clips a leash onto her dog’s collar and is out the door, in the dark except in summer. A veritable exercise machine, the 46-year-old substitute teacher logs each week about 50 miles on foot, several hours on her bicycle and six days of P90X workouts, in addition to the summer swims.

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Plugged In: Be smart when it comes to smartphone security

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Security risks increase sharply when people use personal devices for business purposes or when they mix personal and business applications and data such as credit cards, payments and private email. As a result, smartphone malware attacks more than double each year.

Although Google and Apple make reasonable efforts to enhance the security of their smartphone operating systems, those operating systems are vulnerable to viruses and other malware, usually spread by a poorly written or malicious app or by an infected message attachment. Android is also used as an operating system for a number of tablet-based mobile computers, which are likewise vulnerable to Android exploits.

In addition to mobile-specific protections, tablet systems also require normal computing security approaches, many of which are incorporated directly into Windows 10 and the latest Apple operating systems. Windows 10 is a free upgrade for the next several months and upgrading tablet computers to Windows 10 from Windows 8.x should be on your to-do list after the operating system has been in general use for several more months and the first Service Pack has been tested and made freely available. In the meantime, regularly update your system to patch potential security holes and wayward apps.

Although Apple and Google argue that their operating systems are sufficiently secure and third-party security applications are not needed, Apple’s App Store was recently breached by at least 39 known malware apps. Android apps show at least as much vulnerability.

Android-specific security solutions abound, including Android-specific antivirus programs. The most highly rated for protection and usability are, as of July 2015: Continue reading

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