"We grow tomatoes, lettuce (leaf and romaine), beets, rhubarb, carrots and sweet peas," says Chesterfield Inlet's Sister Isabelle.
by Emma Levez
NNSL (Apr 20/98) - One of the tools that has been, and is still used by avid plant lovers all over the North is the greenhouse.
With its concentrated heat and light, gardeners are able not only to combat Northern gardening problems, but also to experiment with plants that might not otherwise thrive in the North.
Sister Isabelle works at the Home for the Handicapped in Chesterfield Inlet and helps out in the greenhouse there.
"This greenhouse has been here since the '30s when the missionaries started it. The missionaries always had greenhouses - all over the North."
It is a small greenhouse, with plastic windows (to avoid vandalism) and it is used through May to September, to cultivate seedlings that are started indoors.
"We grow tomatoes, lettuce (leaf and romaine), beets, rhubarb, carrots and sweet peas," says Sister Isabelle.
And for fertilizer?
"I gather up caribou turds and I also use seaweed."
Seeds and soil are sent up from the south since local soil is not of a high quality and must often be washed down in order to rid it of salt content.
Overall, Sister Isabelle and her fellow gardeners have had much success in the greenhouse; last year they grew a potato that weighed one and a half pounds!
The secret she says: "just talk to your plants and they grow!"
The appropriately named Mike Gardner, a retired clergyman who now resides in Iqaluit, has tended plants in greenhouses all over the North. He built a small greenhouse near the home he shares with his wife in the summer of 1997, using polyethylene and connectors provided by a southern company and a wooden frame from a local lumber company.
Gardner and his wife "experiment with tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, carrots and different soils". Like the greenhouse workers at the home in Chesterfield Inlet, they have difficulty finding quality soil locally.
"To get any local soil we have to go away from town and get bags of it." This is time consuming and a lot of work, but less costly than having it all shipped from the south. Their solution is to use "southern soils, local soil and a mixture of both."
One of the biggest challenges they have is attaining and keeping a suitable level of humidity in the greenhouse.
"It's hard to get the heat to a temperature where it's warm enough, but not too humid...if there is too much humidity, you can get mildew...and it's difficult to maintain a good temperature at night as well."
For fertilizer, the Gardner use sheep manure and liquid seaweed. They have tried growing special tomato plants which grow better in colder climates with shorter seasons, but they found the season still too short in Iqaluit.
Now they start their tomato plants inside and take them into the greenhouse when the weather gets warmer. What is different about gardening in the North? "I would say that in the Eastern Arctic it's a problem with the soil being just right," says Gardner, adding, "you have to pick the right time to get your plants going and use short season varieties."
The Gardners continue to experiment in their greenhouse. Possible upcoming projects include an attempt to grow cultivated blueberry bushes.
"But," Gardner says, "that may have to wait due to the shortage of soil and limited space in the greenhouse."