September 3rd, 2013 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Uncategorized
Arctic Kingdom is pleased to report that its first floe-edge sprout operation was a success! Four flats of baby arugula flourished on a diet made up exclusively of paper towels, iceberg water, and 24-hour sun. Our four arugula flats grew from seed to garnish in seven days, and our guests reported their flavour as, “spicy,” and their appearance as, “sturdy, chubby, and dark green.” Once they were one-inch-high, the sprouts were harvested, and used to add flare to plated dinners, as well as add a spicy and vigorous note to salads and grains.
Camp manager and resident geologist Angus Simpson couldn’t prove that 10,000 year old iceberg water had a positive affect on the plants, but we found little else to explain their extraordinary ability to emerge unharmed from a freeze and thaw cycle that would kill a typical salad green.
Here is how and why we did it.
Why: Pond Inlet has food security issues, partially related to the reasonable inconsistencies found in a food delivery system that relies mostly on plane delivery from Manitoba or Montreal. Herbs that a cook might have ordered in from a Sobey’s in Winnipeg might not make it on the plane. If they do, the next challenge is ensuring they make it through up to three plane transfers unharmed. On top of this, most produce prices are triple or quadruple of the same goods in the south.
A sprout farm is a low cost alternative, and avoids potential problems that could be caused through relying on costly basil that might not survive its 2,500 kilometre trip from the south.
We also did it just to see if we could, to demystify the process of germination for staff and guests that might not have attempted similar projects themselves, and because baby plants are so attractive.
How: One of our cooks and flow-edge gardener Katie Mathieu picked up four generic, clear-topped germination flats from a hardware store and some packages of Mumm’s organic sprouting seeds mixes.
Once in Pond Inlet, Katie used a meat thermometer to punch drainage holes, six-inches apart in a honeycomb pattern in the black plastic bottoms of all the sprouting trays. The trays were then lined with six layers of clean paper towels, and spread with arugula sprout seeds in the spacing shown below.
The towels and seeds were moistened with pure water until they were thoroughly damp, but not soaking. The clear plastic top was put on the trays, and the trays were put in the hall closet (at our Pond Inlet staff house) to germinate away from the sun. There are conflicting opinions on whether darkness is necessary for sprout germination, but because we were working on a tight timeline we decided to simulate an underground environment as best as we could. Later on, in camp with the 24-hour sun, this false night was achieved by covering the sprout flats with an Arctic Kingdom camping towel.
The container that you can see just outside the tent window is the gravity-fed kerosene supply for the stove that warms the dining tent,the connected kitchen, and the adjacent sprout farm. The stove is turned off at night, and then on again at 6am in the morning so we can thaw pieces of iceberg for drinking water, and create a cozy place for you to make toast, drink coffee or tea, and relax before breakfast.
Back to the farm! Katie would like to note that sanitation is key in all phases of this operation and she would like you to wash your hands well, use clean water, and clean air-dried trays.
The first four-day old flats, sown in Pond Inlet, were carefully packed for the four-hour snowmobile trip to the campsite. First, extra water was allowed to evaporate to avoid ice crystal formation, which could damage the plant cell’s walls. Next, tray tops were taped on with masking tape. The flats were wrapped in two layers of plastic garbage bags and then a wool sweater to reduce shock. They arrived at the site unharmed, and when guests arrived three-days later they were already showing their first true leaves.
To avoid mildew and maintain a proper moisture level for plant life, all of the trays were gently rinsed with pure water, twice a day, as soon as they showed signs of growth. On the day before harvest the watering was stopped to simplify the harvest. When damp, the sprouts will stick together and won’t be loose enough to use as garnish right away. After one day of imposed drought, we would lift the now dry and sprout-covered paper towel mats off of their trays and use scissors, or Katie’s extremely sharp fish knife, to cut the sprouts off the paper towel. We would do this above a paper towel lined container; the sprouts would fall in, would be covered with a moistened paper towel, and then stored in the large shelter tent that served as our walk-in fridge.
One May evening, during a lamb dinner on the floe-edge, the sprouts being used for garnish froze solid. Head Chef Philip Heilborn was pleased and shocked to report that the frozen sprouts thawed perfectly and showed no signs of wear and tear from their whale watching related ordeal. Later in the week he used them to simulate edible lichen on a caribou Carpaccio dish, “to great success.”
The strong flavour and attractive texture of the sprouts were invaluable to our kitchen during the two-weeks where the herb orders did not catch their flight.
The entire operation, flats and seeds included cost us less than $30. We consider our experiment farm a companion to the creative problem solving that is a hallmark of the culture of the north, and the newest addition to your Arctic Kingdom experience.
We look forward to future seasons of sprouting and gardening in the Arctic, and continuing to make your trip with us as enjoyable and surprising as possible. Next up on the floe edge farm schedule, Oyster Mushrooms!