What crops can be grown in the North — where the spring is almost nonexistent, but the midnight sun shines twenty-four hours a day for two months?
“This is not bad,” says Tone Aandahl with sheer joy in her voice as she grabs a good handful of potato grass, pulls it up and digs up almond potatoes from the soil. By the middle of August, these potatoes have a size siutable for the dinner table — even after a cold, wet summer.
The production of potatoes and crops for commercial use is almost nonexistent in Finnmark, in the northernmost part of Norway. According to Statistics Norway, Finnmark produced only a meagre two-hundered tons of potatoes in 2013. This figure is very low compared to, for example, Northern Ostrobothnia (Finland), which topped the list for the Barents Region with 123.8 thousand tons in 2013.
But there are good possibilities for increasing the harvests and moving into other types of crops than the traditionally grown.
Aandahl is an adviser at NIBIO Svanhovd (Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research) in the Pasvik Valley in northeast Norway, and she likes to “challenge the climate”.
“This year I have experimented with beets,” she tells and shows a colorful ensemble of polka beets, red beets, yellow beets and white beets, waiting to be baked, boiled or eaten raw.
“I like to find crops that are possible to grow even in this climate,” Aandahl says and explains that their test garden is mainly used to inspire and to spread knowledge to school children and other visitors.
From time to time, she also arranges workshops.
The adviser underlines that even if the climate puts limitations on growing certain types of crops, there are still great advantages with being far away from the central production units in the South. The midnight sun gives a sweetness and color intensity unique for the crops and berries grown in the North. In addition, the risk for disease and infections is much lower than in the South. The distance and cold protect from invasions, like that of the big brown snails (Arion vulgaris), which is a nightmare for southern gardeners.
Tone Aandahl advises her garden visitors to try to prolong the season. The summer is not the biggest problem, nor is the autumn, but the spring is almost nonexistent. The use of plastic covers, fiber covers or building windbreaks can increase the temperature with one or two degrees celsius, which can make all the difference in this marginal climate.
While there is almost no commercial potato production in Finnmark, it is quite common to have a small field of potatoes around the cottages or in the gardens.
“To put it into commercial use is harder. It requires both investments and knowledge, for example to build appropriate storage rooms,” Aandahl points out.
With more focus on local, short-travelled food, there is an increasing interest among people in growing their own crops.
“My impression is that a lot of knowledge disappeared with the previous generations. A lot of people would like to grow more, some succeed and some fail, and they are eager to learn more,” says the adviser.
The interest in ecologically produced crops has also risen.
“This garden is not totally ecological, since I have used inorganic fertilizer on some of the crops. The challenge when not using pesticides is that you have to prevent attacks from non-wanted creatures. But a lot can be done by seeding with a good distance, and keeping the garden nice and tidy, for example by regularly removing withered leaves,” the adviser explains.