Saturday October 14, 2017

Whitehorse senior dreams of doubling the growing season in his community

Chris Bartsch of Whitehorse would like to extend the growing season in the Yukon with his root zone heaters.

Chris Bartsch of Whitehorse would like to extend the growing season in the Yukon with his root zone heaters. (C. Kawaja/CBC)

Listen 5:12

When Chris Bartsch tells you he's sending sunshine underground, he means it.

The 82-year-old from Whitehorse has developed a system that collects solar power and directs it underground to heat the soil.

His dream is to extend the growing season in his community so plants can grow bigger, faster.

Typically, the ground in Yukon is five to seven degrees cooler than other parts of Canada. And while the territory has lots of sunshine in the summer, it's sometimes hard to nudge gardens to grow to their fullest potential.

Bartsch drew from his background in radiant floor heating and boiler systems to build a solar collector, which supplies warmth to his root zone heater.

To make the heater, he uses scrap roofing metal, black tubing, a pump powered by electricity to circulate water — all in an effort to warm up the ground. He assembles his heaters in a local church.

Chris Bartsch

Chris Bartsch in his workshop where he puts together his root zone heaters. (C. Kawaja/CBC)

"The plants love it," he said. "They just jump up out of the ground and they generate vastly better quality stuff."

Bartsch has always loved gardening.

"I started planting when I was six years old. I don't really mean it," he laughed. "But I did get to throw the pieces of potatoes in the holes when they were dug."

Now, 75 or so years later, he's proud of what his root zone heater can potentially mean to his community.

"There's lots of paybackability," he explained.

"You reduce the time of growth by probably 30%. You increase the crop by another 25% and you probably add 20% or so to the quality of the food you grow."

Chris Bartsch garden

Chris Bartsch's garden on June 12, 2017 (left) grows into a lush plot of crops just five weeks later, July 20, 2017 (right). (Submitted by Chris Bartsch)

Bartsch is also an advocate for food security. 

"I think there are seven large trucks coming up the Alaska Highway every single day," he said.

"I would like to see some of those trucks go back [to Edmonton] with something we grow here in the Yukon."