Biology student share experiences from internships in the Arctic
Biology student share experiences from internships in the Arctic

Internship-start with Polar Permaculture

About me

My name is James Davidson and I live on a small farm back home in rural Scotland. I’ve studied Applied Animal Science for two years, a course that focused more on the agricultural side of biology, but recently switched to Sustainable Development. I usually enjoy ‘learning by doing’ more than lectures, so I hope I will learn a lot this semester, especially as the knowledge and skills associated with cultivating plants could possibly help me in developing a similar project back home.

Initial Expectations

This is my second time on Svalbard, so I’ve previously seen ‘the dome’ of Polar Permaculture from the outside when I was walking past it on my way to Nybyen when I was here for a short course in summer 2018. I was aware it is part of Polar Permaculture but at the time I thought it did not look like much, as it looks rather small when you only see it from afar.

When I learned about the internship programme and saw that Polar Permaculture was one of the options, I became interested and read up on it. I noticed that it is not only the dome greenhouse, but they also have a lab. As a student who has been in a couple labs, I expected it to be your regular, filled with instruments such as microscopes, lab – likely down at UNIS.

I expected that I would help with growing microgreens such as cress but did not expect to grow chillies. At the time I thought ‘bigger’ plants such as basil would be the main product, but it turns out the restaurants and hotels are more interested in microgreens.

I had my initial meeting for the internship with the volunteer Hege rather than Benjamin, who created the Polar Permaculture project, but since the business sadly is not yet able to sustain itself, he has to work other jobs.

Expectations after initial meeting(s)

When I first met Hege we introduced ourselves, had a short talk about both our expectations and then I was given a tour of the whole operation. Standing in front of the dome, I realised its actual size. As the sun will ‘soon’ return to Svalbard, the dome will need to be prepared soon for this year’s growing season. When I heard that we are going to the lab next, I was surprised that it was not down at UNIS, but I would have never guessed that it once used to be a laundry near the Coal Miners Cabin.

Since microgreens are the main product at the lab, I expect to continue helping to grow those and possibly find ways or ideas on how to improve production, as scaling up production is something Polar Permaculture requires to become self-sufficient. The lab also houses the worms in the compost that recycle green waste, where we can put discarded plant material etc. to make a natural fertilizer.

Turns out there is another site down in Longyearbyen, called the ‘barrack’, where plants like basil, coriander, parsley and more are grown in a more humid environment, as the barrack is lined with plastic on the inside. It also houses a few ‘experiments’ such as some salad, which in my opinion was definitely successful. I hope we can try out even more in the future.

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