This week at Davis there are finally tomatoes on station, we take a jolly to a jade ‘berg, harvest hydroponics and Station Leader Ali gets cornered by the Doc.

First of many

This week we harvested the very first tomato of the second crop. The first crop having been lost in the catastrophic ‘Big Freeze of 2012’ (when hydroponics was left open to the elements at ~minus 30°C. Not to be confused with the AAD renowned ‘Great Graham Denyer Glacier Disaster of 2006'. Happy 40th Graham!).

Ever tried cutting a tomato that is 40gms into 21 pieces? And now for my next trick!

Jolly to a jade ‘berg

Now the sun has graced us with its presence again, the time for jolly trips around the Vestfolds Hills and beyond is upon us. So, with the team assembled (Steph MacDonald, Chris Hill, Darryl Seidel and Joseph Glacken) the trusty blue Hagg was packed and the team was off early Sunday morning. With the plan being to reach the plateau air runway ‘Woop Woop’, stopping for a night at Bandits Hut, the adventurers headed off with cautioned enthusiasm. However once leaving the station, the weather turned and Bandits Hut became the first and only stop of the trip.

The four adventurers, disappointed as we were not to reach the planned destination, still enjoyed a few days off station and were amused with the sights of another aurora light show on the Monday night before heading back to station.

On the way back, taking the route via iceberg alley, we encountered another visual wonder: that of a jade ice berg and other incredibly sculptured icebergs.

Harvesting hydroponics

One of the great things about wintering is hydroponics. If you are on the roster, then for a week, every six weeks or so, you and your partner (in my case Ali ‘Green‘ Dean and Jan ‘The Weeder’) visit the hydroponics containers twice a day to monitor and care for the variety of plants that are growing there.

Despite the minus 30°C temperatures, once you’re there it is always warm (27°C), and the bonus is, it is always humid (60%), unlike the rest of station (the Vestfold Hills, where Davis is situated, has been compared in many ways with the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Victorian Land, the driest places on the planet).

None of us are experts so it’s a steep learning curve after arrival on station. Every season, with the arrival of each new group of expeditioners, the growing is started again from scratch, new growing media included, to avoid introducing anything into the Antarctic environment. 

This winter we have lettuces (Cos and Iceberg), cucumbers, aubergines, courgettes, silverbeet, rocket, Italian parsley, capsicums, chilli peppers, tomatoes and a variety of herbs. It gives you a great deal of satisfaction to see fresh produce that you have grown available for meals.

After filling the tanks and monitoring the nutrient levels, I like to put the sunnies on and read for a bit amongst the greenery. Ahhh the serenity.

Doc’s Dozen with Ali Dean

Ali Dean
Station Leader / Geologist / Hydroponics team

Ali, how many trips to Antarctica have you done now and what keeps you coming back?

I hate to think how many, at least 10. This is my sixth winter. It’s hard to define what keeps me coming back. The place definitely, unlike any other, it gets in your blood; the people, a different mix each time, how that plays out is the exciting part.

What is it like being the Station Leader here?

It’s the best job. I love the variety of work I do, even the reports. I never know what the day will hold and I never have enough hours in the day!

If not a Station Leader, what job would you do?

I would like to steer my geological knowledge and experience towards environmental issues. I also have a growing interest in the management of sustainable fisheries in the Southern Ocean.

When I finally give this up I want to have bees and chooks. I figure I can live on honey, eggs and the occasional roast chicken.

What has been your best gig in Antarctica?

My best gig has been as an expedition staff member/geologist on the MV Polar Star, the best little ice breaker to ever visit the Antarctic.

I think one of my best experiences was spending weeks in a tent with a field guide visiting nunataks on skidoos that no one had before. It puts your whole life into perspective.

I love Antarctica. What’s not to like? It has rocks, rocks and snow, and big rocks and ice.

Who inspires you?

I draw inspiration from a lot of people around me, but mostly from my Mum and Dad and my son Tim and his wife Debs. When I leave here after winter I will say hi to the folks in New Zealand then head to the UK for Christmas with Tim and family. Another winter I hear you say? Crazy!

Ali, what pearls of wisdom have you for us after your many years of living in small communities like we have here at Davis?

In the scheme of things, where the coffee tin is doesn’t matter, and that most people are multi-faceted, complex individuals worthy of the time taken to get to know them.

If you were a car, what would you be?

I would be a Ford Cortina Mk I or II during the week (low maintenance) and at the weekend a Sunbeam Alpine Series III or IV with a removable hard top in British racing green(low maintenance but looking better). (I can see a Mini Cooper S in BRG with white racing stripes, small and compact but with a lot of get up and go.)

What would your one wish be, and if you could be someone else, who would that be?

In the words of Sandra Bullock, “World Peace”. If that is impossible, then good health and enough money to enjoy it.

I have never really thought about being someone else. I like being me and have too much invested to change.

Ali, what is your favourite rock and why?

Several answers to this one!

I like all rocks — across the board.

I like granite in particular as it crystallises deep with shiny bits, like me.

My favourite rocks in the Vestfold Hills are the big black basaltic dykes that cut across the landscape, closely followed by the wind carved ventifacts. No two are the same.

Do you talk to your rocks like you talk to the plants in hydroponics?

No, I have a purely professional relationship with rocks. They are not as forthcoming as tomatoes. (I see…so how many winters did you say you had spent here?)

What is the meanest Saturday station duty that you have ever given anyone, and what did they do to deserve it? Come on Ali, give me some dirt!

I think all Saturday duties are totally justified and that’s the story I’m sticking to.

Ali, what is your vision for Antarctica?

Short term: that more and more people in the world come to understand and have an interest in the preservation of this place.

Long term: nothing stays the same. There were trees here before, there will be again.

Thank you oh great leader for your most illuminating thoughts and words of wisdom. I look forward to news of you in years ahead and your efforts in organising the bees into a roster for cleaning out and rearranging the hive.