Condensation, Cold and Mold

With the beginning of the New Year Talkeetna and its immediate environs have seen a switch from above normal temps to those which even the locals would find a bit on the ‘cool’ side. Yesterday (01/03) we never reached 4.0 F (-15.6 C) and just at sunrise this morning – which occurred at 10:24 AKST or 19:24 UTC – we bottomed out at -8.3 F (-22.4 C). As a broad generalization Talkeetna ‘expects’ to see high temps around 19.2 F (-7.1 C) and lows around 0.9 F (-17.3 C). Based on this you can see we’re a bit on the cool side although for me it just feels great! Anana and Qanuk cannot get enough of these temps although I have to time Qanuk’s exposure as when it’s 0 F (-17.8 C) to -10 F (-12.2 C) he should have no more than 40 minutes of exposure as even his tough GSD pads will begin to crack and bleed. One of the local mushers gave me a tip on some cream and thus far it seems to be really helping the poor boy but I still must be wary when the air temp is below zero.

One of the less pleasant issues with which I’ve had to grapple involves the build-up of condensation on the interior of the windows when the temps do drop below 25 F (-3.9 C). Understand my place has double pane glass in all the windows and this does a reasonable job of insulation; without question I really need triple pane glass and I’m looking into options to make this happen. But once I see outdoor temps drop much below 25 F (-3.9 C) the condensation really does begin to accumulate. As I have wooden window frames having water pool on the frames for any period of time is not good! I have played around with numerous methods in an attempt to decrease this condensation with very little luck. I have an inquiry into UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) which has a world renown department on building insulation regarding any suggestions. For now I’m reduced to using a sponge on a daily basis to try to manage the moisture. I’ve also tried laying out strip of highly absorbent material along the glass/window frame interface; this works but requires the material be wrung out every day. In addition when it is below zero the material gets trapped on the windows frame by ice and cannot be removed.

But the buildup of condensation has another negative consequence which can be even more destructive in the short term; mold quickly grows on the spots where the condensation pools. Because of the extremely low angle of the sun this time of year the naturally anti-microbial properties of sunlight cannot hit the corners of the windows where the mold loves to grow. And this stuff must be ‘Alaskan mold’ as it thrives at temps right down to 32 F (0 C) and can withstand being frozen in water for weeks yet still emerge viable once the ice melts. The stuff is the classic ‘green/black’ mold which I immediately associate with Rhizopus nigrificans; however, this stuff is definitely a psychrotroph and R. nigrificans is not so my next guess is some form of Aspergillius. If I had access to my old micro lab from 30 years back I could ID the beggar within a week. I am planning to see if API test strips can be purchased for ID’ing molds; if so I’ll be getting some. Anyway, whatever the stuff is it has no issue growing stoutly at freezing temps and hence it spreads out even in the cold. I’m trying a 20% chlorine to 80% water solution in spray form but thus far this hasn’t been effective; next step is to increase it to a 50% solution.

Having come from the lower 48 I was much more aware of trying to keep moisture in the air during the winters; this was caused by the prevalence of forced air heating. As the standard in Alaska is fuel oil via a Toyo stove or wood stove the air doesn’t get a chance to dry out like that run through a gas furnace and hence retains a much higher relative humidity. I remain impressed to this day as to the amazing differences I’ve encountered in such seemingly simple things like interior humidification and condensation formation when comparing the lower 48 to Alaska. Without question things are ‘different up here’ and I continue to learn just how different they can be! The following are some images pertinent to this posting:

Icy window glass with mold in the corner; outside air temp -7.7 F

Icy window glass with mold in the corner; outside air temp -7.7 F

The yellow is a highly absorbent felt like material which has become frozen to the window; outside air temp -7.7 F

The yellow is a highly absorbent felt-like material which has become frozen to the window; outside air temp -7.7 F

Just rising sun illuminates a south facing window and highlights the amount of condensation followed by ice at the edges; outside air temp -7.7 F

Just rising sun illuminates a south facing window and highlights the amount of condensation followed by ice at the edges; outside air temp -7.7 F

The result of closing off the NE bedroom on the second floor and an outside temp that never reach 0 F for two days and dropped to -23 F at night.  The ice in the corner was 0.6 inches (15.24 mm) thick!

The result of closing off the NE bedroom on the second floor and an outside temp that never reach 0 F for two days and dropped to -23 F at night. The ice in the corner was 0.6 inches (15.24 mm) thick!

Chaga & Herbal Medicine

As I expand my knowledge of my new Alaskan home I continue to meet new people and with these acquaintances come new and often exciting information.  One such area involves recognizing and utilizing the amazing wealth of plants that live in what most people still see as an ice and snow locked land.  To say I am a neophyte in this realm is a bit like calling Denali a ‘big hill’ but I’m finding more and more folks who do possess a wonderful knowledge of the local fauna and its many uses.  Last Monday a friend spoke to me about a fungus I’d heretofore been unaware; it’s called ‘chaga’ and after doing some additional research on-line I was impressed but it’s long history of use by many north living peoples and its range of uses.  I was equally impressed by the lack of any real investigation into its components or its believed contributions to health.  I was given a verbal description of what to look for and much to my surprise I spotted this growth of chaga along East Barge Road while walking the dogs:

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Apparently this is a fungus (Inonotus obliquus) which grows on birch trees and is well known in the north country and is sometimes referred to as the ‘mushroom of immortality’.  Chaga (pronounced “tsjaa-ga”) is a parasitic organism and generally appears on a birch after it is dead although the tree I spotted was still showing at least a few spring leaves.  Its texture is like wood and its color is due to an abundance of melanin which is the compound which colors human skin among other functions.  The following is an extract from a piece written by Chris Kilham who is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France.

“Relatively unused in the west, chaga is a potent immune enhancing agent that is highly popular in Russia and parts of Europe, and it enjoys a major body of science for its health benefits.

Unlike most fungus, chaga is hard and woody, bearing no resemblance to mushrooms. Instead, it looks more like a cracked piece of burned charcoal. Chaga’s black color is due to a concentration of melanin, the same pigment that colors human skin. Because chaga can be used to start fires, it is also known as the “tinder fungus.”

The name chaga derives from the Komi-Permyak language of Russia’s Kama River Basin, where the fungus has played a role in traditional medicine for centuries. Chaga can be found throughout northern Asia and in Canada, Norway, northern and eastern Europe and northern parts of the United Sates.

Chaga is rich in natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phenols, containing the compounds betulin and betulinic acid – which derive directly from host birch trees. Both betulin and betulinic acid demonstrate anti-tumor effects, which explain why chaga is known as an anti-cancer agent. Additionally, some science shows that betulin can play a beneficial role in controlling metabolic disorders, such as obesity and metabolic syndrome. A group of compounds in chaga called lanostanoids also appear to play significant anti-cancer roles.

The exact anti-cancer activity of chaga is not completely understood, but some compounds in the fungus boost immune activity, some specifically prevent cancer cells from replicating, and others cause premature cancer cell death. This argues for the utilization of a whole chaga extract, rather than isolating a single compound. In chaga, many agents appear to be active against cancer.

One of the most surprising benefits of chaga is in regards to psoriasis. In one Russian study, psoriasis patients who took chaga recovered from their condition. Given that psoriasis is notoriously difficult to treat and responds to very little therapies, this effect alone could be of enormous benefit to many.

The compound ergosterol in chaga, along with related agents, shows anti-inflammatory activity. This may account for why chaga is thought of as a life-extending agent in China, as inflammation is part of every chronic, degenerative disease. Reducing systemic inflammation can mitigate or help prevent a variety of health problems, leading to a healthier life – and presumably a longer one.

Traditionally, chaga has been used for a variety of purposes. Scientific investigation chaga’s use as an anti-allergy agent shows that in animals, the fungus has the ability to prevent anaphylactic shock – a serious and potentially fatal consequence of a severe allergy. In another study, administration of an extract of chaga reduced infection due to the Herpes simplex virus.

In a cell study, chaga showed potent activity against the hepatitis C virus. Whether this same activity will prove true in living humans remains to be seen, but if it does, then chaga will benefit thousands of people who often suffer for many years with this crippling disease.

Chaga products are widely available in natural food stores and on the Internet. One chaga product I like is made in Vermont and is available at http://www.Mariefrohlich.com.”

This information is also present in numerous other postings and articles I’ve since read on chaga; if there’s any suspected negative its that the functional compounds within the fungus may negatively interact with some medicines.  This is not an issue for me as I take no medicines other than my morning caffeine and an occasional Ibuprofen when I overdo exercise.  I was surprised to see the fungus is sold over the ‘Net in all kinds of forms from chunks to powders; two ounces of the powder used to make tea seems to run around $12.00 and one pound of chunks seem to sell for around $45.00.  However, I need not avail myself of purchasing the fungus as its growing right in the neighborhood!  Getting to some of the growths I’ve seen will be a bit of a challenge but nothing I cannot handle.  I hope to find more on my property; any I locate on my neighbor’s land cannot be harvested until I check with them.

I did have a chance to taste some of the tea locally prepared and it has a very mild flavor, almost undetectable.  There’s a definite ‘woody’ taste but as I mentioned its so mild as to be almost undetectable.  Given its proclaimed benefits and its lack of any real negatives as well as the ease of identifying it I’m going to be adding this fungus to my daily doses of cinnamon which I take via my coffee and in carbonated mixes I produce myself.  I know there’s a whole lot more of these kinds of natural treasures contained within the boreal forest; I just need to hear about them, research them and then partake of their wonders.  So much for Alaska being viewed by so many as an ice and snow locked land of igloos and polar bears!