Sunday, May 22, 2016

Plant sale and blackberries

We are wrapping up our second day of plant sales. We will be out again next Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm. Not sure if we will have anything left after that. There are boxes of peonies and fruiting bushes under the house to put in the ground ASAP and we'll be doing that next weekend, as well.
  On a different note, our blackberries survived the mild winter quite well and, other than some damage from moose, have over 50% survival of the canes. For example, several Wild Treasure canes are successfully leafing out more than 6 feet from the base. The first flower buds appeared this week. Hopefully they will start opening around June 1st. With nodes every 3 inches and 8 to 15 berries from each node that is . . . a lot of berries! Black Diamond, Marionberry, and Silvan all look good so far, as well. Stenulson also did very well and was not bothered by moose or voles. It has had flower buds showing for two weeks, but they have yet to open. While we probably won't have enough to sell, we will be making wine (to share at the next VitiNord conference) and will likely have some to sample at the dedication ceremony in August. Stay tuned for more info on that event.
  Time to pack up and go home.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Winter roundup

Well, as was predicted, our weather has been quite warm (averaging 15-20 degrees fahrenheit above normal) for most of the winter.  We had a big snowfall in late September and again around Thanksgiving, but otherwise, snowfall has been a rare occurrence. We've received only a few inches since the first of January.  And, with temperatures climbing above freezing during the day, what there is is slowly disappearing.  A bit early to say the least!
  VitiNord 2015 was all that we hoped it would be and more! Our arrival in Omaha, NE coincided with the passage of a strong weather system that brought heavy rain, strong winds and tornadoes.  In fact, as we were walking into the beautiful Lied Lodge on the first day, a text message came over the phone saying that the area was under a tornado warning.  Welcome to Nebraska! The first day, we addressed the issue of the northern-most vineyard.  It was decided that grapes grown in a greenhouse did not qualify.  The primary requirement will be that the grapevines spend the bulk of the growing season unprotected, although season extenders (like row cover) could be used in the spring and fall.  It was also decided that the grapes from these vines would have to be fully ripe for three consecutive seasons before the "vineyard" could be designated as the northern-most.  It was generally agreed that of the vineyards represented at the conference, our vines here at the farm would be the northern-most.  An exciting prospect if we can find the right variety! We believe that our work with blackberries here on the farm will aid us in our quest for ripe grapes.
  During the conference, we met up with a number of people we originally met in Neubrandenburg in 2012, including Mark Hart, Tom Plocher and several from Norway, Sweden and Finland.  It was exciting to exchange stories and notes on what had transpired over the last three years.  Once again, we were in the company of true pioneers in far north agriculture.  We finally figured out why Ben Sarek has not been productive here.  Turns out, it buds out too early and frosts kill the flowers.  This year, we are going to shade the area so the snow doesn't melt early and see if we get flowers.  Last summer two flowers appeared on our Ben Sarek and we got two currants off of it.  These were the first flowers ever seen and the plant has been in the ground for over 5 years.  The woman I spoke to from Finland about Ben Sarek knew exactly what was happening - I just needed to find the right person.  We also identified a few new sources of grapevine cuttings for cold hardy grapes and should see some of these arrive later this spring.
  There were a wide range of topics presented at the conference including frost protection, vine anatomy and physiology and winemaking.  It was the most complete treatment of grape growing and use that we have come across. We were very grateful for the wealth of information presented.  We learned that not only do the canes isolate themselves from the trunk and roots, but also the buds isolate themselves from the canes during winter.  Everything reattaches come spring. Amazing!
  While we stuck to presentations on viticulture, there were parallel sessions on enology (the art of winemaking).  Once our berries begin ripening, we will have lots of catching up to do on the latter.  There were many opportunities to sample wine during the short (4 days) conference.  There was a USA wine tasting event on Wednesday evening, wine workshops on Thursday and Friday, a global and Nebraska (the state partially sponsored the event) wine tasting on Thursday evening, a gala event with wine and Nebraska beef on Friday night, and a tour of three area wineries on Saturday, followed by a dinner with . . . you guessed it . . . more wine that evening (including non-grape fruit wines).  Saturday evening, we tasted our first Haskap wine.  It was phenomenal.  We can't wait to try making some ourselves from locally grown Haskaps!
  We also met a number of grape growers from North Dakota and Montana.  We hope to take a road trip and visit all of them soon to see how they do things.
  The next VitiNord has not been organized yet, but we hope it will take place somewhere in Scandinavia.
  Speaking of wine, the high-bush cranberry wine we made last spring is just about ready to drink.  We will be sampling it soon to see how it turned out.  Hopefully it is at least decent.  We need to practice our winemaking skills as it is likely we will soon have enough blackberries to make a small batch of wine.  While we won't be able to bring grape wine to the next VitiNord, everyone is expecting some nice Alaska-grown blackberry wine at the conference.
  On another note, we have started our seedlings for the May plant sale.  Unfortunately, our computer died about two weeks ago and we didn't print out the seeding schedule before it did. So, planting is on hold until we get a replacement.
  We have decided not to hold a gardening workshop this spring.  Just not enough time to schedule it all.
  We will be posting another farm video in the next month or so.  Once we have a replacement computer, the video will be edited and posted to YouTube (Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard).
  Last summer we were asked to join the Board of Directors for the Arctic Alaska Peonies Cooperative (  This has been a challenging position and has required a substantial input of hours.  We will be helping out at the local pack houses and talking to regional peony farmers this summer in order to grow the cooperative.  If you or someone you know wants peonies for their wedding or special occasion during the months of July, August and September, check out the Co-op!  Most florists will tell you that peonies are not available during those months, but they are.  Help us educate them on the topic!!!

Gotta go outside and do the weekly walk around on the farm.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

More farm tour videos

We put up two farm tour videos a few weeks ago.  The first is our summer tour and the second is our fall(ish) one.  Some nice pics, I must say.

Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard Fairbanks Alaska Summer 2015

Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard Fairbanks Alaska Fall 2015

Enjoy the videos.  We hope to update the blog and maybe the website (if there is time) early next year.  Lots has happened and that has required most of our time.  This includes our trip to VitiNord 2015, which was spectacular!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

VitiNord 2015 Here We Come

VitiNord 2015 is next week.  We are really looking forward to talking with other cold-climate grape growers - though they typically have warmer summers than we do.  It should be a really exciting trip.

We didn't post many updates this summer as time was limited and we were working diligently to clear and terrace 4 acres.  It is mostly cleared, but we only got a dozen terraces in and those are mostly filled with Duchess de Nemours peonies.  It looks like we lost our special (unknown variety of) peony this year to last winter's cold.  We will be trying to track it down and look for a replacement.  It was so beautiful and long-lasting, maintaining its colors and shape for over 3 weeks on the plant.  No pictures on the web come close to its beauty.

In terms of blackberries, we saw all of our Silvan blackberries ripen, but most were eaten by wasps (it was a very bad year for them).  We got several Marionberries, but only one or two Wild Treasures (we chock that up to the wasps interrupting pollination).  Hopefully, the cultural practices we used on the Silvans can be extended to Marion and Wild Treasure to hasten ripening next summer. We are still learning!

Grapes?  Well, they struggled without the additional heat of the grape house.  We took it down to make room for stump removal.

We have a summer farm tour video in the works and a fall video still needs to be recorded.  Maybe we will get to that (at least recording it) before we leave for VitiNord.  Too bad we can't take some Alaskan grown blackberries with us when we go.  Perhaps we will have blackberry wine to take to the next VitiNord in 2018.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Our 2015 Spring Farm Tour video is up!

We have just posted our 2015 Spring Farm Tour on YouTube!! You can view it at:

Enjoy the video!

An update on the blackberries: not only have the wasps found them, but our resident porcupine has found the new growth, as well. We will need one tremendous fence (for moose and porcupines and any other blackberry-loving critter) and lots of row cover (to protect from wasps when they are prolific) to protect them.  I've tasted 3 unripe Silvans and lost probably another 10 to wasps and voles.  Tomorrow we plan to cut all fruiting canes off of the Silvans and bring them in the house to ripen.  And, the first Wild Treasure blackberry turned black today.  If I can keep the wasps away from them, we might have our first ripe Wild Treasure blackberry in 10-14 days.  You might ask why we don't just kill the excess wasps.  Well, we have a theory that the wasps keep the lygus bug population in check.  This is important, because lygus bugs resulted in almost a complete peony crop failure last year in Interior Alaska and from my posts you probably know they have quite an appetite for blackberry plants, as well.  In fact, we saw several adult lygus bugs and two nymphs earlier this summer on Wild Treasure and Marionberry and were worried about extensive damage from them, but nothing really happened and we have not seen any since.  Wasps are known to prey on insect pests (and certainly can become pests themselves), particularly those that suck plant juices, such as aphids.  Until last year, there had not been any damage to peonies from lygus bugs for more than 6 years (when the first peony farms began producing commercially).  However, in May 2013, we had a late winter with snow and cold temperatures extending beyond May 20th.  That year saw a dismal wasp population.  The following spring and summer (2014), the lygus bug population exploded! We are still researching the specifics of the lygus bug life cycle, but overwintering adults (that were nymphs the previous summer and fall) may be very important.  A lack of wasps may have allowed more nymphs to mature into adults that laid eggs in the spring of 2014.  Those eggs produced very hungry nymphs that really hit the blackberries and peonies hard.  Later last summer, with a more average wasp population, fewer nymphs survived and yielded fewer overwintering adults to lay eggs that would have hatched this spring.  For now, that is our theory and we're sticking to it.

We are hoping to get a summer tour video out before September that shows our newly planted terraces and the start of a food forest.  We may have to wait until next year to show the pond we plan to put in - unless it makes it into our planned fall farm tour video.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Our winter farm tour is on YouTube!

Okay, so we neglected to announce when we posted our video of the farm in winter on YouTube.  It is there for your viewing pleasure.  We are currently putting together some video from mid-April for a spring farm tour.  That will be posted to YouTube, as well. You can follow the link below or search for the "Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard" channel.  And, once some of our blackberries begin ripening we will shoot a short video of the farm in the summer.  You guessed it!  There will likely be a fall video, as well.

View the first video here:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Blackberries are ripening!

We have 12 terraces in - about 1/4 of the total amount and have started planting on them.  It has been raining today (finally!) and put a damper on our planting plans, but hopefully we can continue tomorrow.  There are 260 Duchess de Nemours peonies that need to be planted immediately.  We have three 50 ft. rows of raspberries in.  Peonies and Wild Treasure blackberries are next.

In the bramblery, Wild Treasure and Silvan are nearing harvest time.  We played around with covering them with row cover this summer and, with the help of a warm May and June, have hastened ripening by about 3 or 4 weeks.  In fact, the first Silvan berry has already turned purple.  This is very early considering that last year Silvan flowered on July 15th.  Wild Treasure flowered 8 days earlier this year than last and by July 15th over 60 flowers had already bloomed - compared to 14 last year.  There would have been more flowers, but last fall was tough on the blackberries with little snow cover until early November.  Consequently, only about 20% of last year's growth on Wild Treasure survived the winter.  Marion isn't doing too bad this year either.  From a 3 ft long cane and two bottom laterals, it has produced several dozen flowers, many of which are still waiting to flower.  We should get some berries off of it, but not sure what the final count will be.

Many of the grapevines have resprouted from the roots and it looks like not too many were lost.  However, again this summer it appears there won't be enough time to plant them on the terraces as we still have quite a bit of earthwork to do before their space is ready.  We have decided to try putting in a pond at the bottom of the lot to provide water during the dry months of May and June.  With several thousand plants in the ground, the demand for water will dramatically increase.

We are also considering putting in a food forest to the west of the house.  The area is currently covered in poplar saplings and high bush cranberries.  We hope to put in fruit and nut trees and serviceberries amongst the cranberries.  However, this area won't be terraced in the traditional way, so it remains to be seen how we will provide water.  Stay tuned.

Wild Treasure and Silvan blackberries: