Saturday, April 1, 2017

2017 Plant Sale

Our 9th annual plant sale is tentatively set for May 20th, 21st, 27th and 29th. We are about halfway through planting seeds and have included new varieties and more basil (at the request of customers). Prices will be 6-packs=$3.00, 3-inch pots=$1.50 and gallon pots=$6.00. There will be a discount for full trays (12 6-packs).
  A complete list of varieties will be posted on the Fairbanks Craigslist site in a few weeks.

Spring Has Sprung!

  Yesterday (March 31) was only the fifth day since the first of the year that the temperature had risen above freezing. However, the forecast is for above freezing temperature, at least during the day, for the foreseeable future. Breakup is just around the corner . . . and then comes the growing season!!
  While our winter was "a bit above normal" temperature wise, we still racked up 76 days where the temperature fell below zero here in thehills. In comparison, during the "polar vortex" plagued winter of 2013-2014, Minneapolis, MN, accumulated just 50 days below zero. To explain why many grapevines in the region died and most growers had no crop the following summer, it was noted that with so much cold "the grapevines just gave up!" Hmm, doesn't bode well for our vines here on the farm. Nevertheless, we continue to experiment and have adopted a new motto: "It's not if we can grow <insert plant>, but how". Where there's a will, there has got to be a way. Here is a picture of one of our Ivan grapevines that we uncovered last weekend. It had been under 30 inches (76 cm) of snow. The coldest the bottom buds experienced this last winter was -12F (-24C) in November before the snowpack developed. As this variety has shown survival down to -25F (-32C) in Minnesota, there is a good chance that buds survived. We'll have to wait and see, though.

  With breakup comes the need to start stockpiling water for plants. We have been busy melting snow in containers to fill our tanks and trash cans. Granted, it has been a slow process until just this week. Now that the nights aren't getting that cold, the melting snow should remain as water and not refreeze at night. We'll move this water to one of our larger storage tanks and continue melting more until we have about 2000 gallons (7500 l) stored. Hopefully, that will get us most of the way through our dry period.
  We are experimenting with growing cut flowers (besides our peonies) this year. Not sure how all of this will go. We are also looking at growing early season strawberries to lengthen our harvest season of fruit. Nothing typically ripens before mid-July and so we are hoping to start at least a month earlier with strawberries. Not wanting to add to the harvest pressure late in the summer, we'll be focusing on "June bearing" strawberries, which only fruit for a few weeks early in the season. These and early season cut flowers would benefit from a high tunnel and so that may be on the horizon, though we need to figure out  financially how that fits in with the construction of a winery.
  A new farm tour will be out soon, we promise - though another tour in late April will give a good picture of winter survival and summer production.
  We will also be adding our farm to the "Interior Grown Agriculture Directory". For this year, we will probably only list raspberries, but will be adding to the list of available items as our production increases (think apples, cherries, serviceberries, aronia . . . and of course blackberries and grapes) and our experience grows.
  Consider liking us on Facebook (Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard), as we post more frequently there.

Time to go plant seeds and pot up rooted grape cuttings!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Year End Update

  This has been quite a year! Warm May and August helped the blackberries give us 7 1/2 pounds (from mainly two plants) of very tasty fruit. Plenty of rain (again) with over 8 inches falling in July alone. The rain kept wasps at bay until late August, when they started feasting on blackberries and raspberries. The feasting was short-lived as cool weather soon set in and sent them packing. A fairly warm and dry fall allowed us to continue planting trees, bushes and berry vines into October. Snow has been a bit scarce so far. A low of -12F (-24C) came while there was only 2 inches of snow on the ground. Not sure how the blackberries coped with that. More recently, a low of -22F (-30C) was observed on November 30th, with a deeper snowpack in place.
  Last winter was quite mild. We only dropped to -17F (-27C) and that was in mid-November after a snowpack had been established. This and our additional cold protection yielded the best overwinter success with our blackberries. Wild Treasure (pictured above), Black Diamond and Marion all had numerous canes survive and fruit. By keeping row cover on these plants until they flowered, we were able to move harvest up by two weeks.  This allowed us to pick virtually a full crop off of Wild Treasure by Labor Day weekend. We got about 1/2 a crop off of Marion and, well, a handful of berries off of Black Diamond. While a few of the latter were hit by fall frost, the plant simply didn't produce many berries to begin with. That is okay, as I don't care for the taste of them anyway.  The first Wild Treasure berries ripened the end of July and we were able to enter some in the local Tanana Valley State Fair. They won 1st place and Class Champion. We are very proud of our Wild Treasure blackberries! In October, we ventured to Anchorage and left some of these award winning berries with the Double Shovel Cider Company to make some Alaskan blackberry-apple cider. We should know how it turned out soon. The Marionberries ended up in a cobbler and some jam.
  We expanded our blackberry plantings this summer and fall by planting some Metolius, more Wild Treasures (about 50) and some thornless Marions. The Metolius were growing vigorously by early fall, which is remarkable since they had been overwintering in rather small pots previously. We have high hopes for Metolius as it is a very early ripening variety. We hope to extend our blackberry picking season from mid-July through mid-September with this newcomer. Speaking of new varieties, we attempted to root some cuttings we obtained from the germ plasm repository in Corvallis, OR, last fall, but they failed. We've been practicing on cuttings from Wild Treasure this fall and will be rerequesting more cuttings next month. We are curious about Wild Treasure's sibling, ORUS 1843-1, and hope the two will complement each other during the summer season. For the most part, they are very similar - and thornless (a real plus when it comes to picking time!).
  Stenulson blackberry surprised us this year - and disappointed us, too. Several canes survived the winter and flowered in mid-June. Unfortunately something (we think it was caterpillars) attacked the leaves of the floricanes and the resulting (few) berries ended up shriveling up before they were completely ripe. They "ripened" around the end of August - and all at once. This is great timing, and you can't complain about a truly hardy erect blackberry. We wonder if there is a way to get some of that hardiness into Wild Treasure. We'll keep experimenting.
  There were many other developments on the farm this year, of course. This fall, we expanded our orchard/food forest with numerous varieties of apples, pears, plums, cherries, serviceberries, aronia and apricots. Our blueberry plot got two new Duke plants. In return, we harvested quite a few blueberries off of Chippewa and Northcountry.  They were delicious. About the only thing we didn't get this year were pears. Those are probably a few years away still.
  Okay, so we didn't get any grapes either. Well, we did start planting the vineyard this fall. Three rows are now in, but they are still experimental varieties. One of these, Ivan (from Oregon), was growing like a weed when we planted it out. No other variety we have grown from cuttings has ever produced so many roots in our short, cool summer as Ivan. Price was a close second, though. It appears that if nothing else, these two varieties can deal with the cool summers here.  Both are hardy to about -25F (-32C), which is not all that cold for the farm. The most likely variety to succeed is Baltica and we have yet to plant those. Last spring some cuttings of C-16 (a selection from Canada) arrived in the mail and we went to work rooting and growing them out. This is an extremely hardy and rather early variety that is primarily useful in breeding. It still probably requires more heat than we have here (761 growing degree days, base 50F, this year). There are new cultivars on the horizon for us, however, that will make success more likely. We like to think that it is just a matter of time.
  Our raspberries were quite productive, right up until the porcupine found them. Seems he likes blackberry and raspberry leaves and sampled many raspberries. While it didn't come to mind at the time, we realized recently that there were probably enough raspberries to make wine from both types (Cascade Gold and Cascade Delight). This task is in our plans for next summer, as is blackberry wine. We will be increasing the size of our raspberry plot next summer and hopefully setting out some Fall Gold plants, as well. They are the best yellows, IMO. Jury is still out on the best reds that will grow on the farm. The "normal" hardy varieties (Boyne, Kiska, Latham) grown in the Fairbanks, AK, area are too tart or too sensitive to the fluctuating temperatures we see here on the farm over a typical winter. Malahat was quite impressive this summer, taste-wise, and ripened earlier than Cascade Delight. Its hardiness remains to be tested, however. Add Prelude to Malahat and Cascade Delight and we could be picking raspberries for 10 weeks!
  Still not sure what to think of our honeyberries (Haskaps). They don't want to sweeten up even if left on until the birds find them. Others in the area say they are sweet, but ours aren't - and we've got a number of varieties from Canada, Russia and Japan. Maybe as the plants get older things will change.
  That is not a problem for our serviceberries! Wonderful again this year. Now that we are getting them in the ground, our harvest should skyrocket. Bird netting will be a necessity, however, if we want to harvest enough to sell and make wine from.
  Last, but not least, the peonies are still mostly in the raised beds were they've been for a few years. No new terraces were put in this year and we're not sure if we want to put any more in as they are very hard to maintain and mow. So, we've kind of put the peonies on hold until a decision is made to terrace or not to terrace.
  Next summer we hope to finish planting all of our remaining potted plants and expand the vineyard and blackberry patch. Putting up a tall fence will also be a focus. With luck we will be busy harvesting blackberries for wine, so we will have some to take with us to VitiNord 2018 in Denmark and Sweden.
  Stay tuned for updates on the plant sale next May. If you get a chance, check us out on Facebook at Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard.
  Happy Holidays!

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.