Saturday, June 28, 2014

How sweet it . . . will be!!

The blackberries are flowering! The top pic is of a Tayberry (actually a blackberry/raspberry cross) and opened on June 24th.  The lower pic is of Siskiyou (a true blackberry) and was taken tonight.  Siskiyou started to open this flower on the 24th but the next three days were rainy and cool (50s) and the bud sat there and waited until the beautiful day we had today.  Numerous buds are beginning to open on Siskiyou, so it looks like we will have blackberries to at least sample.  I may have to fight for them, as numerous people I know want to taste their first "Grown in Alaska" blackberry.  Most are seriously skeptical at this point.  Wild Treasure is also working on opening buds, but none are open yet.  And, while Siskiyou (above) has the earliest flowers, most of its laterals only have one to three buds on them.  More will emerge, but will be quite late to flower.  Wild Treasure, on the other hand, has 5 to 7 buds on each lateral already.  Unfortunately, not much of the canes on Wild Treasure survived the winter - say 15%.  Looks like it is not any hardier than Marion, but read on for a plan.
  I unintentionally ran an experiment this winter when I left a layer of floating row cover over a cane of Marion.  I laid the material over the Marionberry  plant last fall that had flowered and produced berries. I was hoping to add a little heat and ripen the berries before the first hard frost (blackberries don't like frost).  It didn't work and I forgot about the floating row cover.  This spring, the snow melted and the material was still there.  I picked it up and the portion of a primocane that was under the material was nice and green.  As things warmed up, this 4-ft section of cane was the only one that survived with nearly 100% bud survival.  So, I have 4 ft of Marion that is growing vigorously and has flower buds on it.  I'm not sure when they will open, but it will definitely need to be earlier than they did last year (the end of July) if I want some (really tasty) Marionberries.  If you have never tasted Marionberries, you must! These are one of the most delicious berries I think I have ever tasted (up there with Regent serviceberries and black raspberries).  You can get Marionberry jelly at most stores, I think.  This is different from typical "blackberry" jelly.  Anyway, what I found was that by providing some pre-snowfall protection, Marion (hardy to only zone 7) was able to survive much better during the winter.  Granted, it was not a terribly cold winter (at only -24F), but I think it is primarily the cold before the snow accumulates (and possibly after snowmelt) that causes most of the damage.  Such an approach will probably work for other, not-so-hardy varieties (like Wild Treasure and Siskiyou), too.  I also had numerous Black Diamond blackberry plants still in 4-inch pots with entire canes that survived the winter.  This variety is actually a bit hardier that most other trailing blackberries, but it appears to also be a bit later to flower and ripen.  To be fair, Black Diamond and Wild Treasure appear to need water very early in the spring/summer to stimulate growth.  They did nothing until I watered them a few times, whereas Siskiyou just took off May 1st.  Speaking of Siskiyou, I have three plants and each of them already has 5 to 7 primocanes growing for next year (this year's production is coming from three canes on each plant, of which a whole 2 to 3 ft of each cane survived).
  As for black raspberries, the Cumberlands are loaded with flowers! A couple dozen laterals on each plant, 8 or so flower buds on each lateral, and 6 plants.  They haven't flowered yet, but in the past they have begun ripening about August 7th and continued into September.  May have to make a small batch of black raspberry jam to tide me over the winter!
  Oh, and there are the usual red and yellow raspberries with loads of flowers.  Fall Gold looks especially productive this year.
  I was surprised to see many of my Regent serviceberry plants that I thought I had lost the winter before last start leafing out this year.  They don't look great, but I think they are recovering from my leaving them in pots unprotected over a pretty cold winter.  Last year many of these plants never did anything - no flowers, no leaves, nothing.  So, it is amazing to me to see many of them leafing out.
  With so many berries available this year we are considering purchasing a small freezer.  Being off the grid, this will be a very small freezer as the (larger) super efficient ones cost a lot.  However, even a small one will hold many berries that can be turned into jelly or who knows what.  Maybe we will be able to sell jelly next year starting during the plant sale.  Well, unless we sell them all fresh.
  In terms of leafy greens, we've been a bit preoccupied with other things around here, but we do have some spinach and lettuce coming along nicely - and a few tomatoes.  Not enough to sell yet, though.  And, while we intended to use the grape house (hoop house) for tomatoes and cucumbers, it appears that the way it is set up does not provide sufficient heat for cucumbers. So, we may not have any - who said that?  We'll get 'em goin.
  A quick update on the lot clearing task.  My neighbor brought his bulldozer up and has actually cleared about an acre.  Then we had 3.5 inches of rain and it turned to mud.  Today was the first day without rain that was warm enough to start drying things out.  We hope to get another 2 acres cleared before fall - maybe more.  We have so much planting to do - 1600 peonies, over 100 blackberries, 60 or so raspberries and numerous (read a few hundred) miscellaneous other plants that will either be planted or put in the ground pot-and-all to be planted next summer.
  Enough rambling.  I'll leave you with a recent "sunset".  You should know that the picture is looking due south (the sun set behind me).  In late June, the sun sets almost due north and is only below the horizon for 3 hours or so and just barely below the horizon at that.  It often continues to illuminate the clouds over my house for those three hours.  Hence, the phrase "midnight sun."  Note the time on the picture - this was taken halfway between sunset and sunrise - and no flash was needed.  Some plants love the continuous light (lettuce, cabbage) and some hate it (spinach). We make due with blackout curtains and aluminum foil on the windows. (The white structure is the grape house.)

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