Monday, December 26, 2011

Dark winters and beautiful summers

It's a gorgeous day in the 70's here in . . . . Not!  But it is typical for December in Fairbanks, AK.  About -15F in town, but a balmy 0F here at the Farm.  The sky is gray and threatening to add snow to our 18 inch base.  The sun could be up in the sky for almost four hours, if the clouds would let it.  The sun doesn't rise up very high as the picture above suggests.  I took it about an hour after "solar noon" and for reference, since my lot slopes down toward the south, the tree tops are not much above the horizon in the picture.
  But us Fairbanksans are very happy!  Daylight is coming back.  Soon our day length will be growing by almost seven minutes a day, 50 minutes each week, and over 3 hours each month.  How else could we get everything done outside in the summer (during our 22 hour long days) that was put on hold for the winter.
  All is quiet outside, save for the occasional visit from mama moose and her calf.  I'm trying to keep them out of some potted plants that are buried in the snow.  We'll see if they will stay out.
  I am getting ready for seed propagation that starts in February.  I'm going to fill about 40 trays of 6-packs (enough for about 3,000 seedlings) with potting soil in preparation for the long process of planting seeds.  I will start the first seeds (leeks) around late February and plant other varieties of vegetables and flowers over the following 9 weeks.  In there will be tomatoes and peppers, marigolds and Livingstone daisies (my new favorite flower!).  I'll follow up with my 4th annual Goldstream Valley plant sale in late May and early June.  And then it is on to planting the vegetable garden.
  For 2011, Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard contributed to the outdoor aesthetics of the Boys and Girls Home of Alaska by donating flowers and to the soon-to-open Fairbanks Co-op Market by donating time to their events and tender Nantes carrots to their "Fun for Food Celebration" in November.
  Although Murphy always seems to get his hands into everything I plan (I do live at the base of Murphy Dome), I still hope to get the vineyard well-established this summer, with the assistance of a bulldozer.  I have another 30 grapevines coming in May to add to my collection.  With assistance from cold climate grape growers in the Lower 48, particularly Great River Vineyard, I am more confident than ever that I will get edible grapes yet off of vines grown in Alaska's great interior.  And not just a few, but enough to sell for table use or as a beverage.  Still, there are some issues that most Lower 48 growers don't have to contend with, that I will need to experiment on.  These include cold soils, very short and cool growing seasons, rapidly changing day lengths, and the ever present "Alaskan" moose (yep, they are bigger than their Lower 48 cousins).  I saw a bumper sticker today that sums it all up.  It read "Alaskan Gardening Club: Feeding Alaskan Moose since 1959".  However, while these ruminants love all members of the cabbage family, they don't appear to have developed a liking for grape leaves - and I hope to keep it that way.
  I'm going to leave you with a beauty of a dahlia that was grown from seed this spring.  It bloomed about a week or so before our first hard frost and I savored it every day I was home.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fall has arrived!

  After a rather cloudy and wet summer, the leaves are beginning to turn colors on the trees and grapevines around the farm.  Summer 2011 was fairly typical, with the farm accumulating just under 750 GDD(50F).  We received rain on a regular basis throughout June, July, and August and the plants really responded!
  Now,  as the days turn cooler everything is preparing for the long winter ahead. Several varieties of grapevines (including Golubok, above) are showing their fall colors already.  I am getting ready to pull up the carrots this weekend.  I have numerous other chores waiting for attention and am busy cleaning up and getting all my potted plants ready for winter.
  This summer was not as productive as I had hoped.  I did not get around to planting any of my potted grapevines.  Nor did I expand the vegetable portion of the farm.  I am, however, getting quite a few other plants in the ground before it freezes.  Moreover, I accumulated a few pieces of equipment that I hope will make work on the farm easier and quicker next summer, so I have more time to spend planting the grapevines.  I have decided that I will need to erect hoop houses over the grapevine rows in order to provide the amount of heat required to grow and ripen grapes.  I have included a picture of 'grapes' growing on a Sipaska vine (above).  Several are almost 1/4" (3mm) in diameter.  Unfortunately, they won't get much bigger as the heat of summer has passed.
  Even with our long summer days, there is only so much that can be done.
  I will continue selling produce from the farm into early October.  Vegetables are still going strong and it looks like I will have a pumpkin or two to sell, as well.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer is half over!!!

  Well, July 4th has come and gone.  I'm still working feverishly to get everything planted before it is too late.  I recently purchased a small tractor to help me around the farm.  I also bought a 600 gallon water tank to increase my storage capacity (above).  It will hold rainwater that falls on my roof.  That brings my total capacity to about 1000 gallons - a far cry from last summer's 110 gallons.
  While May was hot and relatively dry, June and the first half of July have been cool and fairly wet.  Even with about 2.5 inches of rain falling in four days about a week ago, my grapevines still look relatively free of disease - even Valiant.  About the 8th of July, our first flower cluster ever to bloom opened up.  It was on a Golubok vine (above).  I am watching two other varieties that have flower clusters, as well - Garanoir and Sipaska.
  Our resident mother moose has been around the farm already and munched on a few plants.  I need to get a fence up this weekend or she'll have an all out feast.
  I should be able to start selling produce at Murphy Dome Rd. and Jennifer Dr. within the next two weeks.  I will have radishes, lettuce, spinach, and zucchini in small quantities.  Hours will likely be 5pm to 7:30pm Friday evenings.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Summer is here - warm, dry, and smoky!

This is the last weekend for plant sales.  Now, my focus changes to preparing for produce sales starting in July.  It looks like I will be partnering with another farm in the area (Pingo Farm) to organize a farmers market for the Goldstream Valley, north of Fairbanks.  We have permission to hold it at the Ken Kunkel Community Center on Goldstream Road.  I'll post the hours when I know them.

The 'vineyard' is starting to green up.  Budbreak began on May 17th and by now all but a handful of varieties have begun pushing buds (exceptions include Landot Noir, GR-7, Captivator, Suffolk Red, and Concord).  The weather has been warm and we accumulated about 170 Growing Degree Days (GDD) 50F - a measure of heat - in May.  That is about 80 more than "normal".  We have received very little rainfall since early May and that is contributing to an extreme fire danger.  Once again, there is smoke in the air and the Hastings fire is about 10 miles or so to the north.  This is the second fire within a 15-mile radius of the farm.  Two years ago, the Hardluck Fire burned to within 4 miles of the farm and some in the area prepared to evacuate.  This fire was the turning point in my decision on how large of a vineyard to attempt.  Before, I wanted to be 'in the trees'.  Afterward, I realized that planting grapes in a clearing  could serve double-duty as a fire break and a source of income.

I say 'vineyard', because many vines are still in pots.  I hope to have an area cleared for them by July, with the help of a neighbor and a bulldozer.

I added a few new varieties this year to my trial (bringing the total to 68).  New to the list are Baltica, Norway Red, MN 78, Petite Jewel, LaCrosse, Alpenglow, Summersweet, Himrod, Mars, Garanoir, Golubok, Siegerrebe, Rondo, and Burmunk.  Burmunk has generated over a foot of growth since it budded out earlier this month.

It appears that I am still dealing with issues related to winter injury.  I found one of four Beta vines last September that appeared to harden its wood off better than the other three.  However, when I pruned it this spring, it suffered just as much winter injury as the other three.  Valiant, on the other hand was king of winter survival.  It hardened off wood down to the thickness of string and then proceeded to bud out the entire length that I didn't prune off.  All six Valiant vines were covered by 4 inches of dirt over the winter, so this may not be entirely representative of what I will encounter when I train it to the high wire renewal (top wire cordons) system.

I'll try to get some pics up pretty soon.  Time to wrap up the plant sales for tonight.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Breakup is upon us!

A week of warm weather has melted virtually all of the snow in my clearing.  I am starting to uncover my grapevines, prep my vegetable beds, and clean out my greenhouse.  Budbreak on the grapevines is still a month away, so I have plenty of time to tend to other tasks before I will need to focus on them.

It looks like the resident moose munched on my currant bushes.  They are now only 6-12 inches high, rather than 2.5 to 3 ft.  No worries, they will grow back in no time.  I'm thinking of starting some more currants from dormant cuttings.  They are amazingly easy to propagate!  Just stick them in the ground and keep well-watered.  In fact, I might have another White Imperial bush started from a cutting I stuck in the ground last summer.

I am also in the midst of planting lots of seeds for my plant sale that starts May 21st.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to commit as much time as I needed, so some of my seedlings will be a little behind.

I am seriously contemplating purchasing a tractor, so I can get more done in less time.  I have tried to keep expenses down, but the flip side is that I don't accomplish nearly as much as I need to each summer.  I have some 200 grape vines from last summer that need to be planted and have about 150 more that have already arrived or will be arriving next month.  All of these will require lots of digging, not to mention some stump removal.  We will see how it all works out.

I'd better go get something done!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Farm website

Don't forget to checkout my farm website at

My first blog!

Hello and welcome to my blog.  I have wanted to set one up for over a year and it has finally happened!  The topics of this blog will be related to my farming ventures.  I currently operate a very small (1 acre) farm and "vineyard".  I will post developments from time to time, as my journey into agriculture in the far north takes shape.

I started the farm three years ago.  Each year I sell flower and vegetable seedlings in May and June.  I also sell produce from July through early October.  Two years ago, I decided that I would start growing grapes. What a learning experience it has been!  A lot different from growing grapes in Fresno, CA, where I grew up.  I also grow raspberries (who doesn't here in interior Alaska?), strawberries, currants, and rhubarb.  With a new summer almost upon us, it will be interesting to see how much I will be able to expand my operation.  I will post again soon with pictures, so you can see my farm!