Monday, December 24, 2012

New Addition

Just a quick post to show off our new addition to the Canine Club here on the farm.  Friday, we adopted "Duke", a Beagle-Lab mix (with some Husky, as well).  Chica is not sure what to think of him.  He loves to play and is quite a bit faster at running.  They complement each other well with his nose and her eyes and ears.  The picture below shows them 24 hours after meeting.  Not bad.

Soon I hope to have some pics up from my trip to Germany and Poland.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Germany and Poland - We made it!

What a conference!  So much new information.  I met people from Estonia, Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Kazakhstan, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and the Lower 48 (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota) that are breeding new varieties of grapes and other plants suitable to northern climates.  I also brought back several ideas to use in the vineyard that will increase my chances of ripening grapes here on the farm.  It was loads of fun, too.  Besides seeing Neubrandenburg, Germany, we visited Szczecin (think 'chechin'), Poland and two vineyards in between.  It is beautiful country - part of the Pomeranian Region.  And, yes people thought I was a little crazy thinking I could grow grapes in Interior Alaska, but they were very supportive and I received many offers to send breeding material to help me make it happen.  In addition to grapes, I gathered quite a bit of useful information on growing currants, sea buckthorn, aronia, and other berries in the far north.  I hope to put it to good use and I'm even planning on conducting some rigorous scientific experiments that I hope will add to the research already being done on grape growing in northern climates.

Monday, November 26, 2012

VitiNord 2012 or Bust! - 2nd Edition

Well, I'm getting ready to leave in the morning.  I put up a makeshift fence around the area I have my trees and bushes in (in their pots) that will hopefully deter momma moose and her new calf from browsing the new growth.  With all the trees I cut down this fall, it's not like there isn't anything else to eat.  Chica chased them off last night and they were back this afternoon working on the downed trees.  They were probably watching me put up the fence and (quietly) laughing to themselves.

Chica appears to have settled into her new routine fairly well - as long as no other dogs are vying for attention she feels she should be receiving. I hope everything goes okay.

Up to this point we in the hills have endured about 9 days of high winds (20+ mph).  With the newly expanded clearing, I am seeing significant wind sculpting of snow.  Kind of pretty, but I worry about the potential for drifting snow, which up to this point hasn't been an issue.  The good news so far is that temps have been relatively mild (only to -9F, -22C) here at the farm, while some outlying areas have already seen near -40F/C.  We still don't have much of a snowpack, just 7 inches (18cm).  It is enough to cover all of the trailing blackberry vines and the Triple Crowns.  I'm hoping for a good crop of blackberries next year!

I'll leave you with a few recent pictures.

Early winter snowcover on the bramblery

Sunshine has been so plentiful I haven't had to run the generator yet.

Chica enjoying a game of "stick" - her version of fetch, the longer the stick the better!
I'm already starting to miss her!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

VitiNord 2012 or Bust!

I have decided to take the plunge (actually a flight in my case) and go to the VitiNord 2012 conference in Germany and Poland.  The lineup looks so exciting I can hardly wait!  Hopefully I can meet people from around the world that can help make my viticultural wish come true - harvesting ripe grapes in Interior Alaska!  So far for the winter, the grapevines are looking good. I just have to keep mama moose away from them. Chica has been helping me out with that task.  She barks at them whenever she hears them.  Oh well for the neighbors.
  In preparation for the trip, I am rounding up things I can sell to get some extra money together.  Tonight Chica helped me clean out my 1988 Honda.  Actually, she sat in the back seat the entire time like she was waiting for a ride.
  I have been trying to harvest highbush cranberries (Viburnum edule) to make some wine out of.  I need about three pounds.  It is really slow picking, especially since the birds have already picked over the shrubs and they don't produce that much to begin with.  I found a patch of them amongst the stumps  of poplar trees that I cut down three years ago.  They really like full sun and plenty of moisture.  Since they are native here, I am going to try to encourage that patch to grow more.  Maybe thin some out and apply plenty of mulch.  I probably have 1/2 a pound of berries right now.  I know where there are other patches in the hills around town, but it could be very time consuming and the sun already is setting at 5:30pm.  I might try just around the subdivision here.  If I can harvest enough cranberries, I can make the first official batch of wine at "Crest View Winery".  I thought that was a fitting name considering the view I have.  Here's the banner for the webpage when I get around to it:

Snowfall has been sparse, with only about 3 inches on the ground now.  Temperatures haven't gone below 0F however, so I think most of the balckberries are okay for now.  Hopefully, we will get some soon - before the -20s hit around Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ushering in Old Man Winter

Well, it is "official".  Winter has arrived.  We have a snowpack of 4 inches (10 cm) and temperatures consistently below freezing here at the farm.  That is enough snow to cover some of the trailing-type blackberries (Silvan and Boysenberry) - and right on time as the lowest temperature so far has been 14F (-10C).  We will see how the blackberries and new raspberries fare next spring.

A few stats from this summer:
The growing season was a little shorter than usual at 115 days (May 15 thru Sept. 8).  About 12 days shorter than we typically see.  We accumulated 716 growing degree days (base 50F; 398 - base 10C) and 1823 growing degree days using a base of 41F  (1013 - base 5C).  May and June were typical, while July and August were a little cooler than normal.  Summer was fairly dry, but here in the hills we pretty much caught up on rainfall in September.

I was hoping to go to VitiNord 2012 in November, but it looks like I won't be able to go after all.  It is an international conference on grape growing in regions with cool summers and cold winters and brings together researchers numerous countries.  It is much more pertinent to my efforts here at Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard than any other including the cold climate conference in Minnesota in February.  VitiNord occurs every three years, so maybe next time.  Perhaps by then I will have produced some grapes (I am hopeful for next summer!)

I'll leave you with a picture or two.

Snow flurries in mid-September. 

Fall picture from the top of the driveway looking southwest.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Snowflakes are flying!

Snow on Montmorenci chery
The first accumulation of snow this season brings an end to the warm weather we were enjoying.  It looks like Old Man Winter is right on time this year.  That said, we had a very unusual thunderstorm come through on the 23rd.  One hour after the picture below was taken, the cloud moved over the farm and dropped nearly a quarter of an inch of rain (note the lack of leaves on the trees - it was that late in the fall).

I finished planting the last of my blackberry bushes in the bramblery this last week.  What a job.  I have a few more things I'd like to plant, but when depends on the weather.  It all has to be done by mid-October when the ground starts to freeze.
I'll leave you with a picture of Chica (still the little trouble-maker), fall-blooming Asiatic Lilies and the silhouette of Denali from the bramblery:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Leaves are falling and so are the trees

It is a typical late August in the Interior.  A third of the trees have begun showing fall colors.  My V. Amurensis grapevine is preparing to sleep (above), and Baltica is not far behind.  Raspberry production has also decreased.
  However, while the farm is getting ready for bed, I am frantically trying to clear a few acres for fall and spring plantings.  I tried to arrange for a professional company to clear my lot, but they said "it is not feasible" for them.  Back to the tried and true Alaskan moto - if you want something done, plan on doing it yourself.  So far I have doubled the size of the cleared area on my property, but that is still a small "hole in the forest".  And even then, "cleared" means the trees are cut down.  I still have to move them and remove the stumps.  It will happen, I am certain.
  Cutting down trees has dramatically improved my view of the Alaska Range!  I can now see as far east as Mt. Hayes from my window (shown below).  I just purchased a digital camera and am quite impressed with the image quality!  One of these days, this will be the backdrop of my vineyard.  Can't wait!
  It has been relatively dry recently, but we are now in the midst of catching up.  The last four days brought over 1.5 inches and storm clouds are rolling in as I type for another round.  Rain last night and wind tonight kept me from working to clear more trees.  But, this weekend . . . watch out.
  I managed to overwinter blackberry bushes (in pots) last winter and one has produced four canes, each 3 to 4 feet long.  This is quite impressive, considering that it was mowed almost to the ground by voles and suffered root damage from dehydration.  I will fence all of my blackberries with hardware cloth this winter and should get some very tasty, "grown in Alaska" blackberries next summer.  I doubt there will be enough to sell, since I am quite fond of them.  I am hoping to trial about 35 to 40 blackberry varieties over the next two years to see if I can find some that are reliably productive given the microclimate we enjoy here on the farm.
  The raspberries produced on the farm were quite good this summer.  I have about 15 varieties including reds, yellows, and blacks.  Most produced at least a few berries this year and I quickly decided which varieties I would be putting in a larger bramblery for commercial production.
  And yet another surprise has come from domesticated blueberries.  The story I have always heard about growing non-native blueberries in the Interior has been "don't even try".  Well, I just tasted one Polaris blueberry (below, just right of center) and two Earliblue blueberries (all were damaged by either winds or excessive rain) that overwintered in pots.  While they were not quite ripe, they were tasty (if a little tart) nonetheless.
  My currants are not quite ripe yet, but I have some very nice looking (about 1/2" diameter) red currants that I'll be enjoying soon.
  I'll address some of the beautiful flowers that bloomed here this summer in a later post.  For now, I'll leave you with a couple of nice pics (Avis Varner peony, apricot-colored Asian lily, unkonwn peony).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dozer is operational!

I got the clutch adjusted tonight and it looks like tomorrow I will be able to bring the dozer up to my property.  Turns out that I just needed to make a minor adjustment to stop the clutch from slipping.  I also contacted someone today about helping me clear trees, so I can prep the ground for planting.  I have so many (I've lost track of the number) plants to get in the ground before freeze-up.

I have some great news regarding blackberry and blueberry trials, but it is too late now to post.  Look for another post soon - with pics - on this subject.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

'Fall is in the air!' and berry ramblings

The fireweed is almost done flowering.  Some birch trees are already turning yellow.  Birds have started migrating south.  And we are down to 18 hours of sunlight.  What else is there to signal fall?

Not so fast you say?  Okay, but termination dust (the first snowfall) is only 7 weeks away.

Walking around the farm this evening I saw some red, yellow, and black raspberries that were very near ripe.  Monday evening I picked a couple of cups of serviceberries to make into a pie.  Can't wait for that!

I am pondering what to do about my raspberry, blackberry, and strawberry patches.  I started out with the intention of having a "test" plot for each one, but around here where things start is where they usually end up.  So, I am not sure if I should continue with test plots or just make room for the entire patch.  My other problem with test plots is that most varieties end up making it through the winter.  Now I have every variety of raspberry that I planted last year and more.  Many are fruiting, as well.  I now have 3 of this, 6 of that, 9 of another.  Not enough to sell.  That takes 100's of feet of bushes - preferably of just a few varieties.  But which ones to choose?  Do I go with marginally hardy ones, like Cascade Delight (that taste very good) and Cumberland (a nice black raspberry), or go with the tried and true for the area (and not necessarily favorites of mine) Boyne, Latham, and Honey Queen?  I tend to go for ones that are less available, and that goes for vegetables, too.  Heck, I still think I'll get grapes to ripen up here even though every climate indicator says I won't.  I'll just talk to them everyday and play soft music - that'll work, won't it?

As far as strawberries go, I even ignored my Quinaults all last summer and this summer, but they are still there.  Now I have Tristars and Heckers (which are very good, no matter what everyone else says), as well, and Fort Laramies are already on order for next spring.

Blackberries?  Yes, I had two varieties (Arapaho and Ebony King) overwinter in pots - albeit with significant root damage from dehydration and cane damage from moose and voles.  This summer the blackberry selection has grown to include another eleven varieties.  Some of these definitely won't survive the winter, but I like to experiment.

All this contemplation has made me tired.  Besides, nothing more can go in the ground before I get the stumps out of the way.  Better go get some sleep.  It's going to be a long fall, I can feel it!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ahh, fruits of my labor

I sampled some tasty strawberries last night! Hecker variety - a little later than Quinalts, but I don't have any of those this year. 

Looks like the serviceberries are not quite ripe yet (picture above).  I was surprised to see a Cascade Delight raspberry turning red already (first picture below), before everything but the Lathams (second picture below).  CD is supposed to be a mid-to-late season variety in the Lower 48.  Go figure.  I got to taste two of the CDs last year and WOW were they wonderful. I hope they taste the same this year, as conditions are quite different.

And then there are the real surprises - Cumberland black raspberries.  That is what the package said last year when I bought them.  However, they are not supposed to be hardy below -5F.  Anyway, here is a picture of one starting to turn color.

The blog wouldn't be complete without a picture of Chica - taken two months ago. Enjoy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

First harvests

I was just wandering the farm and noticed several strawberries and serviceberries that are nearly ripe. Looks like I will have some berries soon!  Raspberries are still a few weeks away, although the Latham are starting to color up.  It will be a while before I have any vegetables to offer - and then they will be very limited.
  With all the activity on the farm this summer, I haven't had much time to plant vegetables.  On the other hand, the delay in repotting my seedlings has shown that beans do much better in a greenhouse at my elevation (1500ft).  I have always planted them in my raised beds and watched them produce beans that looked anemic (not to mention pitiful looking leaves).  This year, they are still in the greenhouse and the leaves are a vibrant green.  Really healthy looking plants.
  As far as "produce" goes this year, don't expect me at the Jennifer Dr. gravel pit any time soon.  I won't get enough fruit off my berries for more than a pie or two and I want to donate one to the "Fun for Food" event that the Co-op Market has planned for November.  With any luck, next year it will be a blackberry pie (fresh 'Alaska grown' blackberries, now wouldn't that be a treat!)
  Well, gotta go . . . it's not raining right now!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 4th Update

Well, I finally got around to putting a list of the varieties of plants we are testing on the farm up on the website.  It is somewhat lengthy, but I have had several people request to see what we are experimenting with.  I hope to purchase a digital camera soon so I can post pictures of plants and different fruits as they mature.  We might have a few (and I mean just a few) tasty blueberries this year to sample.  The raspberries are going crazy, as are the serviceberries.  So, look for me selling these berries this summer at the Jennifer Dr. gravel pit.
  Now for some bad news.  My dump truck caught fire in June.  It looks salvageable, but it will set me back some time.  I also managed to damage some fruit trees while I was clearing the area above my driveway.  Definitely no plums this year.  And, (as has been the case in the past) no grapes yet.  Maybe next year.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Last Day of Plant Sale - An Update

We will be back at the gravel pit at Jennifer Dr. and Murphy Dome Rd. tomorrow from 10:30am to 7:00pm selling vegetables, flowers, and strawberries.  Prices will be reduced on all items!!!  Strawberries will be $1, 6-packs will be $2.00, 3 inch pots will be 50 cents, and peonies will be $6.00.  Come by and take advantage of the final day!

Monday, May 21, 2012

4th Annual Plant Sale Starts This Weekend

We are a bit late getting out the word, but our 4th Annual Plant Sale will run this weekend (Sat-Mon) from 10am to 7pm or so.  We will be at the gravel pit at Mile 1 Murphy Dome Rd. (at Jennifer Dr.).  This year we are offering all your favorite plants, including Hecker and Tristar strawberries!  Sorry, no Quinalt Strawberries or potatoes this year.  Visit Ann's Greenhouse for great prices on seed potatoes!

Next weekend (June 2 & 3) we will be at the Ken Kunkel Community Center on Saturday and back at Jennifer Dr. on Sunday.  Times will be the same.

On June 9 & 10 we will be at the Ken Kunkel Community Center only. Times will be the same

  We are keeping the prices the same or lower than last year.  However, due to time constraints, we have smaller quantities of our usual selections, so come early.

See You There!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Signs of Life!

Life is slowly returning to the farm.  Currants, raspberries, and serviceberries are all pushing out leaves tonight.  It is great to see that everything made it through the winter with only minor vole and moose damage.  While we have not yet passed the average date of the last freezing temperature (May 15th), the weather is slowly warming into the 50s during the day and the mid-30s overnight.
  In the vineyard, vitis amurensis is just starting to push buds and Baltica is bleeding from the pruning cuts. All the other grape varieties are still dormant and will probably remain so for another 10 days or so, as we have not accumulated any growing degree days (50F base) yet.
  I am getting the dozer transported to the farm this weekend.  I hope to repair the clutch in it soon so I can start moving some stumps!  I have nearly a thousand plants that need permanent homes this year.  I am definitely recruiting helpers!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Spring has sprung . . . or has it?

  I took this picture tonight between snow flurries.  This picture of a Ben Sarek black currant bush shows many healthy buds pushing despite an overnight low of only 13F two nights ago.  I really like this variety as it is quite hardy (live buds all the way to the top of the canes) and resistant to powdery mildew (unlike Consort).  It is also the first plant on the farm to start pushing buds in the spring - typically around April 15th.  If you are curious about the grapevines on the farm, they typically start pushing buds a month later.
  And then there is 'Chica', the rottweiler/lab mix standing behind the currant bush and new addition to the farm.  It has been a challenging last two months as we have grown accustomed to each other.  She likes to take walks - and if you don't want to, she goes by herself.  Oops!  Sorry neighbors.  She is quite protective and territorial.  We are still working on the social skills.
  I have pulled about 75% of the pots out of the trenches I placed them in last fall for protection.  Needless to say, having so many plants (well over 400 at last count) in such a small area resulted in a vole feeding frenzy.  They girdled several grapevines (and appear to like Couderc 3309 in particular), chewed off all vegetation on some of my blackberries, and took a 2 inch section out of the cane of another blackberry (Arapaho thornless).  The latter is very similar to the behavior voles exhibit around pea vines.  They frequently cut a 2-3 inch section out of the lower stem of the pea plant and bury it somewhere.  They don't touch the roots or the stem higher up on the plant.
  In the meantime, I have come across a 1943 Cat D6 dozer in surprisingly good shape and cheap.  I hope to get it up to the farm in the next two or three weeks.  That should make fairly quick work of clearing the stumps I have been trying to get at for the last two years.  I don't think the potted plants will survive another winter in the pots (well, most won't).  Besides, it is time for the plants (mainly fruits) to start earning their keep.
 Since serviceberries (Saskatoons) do so well up here, I'm considering advertising them as "Alaskan raisins" - at least until I find a grape that will work up here for true raisins.  I left many serviceberries on the plants I purchased last year until they shriveled up.  Wow! A wonderful coffee-like taste and moderately sweet.
  As happened last year, my schedule has not allowed me much time to plant seeds for my upcoming plant sale in May and June.  As a result, I will be postponing the first day of the sale until May 26.  The sale will take place at the gravel pit at Jennifer Dr. and Murphy Dome Rd. on May 26-28 and probably will move to the Ken Kunkel Center on June 2 & 3.  Hours will likely be from 10am to 8pm or until the last person has left.  I should have a good selection of favorites, both flowers and vegetables, and may have a couple of red or pink peonies for sale, as well.  Prices will be the same or less than last year, depending on the size of the seedlings.  Last year's prices were something like $2.50 for a mix-n-match 6 pack, $1 each for 3" pots, and around $8 for a peony.  I won't have lobelia this year, because it is too late to start them from seed.  I will have some seed potatoes (yukon golds, reds, and purples) for $1/lb - to cover my cost.
  While it is still too early to tell how the growing season will go (it has been unseasonably warm for about three weeks right up until the last few days), I should have produce to sell by early July.  I actually discovered how to overwinter pepper plants (completely by accident) this last winter and already have bell peppers forming on the two plants.
  I also took advantage of a tremendous sale at Lowe's and grabbed over 100 Asparagus roots at a very cheap price.  I am going to take advantage of the trenches I put pots in over the winter to plant these in. Hopefully, in two years I will have fresh Asparagus to sell.
  Other new additions to the farm this summer include kiwi berries, sea buckthorn (seaberries), aronia, elderberries, Manchurian apricots, edible honeysuckle, Dolgo crabapples, a couple of apple varieties, and a couple of cherry varieties.  Whew!  Will I ever get everything planted???  Good thing I love gardening.
  Keep an eye out for another post on the upcoming 4th annual plant sale.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gardening Workshop a Big Success!!!

  A big thanks to everyone who attended tonight's gardening workshop!  The 20+ of us had a lively discussion about gardening in interior Alaska, participated in the construction of a raised bed, and shared valuable information about growing different plants and combating pests and diseases.  The evening ended with a free raffle with prizes ranging from a raised bed frame ($150 value), a $25 gift certificate to Ann's Greenhouse, $5 of free plants or produce from Solitude Springs Farm, gardening gloves, and seeds.  Whew!
  I would also like to thank Linda Dolney from Ann's Greenhouse for her insight into gardening.  She was instrumental in answering a number of challenging questions from the workshop attendees.  She brought the $25 gift certificate for the raffle, as well.  Thanks so much, Ann's Greenhouse.
  Another big thanks goes to the Goldstream Valley Lion's Club who provided the use of the Ken Kunkel Community Center free of charge for this event!  This is another example of how committed our local Lion's Club is to promoting community events that can directly impact the lives of the Valley's residents.
  I hope to host other gardening workshops in the future.  Check our webpage or blog occasionally for updates.  And don't forget the Spring Plant Sale coming in May and June.  I will update the webpage as the time gets closer.  Until then, think happy summer thoughts!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Date is Set!!

Mark your calendar! Solitude Springs Farm is presenting a gardening workshop on Sunday, March 18, from 3pm to about 6pm at the Ken Kunkel Community Center in Goldstream Valley.  We will be constructing a 3 ft by 8 ft raised bed and holding a question and answer session on gardening in the Goldstream Valley area.  The raised bed will be given away at the end of the workshop.  Everyone is welcome!  Tell your neighbors.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Upcoming Event

I will be organizing a raised-bed gardening workshop sometime in March.  The workshop will be followed by a Q&A session on gardening.  Most likely the event will take place on a Sunday afternoon and will be free.  More information will be posted here on the blog and on the farm website soon.

The sun is coming back!

After what seems like an eternity of darkness, those of us living on the 65th parallel look forward to the longer days of spring.  We're up to 5 hours of daylight and gaining almost 6 minutes each day.  Soon, my PV array will provide all the electricity I need and I will put the generator to bed until mid November.

Winter has been the typical roller coaster ride for Fairbanks.  November ended cold (mostly -20s on the farm).  Then came the freezing rain on Dec 5th.  December remained warm until the last week when the mercury dropped below zero and stayed there. The first half of January has left us with an average temperature of -16F here at the farm. January 14th saw the lowest temperature so far this year, with -32F at the farm and -47F in town.  Gotta love that inversion!

The first seed displays are now up in stores around town, reminding me that I have one month until it is time to start planting seeds for my 4th annual plant sale in May and June.  I'm looking at adding a few new varieties of seedlings - both vegetables and flowers.  It should be an exciting spring!