Saturday, November 23, 2013

What a summer!

When it finally started May 22nd, summer took off quickly . . . and ended all too quickly.  We were unable to clear any land this summer, but managed to get the bulldozer repaired.  Now it is just a matter of getting to the task of removing the downed trees and having someone pull out the stumps next summer.  Last winter was a bit rough on most of the plants, to say the least.  Fluctuating temperatures (from +25F to -30F in a week) killed back most of the raspberry varieties we are trialing.  However, we still got some very tasty reds off of Cascade Delight and Canby and a few tart ones off of Kiska.  Honey Queen yellows came through unscathed and were very sweet, but a bit on the bland side.  We got some late season yummy yellows off of Fall Gold (from bottom buds that survived).  Unfortunately, my attempt to protect potted plants and trees by placing them between my raised beds resulted in 100% loss of everything that wasn't planted in the ground - except for apparently very hardy Kolomikta Kiwis and Haskaps (honeyberries).  Even the serviceberries didn't fare so well.  I lost all my overwintering grapevines, as well - again not in the ground.  This winter I am storing the plants in the crawlspace beneath my cabin and have put up insulation around the perimeter.  I am monitoring the temperature down there.
  The peonies that were planted in the raised beds did a little better, although varietal hardiness was a big factor.  I lost 100% of Avis Varners, 80% of Kelways Glorious, 50% of Sarah Bernhards, and 30% of Festiva Maximas.  Thank goodness, a very pretty unknown variety survived.  Most of the damage appeared to be due to the cold reaching horizontally into the beds from the exposed sides about a foot.  Anything within a foot of the sides died.  However, all 25 Duchess de Nemours survived the winter even though they weren't put into a raised bed until late September.  With additional peonies arriving throughout the summer and into fall, the raised beds are full of peonies.  No place to put veggies next summer.
  We continued to experiment with new varieties throughout the summer and took possession of over 100 new plants.  So, we were still busy comparing varieties even with the extensive losses.  Experimentation is fun!!  But it can be a little expensive.
  On the bright side, enough of a Marionberry cane survived the winter to produce two fruiting laterals. Unfortunately, due to their position at the base of the plant, none of the berries ripened successfully before the first frost hit.  If more of the cane had survived, there is a good chance we would have had our first locally grown Marionberries!  Yummy!!!  As for the rest of the blackberry bushes, without protection there was complete loss of canes.  Hopefully, that won't happen again this year.  The Triple Crowns, Hulls, and Wild Treasures looked good before we got our first significant snowfall (4 inches), but temps got pretty close to 0F before that.  We added another couple dozen blackberry and raspberry varieties this summer - and WOW were the Kilarneys big!  Though the K-81-6s look to be too late to produce much of a crop.  Our winners for total summer growth in the bramblery go to an unknown trailing variety (may be a southern dewberry) at 15 ft from tip to tip of canes, Wild Treasure at around 14 ft tip to tip, and 6+ ft long Cumberland black raspberry canes.  I wish the latter would survive the winter, but it looks like they aren't hardy enough.
  Our greenhouse collapsed last winter under heavy snow and rain.  We were unable to repair it last summer.  Maybe next summer we can get tomatoes going again inside it.
  We were able to get our hands on a cutting of a relatively new and very cold hardy grape variety this spring.  It shows great promise, hardening off over a foot of cane before our shortened summer came to an end.  And it started out as a cutting in April!  It is supposed to be cold hardy to at least -40F, but so is Valiant and that one doesn't do well here.
  This summer I erected a PVC high tunnel and put the grapevines under it on July 1st.  They grew like weeds after that - well most of them did.  Some, like Marquette, just sighed.  We actually got flowers, pollination, and grapes on two plants.  Okay, these were new vines that arrived this summer, but still it was so exciting.  In fact, about half of the Leon Millot grapes in one bunch actually tasted like grapes after the first frost.  They were not ripe, but with a little more heat and a longer season inside the high tunnel who knows?  I also found out that I need to adjust the "tunnel" design to be more of a gothic arch in order to avoid rain and hail pooling on top.  And then there is the wind.  Yep, being up on a ridge does seem to expose the farm to more wind.  Not to mention that there are fewer trees around to block it.
  More trees came down this summer and we can now see the lower road from the top road.  With the roots out next year, hopefully we can begin putting more things in the ground.  We also need to transplant the bramblery, as it has become overgrown with grass.
  A coffee stand toward town appears to have gone out of business and was sitting on a lot with good visibility to traffic.  Would make a great spot for a farm stand.  Maybe I can talk to the owner about letting me rent it a few days per week - if we can get some produce to sell next summer.
 Currently we have about 16 inches of snow on the ground (along with much of what was my 100ft tower - it blew down in 60 mph winds a week and a half ago).  More than enough to protect the blackberries.  Cross your fingers that they stay warm.  Maybe there will be blackberry pie or preserves next fall!!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Plant Sale Date Moved!

Because of the current road conditions here at the farm (still very muddy), we're moving the plant sale to next Saturday (June 8th).  For one day only we will be at the gravel pit at 1 Mile Murphy Dome Road.  Hours will be from about 10am to 5 or 6 pm OR until we run out of plants.  Prices will be reduced, as will quantities and selection.  Currently we have lobelia, columbines, peonies, nasturtiums, bush beans, zucchini and yellow squash, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, tomato, and pepper starts.  Some are very small still and prices will be reflective of this.   If you are looking to fill the freezer this fall with loads of produce, these starts will get you there.  However, they may not provide much during the early or mid-summer months.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Plant Sale and Greenup

Just a quick note on the 5th Annual Plant Sale.  I will be out at the gravel pit at 1 mile Murphy Dome Rd Starting next weekend (June 1 and 2).  I will be out there from 2pm to 7pm.  I may be out there earlier.  I won't have the large selection I've had in the past.  Selection will be limited to Lobelia, Columbines, nasturtiums, squash, tomato, and (maybe later) pepper plants.  Prices will be reduced - $2 for a 6-pack and 75cents/$1 for 3 inch pots.  I will also have a few peonies to sell - at last year's price of $8 each.  Everything must go, as I won't have room to grow anything this year.  Watch for some fruit later this summer, however!

I've been studying for a comprehensive exam for a master's degree and haven't been able to put in the time.

I cruised through the farm this morning and I saw several varieties already leafing out!  Black currants, serviceberries, haskaps, and cherry trees are all showing green buds.  Everything has been delayed due to a winter that just wouldn't end - even the birch trees, which are just starting to push green buds.  It is hard to believe it was only 15F last Sunday.  Now we're headed toward the upper 60s and afternoon rain showers.  Summer has arrived!!!!!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Uh, scratch that . . . breakup starts this week

Well, I know I said breakup was starting a few weeks ago, but it appears Mother Nature had other plans.  The last five days brought us 13 inches of snow here at the farm and 19 inches still blanket the bramblery. Last Sunday, we dropped to just 9F (but that was balmy compared to -2F in town).  Now it looks like we might hit the mid 50's by the end of this week (they said that before!).
  On to other news.  One blackberry bush is poking its head through the snow - a sign that the voles didn't get everything . . . or that one is dead (they don't like dead things: picky, picky, picky).  I have many new varieties of blackberries and raspberries in my house (and a neighbor's) that will be going into the bramblery as soon as the ground thaws.
  We will be adding an additional 1200 peony roots to our collection this summer.  Lots of work still needs to be done to prepare the land and I am still debating the merits of terracing my lot.  Terracing definitely would reduce erosion, but it makes maintenance on an already steep slope more difficult.  We are mulling over several potential designs looking for ease of maintenance, added heat capacity, and earlier snowmelt.  It was interesting today at our local peony growers meeting when someone raised the question of whether to mulch (in the winter) to protect the roots from the cold.  With the potential for sub-zero weather prior to the development of the winter snowpack and after it melts in the spring, there is concern that the eyes on the roots will freeze and die.  Not much of a problem so far here on the farm.  We have managed to overwinter peonies in pots, although there are definitely some trials going on as we speak with Itoh peonies planted in pots last summer.  Only time will tell how different things are here on the farm from other locations in interior Alaska.  I did find out that a peony farm at a similar elevation northeast of town is not having as much luck.  Their roots are establishing rather slowly and the plants don't bloom until August (about a month late).
  With the late start to breakup, we are expecting a longer than usual breakup period.  We have postponed our usual "Spring" plant sale until early June, unless the road dries out before that.  Either way, our seedlings won't be ready any time soon, since most have yet to be planted!  With the abundance of Rubus foliage already vying for window space, there is no place to put seedlings once they sprout.
  I will leave you with the latest photo of the bramblery taken yesterday.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Breakup has arrived (finally)!!

It was finally warm enough yesterday to start the snow melting.  We still have over 20 inches on the ground.    Looks like I'll be walking in for the next several weeks.

I am holding my breath until the first blackberry pokes through the snow cover.  I hope the voles didn't eat them again.

I am trying to plant seeds for the upcoming plant sale in May.  So far I haven't gotten much done.  However, I did discover that at least some of the seeds that spent this last winter (down to -34F) in the pickup are still viable.  I found three Subarctic 25 tomato seeds that had germinated today.

Unfortunately,  it looks like Chica has seriously injured a wrist.  Hopefully she will be back in top shape when the snow melts and the voles can't hide anymore.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Website Updated with Presentation Materials

  After a few hours of "technical difficulties" I managed to update the farm website and add links to the presentation materials I will be using Sunday afternoon at the workshop.  I will be providing a few copies of the presentation, but if you wouldn't mind please print off a copy to bring with you.  I also updated other parts of the webpage, including the plant varieties we will be adding to our trials this summer (marked '2013' after the entry).
  I received good news today regarding my collapsed greenhouse.  The maker (Shelterlogic) has the parts in stock to save the day and probably at a decent price, including shipping.

  See you at the workshop on Sunday!!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Over 1,000 page views!

As of March 6th, our blog received its 1,000th page view!!  Thanks to all of you who have been sharing in the journey, we have hit this milestone.

Don't forget that next Sunday (March 17th) we will be conducting our Gardening Workshop at the Ken Kunkel Community Center from 3pm to 6pm.  See you there!  Okay -- those of you who live in the Fairbanks area, that is.  Everyone else can check out my presentation once I post it to the Farm website.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Don't Forget - Free Gardening Workshop on the 17th

Be sure to mark your calendars for 3pm to 6pm on March 17th (Sunday).  We are gearing up for a great workshop on greenhouse gardening and food preservation.  Be sure to tell your friends and neighbors about it.  I'll try to get the powerpoint presentation up on the farm website next week.
  With the days getting longer and the beautiful spring sunshine in great abundance, thoughts turn to green gardens!  The last frost is less than 3 months away.  Here on the farm, we have already received several shipments of bare root raspberry and blackberry plants and flower buds are forming on our over-wintered bell pepper plants.  My green thumb is getting itchy!
  On a more decorative note, it appears that peony farms are coming to Goldstream Valley.  Here at Solitude Springs Farm, we began dabbling in them three years ago, but decided to go commercial last year.  It will be a couple of years before we are really producing these huge and gorgeous blooms in a variety of colors, but we may be able to provide a peek at what a field of peonies in bloom looks like next year.  If you are interested (it is neither cheap nor easy) in becoming a peony grower (there is a HUGE market for summer peonies), look up the Alaska Peony Growers' Association and keep an ear out for future meetings of the Interior Alaska Peony Growers.  Our next meeting is scheduled for April 7th @ 2pm at the Cooperative Extension Office (location subject to change).
  Our 5th annual plant sale is tentatively scheduled to start the 4th weekend in May (Memorial Day weekend).  It will take place at the usual location - the gravel pit at Jennifer Dr. and Murphy Dome Rd., although I might try setting up near the Goldstream Store once or twice.  Check back later this spring for further details.

  Now back to reality.  The snow depth is still around 20 inches and temperatures are mostly below freezing.  Hundreds of downed trees need to be cut up and the dozer needs to be fixed.

  I can dream, can't I?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Date And Location Are Set!

It seems almost everything is nailed down about the upcoming workshop! We have secured the Ken Kunkel Community Center near Ivory Jack's and the Goldstream Store for our workshop on March 17. After we kick off with a presentation on greenhouses, someone from the Cooperative Extension Service will address food safety and preservation. There will be a gardening Q & A after the presentations are over. Be sure to bring all your questions with you! And as usual, there will be a number of door prizes. Make sure to tell your friends!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Spring (and a gardening workshop) is just around the corner!!!

The first seed packets have just arrived in the stores.  Before you know it, it will be planting time!  Here at the farm we are busy ordering plants and preparing to starting seedlings.  We are itching for greenery, to say the least.  A quick walk around the lot last week indicated that things are doing well so far this winter.  No noticeable winter dieback.  However, we have seen mild temperatures for several days in a row now.  If temps drop too fast, we could see some damage as plants have begun to deacclimate to the cold.
  We are tentatively scheduling our 2nd annual gardening workshop for March 17 from 3pm to about 6pm.  This year we will focus on greenhouse construction and usage.  We also hope to invite a speaker to talk about preserving some of those wonderful fruits and vegetables for the winter months.  Admission will be free and there will be door prizes, like last year.  We will announce the location as soon as it is confirmed.  Be sure to save the date and tell your neighbors!
  Another development coming soon will be a redesigned website for the farm.  This should add a little spice to our web presence and allow us to post more about what we are doing.  We may also join Facebook soon.
  The days are growing longer again - keep up the positive thoughts!  I'll leave you with an update on the two K-9s:

Well, at least one thinks they are buddies.

Sunrise with inverted mountain shadows.