Sunday, December 28, 2014

3,000th Page Hit!!!

Today around 11am, we received our 3,000th page hit!  That is 1,000 page hits since mid-March.  We will be updating the blog soon with information on our final blackberry count, a summer synopsis and plans for next year.  We're also in the process of updating the website with new information and the results of this summer's trials. We'll leave you with two pictures of "best friends."  No, the second picture was not staged.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Blackberries continue to ripen . . . inside!

  Just tasted our first Silvan blackberry this morning.  Another WOW!  Tasted strongly like boysenberry, but quite sweet, like the pancake syrup. Definitely worth keeping.  Unfortunately, this year it flowered July 15 (3 weeks after Wild Treasure, Siskiyou and Tayberry).  However, it appears to be somewhat frost tolerant and ripens well inside once the berries have turned red.

Both Silvan and Tayberry survived our first (and very early) frost of 29F on August 30th.  August 31st brought a low of 28F.  We saw the first snowflakes on September 3rd, but no snow accumulated.  Our wet weather (around 14 inches from June 22 through September 23) left for a few weeks early in September, but has returned. The first measurable snowfall came (0.5 inches) on September 23rd. Four more inches fell on September 30th and it is snowing today, with another 4 inches expected.  We had hoped to put row cover over the most promising blackberries and Tayberries before the first snowfall, but didn't get all of them.  We will try to cover the remainder this weekend.
  We had planned to dig trenches and put all pots in the trenches over the winter.  However, the early snow has hampered efforts to get a backhoe up here, so we will be putting plants under the house again this winter.  Not ideal, but the best we can do.  The grapes and potted blackberries will be covered with plastic and straw under the hoop house frame (which discourages mama moose from trampling them) as we have done in the last few winters.  It seems to work okay.
  Speaking of grapes, our brief (104 frost free days) and cool summer didn't help much in grape production.  We were, however, surprised to find a small cluster of Seneca grapes pretty close to edible on September 23rd.  Rather than being hard as a rock, they were sort of crunchy-soft and had a fairly typical grape flavor.  They were a bit tart (acid hadn't dropped yet) and not very sweet (low sugar).  This was quite a change from last year, which was longer and warmer.  Perhaps they are adjusting - and we modified our cultural practices to include both cluster thinning and berry thinning, so there was much less to ripen.  Nothing else was close to ripe when the temperature dropped to 23F on Sept. 24th.
  Looking ahead to next summer, we have one Wild Treasure blackberry vine with one 10ft long cane and several 5-6 ft long canes.  Since the first flowers on each lateral to bloom are likely to ripen even in a cool year, we should have significantly more berries next year (this year we got 15 berries off of a total of 3 ft of cane).  I hope the Agribon-50 floating row cover that we put over Wild Treasure mid-September will help protect the canes through the winter and early spring.  We have already seen some dieback from the frosts on the Wild Treasure laterals, but with the snow cover, they should be better insulated.
  We are also looking forward to more Tayberries next year.  This year, they were hit hard by Lygus bugs that stunted their growth.  Keeping those bugs under control will be the plan next spring.  Our two Tayberry plants have long (4-7 ft) canes on them right now and with protection, hopefully most of these canes will survive the winter.
  We started to make an introductory video about the farm last month.  When the schedule gets a little less hectic, we hope to put it up on YouTube.  We will post here and on our website when that happens.
  In the meantime, we continue to watch the snow fall outside and our blackberries ripen inside.  What a treat!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wild Treasure . . . Doesn't Disappoint!

We got to taste our first ripe Wild Treasure yesterday . . . and followed up with a second today.  All that can be said is WOW!  So different from blackberries you buy in the store.  There is an explosion of different fruit flavors initially, including plum, raspberry, cherry, and blackberry, followed by a long strawberry finish.  Looks like about a dozen will ripen off of about 2 ft of cane.  There are many other berries - and flower buds, but they will be damaged by frost before they ripen.  Next year we will look into getting WT to flower earlier, so it begins ripening earlier and can yield a larger crop.  We played with putting black weed block under one side of a plant and found that primocane growth is increased substantially over this material.  We may have a cane that approaches 10 ft long this year.  Keeping the voles (and mama moose) away from it will be the goal - along with protecting it from the cold.
  Tonight was our first night of the season selling produce at Murphy Dome Rd. and Jennifer Dr.  Had some beautiful heads of lettuce, a little spinach, and a few zucchini.  We may have a few Wild Treasure blackberries to sample at a future date - if you can beat me to them!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Produce Sales to Start This Weekend!

We will be out at Jennifer Dr. and Murphy Dome Rd. Saturday evening 4ish to 7ish.  We will have leaf lettuce, spinach and zucchini.  I guess we know what grows even in the cooler years on the farm.  We should also have some raspberries, but not sure what color or kind yet.  Prices will be lettuce=$3 each, spinach=$6/lb, zucchini=$0.50 each, and raspberries=$10/lb.
  Blackberries are still struggling with the cool temperatures - and the moose! Mama moose found the blackberry patch last weekend and she has stripped much of the leaves and tips off the primocanes of several varieties (including our super vigorous Siskiyous).  If we can get a fence up around them, most will recover and just be very bushy next year.  Without long primocanes on the Siskiyous, it will be difficult to train them next year and separate the fruiting canes from next year's primocanes, but we may get a larger crop off of them.  We are attempting to protect Wild Treasure and Black Diamond by laying floating row cover over them - and crossing our fingers.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fruit Season has Arrived!

  Tasted the first Prelude red raspberry today.  Quite tasty, indeed.  Prelude is a very early season raspberry in the Lower 48 and it appears to be early here, as well.  Boyne and Cascade Delight are probably a week or two away from ripening.  They and the other berries are about two weeks behind this year due to our cool and rainy (another inch Friday and Saturday) summer.  As of the end of July, we had only accumulated 450 growing degree days (base 50 F).  This is about 100 less than we usually have by the end of July and about 250 behind last year.  Unfortunately, our frequent heavy rains and cool temperatures have also upset pollination.  Several early flowering berry varieties have very poor fruit set this summer.  Cascade Delight has some developing berries, but many of the flowers didn't pollinate.  Boyne suffered similarly.  Other varieties that flowered a week or two later (Willamette, Meeker, Cumberland black raspberry) have very good fruit set.
  Similar problems with fruit set seem to have affected the blackberries, but we are not sure if that was partly due to the application of diatomaceous earth we used to get rid of Lygus bugs that were eating the blackberry flowers.  Bees avoid diatomaceous earth.  Anyway, we found a Wild Treasure blackberry starting to turn red today.  By next weekend it should be turning black! And several berries on a Siskiyou blackberry have swelled to full size.  I think we'll start seeing lots of red and black (and yellow) in the coming days!!!  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Who knows, maybe next year we can enter some blackberries in the Tanana Valley Fair.  That would be awesome!
  Other fruits that are just now ripening include honeyberries and strawberries.  Tasted the first Blue Belle honeyberry on Saturday.  Very soft, but oh so tasty! The Hood strawberries are also tasty.  Unfortunately, we don't have enough of either of these to share this year.  And if Chica keeps raiding the raspberries, they may be a little hard to come by, as well.  I caught her eyeing the Preludes yesterday.  She has acquired a taste for them.  I've considered planting a patch for her.
  We have some spinach and leaf lettuce that we will start selling at the gravel pit at Jennifer Dr. and Murphy Dome Rd.  The time has not been set yet however, because my day job work schedule is not as flexible as it was last summer.  We will probably try to be there on Saturday evenings.  Not ideal by any means, but it will have to do.  We will post again before our first day.
  I'll leave you with a picture of our Anthony Waterer Spirea that is now in bloom. Gorgeous color!

Monday, July 14, 2014

More wind and rain

Winds gusting over 30 mph blew through the farm today, collapsing most of our grape house and damaging some of our blackberries.  The collapsed hoop house over the grapes (we were hoping that there wouldn't be a repeat of May 31st) broke canes off of several vines, but others were spared.  Now we have to get the plastic (which has many holes in it now) back over them before the leaves sunburn.  Cloudy skies are forecast - and more rain - for the next few days, so we have a little time to repair the hoop house.  Unfortunately, the collapse also broke off one of our two tomato plants, so we will definitely be short on tomatoes this year.  The winds blew over several potted bushes and trees, swept a tray of artichoke seedlings off the tractor hood, and appear to have damaged primocanes and flowering laterals on several blackberries.  Wild Treasure looks to have weathered the storm well, however, with no apparent damage.  Gotta love that variety!  Once the wind dies down (it's still going pretty good even at this hour) and the sun comes out, we will see how much damage was done to the blackberry patch.  As for the raspberries, thank goodness I trellised the Cumberland black raspberries.  They and the rest of the raspberries look fine.
  Things like the weather, which one cannot control, require perseverance and deep respect for nature.  Times like these remind me that in Alaska just about anything is possible at any time of the year and both people and plants need to be robust to survive - and not just the cold!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fragrant flowers to come next week and then produce!

The first flowers have appeared on lavender and Mock Orange should flower soon!  These two will add some fragrance to the plethora of flowers that are now blooming around the farm.  Other plants in bloom include strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, cherries (almost done), potentillas, lilacs (Ms. Canada - Ms. Kim is a few weeks away), bleeding heart, pansies and ground covers.  Anthony Waterer spirea looks to be a ways away.  Peonies will start any day now, though there will only be a few.
  We did some maintenance on the bulldozer today in preparation for moving trees into a pile.  With trees out of the way, land clearing should go a little faster.  Of course, that assumes that we don't get 3.84 inches of rain in 40 hours again!  The good news is the warm weather now is drying everything out.  If the weather holds we will be clearing some more land soon.  Maybe (and that is a big maybe) by this time next year we will be open for tours.
  Produce sales will likely start in two weeks, with spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and whatever fruit is ripe.  There will be raspberries most of August and September.  Blackberries should be ready beginning late August.  We will post the hours of our produce sales when the time comes.

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.)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Plant Sale - Final Day

The final day of our plant sale is this Saturday, June 7th, from 10am to 7pm or until everything is sold.  The variety list several posts below was updated tonight to show what we have.  In most cases we have just a few of each variety, except for sunflowers, which we have 15-3" pots of the Mammoths and about the same number of dwarfs.  If you are looking for something tall or not so tall to fill a space, these would work great!

Call ahead if you don't live close by to see if we still have what you are looking for: 322-7549

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What's blooming?

Walking around the farm today, I took some pics of a few things that are flowering or will in the next few days. The top is a Blue Belle honeyberry, which first started to flower last weekend (May 25th). The second is a Wilder red currant.  They usually ripen in mid-September.  And the bottom pic is of my oldest Adirondack Gold "Apricot", though many say it is a plum instead.  This has been a very hardy plant for me.

I also found a few flower buds just beginning to show on a few plants that overwintered, including Leon Millot grape, Tayberry, and Siskiyou blackberry.  The top is the very small bud on a Siskiyou and the second is on a Tayberry.  In each pic, the bud is in the center just above my finger nail among the leaves.

Looks like we'll have a few tasty berries besides raspberries to savor this summer!!!  Oh, and as usual we are seeing flower buds on our serviceberries that will open in a week or two.  We are starting to put together a "What's blooming?" page on our website that will track what is currently flowering - flowers and fruits.

  It's been a while since I posted a pic of the pups, so here is one of them chewing on rawhides.  Have to say, they get along pretty well!  They swap about every five minutes, or when Duke gets tired of his.

Good night, everyone.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ups and downs & Sale date correction = June 7th!

  Today, our Metolius blackberries arrived in the mail.  They ripen very early with Obsidian, which has failed completely for the second year in a row.  From what we've read, Metolius is more winter hardy than Obsidian or Marionberry.  We are looking forward to testing it this next winter.
  Unfortunately, 30-40 mph winds also arrived today, collapsing our hoop house over the grapes and breaking off young shoots, including one that had two flower clusters on it.  We are working on a design that will be sturdy enough for Interior Alaska weather, but be fairly inexpensive (I know, a lot to ask).  We will rebuild it tomorrow and get the plastic back up before the grape leaves get sun scorched.
  Also, today added a third very successful day to this year's plant sale.  A huge thanks to everyone who has come out to support us - from North Pole to Nenana and everywhere in between!  We have a limited number of plants remaining (mostly sunflowers (giant and dwarf), lobelia and a few each of early girl tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.  We'll post a more detailed list prior to our last day, June 7th. Just realized that we posted the wrong date on the website and probably other places!  Our last day will be next Saturday, the 7th.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Plant Sale

Listed below is an availability list of what we have left to sell.  There are lots of lettuce and spinach plants available this weekend if you are looking for some green leafy veggies to plant.  We also still have several broccoli and cauliflower seedlings available.  Other than nasturtiums and sunflowers, we have limited numbers of most other seedlings.

Hours will be 10am to 7pm, Saturday May 31st.  We will update the variety list again prior to next weekend.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interested in growing peonies commercially?

Numerous people have approached us about the possibility of growing peonies commercially for the international cut flower market.  This burgeoning sector of the Alaskan economy is in need of more individuals who are committed to producing the highest quality peonies!!  If you are seriously considering growing peonies for this market, you really should attend clinics and grower meetings as early as possible to ensure you know what it takes.  The peony-related events include:

          Planting clinics (find out how to plant the roots for the best results):
                   May 26th @ 3:30pm and May 27th @ 5:30pm  (pick one)

          Picking clinics (learn how to tell when a bud is ready to be picked):
                   July 8th @ 6pm and July 9 @ 1:00pm (pick one)

These clinics will be held at Lily Vale Farm (North Pole Peonies) on Eielson Farm Rd.  You can find more information here.

You might also be interested in touring a few peony farms where they are actively growing these beautiful flowers.  The Arctic Alaska Peonies group (us in the Interior) has set a tentative date for a farm tour on July 25th and 26th.  More information will be released later this summer.  Check out our website for more information.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Plant Sale variety list

2014 Spring Plant Sale variety list: Updated June 5th

small indicates seeds planted three weeks ago

Broccoli  - Packman
Cabbage – Golden Acre
Cauliflower – Snowball early
Tomatoes – Early Girl
Peppers – California Wonder 300
Spinach – Melody, space
Lettuce (small)– Grand Rapids (green leaf), romaine
Squash - small
Summer – Caserta (green)

Lobelia – white, purple, blue, mixed (sunburned, but just need TLC)
Baby’s breath – white
Alyssum - white - small
Sunflowers – Mammoth grey stripe, dwarf - small
Nasturtiums – dwarf, trailing, variegated, dwarf cherry rose – small

            May have some if a shipment of roots comes in Friday or Saturday.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

6th Annual Plant Sale

Starting this weekend we will be holding our annual plant sale at the gravel pit at Jennifer Drive and Murphy Dome Road (mile 1) from about 10 am to 7 pm.  We will be there the following days:

  Saturday (May 24th)
  Sunday (May 25th)
  Saturday (May 31st)
  Saturday (June 7th)

We have a limited window of time in which to clear our lot for planting, so we will be devoting one day each weekend to clearing the lot.  Hopefully, there will still be ample opportunity for everyone to come to the plant sale and get what they need.  If the schedule changes, it will be posted here.

We have a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers available this year, along with the usual Quinalt strawberries.  We will also have several potted peonies to sell.  A list of all seedlings will be posted by the end of this week - hopefully.

Prices will be the same as last year: mix-n-match 6 packs - $2.50, 3 inch pots - $1,00, strawberries -$1.50 each and peonies - $8.00 each.

Remember that for the 6-packs, you can choose to have all six of one variety or any combination of varieties in each 6-pack.  That way, if you don't want six of one item, you can combine with some of another variety to make the six.

As always, you are invited to peruse our website to see what we are up to.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Break Up, Green-up and the Plant Sale

Well, two weeks into breakup and things are starting to dry out.  Hopefully, we'll be driving all the way home in two more weeks.  With scattered light rain showers around, it's been a little cool at the farm.  Nevertheless, the fire danger is high as a few dry days sent the humidity into the 10%-20% range.  As usual, the snow isn't even melted and the vegetation is a tinder box.  Later this week it is supposed to warm up to near 70F, but we will see about that.
  I noticed tonight that the buds on the birch trees are green and elongating.  Green-up has begun - even with night-time lows near freezing.  Other things around the farm starting to bud out include the lilacs, honey berries (they are quite frost tolerant), and a Northstar cherry.
  We pulled out the grapevines from under plastic and straw on Sunday.  It was truly amazing to see growth from last year that hardened off and survived the winter.  This is the first time that new growth has hardened off on vines their first winter.  No doubt the mild winter helped, but it probably was mostly due to the extra heat from the hoop house.  However, when I looked at them last fall after the first frost, things didn't look good.  Well, that was misleading.  The Seneca that gave us a perfect-looking cluster (that never ripened) had over 10 inches of hardened cane.  There was so much left after I cut it back to two buds (the norm for young vines), I kept what I cut off to root for a new plant!  That is downright amazing!!!  Maybe grapes aren't out of the question this summer.  That may be a good thing, because all those green blackberry canes are starting to shrivel up.  I read on a "Far North Gardening" post on that it is not unusual for blackberry bushes grown in a place like Edmonton, AB, to die off over a period of a month or so.  They look good when the snow melts, but evidently there is significant damage and the canes cannot transport water from the roots to the canes and leaves.  We will see how ours do.  I do have some hope for a few blackberries this year.  We will continue to post on the survival of our blackberries.
  We will be feverishly planting the remaining 10 or 12 trays of seeds for the May plant sale.  Everything has been on hold as the school semester winds down and I finish my exams.  I still have a big exam on May 20th, but there is plenty of time to study for it.  In the meantime, we will be sowing flower, bean, squash, lettuce, and spinach seeds for your gardening pleasure.  It still looks like we will be starting the plant sale over Memorial Day weekend, however with the warm weather gardeners may be looking to take advantage of an early start.  We may start the weekend before, but Saturday hours would be during the afternoon.  I have to work my day job that morning unfortunately.
  I'll put up another post soon with pics of the winter and Chica and Duke.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Breakup, Blackberries and the Upcoming Plant Sale

Well, I think it is officially breakup season.  A week ago there was still 23 inches of snow on the ground.  A week of warm afternoons near 50F has reduced that to about 10!  The road is impassible (as it is every breakup, but that is part of living on the edge of civilization, or in Alaska as we say).  No biggie as it gives me an excuse to walk 3 miles each day, though the mosquitoes are coming out and will get pesky pretty quick.  If the weather holds, almost all of the snow will be gone by next weekend and I will begin assessing winter damage in the bramblery. Who am I kidding, I've already started.  I found some vole damage (girdled canes) on some Arapaho blackberries, but the Ebony Kings look free from damage as far as I can see.  The EKs look to have about 12 inches of green cane above the ground.  Not bad for a "Michigan hardy" hardiness rating.  This is likely to be better survival than the other erect blackberries I have except for Ilini Hardy or Darrow.  Not much else is above the snow yet as far as blackberries are concerned.  The Cumberland black raspberries are out of the snow and arching over.  While the winter was mild (minimum temp was only -24F), it may still have been too cold for these tasty berries.  The Fall Gold yellow raspberries should have done well and will likely produce prodigious amounts of berries this year.  I expect full crops from the other varieties, as well, due to the warm winter.  I might even see my first crop off of Meeker, which seems particularly susceptible to Alaskan cold.  I'll check out the raspberries more fully next weekend. Okay, so I'll be looking every day this week.
  I went ahead and began pulling off the foam insulating board around the crawl space under my house.  The ground was iced over and many of the pots are frozen to the ground in thick ice.  That is what happens when you get four freezing rain/ice storms in three months.  The water flowed under my house and froze to the ground.  Well, it only took a couple of hours and I was able to get many of the containers out of the ice. The others will have to wait until next weekend.  Unfortunately, while the plants didn't see very cold temperatures (always above 0F), the soil in many pots dried out.  It remains to be seen how many of the plants survived.  Initially, of the 1/3 of the plants I pulled out of the crawl space, only a few seem shriveled from desiccation - mostly the blueberries.  I was concerned over the winter about the possibility that voles had found the relative warmth of the crawl space.  A thermometer I put down there recorded temperatures above 10F all winter.  I even noticed that one night the dogs were acting like something was moving around under the house.  I finally got around to putting sunflower seeds down there in December.  So far, I only noticed minor vole damage (girdling) on a Yellow Transparent apple tree and an ornamental shrub.  Most of the plants that I have yet to pull out are peonies or serviceberries (neither of which voles seem all that interested in) and so hopefully, there won't be much more damage.  All the trees I have pulled out so far look really good.  But, I don't plan on putting them under the house next winter just so they can survive the cold.  It will be time to test their hardiness (assuming I get my lot cleared, of course).  The wind outside tonight is reminding me that cold isn't the only thing that winter brings.
  We have been fairly busy planting seedlings for this summer's plant sale.  We will be out at the Jennifer Dr. gravel pit from 10ish to 7ish  on May 24, 25, 26 and 31, June 1, 7 and 8. That is all of Memorial Day weekend and the following two weekends.  We hope to have a list up on our website before then that includes all of what we will have available.  Prices will be the same as last year, though some of our costs have gone up a little.  Given the conditions in the Western US this year, you might consider planting more this year to save money at the grocery store.  And of course, after the plant sale (our 6th annual, can you believe it?) we will start selling produce at the same location.  We are trying something a little bit different this year and hope to sell some leafy greens as early as late June.  Then, if all goes well with the berries, we should have raspberries and blackberries beginning late July.  If conditions permit, we may advertise a pick-your-own weekend on the blackberries.  It all depends on what has survived the winter.  A word (or two) of caution: Some things on this farm bite - besides the dogs and mosquitoes - and have even been known to draw blood!  For the less adventurous type, maybe some of the thornless blackberries will produce this year.  What an exciting season this could be!  The first real Alaskan-grown blackberries in the Interior!!!  Grapes you ask?  Well, we're still working on that, but we may have found a good candidate!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wow! And what a workshop it was!

The gardening workshop drew more participants than we saw in the last two years combined.  Victor led a 1 hour long exploration of hugelkultur complete with wonderful illustrations.  Kurt spent an hour described in detail how he assembled his current root cellar and provided many hints on how others could do the same successfully.  I followed up with another hour of fruit-talk (my favorite, though the other presentations were super informative) and Victor provided dozens of photos of fruits that he has experimented with.  And, the audience provided numerous examples of thought-provoking questions.  I think everyone went away with a head full of ideas and useful knowledge.  It looks like we may see more than a few hugel beds pop up around town.
  A big thanks to all the participants for making this such a huge success (and helping set up and clean up)!  I personally want to thank Victor and Kurt for taking the time on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to share their wisdom with all those in attendance.  I also want to thank the Golden Valley Lions Club for allowing us to hold the workshop in the Ken Kunkel Community Center.
  Did you miss the workshop?  No problem, the hugelkultur and fruit growing presentations are on the farm website.  Unfortunately, you had to be there for the root cellar presentation.
  We are already thinking about ideas for next March at our 4th Annual Gardening Workshop.  If you have suggestions, drop us a line using the email address on our website.

Thanks again everyone and happy gardening!!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Gardening Workshop Handouts Now Available

We have updated our website to include the presentations on hugelkultur and fruit growing.  Feel free to download them (they are 20MB each, though) and bring them with you to the workshop.  We have also decided to use a video monitor to display the presentations tomorrow.  Here is a link to our website.

See you all around 3pm!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gardening Workshop Agenda

Well, I think it is all settled.

1. Victor Johanson (world traveler) will be presenting on hugelkultur
2. Kurt Wold (Pingo Farm) will present on construction and use of root cellars
3. I (Solitude Springs Farm) will provide an introduction to growing fruit (with assistance from Victor)
4. General gardening Q&A session

You don't want to miss this information-packed session.  Remember to mark it on your calendar!
  Sunday, May 23rd, from 3pm to 6pm at the Ken Kunkel Community Center (next to the Goldstream General Store and Ivory Jacks).

We have yet to put handouts on the website.  Hopefully, they'll be there before next Friday.

Over 2000 page views reached!!

On Wednesday, March 12th, our blog received its 2,000th page view!!  The first 1,000 took two years, but the second 1,000 only took one year.  Thanks to all of our followers for making this happen!!  It is probably fitting that this milestone occurred just before our free gardening workshop next Sunday.  The workshop is our way of thanking our supporters that live in the area.
  I spent about an hour this morning talking to a fellow grape grower in Minnesota.  He is one of my sources for grapevines and a real wealth of information.  We exchanged experiences and he gave me some ideas to try in my quest to ripen grapes in our challenging climate.  We also spoke about getting to meet each other face-to-face in Nebraska City, Nebraska, at Vitinord 2015.  While I most likely won't have wine to share at the conference, I will have more valuable experience to share than I did at Vitinord 2012.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Workshop details

Well, we have finalized the discussion topics for our upcoming gardening workshop.  For the main event, we have asked Victor Johanson to share his knowledge of hugelkultur.  He has traveled around the globe studying this innovative gardening philosophy and has had great success using it in his own garden.  Other topics will include an introduction to root cellars, growing fruit, and our usual Q&A session on gardening in the area.  We will provide refreshments and some interesting door prizes.  This is an event you don't want to miss out on!!!

We will post a notice here as soon as we have presentation materials available on our website.  Feel free to print them out and bring them with you to the workshop, or pass them on to someone you know that can't attend.

See you there!!!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Gardening Workshop Is All Set Up

We finalized the location of this month's gardening workshop.  It will be held at the Ken Kunkel Community Center near Ivory Jacks in Goldstream Valley.  Be sure to save the date of March 23 from 3pm to 6pm on your calendar.  It will be an information-packed event and as always we will have door prizes (including a few peony roots).  Unfortunately we won't be able to give away a hugelkultur bed (that would be a bit messy), but you will definitely be able to build your own this summer!  We will post an updated topic outline soon.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gardening workshop is coming!!

Just a quick update on the gardening workshop.  It is tentatively set for 3 to 6 pm on Sunday, March 23rd.  We have not received confirmation of the reservation yet, so we are hesitant to post the location.  As soon as we know for sure, a new post will be added here and an advertisement will be put on Craig's List.  It will be an information-packed afternoon, so be sure not to miss out!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Website is updated!!!

Well, we finally got around to updating the website.  The variety list now includes some discussion on the merits of different varieties and a little on this past year's successes and failures.  We have yet to schedule the next workshop, but it will include a presentation by Victor Johanson on hugelkultur, a representative from the cooperative extension on the construction of root cellars, a little about growing fruit in our area, and as usual a Q&A on gardening in the Goldstream Valley and surrounding hills.  I hope you find it well worth the Sunday afternoon to attend!!
  We have been babying some Vitis amurensis (grape) seedlings that we sprouted last spring.  Most made it outside midsummer and acclimated quickly to our climate.  A few were too small to put out, so we left them inside the house.  They finally went dormant in October.  When I was looking around two weeks ago, I saw some green buds on one.  This is what is so interesting: most plants require a certain number of hours of cool temperatures (between 45F and 25F) to break dormancy.  This "trick" allows plants to weather warm and cold periods during the winter without budding out prematurely.  However, V. amurensis doesn't require very many such hours.  It evolved in southern Siberia, where winters are notoriously cold and long, with very few midwinter warm spells.  On the other hand, the southern Siberian summers are short and come on quickly.  It is beneficial for V. amurensis to break dormancy quickly as soon as the temperatures begin warming in the late spring.  Such conditions have been the norm here at the farm and we have been looking for grape varieties that bud as soon as things warm up.  Unfortunately, most grape varieties are bred for warmer climates where winter temperatures fluctuate quite a bit.  With the rapid decrease in temperatures in the fall and rapid increase in the spring, plants at the farm (and around Fairbanks in general) do not accumulate enough hours between 25 and 45 degrees fahrenheit until sometime in June.  Consequently, grapevines are slow to bud out in the spring. We have found a few that do well, but most just sit and do nothing until mid to late June.   By then, summer is half over!!!  The other five seedlings that have been in the house as well are either just starting to bud out or have not budded at all.  So, we will keep an eye on this early one and see if we can use it to breed new varieties of grapes.
  Now for a quick climate summary for 2013.  The high was 85F on June 25th and the low was -31F on January 27th.  The average temperature was 30.1F.  We accumulated 1049 growing degree days (GDD; base 50F), which equates to 583 GDD base 10C.  This was well above our average of 750 GDD base 50F.  Our growing season extended 117 days from May 21st to September 15th.  There were 8 days where the temperature rose to 80F or higher, and 70 days where it fell below zero.  Winds exceeded 60 mph during the week before Thanksgiving and exceeded 50 mph the first week of December.  Rainfall came out to about 6 inches for the summer (down from about 8 inches), but snowfall was about average at 100 inches.  Our current snow depth of 23 inches is also average.
  We are looking forward to the new year and what we will learn next summer. Be sure to follow along as we continue on with our great experiment!
  Now for some pictures: (1) Duke this summer, (2) Leon Millot after veraison in September, (3) early bud break on V. amurensis, (4) 2 ft of snow on the bramblery.