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!