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!

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