Saturday, December 26, 2015

More farm tour videos

We put up two farm tour videos a few weeks ago.  The first is our summer tour and the second is our fall(ish) one.  Some nice pics, I must say.

Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard Fairbanks Alaska Summer 2015

Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard Fairbanks Alaska Fall 2015

Enjoy the videos.  We hope to update the blog and maybe the website (if there is time) early next year.  Lots has happened and that has required most of our time.  This includes our trip to VitiNord 2015, which was spectacular!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

VitiNord 2015 Here We Come

VitiNord 2015 is next week.  We are really looking forward to talking with other cold-climate grape growers - though they typically have warmer summers than we do.  It should be a really exciting trip.

We didn't post many updates this summer as time was limited and we were working diligently to clear and terrace 4 acres.  It is mostly cleared, but we only got a dozen terraces in and those are mostly filled with Duchess de Nemours peonies.  It looks like we lost our special (unknown variety of) peony this year to last winter's cold.  We will be trying to track it down and look for a replacement.  It was so beautiful and long-lasting, maintaining its colors and shape for over 3 weeks on the plant.  No pictures on the web come close to its beauty.

In terms of blackberries, we saw all of our Silvan blackberries ripen, but most were eaten by wasps (it was a very bad year for them).  We got several Marionberries, but only one or two Wild Treasures (we chock that up to the wasps interrupting pollination).  Hopefully, the cultural practices we used on the Silvans can be extended to Marion and Wild Treasure to hasten ripening next summer. We are still learning!

Grapes?  Well, they struggled without the additional heat of the grape house.  We took it down to make room for stump removal.

We have a summer farm tour video in the works and a fall video still needs to be recorded.  Maybe we will get to that (at least recording it) before we leave for VitiNord.  Too bad we can't take some Alaskan grown blackberries with us when we go.  Perhaps we will have blackberry wine to take to the next VitiNord in 2018.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Our 2015 Spring Farm Tour video is up!

We have just posted our 2015 Spring Farm Tour on YouTube!! You can view it at:

Enjoy the video!

An update on the blackberries: not only have the wasps found them, but our resident porcupine has found the new growth, as well. We will need one tremendous fence (for moose and porcupines and any other blackberry-loving critter) and lots of row cover (to protect from wasps when they are prolific) to protect them.  I've tasted 3 unripe Silvans and lost probably another 10 to wasps and voles.  Tomorrow we plan to cut all fruiting canes off of the Silvans and bring them in the house to ripen.  And, the first Wild Treasure blackberry turned black today.  If I can keep the wasps away from them, we might have our first ripe Wild Treasure blackberry in 10-14 days.  You might ask why we don't just kill the excess wasps.  Well, we have a theory that the wasps keep the lygus bug population in check.  This is important, because lygus bugs resulted in almost a complete peony crop failure last year in Interior Alaska and from my posts you probably know they have quite an appetite for blackberry plants, as well.  In fact, we saw several adult lygus bugs and two nymphs earlier this summer on Wild Treasure and Marionberry and were worried about extensive damage from them, but nothing really happened and we have not seen any since.  Wasps are known to prey on insect pests (and certainly can become pests themselves), particularly those that suck plant juices, such as aphids.  Until last year, there had not been any damage to peonies from lygus bugs for more than 6 years (when the first peony farms began producing commercially).  However, in May 2013, we had a late winter with snow and cold temperatures extending beyond May 20th.  That year saw a dismal wasp population.  The following spring and summer (2014), the lygus bug population exploded! We are still researching the specifics of the lygus bug life cycle, but overwintering adults (that were nymphs the previous summer and fall) may be very important.  A lack of wasps may have allowed more nymphs to mature into adults that laid eggs in the spring of 2014.  Those eggs produced very hungry nymphs that really hit the blackberries and peonies hard.  Later last summer, with a more average wasp population, fewer nymphs survived and yielded fewer overwintering adults to lay eggs that would have hatched this spring.  For now, that is our theory and we're sticking to it.

We are hoping to get a summer tour video out before September that shows our newly planted terraces and the start of a food forest.  We may have to wait until next year to show the pond we plan to put in - unless it makes it into our planned fall farm tour video.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Our winter farm tour is on YouTube!

Okay, so we neglected to announce when we posted our video of the farm in winter on YouTube.  It is there for your viewing pleasure.  We are currently putting together some video from mid-April for a spring farm tour.  That will be posted to YouTube, as well. You can follow the link below or search for the "Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard" channel.  And, once some of our blackberries begin ripening we will shoot a short video of the farm in the summer.  You guessed it!  There will likely be a fall video, as well.

View the first video here:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Blackberries are ripening!

We have 12 terraces in - about 1/4 of the total amount and have started planting on them.  It has been raining today (finally!) and put a damper on our planting plans, but hopefully we can continue tomorrow.  There are 260 Duchess de Nemours peonies that need to be planted immediately.  We have three 50 ft. rows of raspberries in.  Peonies and Wild Treasure blackberries are next.

In the bramblery, Wild Treasure and Silvan are nearing harvest time.  We played around with covering them with row cover this summer and, with the help of a warm May and June, have hastened ripening by about 3 or 4 weeks.  In fact, the first Silvan berry has already turned purple.  This is very early considering that last year Silvan flowered on July 15th.  Wild Treasure flowered 8 days earlier this year than last and by July 15th over 60 flowers had already bloomed - compared to 14 last year.  There would have been more flowers, but last fall was tough on the blackberries with little snow cover until early November.  Consequently, only about 20% of last year's growth on Wild Treasure survived the winter.  Marion isn't doing too bad this year either.  From a 3 ft long cane and two bottom laterals, it has produced several dozen flowers, many of which are still waiting to flower.  We should get some berries off of it, but not sure what the final count will be.

Many of the grapevines have resprouted from the roots and it looks like not too many were lost.  However, again this summer it appears there won't be enough time to plant them on the terraces as we still have quite a bit of earthwork to do before their space is ready.  We have decided to try putting in a pond at the bottom of the lot to provide water during the dry months of May and June.  With several thousand plants in the ground, the demand for water will dramatically increase.

We are also considering putting in a food forest to the west of the house.  The area is currently covered in poplar saplings and high bush cranberries.  We hope to put in fruit and nut trees and serviceberries amongst the cranberries.  However, this area won't be terraced in the traditional way, so it remains to be seen how we will provide water.  Stay tuned.

Wild Treasure and Silvan blackberries:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Plant Sale Starts Next Weekend!

   With all our warm weather, folks are getting itchy to plant!  We will be starting our 7th annual plant sale next Saturday at our usual location (Mile 1 Murphy Dome Road) and usual time (10am to 7pm).  We will continue selling plants on Sunday and the following two Saturdays.  We have a greater selection this year.  Prices are the same as last year and everything will probably go fast.  So, make sure you stop by early for the best selection.  We have posted a list of what we will have available on the Fairbanks Craigslist site under the heading "Plant Sale".
  A quick note on our blackberries.  Last fall was really tough on all of them, with an extended period of no snow cover.  Only those with row cover survived.  That leaves Wild Treasure, Black Diamond, Marionberry, and Thornless Loganberry for us to get fruit off of.  However, we do have some promising Metolius blackberry plants that might yield a berry or two.  They are in pots and not very big.  They are growing like crazy, though.  Can't wait to get them in the ground and see their full potential.  Right now they look like winners!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

We're going to Nebraska . . . and the voles ate our grapevines

We are now registered for VitiNord 2015 in Nebraska City, NE in November.  Looks to be a very fun and informative event with speakers from around the world talking about growing grapes in cold places.  Very exciting!!!
  On another note, we went out yesterday and began uncovering plants we protected over the winter. Most of the trees and shrubs came out with little or no vole damage.  They do seem to like seaberries (hoped they wouldn't), wild blackberries (eastern US) and sand cherries.  They only did a little damage to our Yellow Transparent apple tree and none to our cherry trees.  Then we discovered why.  They decimated many of our potted grapevines, eating them down to stubs - but leaving last year's new growth alone.  Odd to say the least, but these critters are just that way.  The grapevines were mixed in with blackberry plants and other small plants that they didn't really bother.  Not sure if most of them will sucker from the roots as only a few varieties (including Osceola Muscat and St Pepin) have shown that tendency in the past.  Unfortunately, it looks like the voles ate our rare Baltica and Zilga vines, as well.  These are very hard to come by in the US.  Maybe they will make it - only time will tell.
  We have been walking in part of the way for three weeks now and it looks like we will be walking all the way in (1.5 miles/2.5 km) starting this week. Temps have hit the upper 40s F (10 C) the last few days with strong Chinook winds (to 30 mph here).  Snow is melting fast!  Still a few weeks before the Grape House cover goes on.  However, the first green buds are already showing on Ben Sarek black currant and Cascade Delight raspberry will start pushing buds this next week.  Spring has arrived!
  We are in the process of making a "Spring" video of the farm.  It will hopefully be up in a week or so.  We will leave you with a picture of Ben Sarek buds and the disappearing snow.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

First signs of spring

After a week of warm weather, we received 1.5 inches of snow yesterday and last night.  There is still about 12 inches of snow on the ground and it is slowly melting.  A look at our earliest budding plant, a Ben Sarek black currant, revealed that buds are starting to elongate and turn green. The timing of bud break on this plant is right on schedule.  However, most everything else is still under the snow and far from leafing out.  We are expecting average temperatures this month and next, so not much should happen for a few more weeks.
  We have lots of plants arriving over the next five weeks - kind of like Christmas in spring!  We will also be busy preparing for the upcoming plant sale.  Dates and times will be posted here and on our website, along with the varieties that we will have available.  Currently there are 31 trays planted, with another 18 or so to be planted next weekend.  That's a lot of seedlings!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Website updated!

We updated our website ( this morning to include the presentation and materials from yesterday's workshop.  Sorry, the peony presentation is proprietary and not available.
Over a dozen people attended yesterday's workshop to hear Marji Illingworth (North Pole Peonies) share her recommendations for the best peony varieties to plant in the flower garden and how to care for them.  We followed this with a discussion on how to raise seedlings for the summer garden.  As usual, we ran out of time, so next year we will probably rent the facility for the day and throw in a few more presentations per requests from this year's attendees.
  It looks like we will start selling plants May 23 and continue selling on Saturdays only for four weekends.
  This week we got a taste of breakup with afternoon temperatures in the lower 40s.  We may be walking in and out beginning next weekend.  This is a little early, but not much.  If breakup goes fairly quickly, we will have no trouble getting the plants out for the plant sale in May.
  We ordered quite a few (hundreds) of grape cuttings this year and are busy callusing them and potting them up.  We also decided to delve into growing figs, but those may take some serious effort to get to produce anything.  Having had fresh figs before, I am sure the effort will be well worth it!  Mail order plants will start arriving late next month.  Better get some pots ready!
  Not much in the way of pictures lately, but here is one from earlier this month when I was digging out of a few feet of new snow.  There is a drift along the right side of the road.  The depression toward the left of center is from snowmachiners and dog mushing teams staying away from the drift.  As we have cleared more and more trees, we have noticed lots of drifting.  Looks like snow fences will need to be erected to keep the drifts out of the road.

The sun is out and it is time to get to work.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


It appears that I goofed when I scheduled this year's gardening workshop.  It is on Saturday this year, not Sunday (as in years past).  I printed up a number of flyers that list the day as Sunday, March 21st, when it should be Saturday, March 21st.

See you all on Saturday!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

4th Annual Gardening Workshop Coming Up!

We have secured the Ken Kunkel Community Center for our fourth annual gardening workshop on March 21st from 3:15pm to 6 pm.  Topics will include growing peonies, raising seedlings, raised beds, greenhouses and row covers.  Marji Illingworth of North Pole Peonies has graciously offered to lead our discussion on growing peonies, whether it is for personal or commercial purposes.  In addition, we will be providing pots, potting soil and seeds for each family to plant a few seeds to take home.  We will also be revisiting past presentations on what to grow and how to extend our short season and provide the heat that some of our favorite vegetables need to produce reliably in the Interior.  The workshop is free.  Come enjoy visions of summer regardless of what the weather is like outside!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Our First Farm Video

We've joined the "YouTube" community and have posted our first short video!  Something ate our summer video (don't know where it went), so we recorded another one yesterday and finally got it posted today. Granted, there is not a lot to see with most everything under the snow, but we'll make more videos as the year progresses.  We are heading into our first real cold snap of the winter and may see -30F (-35C) overnight.
  Thoughts are on the upcoming 4th Annual Gardening Workshop, which we have tentatively set for March 21st.  We'll start around 3:15pm and run until 5 or 6pm.  The tentative agenda includes starting plants from seed and raising peonies - for personal enjoyment or commercially.  As usual, there will be door prizes.  If you have other suggestions, feel free to "comment".
  We are also working on updating and revamping the website.  This will take a little time, but a post will be made here when all is done.
  We will leave you with a sunset.  It was taken on January 3, 2015 of Mt. Foraker (right of center) just after sunset (Denali is on the left).  This was taken from our driveway and the time was actually 2:45pm.