Saturday, March 12, 2016

Winter roundup

Well, as was predicted, our weather has been quite warm (averaging 15-20 degrees fahrenheit above normal) for most of the winter.  We had a big snowfall in late September and again around Thanksgiving, but otherwise, snowfall has been a rare occurrence. We've received only a few inches since the first of January.  And, with temperatures climbing above freezing during the day, what there is is slowly disappearing.  A bit early to say the least!
  VitiNord 2015 was all that we hoped it would be and more! Our arrival in Omaha, NE coincided with the passage of a strong weather system that brought heavy rain, strong winds and tornadoes.  In fact, as we were walking into the beautiful Lied Lodge on the first day, a text message came over the phone saying that the area was under a tornado warning.  Welcome to Nebraska! The first day, we addressed the issue of the northern-most vineyard.  It was decided that grapes grown in a greenhouse did not qualify.  The primary requirement will be that the grapevines spend the bulk of the growing season unprotected, although season extenders (like row cover) could be used in the spring and fall.  It was also decided that the grapes from these vines would have to be fully ripe for three consecutive seasons before the "vineyard" could be designated as the northern-most.  It was generally agreed that of the vineyards represented at the conference, our vines here at the farm would be the northern-most.  An exciting prospect if we can find the right variety! We believe that our work with blackberries here on the farm will aid us in our quest for ripe grapes.
  During the conference, we met up with a number of people we originally met in Neubrandenburg in 2012, including Mark Hart, Tom Plocher and several from Norway, Sweden and Finland.  It was exciting to exchange stories and notes on what had transpired over the last three years.  Once again, we were in the company of true pioneers in far north agriculture.  We finally figured out why Ben Sarek has not been productive here.  Turns out, it buds out too early and frosts kill the flowers.  This year, we are going to shade the area so the snow doesn't melt early and see if we get flowers.  Last summer two flowers appeared on our Ben Sarek and we got two currants off of it.  These were the first flowers ever seen and the plant has been in the ground for over 5 years.  The woman I spoke to from Finland about Ben Sarek knew exactly what was happening - I just needed to find the right person.  We also identified a few new sources of grapevine cuttings for cold hardy grapes and should see some of these arrive later this spring.
  There were a wide range of topics presented at the conference including frost protection, vine anatomy and physiology and winemaking.  It was the most complete treatment of grape growing and use that we have come across. We were very grateful for the wealth of information presented.  We learned that not only do the canes isolate themselves from the trunk and roots, but also the buds isolate themselves from the canes during winter.  Everything reattaches come spring. Amazing!
  While we stuck to presentations on viticulture, there were parallel sessions on enology (the art of winemaking).  Once our berries begin ripening, we will have lots of catching up to do on the latter.  There were many opportunities to sample wine during the short (4 days) conference.  There was a USA wine tasting event on Wednesday evening, wine workshops on Thursday and Friday, a global and Nebraska (the state partially sponsored the event) wine tasting on Thursday evening, a gala event with wine and Nebraska beef on Friday night, and a tour of three area wineries on Saturday, followed by a dinner with . . . you guessed it . . . more wine that evening (including non-grape fruit wines).  Saturday evening, we tasted our first Haskap wine.  It was phenomenal.  We can't wait to try making some ourselves from locally grown Haskaps!
  We also met a number of grape growers from North Dakota and Montana.  We hope to take a road trip and visit all of them soon to see how they do things.
  The next VitiNord has not been organized yet, but we hope it will take place somewhere in Scandinavia.
  Speaking of wine, the high-bush cranberry wine we made last spring is just about ready to drink.  We will be sampling it soon to see how it turned out.  Hopefully it is at least decent.  We need to practice our winemaking skills as it is likely we will soon have enough blackberries to make a small batch of wine.  While we won't be able to bring grape wine to the next VitiNord, everyone is expecting some nice Alaska-grown blackberry wine at the conference.
  On another note, we have started our seedlings for the May plant sale.  Unfortunately, our computer died about two weeks ago and we didn't print out the seeding schedule before it did. So, planting is on hold until we get a replacement.
  We have decided not to hold a gardening workshop this spring.  Just not enough time to schedule it all.
  We will be posting another farm video in the next month or so.  Once we have a replacement computer, the video will be edited and posted to YouTube (Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard).
  Last summer we were asked to join the Board of Directors for the Arctic Alaska Peonies Cooperative (  This has been a challenging position and has required a substantial input of hours.  We will be helping out at the local pack houses and talking to regional peony farmers this summer in order to grow the cooperative.  If you or someone you know wants peonies for their wedding or special occasion during the months of July, August and September, check out the Co-op!  Most florists will tell you that peonies are not available during those months, but they are.  Help us educate them on the topic!!!

Gotta go outside and do the weekly walk around on the farm.