Saturday, December 24, 2016

Year End Update

  This has been quite a year! Warm May and August helped the blackberries give us 7 1/2 pounds (from mainly two plants) of very tasty fruit. Plenty of rain (again) with over 8 inches falling in July alone. The rain kept wasps at bay until late August, when they started feasting on blackberries and raspberries. The feasting was short-lived as cool weather soon set in and sent them packing. A fairly warm and dry fall allowed us to continue planting trees, bushes and berry vines into October. Snow has been a bit scarce so far. A low of -12F (-24C) came while there was only 2 inches of snow on the ground. Not sure how the blackberries coped with that. More recently, a low of -22F (-30C) was observed on November 30th, with a deeper snowpack in place.
  Last winter was quite mild. We only dropped to -17F (-27C) and that was in mid-November after a snowpack had been established. This and our additional cold protection yielded the best overwinter success with our blackberries. Wild Treasure (pictured above), Black Diamond and Marion all had numerous canes survive and fruit. By keeping row cover on these plants until they flowered, we were able to move harvest up by two weeks.  This allowed us to pick virtually a full crop off of Wild Treasure by Labor Day weekend. We got about 1/2 a crop off of Marion and, well, a handful of berries off of Black Diamond. While a few of the latter were hit by fall frost, the plant simply didn't produce many berries to begin with. That is okay, as I don't care for the taste of them anyway.  The first Wild Treasure berries ripened the end of July and we were able to enter some in the local Tanana Valley State Fair. They won 1st place and Class Champion. We are very proud of our Wild Treasure blackberries! In October, we ventured to Anchorage and left some of these award winning berries with the Double Shovel Cider Company to make some Alaskan blackberry-apple cider. We should know how it turned out soon. The Marionberries ended up in a cobbler and some jam.
  We expanded our blackberry plantings this summer and fall by planting some Metolius, more Wild Treasures (about 50) and some thornless Marions. The Metolius were growing vigorously by early fall, which is remarkable since they had been overwintering in rather small pots previously. We have high hopes for Metolius as it is a very early ripening variety. We hope to extend our blackberry picking season from mid-July through mid-September with this newcomer. Speaking of new varieties, we attempted to root some cuttings we obtained from the germ plasm repository in Corvallis, OR, last fall, but they failed. We've been practicing on cuttings from Wild Treasure this fall and will be rerequesting more cuttings next month. We are curious about Wild Treasure's sibling, ORUS 1843-1, and hope the two will complement each other during the summer season. For the most part, they are very similar - and thornless (a real plus when it comes to picking time!).
  Stenulson blackberry surprised us this year - and disappointed us, too. Several canes survived the winter and flowered in mid-June. Unfortunately something (we think it was caterpillars) attacked the leaves of the floricanes and the resulting (few) berries ended up shriveling up before they were completely ripe. They "ripened" around the end of August - and all at once. This is great timing, and you can't complain about a truly hardy erect blackberry. We wonder if there is a way to get some of that hardiness into Wild Treasure. We'll keep experimenting.
  There were many other developments on the farm this year, of course. This fall, we expanded our orchard/food forest with numerous varieties of apples, pears, plums, cherries, serviceberries, aronia and apricots. Our blueberry plot got two new Duke plants. In return, we harvested quite a few blueberries off of Chippewa and Northcountry.  They were delicious. About the only thing we didn't get this year were pears. Those are probably a few years away still.
  Okay, so we didn't get any grapes either. Well, we did start planting the vineyard this fall. Three rows are now in, but they are still experimental varieties. One of these, Ivan (from Oregon), was growing like a weed when we planted it out. No other variety we have grown from cuttings has ever produced so many roots in our short, cool summer as Ivan. Price was a close second, though. It appears that if nothing else, these two varieties can deal with the cool summers here.  Both are hardy to about -25F (-32C), which is not all that cold for the farm. The most likely variety to succeed is Baltica and we have yet to plant those. Last spring some cuttings of C-16 (a selection from Canada) arrived in the mail and we went to work rooting and growing them out. This is an extremely hardy and rather early variety that is primarily useful in breeding. It still probably requires more heat than we have here (761 growing degree days, base 50F, this year). There are new cultivars on the horizon for us, however, that will make success more likely. We like to think that it is just a matter of time.
  Our raspberries were quite productive, right up until the porcupine found them. Seems he likes blackberry and raspberry leaves and sampled many raspberries. While it didn't come to mind at the time, we realized recently that there were probably enough raspberries to make wine from both types (Cascade Gold and Cascade Delight). This task is in our plans for next summer, as is blackberry wine. We will be increasing the size of our raspberry plot next summer and hopefully setting out some Fall Gold plants, as well. They are the best yellows, IMO. Jury is still out on the best reds that will grow on the farm. The "normal" hardy varieties (Boyne, Kiska, Latham) grown in the Fairbanks, AK, area are too tart or too sensitive to the fluctuating temperatures we see here on the farm over a typical winter. Malahat was quite impressive this summer, taste-wise, and ripened earlier than Cascade Delight. Its hardiness remains to be tested, however. Add Prelude to Malahat and Cascade Delight and we could be picking raspberries for 10 weeks!
  Still not sure what to think of our honeyberries (Haskaps). They don't want to sweeten up even if left on until the birds find them. Others in the area say they are sweet, but ours aren't - and we've got a number of varieties from Canada, Russia and Japan. Maybe as the plants get older things will change.
  That is not a problem for our serviceberries! Wonderful again this year. Now that we are getting them in the ground, our harvest should skyrocket. Bird netting will be a necessity, however, if we want to harvest enough to sell and make wine from.
  Last, but not least, the peonies are still mostly in the raised beds were they've been for a few years. No new terraces were put in this year and we're not sure if we want to put any more in as they are very hard to maintain and mow. So, we've kind of put the peonies on hold until a decision is made to terrace or not to terrace.
  Next summer we hope to finish planting all of our remaining potted plants and expand the vineyard and blackberry patch. Putting up a tall fence will also be a focus. With luck we will be busy harvesting blackberries for wine, so we will have some to take with us to VitiNord 2018 in Denmark and Sweden.
  Stay tuned for updates on the plant sale next May. If you get a chance, check us out on Facebook at Solitude Springs Farm & Vineyard.
  Happy Holidays!