Summer is running by faster than a sockeye in July!
My favorite month in Alaska has come to a quick end as August ushers in autumn-feeling weather. July is a month where the midnight sun shines and allows us to get started early and continue to work late into the evening. With August will come darkness creeping back into the nights. We can already feel the occasional cool breeze which rustles the leaves and reminds us not to slow down.
The garden sure takes advantage of the midnight sun! We stepped up our gardening this year, as we learned more about growing and preparing our produce to sell. We grew over a thousand carrots, about 600 lettuce plants, 50 pepper plants, and several hundred beets and onions. One of the goals for this summer was to sell some of these delicious vegetables at the local farmers market, but we just haven’t had the time to fit that in yet so we have been eating as much as we can and giving the rest to our friends, neighbors, and animals. We are so grateful for this amazing bounty and we know that in only a few months, when we’re deep in the midst of an Alaskan winter, we’ll be dreaming of having all this garden-fresh goodness again!
At the end of the month we transplanted out several pumpkin plants and winter squash. We will see what we get from them, but with the way the weather has been I’m not sure we won’t get a hard freeze before their fruits are ready. I also planted a few pots of herbs such as sage, oregano, thyme, and chives, which will be safe in the greenhouse if the temperatures do drop. One thing this growing season has taught us is that crop protection such as a greenhouse or tunnel is essential here in Alaska. The climate is so variable and can go from one extreme to the other, the greenhouse makes things consistent and predictable. Otherwise, it seems the garden harvest is left to the whims of mother nature.
Of course, there is also the wild harvest, particularly the berries, which have also been doing great this year. Our daughter has sniffed out several small raspberry patches on our property, usually she finds them before the birds do! We even found a few wild strawberries growing! We dug up a few of the strawberry shoots and re-potted them in the greenhouse. We’re hoping next year we can start a small patch of these wild berries. We also potted up some of the wild currant and raspberry plants we’ve found growing, with the hopes we can cultivate them too. Some other good news is we have a few small apples growing on the trees we planted a couple years ago! As long as we can continue to fend off the moose, these trees should begin producing more and more every year – we are looking forward to putting away lots of delicious apples as part of the autumn harvest.
July is also the peak of the epic yearly salmon run which produces some world class fishing. We are very fortunate to have a creek not too far from our home which hosts a strong run of sockeye salmon. The state of Alaska monitors the salmon runs very closely using sonar devices in the creeks and rivers, and after they count enough fish to know that the salmon population will be safely sustained, they allow us to use large nets to catch several of them at a time. This is a great way for Alaskan residents to put LOTS of delicious fresh salmon in their freezers in a short amount of time.
This year, Pete struck out the first time he went on opening day, not catching a single fish. However, he went again just a few days later and hit the timing of the run perfect. He was able to get 31 salmon in only one hour! I’m thinking it’s probably one of those unique “Alaskan experiences” to wake up to your husband coming through the front door with 31 freshly caught salmon. I gladly hopped out of bed and helped process them! After about 3 hours we had over 38 lbs of beautiful sockeye salmon fillets vacuum packed and in the freezer. Technically, the limit for our family was 45 salmon, but this will be more than enough to get us through to next summer. Plus, we’ve got lots more meat to put away in the upcoming months.
Where to begin...let's start with the Bacon Brothers! It has been really entertaining to watch them run around and play with each other. Every day they get the "zoomies" chasing each other around like puppy dogs in their big pen. It’s great to see them getting so much exercise and foraging through the grass. We've been mixing leftover raw vegetables from the garden into their diet along with some extra fruit. They thank us with their snorts and oinks. Every day when we change their water we make them a little mud pit which they instinctively roll around in with big grins on their face. They have done a great job of turning up the topsoil inside their fence, which we will plant a grassy cover crop in next spring. So far our plan to use the pigs as live garden tillers for breaking up new ground has been working just fine.
We’ve also been raising broiler chickens again this summer. Last month, Pete built “chicken tractors”, which are mobile pens we can move around the yard. Just about every day they get moved onto new ground with fresh grass and bugs for them to hunt. Since we don’t have to constantly add and replace their bedding, it’s easy maintenance for us! Plus their manure is great fertilizer and this technique makes sure it gets spread all over the field. Though we haven’t had any issues with the ermine like we did last year, we have had a lot more trouble with other things such as the unusually cold and wet July. By having the birds spread out in multiple pens and them not being on a thick bed of straw, the cold damp winds caused us to lose a few young birds. Pete wrapped plastic sheeting around three of the walls on their pens to cut out the wind and we now watch the forecasts and make sure to add straw to the pens on cooler nights. This is all part of learning to farm and raise animals, and next season we’ll be that much more prepared for what this odd climate can throw at us!
In other chicken news, our 5 hens continue to be fairly diligent egg layers. We separated the rooster, King Hawaii, from his lovely ladies last month because his daily urges were getting to be too rough on our smaller breed of hens. On the last day of July, we ended up giving him to a new home where he will have 6 new lovely ladies that are more his size. I am confident both King Hawaii and our 5 hens will be much happier now. Besides, we are raising a new wild card of a rooster who came free with the 50 broiler chicks last month. So far, he has escaped 3 times and is an excellent flier. I'm excited to see how big he grows to be. We plan to add him to the hen house next month. Fingers crossed the chicken politics don't get out of hand!
Autumn weather seems to be creeping in early this year. The low bush cranberries (lingon berries) and high bush cranberries are already producing bright red berries, though they are still tart because it hasn't froze overnight yet. They are loving the 6+ inches of rain we got this month and the cool weather at night. The lowest temperature we recorded early one July morning was 39 degrees! The fireweed in our area has already bloomed and gone to seed, which is a sure sign that winter is coming. Blueberries and cloudberries are ripening nearby and hopefully in the next week or two we can get back to Hatcher Pass to pick our share of blues! Until then, we will enjoy the nice weather and cross our fingers that the ground doesn't freeze before October!
Our biggest project this month was beginning construction on a 20' x 25' work shop. We laid out the floor plan, got a hold of some custom made metal roof trusses for a good price, and nearly got the concrete slab all prepped and ready to pour. Towards the end of July, besides the salmon run, Pete has shifted almost all of his focus on the construction of the pad for the shop, knowing there will be at least another couple of months before the building is complete. We are SO looking forward to working inside a nice cozy shop this winter!
We hope your summer has been as fruitful as ours! Thanks to a little help from coffee, we are able to keep one foot in front of the other while we take advantage of these long, beautiful days here in Alaska!
Hello, I am Melissa, owner of Wild North Design. Recently, my husband and I decided to pick up and move to Alaska. This dream has been a couple years in the making and we are enjoying the journey so far. We love to learn and make all kinds of things. From wood craft, to painting, to vehicles, landscaping, building, exploring...we love it all! We are finding out that Alaska is a great fit for our restless minds and bodies! Excited for what the future holds for our expanding family!
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