April has arrived—and gone—which is a month that gets us feeling like we are at the starting line waiting for the gun to fire (in our case, Mother Nature to signal) so we can take off and get to work on all of the projects we have laid out over the winter months.
Working outside with the warmer temperatures is such a blessing on the mind and body. Even just sitting on the south facing porch in the sunshine really warms the bones and soothes the soul! This is also the month where our latitude sees the return of 24 hour sunlight. Technically speaking, this means the sun does not set lower than 18 degrees below the horizon. At the end of this month, we are clocking about 16 hours of what I call “working daylight”; meaning you could work outside without the use of lights. (And a huge bonus is NO BUGS. I received my first mosquito bite of the year this last week! Hard to believe they are already waking up.) These wacky daylight hours probably explain why Alaska has the most coffee shops per capita in the nation. Caffeine helps people stay awake in the dark winter months and helps again in the summer when they need to work, play, and hunt/fish 24/7! Did you know that most coffee shops around here sell Red Bull smoothies?? --for those non-coffee drinkers. However, that’s a hard pass for me, as I’ve recently started to indulge in a cup of coffee here and there.
As you may have read on past blogs, this the time of year in Alaska is called ‘breakup season’ or simply ‘mud season’. Spring looks different up here compared to in the Midwest United States where we came from. Some people even claim spring doesn’t exist here, and I can see why; the return of 24 hour sunlight makes it feel like summer rather quickly.
Mud season has traditionally been a struggle for us when it came to homestead life. The lack of development on the property meant dealing with tons of mud for the three weeks or so that it takes to dry out. We had to wear our rubber boots anytime we would go outside or our shoes would get covered, or worse – eaten, by the mud. Last fall, Pete laid down some landscape fabric over the worst 100 feet of the driveway then covered it with gravel and cut a drainage ditch on one side. Seeing the difference during the snow melt between this year and last is very rewarding. During last year’s break up season, Pete got his big truck stuck in the driveway multiple times and the undercarriage of my vehicle would scrape the ground because of how deep the mud ruts were. To solve this problem last year, Pete laid down actual trees (trimmed, of course) in the ruts so if we did slip in them again, we wouldn’t bottom out! This year when the snow melted, the driveway thawed quickly and allowed the snow to drain into the ground. Some puddles formed where the rock had settled but have since drained and now, at the end of the month, everything is pretty much dried up. We never had to give it extra gas and plow through the mud pit of a driveway or pull out any stuck vehicles. In hindsight, we have learned that this project should have been at the top of our list in 2019/2020. Oh well, better late than never!
Developments with the farm have expanded rapidly this year with me at home full time. Pete finished the wood framed greenhouse which he started building last fall. Since last month, he added some foam insulation panels along the walls which aided in the quicker snow melt inside. He also added venting and fans to help regulate the extreme temperatures, which we learned will quickly rise above 100 degrees if not controlled. It took about 20 days for the ground inside the greenhouse to thaw out after putting the door on and being able to seal it up. Anyway, you can check out the video he made about it here:
Since then, he has also added a much needed set of stairs so everyone can easily move in and out to check on the sprouting plants. According to our 2022 seed schedule, we are all on track! 150 onions planted in the seed starting trays with warming pads underneath at night, along with 150 red and gold beets, and 50 pepper plants. We are happy to report that (nearly) all have sprouted! In fact, they are already outgrowing their seed trays. So, Pete is finalizing greenhouse #2 so we will have somewhere to transplant them while it is still getting cold at night. For the second greenhouse, we have a used 20’ long steel carport frame assembled and sitting above a 20’ long compost heap we assembled and grew a cover crop on last summer. We have the plastic on hand and ready to cover the frame so I can guarantee you’ll be reading about the finished greenhouse #2 in the May blog. It’s been somewhat difficult to do much in the field and around the greenhouses with how muddy it has been. Eventually we will have grass growing everywhere that isn’t being planted and that will help enormously with holding the ground together while it’s saturated. There was a bit of a learning curve in working with permafrost. But with these continuously warmer days and little to no precipitation, everything is drying out very quickly.
One of our other side-projects has been learning to grow mushrooms. I say ‘learning to grow’ and not ‘growing’ because, um well, we are still learning and haven’t actually gotten any of them to grow yet. It’s not so much that it’s difficult to grow mushrooms, as that it’s very easy to grow mold (which then kills the mushrooms). Most recently, we forgot to add the calcium phosphate to the grain spawn, which is like, one of a spores favorite things to eat. So we have gone through the process a few times and we are still getting things dialed in, but we’re learning from every failure and we’re confident we’ll get it figure out soon! Unfortunately, we have used up all of our spores in these attempts and so we just placed an order for more reishi, lion’s mane, and shiitake – stay tuned to see how (if) it goes!
With this warmer weather, the chickens are spending more time in their outdoor run. Rooster Hawaii sings his praises alllll day long. And it has been nice not having to change out their frozen water twice a day. The 6 ladies have been laying very consistently, pretty much every day. So much that we are sharing the bounty with lots of neighbors! We incorporate eggs into our cooking almost every day. They are SO rich and flavorful. We do supplement their diets with our kitchen scraps, which they consider delicious treats. When we approach the outdoor run, all 7 chickens get very excited and eat the food like velociraptors. Just today they went nuts over the lettuce I gave them, flicking it 5 feet in the air! Crazy birds. Speaking of crazy birds, we put in an order for 50 broiler chicks to arrive mid June. Unfortunately, our favorite egg laying breed (Silver Spangled Hamburgs) was unavailable to ship until September so we will stick with our current flock and egg production for now. We personally prefer this breed because they are a smaller bird, fast & agile (helps against predators), and consume less feed. The Silver Spangled Hamburgs have also proven to abide by their own politics with living in a flock and lay delicious eggs without trying to 'nest' on them. We can always adopt some local egg layers which are usually available on social networks if we want to expand the flock before winter with mature hens.
During the month of April, in a span of two weeks, the planer motor burned out and the laser cracked it’s lens which caused Wild North Design’s production to come to a screeching halt. Not to mention, the computer we use to run the machines decided to quit charging shortly after both of the other items were fixed. Fortunately, Pete was able to get the parts to rebuild the planer motor and snapped on the new laser lens as soon as it came in the mail. …..annnnd then we found a new laser that we wanted to try as an upgrade! It was a pleasant surprise when it showed up quickly, was completely undamaged, and worked right out of the box. We upgraded from a 7 watt diode laser to a 40 watt liquid-cooled CO2 laser. Although the 40 watt machine only has the ability to cut a maximum of 12’’ x 8’’ area, we are getting creative and absolutely love how fast we can cut parts out of all sorts of materials now. The 7 watt is still a great “in between” tool to use if the piece is too delicate for the CNC router and is too big to fit in the 40 watt machine.
Reflecting back on this month, it looked like a roller coaster, but while working through the day-to-day, it was very enjoyable. I was able to grow my skills and knowledge in an enjoyable manner—and when your work life looks like that, it feels like it’s not work at all! It’s a very rewarding feeling that I hope everyone gets to experience, especially small business owners. With the success of the markets last month at the Army/Air Force Base (JBER), I was excited to attend a couple of closer to home markets this month in Wasilla as well. I plan to attend more, but most things on the WND schedule will have to remain on hold until after the AK Chicks Vintage Home Market at the Alaska State Fairgrounds in two weeks. See you there! ;D
We have decided to add a full set of stairs inside the cabin with storage shelves underneath. We have long recognized the need for better food and appliance storage so we came up with this design. This will also help our toddler easily access the loft on her own. We have started the stair stringers with the CNC and four steps have been cut, but since the CNC's computer temporarily crashed, this project is on a short hold.
We hope spring has brought you reprieve from winter and some moments to remember as you prepare for the always popular season of summer! I especially loved the tulips popping up and more greenery taking shape in everyone’s photos shared on social media. --This thing called the Internet has been wondrous since established here on the homestead 2 months ago! Stay tuned during the upcoming months to see our garden grow and continued adventures in Alaska! Thank you for reading.
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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