Three non-winters have brought about changes Up North. In a recent column I brought up the touchy subject of rats, and how they’ve proliferated beyond their customary waterfront habitats. And speaking of pests, the Alaska Dispatch reported this past weekend that a team of biologists and vets have recently found five non-native ticks on Alaska dogs and people. With the mild weather we’ve been having, Alaskans are vulnerable to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease.
On a cheerier note, the Alaska State Fair, which started last Thursday and is home to giant fruits and vegetables, has seen record-breaking entries this summer. A cucumber weighing in at 20 pounds, broke the old state record, set in 1990, of 8 pounds. Then there’s the 7.15-pound tomato that beat the previous record of 4.5 pounds.
What’s interesting here is that warm weather and new technology such as hoophouses and grow tunnels are igniting interest in gardening and local produce across the state. It’s not just about cabbages, turnips, beets, onions and carrots. Warm-weather crops like cucumbers, winter squash, tomatoes, bell peppers, corn and even melons have growers experimenting with methods like grafting and hydroponics.
But how long with this warm weather continue? This past winter we experienced one of the strongest El Niño events on record, according to the National Weather Service. As we shift from a strong El Niño into a neutral one, there is a 75 percent chance of La Niña during the fall and winter of 2016-17.
To explain, El Niño is characterized by prolonged warmer than normal sea surface temperatures at the equator. La Niña is the opposite, where sea surface temperatures are cooler than normal for an extended period. Now, even though we are far away from the equator, El Niño and La Niña impact every spot on the planet.
In June, Rick Thoman, NWS Climate Sciences and Services Manager for the Alaska Region, reported on KTUU that, “La Niña winters for Alaska over much of the state are much more likely to be significantly cooler than normal especially compared to El Niño events, such as we just coming out of.”
If you believe The Old Farmer’s Almanac weather predictions (said to be 80 percent accurate), this winter will be milder than normal, with the coldest period in early January (no surprise there). Precipitation will be near to below normal, with snowfall above normal in the Panhandle, and below normal elsewhere. The snowiest periods will be in mid-November, mid-December, and mid-January in the north and central parts of the state; and mid-November, mid-December, late January for the south.
Where Kodiak Island fits into all that, I’m not sure, but I’ll give you a few projects to work on between now and winter.
Harvest fresh herbs: Pick oregano, chives, thyme, sage, basil and other aromatic herbs for making into vinegars, lotions, salves and dried culinary seasonings. An abundance of parsley, cilantro, garlic scapes (flower stalks) and spinach easily translates into a perky pesto sauce which you can store in the freezer.
Sow another crop of spinach and gourmet lettuce. They might not reach full size, what with dwindling daylight, but you will get a crop of gourmet greens.
Transplant perennials. I’ve touched on this before, but I want to emphasize that late summer’s warm soil is an invitation to get that clump of promised delphiniums or blue poppies that your neighbor promised. Is this a good time to divide and transplant rhubarb? Every source I’ve come across says that spring is best. My thought is why not try dividing and transplanting a clump now (keep it well watered) to see what happens?
Build or expand your compost bins. A bin that measures at least 3-by-3-by-3 feet in size is ideal. In a nutshell, mix up brown and green materials (and kitchen scraps), dampen them if needed and turn the pile periodically to maintain aerobic conditions. Keep the pile sheltered from rain. You can also directly compost kitchen scraps, such as vegetables, fruit bits, rice and eggshells directly by burying them in the garden. This is called “posthole” composting. And with this month’s low tides, visit the beaches for a tote of seaweed. Remember, compost is the answer to all garden woes and to get a leg-up on next spring, fall is the best time to add improvements to your soil.
Support local retailers: Take advantage of late summer sales.
Prune spent perennial plants and stake up still growing ones against fall winds.
Put up food: Now is the time to make pickles, relishes, kim chee, sauerkraut, freezer jam, conserves, fruit leather, smoked and canned fish, wine, salt cod, marmalade and cheese.
So what kind of exotic vegetables are being grown in Kodiak? Will we see giant tomatoes and cucumbers? Be sure to stop by the Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair this weekend to see for yourself. The extended weather forecast is calling for partly sunny with a chance of showers.
To connect with local gardeners and growers, visit the Kodiak Growers Facebook page and local farmers’ markets. To contact Marion, send her an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or head over to Facebook, Instagram at marion_owen_photography.com or her blog at marionowen.wordpress.com. Or pick up the phone, 907-486-5079.