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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

The intrigue of long-day plants...

Posted 6/10/14 (Tue)

One of the things I’ve always liked about living in northwestern North Dakota is that we have daylight this time of year later, some places much later, than other parts of the country.

As we approach the summer solstice on June 21, we can count on at least 16 hours of daylight. That’s almost like Alaska, but not quite.

Sometime ago, I calculated this out and although I don’t remember the details, I do remember that Fortuna is 1 hour and 2 minutes shy of the midnight sun.

That extra daylight is fantastic for whatever you are doing; farming, playing golf, fishing or gardening.

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to grow cabbages the size of Volkswagons as in the Matanuska Valley of Alaska. But when we select the proper varieties of vegetables for short season, long day, we can get some pretty impressive results.

Case in point; In 2010 we did a farm trial with the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society. That was the first in a series that has been ongoing for five years.

That year one of the products we grew was Alaska shell peas. You want to talk about early? This pea was incredible.

I was eating peas 44 days after I planted them. That’s how fast they grew and matured. The downside was a soft shell that didn’t protect the peas very well and, the taste wasn’t as good as mainstream varieties.

But this is a dream for the farmers’ market; having fresh peas a full two weeks before anyone else is a huge marketing advantage.

Likewise with onions.

I found a British onion called Ailsa Craig, or sometimes called the Exhibition onion, that some catalogs suggest will grow to the size of a basketball. I’ve never seen this onion get that big, but I’ve certainly pulled a lot out of the ground that are the size of a softball. I wouldn’t be surprised though, that in some of England’s northern latitudes where that might just happen.

This onion is a long-day, short season onion, just like in England, which is above Latitude 50, so it stands to reason why Ailsa Craig would do so well the farther north you go.

The downside, and every advantage has a downside, you always have to sacrifice something. With the Ailsa Craig onion, it’s lack of shelf life. This onion tastes sweet and mild, much like a Walla Walla, but has less than a week’s shelf life. I’ve grown other onions that will store for a year.

We’ve all come to know about Yukon Gold potatoes, right? This potato is developed for northern latitudes as well and will mature much earlier than other varieties and the potatoes are larger. In this example, we lose numbers. There are fewer potatoes per plant than many others, which can be frustrating when you have huge, beautiful foliage but one or two potatoes on the vine.

There’s also a sweet corn called Yukon Chief, that is grown primarily in Maine and in parts of western Canada and in Alaska.

Again, as the name implies, this corn matures much quicker than other varieties and is just as tasty but the negative impact is that the ears are considerably smaller than others. It’s almost as small as a popcorn ear.

I’m always fascinated by those crops that university experts tell me won’t grow in North Dakota. Okra is one of them. If you can identify the right variety, okra will certainly grow here.

And just so everyone knows, research I did in 2006, tells me that okra has been a popular crop in England for more than 150 years.

We all assume okra to be a “cajun” crop associated with Louisiana.

True enough. But my thinking was that if okra grows in England, it will grow here. Last year wasn’t our best crop, but two years ago, we harvested 40 pounds of okra.

This year, we’ll be doing a sweet potato trial through NPSAS that will put more than 200 organic sweet potato plants from six varieties on our property.

I’ve known for years about Government of Manitoba research into sweet potatoes. There’s an experimental station at Portage La Prairie that has had a great deal of success with the Beauregard variety, which is one of the six we’ll grow this summer.

Finally, I want to mention a tomato variety called “Manitoba.” It was developed at the experimental station in Morden, just 38 miles from Langdon, and is the tomato best adapted to our climate, even more so than a Fargo Yellow Pear.

It’s intriguing and when the solstice comes, foliage will explode.