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September 25, 2018: News from the Far North

Every so often I receive an email from Fran Bundtzen, my very good friend who lives north of here, in Fairbanks, Alaska. She writes lengthy emails – they are like letters. She and her daughter Sarah and her husband Tom live during the summertime at her brother Skip’s place on one side of town, then she relocates to her permanent residence in the fall. Her three horses go back and forth with her. Fran and Sarah work hard in the summer, essentially growing most of their winter produce. And, they are very successful at it.

Reading her postings I wish I could say that I too am a gardener. I suspect that if we didn’t have livestock, and I wasn’t

Fran and Pete check out the Beehive Collective Poster
Fran and Pete check out the Beehive Collective Poster

the livestock manager, that I would also be a full-time gardener. Instead, the bulk of the work falls on Pete’s shoulders. This year we did well in terms of our production – in fact, it was the best year yet. However, Fran as always, did even better. And this was given that her area had a more rainy September than we did. The following email gives an overview of what the gardening season and end result were like for Fran and her family:

We are still at Skip's trying to get the fall chores done, tasks that are being slowed down by the nasty colds that Sarah and I caught and the nearly ceaseless cold rains we have been having for the last couple of weeks. We have managed to get the potatoes all dug during the few rainless periods. We got 6 and half bushels this year. Not our best yield, but not bad considering the late spring when the garden was too wet to plant them, and the long, hot, dry spell for a couple of weeks in July, followed by rain and cold for most of the fall. We did have about a week of sunshine in early September, and I think that helped the potatoes put on a little more bulk. Sarah dug the last of them today while I dug over the greenhouse beds, emptied 3 rain barrels into and mixed with the soil and covered with plastic sheeting that gets reused every year. That way, when the greenhouse warms up during May, the moisture does not all evaporate from the soil and come tomato planting time, the soil is nice and moist but not wet. If we don't add the water in the fall and cover it, the soil turns to dust by time to plant. Rainwater is in short supply in the spring to rehydrate it, and we always have full rain barrels sitting around in the fall, so it's a good strategy.

Sarah has harvested all the storage onions. We grew over 500 this year and they got much bigger than usual, so we will have lots to get through the winter. Which is good because we both like to put onions in everything but ice cream. She also was able to grow a good crop of garlic for the first time this year. We have enough to last the winter too. She is going plant some cloves on the next dry day.

Fran too, has always been a good source of gardening advice:

I was reading your recent blog about Pete being worried your tomatoes weren't ripening fast enough. About a week ago, I removed all the leaves and cut all my plants off at the base and hung them upside down on the wall in the house, in 3 bunches so there would be lots of ventilation. Any that fell off went into a bowl to ripen. They are quickly ripening now that they are getting some warmth. It just doesn't happen when the high daytime temperatures are in the low 50s, and there is no sun. I am eating tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and sharing them with Miranda. Skip and Sarah are not big tomato eaters, so I'm glad I have Miranda to help with them. I just put any extra ones that I can't eat whole, into freezer bags, a trick I got from Randi. They are good in sauces, or can be sliced when slightly thawed and put on top of pizza or focaccia.

I still need to pull the carrots. And we have a couple of late broccoli plants that are producing heads so we haven't pulled them. We still have peas in the garden. Crazily enough, they are blooming like mad right now and still producing. At some point this week, we will just have to pull the vines anyway because we need to get out of here and moved back home before the roads get bad for moving the horses.

Fran also always fills me in on her horsey doings:

The horses are doing OK with the rain. They have a 10 X 30' rain shelter so they could stay dry except they get bored in there and wander outside where they get wet. Their winter coats are coming in which helps. I have Drifa's insulated rain blanket and could put it on Tofa, but knowing her, she'd pull it off and trample it into the mud. I've been giving them extra hay plus some Equine Senior to keep them warm and help them grow more hair, and so far, they seem to be staying warm and not shivering, and maintaining their weight. I always worry about them during the cold rainy weather in the fall. It's times like this when I'm really glad to see winter come.

It amazes me that though we live 350 or so miles apart, our weather differs so much. Fran writes:

We do have hope in sight. The weather forecast says 80% chance of rain tomorrow, but only 30% on Wednesday, and starting on Thursday, it's to be sunny and in the mid-50s for the foreseeable future. I am really looking forward to some sunshine.

And Fran always says something complementary about our horses, and how they’re doing in agility. Sarah, the resident computer guru, rigged it up so that they get near instant access to my YouTube channel:

I forgot to write after watching the last round of agility videos. They had you doing some harder stuff this time. Raudi did really well, I thought and Hrimmi and Tyra did well considering how young they are. I had to chuckle when you said in one of your dispatches that Tyra made you feel like a good rider. I have a feeling that one is going to be a superstar. Talk to you later.

Yes, although we don’t see one another often, Fran remains one of my dearest friends. Her emails make me feel as though we converse more frequently than we actually do. I wish we lived closer.

Next: 268. 9/26/18: Game Management Area 14 A

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