By Robert Purvis
The May 10, 1989, meeting of the Alaska Chapter, North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX), attracted 28 people, who enjoyed a presentation by Dr. Herb James on the growing of asparagus and Julie Riley’s discussion of raspberries and strawberries.
Herb obtained unnamed Canadian varieties of asparagus, which have done well for him near the corner of Northern Lights and the New Seward Highway in Anchorage. To prepare his asparagus bed, he tilled the soil to a depth of 12 inches, then added lighter materials and compost. After planting the crowns 2 feet apart, and 6 inches deep he laid down black plastic with holes cut in it so the crowns could grow through. (This allowed the spears to grow with little weed competition initially.) His site had good sun exposure.
The only protection his plants have from the elements is a chain link fence. He stated that the asparagus spears should be cut for the first time in their 3rd growing season and that they could be harvested 3-4 times per season. Some spears must be left to grow into full-sized fronds, however, to provide nourishment to the crowns. Under such a scheme, the crowns should last at least eight years.
He has grown asparagus from seed. The first requirement is rounded (not flat) seed pods. These he collects in November, stores in a sealed jar, and plants the seeds in late January, keeping them in his greenhouse. Herb has typically had 70% germination, beginning at 2-3 weeks and taking up to 2-3 months. This year’s crop was 3-8 inches high by May 10. Herb has limited quantities of the plants and sells them at $11.00 per dozen.
Julie Riley described advantages and disadvantages of three systems commonly used in strawberry cultivation. Requiring the least maintenance is the matted-row system. Plans should be 20-30 inches apart in rows 42 inches apart, and allowed to runner freely, which offers bird protection. Unfortunately this method requires more water and fertilizer, is difficult to weed, and suffers more from weeds than the others.
The hill system involves planting individual plants about 8” apart and cutting off all runners. It’s best for the everbearing varieties. The plants have no competition, bear large fruits, and are easy to cultivate and harvest. Unfortunately, the berries are more vulnerable to bird problems and rotting on the soil. The soil will dry out faster, too.
The spaced-row system allows 2-4 runners to strike roots but eliminates the rest. It is planted like the matted-row with the exception of elimination of the extra runners.
Until 1968, the only strawberries reliable for the Interior were the Sitka hybrids. Dr. Charles Georgeson bred them from wild beach strawberries and first distributed them from the Sitka experimental station in 1910. The Sitka strawberries are tasty, but they are pale pink, not firm, and not extremely productive. NAFEX member Patrick Wright in Anchorage has lots of them.
The Matared produces large, deep-red, good tasting berries with a moderate tendency towards ever- bearing. They have no disease problems. Although strawberry patches are ripped out every three years in the lower 48, Julie said this was not necessary for Alaska, where healthy plants can remain productive for up to 6 years. The Susitna is a June bearer, ripening slightly later than Matared. Pioneer, a 1968 release, has dull foliage, oblong leaves, and is hardy and vigorous. Its fruit is medium sized, with a wild aroma, but the quality is said to be rather low. Toklat, released in 1977, has a calyx that is difficult to remove. Quinalt keeps poorly, but the fruits are large, sweet, and juicy. It is productive although less hardy than Pioneer or Toklat. Jewel, a release from the NY State Fruit Testing Association, produces large, deep red, firm berries with a tangy-sweet flavor as grown in Bob Purvis’s strawberry patch.
Julie’s dissertation on raspberries was brief, but several points deserve mention. Rows should be allowed to grow no more than 15-18 inches wide. Thin the canes to no more than 4-5 per foot of row, and do not head back more than the top fourth of the fruiting canes.
Latham and Boyne are examples of summer bearing raspberries popular in Alaska. Heritage and Redwing are everbearing, meaning specifically that as primocanes, they fruit on the upper portion of the cane the first summer. They fruit on the lower portion the second summer and then die.
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