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The Optimism of Growers: Ordering Seeds on Winter Solstice

Perusing seed catalogs in the dead of winter." Credit: Homer Hilltop Farms
Perusing seed catalogs in the dead of winter." Credit: Homer Hilltop Farms

Homer Hilltop Farm owner Carey Restino talks about planning her crops while snow still covers the ground.

While most of the hemisphere considers today to be the beginning of winter, here in Alaska, we see the Winter Solstice, after which the days start getting longer, as the first harbinger of spring -- even if it’s four months away.

And what better way to prepare for the springtime than to spend the dark winter nights looking at seed catalogs.

 “I think farmers in general are wild optimists.” says Carey Restino, the owner of Homer Hilltop Farms.

Restino said, "There is this amazing promise, especially as we turn the corner into days of longer sunlight, that you know, spring will come and in whatever flavor it comes via the cold. like last year or super warm years, but in years passed and you just have to assume that you're going to have an opportunity to plant seeds and watch them grow again, definitely enjoy the process of dreaming about that, when there's so much snow on the ground, especially this year. We are so buried."

Restino spoke with KBBI’s Jay Barrett.

Jay Barrett asks, "Anything new and exciting in the world of seeds that has arrived this year?"

Restino says, "You buy something from a city catalog. Everybody gets your name. And so I've got five or six different seed catalogs and you know, I'm always looking at the new varieties and you know, what will work in Alaska. I've definitely got some different strategies than I had when I started out. I actually even am looking at using shade cloth on some varieties to keep them from bolting in the middle of the summer and which seems really counterintuitive, but we are always looking at new things and you know, we're big invested in salad. That's one of our big crops and there's always new stuff coming in the salad world. So so that's super fun. And the amazing thing is, you know, when you're looking at it in a catalog you aren't thinking about, you know, the crop failures and all that sort of stuff. You're Imagining the perfect crop. So it's a wonderful time."

Barrett asks, "You know, it's a month and a half till we hear from the groundhog, or around here the hoary Marmot I suppose, but how optimistic are you feeling about a good start to planting this year with all the snow and weather we've had?"

Restino explains, "Well if it just stops right now, we'll be fine. But I don't expect that we will have zero snowfall between now and March 15th when I plan to put the covers back on, so I suspect will be a little delayed. I'm really curious to see what happens with, you know, we had this really cold cold deep cold conditions and weather, the frost went in super deep before the snow came, I'm assuming it did, which was a factor last year and really delayed our production in the spring."

Barrett asks, "You know, I should ask. Did you grow up farming out there in the Maritimes?"

Restino says, "I did. Yeah, so I'm from Cape Breton Island and my parents moved there in the late 60s 70s and They produced I would say 80 percent of the food that we ate which I can tell you is no small feat. I can't even imagine trying to you know, just get by with the food that hum, we grow and and also animals and stuff. So it was a different kind of a subsistent style farm, you know just for us not a commercial production, but no less stressful, I guess in terms of you know, the potato crop fails. It's a really big problem. So I learned a lot and a lot of what I brought to this farm I feel like is things that I learned almost intuitively that I now know intuitively because of that experience of being right in the middle of the garden all summer long."

We may have just had the shortest day of the year, but as Alaskans know, that just means planting season is right around the corner.

Jay Barrett, KBBI's new News Director should be a familiar voice to our listeners. He's been contributing to Kenai Peninsula news for the last three years out of KDLL Kenai, and was the voice of The Alaska Fisheries Report from KMXT for 12 years. Jay worked for KBBI about 20 years ago as the Central Peninsula Reporter at KDLL.