Strawberries in November: The growing season that won't quit

mtheriault@adn.comNovember 5, 2013 

The week after a snowsuit-free Halloween, Kate Consenstein discovered strawberries in her garden.

In Anchorage. In November.

The warmest October the city has recorded has extended to a balmy November: Anchorage is one week away from breaking its record of latest recorded snowfall (Nov. 13, 2002) and the weather is still firmly in no-socks-necessary territory, with highs in the 40s during the day.

Lawns are being mown. Pansies are blooming. Chives and sorrel are being snipped.

This is the growing season that won't quit, said Mark Rempel, a Palmer organic farmer.

"This is crazy," said Rempel, who runs Rempel Family Farm, a14-acre organic vegetable operation in the Butte area outside Palmer.

"I'm just going, I wish I had some more kale or broccoli," he said. "It would love this weather. It would keep on producing."

He readied his fields for winter around the second week of October, he said, reasoning that freeze-up was near.His family has been growing vegetables in the Mat-Su Valley for 40 years. The last time he can remember picking carrots in early November was a long ago.

"I was a very young man at the time," he said.

When was the last time Nickel LaFleur remembered doing garden chores in a snow-free yard in early November?

"Never! Never, never, never. Never!" said LaFleur, the president of the Alaska Master Gardeners Anchorage and an arborist.

LaFleur grew up in Kodiak and has been living and gardening in Anchorage since the mid-1980s.

She's appreciated the extra time to pack away tools and put up hoses before winter descends in earnest.

But she's disturbed to see lilacs "bulging and budding" as if they think spring is coming.

"What's kind of scary is I'm starting to see plants come back up," she said. "I'm sure they are confused."

The soil is hard but not frozen a few inches down.

"The ground has always been frozen at this time of year," she said. "And it is not now."

The extended fall has been a boon to West Anchorage beekeeper Wigi Tozzi's bees.

"I normally put them in their winter storage about the first of October, but they have been flying up until about a week ago," Tozzi wrote. "That added time they can flu makes it much more likely they will survive the winter."

Danny Consenstein, the head of the Alaska Farm Service Agency -- and the husband and co-gardener of Kate Consenstein -- said he hadn't heard of any local farmers who'd been able to significantly extend their seasons, though farmers have been using "high tunnel" hoop buildings and greenhouses to grow more longer.

The whole year has been weird, Consenstein said: a late spring, a hot and dry summer with drought conditions in some areas, a wet, mild fall.

"We may be having more of these kind of extreme events," he said. "Is this part of climate change? Could be."

Temperatures will begin to drop this week, said Bill Ludwig, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service's Anchorage office.

"It will still be fairly mild over the next few days for this time of year," he said.

Thursday brings a chance of rain and snow.

On Wednesday, Kate and Danny Consenstein's toddler Rose grabbed fat ruby strawberries and pointed at rows of broccoli still producing in the backyard of their downtown house.

Soon Kate Consenstein had to go. It was time to take her stepson to a snow-free cross-country ski practice.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.


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