Heat wave pushes peony season two weeks early
Work on the Alaska Blooms Peony Farm halts around mid-morning because it’s just too hot to harvest.
“Normally I would come out here at 8:00 and leisurely harvest because it’s so cool and nice in Alaska,” owner Rachel Christy said. “But this has been beastly, so we’ve been getting out here at 6:00 in the morning.”
The massive heat wave at the end of June kept Christy unexpectedly busy. The season is usually ramping up this time of year. Instead, it’s winding down about two weeks early.
“This is my ninth year and this is the first time I’ve ever cut before the Fourth of July and this season I’m done by the Fourth of July,” Christy said.
Her last variety, Elsa Sass, is budding almost a month ahead of schedule. The rest are done for the summer, but sales are still going strong.
“We cut them in bud stage and they’re able to store in our cooler for about four to six weeks. So we’re going to still be selling. We’re done cutting, but I've got supply stocked to move,” Christy said.
She lets buds that are too small to sell bloom out then hosts a viewing party to let people take in the blossoms. From July 6-7 and from July 13-14 people can tour the field during its peak bloom for $10 per person.
“That’s the part I love the most is sharing this beauty with people,” Christy said.
At Mount McKinley Peonies in Willow, the near-90s temperatures mean Martha Lojewski is cutting her last variety, also the Elsa Sass, every two hours.
“It’s so hot they’re blooming in the field faster than I can get to,” Lojewski said.
She can’t even leave the blooms in the field because the high heat makes them shed petals, which can rot and cause a fungus.
“I normally like to wait few days or a week to look at the flowers because we work so hard to see the flowers. And after five days they started dropping the petals, so it was a mad rush to get all the flowers out of the field,” she said.
Lojewski is also the sales manager for the Alaska Peony Cooperative, which has about 10 members around the state.
It seems everyone’s peonies are about two weeks early this summer and the cooperative has had to pass off its late-season orders to Scenic Place Peonies in Homer.
“She’s got one farm lower and one farm up on the bench in Homer so her two farms are staggered by about two weeks so she has enough product to fill our orders and her orders at the end of the year,” Lojewski said.
Usually Alaska growers have the nation's end-of-summer market cornered because of the state’s late growing season. This year, the flowers are online the same time as the Lower 48.
“We haven’t had a lot of orders from big buyers or wholesalers at this point because they still have product coming from the Lower 48 or from Europe. Once they dry up then our bigger orders tend to go out. So right now it’s just florists, event planners and people liking to make their day better,” Lojewski said.
She still expects their crops to sell out but Mother Nature is making the farmers work faster than they would like.
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