Saturday, September 26, 2015

VanderWeele's Wheat, Mat-Su Valley Alaska -- September 2015 Update

Sandhill crane in Ben VanderWeele's wheat fields (September 26, 2015, Photo TWCarns)

'Tis the season for rain and gray days lit by the flaming gold birches along the highways. In late July, we spent a couple of hours with Ben VanderWeele learning about the challenges of growing wheat (see post here) in the Mat-Su Valley. On the last Saturday of September, with rain and fog swathing most of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, we drove to the wheat fields to see them after the harvest. The sandhill cranes arrived before we did, though, and were gleaning the fields in their long-necked leisurely style. Some of the fields have been turned under; the ones that were most recently harvested sill have stubble standing.

By this time, late September, most of Ben VanderWeele's wheat harvest has gone to the Anchorage Distillery for vodka, and to Rise and Shine Breads for its fat and fragrant loaves. His barn probably has numerous large plastic bins filled with wheat for the winter, and for next spring's plantings.

A flock of sandhill cranes fattening before flying south.

Snow-capped Chugach Mountains from Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage (September 23). This is what the mountains beyond VanderWeele's Farm look like beneath today's clouds.

Below are a few photos that we took on September 5, when Ben VanderWeele had harvested about half of the wheat.

In places, some of the unharvested stalks are still bright green, a long way from ripe. Many of these are probably "tillers" -- side stalks that grow up around the main stalk. They also have seed heads, but usually ripen more slowly than the main stalk (which is called the "flag.")

In the foreground of the photo, weeds, and some foxtail grass (lower right corner). Then wheat. At the far edge of the field is fireweed, mostly gone to seed, but still with plenty of red. Beyond are woods.

The cloud-capped Chugach mountains rise beyond the wheat fields in the middle distance.

The harvested sections, before being turned under.

The unharvested rows. Note that sections on the right front side of the photo have many more green tones in them than the more distant rows. They are different strains of wheat, ripening at different times.

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