Talk Dirt To Me

Gardening in Alaska presents big challenges, whether it's the extra effort in finding plants tough enough to survive our Zone 2-4 climate, communicating with like-minded Alaska gardeners, or keeping up with the latest trends, issues and solutions. We'll try to help with that. We'll also tour gardens from Homer to Anchorage to Wasilla to Willow whenever we get the chance, and post the best garden photos around. Presenting a forum about cold-weather gardening and for cold-weather gardeners is what we are all about. We hope you'll join us on the Talk Dirt garden blog.

Photographer and gardener Fran Durner (fdurner@adn.com) writes the blog.

February Garden Calendar - 1/29/2010 9:28 am

UA Anchorage recognized as a Tree Campus USA - 1/27/2010 10:36 am

Stone walls provide beauty and exercise - 1/26/2010 8:43 am

USDA program for high tunnels offered - 1/25/2010 8:08 pm

Worms could eat your garbage too - 1/24/2010 8:01 pm

Wildflower Garden Club offers annual scholarship - 1/21/2010 1:08 pm

Where did you find inspiration last year? - 1/19/2010 3:57 pm

Zaumseils say farewell for now - 1/18/2010 3:57 pm

The giants are landing

View Fair Results
Send in your garden photos!
View Garden Photos
View Calendar

Scott Robb and his wife, Mardie, mull ways to unload the giant kale Scott grew this summer. (ADN photo by Evan R. Steinhauser)Scott Robb and his wife, Mardie, mull ways to unload the giant kale Scott grew this summer. (ADN photo by Evan R. Steinhauser)Mike writes: What does an 84.7 pound kale do when it arrives at the Alaska State Fair?

Whatever it wants, of course. But it was no joke for Scott Robb, holder of five world records -- six when this one is certified. (The previous record, 58.6 pounds, was set by North Pole's Dave Iles last year.)

Fortunately, rasslin' big produce (and not breaking off any precious pieces that might be the difference in the Guinness Book of World Records) is not a new problem at Alaska's State Fair. Of the 60 overall fair champions, nine were declared world records at the same time. Seven of them still stand -- most with nothing to fear except a bigger entry from the same record holder, or one of the champion's competitive buddies at the fair.

Looooooong hours of daylight during our growing season makes Alaskans regular contenders for giant vegetable trophies. This Cheechako gardener, growing up in Texas, new little about Alaska except what I read in my 7th grade geography book: Put an Alaska cabbage in a wheelbarrow and you may never see the wheelbarrow again!

The buzz was already on hours before Scott and his wife, Mardie, arrived in their pickup truck loaded with the monster greens. "Scott's got a kale at least as tall as I am," volunteer Dawn Caswell told me in a confiding whisper. Dawn's been a volunteer at the fair for 25 years, and, well, she's got her ear to the ground.

Also staggering onto the fairgrounds Wednesday was Scott's Palmer neighbor Ron Castor, with a 5.25 pound parsnip. (That's an Alaska fair record, beating Ron's 2006 winner which weighed in at 4.702. The world record was grown in Ontario in 2003, tipping the scales at 8 pounds 6 ounces.

These records don't happen by chance, says judging superintendent Kathy Liska. "The growers here are very competitive all spring and summer, and if they think they've got a shot at the record, they contact the Guinness staff and prepare them for the official weighing at the fair."

Frederick Snodgrass was first in line Wednesday at the Farm Exhibits building with a big ol' rhubarb. Rhubarb entries are trimmed out so that the biggest stalk on a plant is weighed in the giant category. (ADN photo by Mike Peters)Frederick Snodgrass was first in line Wednesday at the Farm Exhibits building with a big ol' rhubarb. Rhubarb entries are trimmed out so that the biggest stalk on a plant is weighed in the giant category. (ADN photo by Mike Peters)

The giants are landing: Frederick Snodgrass trims out his rhubarb entry with assistance from Kathy Liska, crops exhibit supervisor, and Dawn Caswell, a 25-year volunteer at the fair. (ADN photo by Mike Peters)The giants are landing: Frederick Snodgrass trims out his rhubarb entry with assistance from Kathy Liska, crops exhibit supervisor, and Dawn Caswell, a 25-year volunteer at the fair. (ADN photo by Mike Peters)

Next week, growers can enter giant veggies (and other crops) in another round: entries can be submitted Wednesday between noon and 9 p.m. It's a good bet that most competitors have something up their virtual sleeves, hoping that another week's growth will make a champion. Sometimes you can't tell EXACTLY what you've got until you harvest it (How big is that turnip in the ground, anyway?), but growers like Scott Robb develop a good eye.

Last year, Scott brought two kohlrabi the first week. The first one on the scale beat the old world record. The second one on the scale beat the first one. The second Wednesday, he was back with two more: The first one on the scale beat last week's record, and the second one on the scale beat THAT! Four world records in a week? The man has a sense of drama.

Will he be back next week? You'll have to check next Thursday after noon to be sure.

While giants are considered in dozens of vegetable categories, two have special event status at the fair (pre-registration was required for both).

The Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off will be Wednesday from noon to 3 p.m. The current state record of 1,019 pounds could be up for grabs, but we won't be seeing a world record. Bigger pumpkins are grown in New England, where the growing season is longer. (More on that tomorrow!)

Also next week, the Giant Cabbage Weigh-off is next Friday at 6 p.m. The state record is 105.600 pounds, set by Barbara Everingham of Wasilla in 2000.

Other current world records that were set at the fair:

Cantaloupe, 64.8 pounds, Scott Robb (Palmer), 2004
Carrot, 18.985 pounds, John Evans (Palmer), 1998
Celery, 63.3 pounds, Scott Robb (Palmer), 2003
Broccoli (romanesco) 35.00 pounds, John Evans (Palmer), 1993
Kohlrabi, 96.950 pounds, Scott Robb (Palmer), 2006
Rutabaga, 75.750 pounds, Scott Robb (Palmer), 1999
Turnip, 39.2 pounds, Scott Robb (Palmer), 2004

Some state records that were set at the fair in 2006:

23-foot, 3 1/2-inch corn stalk, grown by Dave Iles of North Pole
4.702-pound parsnip, grown by Ron Castor of Palmer
1,019-pound pumpkin, grown by J. D. Megchelsen of Nikiski
17.195-pound yellow zucchini, grown by Dave Iles of North Pole
67 1/8-inch long gourd, grown by Dave Iles of North Pole
55.15-pound blue hubbard squash, grown by Dave Iles of North Pole
21.530-pound bushel gourd, grown by Dave Iles of North Pole

TOMORROW on the Talk Dirt blog: Meet the man who stands between you and a world record: Mike Campbell, the man with the official scales. Four official scales.

Keep clicking here for complete State Fair Coverage!

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service