Friday, August 17, 2018

Why Vegetables Get So Big In The Alaskan Midnight Sun

From: Connie S.
Sent: August 17, 2018
To: undisclosed recipients
Subject: Fw: Why Vegetables Get So Big In The Alaskan Midnight Sun

Everything in Alaska is a little bit bigger — even the produce. A 138-pound cabbage, 65-pound cantaloupe and 35-pound broccoli are just a few of the monsters that have sprung forth from Alaska's soil in recent years.

At the annual Alaska State Fair, which opens Thursday in Palmer, the public will have the chance to gawk at giants like these as they're weighed for competition.

It's "definitely a freak show," the fair's crop superintendent Kathy Liska, tells The Salt. "Some things [are so big], you can't even recognize what they are."

Several state fairs have giant crop competitions, but Alaska is known for yielding particularly big specimens that wind up setting Guinness World Records.

It's Alaska's summer sun that gives growers an edge, says Steve Brown, an agricultural agent at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who also serves on the fair's board of directors. Basking in as much as 20 hours of sunshine per day, Alaskan crops get a photosynthesis bonus, allowing them to produce more plant material and grow larger. Brassicas like cabbage do especially well, says Brown.

The extra sunlight also makes the produce sweeter. "People often try our carrots here, and they think we've put sugar on them," Brown says.

But many of the biggest ones — the real monsters — aren't flukes; they're a product of careful planning.

Selecting the right seed varieties is just as important as the time spent in the sunlight, says Brown, who teaches a class on growing giants. Top Palmer growers like Scott Robb, who Brown calls a giant vegetables "Einstein," spend years experimenting with different varieties to get a prize winner.

"Let's face it: You're not going to win the Kentucky Derby with a mule or a Shetland pony," says Robb, who holds five current world records for his large vegetables. "If you don't have the right genetic material, you're never going to achieve that ultimate goal."

Indeed, it took him 20 years to break the cabbage record in 2012, when he brought in a 138.25-pounder.

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