The Mat-Su Valley has always been known as the agricultural hub of Alaska, with giant cabbages, potatoes and carrots being some of the best known products. In the last few years, however, peony farming has become a major part of the growing scene, with their giant, blooming flowers appearing on farmland around Southcentral Alaska.
What started out small a decade ago has grown into a major crop in Alaska today. There are now more than 100 peony growers around the state, and many of them are right here in the Mat-Su Valley. Why are Alaska peonies in high demand? Because of the growing season, the conditions and the timing of their bloom.
Peonies typically bloom very early in the summer season in the Lower 48, ahead of "wedding season." In Alaska, they tend to bloom much later - around the Fourth of July, but this summer even earlier than that thanks to an unusually warm June. Our cooler growing season, combined with cool soils provide ideal conditions. Alaska peonies tend to be bigger and brighter than Lower 48 flowers. By cultivating them right before they bloom, in the bud stage, and putting them in controlled cold storage for an additional six to eight weeks, Alaska peonies can be shipped around the world for weddings and outdoor ceremonies throughout the entire summer.
On a recent visit to Champion Peony Farm at the base of Hatcher Pass, we were treated to vivid red and bright white blooms the last week of June. Peony plants take several years to fully mature into a harvestable crop, and the Champions' farm was bursting with color. The Champions are part of the Alaska Peony Cooperative, one of several around Alaska that ship peonies around the world. Like many other farmers, they also sell their peony stems at local farmers markets.
When you think of Alaska Grown, zucchini and carrots may come to mind, but don't forget about the sweet scent of peonies when thinking of Alaska agriculture.