This year’s grand prize cucumber at the Alaska State Fair shattered the state record for length, but it almost had to travel through fire to get there.
Richard Link of Soldotna knew that he had a record-breaker on his hand when he harvested his 14-pound, 37 3/8-inch (44 inches when measured by the curve) cucumber earlier this year.
A problem arose, however, when the Swan Lake Fire — which has been burning on the Kenai Peninsula since June 5 — jumped across the Sterling Highway two weeks ago and led to multiple road closures and delays. The Sterling Highway is part of the only road route to Palmer from Soldotna, so Link and his cucumber were essentially stranded on the Kenai Peninsula.
Even though Link had already looked up the previous record and knew that he had it beat, the road closures had him ready to throw in the towel. Luckily his wife, Ludy, was determined to get that cucumber to Palmer.
Ludy contacted her sister in Anchorage and made a plan to transport the gourd by plane from Kenai to Anchorage. Grant Aviation cut them a deal and agreed to fly the cucumber for just $30. So the Links dropped it off at the Kenai airport and Ludy’s sister picked it up when it landed in Anchorage.
From there, the Links’ daughter-in-law drove down from Eagle River to pick it up in Anchorage. To complete the family relay race, the Links’ daughter-in-law got it to the fair in Palmer by the time it was set to be judged on the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 21.
This is his first year submitting a cucumber to judging at the State Fair, but Link has been growing cucumbers for the past five years or so. Each year he likes to try out a few different varieties to see how well they grow, and this year he just happened to pick a winner: the Armenian cucumber.
The Armenian variety is a lighter shade of green, has deeper ridges and tends to be longer and thinner than other varieties. Link said that he prefers growing the longer varieties and noted that the taste of his Armenian cucumbers was sweeter than most.
“It’s almost like a cross between a cucumber and a melon,” Link said.
Cucumbers are meant to grow in subtropical climates and are very susceptible to frost, so Link has to cultivate his in a high tunnel. This year’s winner spent about two and a half months growing in Link’s high tunnel, and Link said that he noticed early on it was going to be way bigger than he expected.
“At one point I had to make a sling for it so that it could hang horizontally and wouldn’t fall off the vine,” Link said.
When asked if he planned on entering the contest again next year, Link’s answer was a definite yes.
“I’m hooked now,” Link said.
Link said that this summer offered extraordinary yields with more than just his cucumbers. For example, Link has several beehives and said that this year he was able to collect 15 gallons of honey from each one. Normally he collects about 5 gallons. Link also entered a zucchini into the Kenai Peninsula Fair in Ninilchik this year which won best in show.
Link’s advice to would-be cucumber farmers is to persevere through any obstacles that may arise, whether it’s having to build a sling to support them or buying a plane ticket to fly them over a fire.