Friday, August 8, 2014

Penny-wise...pound-foolish...


In our corner of the Pacific Northwest, it’s been a season that can truly be called summer! Oftentimes, our summer is a week long, and is over before we recognized it. Not this year! We’ve enjoyed summer weather day after day…and that means the ground is very dry, and my flowers and garden are in need of serious watering.

I’ve been very faithful about doing that…and then one day, this showed up in a box on our porch!

 

The Farmer had watched me drag around my plastic hose cart as much as he could stand, and purchased, put together, and enhanced with special features this new wonder. (During harvest, no less! That is love…)

I already had a hose cart that I had purchased myself. However, I have this…thing…about buying equipment for outdoor endeavors.

I don’t like to pay much for that stuff. My conviction was that I would spend no more than $40 on a hose cart, and if that meant the wheels didn’t turn very well, and the cart would drag along sometimes when I pulled out the hose, so be it. I’d rather pay $40 for a hose cart and drag it around, than pay $140 for one and not be able to buy an extra top and a few thrift store treasures.

The Farmer doesn’t get this…thing…that I have.

And watching me wrestle the hose cart (which to me is still better than wrestling 100ft of hose), was getting to him.

So now I have a hose cart with all the bells and whistles!

The wheels are perpendicular to the direction the reel turns: no more dragging cart.

The tires are big and bouncy and roll so easily on the grass.

The reel locks in position, and can be left unlocked as well.

The Farmer attached a little storage bin for my sprinklers and nozzles.

The Farmer permanently plumbed in a valve so that I can regulate the flow to the sprinkler with just a twist, or 1/8 of one. This is a quantum leap in quality over my previous cart, whose plastic fitting regularly shot out the side of the cart as the water flow began with its fits and starts. I always had to hold it in until the spitting was over, and hope that nothing happened while I was away from the cart.

And The Farmer didn’t plan this one, but it also serves as an exercise machine. Due to my lack of acumen on which direction is left-loosy or righty-tighty on said valve, and the length of the hose on said cart, I do quite a bit of walking back and forth before I get the water flow right.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving!

Watering is SO easy now…and I have to admit that those extra dollars have everything to do with it. Sure – you can buy a hose cart for $40, but now I see that, even though it’s quite a few dollars more, convenience isn’t a bad purchase either. Right now, it’s making me happy every day.

Sometimes this Dutch girl just needs to suck it up, and pay for the intangibles.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

About wrapped up...




We’ve had some exciting times here as the season winds down. On Tuesday, July 22nd, we had the crew’s favorite night of the year when we worked until 10:30pm…Working under the lights -- for some reason I can’t determine, they always find it magical. I could hear their chatter and enthusiasm all the way back at the house.

And I’m good with that. Yay! Go crew! I can’t tell you how happy I am that you set the record for the longest day ever worked at Randy Honcoop Farms…and therefore, we could, without worry, let the next 2 days be lost to rain. On Friday, they returned to work, and we found minimal mold problems because of that long day of picking as many acres as we could.

Those kids rock…all of them!

This past Monday, everyone was prepared to do it again…not because of imminent rain, but because we were going to have to bunch up picking to have enough fruit to run the plant. At 9am, we sent them out into the field, all hyped that this day might also end under the lights…

A half hour later, we were consulting with our processing partners (my sister Erin, and her husband Larry) about halting all processing efforts as production had dropped off dramatically. We didn’t have much to pick to complete our last order, and feared we wouldn’t be able to pick enough to fill another truck…At least not without weeping and regret and gnashing of teeth…which is caused by running the plant many days with small amounts of fruit.

So one short hour into the day, we called the machines back to the house and broke the news that there would be no picking under the lights; and, as we were switching to picking into barrels, half the crew would have to go home.

I don’t like doing that.

But they were all very game about it. All the boys stayed to set up the pickers for barrels and get the new set up going. The girls headed home, and I suppose that after a little bit of relaxation they weren’t feeling so bad about not picking under the lights.

Since then, we’ve been rotating crew members in and out as we need only 2 people per machine instead of four. Picking into barrels is easy…and can be boring…And messy. Dried leaves, and little dried up berries, and crunchy stems stick to the machine with the juice of the old, soft withering fruit that is left. At the end of the day, there are big piles of leaves and this kind of detritus where the crews clean up the machines before they are washed.

I always look at these piles and, seeing all the dry little berries, wonder how much more we would have put in the freezer were it a perfect world, and all these littles could become big, red & juicy.

But I think these thoughts out of curiosity this year, not regret, because it has been a great season, with lovely large fruit, wonderfully manageable weather, and a reliable, hard-working crew. We have been blessed.

Yes, we are tired…but a good kind of tired…the satisfied kind.

The Farmer is already moving on to the next farming tasks, and there will be more time to enjoy some summer activities before Fall moves in.

June 30 start, August 1 finish…a fine season, just fine!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Summary of what's been happening in the raspberry fields...


I’m working on my second cup of coffee, and indulging in my mid-morning snack of raisin toast. Daisie and I have finished the morning rounds of raking out the raspberry mush piles (so they don’t kill the grass), checking the outhouse for service, and our usual exercise and observation of the rows. The kids, i.e. our crew, have already been out in the field for 2 hours. Usually, we are just starting by this time of the morning. For years, our usual start time has been 10:00am. The Farmer deemed this to be an appropriate start time as the ambient temperature is optimum for the berries to release from the bushes. Earlier, it is cooler, and the berries are clingy, refusing to let go of the core, but falling later in the day after the picker has gone by.

The Farmer is nothing if not analytical about these processes.

This harvest season has been inordinately warm for an unusually long time, so we have moved our start time to 9:00am. It is warm enough for the fruit to drop, and it captures one more hour of the day that isn’t beastly hot for the crew.

Today, we started at 8:00am for a completely different reason. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Our goal today is to exceed our usual rotation of 3 day pick to get down to a 2 day pick. To explain, each row in our field is picked every three days, hence the term “3 day pick”. With the Meeker variety, we have found that giving them the two days between pickings to ripen allows us to harvest an appropriate amount of fruit while not losing any to falling on the ground. If you are a day late, you will lose fruit to the ground, and possibly, to mold or poor quality (softness) as the fruit becomes over-ripe. When you pick more often, you pick less fruit but higher quality. However, each trip over the row does some damage to the canes that are growing up for next year’s crop. You want to strike a balance. If you are growing for the IQF market (individually quick frozen), the 2 day pick gives you the best quality to achieve that. In that case, you may be causing more wear on next year’s crop, but the price for IQF is higher and helps mitigate that issue.

Anyway, today we are trying to pick ahead until we get to rows that have been picked only 1 day ago. This allows us to miss a day due to rain, and still be on a 3 day pick, a nice advantage for cleaning up rain-softened fruit.



As well, we are on the waning side of the season and so are trying to manage the amount of fruit we produce for the processing plant. It costs the same amount of time and money to set up and clean up the plant whether you are processing 5 flats of berries, or 5000. As production falls, we are attempting to cut costs, and weariness for the crews!, by picking for two long days, and then waiting for a day or two before picking again. This consolidates the production, making it a nice amount to be run through the plant in an evening, and saves a lot of labor cost.

And no one is going to complain about having a day off – not at this stage of the season!

We started picking June 30, and just had our first day off on July 20. The sunny weather is great for picking (until the temp gets in the upper 80’s) but you never get a day off either. You can understand that missing a day means fruit falls on the ground, and doesn’t make it to the freezer. Once we start, we must keep going, unless there is rain, or we move so quickly through the field that we are caught up to a 2 day pick.

Despite the hot weather, (much too hot for the plants and people working out there!) there continues to be decent quality in our fruit. Often, hot weather dries up the small berries that are trying to ripen, and softens to mush the large ones already ripe. This has not been happening to the extent that we expected after so many hot days.

And our crew, bless them, is holding up. We are all so grateful for the cooling of the last few days. It’s pretty tough to go out there day after day of 90 degree heat. We are so thankful for the reliable, tough, and diligent crew that we have.

And having a Not Hot Tub, and daily OtterPops, doesn’t hurt either.

The season started out strong. The fruit came on quickly, and we suspect it might end just as quickly…So far, we are pleasantly surprised how production is holding up, and how many berries still seem to be out there. However, a week from now, it could all be over…maybe sooner, if we get a lot rain tomorrow.

Whatever happens in the next week, this season is going down as a good one!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Oh, yeah...It's time to pick berries...



Harvest began a week ago today. Our first week has been a good one, and varied. From 90 degrees on Tuesday, to being rained out yesterday…From one sorter to two sorters and cobbling together a crew as the kids finish up other responsibilities and activities…And throw in a holiday to boot, we’ve covered just about every possibility.

This week, we should settle into a routine, or at least as close as we can get to one in this season of harvest.

As usual, the first pick over the field was sparse but with a high percentage of soft, old fruit. I’m glad that was all cleaned off before it rained yesterday, although we will likely see a spike in mold for a day or two. I’m thankful for a breeze today, and sun. This should help to remove the conditions that make it so easy to grow mold.

In spite of, or maybe because of, the winter damage, the berries are large and beautiful. The bushes that were half killed by the winter are putting all their energy into fewer berries – but oh, they are lovely ones!

The weather gets some credit for that too. With the exception of the 90 degree day, and the rain, the weather has been very good for harvesting. Rufus says that the long-term forecast is for marine air mornings, and sunny afternoons. I know this isn’t the favorite forecast of vacationers, sun-tanners and beach-goers – but it is perfect for us. The sun and heat can come in August…how about that?

The Farmer predicts that our harvest will be compact, and likely not extend into August. Weather during bloom time was conducive to bringing on the bloom in a concentrated period, and for keeping the bees on task. Blooms didn’t linger long, opening slowly, so we should be picking the majority of our fruit in the next two weeks, and getting’ ‘er done!

Fine with me! I like knowing it made it safely to the freezer.

All spring, the talk about pricing was that it would be high…I’ve heard that the juice price is closer to $1 than it is to 50¢ and that would indeed be a high price. No confirmation of that yet…and usually we won’t know a settled price for our processed fruit until well into the season. Regardless, we anticipate good news on pricing.

This will be a big week…Lots of fruit out there to pick, good weather in the forecast. The crew is all trained and settled in…

Much to be thankful for!
 

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Different Kind of Thrift Store Find...


The other day, I stopped at the Thrift Store for some entertainment and noticed this stack of old portraits. They caught my eye because the sepia tones, and clothing of the subjects, reminded me of photos my mom had of myself and my sister. These kids must have been from my era…I wondered if they were any one I knew.

Closer examination yielded an interesting bit of information.


This particular photo was a copy of the professional portrait. It bore crop marks and notation from the Tacoma News Tribune…And the brief note “Victims of the Tidal Wave”. The professional portrait that matched this copy was dated 1964.

My interested was piqued. Could these kids be victims of the big Alaskan earthquake?

I bought the newspaper copy photo and headed home to my computer.

It didn’t take too much searching to find some answers.

Plugging into search engines the term “fatalities Alaska earthquake” eventually led me to Coleen Mielke’s* research on those who perished in the earthquake, and the resulting tidal waves, or tsunamis, as we now know them.

These are the McKenzie children: Louis – 8, Bobby – 7, Ricky – 6, and Tammy – 3. This picture must have been taken at Christmas 1963, a little over 3 months after the first tragedy struck their family. An older daughter, Suzanne – 9, died of burns she suffered when lighting a campfire the previous August.

There was greater tragedy to come.

On March 27, the McKenzie family, dad, Monte, mom Rita, and the four kids, were camping at Beverly Beach State Park, near Newport, Oregon. The family had built a driftwood shelter in which they spent the night. They were all still sleeping when the first tidal wave engulfed their shelter, leaving only a pocket of air in which they managed to survive. As the wave receded, they scrambled out of the shelter and gathered together to run to safety. The next wave overtook them. Logs and debris tumbling in the waves knocked Rita unconscious, and swept the children from her hands. Monte was similarly dazed, though not as severely injured as Rita.

The four children, and the family dog, were all swept out to sea.

Searches began immediately, and continued for 3 days, but only Ricky’s body was ever found.

I can’t imagine the devastation for this young couple – only 29 years of age at the time of these tragedies…

In an effort to heal, they filed papers to adopt a family of 4 children, but the stress of their losses overcame their desire to adopt, and eventually ended their marriage.

Somewhat ironically, Rita K. McKenzie – now known as Kay Jepson – passed away just before the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Earthquake, and her children’s deaths. She had been living in Lynden, and had no next of kin here. In fact, it seems that there is possibly only one relative, in another state, to survive her. She was all alone.

And thus, the pictures of her most precious ones were left in a thrift store, as her belongings were dispersed…mute mementos of a story that is unbelievably tragic. I wonder how many of her acquaintances even knew…

I went back and bought all the pictures…It seems like someone should remember those cute little kids, and, as importantly, a mom and dad who lost so much, and suffered ever after.

I hate to think that Rita K. McKenzie Jepson went through her life and no one knew the burden she carried…But it’s entirely likely. It’s entirely reasonable that these experiences had a profound effect on making her a different person than she was in the early, happier days. I know nothing about that person, and how she handled her loss – but I know that she lived on, and she kept, perhaps, a drawerful of memories that had to pain her heart every time she looked at them.

I admire her bravery. And I think others should know of it…and now you do.

Indeed, we do not know what battles those around us are waging as they live the everyday. How many other stories of courage would we find could we only know the history behind the mute mementos we collect!

I will always be glad that I was curious about these pictures.

*My thanks to Coleen Mielke, who allowed me to use her research to tell the story of the McKenzie family.

**Ms. Mielke’s research allowed a Whatcom County Support Officer to direct that Kay Jepson’s remains be interred in a Lakewood Cemetery where her children’s graves and memorial stones are located.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Life grows on...


While I’ve been alternating between apathy and anxiety, (Hormones! Thou canst be a curse!), the world continues on. Nobody is waiting for me to get my act together, which is a good thing.

So now I suddenly find myself with harvest only a few weeks off. (Dear Lord, please may it be THREE weeks, and not TWO? Not even TWO and a HALF? Please?)

 
We were surprised to find that we had quite a bit of winter damage when the berries leafed out this spring. The winter weather cooled gradually, and warmed gradually, so we thought we would be fine. However, something happened that the berries didn’t like. We’re not sure if it was the cold snap in early December, or the snow and ice in early March. It doesn’t really matter because we can do nothing about either…though we like to pretend that at least we KNOW what happened out there.

This bush seems to be wearing a fascinator...(Sorry. Nerd humor.)
We have a section of our field that is elderly, in raspberry plant terms, and we had decided to leave it for one more year of harvesting…But it got hammered by the winter, and now it looks pathetic and has rows that are hardly worth picking. Hindsight! Well…you know the saying.

Row on the left: our young vigorous field. On the right: one of our older fields. Note the uneven heights of the bushes, and smaller size overall.
There are other areas of the field that show a fair bit of damage as well. The youngest, most vigorous fields show very little damage. Wherever there is damage, it is seen in that the tops of the bushes never leafed out. The good news is that whatever did leaf out is growing well, and blooming with abandon.

Of course, bloom time means that we have about a million or so hired hands out in the field…or is it hired feet? Ninety beehives are parked out there, and as usual, the field literally hums.

In raspberry industry scuttlebutt, word is that the price could be high. Apparently, other raspberry growing areas of the world have not fared well of late – most notably Chile and Serbia – and the freezer stock is depleted. We don’t get too excited about such reports as they do not always pan out. If it does this year, it will be a nice offset because it’s obvious the tonnage will be down.

We have much more to think about right now than what the price will be. There are fields and machines to get ready, crews to educate, flats to wash, bees to keep happy, and pests to combat...
…and make sure that these little beauties grow up, turn red, and are ready for their ride to the freezer.

Monday, May 5, 2014

In which I risk saying too much...


Yesterday I turned another year older, and today I have gone all introspective about life.

Actually, that’s not true. I should admit that I’ve gone all introspective for a few weeks now, and thus my absence from the blog.

I thought I had created a plan by which I would avoid the annual visit of the doldrums that arrives in my head during the month of February. A stay in the sunshine and loveliness of Hawaii with my most loved ones was sure to be a cure for the annual ailment.

And it worked…for February.

But after winter, with its late appearances, finally decided to give way to spring, the doldrums still decided to make an appearance…and worse than ever.

I hardly care about a thing.

If it weren’t for my tenacious Dutch Girl guilt, I would likely still be in bed. And my lawn would be a foot high.

So I am grateful for guilt, to some degree, and more so for friends and family whose relationships draw me out of my hermitical existence and renew my interest in the world…even if it only lasts for a little while.

I have no idea why I am so apathetic about life, and all the usual things that interest me. I fear that The Big M* has a lot to do with it, and that process, being a couple years old for me, seems interminable as I look ahead.

But on the other hand, who cares?

Thankfully, this spate of the doldrums, though severe, is not full of anxiety. I’m not worrying about it. I expect it will pass. I would just like to go to bed until it does.

Even introspection seems like too much work. An epiphany might be helpful, but all the thoughts I’ve thunk haven’t yielded one yet.

So, whatever…

I’ve wondered whether it’s wise to write this for all of my world to see, and I’m not sure …but I do want to write about what matters, and what is true, and not hypocritically wrap up my life in a bunch of one minute devotionals that solve every problem. So I’m telling you where I am at today… I am working on understanding why, and on how to act my way into feeling, because feeling my way into acting is definitely not working (and never has, I might add).

I’m not looking for sympathy, or solutions. I’m not crying for help. I’m just saying how it is, knowing that this too shall pass, but in the meantime, I can’t pretend.

Sometimes life just requires plodding, one step at a time…so that’s what I shall do. I expect that sometime, I shall find that I am somewhere.


 

*If you don’t know what The Big M is, go ask your mom…

About Me

Needing an outlet for various thoughts rattling in my head, I've created two blogs -- One about my real life (leslieisverbose.blogspot.com) and one where I can vent. (leslievents.blogspot.com)