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…

Friday, March 21, 2014


On Tuesday evening, my body scheduled a cleanse, without my knowledge or consent. It was a big surprise.

And not a welcome one. Doing a cleanse never sounded like anything I would enjoy. First, the things you have to consume to initiate the process are less than appealing. Second, the purging of the toxins doesn’t sound like an activity that is something to savor either. I know you’re supposed to feel so good after it’s all over, but it’s just a little too much like how you feel after you stop banging your head against a wall.

So I guess I can’t really blame my body for springing it on me. It’s not something I would do voluntarily. I prefer to trust that my body will let me know when there is a sufficient amount of toxins present to create a dangerous situation, and then just take care it.

Apparently, that’s what happened…Thanks, body, for saving me from further dangers. But I have to say, the process is pretty terrible. From the experience, I can only conclude that I must have been in grave danger, because my body took the whole thing pretty seriously.

And I’ll leave it at that.

It wasn’t over after the toxins were purged either. I felt totally wiped out…which is an unfortunate cliché, but it just keeps coming to mind. Yeesh! My body was purged of energy, and strength as well.

So I HAD to lie around and watch TV…which I found is a much more attractive activity when you really shouldn’t be doing it. When you are allowed to do it all day, it gets rather boring.

As my friend, Barb, says, being sick is a big waste of time.

Although, just like when you stop banging your head against the wall, you have a renewed appreciation for things that DON’T happen everyday. And chicken noodle soup and a piece of white toast become delicious fare instead of a desperation dinner. And sleeping in your bed, instead of lying on a bathroom floor, is something you don’t take for granted anymore…

…but probably not for long enough. So I suppose that an unanticipated, nasty, but short, involuntary cleanse has its benefits. I think a few things were purged out of my mind as well.

Perhaps my body really knows what it is doing!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Wonderful World of Hobby Lobby...

I went to Hobby Lobby for the first time this week…SHAZAM! Acres (well, it seemed like it) of wonderfulness. I entered with excitement and determination, but within minutes, I became dazed and confused…My mind could not categorize the many departments of covetousness that came over me.

Of course, the next logical thought was that I should redecorate my entire abode. There were so many opportunities in every aisle, on every shelf! What a shame it would be to waste them!

Thankfully, as time passed and I traveled from one end of the store to the other, my adrenaline levels began to fall. Reason was restored, and I am proud to say that I only purchased a few things that were not, technically, necessary for my life.

The rest of the cartful was really, truly necessary…Really, truly.

Although, I came home and set the bags down and haven’t looked in them since…I wonder how necessary those items will seem when they see the light of day.

Oh, apprehension!!

I think I need to pursue another hobby…that doesn’t include a lobby.

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)