Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Another one in the books...





 


…as well as one FOR the books! Though we didn’t set a record for earliest start this year, we did set one for earliest finish. We were all done on July 21…three days earlier than our previous record of July 24, 1992.

When Weatherman Rufus said this year would be like 1992, he was right on!

It’s always a relief to be done with harvest, and this year, especially so. We were so thankful for the easing of the heat wave, and the cooler days that helped the crew maintain their strength. And also, for the reduction of stress on the raspberry bushes.

Still, we ended up with a lot of this:


We weren’t able to fill all of our orders this year. I suspect that there are others who had the same problem. This leaves the market open to be filled by other countries and suppliers, especially those whose summer is opposite of ours. (Chile) We don’t like to lose our market share because next year, in our perennially optimistic view, we will need it all back.

Anyway, we did the best we could, and picked and packed until we knew we would be risking an incomplete order if we did any more. We ship in truckload lots, each of which is 39,000+ pounds. Ten thousand pounds doesn’t do you much good as it creates a shipping problem, and extra cost for the buyer. So my sister Erin, who runs the processing plant, is on top of the numbers and is careful to avoid starting something we can’t finish.

Our last day of packing was Thursday. Then we picked into barrels for juice product for 4 more days, enjoying a day off on Sunday. The kids had to persevere through one more hot, hot day on Saturday. Then it was downhill Monday and Tuesday to the finish.

 

Though it was a tough season with poor yield and difficult conditions, and a little bit of drama in the personnel department, we are still thankful for many things.

n  A crew who came back every day ;) and worked hard in difficult conditions.

n  God provided subs when we needed them.

n  Despite the heat, we had great quality every day of harvest time. The flats were full of pretty fruit.

n  The price, instead of being down as expected, was up from last year, and very good. This mitigates the cost of the lost production, and we are thankful.

n  Only a couple of minor repairs were needed during harvest.

n  Though the weather was hot, it was predictable, and we could get into a routine. No day by day decisions about when, how, what to pick. Steady as she goes…

n  Someone invented Otter Pops, and they are cheap and plentiful!
The Not Hot Tub didn't hurt either.
 
Indeed, I could list many more things…but I will add just this: We’ve made it through another one, and now we can take some deep breaths, settle into a less frenetic pace, and still have a bunch of summer ahead of us to enjoy.

This is a rarity! And I intend to make the most of it…though I know The Farmer is looking at it in terms of all the extra farming he can get done.

It always takes him about 3 weeks to feel okay about not working sun-up to sundown…This year, even if I allow for adjustment time, it will still be summer when he is free before dark!

I’m excited about that, and I’m going to make some plans…but first, I’m going to sleep in for a while, and not hurry in any way.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hot and Tired, and Tired of Hot...




I don’t recall having a heat wave during any harvest that has lasted as long as this one has. I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to have the temperature only reach the 80’s yesterday and again today.

And we can’t tell you because we are all too tired to rejoice in any way that requires exertion.

The heat has been rough on everyone…and what I feared would happen to our crop is happening at this very moment. The berries are drying up instead of ripening.


Not to mention that quite a bunch were picked by the NE wind on Sunday, and are now lying on the ground.

I think we can safely say that this year will be categorically BAD.

Hopefully it is not so for all raspberry growers. Farms that are using the Wakefield variety did not have the same kind of winter damage. Also, Wakefields ripen later than our Meekers do, so they will not have as many heat wave days during their harvest time. I hope they do well.

For our part, I am thankful for a great crew who has maintained their productivity under the most difficult conditions…and even retained a sense of humor most days!

As Randy told them on the 96 degree day with the hot NE wind: “You have earned my admiration and respect.”

At this point, we know we will be picking this week, but we don’t know what next week will bring. Next week will be the 4th week of our 5 week harvest season…If the cooler weather refreshes the raspberry bushes, there may be enough to make it worthwhile to pick and process.

But it’s been a long and very hot season so far, and we are doubtful that much recovery will be made. I hope that we are operating as normal – but doubtless there will be some tricky decisions to make about how, what and when to pick.

I have to admit that some days I’ve added why? to those questions. My bad.

This will be one for the books: lots of damage after a mild winter; many days near 90 degrees, and some over 90; hot NE wind and 80 degrees at 7am; smoke cover that starts to ease the heat wave...

These are not the kind of records that we like to set…

But as we say, “There’s always next year…”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Heat wave problems...


Today was a long, hot day. Though we divide the fields into equal acreage for each day, we are finding that the last day of our rotation is lasting longer than the others…So far, we don’t know why. And when we finally finished tonight, it was too hot to do much deep thinking, or math, especially, to figure it out.

I was proud of my crew today. They recognized that one member was getting too dehydrated, so they stopped, sat her in the shade, and called for water refills. Whattacrew!! I love it that they take care of each other…I am so grateful for them.

The next few days are going to be tough as the weather gets hotter. I am sure the Not Hot Tub will be put to use. I think it will be medically necessary. Everyone will get soaked down good, and then get back on the machine and hope it takes a while to dry out. Cooling while you work…It will be a must!

Not only am I worried about the crew hanging in there during the heat wave. I have some concerns about the crop as well.

As I said in an earlier post, the plants did not come through the winter well. They never went dormant, and so kept using a little energy through the winter, depleting their stores for harvest season. Add to that the hot and dry weather, and I think I can safely say this will not be a good production year.

And I fear that the heat wave will turn it into a bad production year.

This picture illustrates the problem. See the dead leaves and drying stem with un-ripened fruit still hanging on it? 

This is something we often see toward the end of the season, when the plants are tired and dried out. The season has barely begun and we are seeing it already. To add to the plants’ low energy stores, it’s been a hot and dry spring. When the temperature reaches the mid-80’s – and especially the 90’s as it is predicted to do, this kind of die-off accelerates, and the fruit at the end of those stems never ripens. It dehydrates, and stays on the bush, or ripens but never sizes up. Lots of little berries? Not good…They don’t weigh as much, and when they completely dehydrate, they actually become a contaminant in the fruit...Not that they are harmful, they are just inedible and add to the HEM (Harmless Extraneous Material) that we must remove from the finished product.

The yellow leaves are on a fruit lateral with berries that have not ripened yet. With a lot of heat, they likely never will, and will just become dry hard little berries...HEM.

So, I am concerned what the heat wave will cost us in production. Undoubtedly, there WILL be a cost; remains to be seen how high it is.
There is nothing we can do about it, so I am not fretting. I’m just trying to be realistic about what is ahead. We do what we can, but there are many variables beyond our control. We try to be content with whatever God gives us, and over the years, it has been enough, and more. We’ll make it through, but it sure can take the fun out of it.

I will end on a positive: there are a lot of places in the fields that still look like this…


Aren't they pretty? These will survive the heat wave, as I'm sure we all will. I'll just be glad when it is over.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

We've only just begun...

Harvest began five days ago, and I believe that we are now settling into the routine. The first few days I always feel a little behind because I haven’t reached total recall on all the daily things that need to be done. But I’ve pretty much got it now, and soon it will feel like I’ve been doing it for longer than I actually have.

Our first day of picking was Friday, June 19 – one day after our all-time record for early start: June 18, 1992. It was odd to me that all Spring, Rufus, our long-term weather guy, had been saying “If you want to know how this year will be, look back to your records of 1992. It’s going to be the same.” Indeed, when I finally looked up 1992, it was the year of our record early start – and probably finish too (July 24). Rufus is right again!
With the weather as it has been, it doesn’t feel early. It feels like it is already mid-July.

Our tradition is to start our season with a mandatory safety meeting for the crew. I always feel foolish telling these young folk to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, and to sneeze into their shoulder, not over the fruit – and other things that seem obviously common sense. But – it must be done, and you never know to whom it might not be common sense. In fact, we must document the content of our training, and get the signatures of the attendees because the buyers of our fruit want to know that our crews have been trained properly, and are responsible to keep the fruit as clean as possible.

All kinds of protocols and standard operating procedures must be defined and followed. No glass of any kind on the picker; no eating on the picker; long hair must be contained under a hat or wide headband, and so on and so forth. It’s a far cry from days of yore, when I used to sneak behind the picker and put wrapped candies on the belt. (They would magically appear in front of the sorters!) Or when we would sneak into the next row and bomb the workers with water balloons. Now I shudder to think of the contamination!!! Little pieces of burst balloons?! Candy wrappers?! Maybe nut allergens in the candies?!

We’ve come a long way, baby.

And some of those regulations border on micromanagement, and are more than a bit tiresome…And it can take longer to document what you do, than it does to actually do it…but I want our finished product to be of a quality that no one can question. And so, we adhere to accepted Good Agricultural Practices.

It always takes a little bit of reminding and adjusting at the beginning of the year for the crew, as well. I’m thankful that they are following the rules – even the ones they think are dumb.

Our production has been slow, very slow – but there is fruit that is old and soft and must be cleaned off so we are picking anyway. Yesterday, we started on our second time over the field, and thankfully, we started having more fruit come off the bushes. We are on the upswing. Other than the soft, older berries, the quality has been great.

So we have begun…and this week, we are missing 3 workers who kindly arranged their vacations for June so they would be done in July when it is harvest time… Oh the irony!! On my part, there was a bit of anxiety about how it would work out, but betwixt the crew and myself, we rounded up enough subs to keep us staffed until they all get back. Whew!

My crew is doing well together. Today, I heard much laughter from everyone as they had lunch break on the deck. I love to hear that! I try to keep them happy with Otter Pops and treats. And I purchased a larger Not Hot Tub this year – one with all the bells and whistles, like a filter, and pump and cover. This should keep the water from becoming unappealing too quickly. I filled it with cold well water the other day, so it should be less than hypothermia-inducing for the heat wave that is predicted to pummel us this weekend.

Won’t that be great…The pool, I mean. The heat wave, not so much.

Onward!



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Kids and Grandkids...


A number of years ago, after the last of our senior horses passed on, and the horse girl moved to town, and the former pasture was appropriated for raspberries for machine harvest trials, The Farmer told me he was taking down the paddock fence. I strenuously objected. I wanted to replace the horses, with beef cows, or goats. I was told that there were not going to be any animals on this farm anymore. My cute little “horse shed” was commandeered for storage.

Once again, I strenuously objected and said, “Well, go ahead and take it down, but you’ll just have to put it back up again because when we have grandkids, I AM GOING TO HAVE GOATS BECAUSE I WANT THEM TO KNOW ABOUT TAKING CARE OF ANIMALS!”

And he took it down. The poor little horse shed got filled up with…stuff, and three, count them, THREE implements were parked in the lean-to. The plan was to pour a cement floor in the lean-to – but The Farmer never was certain how he wanted it to be designed – not an unusual problem around here.

But I won’t digress in that direction…

So for a while 3 little implements got privileged status under the lean-to. Meanwhile, The Farmer continued to accumulate more and bigger implements, and soon, it became ridiculous to think that the horse shed would be a storage shed. So last fall, I pointed out the incongruity of his purloined storage facility, and the need.

Bless my heart, he agreed!

So plans were made to construct an additional large and open storage shed, and I was given permission to appropriate the shed for animals…But not cows, which are my preference. Oh, how I miss cows! However, their needs and emissions, shall we say, are too voluminous for the space allotted. And I knew this, which was why I had planned on goats…though that beef thing still sounds good for my freezer.

With The Farmer’s acquiescence to animal usage of the shed, I decided not to wait for the grandkids that I had made a condition on my earlier demands. Besides, there was no word of grandkids – and I had been told that any requests by me for grandkids would result in an extra year of waiting per mention.

So I was good…really I was! Though 5 years of marriage had passed for my eldest and his wife, and I expected to hear something at that juncture, there was silence. I decided to get a head start, and get some goats before The Farmer changed his mind.

…which he did, but I had gone for the forgiveness option and informed him that the goats were already purchased!

I was able to purchase a lovely little Nigerian Dwarf doe, and her cute little buck. Conveniently, son-in-law Jon has a sister that raises goats – and she was reducing her herd.

So welcome, my new kids: Imogene and Barnaby!!



 

Oh! I am having so much fun with these two.

As I said, The Farmer was tempted to renege on his permission, and then figured that we must create a perfect enclosure/habitat that would take months of research and design…

Instead, Caitlin and I made a fence that will work until the dirt piles from the storage shed construction can be removed. This way I can enjoy them all summer. Sorry Farmer – not waiting til fall, and perfection. Of course, now he gets a kick out of them too, and also admits that our enclosure is quite sufficient to the need. In the fall, we will seed a little pasture for them, and put up a more permanent fence.

For now, Imogene and Barnaby are quite content with their home. They are getting more comfortable with me, and now will come to me for treats. I am the giver of raisins, and other good things! They were first quite fearful of Daisie, and Daisie was very intrigued with them…still is! They have come to some kind of understanding. Imogene no longer has her hair stand on end when Daisie comes close, and they are fine when Daisie is in the pen with me, though Imogene always try to get a good butt in as we leave. For her part, Daisie has been trying to teach them to play like boxers do, and mistakes Imogene’s charges for the boxer play bow. She gets inordinately hopeful when this happens that the goats are finally learning!

Ironically, and MUCH MORE WONDERFULLY, a couple of weeks after I purchased the goats, Dillon and Tiffany came by to tell us some news…

YES!!!! WE ARE GOING TO BE GRANDPARENTS!!!!

I still have trouble grasping this…it’s really going to happen!!! I have hardly dared to let myself ponder on it as we have had to keep it secret for several weeks now. Poor Tiffany was feeling quite poorly, and so they wanted to tell us and not have to hide her need to rest and bug out on some events. They weren’t ready to make an announcement. I could hardly trust myself to keep silent if I thought about it too much!

This week, they made it public, so I am free to shout it from the housetops, which I’m sure they appreciate… WE HAVE A GRANDBABY ON THE WAY!

Baby is due December 8, so we will have a super exciting Christmas time! Tiffany is feeling much better now that she is at 14 weeks, and she actually has a little tummy. It’s real!!!

She spent a week in Hawaii with her parents recently, and doesn’t she look cute?!


 

So now we are putting thought into what equipment we need to accommodate a grandbaby at the house…high chair, pack n’ play, extra car-seat...

But I don’t have to worry about the goats…I’m ready for the grandkids on that one!

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)