Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Experimentals...

Near and dear to The Farmer's heart -- and mind -- is the pursuit of research that benefits the growing of raspberries. He is passionate about learning more about how they grow, and what can be done about the conditions and pests that hinder them. He finally found the internet to have some value when he discovered that he could access obscure websites that talk about nematodes, and bushy dwarf virus, and phytophthora, and verticilium wilt, and spotted wing drosophila, and mites, and weeds of various varieties...

So it was only natural that when WSU researchers needed a plot, or two, or three, for their Machine Harvest Trials, The Farmer volunteered.

And thus, The Experimentals, as we fondly call them, came to be a part of Randy Honcoop Farms.

The larger purpose of this particular research project is to develop new varieties of raspberry plants. Currently, we have a fairly small selection of varieties that machine harvest well. For years they have been working hard to develop more. Formerly, they went through years of testing -- for production, disease resistance, flavor profile, growth habit -- and much more -- only to find that many of the most promising selections didn't machine pick worth beans! That is to say, the berries wouldn't come off or were mangled when they did, or the bush was mangled after picking once. That was a lot of effort down the drain.

So a number of years ago, they decided that the Machine Harvest Trial needed to be moved earlier into the queue of research testing, and that is what we do on our farm.

The experimental selections are planted in rows that include many different types. Each post length is a new selection.

It's always interesting to walk through The Experimentals and note the great variety of growth habits, plant health, berry size, and the difference in ripening times.

Lots of large, orange-y berries...

Smaller, dark red fruit...

As you look down this row, you can see the different heights  and color of the foliage...
We grow them up just as we do our normal commercial plants, and after two years, we harvest them, just as we do our normal commercial plants.
Well -- except that it's a very slow process because as the picker goes down the row, it must be stopped after each post-length to wait for that selection's berries to clear the belt. The researchers assess the condition of the fruit, and the amount of sort-outs each generates as well. Color is noted, and the condition of the bush after picking too. And then they go on to the next post-length.

It's all very interesting, and every year, we have a Field Day where other researchers and growers can come and see what is growing out there.

The flats into which each selection was picked were laid in order of their position in the row. So if you liked the berry, you could locate the bush it came from and see what it looked like.

An example of the spectrum of red colors that exist in the raspberries....
It's also interesting to taste test the different berries. There is a suprising array of flavors...some strong berry flavor, some mild, some with decidedly un-raspberry flavor (one reminded me of apricots!), and a few that don't even taste good!

...a rousing discussion of the evidence of the presence of verticilium wilt vs. phytophthora...

...and, by the way, we provide lunch, and our own "selection" of raspberry desserts! And even though most people have just tasted a lot of different raspberries, the desserts are pretty popular. This year we had Brownies with Raspberry Vanilla Frosting, Lemon Raspberry Shortbread Tart, and the ever popular Raspberry Braid. Someday, I'll get those recipes on the blog... contribution to the pursuit of acquisition of scientific discovery...

Much more important is The Farmer's contribution, and I am proud of him for his dedication and diligence in helping to discover new information and practices that are a great benefit to the industry.

He's a smart guy, and a good guy, that Farmer of mine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Things are looking up!

Just a quick post to say that yesterday was an encouraging day. We picked into flats all day, and made specs quite easily. It helped that we were picking in the section of the field that has the smallest bushes, and that the weather stayed cool as things dried out. Wet bushes, hot weather = sauna = happy mold spores...

And now that summer weather has returned, we have a much better chance of winning the mold war.

And that makes all of us very relieved, and happy...

Monday, July 23, 2012

It was kind of a dismal day... at Randy Honcoop Farm.

And I have to admit that my "Why not be hopeful?" resolution just about went out the window when I heard it raining during the night...and again this morning.

Dismal...too much gray, in the skies, and on the bushes.

We decided to pick regardless of the weather. Picking wet bushes is its own challenge because all the things you want to sort out of the fruit stick to it, and the machine, and you. Yuk. Besides that, there is some risk that you are spreading the mold through the bushes as you pick them. However, that risk was less than leaving the already moldy fruit on the bush when we are a day behind on our picking rotation. Because we were rained out on Friday, we were picking each row after a 4 day wait, instead of the usual 3 day, not to mention that we had gotten more rain since.

The only decision was to go on and get picking. Fortunately, the rain stopped, and a good stiff breeze came up that helped keep the junk from sticking to everything. The kids had the flats looking quite good -- but when the mold test was run, we were just over the limit. The mold that is not as visible as the spot mold was putting us over the limit.

And so, it was time for Plan...well, let's say D...which was to switch out the flats for barrels and pick for juice. The problem with Plan D is that juice is worth much less, and right now, with rain during the heaviest picks, there are a lot of farmers picking for juice.  When The Farmer went to get barrels from the receiving station, there weren't lots left. The juice market is soft right now...lots already in storage, not much interest in buying more. It could happen that it could get cut off -- and there goes our option of last resort.

All the more reason to keep picking, and pick our way out of barrels and back into flats...for the higher quality market. There continues to be a threat for showers tonight and tomorrow morning before the weather will improve. More rain tonight could make the difference this year between getting ahead or going behind...We'll know a lot more a few days from now.

How exciting and suspenseful!!!

And do detect a note of sarcasm...

But you just do the best you can do, and trust that what God chooses, He will take you through. A rainy, moldy harvest is minor compared to what so many people have to endure!

So tomorrow, we will pick on through the field, and see what new decisions and adventures find us...

In the meantime, I'm going to brainstorm ways to get a bunch of barrels before the hoarders do...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

It's raining.... a word: BLEH!

We don't like to see the crew working in these conditions:

...and I will admit that a lot of our reasons for that are selfish. The main one being fear that the crew will not return tomorrow!

Because, even if it rains, we'll likely be picking again.

The timing of this rain is very bad as the bushes are reaching the peak of production. As I've said before, we started the season with mold, and it's always there, just waiting to blow up...And these are the kind of conditions that can cause an explosion in mold growth...lots of moisture, lots of ripe sweet drying time, more rain in the forecast.

The best thing we can do is keep picking, and try to keep the ripest fruit off the bushes, away from becoming fuel for the mold.

Because we also process our own fruit, our challenges continue after picking. Our buyers have specifications that we must meet for product quality, so this has an impact on all our decisions in the field, and how things are run in the plant.The past two days have been brutal for the processing crew as we have had a significant jump in production, and more mold to clean up from the rain. That means a lot of hours of running fruit over the line.

They've been putting in their winter hours too.

And it all combines for an increase in the stress level as decisions must be made almost hourly as conditions change...and it's pretty hard to know if you're making the right decisions. The disaster we want to avoid is that mold explosion I mentioned earlier. When that happens (yes, it has happened before -- not happy memories), you can lose the ability to make buyer specs, and then what do you do with the fruit?

There are a lot of berry farmers worrying about this possibility right now.

But we're not there yet...I'm choosing to be hopeful, because -- why not be hopeful? You might as well be...worrying won't change anything, and will just make you miserable until the disaster comes. (And keeping it real: this is a recent change for me. I formerly believed that worrying was akin to due diligence.) We got more rain today than was predicted, and one more day of this system is on the weather forecast. We just have to get through the next day of downward pressure, and then we can start picking our way out of trouble.

It's going to be interesting.

Monday, July 16, 2012

All systems are going...

We're in the swing of harvest now. Production and quality have improved and we are firmly entrenched in the routine...Get up and witness the fog with disappointment, then The Farmer heads out to check the machines, wash the engine compartments, fuel them, load them with flats. The crew arrives and we sit quietly, respecting that they are all trying to wake up. Then it's off to the field, and row after row after row of picking...lunchtime is a welcome break...sometimes full of laughing, sometimes full of quiet restfulness. Back out to row after row...along the way, The Farmer unloads, reloads, hauls the fruit to the processing plant. The crew's day ends with a short discussion, some laughing, a review of tomorrow's start time, and they head for home...except for the two who stay to wash the machines for the next hour. The Farmer brings in the last load, then back to the farm to check irrigation, equipment, condition of the field...prepare for the morrow...

Just to do it all over again...

It gets tedious; there's just no way around it. I am so thankful for a harvest crew that finds creative ways to entertain themselves during the long monotonous days...Screenplays, books, music have been created during harvest. Weird competitions are held. Serious discussions take place. Strange rituals evolve...and most days are not without their fun.

Oh, these are good kids to work so hard and keep on coming back!!

So for our piddlin' start, we are doing well now. The humid weather continues to add to the challenges of keeping the mold away. It's never going to be good when you start the season with mold in the field -- and that is true again this year.  The kids are working hard to get the fruit looking good...and we must keep going to keep the fruit from getting too soft and vulnerable to the mold.

But that's raspberry farming...and if you are waiting for things to be "right" before you enjoy the harvest,'ll never have a good time.

Off the farm, Jess is toiling his way through a State Senate campaign. Last Saturday was a big campaign event for his candidate: The Mercer Island Downtown Parade. Jess dubbed it his "Birthday Parade" as it was scheduled a couple of days after his 26th birthday. This inspired Caitlin to participate. She and Olive made the trek to the parade...dressed in campaign colors to support The Candidate, Steve Litzow.

Creative Caitlin pulled together a super-dog cape sporting the Litzow colors. They tied balloons to Olive's collar and she happily pulled her way through the entire parade, becoming known as "The Litzow Dog".  "Look at the Litzow Dog!" She was a hit! And the event was a successful campaign event with lots of Litzow supporters in the march, and orange balloons handed out everywhere. Jess breathed a sigh of relief, and was so pleased with the outcome.

And then he came home for the rest of the weekend...which is a treat for us, as he rarely has time for that anymore...We were so glad to see him -- and The Farmer saw it as cause for celebration to the point that HE LEFT THE FARM to go out for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

OH HEAVENLY DAYS!! It was quite marvelous.

It was a great weekend...And today, after a muggy, muggy morning, the sun has come out, and the breeze has come up to blow out the humidity -- and things are perkin' right along...

A great start to another routine week.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Piddlin' along...

Looking out my kitchen window, I can see the machines plodding through the field. It's been a slow start for us this year. Remember how I said that we needed to be sure there was enough fruit to make it worthwhile to pick? Well, we have broken that rule...

There's something different every year.

We've set a new record low for daily production this year...Woot! Woot!...or NOT! Not the kind of record you want to set, and it's really not cost-effective in dollars and cents, except that it is an investment in improving the quality of the fruit...we hope!

The poor weather that created a protracted and slow bloom time, and then dumped a lot of rain on us, continues to create challenges. There's not lots of ripe fruit out there yet, but we need to get it off in a timely fashion to minimize the opportunity for mold to grow. (Thank you rainy weather for inviting mold to come so early in the season.)..So we keep piddling along with picking...

It's a long slow start, but it keeps picking up...every day a bit more fruit...and lots of green berries waiting to come. We've contemplated taking a day off to let the field gain some ripening time, but then we wake to this, and we are glad we kept going...

Oh that lovely marine air, bathing the rows in moisture...

Gulp! This just doesn't help.

Thankfully, the sun is coming out to minimize the effect, and overall, the weather is good. As it continues, we are working our way up -- in production and quality...

It's just going kind of slowly.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Random shots of the week...

Perennials blooming...

The garden has made a jump in progress...

Some of the neighbors say good morning...

Cowboy cooking crew...

Cowboy Breakfast eating crew...

Sadie is spending the summer at Grandpa Likkel's horse pasture, which makes it so easy for Cait to ride her over for a visit. Being at the Likkel's gives her lots of options for summer rides out in the fields.

She was pretty nervous about those berry machines, and the clean-up spraying that was going on...

Daisie was so curious and enamored of Sadie! She couldn't get enough of her, and even hopped down into her "play bow" as if to invite Sadie to join in. It reminded us that Daisie didn't grow up with a horse around...She's met them before, but she was much more excited about Sadie than the other encounters...Well, until Saide spooked at the machines, and bumped into Daisie...That put some distance between them.

And finally, a shot of Dillon, helping me to test my theory on the source of "Little Dog Syndrome". Most little dogs do not think they are little dogs, and usually feel inclined to prove that. {Case in point: Olive Oyl Honcoop} I suspect that it is because little dogs can be picked up so easily...and treated like babies...and be constricted by your physical possession. As a result, they feel slighted, and that's where the chip on the shoulder comes in. Big dogs don't have that, because no one picks them up.

So Dillon picked up Daisie to test the theory...

Oh, the caninity! The shame and embarrassment is plain on her face...She won't look you in the eye...and note the claws on the shoulder...passive objection. Oh, the indignity!

Daisie, I think you have proved my point.

Not that I'm going to stop picking up Olive...If I could I would pick up Daisie too. I just intend to be a little more gracious in my attitude toward her attitude.

So many kinds of research go on here at Randy Honcoop Farm...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Raspberry Recipe...

I have a lot of raspberry recipes, of course, but this is one that I like to make with berries right off the bush...just the best that way. I have made them in the winter with individually frozen berries, leaving them frozen, folding them in like you would fresh and it's works...But fresh is still best!


2 c. flour

1c. sugar

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

1/4 t. salt

Sift together.

Whisk in a large bowl:

1 large egg

1/2 c. each, milk and sour cream

1/3 c melted butter.

Add flour mixture and stir just until even moistened. Gently fold in 1 1/2 c. fresh raspberries.

Spoon batter into 14 buttered muffin cups. Top evenly with streusel; press slightly into batter. Bake @ 400 degrees, until deep golden, about 25 minutes.

Streusel Topping

Mix with fingers: 1/4 c. sugar, 3 T. flour, 2 T. butter, 1t. cinnamon, 1/4 c. chopped nuts.

You will end up with something that looks better than these...

...I can guarantee that.

Unfortunately, in my typical absent-minded method of baking, I forgot to put the melted butter in the recipe...Kind of an important step...I did not discover this until I had loaded the muffin cups with the butter-less batter, and so had to slop all the batter back into the bowl and stir in the butter. This made the muffins a lovely shade of blue, as all the berries broke up into little pieces, and leaked their flavorful juices throughout...and they were also just a bit flat.

The good news? They tasted as good as ever...

It seems kind of silly to put a disclaimer after revealing my lack of precision, but you should still know that I do not create recipes on my own. I found this one years ago in Sunset magazine. I have tweaked it a little, leaving out 1/2 c. of whole wheat pastry flour, and the nutmeg, and the hazelnuts you had to toast yourself...All unnecessary fancies that those magazine people like to add to make you feel like a gourmet. And I promise that if I HAD created this recipe, it would not make 14 muffins! Who has a  14 muffin tin? Yeesh! That is kind of a pain...

Anyway, I thought I would share a few of my favorites during berry season, and this is definitely one of them...Hope you enjoy it too!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Well, we got The Show on The Road...

...but first, we had to dress up the pickers for the celebration of our nation's birth...A must do!

And then, it was off into the field on a beautiful, beautiful day...encouragement to our souls.

And, I don't doubt, a few others' too!

In spite of the ugliness of the fruit -- yes, it was soft from rain, with some over-ripe and moldy berries that had to come out -- we had a good picking day. Good in that the crew did well; the ugly stuff is getting picked off and is decreasing; we got the show on the road...

Not so good in that the end product was almost puree before we pureed it, and it was slow going to get it cleaned up nicely. Thankfully, the mold test showed that the kids, in the field and in the plant, were doing a good job.

And it will just keep getting better each day, what with the forecast for TRUE SUMMER WEATHER!


At the end of the day, as we sat by our 4th of July-let's-roast-marshmallows-fire, The Farmer said, "What a fun day this was..."

And it was! From our traditional Cowboy Breakfast in the morning, to picking berries in the sunshine, relaxing by the fire before was just great!

Oh yes...the Cowboy Breakfast...

I took pictures with my iphone, and did a poor job of it, so the credit for these next two photos goes to my dear cousin, Cindy Honcoop, from whose facebook page I ripped them off.

Aren't they great pictures?

I'm sure you can see the difference now that I have posted one of mine...I am posting this inferior photo just to illustrate that my children pitched in to make the cookout go smoothly. Cait was the Official Buttermilk Pancake Mixer. Dillon was Co-fire-Maker with Grandpa, and Official Pancake Cooker. Tiffany wasThe Official in Charge of Bacon & Sausage. Grandpa did a little bit of everything, and actually sat down to eat this year. Grandma kept the coffee pot going and supplies coming.

They were quite the team...and a good time was had by all... usual.

We did miss Jess, who didn't get to come north. July 4 is a big Stumping Day for candidates and their campaign managers, so he had to go man a table at the Sammamish 4th of July Celebration...and eat food, and watch fireworks there.

He suffers; he suffers much.

But that's another post altogether. We suffered a little too as we had to leave the party to go get the crew started in the field...but it was the kind of suffering we can handle.

Much better than the suffering of the day before...watching the rain pour, and wondering...well, about life and your choice of occupation...

But things are looking up now, and, as The Farmer said, it was a fun day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


...OR NOT.

And these conditions have something to do with it...There really shouldn't be puddles in the field when you are going to pick berries.

And we'd rather there wasn't any of this either...

...but it's out there, so we are anxious to get out in the field and start picking it off and throwing it out.
Therefore, we will be celebrating the 4th of July on these:

and gathering up a lot of these:

Woot! Woot!
I guess.

We will have special treats tomorrow, because that's the rule...Treats must be administered to remedy working on the 4th.

Hope it's warm enough for ice cream cake...

By Thursday, it's supposed to turn to summer...really.

I really, really hope so...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Macy's here at Camp...

Macy's people took a vacation, and she didn't get to go along, so she is here at Camp Barkalot. Despite the changes to her normal routine, she has adapted wonderfully, and should win our Happy Camper Award for the week.

Of course, it helps that she is our only camper.

Anyway, we have had to make some adjustments too. For one, we are not accustomed to having a dog with a tail...thump, thump...whack, whack...I love you too, Macy. It's weird having a tail in the house. It kinda gets in the way sometimes...something we never have to watch out for with Daisie. And Macy is big -- a big, frame-y, long-bodied, long-limbed dog. I always think of her and Daisie as being the same size, until they are both in the family room. My goodness! When Macy sits on the floor, facing me, on the couch, she's not far off from eye level, and when she spreads out on the floor, that's a lot of carpet coverage.

Macy was raised with a different training regimen, and I have had to adjust my tone to get a response. With boxer Daisie, we chose to motivate her learning by making good things happen when she did what we wanted, and boxers, being predisposed to optimism, believe it will always be that way. So, when we need Daisie to come, we holler with a happy voice, "Daisie, come!" --implied, you won't want to miss the good stuff that is going to happen when you come over here. Macy was raised with a more prohibitive conscience,and requires a low, stern voice, as if to say, come over here or else. Macy is such a good-tempered girl that I don't think she ever had to experience the "or else". Suffice that master is disappointed -- I will come post-haste! She is a good, good girl.

However, my initial calling to her, yielded very slow response because I was cheerfully calling "come" as I do with Daisie. When I switched to a low, serious, "COME", she is right there.  When we are out in the field, I feel like a split personality, hollering the happy "Daisie, come!" and the stern, "MACY, COME".

Macy did earn a couple of badges for her camping week. The first one being BEE RESPECTFUL. On her first day, she learned that bee boxes are NOT some place a dog should go to sniff around. Oh, the circles that girl turned! Fortunately, between the whirling dervish act, and all that long black hair, the small swarm of bees she attracted did not do any damage. The second badge she earned was another costly one, ROTGUT RULES. She quickly found that rolling on rot, and then eating it results in the predictable bath, and then a puke session.

Living with two working people, Macy's outside and people time are limited, so she is having a heyday here with lots of free time in the yard and in the house. She can't stop smiling about it.

Daisie thinks Camp should be held only in the yard, not the house. Apparently, Daisie considers the whole house to be hers. She's not the most hospitable, I have to say, and prefers it when Macy is relegated to her cabin for a while.

And then, there's Olive...who has has come for Day Camp a time or two and has finally found a friend with whom she can play unceasingly. They are nuts when they are together! Of course, Olive thinks she is the same size as Macy, and Macy doesn't mind that she thinks so. They play themselves to exhaustion, which is fine with everyone, because the subsequent naptimes are long.

Here, Camp Counselor Cait is conducting a review of Basic Obedience rules:

Of course, Obedience is more fun at Camp because you get waffles for treats.

Sadly, we did have to let one of our counselors go because he was just too wild with the campers. Fortunately, he has berries to pick, so it's not like he will be without an occupation. He didn't seem to understand that there is no badge for CANINE MANIA.

Although it occurs here regularly.

Soon, dear Macy will go back to life with her own people...And we'll be proud to tell them that she didn't get homesick once...well, maybe once. (Don't want her people to think she doesn't love them!)

I think she will leave with happy memories of Camp Barkalot...
and Daisie will be happy that Camp Barkalot is a memory.

Oh Daisie...

About Me

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