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!

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. (