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!