Mornings

Today marked the busiest day of the year at my family’s strawberry patch.  Within ten minutes, at least thirty cars of people were piling up to pick and we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to accommodate them.  I enjoy the bustle, but part of me lives for the few moments of silence just before the gate opens.

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Taken on my iPhone.  Edited with the VSCO Cam app.

Strawberry season, anyone?

Now that summer is in full-swing, what better way to spend a Saturday morning than picking strawberries?  Or, in my case, what better way to spend a Saturday morning than working at a strawberry patch?

That’s right, folks.  Strawberry season is here.

You see, my family owns a pick-your-own patch (and apple orchard).  I’m on the summer work crew and we’ve been toiling for weeks getting the fields weeded, fertilized, and ready for customers.  Yesterday, we picked up all the planks and sandbags up from frost season and mowed everything–The fields look amazing.

The plan was to open at eight o’clock this morning, but the weather had other plans.  My alarm went off shortly before seven and I woke to the sound of pouring rain.  Determined not to let our opening day be a rainout, my dad decided to open at ten instead.  (Which meant I got to go back to sleep!)  At the appointed time, he and I loaded up our golf carts with our scales, picking boxes, and gear and got to work.

It was a slow morning, but boy, did the berries look nice!  I worked check-out and my small-talk skills were quickly pulled from hibernation.  Most of the customers were regulars–not deterred by the wet fields.  One lady was so determined that she arrived wearing plastic poncho-pants and left completely dry with three flats of berries.

We were open till mid-afternoon and my day was sustained by conversing with adorable small children and sassy old men.  I had the foresight to bring a book, so when things got slow I plowed through Bleak House (I’m almost to the 600 page mark!).

Strawberry season is both a relief and a torture.  It’s wonderful to have a change of routine (we’ll be running the patch instead of doing field labor), but since I live on site, its presence always looms.  The season eclipses dinner conversations.  The phone rings off the hook.  Dad darts in and out of the house stressing about all the work that still has to get done.  I work every day–even weekends.

I’m glad to finally be open and I look forward to it being over.   (The funny thing is, I don’t even like eating strawberries.)

What’s your favorite way to spend a summer Saturday morning?

Pleasant Valley Thursday: Pumpkin Prep

We planted pumpkins, squash, and gourds last week!

Because it was pouring rain outside, we planted them indoors.  It made for a fun day with all kinds of luxuries, like the simple joy of being indoors and being able to listen to the radio.  You can see us working and the finished product below:

My favorite thing about planting pumpkins are the names of all the varieties.  You don’t usually think about the fact that there are different kinds of pumpkins–but there are!  And they all have amazing names!  The kind we plant the most of is called Aladdin–a standard, medium-sized, orange beauty.  Other varieties are called all kinds of wacky things like Super Herc, Apollo, Knucklehead, Moonshine, Field Trip, Flatso, and Gargoyle (to name a few).  Many of the specialty pumpkins are developed in France and have names like Gabaux D’Eysine, Rouge Vif D’Etampes, and Mosque De Provence.  My personal favorite is a variety of gourd called Yugoslavian Fingers.

At least once a day we water all the plants.  This morning, they started to sprout!  We’ll be moving them outside to grow within the next few days and, as soon as they’re big enough, transplant them into the field.

Other Jobs This Week:

  • Prep pumpkin fields (pull out all drip lines and plastic)
  • Hand pull weeds (finished 2 strawberry fields)
  • Hoe new strawberries
  • Mow everything around barns
  • Clean high tunnel
  • Fertilize all strawberry fields
  • Distribute slug bait to all strawberry fields

Low: While putting slug bait in the fields this afternoon, we had to wear long pants, boots, and rubber gloves.  It wouldn’t have been very bad, but it was HOT.  You can’t help but sweat and this accumulates in your rubber globes, makes your fingers wrinkly, and runs down your arms when you raise them.  YUCK.

High: After we got done weeding this morning, we stopped by the apple shed to find my dad with raspberry lemonade and donut holes from the local bakery!  Also, we had another rain day, which was quite pleasant.

Pleasant Valley Thursday: Plodding Along

Work at the orchard continues to plod.  The zeal that kept me enthusiastic during my first couple weeks back is starting to fade.  I find myself wanting to forego this week’s PVTh post (as I refer to them in my mind).  So we’ll keep things brief.

Our crew has, once again, expanded.  One of the neighbor boys (whom I have known since kindergarten) has returned after four summers elsewhere.  It’s great to have another person around–jobs go by more quickly.

We DID install a brand new water line that goes from the well out to the strawberry patch.  It was pretty cool–my dad has a trenching machine that attaches to the back of the tractor.  After we laid out the piping, all I had to do was guide it as it went through the tube on the machine and into the ground.  See photo:

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My dad and younger brother check to make sure the machine is working. You can see the hose sticking out on the left. It goes through the tube and the machine buries it, leaving behind a lovely trench.

Other than that, we’ve been hoeing a lot.  We got through all the newly planted fields.  The sad thing is we’ll have to do them again next week… and the next… and the next…

Jobs This Week:

  • Mow around barns
  • Remove frost covers
  • Install new water line
  • Haul plastic out of old pumpkin fields
  • Clean high tunnel (which is similar to a greenhouse)
    • Haul out dead raspberry bushes
    • Spread mulch
    • Trim rootstock plantings
    • Plant more rootstock
  • Clean kitchen in Apple Shed
  • Fertilize all strawberry fields
  • Haul old plastic and drip lines to dumpster
  • Hoe new strawberry fields. (3 days this week)
  • Prep for pumpkin planning
  • Clip flowers on new strawberry fields

At least there’s variety!

Lows:  While hauling out all the dead raspberry bushes from the high tunnel, I made the mistake of wearing shorts and my legs got super cut-up.  Later, we moved plastic out of the fields… but it had rained so we got covered in slime pushing the plastic into the dumpster.  To top all it off, I spent 45 minutes washing moldy baking pans because someone forgot to clean them after our pre-Christmas sale last December.

High: Last Friday, in the midst of removing the frost covers, we had an extra-long break ’cause my dad brought us out for lunch.  Also, today I got to drive to the cities to pick up a shipment of fertilizer, which took up the whole afternoon.

Pleasant Valley Thursday: Frost Season

This photo pretty much sums up my week:

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It’s the time of the year where the days are reasonably warm and good for growing, but nights are cold.  Our strawberry fields are beginning to bloom and the tiniest bit of frost destroys the flowers.  No flowers, no strawberries, no income.

Most strawberry patches deal with frost via irrigation.  Since we’re a small, family-run operation, we don’t have the funds or water capacity for this.  So we take another route: frost blankets.

The method is simple: Spread the blanket over a field, hold down the edges with boards and sandbags, pull the edges snug, and voila!  Actually, it’s not as easy as it sounds.  It’s the kind of job where the devil is in the details.  There’s countless places where, if you make a wrong move, you royally screw things up.  For instance, you have to know which side of the field to roll the blanket out.  If you put it on the wrong side, you have the wind working against you.  You also have to make sure all the sides are tight and even as you go along putting the weights on the side–if the blanket is diagonal, it’s easier for the wind to catch it and blow it away.  Also, you need to be VERY careful where you pull because those things tear easily.  The whole process takes at least an hour per field.

Because of all the particulars, my dad usually does the entire job himself.  Which, if you ask me, is absolutely insane.  However, he threw his back out last week, so this year it was up to Sam and I to save the fields from their cold nemesis.

The most frustrating part of the job is that it feels very pointless.  We spend a day and a half getting the blankets perfectly placed only to roll them back up two days later.  It’s maddening!  And it’s hard work!  All the bending, crouching, and lifting is an incredible workout.  I’ve slept like a rock the past few nights.

Other Jobs This Week:

  • Fill sandbags
  • Haul all the brush in the orchard
  • Mow everything
  • Pull plastic (I’ll explain this in a future post)
  • Spread fertilizer

High: Dad bought us yogurt covered pretzels as a reward for finishing placing frost covers.

Low: The weather conditions were absolutely miserable early this week.  Mornings were in the thirties and drizzly.  In order to keep from freezing, layers are KEY.  On Monday I wore: leggings, sweats, a t-shirt, sweatshirt, oversize flannel, jacket, thin winter gloves, work gloves, winter hat… and I was STILL cold.  Also, Sam threw a big piece of brush at me, which resulted in a big cut in my chin.

Here are just a few of the strawberry fields all happily tucked in and ready to resist the frost!

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Stop by next week for more orchard adventures!

Pleasant Valley Thursday: Inaugural

Working on the farm was the first job I ever had.  Imagine little thirteen-year-old Amelia in a baggy t-shirt, athletic shorts coated from head to toe with a layer of dirt…  you get a pretty accurate picture of my formative teen summers.

Now that I’ve graduated college, I’m at home working, once more, for my dad at our family’s apple orchard and pick-your-own strawberry patch.  It’s not the most glamorous thing in the world.  In fact, most of the work is far below my education level.  But work is work and I’m happy to do it.

Every Thursday, I’ll be writing about my on-the-job experiences.  Starting this past Monday, I’ve been working from 8 AM till around 4-5 PM every day.  Before I get into any details, though, please take a moment to watch the following video.  Even if you only watch a few seconds, you’ll get the picture.  A few weeks ago, a guy flew his drone over our property at sunrise and pieced it together.

This is where I get to work every day.  You can’t deny that my home is beautiful.

Jobs this Week:

  • Fill sandbags and haul them to the strawberry fields
  • Read the handbook for the new lawn mower and test drive it
  • Weed newly planted strawberry fields
  • Plant strawberries… Fill in gaps where the planter machine missed

Currently, I’m the only one working.  My younger brother is joining me tomorrow.  The rest of our summer crew will filter in over the next month or so.

Low: I ripped the skin off a couple of my fingers tying sandbags.  It now hurts when I bend some of my fingers.

High: It drizzled all morning and the heavy rain set in the afternoon.  Because all my dad’s indoor jobs had to do with fixing broken machinery, he let me off work at noon!  No mechanical experience, no problem.  I had the whole afternoon to relax and get some around-the-house projects done.

Finally, everything is in bloom and it’s lovely.  I took this photo while mowing yesterday.  Enjoy!

Keep Your Feet Summer Blogging Schedule!

I’ve entered the enigmatic post-college transition stage and am taking things in stride.

After two short days of rest (which weren’t actually restful since I spent them unpacking and rearranging my room), I’ve begun working full-time.  My family owns an apple orchard and now that the growing season is here, my dad needs all the help he can get.  It’s tiring work, but I’m happy to stay busy and active.  Plus, most of the tasks are pretty menial, giving my brain a welcome rest from four years of college.

During this time at work, I’ve had more than enough time to think.  You see, I’ve been mulling over what to do with the blog now that I no longer have essays sucking from my writing capacity.  Having a schedule with weekly events is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  So, I figured… why not?  I’ve been knocking around a few ideas and have put together a couple new features!

Here we go… *Drumroll Please*

On the Shelf: Using the title from my previous book-themed posts, every week I will be discussing my summer reads.  Now that I have my degree, my reading is no longer constrained by professors and classwork.  I’ve got a massive pile of books in my room that I’m just itching to touch.  Each week in this feature, I’ll provide a brief summary of the text, rate it on a five-star scale, and discuss my thoughts/experience.  To keep myself from burning out, I will only cover one book per week.  These posts will come out on Tuesdays.

Pleasant Valley Thursday: I like to blog about things that go on in my life, and this summer the majority of my time will be spent working on the farm.  So, I thought, why not make a feature about it?  The title comes from the name of my family’s orchard.  In this feature, I’ll give you a taste of what it’s like to live on an apple orchard/pick-your-own strawberry patch.  I’ll list the various jobs that I do throughout the week.  (Which may sound a bit dull, but trust me: reading about labor is better than doing it!)  I will spice it up with the week’s highs and lows and will also try to include at least one photo a week so you can get a sense of what things look like.  I’m really looking forward to these–although it may take a while to get into the swing of things, coping mechanisms of boring, unpleasant work can be varied and entertaining.  These posts will come out on Thursdays.

In addition to these, I hope to publish at least one non-themed post every week.  Those will be more in-the-moment, similar to what I’ve done until now.  I’ll also be putting out Sketchbook Corner posts when enough art piles up.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that WordPress puts on one of their Blogging 101 classes this summer.  I wouldn’t mind sharpening up my site and making new friends.

I hope you’re excited about all summer has to offer.  I know I am!  I’m really looking forward to posting more tightly themed content.  I’ve got a little notebook dedicated to planning my posts and everything!  If you have any feedback on my planned features on how to make them better/more interesting, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  Also, if you have ideas for any other new features, share those too!

Happy summer!