Weekend Coffee Share: Strawberries, Anyone?

If we were having coffee, I’d probably be thanking you for swinging by the coffee shop and picking something up for me on your way here.  You’ll find me at my family’s farm, way out in the back fields.  It’s strawberry season, which means I work on weekends.  Don’t worry about getting lost–there are maps located in the black mailbox fixed to the orchard sign to pick up as you drive in.  When you get to the patch, you will most likely find me under the canopy greeting customers and handling check-out. Continue reading

#WeekendCoffeeShare: It’s so good to see you.

If we were having coffee, the first thing you might notice is that I’m not actually drinking coffee.  I prefer tea.  The first thing I would tell you is let you know that I’ve been wanting to do this for weeks.  I’ve seen many of these posts from bloggers I follow for weeks upon weeks, but was never able to take time to do my own.  Until now.

So, friend.  I’m so glad to be with you right now.  Or, as Jane says in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

What is new in your life?  Maybe I should save those questions until the end.  In my enthusiasm, I’m getting ahead of myself.

If we were having coffee, I’d probably complain quite a bit about my back problems.  I pulled something a month ago at work and have been fighting the uphill battle to health ever since.  It’s better than it was–dosages of ibuprofen, icing it several times a day, and three visits to the chiropractor certainly helps.  Most days are now good ones and it has stopped keeping me up at night, but progress is still slow.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you all about yesterday’s canoeing adventure.  One of my camp friends came up from the cities and we canoed a ten-mile stretch of the St. Croix River.  In Minnesota, there are some hobbies that, because of the ever-changing seasons, you can only do a few times a year.  Canoeing is one of them.  I have been dying to get a canoe in the water for the past three months.  It wasn’t a very warm day, nor were the conditions good.  Amy and I battled wind and whitecaps the majority of the trip.  But it was wonderful.  There are few better things than being on the water, paddle in hand, with nowhere else to be.  At one point, we passed a man and his kids struggling to get un-stuck from a tree.  He looks over at us and goes, “You’re still smiling?  I lost mine a while ago.”  He was right–despite the fact that our arms felt like they were about to fall off, we were both still smiling.  It was exhausting, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  Sadly, I probably won’t set foot in a canoe until next summer.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that apple season is almost here.  I work on my family’s apple orchard and we are less than two weeks from opening day!  We spent a good deal of time this week indoors (due to rain) cleaning our main retail building.  I spent many hours scrubbing coolers, sweeping floors, and rubbing down cooking trays.  In addition, the apple harvest has begun!  My brother and I began picking the early varieties.  Our big cooler is now filled with several stacks of Redfree and State Fair apples.

I’m really excited for Fall.  It’s been four years since I’ve been around for a full season–and even then, I only worked weekends due to school and extra curricular commitments.  Summer has been wonderful, but our work crew has slowly dwindled to just my brother and I.  Fewer hands mean tasks take longer and the familiarity of siblings mean we don’t have as much to talk about.  When September 4 is here, all the fall employees will come.  There will be people selling in the store, high schoolers washing and sorting fruit in the back area, and a crew of bakers assembling pies and goodies in the kitchen.  It’ll be wonderful to have new people to talk to.

Okay, okay.  Enough about me.  Time to pass the talking-stick to you.  What would you share if we were having coffee?

This post is part of the Weekend Coffee Share link up at Part Time Monster

Closed for the Season

Well, friends.  Strawberry season has come and gone.  Thank goodness.

IMG_5118-0I’m not going to lie, I’m happy to see it go.  Although it was our shortest season yet (clocking in at two and a half weeks of picking), it felt like my family’s pick-your-own patch was open forever.  For two weeks, I was in the fields every day without break.  Although things slowed down significantly after the 4th of July passed, I got really sick of making small talk and trying to find pleasant ways to explain why the berries at the end of the season were smaller than those at the beginning.

Now that we’ve closed, it’s back to full-time fieldwork.  We’ve been hard at work during the non-open hours  over the past few weeks fighting what I affectionately call the Battle of the Weeds.  Now that we don’t have customers consuming all our time, a few days of solid hoeing should help us finally gain ground in our newer strawberry fields.

Now that we’ve closed, I get an extra half hour of sleep every night.

Now that we’ve closed, I hope to spend less evenings crashed on the couch and more on my bike.

Now that we’ve closed, I ACTUALLY need to figure out what I’m doing with my life.  (But more on that later.)

Here’s to the end of a short, but good season!  If you need me, I’ll either be sleeping or pulling weeds.

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:

IMG_4782-0
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:

IMG_4742

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!

IMG_4754-0

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!

Deromanticizing apple orchards

When I tell people I grew up on an apple orchard, the first thing they always say to me is, “Wow, that sounds like such a Romantic childhood!”

For many people, one of Autumn’s biggest highlights is going to the apple orchard.  They flock in crowds, enjoying scenic views, colorful leaves, going on a hay ride, selecting a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch, eating baked goods, and (of course) picking apples.  It really is an ideal way to spend a sunny October day.

Photo taken from Facebook, courtesy of my mother.

What people fail to realize, though, is all the work that goes into running an apple orchard.  All they think about is how fun it is to take photos of their child picking an apple and how delicious that pie is going to be once it’s baked.  When you peel back the commercialized experience and actually think about things, orchards are a lot less Romantic than they appear.

There’s nothing Romantic about watching your dad wake up before the crack of dawn to put in a solid day of physical labor (picking, hauling, washing apples; covering things up to protect them from frost; feeding and caring for the petting zoo animals; tending the trees; covering up our strawberry fields, the list can really go on forever) only to go to bed at two in the morning.  He’s the hardest working person I know.  And, all day, he deals with customers who have no idea how much work he does pestering him with stupid questions, telling him how to run his farm (as if they know more than he does).

There’s nothing Romantic about spending summers hoeing strawberry fields, hauling brush, trimming root suckers, spreading fertilizer, thinning the apple trees, etc. for 40 hours a week.

There’s nothing Romantic about the fact that my mom hasn’t travelled beyond 15 minutes of our house for a month.

There’s nothing Romantic about finding $100 worth of pick-your-own apples sitting under a random tree because some customer didn’t realize how much they picked, didn’t want to pay, so just left the now-unsellable fruit sitting there.

There’s nothing Romantic about working in the store all day long, then spending your Saturday night and time off making caramel apples in your pajamas till 10:30 PM to prevent running out in the store the next day.

There’s nothing Romantic about your highly anticipated Mother/Daughter shopping day in the city being cancelled because she was needed at the orchard to watch over the staff.

There’s also nothing Romantic about watching all the crowds flocking to your home, the place you grew up, the place you spend your summers tending to and caring for, only to tramp all over it and stare at you like you’re out-of-place when you go for a walk.

Apple orchards are wonderful places, and I will forever be grateful for my upbringing.  It’s given me a unique, special childhood that I will always cherish.

My brothers and I a few weeks ago.

But, sometimes, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.