Weekend Coffee Share: Long Days at the Strawberry Patch (& More!)

If we were having coffee, we would be meeting in the strawberry patch for the second week in a row.  The season continues to progress and, given that it’s a family business, we’ve all been working ourselves to the bone.  I haven’t had a day off in over a week!  Most days, our staff is there to help and, if we’re lucky, they stick around to help on Saturday–which is when we get the biggest crowds.  Sundays, though, are up to us.  My brother, dad, and I hit the patch at 7:30 AM to get everything set up and, even after customers started rolling in, it took a couple of hours to actually wake up. Continue reading

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

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.

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.

Day in the Life of a Strawberry Field Hand

These days, the alarm goes off at 6:45 AM.

It sounds like church bells.  No, not the kind that play pleasant hymns or patriotic songs.  These bells are unpleasant–a discord of clanging and bellowing that is all too effective in waking me up.

The first thing I do is reach for my study Bible.  I roll up my shade and the early morning light helps me blearily make it through a couple of segments of Ezekiel and 1 Timothy.  (I like to always be reading something from the Old and New Testaments simultaneously.)

Next, I cautiously make my way from my bedroom to the kitchen.  As I heat water for tea, I go through routine stretches, pulling my body to smooth the stiff ache of sleep away.  If my older brother is around, he knows better to talk to me.  If he tries, I shoot him a sullen look and shake my head at him.  It’s not that I’m crabby in the morning.  I’m usually not.  I just need time to wake up before I’m ready to speak to anyone.  By the time I’ve consumed a bowl of Rice Krispies and a cup of tea, I’m ready for conversation.

By 7:20 I’m done with breakfast, have shuffled through my social media accounts on my phone, brushed my teeth, thrown on the same clothes as yesterday (red t-shirt with black running shorts), grabbed my lunchbox, and have left the house.

I cross the road and move one of our several golf carts to the service door of the shed.  By this point, my coworkers have also arrived.  Together, we dart in and out of the barn, filling the back of the carts with picking boxes, electronic scales, bottled water, and a large box containing an assortment of pens, fliers, and garbage bags.  Once this is done, we slowly drive through the orchard and to the back fields where the strawberries are.

We spend the next ten minutes getting everything in place–folding boxes, making sure scales are level, and applying sunscreen.  Usually, a couple of people scout the rows we’ll be picking in, walking up and down covering up any deer poop that has cropped up during the night.

At eight o’clock, my dad drives one of the golf carts to the entrance to pull the chain.  He then leads a stream of cars through our driveway, waving them into parking position with bright orange flags.  Some mornings, there are only three cars.  Others, there are thirty.

There are three main jobs one gets to do throughout the day: Man the stand, ferry customers, and run fields.  I usually do the first–greeting customers, weighing their berries, and checking them out.  Ferrying is easy–you just drive to and from the fields picking up and dropping off customers.  My least favorite is running the field.  Here, you stay in your assigned section.  When customers are brought out, you place them on rows, give them instructions, and make sure all is well.  If you have spare time, you carry around an ice cream bucket and pick up any rotten berries customers leave behind them on the straw.

On weekends, we close at noon.  This means that, around twelve-ish, my dad changes all the signs and phone message to “CLOSED”.  We, however, usually stick around much longer–waiting for the current customers to finish, cleaning up the fields, and offering the pre-picked berries my little brother spent all morning picking to any people who arrive before we can put the chain up.

If it’s a week day, we will be open longer into the afternoon.  When the customers are gone, we grab hoes and spend the rest of the afternoon making war with the weeds that threaten to take over the newly planted fields.  If it’s a weekend, we re-load the golf carts, put everything back in the shed, and I trudge back up to the house.

This is when I crash.  Whether a weekend or weekday, I slump on a couch and exhaustion slowly seeps throughout my body.  It’s a good kind of exhaustion–the kind that makes limbs go heavy to the core and a bleary haziness fall over my mind.

Even though I’m off work, strawberry season is unescapable.  The phone still rings off the hook.  Customers still show up in the parking lot across the road.  My dad darts in and out of the house, doing this job and that.  His work goes on long past the rest of us are finished.

The remainder of the day is pretty much useless.  Sometimes, I actually do things.  I put in a load of laundry.  I mow the lawn.  I bake cookies.  But when I think about actually doing the things I want to do, the things that bring me life, I simply feel more tired.  I think about reading, about painting, about working on some blog posts.  But, usually, any attempt stops here.  It just seems futile–reading makes my eyes want to shut, blogging brings forth nothing but a muddled jumble of un-publishable words, and paint dribbles aimlessly on paper, my mind is to out-of-it to know where it should go.

The evening passes by quickly.  Dinner with family, watch the news, cuddle with the cat, watch a movie.

By ten o’clock, the day has sapped all my energy.  I slump to my bed, falling asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow.

At 6:45 AM, the alarm goes off and I do it all again.

Just two weeks left until strawberry season is over.

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: 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!

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!