Friday, June 26, 2009

Berry Update

It's official. Raspberry season has begun in a big way. All three fields are producing heavily for a big weekend harvest. Except for three tows of an early variety called Malahat, all of our raspberries are the Toulameen variety. Large, strong tasting fruit is the characteristic of this berry. It is the best tasting variety so far. The down side of Toulameen is that is is prone to root rot, but I believe it is worth the trouble.

The cool weather is stretching out strawberries for one last weekend. It has become a hunt, but the rewards are still great.

Blueberries are slowly becoming more plentiful, but the big harvest is still a week away.

I ate by first boysenberry last night, but all of the blackberry varieties seem a week away.

We picked yellow beans Thursday. Our first Blue Lake and French beans will be picked on Sunday. One month early because of our new ground.

The weather this weekend looks beautiful, perfect for berry picking...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Berry News

This cool weather is stretching out the strawberry season and delaying the other berries just a little. Except for the new field, the berries are getting small. The mind-set for these fields needs to change. We are now "foraging" for berries, not "picking." But whatever you get is startling. The flavor is so intense you wonder if you're tasting another kind of berry.

This is the time when some folks start to complain about our berry season. The season is winding down, but I still sometimes hear "What is wrong with the berries this year?" or "This is not worth my time." Strawberry season is a short one here in Oregon and you need to get them while they're ripe or the time simply runs out.

We've been making a simple vanilla frozen yogurt recipe that we found in this month's Sunset magazine. It's amazingly simple (2 ingredients) and the tartness goes great with strawberries and raspberries. Perfect if you have a counter-top ice cream maker that largely goes unused (like the one in our house.) Click here for a link to the recipe.

Special for blog readers.
I won't open my raspberry u-pick fields until the weekend, but will have a "first-chance preview day" this Friday especially for my blog readers. I also have some peas you can pick and eat if you find me at the farm.

Farm to do List
My list of tasks for the week.

1) Begin preparing the final plots for the last planting of corn, cucumbers and beans.
2) Reshape last flower beds for planting September flowers.
3) Stake tomatoes.
4) Prune blackberries.
5) Mow all caneberry fields.
6) Weed eat weeds in blueberries.
7) Cultivate pumpkins.
8) Fertilize, water and cultivate corn.
9) Weed third cucumber field
10) Continue watering berry fields.
11) Water, water, everywhere...
12) Research how best to handle late bearing strawberry fields.

Obviously, I have a busy week ahead...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Another Strawberry Update

We have officially reached the post-harvest period in our strawberry season. Although the fields are now down to the last 20%, there are still opportunities for wonderful results. It's just that one's approach and mindset need to change. The biggest opportunity is to take advantage of the last berries on a plant. They are often no larger than a fingernail, but they possess the strongest flavor of any berry. My recommendation is to turn these into the finest jam know to mankind. Put it into small jars, treat it like caviar or the finest vintage wine. Call it something like Late Harvest Strawberry Jam. Have fun because to pick these berries is a workout.

The secret "Blog" field will continue to give larger berries through the weekend, but the general public will begin to go there as other fields run out of berries.

This is our big Berry Jam celebration weekend. Despite the forecast, I expect weather breaks throughout the weekend. The background music will be great! I especially like the New Iberians on Father's Day. We will have a big tent left over from a wedding, so there will be weather protection. Please put on your boots and join us for this event.

I am still noticing raspberries and blueberries, but haven't opened the u-pick fields on these berries yet. But I am thinking about a preview day late next week exclusively for the blog readers...

See you at the farm.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Weekly Strawberry Update

Over the last three days, I estimate that 9,300 pounds of strawberries were picked by u-pickers. That's over 4 1/2 tons! But even with this incredible harvest, at the end of the day Sunday u-pickers were still pulling beautiful flats of berries out of the field. I expect the fields to still be loaded throughout the week, but a gradual trailing off of quantities may begin. With many berries not picked and becoming overripe, the fields will begin to smell like strawberry jam especially when it warms up.

I was pleased this weekend with the number of blog readers who came up to me looking for the special strawberry field. It made me realize that I am being read. After nearly 40 years of writing personal journals, I was the first time that anything that I have written has been read. I have to say it's kind of a personal thrill. But it did also get me wondering where to go with it. Sometimes I want to do simple stuff like publishing my farm to do list once a week. Some might find in interesting, some may find it a complete bore. Perhaps continuing to title the blog entries can help. If a blog says The Farm to do List and you find it's not for you, you can pass it over. Still not sure here and would like some feedback.

At times I want to just report what goes on around the farm without structure. There are so many stories, so many moments.

Weather for the week looks like more of what we have had for the last ten days. Lots of morning clouds. Some breaks of sun. Maybe a little warmer. Maybe some showers mid week and late in the weekend, but nothing serious or organized at this point. Just plain good strawberry weather.

There are few raspberries turning red. Blueberries turning blue, but so far only enough for me and birds to forage. By the weekend it might be better. Let's hope...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

June Gloom

Here is a brief excerpt from the National Weather Service technical discussion concerning the long range weather this week.

The general model consensus appears to maintain some weak disturbances over the Pacific Northwest. Given differences in the models, details are not to be trusted. It is difficult to argue with keeping in some low canes of showers for much of the week.
What does this mean? After two weeks of remarkable summer-like conditions, we have moved into a classic Northwest June weather pattern of morning clouds and afternoon clearing with highs around 70 degrees. Sometimes the clouds will not clear off, like last Sunday, creating a condition often referred to as June Gloom. Long range predictions by local weather people showing graphic images of what the day will be are almost useless, as one never knows until that day whether the sun will break through or not. During these periods, we may get beautiful evenings as the gloom finally burns off and the temperatures rise to a perfect 70 degrees. Until I farmed, I would moan about this weather pattern which could often hold until around July 10th, when our summer usually begins. As a farmer of berries, I welcome the June Gloom. The pattern is perfect for slower ripening of all of the berries.

The Strawberry Report
Strawberries continue to be abundant, although my newer fields closer to the store should dramatically improve as slower weekday picking give the fields a chance to ripen. My newest field in the back is producing sensational quality berries, but is not easy to find. Keeping with my policy of self discovery, I make no announcements of where that field is, but if you come to me personally and ask I will let you in on its location. That way, I'll know you're a blog reader and have made it this far in my essay.

Other Berries
There were actually a few ripe blueberries which I ate before the birds. What a surprise! They may be ready along with raspberries before our Berry Jam event on Father's Day weekend.

Projected Berry Dates:
Raspberries: June 17 - August 1
Blueberries: June 17 - August 10
Marionberries: July 1 - August 1
Boysenberries: July 1 - August 1

Our pickling cucumbers will be ready by July 20th.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wow! What a Storm!

Thursday we stopped irrigation for the day because the weather models indicated a good chance of a substantial shower at some point. When I am not irrigating it frees up an extra guy for weeding. Lately we have been falling behind in that area, so it was an opportunity to catch up a little.

At 3:30, I walked into the office to look at the radar. I was stunned at what I saw. There was a huge band of yellow, red and, almost never seen here, purple about 40 miles out and clearly moving in our direction. I said to Susan, my associate, "I have never seen radar like this before!" It immediately sent waves of fear through me as I realized that this super-cell had the potential of producing substantial hail which could destroy my early strawberry harvest. I love storms and could even see myself as a storm chaser some day. But I wanted no part of this one.

As I continued to watch the radar over the next half an hour, the super-cell continued to move closer. The movement began to show me some hope that we might not get a direct hit, but it was still difficult to tell.

I went outside and there was an eerie silence. You could see the storm in the distance. It looked ominous. I began to warn u-pickers in the field. I mobilized the staff to secure things that could blow away. I pulled my crew off of weeding to cut Peonies that I thought could be ruined. The farm was buzzing with anticipation.

At 4:45 the wind suddenly began to kick up. I waved everyone in from outside and we huddled in the store with the doors closed. The wind became fierce. Huge clouds of dust blew across the farm in a scene I had never witnessed before. The roof rocked and adrenaline was flowing. Some heavy rain came but it was clear we were going to miss the brunt of it. No hail and no damage to the strawberries. What a relief!

Strawberry Update
There is the potential of a spectacular strawberry harvest this weekend. With 7 fields ripening on the farm, I think supply has the potential of keeping up with demand. Picking conditions could be ideal as we move into a more marine influence with morning clouds and cool temperatures. These are ideal conditions for slowly sealing in the strawberries' sweet flavor.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Strawberry Picking Strategy

Strawberries are a hot item. When I took over the farm in 2000, our business in June (strawberries dominate the month's sales) was about one third of our October pumpkin sales. Last year our June sales numbers equaled our October record pumpkin season.

Because of the huge demand, sometimes the fields can get hammered. Late in the day on a Saturday or Sunday it can be slim pickings. So, rather than getting mad a Farmer Don about quantities, you may want to map out a new picking strategy:

Consider week night picking, especially Thursday and Friday when the fields have had a chance to recover from the weekend. We stay open until sunset so there are often 3 - 4 hours of picking possible after work. The fields are often empty and the sunsets are beautiful.

Date night recommendation from Farmer Don.
Guys, are you struggling to find creative and fun new things to do on a date night? Are you tired of movies, dinner out or even bowling? How about surprising your date with a picnic of fabulous take out food (available anywhere), a bottle of wine (don't forget the corkscrew) and come out to the farm for romantic evening of picking strawberries until sunset.

Berry Update
This week's ripening looks encouraging. After a weekend of brisk sales, the fields are recovering and the weather looks potentially perfect for a monster harvest next weekend. I am excited about the potential here. Conditions look ideal.

Farmer Don

P.S. Don't forget to pick a peck of peonies. They will be in full bloom over the next two weeks.