Looking back, looking ahead…

I was thinking the other day about how long our family has been on this farm. And how long this farm has supported our family. Two things that I guess go hand in hand. The Moelker family has been selling farm products here for over 111 years. That always amazes me!

When my Grandpa, John Moelker first came to the Grand Rapids area from the Netherlands, he started with a small dairy farm near Breton road. He had a milk route, peddling dairy products through the streets of that area. A few years later, when he moved out to where the Moelker farm is today, he continued selling milk, but added fruits and vegetables to the mix. John even grew grapes and made communion wine for some of the local churches. All of this provided the income to raise 10 children here!

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A load of fresh peaches!

When my father, Jim Moelker took over and continued the farming operation, he too sold his produce here on the farm. He also went to the Fulton Street Market in Grand Rapids. I can remember when I was a kid, he would leave early in the morning on market days, and not return until suppertime. Some days were good, and he would sell out and be home early. Other days he would come home with much of his produce left. Occasionally I would get to go with him to the market. It was an adventure for me to go to the big city! It was work for him.

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Jim, far right, at the market

In the early 1970’s, Dad decided to focus on selling to the public right here on the farm. He quit going to the market in town and built a refrigerated apple storage room with a place to sell from in the front of the building. No more travelling back and forth on market days. Now he could sell every day to  customers who came to the farm. My mother, Donna became a big part of the on farm market as well. Customers came out to get fresh cherries, peaches, pears and apples right from the farm. Mom was a great source of information on how to use that fruit, telling people how to freeze, can, make pies, applesauce and desserts. We also supplied several area grocery stores with fresh fruit to pass on to their customers.

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The new apple storage building! 1970

My wife Bonnie and I, along with our children have worked for years now to continue the Moelker family business. It is such a rewarding experience getting to know so many of you, and helping you enjoy the fruits of our labor. Pun intended! Some of you have just discovered Moelker Orchards, but others of you were  coming here before I was born! We know that without all of you, our friends and customers, Moelker Orchards would not be what it is today. You are a blessing to us!

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So this week Saturday, we want to show our appreciation to all of you. It is our annual Customer Appreciation Day. Come in and visit with us. Enjoy a cold cup of cider and a fresh warm donut “on the house.” Several products will be on sale, including our handmade pies. But most of all, just come in to say “Hi.” We will all be here to thank you for your support for us over the years. God willing, we will continue these friendships for years to come!

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker     tompic

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Go west young (and old) man!

Sometimes we spend so much time in our own little world, that we lose track of how others live their lives. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it is natural for us to be focused on our immediate surroundings day after day. The busyness of our jobs, the intricacies of our closest relationships, the demands of our time all combine to narrow our focus and shrink our view. Or maybe that’s just true of me.

Last week my son Travis and I expanded our view a little. We traveled west to Nebraska to meet some new friends that we had never met before. And we drove through a lot of places we had never seen before, some big cities, and some very, very small towns. It was an uncertain adventure of sorts. While I had talked with our host several times on the phone, we had never met. But our conversations had an easy flow to them, and I was confident that we would get along well. I wasn’t disappointed. We were welcomed like old friends, and over the course of our week of hunting with this man and his colleagues, we forged a friendship that I hope lasts a long time. It was a blessing!

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This week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. And while we all have reasons for thanks, sometimes we have to fight off the reasons not to be thankful. We can all list off the easy, common things that we are thankful for: homes and friends and family and health, but it is harder when one of those “big ones” is missing or afflicted. A serious illness. The loss of a dear one.  Situations like that can easily sap all of the thanks from our lives, if we let them. But thanks is not a light that you turn on or off, depending on what is happening in your life. Thanks should be a warm glow, that may ebb and flow with the tide of events in our lives, but never goes completely out.  Sometimes we have to force ourselves to count our blessings, though at times they may seem few. But the result of that process can be a blessing in itself: the realization that God IS still there, and He DOES still care. That is a hard thing to affirm in the middle of what seems to be a hopeless situation. But if you can truly give those fears and doubts and “thankless” moments to Him, He will give you peace. I promise.

So find some things to be thankful for this week. It may come easily, or it may be hard to do, depending on your situation. But the words of that old hymn are true:

“Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!”

Have a fruitful (and thankful) week!

Tom Moelker  tompic

Wrapping up

Well the harvest is nearly over for the year. It seems to have taken a long time for some reason. We are planning on picking our last fruit today–Pink Lady apples. A funny name for an apple that is the last one to the table!

The end of the harvest always brings mixed feelings for me. I’m excited that the whole year’s work has accomplished it’s goal. It is a blessing to look back and see that in spite of challenges of weather and the fickleness of some of the fruits we grow, we have once again brought a crop to completion. The blessings of sun and rain and growth seem to come in different amounts and timings every year. Some years they fit together perfectly and producing a crop seems easy. Other years their timings, shortages, or overabundance leave us frustrated and struggling to figure out how we will ever make ends meet. But after harvest, when we have the time to look back over the season and reflect, each year it seems that in spite of our challenges and shortcomings we still have been blessed. And being able to recognize that is a blessing in itself.

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So now we try to wrap up the tasks that need to be done before the snow flies. Gathering ladders and empty apple bins and tucking them away inside. Mowing the grass in the orchards short to give the tree chewing mice less places to hide this winter. Applying nutrients to tired trees that have given their best to produce a crop for us. Tidying up the buildings that have been seriously neglected in all of our harvest-time busyness. But it is a different pace now that the fruit is picked. The long and frenzied days spent getting the fruit off and stored away are finished. While there is still work to do, the atmosphere is a little more relaxed and the pace is a lot less frantic. Which is good for all of us. As the annual cycle of the farm comes to completion, we can look over the season and see God’s faithfulness reflected once again. All of the “Why doesn’t it rain?!” times this summer, that morphed into “When is it ever going to stop raining?” this fall, become almost funny when we think about it. “O ye of little faith!” Yup. Sometimes that’s us. But in this farming business we get an annual post harvest time for a faith checkup. And while sometimes it is hard to recognize the good that came out of the season, it is always there. We just have to look a little deeper to find it.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker      tompic

Picky, Picky!

Apple harvest is in full swing! Our days are filled with keeping our workers supplied with apples to pick, and apple bins to put them in. Then our evenings are spent putting the bins into cold storage, or getting them ready to truck away to wholesale customers. It’s a busy time of year!

Every apple harvested on our farm is picked by hand. There are no machines as of yet to take over that task. It’s hard work. A good apple picker can harvest 150 bushels of fruit in a day! And at 42 pounds per bushel, well, you do the math. As we go through the fall, we work our way through the many varieties that we grow. Each ripens at it’s own time, beginning with Lodi in late July, and ending with Granny Smith around November 1st. In between over twenty other varieties are harvested when ready. Some are picked just one time, harvesting all of the fruit at once. Others, like Honeycrisp, are picked over several times, taking just the ripest, most highly colored fruit each time.

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Another Honeycrisp novelty is the fact that when picking, we clip short the stem on every apple. It is a time consuming task, but worth the extra time and money. Honeycrisp have a very tender skin, and often, a long pokey stem that will damage the apple next to it when placed in a bin. Damaged apples lose a lot of value in the marketplace, so we do whatever we can to prevent that. Our workers carry a small stem clipper strapped to their index finger. Once picked, the stem is quickly snipped off and the apple placed into the picking bag that each worker carries. Over the course of a day the process is repeated thousands of times! The bag is slung over the shoulders and holds about 30 pounds of fruit when full. These people are professionals!

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Our apples go to many different places in the fall. Many are sold right from our market to customers who visit us. Some are used in our bakery for pies, breads, and dumplings. Much of the crop goes to packing facilities that package and sell the fruit for us to grocery chains. Some of the apples go to Nestle (Gerber) to be processed into baby food. Others go for fresh slices or cubes sold to the fast food industry for salads or packaged fresh apple slices. Still others are sliced and frozen for pie companies. Each apple has a purpose and a place to go!

So this is “crunch time” (pun intended). We begin the day before sunrise, and often end after sunset. We pray for good weather, fret when rain stops our harvest, and then remember that all of this is in the hands of One who knows exactly what we really need. And that is the best place there is for our harvest to be!

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker     tompic

An eye for color.

Hi, I’m Tom, and I’m color blind. “Hi Tom.” All my life I’ve felt like there should be a support group for people like me. We could get together and tell, um, color stories. Like “So I came downstairs with this shirt on and my wife says:”You can’t wear THAT shirt with THOSE shorts!” Tell me about it. I’ve heard it all my life.

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I remember in school when the subject came up in biology class. There were these little images made of different color dots that we had to look at. “Regular” people saw the number “74” when they looked at the image. I just saw a bunch of dots. And then it began. “Moelker can’t see it! Hey, what do YOU see Moelker? What color is this? What color is this?” They could have sold tickets to that sideshow. After a while you learn to buy clothes in colors you can see. And you learn which shirts go with what pants, etc. But then you get clothes as a gift, or your wife buys you a new shirt and, well, you have to ask “What color is this?” or “What can I wear this with?” Fortunately I have an understanding wife who patiently helps me.

So I had learned to deal with the malady over the years. When my kids were little, they thought I only saw things in black and white! And then someone came up with the Gala apple. Now you have to know, in the old days we had apples that were red. Or yellow. Or green. But nooo, that wasn’t good enough. Now we have this Gala apple that is “…pink to magenta, with a background color that goes from light green to cream when it’s ready to pick.” Huh? I’m still trying to get the right shirt on in the morning and now my occupation is turning against me! And then it was Honeycrisp. And Pink Lady. All of a sudden you have to be Picasso just to pick an apple at the right time! And peaches! Don’t even get me started on peaches. I have actually learned to pick peaches by the feel and shape of them alone. You see, they get to be more round and less almond shaped when they are mature. And when you grasp them in your hand, they just feel right. I can’t explain it really.

And so it’s hard for me to teach someone else how to pick a peach or a Honeycrisp apple by looking at the color. I’ve given that task over to my wife and my kids, all of whom can see colors perfectly well. When it is time to begin picking Honeycrisp with a new crew of workers, My son or my wife (or both) come out and show the harvesters what the color requirements are. Most pick it up quickly. I’ve watched this instruction time and time again. I still don’t know what they’re talking about. “See the difference?” they ask. All the heads nod, “Yes.” Me? I just shrug my shoulders and look hard to see the number “74”.

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I do have one advantage though. If the sun ever goes out and we have to pick peaches in the dark, you guys will be lost. And I’ll be right at home, picking with my eyes closed!

Have a fruitful (and colorful) week!

Tom Moelker         tompic

Drip drip drip…

It’s dry around here. We have had about 1/2 inch of rain in the last six weeks here on the farm. Combine that with the hot sunny weather we’ve had and, well, it’s dry around here. In the last week there has been rain within a mile or two of us on the north, west, and south sides. But not here. It’s dry around here.

So we are irrigating as much as we can. We are blessed that in the last 8 or 9 years, we’ve made the decision to put drip irrigation into most of our orchards. And in a year like this, irrigation will make a world of difference. We are running the wells almost 24/7 and have been for weeks now. The trees that have water available look good. I think we are keeping up with their demands. The crop is heavy in many places, and right now the orchards need one and a half to two inches of water per week. It takes us all week to put that much on through over 15 miles of drip tubes. The tubes look like black garden hose, and they run down each row with a water emitter every 3 feet. Running all week long. That’s a lot of drips! God could do the whole farm in an hour.

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There are some orchards here that do not have irrigation. Mostly older bigger trees that have big root systems that can pull water from deeper soil. Some look Ok. A few are suffering. But a good rain soon would still make a lot of difference. We are sprinkling the pumpkins now too. They are setting fruit right now,(that’s right, pumpkins are a fruit!),  and it is important to keep the plants happy! Pumpkins are 90% water you know!

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Today we set up a new weather station on our farm. It can tell us everything from temperature to wind speed and direction to rainfall amounts. That may seem trivial to the average person, but to us much of what we do is planned around weather. The thing even claims to be able to forecast weather for us. I’ll wait and see on that one. We are   hooked into the Weather Underground system as a reporting station. So if you want to know what the weather is on our farm, look up the Moelker Orchards station (KMIGRAND269) on the Weather Underground website or app, You will be able to see if it rained here. Me? I’ll just go outside. If my head gets wet it’s raining. Or I’m fixing an irrigation leak. If it gets sunburned, it probably isn’t raining, and I should wear a hat.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker         tompic

 

Shear madness

When I was a kid we had bushes in our yard. I guess that bushes were the landscape trend du jour, because it seems everybody had some form of them. We had Spirea bushes and a big Syringa bush that always seemed overgrown. The row of Spirea bushes provided us with a fun game of guessing which bush which kid was hiding behind. They were big and dense enough that you couldn’t tell who, if anyone was there. Yes, I know, simpler times, easily entertained, yada yada.

One thing about those bushes I didn’t like though was that a few times each summer they had to be trimmed. It was a hot, itchy task performed with a set of shears that looked like a giant scissors. I have to admit that while I didn’t like the job, I did like the way the bushes looked when the job was done. Big round green (or white when in bloom) balls that if done right would be perfectly symmetrical. For a week or so. Before they started growing shaggy again!

This week we are hedging our newer apple orchards. What is hedging? Well I’ve written before about the newer plantings being a solid narrow row of trees with no breaks. So hedging is how we can quickly trim the trees in summer to keep them from getting too bushy and shading the fruit. It shapes the row into a narrow canopy so that the sunlight can penetrate and color the fruit. The task is performed with a large sickle bar similar to the old hay mowers that we used to cut hay with. Mounted vertically on the front of a tractor, the blade shears the row as we slowly drive along. We can change the angle of the cut on the fly as needed. The result is a nice even “hedge” of apple trees with the fruit exposed to the sun. Here is a before and after shot.

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Here is a video from the driver’s seat! Who knew that all that bush shearing would come back around to me later in life?

Grafting update

The grafts we did on the apple trees this spring are growing well. We’ve begun to trim back the original trees so that the grafted shoots get more nourishment and growth. Some current pictures here. Notice the grafted shoot coming out from the white taped area on the trunk! IMG_3839IMG_3843

Summer is a busy time filled with lots of varied tasks! Nobody ever says they are bored around here. If you do, we’ll put you to work!

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker    tompic