Life is a pail of cherries…

Cherry season is here. For me, cherry season has always marked the middle of summer. Now on our farm we grow mostly sweet cherries. Black, yellow and red. They are fun to pick and yummy to eat. Each color has a little different flavor. And the season goes fast!

Back when I was a kid, and even before that, my dad grew a lot of tart cherries. Acres of them! And when it came time to pick them, he hired kids from the area to do the work. Not a lot of requirements to work at our farm back then. As long as you were 12 years old or older you had the job. A simple job really, just show up by 7:30 am and usually we were finished for the day by 1 or 2 in the afternoon. And in between you had to pick cherries, lots and lots of them if you could. Some kids were really fast pickers. Some were so slow that it seemed they hardly moved. And as the day went on it usually got hot and sticky. They worked on ladders and rode on a farm wagon to the orchard. Apparently OSHA had not been invented yet. The kids were a sweaty sticky, cherry juice mess when they left for home each day.

Tart Cherries

Tart Cherries

There were distractions too. Hard to avoid when you put 25-35 teenage boys and girls together day after day. Lots of teasing and chatter. Cherry orchard romances. And cherry fights, messy, sticky, juicy wars that usually ended with my dad’s stern “OK that’s enough of that!” Best not get caught by Mr. Moelker! We would laugh when somebody’s mom put a cherry jam sandwich in their lunch, or gave them cherry Kool aid to drink for the day. What was she thinking?! I still wonder today if the moms did it by mistake or were  just getting a little revenge!

Over the years from the 1960’s to the mid 80’s, hundreds of local kids had their first job picking cherries at Moelker’s. For a couple of weeks each summer they shared a common purpose, or for some, a common misery. I still run into them, some now in their 60’s. And they say with a smile on their face, “I used to pick cherries here when I was a kid! I remember when…”, and they break into a story that we both laugh about! It’s amazing how time changes our perspective.  I suspect that even some of you reading this may have enjoyed that character building experience known as “Cherry season” when you were a kid. If so, let us know! Please comment on this blog. We would love to hear from you!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Advertisements

Weather, or not.

I’m sitting here on a still evening. It’s the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. A big, full “Strawberry moon” rising in the hazy eastern sky. A warm quiet night awaits. And yet I’m thinking about what insects are developing in this heat, how much water to put on the trees with irrigation, and what the chances for rain are this week. Why? Because the weather, past present and future is such a big part of everyday life to a farmer.

There are many variables that a tree fruit grower has to deal with every day. Varieties and root stocks, diseases and fertilizers, insects and pruning and the list goes on and on. Over the years growers and researchers cooperate to find the best ways to deal with the challenges we face and standardize our growing systems and practices. We share information with growers around the world, and they do the same. And it makes us all better at what we do. But the one wild card that we have no control over is the weather.

That is probably a good thing. If you talk to 5 farmers growing 5 different crops you will hear that it is too dry, too wet, too hot, too cold, and probably too …fill in the blank! And the funny thing is, they are probably all right! Every crop has different needs. An inch of rain would be great right now for the apples pears, and peaches. But sweet cherries, that are about a week away from being ready, would be in great danger of cracking as they absorbed water faster than their skins could expand. Talk about internal conflict! That same inch of rain would be a welcome relief to a corn or soybean grower. But a wheat farmer wouldn’t be too happy with it as harvest begins. What to do?

full moon

So I guess it is a good thing that we don’t control the weather. We just learn to deal with whatever comes our way and trust that God will give us what we need. That is really all we can ask for in life anyway. And that is also  a good thing to think about on a warm summer evening.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Man vs Wild–Orchard style

“The birds are in the cherries again. Your father says its personal this time!”  If you have seen the commercial about the squirrels, you know what I’m talking about. I can’t even tell you what the commercial is for, but I laugh every time I see it. Except birds and cherries are no laughing matter.

For as long as I can remember, birds and cherries have been a bad combination. You see, sweet cherries are a gourmet meal for hungry flocks of birds. But the devastation they can do to a cherry crop in short order hits a cherry grower right where it hurts, in the wallet! Seeing clusters of beautiful cherries reduced to pecked up cherry mash can make a grown man cry, or at least get angry and frustrated.

When I was a kid my dad gave me a BB gun and sent me out to eliminate the problem. I think he knew I wasn’t much of a threat to the bird population at that age. But having a person spend the day wandering around the orchard was a deterrent in itself. I thought I was protecting the crop, and I probably was. Just not in the way I imagined. Later he bought a propane fueled cannon. The noise was deafening every time it fired! It worked at first. The birds would fly out of the orchard like they were on fire with each “BANG”! But after a while either the birds did become deaf, or they just got used to it. I would flinch every time it went off. The birds, not so much.

Propane cannon

Propane cannon

These days we have more technology to help us. Scare-eye balloons suspended above the orchard give the birds the feeling they are being watched by something much bigger than they are. It makes them nervous.

Scare-eye Balloon

Scare-eye balloon

But what really helps today are the recorded bird distress calls that we broadcast through the orchard. When Joe Starling comes flying into the trees with his heart set on a cherry delight, he hears something that strikes fear in his cherry loving heart. The recorded sound of a starling screaming in wounded terror! Just like that, Joe turns tail and flies out of there! Or he may hear the sound of a Cooper’s Hawk looking for a starling dinner. We have sounds for 5 or 6 birds that are our biggest pests. They aren’t foolproof. Hunger outweighs fear for some of the birds. But at least it helps the problem.

Broadcast speaker

Broadcast speaker

We can’t stop the pesky birds entirely. But we try to limit the damage, and in a few weeks we hope to have cherries ready for harvest. They will get some. Hopefully we will get more!

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Farming: The times they are a changin’…

My youngest graduated from high school a couple of nights ago. I don’t know how that sneaked up on me like it did. Seems like (insert crotchety old voice here) the years went by way too fast. But here I am now with three kids college age and older, and the time seems to go by faster each day!

My kids were unique in their school. They live on a farm. Growing up on a farm isn’t as common as it used to be. In fact, for most of us in this area it is becoming downright rare. I think when I was in high school there may have been one or two other farm kids in my class. Today I’m guessing its even less than that, if that’s possible.  Our connection to farms is fast disappearing. If you talk to your grandpa or grandma, they can almost always tell you stories about the farm when they were a kid. If they didn’t grow up on a farm, they had friends who did.  In fact, just a hundred years ago over 30 percent of the work force in this country was on a farm. Today that number is around 2 percent. And yet we produce more food than ever!

Untitled-195

Neil Moelker collecting the eggs

Farms were different back then. Most farmers produced almost everything they needed to eat. My grandparents had cows (milk and beef), a pig or two (pork), chickens (eggs and meat), a very large vegetable garden, fruit trees, grapes, corn and wheat. They canned hundreds of quarts of just about everything for their winter supplies. And they sold the excess for their income. Grandpa even made communion wine from his grapes for some of the local churches! They lived very much off the land and all of their hard work. The average American farm in the 1930’s fed 4 people.

Neil, John,   1922

John, Neil and Gerrit Moelker working in the garden. 1922

Farms today are much more specialized. On our farm our focus is tree fruits. While we grow some vegetables to sell at our market, we haven’t had any livestock on the farm since I was a kid. And while we still have a garden, much of our family’s food comes from the grocery store. And today the average American farm feeds 155 people.

We don’t want people to forget where their food comes from. That’s why we do school class tours in the fall and teach the kids (and parents and teachers) about growing fruit. And we hope to have some family farm tour days in August(more details to come!) And if you ever have questions about what we do on our farm, feel free to ask!

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Itching to grow big peaches!

Wow! What a change in the weather! Seems like we went from spring to the dog days of summer in just a few days. One weekend we had snow on our blossoms, and the next it was almost 80 degrees! I don’t know who was more confused, me or the fruit trees.

All of this warm weather has brought us to the point where we soon will begin peach thinning season. Let me explain. Peach trees love to bear fruit. I mean they really love to bear lots of fruit. So much fruit that if we would leave it all on the tree, it would break down. And barring a frost, they will do this every year. Not only that, but the peaches would end up being the size of golf balls when they were ready to pick. Not good for us, and not good for you! And the only way to remedy this situation is to remove some of the fruit. Where there can be up to a dozen fruits on a foot-long branch, we have to bring that down to 2 or 3. That means removing up to 80% of the peaches in some cases! While that sounds simple enough, it takes a long time on each tree and it is best done by hand. And therein lies the problem.

spring peaches

Two truths emerge when we begin peach thinning season. One: Peaches are very fuzzy. And two: No matter what the weather has been recently, the beginning of this job will bring on the most hot and humid weather of the early summer. And lest I forget, there will be no breeze anywhere near the orchard! Those two facts combine to make a tedious job downright miserable. Imagine a hot sweaty day combined with an abundance of itchy fuzz. The stuff is everywhere! It comes off and sticks to your hands, and it literally floats in the air around you as you work. I remember my dad always wearing a long sleeved shirt in the heat of June while thinning peaches. I wondered why, until I was old enough (or gullible enough) to join the peach thinning crew. I soon learned that when thinning peaches, you never touch or scratch or rub your skin anywhere with those fuzz-laden hands! Scratch your neck or arm and the stuff would drive you crazy for the rest of the day! And once you started itching it just got worse and worse. Imagine rolling around in some of that pink house insulation in your bathing suit on a hot summer day! Peach thinning is not for sissies.

Peaches!

So think of us in the next few weeks when the weather will get (inevitably) hot and sticky. And when you are slicing those big juicy peaches over ice cream in August, remember that getting them that way is not just a walk in the park. Its an itch in the orchard!

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker