The calm before the storm.

That is what we always call the last week or two before peaches begin. We have a “shower” of customers during cherry season for a week or two. Then a “sprinkle” during Lodi apple season. But once peaches begin, my family knows that the “storm” won’t let up until November. In fact, it intensifies with every new week as more varieties of fruit become ready for harvest.

Don’t get me wrong. We are still very busy this time of year with tree training, summer pruning, and a myriad of daily tasks that point toward harvest time. Plenty of weeding and feeding, repairing and preparing for the upcoming busy season. Maybe even a few days away to mentally relax and prepare for it too! And like a much appreciated rain after a long period of drought, we do also look ahead with anticipation to the fall season. Because while it is crazy busy for us here in the fall, it is also a blessing to us. We see the culmination of all of our work. While that can be what we expected, or sometimes not at all so, it all is a gift to us that we have to appreciate.

Much like the gift of the rains we received last weekend. It is amazing to see the plants and trees that have long looked weary with the heat and drought perk up and green up within hours of that ample watering. I mentioned in a response to a comment on last week’s blog that God can do in a few hours of rain what takes us weeks. That is exactly what happened on Sunday morning! The 2 inches of rain we received would have taken us 2 weeks to apply with our drip irrigation system! What a blessing!

So good things come to us in many shapes and forms. The tired satisfaction of a hard day’s work. A cold glass of lemonade on a steaming hot day(we’ve seen a lot of those lately!). A soft renewing rain on a parched field or orchard that has been thirsty for weeks. And our family, busily working in anticipation of the coming “storm”, knowing that the fall harvest frenzy will soon be upon us. But also knowing that we have been down this road before, and together we will be able to do it again.

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Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

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Dog days of Summer

Looking outside tonight the lawn and the soybean field behind it are sparkling with fireflies. Its a spectacular light show! Sort of like a miniature 4th of July celebration. I’ve never seen so many! The warm weather makes the night insects really active this time of year. The windshield on your car will attest to that!

The heat seems relentless these days.They call these the “Dog Days” of summer. I always thought it was because the dog would just lay around in the heat of the day, but apparently  the saying has a little more science than that. Sirius, the dog star rises into the visible sky at this time of year, and that coincides with the hottest weeks of the summer. Who knew?? It is hard to do outdoor work in this weather. I think we should just call them “Fishing Days” and be done with it!

We do a lot to keep tabs on the insect populations in our orchards. It is important to know what bugs are out there, and what they are doing at any given time. So we have different traps for different insects scattered around throughout the farm. And every week it’s somebody’s job to check them and report the findings back to us. Michigan State University’s Extension Agents are a big part of the picture too. They keep us informed as to what insects are coming and going, what kind of damage they do, and how to keep track of them. If we find something out of the ordinary, they can usually identify it for us. All of this information helps us to make informed decisions about control measures we can take and when to act. There are even good bugs, that help us by preying on the bad bugs that do damage to our fruit. Here are some of the different traps we use. Each is for a specific insect. From left to right: Codling Moth, Apple Maggot, Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.

Coldling moth trap Apple maggot trap BMSB trap

Last week my brother sent me a pic of a scary looking insect.”They  look like huge wasps and they are coming out of the ground!” he texted. I didn’t know what they were either, so I forwarded it on to Amy Irish-Brown, my local MSU extension agent. She is a wiz at identifying this kind of thing. Sure enough, within a minute I got my answer. “It’s a Cicada Killer.” she replied. “They won’t bite humans, but they work in the ground laying eggs in Cicada larvae there” Amazing stuff!

cicada killer

Cicada Killer

Sometimes things show up that confound us. Last week Travis came into the house and announced: “There’s a Pokemon in the backyard!” I didn’t know how to react. “Do I spray for it or do I  shoot it?” I asked him. It seems the Pokemon Go people chose to make  a checkpoint out of our walnut tree. That would explain why kids kept wandering into our yard staring at their phones. And cars would stop in front of the house or in our driveway, sit there for a few minutes and then drive away. At any time day or night! I guess we never know who might show up on the farm, but it’s not for lack of trying!

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

What’s a Gibberillin?!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how rain could be detrimental to the cherry crop as it neared harvest. I’m happy to say that our cherries turned out to be beautiful! I can’t remember the last time we had such quality and flavor. What a blessing!

It is dry though. The absence of rain over the last weeks, while helping the cherries, has put a strain on other crops. Thankfully we have installed drip irrigation on many  of our orchards over the last few years. This is  a real lifesaver in a dry season. The small trees that we plant these days also have very small root systems. They can’t go out and search for water like the big root systems that the big old trees of the past could. So we have to bring the water to them.And drip irrigation is the most efficient way to do that. The water is deposited directly onto the root area of the tree with very little loss to evaporation. This makes fore a happy tree, even in these dry times!

Irrigation line in row.

Irrigation line in apple row.

Why is this so important? The most obvious answer is of course that the trees can produce a nice crop of fruit this year. But there is another aspect to all of this that isn’t as well known. You see, right now the apple trees are planning for next year’s crop. This is the time of year when apple trees are making the buds that will bloom next spring and become the crop for next year. And believe it or not, the trees are making a decision about how big next year’s crop will be! Not of course in the way that we make decisions, but in an equally complicated way. The seeds in every apple on a tree are sending chemical messages to the tree itself about how big the crop is. The chemicals produced by the seeds are called Gibberillins, and they are plant hormones. The tree takes this information and “decides” if it can safely bring this amount of fruit to maturity without becoming stressed  and depleting all of it’s energy. If the tree is under drought stress, it will “decide” to not make many buds for next year because it will see tough times ahead.  If a tree is healthy and well supplied with water and nutrients, it will make a full crop of buds for next year’s crop.

Next year's apple bud.

Next year’s apple bud!

That is why being able to keep a tree happy during dry times is so important. Not only for this year, but for next year too. And while I have sort of put this in human terms, this process really is happening right now in our apple trees. The trees really are planning ahead for next year! And we are trying to keep them healthy and strong so they can make buds for next year. And just in case you wives are wondering, Gibberillins won’t work on your husbands to make them better planners. If they did, I wouldn’t be waiting until Wednesday night each week to write the Thursday morning blog!

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker