Well the harvest is in, and things around the farm have settled down from the peak frenzy of October. Overall this season went well. We had a good harvest crew, and with the dry fall we were able to stay on track as the apples matured–no rain days to put us behind! It always is a good feeling to have the crop tucked away inside the coolers.
But while the pace slows down some, there is still a lot of work to be completed before winter sets in. Everything needs to be mowed to reduce the hiding places of tree-nibbling mice and rabbits. Weed spray will help that too. Tree trellis wires need to be checked and tightened after a heavy crop load has weighed them down. Equipment maintenance that may have been put off during the business of harvest now has to be taken care of. We have to winterize all of the irrigation lines and wells before freezing temps set in. Ladders, apple boxes and picking equipment all have to be gathered up and stored away for the winter. And the buildings on the farm need to be cleaned up and reorganized after a hectic fall’s work. My son Travis is good at that. I’m more of a “toss is aside, we’ll deal with it later” kind of guy. He likes to have things organized. Maybe that’s why I’m always asking him where things are!
The trees need attention too. After working so hard and using up so much energy to produce a nice crop, we give them a good foliar nutrient mix to perk them up before winter. We don’t want them to be tired and hungry before going to bed! Another thing that helped the trees during the drought this fall was the irrigation system. I have never watered the trees so late into the fall as I did this season. The lack of rain in August, September and much of October this year had the potential to keep the fruit small, and really stress the trees going into winter. But with the ability to keep the orchards watered we could keep the trees happy through harvest. And then, towards the end of October, we finally got rain! Bunches of it! And the soil soaked it up almost as fast as it came down. What a blessing!
So now that the days are shorter. The sun goes down around dinnertime. The apple crop is in. And we can put another season in the books. It’s funny how when we get to this point, all of the work, all of the troubles, the frost and the drought and the hail that we endured over the course of the season, seem like a distant memory. I guess that is a blessing we can count, along with all of the others that we give thanks for each day.
Have a fruitful week!
Tomorrow is the official first day of Fall. Apparently Mother Nature got fooled again, because it is supposed to be 90 degrees outside! While some folks like the thought of another beach or cottage weekend in the sun, I would rather have some cool nights and temperate days in the low seventies. That seems more like harvest weather to me, and it is better for the apples too. Cool nights and sunny days make for crisp red apples!
We are marching along through harvest at a pretty fast pace now. Each day it seems we are picking another variety. And each day we are checking other kinds of apples to see what we will pick next. When I was younger, Dad would cut apples open to see if the seeds were dark brown yet. An indication of maturity, but not necessarily ripeness. That was determined by the very scientific taste test. Is it sweet enough? Is it still crunchy? It’s ready to go! Those are still very valid measures of ripeness, but now we quantify those characteristics with devices that measure sugar content, starchiness, and firmness. We do these tests on the farm, and MSU also does a larger sample of each variety every week. They send us the data which tells us the pace at which varieties are ripening, and that helps us to plan and watch out for surprises. Because apples don’t always ripen in the same order every year. In a hot year, for instance, Gala will ripen ahead of McIntosh. In a cool summer it’s the other way around. This year was sort of average, and both varieties ripened at the same time!
Pressure testing for crunchiness!
The cool weather we experienced during the first part of September was perfect for making apples red. We could see the color improve from day to day, it was that dramatic! But while the nice color was there, that didn’t mean the fruit was ready on the inside. Honeycrisp were a beautiful shade of red weeks ago. They looked gorgeous! But on the inside they tasted sour and immature. That is where testing comes in handy. And restraint. We don’t harvest them until the flavor is sweet and the apple is ready. Trust me, we tried them daily until we finally decided “It’s time!”
This hot weather is going to push apple ripeness along at a faster pace than normal. It also makes the harvesting, which is hard, heavy work, more uncomfortable. No air conditioning in the orchard. And while you are working in trees, it isn’t necessarily shady. Kudos to our harvest crew for their persistence! So we are ready for some cooler days and nights to give us, and the apples some relief! Sorry beach bums and cottage dwellers, you had your summer. Now let’s have some Fall! Frankly I can only taste so many apples a day!
Have a fruitful week!
And just like that, another harvest season is finished. With the exception of 3 or 4 bins of Granny Smith apples that won’t be ready for a few more days, everything else is picked. The long days of work that begin before sunrise and end long after dark have for the most part come to an end. This is not to say we are finished working for the season. The orchards need to be prepared for winter. Everything needs to be mowed, sprayed for weeds (if time allows), and generally cleaned up. There is also plowing and preparing land for next spring’s planting. Irrigation systems need winterizing before the hard frosts begin. But the daily deadlines that characterize harvest time can be relaxed, and the work can be done during daylight hours.
Granny Smith apples. Almost ready!
It always seems to end so abruptly. After weeks of being in the orchard all day with the harvest crew and then spending the evening putting the day’s harvest in the cooler, or loading it up to haul away the next morning, the daily grind actually slows down. It is almost hard to remember last spring when the first green leaves appeared on long dormant trees. It seems so long ago. And yet when I look back at the season it mirrors the growth timeline of most every other year of my farming life. Green tipped buds turn to blossoms, which become fruit of ever increasing size, and finally develop into each unique variety of apple, pear or peach. Then the long hours of harvest, punctuated by weather, market demands, and sometimes inconsistent availability of laborers; seem to slow time to a standstill. I find myself wondering how the Creator has so much patience with me in the fall, while my own patience seems to evaporate completely at times. I need to step back and realize how much I truly am blessed.
As a family we are tied together by our work in the fall. Each person has their place in the everyday operation of the farm, the market and the bakery. And any task that falls in between those segments must be completed as well. While we are stretched, we are also pulled together in ways that non-farming families never realize. We work toward a common goal, and that takes cooperation, whether we feel like it or not (and sometimes we may not)! Because in the end, the machine that is our farm needs all of its many parts to function in order to be successful. Our employees are a very key part of all that goes on here in the fall. We couldn’t do this without them. And sometimes those parts also include friends and neighbors who lend a hand as well. We appreciate that more than they know!
So as the harvest winds down, another growing season goes into our memory. Another portrait of God’s faithfulness through the seasons is added to the gallery of now 109 years that the Moelker family has subsisted on this farm. Good crops, poor crops, life-changing family events all blend together in our memories to make the colors of that portrait. It is a treasure that we can look back on and learn from. And that lesson gives us faith for the future as well.
Have a fruitful week!