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

 

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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

Hay there!

This time of year always brings back memories of baling hay when I was a kid. I only have to smell the aroma of freshly cut hay, and I immediately go back to those hot summer days in my youth when hay season meant hot weather and hard work. And the camaraderie of neighbors and relatives all pitching in (pun intended) to get the job done.

Back before my time, hay wasn’t baled, it was pitched. With a pitch fork. The kind you see in old farmer pictures. The hay was loose and a fork was the only way to handle it. You “pitched” it out of the field and onto the wagon with your fork. Sort of like spaghetti, but more slippery. And then you pulled the wagon into the barn and pitched it into the loft. just a big pile of loose hay for your animal’s feed. It was a lot of work.

Ike Korhorn, Grandpa Moelker, neil, John, Gerrit, Eliabeth , John

Then the baler was invented and it packed the hay into tight bales and tied them up with twine. Much more efficient, but the heavy bales had to be loaded from the field onto a wagon. The guys on the wagon had a big job. Not only did they have to stack the hay up ten to twelve feet high, but they had to do it in such a way that the load would stay together and not tip over or fall off. Keep in mind that a hay bay weighs anywhere from 50-90 pounds! We kids had all we could do to get the bales up onto the wagon at chest height. The guys on the wagon had to throw them up onto the stack above their heads! I can still remember riding on top of a wagon load as a kid. The view from up there was great! Until the load shifted as we went around a corner and the whole thing tumbled off the side of the wagon! Nobody was hurt, but we had to load it all up again. I think I learned some words I hadn’t heard before.

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Haying time was always hot. Or so it seemed. But you couldn’t wear shorts and a t-shirt because hay is..well..hay. It’s prickly and scratchy and it sticks to you when you sweat. Which is always, when you are haying. Getting it loaded onto the wagon was only half the job. Because it still had to be stacked up in the barn. Which means the whole process would be repeated in unloading the wagon into the barn. We tried to load and unload the wagons in the cool of the morning or evening. But more often than not, it seems we wound up haying in the heat of the day.

I write all of this in past tense, because I don’t do hay anymore. But plenty of farmers still do. And while many now bale in big round bales that are handled with a tractor and don’t have to be touched by a human hand at all, I still see plenty of small square bales being made. And I don’t envy those who are out there loading wagons on hot summer days. But in all of the hard work there was still the fun of working with friends. A cold glass of lemonade never tasted so good! And the good feeling of accomplishment when a field was mowed flat and empty of its bales. I’m happy to have done it, But I’m also happy that I don’t do it anymore!

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Just Peachy!

It’s peach season. That wonderful time of year when the fresh, juicy, and somewhat fragile fruit is at it’s best. When you get past the fuzziness, it is hard to beat the sweet yet tangy flavor of a peach! And the juice! It just runs down your chin! Oft times the most delectable foods are messy.

If you love peaches, and you have for years, you know the name Red Haven is the king of peaches here in Michigan. Since it was introduced in 1940, this flavorful peach has been the favorite of families year after year. Over the years a whole family of “Haven” peaches were introduced in our state.  The original Red Haven was developed at the Michigan State University Experiment Station at South Haven. Hence the name. I can remember  our farm growing many of them. Kal Haven, Hale Haven, Sun Haven, Rich Haven, Fair Haven, Crest Haven, Jay Haven, and Glo Haven peaches have grown on this farm over the years. Each of these varieties, while sharing the “Haven” name, were a little different  from the others. Some were early, some were mid-season, and some were late. All of them had great flavor and were “freestone”–the pit came away from the flesh easily. Most of those varieties have long been gone, but the Red Haven, once the most widely planted peach worldwide, is still the one every other peach is compared to.

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Hauling peaches in the 1930’s

I can remember why some of those varieties went away. Hale Haven, while a tasty peach, always fell off the tree the day before you picked them it seemed. Rich Haven and Sun Haven were as big as softballs, and seemed to ripen in the basket on the trip from the orchard to the house. They would be round when you picked them, and square when you got them home. Others, like Glo Haven and Crest Haven are good peaches that are still grown today. Unlike many other fruits, peaches have to be picked over 3 to 5 times, each time selecting the ripest fruits. That means going over the orchard every 2-3 days. It can be a hot, sticky and fuzzy job in the month of August! We are usually happy to begin peach picking season, and even happier to be finished with it!

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Hauling peaches today!

Michigan has always been kind of a hotbed of peach variety development. In recent years, whole families of peach varieties have been introduced. Paul Friday’s “Flamin’ Fury series boasts over 20 kinds of peaches that ripen over a 15 week long season in Michigan! Paul’s cousin Jim and his family have introduced the Stellar Series of peach varieties, over a dozen kinds whose names all end in “Star”(Glowingstar, for example). All of these great peaches are now available worldwide! And it all began in little old Michigan.

It is interesting how different states have different varieties of peaches. If you go to Georgia, for example, you will not recognize most of the kinds of peaches grown there. Names like “O’Henry”, “Cary Mac”, and “Rich Lady”. Really? Sounds funny to me. “I’d like a half bushel of those Rich Ladies!” Might be a good reason to get slapped! California and New Jersey also have entirely different kinds of peaches than what we have here. In fact, those three states, along with South Carolina, are the top peach growing states in America. While very few of those varieties are grown in Michigan, our state’s varieties are grown in many of the other states. While we don’t boast the big numbers, Michigan has a big influence with our research and development.

So with all of that peachy info, it’s time to get out there and enjoy! Because as summer slips toward fall, the season for this amazing fruit will slip away too. And there is nothing like a fresh peach sliced over ice cream on a warm August evening! Or a fresh warm slice of peach pie(also with ice cream, of course!)

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Have a fruitful (and peachy) week!

Tom Moelker

“Red and Yellow, Black and White?”

It’s cherry season again. That wonderful and fleeting time of year when juicy deliciousness can be plucked from a tree! Walking through the orchard today, looking at the crop, I got that old Sunday School song going through my head. And I can’t seem to get rid of it. “Red and Yellow, Black and White. They are precious in His sight…” There. Now it is stuck in your head too!

The song came up because of the different colors of sweet cherries we grow. They are so pretty hanging in clusters on the trees right now. There are black ones, red ones, and yellow ones(that have the name White Gold). That’s where the white comes in. Each one has a distinct flavor that distinguishes it from the others. And that variety makes it fun to mix and match them.

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Cherries are not native to America. So how did they get here? I remember learning about Johnny Appleseed in school, but I don’t recall being taught about Johnny Cherryseed. Must have skipped class that day. Actually, the seeds were brought over from Europe in 1628 to the settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts. First planted there, they were brought west as the colonies expanded and eventually made it all the way to the northwest coast, where they flourished.

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Michigan is well known for cherries. It is quite likely that seeds were brought here by French colonists coming through the St. Lawrence Seaway. But however they got here, this state has perfect conditions for growing cherries. Michigan grows about 75% of the nation’s tart cherries, and about 40% of the sweet cherries. In fact, Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the world! And cherries are good for you. They contain lots of anti-oxidants and are helpful in relieving pain and helping you sleep better. All on top of that juicy-licious (is that a word?) taste! The perfect fruit? Maybe!

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Our cherry season begins on Saturday, July 1. If you have never picked a fresh cherry from a tree, you owe it to yourself to experience the fun and flavor. And if you are a cherry picking veteran, well, you know just how delicious they are. The season goes fast, so don’t miss it! I know I’ll eat my share! So come out to the farm in the next couple of weeks and….

Have a FRUITFUL day!

Tom Moelker

 

Hot or cold? Wet or dry?

Well August is being August, hot and muggy, just like July left off! It seems this has been an endlessly warm and humid summer and the forecast doesn’t change much. “What does that do to the fruit?” I’m often asked. “Makes it warm!” is my smart-alecky answer. But seriously folks, it does have it’s effects. A dry summer (which we had up until the last couple weeks) makes fruit sweeter by concentrating the sugars in the fruit.I can attest that cherries and peaches have been fabulous this season! Lots of rain close to harvest can cause fruit to crack open, most often in cherries but also in some varieties of apples. Hot temperatures (90 and up) and a blistering sun can actually sunburn some kinds of apples and do a lot of damage. Some of our favorites like Honeycrisp, Zestar! and Cameo are especially susceptible to that. And we don’t have to even get into what hail and wind can do. We were blessed to not be affected by all of the tornado action last week. But it wasn’t far away, and you can imagine what that would do to an orchard full of fruit! It does remind us what a tentative hold we have on things.

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One thing that we look for in the fall are cool nights and sunny days. They are so important to the coloring process in apples. As apples approach maturity, they begin to develop their characteristic color. Cool nights turn on that “switch” in an apple.  You can literally see the change in color in some apples after one or two cool nights, and a week of nights in the upper 40’s will turn a green apple to dark red. We had two nights in the low 50’s over the weekend, and the change was noticeable, especially in Galas and Paulareds. But now it’s back to hot days and warmish nights again deterring that color development. So we wait, and hope that the cool crisp nights of fall are not too far away. I know…it’s still August and summer isn’t over yet so I have to be patient. It will come in time, and I’ll enjoy putting a sweatshirt on in the morning. Until then, it’s shorts and a t-shirt and off to work!

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Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

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