Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Today we are feeling a bit like a meteorologist must feel when he makes a prediction for rain that doesn't pan out... what we thought would surely be the best week for picking berries has changed... just a bit. The cooler weather we've seen these past couple of days has slowed down the ripening process of the raspberries. This, along with high traffic has made the berries much less plentiful than we'd hoped. So.. we have decided to change our hours for the summer red raspberry season to an every-other day schedule, which will allow for more berries on "picking days" and a more enjoyable picking experience.  This is not necessarily a change we see lasting into next year; however, with the highly unusual weather we've seen this year our fruit crops are far from typical. Originally we did not see frost damage in the summer raspberries, but now as we look into the ripening fields we've noticed a less bountiful crop-- likely due to frost damage to the young leaves that shoot out in early spring,
shoots that eventually carry flowers which turn into fruit.

So... all that said, we thank you for your continued support and ask for your patience and understanding throughout the rest of our fruit season. We do our best to predict what the fruit will do, but it's not always an easy thing to do.  Picking conditions can change quickly, so calling ahead before you get in the car is your best bet!

Here's the schedule for the upcoming week --
OPEN: Thursday, June 28 & Saturday, June 30 (8 am - 7 pm unless we pick out sooner)
             Monday, Wed., Friday & Saturday, July 2, 4, 6 & 7 (8 am - 7 pm unless we pick out sooner)
CLOSED: Wednesday, June 27 & Friday, June 29 - Tuesday & Thursday, July 1 & 3

We are also picking red currants now if you are interested in those!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The days have gotten away from me and I have not been very faithful about keeping this blog up to date, and for that, I apologize.  I will get better as the little guy grows and starts to sleep a bit more.

Hard to believe it, but strawberry season is over and has been now for over a week!  Last year we didn't even open for strawberry picking until June 17-- crazy how different the weather can be from year to year.  Farming in the middle of a global climate change continues to be challenging and anything but predictable -- but we do our best to adjust to the unreliable weather!

Luckily, we finally received some much needed rain.  In the past 2 weeks we've received over 4 inches of rain, which has made the raspberries much happier.  Red raspberries are filling out nicely and we will be picking on both fields this week-- should be the best week for picking. Hours this week will be pretty close to our normal Monday-Saturday 8 am - 7 pm.  Only Thursday, June 28th we will open a bit late at 9:30 am... otherwise it is the regular hours schedule.

We will also have a small number of black raspberries available this week.  If you are interested in these, let us know either by giving us a phone call or stopping in and we will do our best to hook you up with this rare and yummy berry. 

Pricing for raspberries this year is PYO Red Raspberries: $3.50 per pound -- Prepicked red raspberries: $4.50 per pint -- Prepicking Black Raspberries: $5.00 per pint.

We look forward to seeing you out in the fields in the near future!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ahhh... the weather.  I used to think it was weird how farmers talked about the weather all the time. I mean, really, have you nothing better to talk of? And simply put... now that I am a farmer too... no! Really, life out here is all about the weather-- trying to figure out when it is going to rain so that we can plan weeding and other field work. And when it doesn't rain, what we could possibly do to help the crops along.

Speaking of weather... finally we've received some much needed moisture and the strawberries are ready!  Yes, that's right we are opening for strawberries!  Monday, May 28 will be our first day open. We will be picking Annapolis (our early variety) to start with and then after a week to a week and a half we will have the Jewel variety available as well. Hours will be Monday thru Saturday 8 am - 7 pm.  Cost for pick your own berries is $1.75 per pound. Buy in bulk --pick more than 75 lbs and buy them for just $1.50 per pound. Bring your own containers this year and receive a 5 cent per pound container discount.  Sorry, no container discounts on bulk orders.

If you have questions about picking conditions or anything else, feel free to give us a call at 507-252-1309.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It has been some time now since I last posted an update here... and no, it is not for lack of adventures and activity going on out here at the farm, but rather for lack of time to write about that activity.  The field work has been non stop since finishing the grape pruning... with pick up of all the grapevines, planting of the almost 5700 new strawberry plants, weeding, weeding and more weeding everywhere and even a bit more pruning in the raspberry fields. We are finally starting to see a bit of the "fruits of our labors" as the strawberry plants are full of white berries just waiting to ripen.  Even after the week (almost 2 weeks ago now) of 3 or so inches of rain, we are again in need of some moisture. Strawberries love to have that rain when they are putting on their fruit and ripening -- makes for extra juicy berries. 

Two of our little helpers sitting atop the strawberry planter!
Thanks to our hard working 7 and 9 year old sons and lots of hours in the fields ourselves, we are finally starting to put a dent in the weeds in the strawberry fields... but they will never be weed free... it's just the nature of the beast.

Even with a few weeds here and there, the strawberries should be superb this year. We are anticipating 10-14 more days before opening with strawberry season and will update our website, blog and phone message with an exact opening date once we have one. Until then, if you need me, I'll be the one out in the fields bent over pulling weeds while talking to the baby in the carrier sitting next to me!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ahhh... strawberries... sweet strawberries.  Ask my husband and he will tell you that I have a love/hate relationship with the fruit. Though they aren't my favorite fruit, I do love to pick them, to mash them and eat them on vanilla frozen yogurt... to turn them into fruit smoothies or frozen yogurt pops... to make a wonderful fresh strawberry pie. And, if I were to eat them just as is, it would have to be warm from the sunshine, straight off the plant.  Okay, so I guess I do like them, a little.

That said, where does the hate part come in one might ask? That, very simply, is in the huge amount of time and work it takes to care for a patch of strawberries. Ask those who grow even a small patch of strawberries about the work required, and they are sure to mention some sort of run-in they've had with weeds or deer or weeds or birds or weeds. 

Ah yes... weeds, the mortal enemy of the farmer, especially those farmers who do not choose to use any chemical herbicides on their fields (aka... us!) A little strawberry primer in regards to how Firefly Berries grows strawberries will quickly help one to see where the weeds come in to play.

Each spring we currently plant around 5500-6000 bare root strawberry plants. The tiny plants come the third Wednesday in April (yes... just 3 days from today) via UPS from the Indiana Berry Company. They have no leaves yet... only a crown (base of the plant) and roots. We keep them cool and moist until conditions are right for planting. Obviously, the sooner we plant them, the better; however plants can survive up to several weeks if kept cool and moist.

Once conditions are good we employ a crew of family and friends to care for our children and help with the planting and then we are off.  A small planting attachment (which was previously used as a tobacco planter) is attached to the back of our large tractor. The attachment has two little seats with table-like trays in front of them to place the plants in and a metal wheel with a pincher-like mechanism in the middle. Someone drives the tractor slowly while the two people in the seats carefully insert the crown of the small plant into the pincher of the wheel which closes around it and turns towards the soil, making a tiny hole for the plant to live! And walah, 6 or so hours later and we have 6000 strawberry plants in the ground.

Then comes the real work... several weeks later, depending on the weather... weeds will begin to grow amongst these tiny plants, which are now putting out leaves and runners. And, our job will be to hoe each one by hand at least 3 times during that first summer. This allows for the plant to grow big and strong and put out plenty of new runners (which will make new plants!) without the competition of weeds. We also till between the rows, but the weeds are nasty and grow very close to the plants and sometimes the only way to keep a plant weed-free is to pull by hand. Fruiting is not the goal that first year, so whenever possible, flower buds are pinched back as they emerge so as to put more energy into root and plant development rather than fruit.

The second and third years of the strawberry plant includes more weeding by hand and tilling between rows, until at the end of the third year we till the plants under and put the fields into cover crop for 1-2 years to return the nitrogen to the soil so that the process can start all over again. Really, it is quite fascinating how it all works together and I LOVE that part about it... but oh, the weeds. When we bought the fruit farm, we did know that the strawberries required a lot of TLC, but until I was standing in the middle of 3 acres of weed-filled strawberry fields I truly had no idea!

And so... here we are just into the 3rd week of April and already I am on my second round of strawberry weeding in our 2nd year fields. Staying ahead of the game is my goal, for when a strawberry plant has less competition, it will produce more and larger fruit.

2012 has been a strange spring thus far not only because of the weeds, but also the wide fluctuations in temperatures and the lack of moisture. Just this weekend we have gotten some much needed rain, but the previous warm temps followed by several days of frost in the evening/early morning hours have caused a bit of damage to the strawberries ---which have been flowering in small numbers now for almost 2 weeks. Any flower that gets touched with frost will turn from yellow in the middle to black and die, leaving one less strawberry for us to pick and eat. The plants will likely peak in their flowering in the next week or so --so we are keeping fingers crossed that a hard frost will not come our way again this year.

All that said, a fresh-from-the-plant-sunshine-warmed strawberry without any icky chemicals on it or in the soil, really is worth all the work, but keeping that in mind when the war of the weeds gets bad is the hard part!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What a week! We have been in a frenzy around here trying to get everything done. This week we tackled the prickly black raspberries and blackberries. Everything got pruned, though by the looks of my arms, I think it was the plants that had the last laugh.

Apricot blooms

Much to our dismay, the apricot trees were in full bloom this week. Last year they bloomed on Mother's Day, which would put them a good 5 weeks ahead of schedule. Yet, despite the early arrival of the blooms, our busy bees found the trees and were buzzing happily as they gathered pollen from the flowers. A big thank you to James White for his great beekeeping skills... for keeping "his girls" happy & healthy throughout the winter months so they can continue to help us both in pollination and providing yummy honey!

Along with the apricots, the grapevine buds are beginning to swell and we are seeing green leaves shooting up in all our bramble fields (red raspberry, black raspberry and blackberry). Only time will tell what this will mean for our fruit season. We continue to monitor the weather, hoping that nighttime temps do not drop below freezing. If temps do drop that low, any flower that is exposed or new grapevine shoot will be at risk.

Autumn Bliss red raspberries
As far as the strawberries, they are still holding their own. We have yet to uncover the straw from atop them, as we are holding off as long as we can to protect their tender blooms from a MN frost. Strawberries in bloom are highly sensitive to cold weather and should a frost strike at the wrong time in the process of blooming/setting fruit, we could lose the crop.

On top of all the frenzied pruning,  this warm spring has also brought an early amount of weeds! The greatest challenge for us as growers who do not use chemical pesticides or herbicides on our crops, is weeds! The fields we will plant strawberries in next month had already become inundated with weeds as of this weekend, so Dean was out there already this afternoon tilling -- something we generally don't do until right before strawberry planting in late April.

All that said, it was a treat to be out tying grapevines this afternoon in the warm March sun. In the year and a half that we have been here at Firefly Berries I have come to think of myself not so much as a fruit farmer, but rather a caretaker of the land and the plants. It's funny how when you spend so many hours with the fruit plants -- particularly the grapevines-- they start to take on a personality of their own, letting you know where and when they need a little TLC.

Today, for instance, as I was tying up the fruiting vines and straightening out the crooked vines, my mind began to wander into the greater food system we have here in America. So many of us get our food at Target or Wal Mart and don't really stop to think where it came from or who grew it. We are missing that connection to the plant or animal that is our food. But, being on this side of the food chain now, I can see things differently. 

And yet some days, when I am knee deep in farm tasks, I think how nice it would be to have a machine to help me do all these chores. And just when I'm having this crazed machine-wishing thought, something happens -- I see something, a vine that isn't quite right or a weed that is just a little too close to a raspberry plant. And I fix it... because I can... because I am not a machine... I am a person... a person who can see and feel... so much more than what a machine can.  And very quickly I am reminded why I love this job so much... it is the connection... the connection I feel to the plants... to the land and to the earth --that is what this labor of love is all about.                                 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

With the help of the warm, dry weather we completed our grape pruning this evening, a relief to both my husband and I. How we did it all in just 2 1/2 weeks... just the two of us.. is a wonder. In fact, many things are "a wonder" to me. People often ask me how we get everything done... and you know what? Honestly, I do not know sometimes.  All I can say is that we just keep doing. We don't stop too long to contemplate how much work we have to do or to fret over what to do next... we pick something and we go.  Because, really... if we sat down to think about it, we would never get up!  Oh yeah... and then there's that other thing... we don't have television!