Friday, July 31, 2015

We Have a New Blog Address. Come check it out!


 We have moved to a new blog address!  We think you will like it even more.  

Please click on the new address below to go to the new blog so you don't miss any u-pick apple updates.  The season is just about starting!

 If you have subscribed to the old blog, don't worry, you will still receive the updates in your email inbox.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Last weekend of U-Pick blueberries coming up!

This weekend (July 30-Aug 1) is the LAST weekend we will be open for U-Pick/We-Pick blueberries.  

Still plenty of berries left on the bushes.  Come pick your last round of berries to fill your freezers for the winter!

$1.20/# U-Pick

We will also have half crates, 1.5# clamshells and pints of blueberries available for you to pick up too.

Thur-Saturday 9am-4pm. 

5371 Brooklake Rd NE, Brooks OR 97305

Just 2 blocks east of the only traffic light in Brooks.  Close to 99E

Coming up next to pick at our farm is Gravenstein apples!!  I will post when those are ready but be looking in a week or two.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Blueberries: Machine Picking

NOTE:  We do still have U-Pick/We-Pick Blueberries.  Available Thurs-Saturday, 9am to 4pm.  Still lots of berries left!  5371 Brooklake Rd NE, Brooks OR 97305.  (4 blocks from U-Pick apple location.) $1.20/lb

Still blueberry picking time around here!

One of our fields we pick with a machine.  The rest we hand pick. This is a side row blueberry picker.  There are also more commonly used over the row pickers.  We use this side row kind because it fits under our low bird netting. 

We have 5 people on the machine.  One driving, and 4 in the back sorting and stacking empty and full crates.  This year we would start at 2am picking.  In the previous years, we have started later in the  AM but found that picking earlier helps the berries come off more easily.

Below is a picture of where the bushes go through the machine.  The beater bars shake the bush from both sides and knock the berries off.

When the berries fall, they are caught by these plastic arm sheets and roll to the white cups you see lining both sides.  The plastic arm sheets actually swing open as they hit the base of the blueberry bush.  So while they do catch many of the berries, we also lose much on the ground.  (Picture below)  One way to help reduce fruit drop loss is to prune the base of your bushes so they are very narrow.  


In the video, if you look closely, you can see the berries falling and rolling over to the side.

Here is how many berries that are lost on the ground.  Painful!

Another negative is the blueberry picker machine will also pick some greens.  Whenever you pick greens, you are losing some of your next picking.  It will negatively affect your yield.

(That to say, we are pretty novice at picking with a machine.  Plus our machine is very old.  I believe the newer over the row blueberry pickers and if we had more experience, would probably pick less green.) 

This is the other side of the blueberry picker.  Between where the 2 people are standing, there is a sorting belt and it is where the berries drop into the crates.

These crates don't looks so bad.  They have less green berries.

Why would a blueberry grow choose to machine pick over hand pick?

Some berries don't ship well to far away places, so they can't easily be sold fresh.  So instead that berry would go to the process market, which means, either frozen, dried or as juice.

It also can largely depend on the price you as a grower are being paid per pound.  If it is a low price, then you cannot afford to pick it by hand.  This year it cost us $0.70 per pound to pay a picker to hand pick.  When you are only being paid $1.00 per pound for fresh market, you are losing money after you add up all your expenses to grow the berries.

It costs $0.10-.15 to harvest per pound to machine pick so that is much less expensive.  The downside is you get paid less for machine picked berries.  This year it is likely $0.70.  Factor in the berries that get dropped on the ground (which happens also with hand pick but not as bad), and how much dockage you get.  Dockage is the percentage of berries that have to be sorted out because they are green, not yet ripe enough, soft or shriveled.  We have dockage for hand pick too but usually it isn't as high of percentage.

So it can depend on the variety you grow, what the market will pay you or if you just can't get any pickers to show up!

Anymore questions you all have?  Let me know!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Harvesting Grass seed: Combining

NOTE:  We do still have U-Pick/We-Pick Blueberries.  Available Thurs-Saturday, 9am to 4pm.  Still TONS of berries left!  5371 Brooklake Rd NE, Brooks OR 97305.  (4 blocks from U-Pick apple location.)  Also dark Sweetheart cherries available this week.  They are at their sweetest!  So amazingly good.

Well the swathing of grass seed is finished and now we are on to combining!

Like I explained in the previous post, combines separate the seed from the straw.  We keep the seed and the straw gets blown out the back to lay on the field.  It is a slow process because you can only drive 1.9 - 2.2 mph!  But it is the best job on farm- air conditioning, radio, low stress, and there is a buddy seat so sometimes you can have a friend! ha

You have to watch the humidity to know when you can start combining.  You want it less than 50% humidity otherwise you might not be shaking all the seed off that is there.  If it is a good, dry day, combining usually happens between 10am and 10pm. But Saturday, I was still sitting here at 3pm waiting to combine because there is too much moisture in the air.  When it is a cloudy or wet season, sometimes you have several days of 4pm-10pm, and it makes for a long season because you can't get much done each day.  Rain is not good for grass seed harvest either.  Sometimes you have to wait and wait days for the rows to dry out, seed can mold, or the grass underneath the swathed rows can start growing again and you will see it trying to push through!

This week, my son was excited to come ride with me.   He is almost 4.  Last year he rode with me and I thought he would last about 1/2 hr and he'd be ready to move onto something else.  He ended up lasting 3 1/2 hours, talking and asking questions the whole time!  I was pretty amazed.  This year he lasted quite awhile too but feel asleep after an hour.  And this for a boy that doesn't nap anymore! 

My daughter got her chance to ride in the combine for the first time too this weekend.  She rode with my dad while I got a little break.  Looks like I'm going to lose my combining job sooner than I think.  First time in, and she is already driving!

After a field is combined, the straw that is left in the field is either baled or it can be chopped up and let lay on the field.  A lot of times it depends on what price you get for the straw and also the field needs.

Lastly the field gets mowed and it waits to grow another year!

So that is what is happening right now on the farm.  Thanks for checking in!

Grass seed Harvest: How to Know When to Swath the Grass.

If you are looking for blueberry u-pick/stand information, check the 2 previous posts.  Yes there are TONS of berries available to be picked!

It is harvest time for our grass seed fields.  Beforehand, we check each field to see which one is the most ripe. 

Below is the grass seed.  To check if a field is ready, we randomly pull off some seed heads.  If they have any green color they are not ready.  If they look tan, then you push down in the middle of the seed to see if it feels firm or doughy.  We want it firm and that means it is ripe!

There are other methods of checking ripeness, including microwaving the seed but above is how we did it this year.

To start harvest, we have to cut the grass and lay it into rows.  We use a swather for this and the process is called swathing.  We swath the grass late at night and early morning because there will be dew on the fields.  The wetness helps keep the seeds attached to the stem so we don't lose any on the ground.  If we did it in the heat of the day, it could just shatter right off.  We have no way to harvest the seed once it hits the ground.  We let it lay in rows for 10 days to dry out. 

The combine then picks up the rows and separates the seed from the straw.  The seed gets collected into a big bin in the combine and the straw gets discarded out the back.  Next, the seed gets dumped into a big truck.  The truck will take the seed to a seed cleaning plant.  There the weed seeds and grass seeds that are blank (not viable) get removed so only pure seed remains.  It gets bagged up, then eventually makes it to the consumer to plant their lawns, etc! 

Above is the swather we use.

What I learned one of the mornings we swathed is that it gets light before 5am and there was lots of thunder over Mt. Hood.  And that I will definitely sleep really well tonight after starting at 2am!  But I do love this time of year!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

We will be CLOSED for U-Pick on Saturday, July 4th.

We WILL be open Thursday and Friday from 9am to 4pm.

The blueberries are still beautiful and super easy picking.  You will love it, I promise!

We will have the dark Sweetheart cherries available too.  This may be the last week they are available but they may surprise me and hold well on the tree until the following week.  If you must have some, I'd get them this week though just to be safe.

Thanks to all who came and enjoyed our berries last week!


Hope you all have a great 4th!

(For location and more information about u-pick blueberries, please check the previous post.)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

U-Pick/We-Pick Blueberries are now open!

We will be open Thursdays thru Saturdays starting today!  9am-4pm.

bb blog picture

Blueberries likely will last through July. 

Our u-pick field and stand where you can buy pre-picked blueberries is located at 5371 Brooklake Rd NE, in downtown Brooks.  Just 1/4 mile east of the only traffic light in Brooks.

$1.20 per pound for u-pick.

Cash or check only.  We also accept WIC and Farm Direct coupons.

Hope to see you there!  The berries are easy to pick, big and beautiful!  You will be picking off of 20 year old bushes so they are LOTS of berries! 

Monday, June 15, 2015

U-Pick Blueberries are Comin' Up!

U-Pick blueberries will be here soon!  For a guess around the 25th of June, give or take.  We will be open Thursday thru Saturdays from 9am to 4pm this year.

We have a large field of Bluecrop blueberries.  They are our sweetest and biggest berries.  Located off of Brooklake Rd a 1/4 mile east of the only traffic light in downtown Brooks (99E and Brooklake Rd.  If you see a blueberry field covered with netting, that is the one!

More details to come once we know an exact open date.

blueberry plants

My daughter got to pick her first blueberry this year!  At first she didn't seem to believe me that she could eat one.  But after I popped one into my mouth, she couldn't stop eating them it seemed!
We also put our blueberry net up again for the year over 10 acres of berries.  Each year we get a little better idea how to put it up faster.

kallan first time picking

net 2


Our commercial blueberries we started picking Friday which is crazy earlier than normal.  We are all ready though so it is not a major stress.  Plus it is so wonderful each time we get those blueberries off the bushes!  We have a year's worth of time and money investment into those little things so the last few weeks can get a little stressful thinking of all the things that could go wrong right before you can get them picked.

The u-pick apples are about the size of a golf ball right now!  They are growing well, trying to get prepared for all you visitors in the fall!

We are also growing Radish Seed, Kale Seed, Tall Fescue grass seed, and Corn this year.  Our combine will be busy this year!

Miss all the activity you guys bring when you come to pick our apples!  But this year has flown by already so I know the fall will be here in no time.

Hope you are enjoying the summer so far!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Springtime came fast!

Well somehow it is spring here!

We had to go into overdrive a little near the end of pruning our apples.  Because of the weather, everything is 3 weeks early so far this year so our winter seemed to go quickly!

We sometimes hire this machine to come top our trees.  We still have to do lots of hand pruning afterwards to do.  We like our trees pretty low so sometimes this machine doesn't quite cut low enough.  The person driving it is practically barricaded into a metal cab just in case one of the round cutter blades were to come off, but more so they don't get pelted with flying branches.

apple topper 2 apple topper

before topping
apple trees topped

small apples
Little apples starting to grow. About pinky finger size now and smaller.
even smaller
Different apple variety, a little farther behind.

We hung our bug pheromone sticky traps in the apples to keep watch for any codling moth.  (Codling moths are the bugs you can thank for worm holes in your apples.)  This year we also hung in each tree a mating disruptor for the codling moth.  It is a little ring you slide over a branch near the top of the tree.  It's pheromone (smell a bug can smell) confuses the codling moths so they can't find each other to mate.  Pretty cool because it is an organic method to repel codling moths.  We are excited to see how well it works.
mating disruptor
Can you see the orange circle band? That's the mating disruptor.
outside bug trap
inside bug trap
No codling moth in the trap! Just some flies and some other small bugs that I need to find out what they are.

sticks straightening apple trees
A row of our trees was starting to lean. So we had to straighten all the trees with these 2x4's and tighten the wire. Should help a bunch.

 Other Farm Happenings:


A majority of the blueberries are done blooming too.  Whew we made it through without a frost!  Each developmental stage the blueberry goes through has a different cold temperature it can withstand before it is ruined.  When the berry is in full blossom, it can withstand 28 degrees.  Right after the blossom falls off, where you have a tiny green berry, it can only stand 32 degrees.  This is actually where we are right now so we are at the most vulnerable stage.  Thankfully the forecast looks good.

Here is a good site to see pictures of this:

We are also walking our grass seed fields, hoeing out any grasses that are not Tall Fescue grass.  We already did a pass through in the fall and got the majority but now is the time to check again.  It is especially important to do a good job on the grass fields that were just planted in the fall.  If you start your field off clean, it will be much easier to manage as the years go by.  We keep our grass fields in for a minimum of 3 years, many times longer if the yield is still doing well.  You don't want any weed seeds, especially other grass seed types, in your field.  After harvest, our grass seed gets tested up at Oregon State.  There are 225,000 seeds in one pound of Tall Fescue grass seed.  If they find more than 1 weed seed (especially another type of grass seed), you may have to renegotiate with your grass seed buyer for a lower price, or the buyer can choose to reject your seed, since we signed a contract stating our grass seed would be clean up to their standards. So that's why when you see a whole line of people slowly walking a grass field in a line, that is what they are doing!

Well I am off to work (on what seems to be) too much paperwork for our upcoming annual Global Gap blueberry food safety audit in July.  If I don't get started now, I will never get it done! That is starting to be one of the hardest parts about Spring, having to be inside working on this when there are so many other important things to do. I'm not against the audit at all in theory but in reality it seems to take up so much of my time each year.  I did just finish all the paperwork for our Norpac Stewardship Food Alliance audit so that is one checked off the list!  I will keep plugging away...and at least I can have the door of the office open so I can get some fresh air!

Monday, January 12, 2015

What do we do all winter? Continued...

It is the new year already!  We are enjoying the winter with the slower pace.
Today we attended an all day meeting educating us about all the plant production product label updates.  The speakers share about research trials that have been done that show what products work best for weeds, disease, etc for the crops grown in the Willamette Valley.  We also learned about updates from the Oregon Department of Agriculture about what is coming down the line in the legislature and other government regulations about rules that will affect farmers.  Sometimes it gets pretty overwhelming all the regulations that farmers have to comply with.   I wish farmers and neighbors, and community in general could just work things out between themselves instead of having to have all these rules that come with so much paperwork.   I know I am just dreaming though because this is not a perfect world.

pruning more Lazaro pruning

We have 6 employees out pruning our blueberries.  It takes them about 3 months to prune all the blueberries which is nice for them so they can have year-round work.  Next they go prune the apples.   Every year we have to decide how aggressive to prune the blueberries.  If we prune really hard we will get fewer but bigger berries but if we prune too light, then we will have lots of really small berries which is not the best.   So we usually shoot for the middle ground.
When we start pruning a blueberry bush, the first thing we do is look at the base of the plant and see if there are any new growth whips that are too small to keep.  We cut them off at the ground.  Next we look to the middle of the bush.  It is important for blueberries to have light and air flow in the middle of the bush (plus makes it easier to pick later) so we take out any branches that cross through the middle horizontally or thin out any areas in the middle that are really compact with branches.   It is most efficient to identify if there are any whole stems/branches you can cut out first because you might as well not thin the top of the plant, then decide later, that you want to take out that whole stem and branch anyway.  Next we look to the top of the bush and thin that out.
before pruning Liberty
Before pruning (Liberty variety)
liberty before pruning 2014-2015
After pruning (Liberty plant)

bb pruning

The picture to above is of a branch that has not been pruned yet.  The very end of the branch needs pruned off because it is a brown dead branch anyway.  Then next we would have to decide how many shoots off the main branch we would take off.  Since these are Liberty blueberries and our goal this year is to grow our plants bigger, we would prune some of those side branches off.  Hopefully the plant will not have to share so much energy with producing all the small berries,  that some of the energy can go into plant growth. Also, the smaller the thickness of the side branch, the less size of fruit it will produce, so we take those off first.   Hopefully all this makes sense.  Hard to explain when I can't point exactly at things.

liberty blueberries

It also depends on how hard you prune by what variety of blueberry you have.  We have 3 different varieties and each is different.  In our Dukes, that are finicky to grow, if we get any new growth from the bottom we are lucky, so we DO NOT cut it off because it is precious.  But in a Liberty blueberry field, we have tons of new shoots (growth) coming from the bottom so we will be more aggressive and take quite a bit off.
We also had our blueberry fields limed recently.  If you were to see the fields, you would have thought it snowed!  I don't know if you have ever driven by some open dirt fields and they are covered in white and you wonder what it is.  They have been limed too.  Lime is a naturally occurring product that farmers apply to keep their fields at a pH that is best for their specific crops.  Blueberries are very picky about what pH the soil needs to be at in order to grow well.
We usually apply lime if we change the  crop we grow on our land.  For instance, when we are growing grass seed, those fields usually stay in at least 3 years so for 3 years we don't have a chance to apply lime.  So the year that grass field is taken out, we would apply lime that year because we have the chance to incorporate it into the soil.

blueberry lime

Between educational meetings, checking on the blueberry pruning, and making decisions for the coming season, we also like to do some organizing around the farm in the winter.  This year we are focusing on our storage areas.  With farming, there are so many diverse things we do and we have extra parts or leftover supplies from everything.  We are always trying to figure out ways to organize it well, or what things can we get rid of or will need in the future.  And what things we should get rid of or keep is always debatable between the generations :)

Speaking of organizing, I better get back at it!