FARM JOURNAL

Here's what we're up to! 
WEEK OF June 16, 2019
Got our yellow early onions harvested. They are a bit smaller than hoped. We are still searching for the perfect variety four our growing season, soil type, etc. The red early onions will be harvested this week. This variety is turning out to be really sweet with bright color!
By the end of the week, we will be harvesting the over winter WW Sweet onions. One harvest will be a welcome change. Getting the people we need, when we need them, for the hand harvest has been a real challenge this year. It is skilled work which is lovely to watch - almost like a dance - with some of the experienced pickers.  We do not have a lot of acre which are harvested over an extended period of time which increases the challenge.
Last year was not a great year for onions of any kind so we and many other growers cut back on acreage. Hopefully, the price and demand will be better this year. The sweets crop looks lovely this year with a nicer size and sweet taste. Get ready to add organic WW sweet onions to your Fourth of July barbecue menu!

 

WEEK OF June 3, 2019
It's 2019 and we're back at it! We planted spinach this spring and we're on our third harvest. The spinach is basically mowed, chopped, and loaded into a big trailer to be trucked to Othello for processing into juice, most of which is used for baby food. (Spinach mower in photo)
There are some minerals in the spinach that are desirable for baby food and some that is not so we watch that carefully as the crop is growing. We harvest at night and only grow spinach in the spring and fall as it does not like hot weather. When it gets too hot, the spinach will bolt (start to go to seed) which makes it tough and not very tasty.
Our sweet onions are looking really good. They have large green stems and are now starting to bulb. Harvest will start in a couple of weeks so we can get them into the stores before the Fourth of July!
This year, for the first time, we over-wintered (planted in the fall) red and yellow onions as well as the Walla Walla sweet onions. The red and yellows look very healthy with vibrant color on the reds. They are still a little small so hopefully they continue to grow in this warm early summer weather. It is summer, right?

 

WEEK OF October 8, 2018
We started kale harvest this week. We will chop and load into a trailer 15-18 tons of kale for processing into juice for smoothies and soups. The processing plant needs the produce to be able to start processing early each morning. Our plan is to send six loads a day. After the kale, we will also chop and send spinach off for baby food. Plus! We will roll into hand and machine harvest butterkin and butternut squash for soup.
We had to get the equipment we use to get the squash harvested up and running before we could start. The harvestor and dump bucket were buried in a mess of weeds with a huge packrat nest inside! Then it could not be moved because the hydraulics wouldn't work. Finally, it was ready to go.
 
The squash are interesting as we need the weather cold enough to set the sugar but not freezing. If it freezes hard, it can damage the fruit making it difficult or even impossible to use the fruit. Especially if it is hand harvested for storage and processing at a later date. Dan has had his crystal ball out trying to gauge the cost, weather, labor, and daylight to decide best how to harvest. There are always all sorts of variables coming from all directions in farming, with little margin for error. To add to the excitement and the thrill of the "gamble", many of those variable are really not within our control. 

 

WEEK OF July 16, 2018

 

2018 wheat harvest is over for us - yeah!  Another one down.  Granted, we do not have a lot of acres of wheat but the feeling of checking another box off the list is a good one.  Low wheat prices and tariff, trade war threats contribute to a lack of excitement about wheat as a farm crop.  Input costs net with revenue - just not exciting - hopefully break even or a slight net positive.  That said sometimes we just leave out some of the fixed or overhead costs so the wheat feels like a productive crop and not just for naught. Whatever keeps you growing, working and coming back to try again the next year!

 

Wheat production for us is all over the board. The poor wheat plants are too often our afterthought crop.  Other items we grow have a much larger potential for profit and are fussier to grow so they get more attention during the growing season.  There actually is only so much time and attention to go around.

 

Combining wheat defines farming from my childhood.  My father in his waning mental clarity still loves combining wheat.  It is the highlight of his year, even if there is snow on the ground and it is 20 degrees below freezing.  He always wants to talk about combining and wheat crop.  It is perpetual wheat harvest, the crop is always stellar and the John Deere combine brand new.  To him the sale of a good wheat crop is what kept him farming and was the definition of success.

 

He still craves going to the fields to view the crops of my brother, cousins, and neighbors from way back (even if they are long gone).  Straight rows (before GPS) were the sure sign of a "good" farmer.  

 

Wheat harvest truly was the culmination of the farming year.  In northwest Montana, wheat harvest meant the end of summer, school looming, and cooler days coming - sometimes we even harvested wheat with snow in the windrows - now that is something.

 

Moving to Walla Walla was an adjustment as wheat harvest starts about July 4th - near the beginning of summer.  The golden stubble fields used to depress me as in my soul it felt the summer was ending.  I had to consciously stop and reflect to change focus away from wheat harvest of my childhood to wheat harvest of my adult life in a different farming area.  Today wheat harvest is the middle of our harvest season.  We start onion harvest in mid June, ending harvest in October with the butternut squash.  Farming for Dan and I is so much more varied with dependency on multiple crops.  We still love wheat and wheat harvest and of course our Big Green John Deere combine but also all the other components of what makes our farm, our farm.

MORE WEEK OF July 9, 2018

 

Last night Dan was home after 10pm coming in from working with the yellow onion harvest crew. They were mowing the tops off the yellow onions with a tractor following lifting the onions (running a blade underneath the onion bed loosening the roots) which was then followed by a third tractor flipping one onion bed (bunch of rows) over onto another making room for harvest equipment to move through the field and not mash any onions. 

 

This morning at 4am two harvest crews started  picking up the onions putting them in big semitrucks.  Dan's crew was able to load four trucks before 7:30am and the other crew only did one truck.  Dan is feeling pretty darn on top of his game with that feat (even though it had little to do with his actual skill)!  The onions have to be harvested before the temperature is 93 degrees hence the late night and early morning activity.  Tomorrow they start before first light again.  Hopefully, Dan will get home in mid-day for a break and some relaxation before heading out again late tonight.

 

With the intense daytime heat there is pressure from all the crops needing extra water or attention because of increased pest pressure or just encouragement to stay the course and not wilt in the intense heat.  The crew also needs extra care and attention as they are tired, working long hours in what has already been a long season. Lots of water and taking breaks when possible is key.  We need all hands on deck working efficiently and smart this time of year.  July is just a nuts month - makes me stressed and tired just writing about it. 

 

We are starting up WW sweet onion harvest after a small lull.  the onions mature more quickly in the intense heat and we are also concerned with sunburn especially on the red onions.  There is an organic product which can help and must be applied in the night time.  With sweet onions it is absolutely key to have onions for the July 4th holiday.  If you miss that window it is an insurmountable obstacle to overcome with your chance of profitability scant.  People love a sweet onion at BBQs or family events so we sell many onions in the days before the holiday and just after. Then as people get back to work and summer settles in there is a lull in demand which means a lull in harvest as the "pipeline" of onions from the farm to packing shed to distribution center to grocery store to customer is full.  We are hoping the demand picks up again soon.  Nothing better than a fresh salad, omelette, sandwich, burger, or steak with organic WW Sweet Onions.  Eat more onions!  

WEEK OF July 9, 2018

 

We are applying organic cow compost on three  of our fields.  This mountain is 1200 tons, 60 truck loads, which will cover one field of 60 acres.  Our mission is to ensure the soil is as health as possible which in turn grows healthy and nutrient rich crops of healthy and nutritious food.  We take multiple soil tests per field throughout the year, before planting a crop and during the growing season to help us decide what is best for the soil. It could be growing different cover crops, or adding specific compost, seawater, fish water, or other appropriate organic products.

Compost is interesting as not all are the same. Compost varies depending on where the cow lives, the breed of cow, and what the cow eats on a regular basis.  It is very interesting to see the differences and we actually "shop" then choose the compost best for our needs depending on the soil and the crop we will be growing. We'll get the compost spread over the field and watered into the soil this week.

WEEK OF JUNE 25, 2018

 

Harvesting our organic Walla Walla Sweet Onions! It wasn't easy - there were a few hiccups with equipment, workers, etc. but they're curing and nearly ready to be sent to the markets. One tractor broke down and just got it fixed yesterday. Humph. Six days of Sweet Onion harvest down a tractor. The kind of stress that causes gray hair and maybe a few wrinkles.

MORE WEEK OF JUNE 11, 2018

 

With the warm weather in May and early June, the WW Sweet Onions are thinking it is time to fall over and quit growing - sooner than we would like.  When mature, the leaves of the onions will tip over and the plant stops growing.  The last week or so, Dan has been trying to slow that process down.  He says onions are a swamp plant so by giving them a lot of water which keeps them damp and cool, this process can be slowed.  This is a challenge as EVERYTHING on the farm is needing water right now in the proper amount at the proper time and for differing amounts of time. Hmmm.... how many hours are there in a day? At this time of year there are never enough.  That said, it is an exciting time of year when the harvests start.  We have been tending growing plants, some since last September, waiting for harvest time to arrive.  When you get to harvest, there is usually little more you can do to assure success.  Once off the field, the weather, weeds, water, etc. are no longer factors.  The die is cast with the hope at the end of the day for each crop, the money coming back will be greater than the money which has already gone out and been spent. 

WEEK OF JUNE 11, 2018

 

We finished Kale harvest!  It was a fun harvest, all went off basically without a hitch.  There are so many moving parts that need to work in tandem when growing for processing.  It is not just cut the crop and when it leaves the field wave goodbye.  The arrival of the empty trailers is the first potential bottleneck, then the harvest process with multiple tractors and people needed, then is there a truck to haul the full trailers to the processing plant.  

 

The biggest potentially expensive bottleneck is the processing plant.  The plant plans to run 24 hours a day but even a small breakdown there can be very expensive with product sitting in a trailer in the hot sun, melting and getting yucky.  Juicing apparently is easier on the equipment at the plant and goes more quickly so there was really no backlog or slow down.

Dan got a chance today to relax, sleep in until 5:18 and...have coffee on the deck before heading out.  When farming intensively these small breaks after work well done are welcome and appreciated.

WEEK OF JUNE 4, 2018

 

12 acres of crop - kale, harvested 2.3 acres yesterday, 6 loads for processing into juice trucked to Othello.  hopefully 6 more loads today.  they are starting literally at first light - man is the phone ringing early but so far so good, trucks, crew, etc. all showed up and the plant was running on schedule.

 

Irrigating and keeping water on all plants still the major challenge, May was really tough as it was hotter than normal.  Moving pipe by hand early in the morning, working to keep the pivot rolling and switching the drip tape so it waters the proper amount for the proper amount of time on the onions and squash, etc.  Very time intensive and chaos filled, especially when the mainline breaks or a pump goes down with electrical issue or just seems to need a vacation or "time away".

WEEK OF June 23, 2019
You're looking at an empty field after our Walla Walla Sweet Onions were harvested! We got Sweets into the stores in time for the Fourth of July and that was our goal. Enjoy!

 

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