Friday, November 5, 2010

2010 season has come to a close

Phew!!! What a season! Looking back now I am able to gain a bit of perspective on the season that just came and went (so quickly it seemed) and reflect on it as a whole. The highlights that come to mind include an excellent peach season. The trees bore heavy, the fruit were large and clean, and the flavor was out of this world. We salvaged a good strawberry season from what I thought in mid may was going to be very disappointing due to the severe freeze the region had on may 10 and 11. We ended up picking what I calculated to be about 80% of a full crop and the fruit was good quality. Thankfully the frost only affected the quantity. Raspberries had their best season ever and could have been better if it weren't for the extreme heat and humidity in mid july which greatly reduced our customer visits and resulted in losing some of the fruit to rot. Blueberries were only 2/3 of a full crop. I wish I knew why! I don't think the may freeze affected them and I also don't think I pruned them to hard which I have been known to do. So I am still working on that question. This was our first year of actually harvesting cherries because we invested in a bird netting system. Those like the peaches were a nice treat this past summer and any one who came to pick some I think really enjoyed the experience. The dry summer weather was perfect for growing cherries which resulted in very little fruit cracking (except for the Rainiers). The memories of this past cherry season are all positive so we will charge ahead and invest in more netting to cover our younger trees. We will see if the memories are just as good next season at this time, the cherries are the riskiest stock in our investment portfolio. Apples went very well this season. almost too well. The ideal marketing weather this fall (NO RAIN) coupled with the early season (we started picking jersey macs in JULY) led to The last apples off a tree being picked at 11am on the saturday of Columbus Day weekend (we ended up selling only drops for the remainder of that 3 day weekend). The season ended at least 2 if not 3 weeks early in my opinion. I would like to develop a PYO apple business where people can rely on Butternut Farm as a source of apples, cider, and pies up until halloween. I bet next year we will still be open the first week in november trying to sell the rest of our apples. Each season is so different.
In addition to the may freeze and the great weather for marketing most of our crops the only other big impact was the fairly extreme drought we had. We ran the irrigation well pumping 15 gallons/minute for 24 hrs a day 7 days a week for the entire month of july, august, and 3 weeks of september. Can somebody tell me how many gallons of water that is? Thank goodness we had irrigation. I don't want to know what our orchards would have looked like with out it. So to increase our irrigation capacity to accomodate the growing farm we hooked in another well to our irrigation system which will add 25gal/min to our capacity. The only problem is everytime we run that well our neighbors' well goes dry! (oops) We are going to have to find a solution to that problem!!
2010 was a great season! Actually our best yet as far as total farm sales. This site and this soil constitute the two key ingredients for a great place to grow fruit. I am looking forward to the 2011 season already! The challenges will surely be different than those of the 2010 season.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What a summer

Giff is very busy growing and selling fruit. When he is not out on the farm he is trying to squeeze in some family time. As I type he is sitting behind me at his desk planning for the week to come. Strawberries will be renovated, the Red Haven peaches still need to have their last thinning, the new strawberries need weeding, the fruiting canes on the raspberries will be pruned, and there is more hand thinning to be done on the apples.
This summer has been unprecedented with it's weather. We are consistently almost 2 weeks ahead on each crop and expect to be picking apples by August 1st.
I have been asking Giff about this blog and he just can't find the time (as you can imagine). As soon as he has time he will let you know what has been happening and what is to come.
We both hope you are finding some relief and fun in this warm summer and are enjoying lots of fresh fruit.
Mae (Giff's wife)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Some kind of spring!!!

Let's recap the weather over the past 4 weeks. Ten days during late march of 70 ish degrees, followed by a low of 18 here at the farm during the first week of april. Then back to warm and now here in mid april a stretch of wet, snowy, cool, sloppy stuff. I think the temperature has been in the 30's for the past 24 hours and there are flowers on the trees. Its kind of odd seeing snow flakes coming down thru the blooming peaches. Our bud development is a solid 2 weeks ahead of schedule which may mean pick your own strawberries will be ready june first and that we will be picking Jersey mac apples in july. but most likely the season will settle out to about normal timing. What this certainly does me though is that things have been hopping around here recently. The boss man has been cracking the whip!!!
So whats the farmer been doing at Butternut since my last blog. Well the apple pruning was finished so then comes the job of clearing all the brush from the orchards. There are options on how to handle the brush removal job. I like to chop the brush in the orchard with a flail mower. Its not only a efficient way to deal with the brush but it is a great way to add valuable organic matter to the soil which activates micro organisms and releases nutrients for the fruit trees to use. Its kind of like completing the cycle for the tree by putting it back to where it came from. The plums and the Cherries have been pruned and again the brush has been chopped just like in the apples (by the way they are both in full bloom). The blueberries are almost done being pruned and the peaches have yet to be started, although it is time to get going on them (they are at about 25% bloom).
Spring is a exciting time on the farm! There is plenty to do and the promise of another season is everywhere you look. New growth on the trees and freshly cultivated fields mean a new season is here and no two seasons ever seem to be the same. This one is definitely proving to be unique.
Still to come this april is peach pruning which usually starts in may, setting up the hydroponic tomatoes and planting them, and one of my favorite things to do... planting new fruit trees. We are setting out about 120 new peach trees and 275 new apple trees this spring. That is a definite sign that spring is here!
That is it for this edition. Thanks for reading and if there is any topics I have missed that you would like to here about post a comment and let me know, it may end up in the next blog.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pruning season is here!!

Mark your calenders for saturday april 3rd at 9am. Strafford county cooperative extension is hosting a fruit tree and bush pruning demonstration here at Butternut Farm. Two of our great county extension agents will be here including Geoffrey Njue and Bill Lord to help clear up the "how to" on pruning fruit trees. Also early spring is a great time here at Butternut Farm because everything is very green and the weeds have not emerged yet. So come out and enjoy a great morning walk around the farm with us.
Well March is the month to start getting those apple trees pruned. I started pruning ours here at Butternut in February to stay on schedule because it takes me some time to get thru them all, but if you have just a couple of trees then any time in march or early april is the best time to prune your apple trees.
If you are not as familiar with pruning fruit trees as I am it may seem a little like reading greek. Well maybe if I describe the thought process I go thru when I prune trees it may help you make some decisions when looking at your trees with the loppers in your hands.
First things first, young trees. Lets call young trees anything 5 years old and younger. These trees are actually very simple to prune. Any young tree out there is most likely planted on a dwarfing rootstock so the central leader pruning system is the tree design of choice. My goal is a tree shaped to look like a christmas tree with lateral fruiting limbs progressively getting smaller as you move up the tree. The simple way of doing this is to entirely remove any limb that is overly vigorous, upright and competing with the central leader of the tree. The way I decide this is if the branch diameter is half the size of the tree trunk where they connect then it needs to be removed. These strong lateral branches will compete for dominance with the central leader of the tree resulting in a less fruitful tree which is more difficult to manage down the road.
Once a tree is full grown which for me is a tree about 12 feet high the thought process changes a bit. The same christmas tree shape is still desired so strong upright limbs are always removed especially in the top half of the tree. Now though you must start thinking about light penetration into the whole tree. The tree is now big enough that if left on its own it will shade itself out and productivity will be lost in the middle and lower part of the tree, so it is up to the pruner to counter this natural tendency of the the tree. "Thinning" cuts are now used, they are very similar to whole limb removal cuts of overly aggressive lateral limbs on "young" trees only now on a full grown tree you may have to cut out some good branches to allow proper light penetration to the ones left intact. This is where it gets more difficult to make decisions. I make my decisions based on these concepts: the bottom tier of branches should consist of 3-4 evenly spaced lateral limbs. These bottom branches are allowed to get larger in diameter but are kept in check with "heading cuts". These are cuts made on the ends of lateral branches to keep them from getting to long. Over the years these heading cuts should produce a nice "spreading" bottom tier of 3-4 scaffold branches. Now above this bottom tier I try to continue whole limb removal as my primary cut I make. As mentioned heading cuts induce lateral spreading of branches which stiffen branches and allow them to get bigger producing more shade for the bottom of the tree. I try to keep my branches above the bottom tier weak and small in diameter, at most one third the size of the trunk where the branch and trunk connect.
Now if you are a homeowner with just a couple of trees in the back yard most likely they were never pruned to the central leader system. They may now be big and umbrella shaped or maybe have not been pruned in a couple of years and just look Bad. So here is where the "art" of pruning comes in. And that is what pruning is. There are never any right or wrong decisions when pruning apple trees. The only "wrong" pruning cut is the one not made because people always tend to leave to many limbs on a tree and we know what that leads to. So I always attack larger trees first with a chain saw. Yes a couple of larger "thinning" cuts made with a chain saw back into the heart of the tree can do a world of good for older trees. Again I target larger wood with an upright growth habit to remove. Upright wood produces vigor and lateral wood produces fruit, remember this when making cuts. Also remember pruning is a renewal process. That means old wood is removed and young wood is left to fill the voids left when a larger limb is cut out. If you get into a habit of "nipping" a tree and cutting off just small limbs eventually all you will have left is a tree with a whole bunch of fire wood sized branches. Large fruiting limbs equal old buds, small fruit, and a lot of vigor. Small weak fruiting limbs equal young fruit buds limited shading of the rest of the tree and larger apples.
A lot to think about but just remember pruning is an art. There are no right or wrong cuts. The saying goes put 5 farmers together to prune one tree and they all will do it differently. They all can't be wrong! The only wrong thing to do is nothing! So go get your pruners sharpened, gas up the chain saw, and go make some cuts this weekend.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

First Post

    Today is February 17th.  A bit of new snow blanketed the farm last night, I always like having snow on the ground during the cold months of winter to insulate the ground hugging strawberry plants and the roots of our fruit trees from damaging cold temperatures, it seems to lead to a better nights sleep!

    During the marketing season many customers ask me this question; What do you do all winter?  Sometimes I don't know where to start so my answers may seem a bit fumbled together. Here in this context I can hopefully better organize my thoughts. 

    First and for most the winter season is the rest time for us here at Butternut.  All the employees have gotten their pink slips till spring and my work week comes down to a much more manageable 30-40 hrs.  The family and I may even take some long weekends to adventure north to ski and maybe a whole week to visit relatives in far off places. Once the vacationing has been scheduled we fill work into the remaining gaps.
There is still plenty to do during this "off season" on a fruit farm. Foul weather days are spent in the office analyzing different enterprises so we can make better informed business decisions moving forward. This is also a time when we make signs. All those signs that we have labeling rows of fruit and directing customers around the farm take a lot of time to make and its nice to do it during a low pressure season like winter. In December and January this winter we relocated some of our deer fencing to enclose another field which will be planted to apples and strawberries this spring. Firewood and building maintenance on the farmstand, barn, or house are always on the list of things to do. Then of course we get to pruning the apples. I like to dormant prune the apples starting in february. If all goes well I should finish the apples by mid-march which leaves the rest of march to get the blueberry pruning done. I could go on a bit about pruning apples trees but it would be to much text for this blog. maybe the next blog I will devote to pruning.
Speaking of pruning UNH cooperative extension is sponsoring a pruning demonstration to be held here at Butternut Farm in early april. I will post the exact date on my next blog. We will cover pruning of all the different fruits we grow here.
Thats it for this one! My next publishing should be in early march. Thanks for reading!