Memorable First Days At Seven Oaks Farm

Even though this is a very busy time of year on the farm, I’ve been extending myself just a bit further on the family end of things so our efforts around the farm have required a large degree of efficiency on my part. Of course there is nothing wrong with efficiency, but lately I think I feel a bit more as if my toes are being held to the fire…OUCH!toesFor instance, never before have I resorted to picking strawberries (or any other crops for that matter) in the rain, but last week, with so little time to work in the fields, I had no option but to pick strawberries in a steady drizzle. And, I found myself doing this not once but twice already this year! Despite my previous complaints about the excessive rain, the berries have been absolutely beautiful this year. YTD we have picked 64.391pounds of berries which is only about 10.5 lbs more than last year at this point but I’m not going to read too much into that since last year I was picking every other day and this year I decided to pick every day. I don’t really invite others to share much in the picking, but Dave had to jump in to help out while I was in California for a couple of days. He did a wonderful job in my absence but I can tell he now has a greater appreciation for this chore.

At this point in the year It takes about 2 hours to harvest the entire patch but when not rushed, I find it rather therapeutic. I pick each row thus: I straddle the rows (which are about 18-24″ wide), bending at the waist, butt in the air and hands all a kimbo in busy-ness. I’m an ambidextrous picker, using both hands at once to pluck the fruits and place them in the waiting pans. I find this method much easier on the knees than squatting and rising every few feet. Although I’m relieved that no one has the view from the rear, I do feel as if this stance often supplies me with the ability to see the ripe berries from more than one perspective and with plenty of blood in my brain so that I have a chance to think!

Of course, I’m always eagerly looking down the row with anticipation of the next ripe group of berries ahead even tho I’m most actively concerned with picking the ones directly beneath me. But let me just say this: the best berries of all to pick are actually the ones that I discover behind me…they are the ones that I missed when looking in the other two directions. These are the sweetest berry finds since they are blissfully ‘discovered’ by looking at things from a different aspect! Wouldn’t it be grand to have the time in our busy lives to discover and savor those ripened morsels that we might have passed up had we not seen it from a different perspective! This I found to be particularly poignant while picking today since it is our 36th wedding anniversary and I found myself particularly sentimental for lots of reasons. Our future together was always exciting, the present was always busy and productive but some of the hind sights of our life experiences together have perhaps proven the sweetest.

Here are what the last two days worth of berries, (approximately 20lbs) looks like as they sit in one of the refrigerators, awaiting my attention to prepare them for future keeping. Each tray is shouting, “me first” so I do what I can as fast as I can since ripe, home grown strawberries do not have a long shelf life. The reason for this is that when picked at a ripened point, the sugars in the fruit are at the highest level and the cell walls begin to break down quickly, making for a mushy fruit if not dealt with quickly. IMG_7958So once the fruit has been harvested, the work is not nearly done. The berries have to be prepared before eating fresh or any manner of preserving so this is another time hog for me.  Last week before leaving for California, I rushed to get the berries harvested and then was hard pressed to get those berries preserved for the future. With a lack of time, I knew not to attempt any jam making so my friend Joan offered to come over and help freeze a large batch. The two of us stood at the sink washing, stemming and preparing large batches of berries for freezing while chatting away. Had she not helped me, these would have been wasted! In return, of course, Joan will have yummy berries this winter to eat!!! IMG_7887After they firmly freeze on the sheet pans, they tumble, rock-like, into freezer Ziploc bags and are layered back into the freezer drawers. Many more of these to come in the next days! IMG_7888While I was doing this, Dave was focusing on the new tomato staking method. This entails “planting” 8 foot tall 4×4 pine posts (untreated, of course) into the tomato field which will be used for plant supports. Dave did this using the new PTO driven post hole digger. IMG_7877So he staked out the field and measured where each stake would go before drilling for them. Anytime you can use the power of the tractor, you are steps ahead! IMG_7883 Then he “planted” the posts IMG_7880and of course wanted them to line up just so! There are 15 in total to support 30 tomato plants. IMG_7879With off and on rain the past several days, Dave has finally gotten the last of the tomato plants in the ground and we will demonstrate the in-line, twine staking method in a future post!

The orchard trees are exhibiting more and more fruit for the summer and fall crops. Here are the peaches…IMG_7986Apples…

IMG_7980Nectarines… IMG_7982And wouldn’t you know it, the newest strawberry plants are already flowering! We might get a berry or two from these yet!IMG_7977One additional bit…here is a little present…left by one of our owl friends and deposited on the top of one of the blueberry nets…2015-05-24 08.23.45

If you didn’t recognize it right away, it is an owl pellet which I find to be fascinating and apparently I’m not the only one to think this. Kate told me that these are actually sold on the internet to biology classrooms for mini dissections. In case this is a new concept for you, owls devour their prey without fully digesting it. Large pieces of skeletal segments and identifiable bones are found in their excrement, which can make for a forensic study of the owl diet. With a large family of local owls, this is not our first pellet, but rather it seemed like a little gift on the top of the blueberry netting!

In the meantime, I’ve been to California and back to help Kate bring baby Coulter to Saint Louis! There were goodbyes galore from many of the Ward’s friends and I was able to meet some of them. Here is the Garland family with whom Kate has had years of interaction by teaching their 4 four children at school. Others, such as Chris Graves, also supplied savory dinners in those last days of frenetic packing.IMG_7918

The prospect of traveling from LAX to STL with a 4 week old infant was a tiny bit daunting but we managed to pull it off despite a very long day of airport travel. Here is Coulter, with a window seat on the plane, blissfully waiting for take off. He was such a trooper! 2015-05-23 13.03.47Upon arrival in Saint Louis, he met his great-grandmother, Momo, who was eager to see his very blue eyes! This little one provided her with a very special day. 2015-05-24 10.37.54We are delighted to have him finally here and we look forward to his continued presence in our lives! He is too cute! Although Farley is a bit jealous, Nana and Gramps are over the moon! IMG_2841-1I promise to give a bee report next time and maybe even a knitting update!

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