Cherry time!

cherry close-upAs you can see, we are witnesses to the growth of some gorgeous tart cherries around these parts.  Tart cherries are different from sweet cherries in a number of ways, but the most obvious way is that most folks don’t relish the idea of popping tart cherries into their mouths one after another.  These guys, as their name suggests, are tart.  You can see that their color is a much brighter red than sweet cherries, and their flesh is much softer.  The seed pops right out.  In fact, when picking these cherries, it’s not uncommon for the seed to remain stuck to the stem when you pull the cherry itself off of the tree.  These are the cherries that delicious pies and dried cherries are made from.  They are extremely perishable; you won’t see these guys in a grocery store.  If you happen to stop by our stand in the next week or two, make sure to pick up a box to experiment with.

vermin in the cherriesYou won’t find a sweet cherry on our property — the birds love them and a rain shower at the wrong time will split sweet cherries promoting rot and leading to the loss of a previously good crop of cherries.

Dave picking cherriesDave is trying to pick all of the cherries with the stem on so that they keep a little better.  All the other cherry trees are covered with leaves.  We’re not sure why this tree is so abnormal, but you can see that the leaves are sparse and small and the cherries are very visible.  Dave said he’ll be interested to see if the tree starts pushing out leaves now that he’s picked all the fruit.

peachTwo rows over from our tart cherries are the first variety of peaches called Rich May.  They have beautiful color, but are still small and are definitely not ready.  In another week or two, these guys will be ready to pick.  It always surprises us how fast peaches get ready in the orchard at this time of year.
immature peachI took this picture at a peach tree right across the row from the Rich May.  These peaches will be ready in about a month.

brotherly loveAnd finally…we’ve all been a little distracted these days…mainly because of this new little man in our lives.  Elliot James was born about a month ago, and both Caleb and Benny are enthralled.  Life is busy for me, doing all the things I usually do while taking care of Elliot and keeping his brothers from pulling him from his bouncy seat, laying on top of him, or picking him up and maiming poor Elliot for life.

 

 

 

 

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The long-awaited Spring

Things are starting to look promising around here.  After a cold and cloudy spring, blooms and the promise of the harvest to come makes us hopeful and grateful.  All of these pictures were taken a little more than a week ago, and I’ll to my best to update before the week is out.

cherry trees

If you would come driving up the west side of our orchard, you would see our sour cherry trees.  Last year the young cherry trees didn’t  give a whole lot of fruit, but we’re hopeful that this year’s crop will be much better.

peach blossomThe peach trees, while once clothed in glorious pink blossoms, are starting to lose their petals to reveal the tiny peach fruit beneath.

baby peachOnce the peach is revealed, we wait a couple weeks to make sure that the peach doesn’t drop and then start the long process of hand thinning the peaches.  (More on this once the thinning starts.)

blooms on treeApples bloom later than peaches, so the apples are in full bloom right now.

apple blossomApple blooms, unlike peach blooms, do not leave a baby apple within the blossom.  Instead, the blossom will stay with the apple for the remainder of its life.  The little bump you see behind the blossom will continue swelling and is the actual apple.  If you turn an apple over and look at the bottom, that is the blossom end.

bee hivesApples, unlike peaches, also require pollination to form.  While we probably have enough wild bees buzzing around the orchard for pollination, Dave always likes to ensure that we do have enough of the busy little pollinators.  This year we borrowed our neighbor’s bees.  During pollination we always hope for sunny and warm weather.  Bees are a little like humans in the aspect that cold, cloudy weather makes them want to stay inside the hive.

blueberry bushes

Our blueberry bushes in this picture are just about ready to start blooming.  We only planted these guys last year, but we’re hoping to bring some juicy blue fruit to market this year.

greenhouse aisle

And to the greenhouse.  This perpetually cloudy spring has our tomato plants expending all of their energy desperately stretching towards the sky, searching for sunlight.  At times Dave was pretty depressed at the lack of the color red in our greenhouse, but now…at last…

red tomatoes… some fruit that we can eat!   Happily Dave has collected enough tomatoes to come to market this Saturday.  Hooray!  Wahoo!  The first juicy bite of tomato after a long, dreary winter without them is one of the highlights of our spring.  The plan is that we will come to Rittenhouse with tomatoes this Saturday and then will come to Clark Park with tomatoes the following week.

These tomatoes are worth the trip!

A Farmer’s Work is Never Done

While Dave no longer is going to market, this doesn’t mean that he’s sitting around twiddling his thumbs.  (Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dave twiddling his thumbs.)

Traditionally, the day after Christmas is tomato planting day.

planting seedsDave staples some paper together to make a little sling for the seeds, then using the tip of a pencil, puts one seed in each hole.

display of seeds

These are the tomato seeds.  He said that this was a couple hundred dollars worth of seeds.

seed packetHe orders a very specific kind of seed which produces the tomatoes that you have come to know and love.  They are called Trust.

I have been a neglectful blogger, and didn’t take pictures for about a month.  I’ll try to describe what happens next.

When he is done he sprinkles a slight amount of potting soil on top and  pours water into the bottom of the tray where these brown seed plugs are.  The seeds plugs absorb the water and make a nice moist environment for the seed to germinate.  The trays are placed on a heat mat, covered with a special plastic, and placed under grow lights.  Once he sees about an inch of the plant, he will transplant it to a larger pot.

Today Dave took some pictures of the greenhouse for me.  This is what the plants look like right now.

rows of tomatoesHe has special grow lights on the tomatoes to artificially lengthen their time of daylight.

our years' supply of tomato plantsThese 6.5 tables of tomato plants will fill our greenhouse and keep you supplied with tomatoes from spring until summer.  It’s kind of hard to believe.

tomatoes like it hotTomatoes like it hot.  This leads me to the next set of pictures.

enclosure for tomatoesDave heats the greenhouse with a wood furnace.  He does most of the tree-chopping-down and likes to conserve as much heat as possible.  This little enclosure currently holds all the tomatoes and is the only part of the greenhouse being heated right now.  The black bags you see outside the enclosure have a mixture of top soil and potting soil and will eventually hold the tomato plants once they get a little bigger.

Dave spent the last few weeks putting in a curtain “ceiling” to conserve more heat once he is heating the entire greenhouse.  The greenhouse is only heated at night time.  During the day the wood furnace doesn’t need to burn wood since the sun efficiently heats the greenhouse all by its lonesome.

partially open

This curtain will ensure that at nighttime Dave will only be heating the bottom part of the greenhouse where the plants are, not the eaves of the greenhouse where the plants aren’t.  You  can see in the above picture that the curtain is halfway open (or closed…I’m an optimist).  During the daytime the curtain will be completely open to allow the sun’s heat to heat the greenhouse and at nighttime it is closed to conserve heat.

closedThis shows the curtain in its nighttime position — completely closed.

top of curtainHere you can see the curtains from above in the fully open position.  These curtains will eventually be on a timer.  Currently Dave manually opens and closes them.

Dave was so ready for this greenhouse curtain job to be done.  You may find this hard to believe, but he was positively giddy the day that the curtain was finished and he could start working outdoors pruning apples.

pruning 1This may not look like a dream job to you, but right now Dave is just loving his work.  He is pruning apple trees, cutting off any unnecessary branches to promote good apple production.  He was trying to explain his methods to me over lunch the other day.  The main jist is that you have to identify the central leader — the main trunk, and make sure that the other branches aren’t growing larger than the main trunk.  Also, pruning, counter-intuitive to what you may think, promotes growth.  A pruned tree will grow much more vigorously than an unpruned tree.

pruning 2

Dave works with a small hand pruner and a large lopper to get some of the bigger branches.  It’s cold work, but he’s loving it.

Baking Day

It has been such a long time since my last post, and I apologize.  I have a few catch-up pictures to show as well as updates on what’s going on around our farm these days.

Dave said that he promised some of your pictures of baking.  I intended to just post a few pictures of baking day, but I’m having a hard time choosing only a few, so you’re going to have to humor me while I show you all the pictures of baking.  I think I will split this post in two.  One for baking…the other for updates.

the bakers

Behold the bakers.  I am on the right side in the middle with the red shirt.  My sister Andi is in green and my sister Kate is in the back, also with a red shirt.  My sisters and I are the main bakers.  Usually one of them comes and helps me to mix up dough Thursday night and then Friday morning we all start baking.  Andi gave birth to a precious little girl at the beginning of baking season, so my mom and grandma came to help out.  Andi had a hard time staying away (we have a really great time together), so she came to bake even when she probably shouldn’t have.  We are filling apple turnovers in this picture.

I suppose I’ll show you pictures of our magnificent apple peeler  first.  This thing is amazing.  If we didn’t have the efficiency of this baby, it would literally add an hour onto our baking day.  Here my mom and grandma are peeling, coring, and slicing apples.  I’ll try to walk you through the process.

our magnificent apple peeler

It helps to have two people running this machine.  One person puts the apples on and peels while the other catches the peeled and cored apple as it rolls down the ramp, checks for any unpeeled or uncored sections and then slices.

apple on peeler

I wish I would have gotten a pictures from the others side.  The first step is to firmly push an apple onto the prongs.  To the right of the apple you can see a copper piece.  This is the piece that peels the apple.

peelingWhile it is being peeled, a second piece cores it.  The corer remains stationary while the apple spins and moves forward.  Once the apple is peeled and cored, the corer deposits it on the ramp by pivoting down , and the core which remains in the corer is discarded.

peeled apple ready to be slicedOnce the apple comes down the ramp, it is placed on this slicer which is pretty much an inverted home apple slicer.  Instead of pushing an apple slicer down onto the apple like you would at home, the apples is placed on top of the knives and the white plunger above is slammed down on the apple, pushing the slices into the waiting bus tub underneath.sliced apples

Dave did video me doing this.   We don’t have the most amazing video recorder, and I didn’t practice what I was going to say, but if you want to see it in action, here it is.

 

I am a baker by nature.  I get great satisfaction out of producing a delicious product from a few simple ingredients.  There’s something about rolling out and shaping dough that makes me happy, and for this reason, I suppose, the following pictures of pie making just thrill me.

rolling out dough  We found a marble pizza table at an auction, and it is absolutely perfect for rolling out pies.  Two of us can roll out pies at a time.  You can see the flecks of butter and lard in the dough…  It’s a beautiful thing.

before putting the top crust

ready for crimpingcrimpingMy sister Kate demonstrates her crimping skills.

unbaked pieThis is what the pie looks like right before it goes in the oven.  We bake our pies in pizza ovens.  I chose pizza ovens because it was most like my own oven at home.  It’s not quite as even as a convection oven which uses fans to circulate the heat, but I like the look of a pie baked in a pizza/deck oven.

finished pies

And here we have the finished pies.  Since we make our pies so full of apples, they do cook out a bit during baking.  My grandma loves to eat the boiled over apple on the parchment paper.  It’s almost like an apple taffy.  We line the pans with parchment paper, but it still takes a good bit of elbow grease to clean some of the pans.

glazing poptartsI failed to get any good pictures of making some of the other baked goods, but this is Andi glazing poptarts.  This is one of the last things we do before we finish.

I’m sorry if this post made you hungry for baked goods that will only appear next fall.  I hope you enjoyed a little look into what we do in the bakery.  We only bake on Fridays, and it’s a good thing too.  It’s an exhausting day!  Being moms to toddlers is one thing.  Running around all day, rolling out chilled dough, and rushing to get everything done makes for very tired mommas at the end of a day.  But one thing is for sure; we all take an immense amount of pride in our pastries and get immeasurable joy out of the tantalizing apple, cinnamon and butter smell which fills the bakery, golden pastries as they cool on the rack, and flaky goodness getting placed on trays and sent off to market.  Yes…we do love baking.

Cider Pressing

Dave was excited to start pressing apple cider at our new farm this year.  We wanted to walk you all through what it takes to make apple cider (which by the way should always be 100% smooshed apple)

 

The first step of the process is that Dave dumps the apples into this elevator which transports the apples into the cider room and to their final destiny.

 

The elevator dumps the apples into the bin of this menacing looking machine.  Its job is to simply chop the apples finely so that they can be easily pressed into cider.

This is what the apples look like after a trip through the grinder.

And now…behold…the Squeezebox SX200.

She’s a beauty, is she not?  So, this is how the cidermaking happens…  Dave has a foot pedal that engages the pump on the tank that holds the chopped apple.  He fills each bag with the apple, being careful to fill each bag equally so as not to put strain on the machine.

As the apple fills the bags, the cider is already starting to drip out of the bags.  The pan of the cidermaking machine is covered with a cheesecloth to keep any errant chunks of apple out.

Now, this is the beauty of this machine.  You notice that Dave filled the right side of the Squeezebox.  The left side was compressed.  Dave pushes a button and the right side starts to squeeze while the left side, which Dave had filled earlier with the chopped apple, begins to expand.

And now, the exciting part.  All Dave has to to is push yet another button and the whole left side starts to lift.

 

And…wham!  Apple pulp emptied!

This is all that remains of the apple.  You can see little bits of apple skin, but it really doesn’t taste good at all.  All of the apply goodness has been extracted.

And that is how our cider is made.  After the cider is squeezed, it is run through a silver box that treats our cider with a UV light.   The cider temperature is only raised by a few degrees, so the cider still tastes fresh and cool, but is void of any bacteria which keeps the FDA and our customers happy.

The cider then runs into a big plastic holding tank when then gets bottled into containers.  I don’t have a picture of this since I took pictures at the beginning of the day and bottling happens at the end.

For Dave, this is the perfect cidermaking operation for him.  The only problem is it takes a long time to set up and a long time to clean up.  The quick part is actually making the cider.

If you have any questions about the cider or the cidermaking process or would like to see more detailed pictures, just let me know.

Apple Season is Upon Us

It doesn’t feel like it should be apple season yet.  Late August does not evoke feelings of cozy mugs of steaming apple cider, frosty mornings or brightly colored leaves, but our apple trees are declaring the start of fall.

Our apples are on trellis, which means that they are tied up on a framework of wires allowing support for the apple trees, sunlight to penetrate to each apple and allow quick picking from a wall of apples.

Dave picks apples into an apple picking bag.

Note the ropes with knots holding up the bottom of the bag.

When Dave has filled the bag, he goes over to the bushel crates, lifts the knots out of the holders and allows the apples to gently tumble into the crate.


Sometimes other more precious objects find their way into Dave’s picking bag.

This particular day, Dave was picking Cortland.  Cortland is an old-fashioned apple that has a natural skin protector.  Dave rubbed the cloudiness off to show the difference between a shined apple and an apple with its natural coating.

Other varieties almost ready to pick are Mutsu and Fuji.

This rather gigantic Mutsu apple is soon ready to be picked.

Caleb and Benny are not too helpful for getting work done in the orchard.

What a little rain will do

Since my last post (a good while ago) we have gotten rain, and lots of it.

This puddle forms in front of our house every time there is a heavy rain. We haven’t seen this puddle too often this year, but we’re are glad that it’s back.

While we do have irrigation on our peaches, the recent rains have caused the peaches to swell.  Dave has been picking some gorgeous peaches this week.  Peach-picking has really ckicked into high gear.  This is the time of year when Dave is short on sleep and rich in peach fuzz coating his arms and neck.

I wish you could see this peach tree in real life. A photograph doesn’t do it justice. There’s something a little Christmas-like about these red orbs hanging on a dark green tree.

When Dave got done picking this tray and had to stop to admire it. Again, pictures just don’t do justice.

To give an idea of the size of these peaches, I picked one up to try to give a little perspective.  That peach right there is a meal.

Here is a full stack of peaches ready to be taken to the cooler and replaced with a stack of empty trays to be filled again.

The white nectarine trees are an eye-catching color explosion. I wasn’t planning on taking a picture, but as I was walking by, I just couldn’t resist.

Our apples are loving the rain, too. The honeycrisp are starting to get that before-picking blush.