October 4, 2012: We've had some awesome fall weekends - the colors and view from our ridge-top view couldn't be more spectacular! The pumpkin patch is still full of great pumpkins of all sizes, shapes and shades of orange. This weekend's weather promises to be cool, crisp and exhilarating. It will be the perfect fall time to pick pumpkins, enjoy some hot apple cider and apple cider donuts, stock up on apples and other apple treats from our on-farm store.
September 21, 2012: This pumpkin crop is truly the best pumpkin crop we've ever had. We watered, watered and watered our way through this drought and the pumpkins look great. On average the pumpkins are larger than we've ever had. We have plenty of all sizes. The white pumpkins look great too. We're still putting the "fall" touches on the place - a little paint here and a little repair there - but it's all coming together for a great fall season. The corn maze is up and running - it could have used more rain to get a little taller crop but it will be fun anyway. Iowa's apple crop is down 85% state-wide that includes ours too. But we've brought in apples from MN and MO so we will have plenty of fresh apples for our customers. Apple pies are being churned out today for this weekend. Baked or frozen pies and caramel apples are available every weekend.
August 4, 2012: It's been a long time since I've made a post. This season, without a doubt, has been the most challenging season we've gone through due to the drought and extreme heat. We finally got some much needed rain today - 6/10" of an inch, which is better than nothing. We received only 3/10" in the whole month of July! The good news is that the pumpkin plants look great, bees are working steadily and pumpkins are growing! Our corn maze was planted a little late this year and has struggled to grow due to the lack of rain but today's rain will help a lot.
2011 Season Update
September 20, 2011: The on-farm store is up and running - we've been open for two weekends now. We've even begun to sell pumpkins. The early pickers get the cream-of-the-crop! But not to worry, there are a lot of great pumpkins this year. This is probably the best crop we've ever had. We're trying to get ready for the Apple and Pumpkin Fest weekend coming up this weekend. We added "pumpkin" to our Fest title this year to hi-light the fact that our pumpkin patch is not incidental to what we do and the fact that our visitors make picking pumpkins at our farm an annual event with family and friends. We're told that our pumpkin patch is one of the best pumpkin patches around and it's a big part of what we do. Pumpkins are as much a part of our farm as apples. We have a few weeds to pull in the patch before the weekend but it will get done - we like things neat and clean for our visitors. We added a fun walking trail called "off-the-beaten-path" to give our customers another way to enjoy just being with family and friends and the beautiful outdoors! We will also have plenty of apples for our customers as well. Our apples are all picked by us for a number of reasons. We have apples for fresh eating or baking. Current information will be posted on our facebook page.
August 24: Thankfully, we received some timely rains last week. The pumpkin plants continue to put on new blooms, set new pumpkins and grow big pumpkins that have been on the vines for awhile now. All-in-all the pumpkin patch looks great! We picked some early apples over the past two weeks - most of these will go into pies and applesauce for purchase in our store. We began the big task of cutting down trees and shrubs along the road to improve visibility leading up to our lane. We've also cut a walking trail into the woods by our retail sales building; just another thing to see and do when visitors come out on the weekends. A lot of time has been spent cleaning the building; both the retail and storage areas. Just about everything that could be washed clean with the power washer was. Signs have been repainted and everything is getting spruced up for another year.
July 12: We've just gone through a period of dry hot weather but thankfully it rained yesterday and today. The pumpkin plants are growing fast. They're starting to vine out and soon the ground will turn into a sea of pumpkin plants. Some plants are even blooming and setting pumpkins already and the bees are doing their work flying from one blossom to the next. So far it looks like we're going to have a great crop. We've planted several new varieties this year, so we're anxious to see how they turn out.
June 24: Pumpkin, squash and gourd plants began to emerge on June 13th. Today there are rows and rows of young green pumpkin plants! The plants are doing very well even though we've had huge swings in the temperature, heavy rains and excessive wind. Now it's all about protection; protection from insects, disease, weed and deer. We're constructing another deer fence now and plan to have it finished soon. The corner posts and in-line posts are in. We need to make and brace the corners and then we'll be ready to pull fence. Right now the deer are content to just walk through the pumpkin field without eating the plants. Pumpkin plants become rough and prickly as they get older and deer have no interest in that. But they do like pumpkin blossoms and pumpkins - so we'll definitely have the fence up before that happens.
June 9: Whew - we squeaked in the pumpkin seed at the last minute before it rained last night. We had the good help of neighbors and excellent weather to string together several days of field work. But it was hot - real hot! So, pumpkin and gourd seeds are in the ground; hay is in the barn and apples are growing!
May 24: We have a lot of work to do in the orchard just to keep everything from turning into a jungle! There are trees to support; trees to weed; trees to mulch; apples to thin; deer to keep out and grass to mow and mow and mow! On top of that, pumpkin planting is working its way up to the top of the to-do list. But rain is threatening once again and we haven't dried out since the last round. We have plenty of prep-work in the field that needs to be done before we can plant - so we'll be looking for a window of opportunity to get that done.
May 22: The bloom period was late and very short this year. Flower buds delayed opening during a prolonged cool period in April. Consequently, when we finally got a warm-up, all of the varieties opened at about the same time. It started on May 1st with peak bloom happening around May 7th. It ended around the 14th with rain. During bloom there were only several days that were warm and dry enough for bees to pollinate. It's still a little too early to be certain but right not it looks like we'll have a very good crop - weather providing! We got about two inches of rain over the last couple of days - we needed it!
March 17: We started pruning in late January and continued off-and-on until we finished early this March. The project went without much difficulty compared to last year when we were delayed by deep and lingering snow. This year we’re on schedule and even a little ahead. Tomorrow afternoon and Saturday we’ll chip what we’ve pruned; apple wood; peach and pear wood. We hope to have some available for anyone wanting fruit wood smoking chips to grill with. What isn’t used for grilling will be used for mulch around the apple trees. Last Monday we started to stake out the corners of what will be a new permanent deer fence where this year’s pumpkins will be planted. Yes, deer will eat pumpkins! In fact I haven’t found much that they won’t eat.
2010 Season Update
May 19: Winter finally gave way to spring and apple blossoms opened about 10 days earlier than normal this year. We keep bees for honey and for pollination but we also brought in additional hives to help get the job done. Apples are pea-size right now and some trees are loaded. It looks like a very good crop of apples this year! We're actually thinning (taking off apples) to prevent crowding, improve color, size and quality. We don't use chemicals to thin our crop so we do it all by hand!
June 1: The planting is done. We're hoping for rain and another great year for pumpkins. Some areas have had alot of rainfall this year but we haven't been that fortunate. Severe weather is in the forecast for today - hopefully strong wind and hail will stay away but bring on the rain. Apple thinning continues. We'll soon be starting summer pruning which is a process similar to winter pruning but less extensive. Summer pruning will help bring sunlight and air into the canopy of the trees which in turn will help apples color-up and minimize any fungal problems. We've kept up with organic sprays and we use traps to monitor insects. This helps us determine how and when to manage insect pressure.
June 8: We finally got the rain we needed and our pumpkin, squash and gourd crops are off to a great start. We have a full tank of water in the ground now from over 3 inches of rain received since June 1st. A dryer warmer period would be welcome for awhile. We have plenty of work to do, rain or shine. If it's raining we work in the apple barn. If it's dry out we're thinning the apple crop, mowing, trimming, weeding, cultivating, and more recently putting up deer fence.
June 18: Rain, rain and more rain! That pretty much sums up the past couple weeks. The apple crop looks fantastic! We just hope that it stays that way through all of the storms. The pumpkin, winter squash and gourd plants are growing fast with the heat and rain but it's been difficult to keep the fields weeded.
July 9: We finally had a nice dry-out period during the days leading up to the 4th of July weekend. We were able to cultivate the gourd, squash and pumpkin fields - they look so much better! The apples are sizing up and still looking very good. We should be picking Pristine by the first week in August - maybe sooner. I recently checked our beehives and found that they've put up alot of honey already. Hopefully they'll keep packing it away. I'll harvest honey sometime around Labor Day.
July 22: Our work has been focused on the pumpkin fields over the past couple of weeks. The pumpkin plants are growing vigorously but so is the grass. Since I had cultivated some time ago, the area between the rows is fairly clean. But grass has filled in near and around the pumpkin plants threatening to choke them out. So we've had a great team of family and friends working in the morning and evening hours just pulling out grass and weeds so the pumpkin plants can continue to vine out. The heat and humidity this year has made this one of the most challenging jobs on the farm. Right now morning is a great time to watch bees visit the large yellow/orange blossoms. The bees actually get nearly totally covered with bright yellow pollen from the blossoms. The better the pollination the larger and more uniform the pumpkins will grow. Little pumpkins are now starting to grow on some of the vines and it looks like we could have another great crop by this fall. Winter squash and ornamental gourds are also well on their way. We planted a one-acre corn field but got it in late due to all the rain in June. Deer have been grazing on it and grass has moved into that area too so we'll see if we end up with a good enough stand to cut in a maze. The apples are still looking good and we're still on schedule for picking Pristine next week or the week after.
August 5: Pumpkins are growing, growing and growing! So is everything else it seems. The heat and rain have not let up. It's hard to believe that we were buried in snow and sub zero temperatures this past winter. We continue to dodge severe weather this summer. Right now we're just trying to keep up with mowing, taking care of crops and getting ready for the fall. We split up our evening hours between washing, grading, and bagging apples and painting and trimming out our retail area. Once we get the retail area finished we'll be opening for sales on the weekends. Until then, we're selling apples at Campbell’s Nutrition and New City Market in Des Moines and Wheatsfield Cooperative in Ames.
August 11: We had another storm move through last night; more rain and stronger wind than I thought at the time. I didn't get a chance to look at everything but at a glance it appears that there wasn't any damage to the crops. The ground is saturated with water. We're picking apples just about every day now and the cooler is starting to fill up. In a couple of weeks we'll be harvesting honey and before too long we'll be heading into fall! Cooler weather would be welcome relief.
September 2: We're almost finished putting our retail area back together again for the season. It will look much better than it did last year - we're looking forward to using it. It is amazing how quickly we get to this point each year. This is the time of year that we add another coat of paint to picnic tables, fences and the barn; clear away unwanted brush and shrubs; smooth out the lane; put signs in place and put up fall displays. It seems like there is more to do than what we can get done but somehow it all comes together. I walked through the pumpkin patch recently and pumpkins are nearly ready to pick. It is amazing what all of our crops have had to endure this year in terms of rain, heat and wind. We're thankful that we will have a crop after one of the hardest summers we've ever experienced.
2009 Season Update
Apples: We really worked the orchard hard this winter pruning out a lot of unnecessary top growth in the trees. All of the pruned wood was chipped and will be used as mulch. We have burned pruned wood in the past but find that chipping is the way to go. Every one in this area of the state knows that we had another wet spring. This made it difficult to get machinery into the orchard. We keep 8 hives of our own on the farm but the bees didn't seem very interested in getting into the blossoms. They strongly preferred dandelions. Some of our early apple varieties didn't produce much this year due to weak pollination and the fact that these particular trees tend to produce a heavy crop every other year. We managed to avoid most of the hail and damaging wind. Our fall varieties look good and should be right on schedule.
Pumpkins: The pumpkin crop looks great! Weed control takes most of the time we spend on pumpkins. We cultivate when we can and pull weeds once the pumpkin plants fill up the drive rows. We have pumpkins of all sizes and shapes. We planted more white pumpkins this year due to customers asking for more of these. I think the cool weather has made the pumpkins turn orange earlier in the past. I walked through the patch on Monday and it is loaded!
Deer Fence: We spent much of the summer putting up deer fence around a 4 acre plot. We definitely live in deer country and over the years the deer pressure has increased exponentially! We decided that to continue to plant apple trees and other crops we would have to put up an 8' fence. There is instant peace of mind once the gate is closed. We will continue to put fence up around other plots.
New Apple Barn: After we finished the fence we began working on our new retail space in the red barn located on the hilltop just north of our home. We've been framing, running electric lines, plumbing etc. It's not a pretty sight at the moment but we're working nights and weekends on it and even some weekdays in between and hope to have it ready to go by mid September. September 1st: We moved our walk-in apple cooler from the garage into the Apple Barn. It went up a lot easier than it came down. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working on the retail space in the barn.
September 18th: The school group tours have begun. Children are eager to walk through the orchard, check out the animals in the barnyard and learn about apples and honey bees.
September 19th: We opened the pumpkin patch today. Visitors took out huge ones and small ones; white ones, odd-shaped ones and even pie pumpkins. There's plenty to choose from. This looks like our best crop ever!
September 21st: We're spending this week putting up displays and getting ready for our applefest weekend. Trying to polish-up a farm is no easy task! There's always more that we'd like to do than is humanly possible.