Triage of Fall Farming

Most of the time when folks think of when farmers here in Oregon are most busy, many would agree that harvest time would be the obvious answer. And in many ways that’s true. Through summer we are working seven days a week, often 14 hours or more a day. But if you look beyond just the “time” aspect, for me, the fall always feels much busier.

During summer harvest you usually find yourself and your crew in a groove. People know what to do pretty much everyday, because it’s the same thing they did yesterday and will often do tomorrow. But in the fall when the end of harvest is winding up for the year and we are gearing up for the next year’s crop, everything seems to come at you all at once.

So lately we have been harvesting filberts when we can get into the orchards. Our seasonal rain here on one hand helps the nuts fall naturally from the tree, which is good because we harvest the nuts off the ground. But it also creates windows of time where you have to wait for the ground to dry enough to be able to harvest off the ground.

So in the “in between” we are also getting ground worked to plant. In the fall we plant our perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, crimson clover, swiss chard, and filberts. We are also applying weed control and fertilizer to many of our established fields. Meanwhile getting projects done such as ditch cleaning, excavation projects, etc.

So in perfect fall fashion the last few weeks have been a triage of “what to do today”. We have been able to get a few fields planted, worked and ready for winter, the tall fescue is all in and we have about quarter of the crimson drilled (planted), and killed off some sprout.

This week we will get back to harvesting the second (and hopefully last) time in our filberts.

And then after more planting in the good weather windows, more excavation repair and maintenance projects….at some point….we will all be very happy that it is finally November!!

Spring Orchard Preparation

We have had some beautiful weather here lately. And while if I was in charge of the weather, we would have had a few more rainy days the past two weeks, I’m not, so here we are.

This variety is just starting to push leaves out.

But as they say, make hay while the sun shines. So we have been out doing all we can while it’s dry. Which for filbert (hazelnut) farmers that means a lot of orchard preparation.

While we don’t harvest these nuts until the fall, this is a great time of year to prepare the soil to be nice and flat, clean of debris, and ready to pick up nuts off the ground once they fall at maturity.

So what does that mean? It means grabbing those last few branches off the ground, flailing up the leaf material and grass, that’s been left for erosion control through the winter rains. Then scraping the ground to level it out from any tracks or erosion that may have occurred.

While harvest is only a small portion of the year, for many of our crops the maintenance of the crop and the soil underneath is a year round project. We want to keep the worms happy so we allow the leaves to remain for food and nutrients for them. We also allow grass to grow to protect the soil. But all of that has to be reset at some point to allow for those nuts to be picked up off the ground for harvest.

Next up for the orchards is getting fertilizer applied, possibly some irrigation and some foliar applications to keep the tree healthy and happy during the growing season. Then eventually harvest this fall.

We don’t always get this large dry window to get the orchards ready this early, but we will take advantage where we can and control what we can control. Because like I said, the weather is one place where I definitely don’t call the shots!

Ice Storm 2021 Update

Last time I checked in we were in the middle of probably one of the worst storms Oregon has seen since the Columbus Day Story in 1962. I wasn’t around to experience that one, but after chatting with some folks who were, the thoughts are similar; 2021 has been worse. And when talking to lineman storm crews they say the same, “This has been some of the worst damage we have ever seen.”

That being said, we are all grateful to so many who turned on our power, who offered to help when we needed it, and also grateful to see the storm become a part of the past to talk about. But now the real work begins; time to clean up.

We finally got out and assessed the damage around our farm. We have a lot of clean up on the borders of our fields where trees and branches lay on top of our crops. That will take some time. Our first priority however was to get into our orchards and see how they fared. We didn’t get hit as hard as other farmers. Some have talked about tree losses upwards of 20% even as high as 50%. This is devastating to hear. We are not that bad in our orchards thank goodness.

In assessing the damage we have found that just about each tree has to be treated differently. Some we have cut down to the trunk and will loose some years of production, but will keep the tree in the ground.

Others we just had to trim up some branches. A few we cut the branch that split the tree and if it didn’t cut into the main truck too badly we kept for a year’s worth of production before we decide if we are going to take it out later.

And some just didn’t make it and got cut right then and there. Many of those we will replant this spring to get them up and going.

Driving around to each broken and ice pruned tree was a pretty depressing job. These are trees that we have taken care of for years. Some just started to produce a crop for us, and now we had to cut them down and set them back another 4 years. The cost of this event will be felt for a long time in the form of a huge labor bill to do clean up, lost production, and now caring for newly planted trees among our established orchards.

Many of these orchards had been gone through already this winter and been pruned, so the double amount of work to go back in prune, stack and push brush for the second time will take a lot of time and money. We try to be very efficient on our farm, and Mother Nature basically made sure that this year would not look like that on our orchard budgets.

Right now I’m just happy that we have power, the sun has been out for a few days, and we are moving along with clean up. The orchards are looking less tattered by the day, and it will be a good day when the “Ice Storm of 2021” is in our hindsight completely. Hope everyone is staying safe out there, and hopefully not far from getting their power turned back on soon!