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In this episode Lowell and I give a quick recap of the last couple of weeks since we’ve been open for Pick-Your-Own strawberry picking. Lowell also walks through what a “normal” day during strawberry season looks like. Finally we talk through several tips about how to pick great strawberries!
Full Episode Transcript
Intro: – 00:00 – ::Music::
Eldon: – 00:07 – Hello everyone. Eldon here with Conversations with Yoders’ Farm and I’m joined today with my brother, Lowell like normal. And we’re going to talk through the last couple of weeks that been open here at the Strawberry Patch for pick your own and hopefully kind of give you a glimpse into what a day. In a farmer’s life or a farmer who raises strawberries, life looks like, this time of year during our busy season. So I’ll hand it to Lowell and maybe go ahead and run through how the last couple weeks have been and give us an overview of that.
Lowell: – 00:45 – Okay. Have you handed it to me yet?
Eldon: – 00:48 – Yeah.
Lowell: – 00:48 – Okay. Oh, there it is. Yeah. So it’s been a busy couple of weeks. I think last time we talked we were about a week out from opening our pick your own strawberry patch and we weren’t even sure what day exactly we were going to open. We were watching the berries closely and sure enough we opened, I think about when I thought we would. Yeah, we opened on May the first, which for us is, I think that’s pretty average. Um, we have opened as early as maybe the 17th of April and as late as the ninth and the 10th of May. So it’s actually a pretty big swing if you think about it. But the 1st of May is pretty average. Really this spring in general has felt pretty normal.
Eldon: – 01:44 – Yeah. Maybe that’s why it’s like right in the middle. It’s been an average kind of weather…
Lowell: – 01:50 – It’s been a pretty normal spring. I mean, especially earlier, probably excessively rainy and uh,
Eldon: – 01:57 – it’s raining right now isn’t it…
Lowell: – 01:58 – as we record this, we’re finally able to record because it is raining. Because it gives us some time. So we opened the, the strawberry patch…
Eldon: – 02:11 – Today’s the 11th. We opened on the first and we are pausing because we’re both listening to a, a heavy bit of rain on the roof here, hoping no strawberries are washing away. I guess.
Lowell: – 02:28 – That’s pretty hard isnt it…
Eldon: – 02:29 – It is pretty hard. Yeah. The radar says it’s about an over, so hopefully that’s actually correct.
Lowell: – 02:36 – Yeah. So far this season has been going along pretty well, we’ve, uh, we had, have we had any rain outs?
Eldon: – 02:45 – I don’t even think, I don’t think we’ve actually rained out till today and technically we are still open, but
Lowell: – 02:52 – It’s raining hard enough now this is about going to be a rain out now I think. We had a pretty good rain last weekend as well. Most of that came on Sunday. So we were able to get our whole day in on Saturday. And so we’ve had, another afternoon we had a shower come through but it never closed things down, it was just a shower. We’ve been able to, to run the pick your own strawberry patch. We’ve also been able to pick every day. So we have, we have a large, pick your and field. Actually two fields, it’s divided up and then we have a small, wholesale field. So we also, in addition to the pick your own side of things, we do some wholesale picking and most of those we ship off to pretty local markets. Say an hour, hour and a half away is about as far as we go. And, then of course we use from there to stock our own farm store too. We sell a lot of prepicked berries right here on the farm. So yeah. What did you want to talk about in regards to that?
Eldon: – 04:09 – I don’t know. I mean that’s basically a summary of our first week and a half or so here.
Lowell: – 04:14 – Yeah, it’s going, it’s going well. Um, the crop looks fair. I don’t know that it’s crazy crazy, but it’s not poor either. Barry’s looking nice, especially the pick your own side of the things. I think things are looking very nice there, lots and lots of happy people. And the weather, like I said, has been fairly cooperative, today is, uh, obviously you don’t, you don’t want to be rained out mother’s Day weekend. Really in strawberries. It’s one of the biggest, weekends of the season, you know, so it’s not ideal that today is raining, but we are blessed that, you know, we made it till what, two, three o’clock before we really had a lot of rain. So we had a lot of people in this morning.
Eldon: – 05:03 – Yeah. The last couple of days seems like they’ve been preparing because they may see Friday.
Lowell: – 05:12 – Last evening we were looking at the forecast and thought, well maybe we wouldn’t even get more than an hour or two in this morning. So we sold a lot of berries this morning. Had a lot of nice ripe berries come out of the field, which has prepared us better for rain. And the other thing that gives us some hope is that the forecast after tomorrow, tomorrow looks wet yet, but all of next week looks pretty much dry through next weekend. So we’re quite optimistic about that.
Eldon: – 05:42 – Next week is the kind of week we like to see in the forecast.
Lowell: – 05:45 – Yeah, a lot of, a lot of sun and seventies and maybe just into the lower 80, so that’s perfect strawberry weather.
Eldon: – 05:52 – That’s kind of coinciding with our peak production kind of coming in here pretty soon. If we’re not close, there already
Lowell: – 06:01 – Right. We’re probably basically at peak. You know, strawberries, you don’t just turn on a switch and they’re ready. It’s kind of a gradual build up and you hit a peak and then you’re there for a while and then you sort of taper to the end. A lot of people don’t quite understand how that works, but that’s kind of the cyclical nature of strawberry production.
Eldon: – 06:27 – Yup. I guess from there we can go ahead and talk about what maybe a typical day looks like for you. Um, I know for a fact that you are quite busy this time of year and your wife and kids would like to see you more often. So yeah, maybe talk through what a standard day, I mean, none of your days are the same, but they probably have some typical things you can talk through…
Lowell: – 06:56 – Well, yeah. Okay. I guess I can try to talk through that a little bit. During our business hours, you know, we have a lot of traffic in and out our farm lane and there’s just some things you can’t do when you have people here on the farm. You know, some chores either we are tied up helping at stands or keeping an eye on things. Yeah. Anyway, so any sort of extra things, morning chores, feeding animals, just those extra things. Even things like mowing and keeping up with all that, that has to happen, outside of our normal, when we’re open to the public hours. So, yeah, we’re trying to hit it pretty hard. Uh,
Eldon: – 07:52 – Just for reference, our pick your an hours are 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM Monday through Saturday.
Lowell: – 08:00 – Right? So we try to do things like that that we need to get done. We do that earlier before we open up. So we’re drinking some coffee and getting after it. Then we, our wholesale picking, we’ll have pickers in anywhere from they start, from seven to eight. So for me, I’m usually helping to get things set up for that. I’m, getting packaging around. We have some picking assistants they are called. It’s is basically a little machine that you lay on and you motor down the row. If you wonder what it looks like, Google it and you’d probably find something. It’s called a picking assistant. We have a number of those, so we have to get those set up in the row. Batteries put in and so. I’m usually focusing on that first thing. Uh, if it’s going to be hot, I might have already ran the pump for a few hours. Um, if it’s really hot, it’s nice to get a little bit of irrigation water into the beds before it gets hot. And so I get the pickers picking and then we’re starting to worry about orders for the store.
Eldon: – 09:24 – Pre picked orders?
Lowell: – 09:26 – So then I’m hauling the first buckets or flats up to the store, getting them in there and I don’t know, usually it seems like I do that for the next several hours. I usually help figure out where the pick your own picking is going to take place for the day. We two fields, so we like to pick one field one day and switch it and pick the other. So if I need to put up some signs about where we’re picking or rope off a few rows I try to do that before, we have the pick your own folks in and so then we’re, we’re doing that. I’m ferrying berries back and forth. If we’re picking for wholesale order, I’m getting them into the cooler and we’re watching pick your own people roll in, trying to make sure everything’s going well there.
Eldon: – 10:23 – Make sure we have change around. Little details like that.
Lowell: – 10:27 – um, buckets, whatever we need. Trying to make sure the lines aren’t too long, if we need to get another clerk in or something. And then, uh, so some of our runs when we haul a load somewhere, they’ll leave 10, 11 o’clock. Some of them are in the afternoon. It just all depends. So, uh, where I’m either working here or, quite often I’ll go out on a run to deliver strawberries and tomatoes somewhere. Uh, sometimes we meet someone out of Roanoke. Uh, we meet them in Monita. We also have runs some times up towards Afton mountain way and we also a couple of times a week deliver up to the local food hub in Charlottesville. So those are some of the places that are our berries and tomatoes end up.
Eldon: – 11:23 – Yeah. Yeah. That’s a destination for strawberries and tomatoes. So this time of year, they’re both going out for those kinds of things.
Lowell: – 11:35 – Yeah. Then usually on into the afternoon. We generally wind our picking down during the hot part of the afternoon. Depends on the day. So often the pickers are leaving maybe two, three o’clock in the afternoon. Then it seems like things, uh, there’s a bit of a lull things settle down a little bit and we catch our breath it’s a good time to maybe grab some lunch if you haven’t been able to… Get any last berries out of the field into the cooler up to the store. And then you start thinking of what all you need to do for the following day. And usually the pick yard and there’s often a lull during that time as well.
Eldon: – 12:21 – Yeah, we find that it peaks and then tapers off 1:30 or 2.
Lowell: – 12:24 – Yeah. And then, you know, that usually picks back up towards evening. If I’m needed at a stand or something, if someone can’t work till we close at seven, we help out there. Or, I can go work at the greenhouse or there’s tons of other things to do too. And then, we close at seven, we try to usher the last people out somewhere around seven, we don’t have a, uh, you know, bring all your purchases to the front of the store, intercom system, in our strawberry field.
Eldon: – 13:02 – Maybe we should consider something like that.
Lowell: – 13:04 – Yeah. Anyway, and then, uh, so then we’re back into that period. We have a couple of hours of day left. Um, the public has left the farm. Uh, that’s also a good slot to do any other chores that you didn’t get to in the morning, mowing, just all those things that needed to be done.
Eldon: – 13:24 – Get your batteries, plugged in for your picking assistants the next day. Little things like that.
Lowell: – 13:29 – Yeah. And I’m almost every evening running the irrigation pump. If I need to run fertilizer, I’m doing that in that time period. And uh, try to get home before too late and before the kids are in bed. And, uh, usually most or many evenings I run up, right before I go to bed at 10:30 or so and I switch, an irrigation zone. And, uh…
Eldon: – 13:59 – Switch from one field to the other basically.
Lowell: – 14:00 – From one field to another field. And then I go to bed do it all again the next day. It’s not really as interesting as it sounds.
Eldon: – 14:11 – No, I think it’s, it’s just really full and it’s easy to not think about all of the behind the scenes of things that people are doing when you go somewhere, whatever. So…
Lowell: – 14:25 – Yeah, it’s a very intense four or five, or six weeks. I guess the other part of it we didn’t mention is the phone calls.
Eldon: – 14:36 – Oh, right. I forgot all about those.
Lowell: – 14:38 – So basically how we have it set up is, one of us monitors social media and the website, the email, that would be you and then dad and I take, probably 75, 80% of the phone calls. A few people call the land line actually too. And so we, we either we try to have an accurate message on our phone indicating…
Eldon: – 15:04 – Your voicemail, you’re saying?
Lowell: – 15:05 – Yeah. Indicating current patch conditions, prices, hours, answers to common questions. And then, um, what was I saying?
Eldon: – 15:18 – Uh, you were talking about voicemails and calls.
Lowell: – 15:21 – Yeah, so we either try to personally answer them or have good information for people to find. On busy days. I mean, the call volume is actually quite large…
Eldon: – 15:33 – Yeah. I mean we could almost have a full time secretary some days. Um, but yeah, so the good thing about having a good accurate voicemail message is that if it is busy, people can at least get an idea of how things are or maybe get their question answered.
Lowell: – 15:51 – Right. And there’s literally no way for us to answer every call. So we try to, most of the information, hopefully they can find out on the voicemail or we direct them to the website or Facebook. And if they need something in addition, we get messages, which is fine. And then we… when we get a chance sit down and work through all of those. We try to get everyone matched up to the berries that they want.
Eldon: – 16:23 – Yeah. Seems to be a lot of people that want the berries. So…
Lowell: – 16:26 – You know, every year, it just amazes me. I don’t know. There’s something about strawberries that just kind of make people go a little crazy.
Eldon: – 16:36 – Yeah. I think it’s kind of the fresh strawberries and the short season, you kind of have to get them when they’re there. I don’t know. I mean, I remember before we raised strawberries, mom was a little bit that way. We’d have to go with her to pick berries.
Lowell: – 16:53 – Yeah that’s true. It’s a very short window that they’re in and yeah, its a good fruit and something that tastes really good and almost everyone likes strawberries. I’ve met a few people that don’t, but uh…
Eldon: – 17:10 – I don’t know if I can be friends with people that don’t like strawberries… No thats not true…
Lowell: – 17:15 – Anyway, it’s really interesting how excited people get over strawberries and we do too. We’re very happy that people are as enthused as they are, so we’re happy to handle calls. And, uh, thats just part of the job.
Eldon: – 17:31 – We’re very aware that, uh, you know, we work pretty much around the year, the year, around the year, uh, all year long…
Lowell: – 17:39 – Around the year, around the clock.
Eldon: – 17:42 – Uh, that is what it feels like sometimes, but not quite. So we work all year to have these strawberries and it’s nice to see people enjoy them and also be able to recoup some of our costs and stuff as well. So it works for both of us. I guess that’s the, that’s the goal anyway… So, yeah. We have talked about the last couple of weeks we’ve walked through kind of a day, and what that looks like for you. Is there anything else we should cover or you think we should talk about?
Lowell: – 18:18 – Oh, I just thought maybe we should talk a little bit about picking. A lot of people aren’t used to picking strawberries. I mean, for us it seems like everyone probably has picked a berry before, but that’s not always the case and hey, if that’s you. No worries.
Eldon: – 18:39 – Yeah, I mean, everybody’s got to start somewhere right?
Lowell: – 18:41 – Thats right. So here are some things to maybe think about. So here at our farm, you come in, you drive in the lane and we’re almost always set up, with a stand actually down at the patch. You will follow the signs to the parking area and hopefully get to the right spot. We try to get everyone into the parking area and from there you’ll go check in at the little stand. Here on our farm. Not every farm is this way, but we allow people to bring their own containers. A lot of people like to do that. Some people have special baskets and all sorts of interesting containers that they’ve been picking strawberries in for years. So, um, you know, an ice cream pail, some kind of a flat bowl, anything like that would make a good strawberry picking container…
Eldon: – 19:38 – Generally something that’s not super deep.
Lowell: – 19:40 – Right. I’ve seen some, you know, five gallon buckets in here, which I guess if you’re making jam or just going to mush them up, it’d be okay. Probably more ideal to, to get a smaller bucket… Or we allow people to bring their in containers or we sell a really nice little vented gallon bucket, caught a busket it’s vented. We sell those for a dollar. They’re a very economical way… You can just run in here and grab those at the stand and they’ll direct you into which field where we’re picking it for the day. If you’re coming early in the morning, most anywhere there’s, there’s going to be good picking. We try to rotate the fields and uh, but you know, some things to think about if you’re coming say late in the day on a Saturday, well, you know, we open at eight and we got a lot of people in on a Saturday, so it’s gonna be harder to find nice ripe berries at the end of a Saturday. So think about that, adjust your expectations. Uh, we don’t mind at all if you come out and pick Saturday evening but…
Eldon: – 20:47 – If it’s more of a family outing. Maybe that’s the only time that works. That’s great.
Lowell: – 20:51 – Right, you’re probably not gonna find the picking that you would have earlier in the day or earlier in the week, frankly. Um, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday we’re often not as busy as we are towards the weekend and that would get for other strawberry farms as well. So either try to get there right when they open up or uhm…
Eldon: – 21:11 – If you can make it work earlier in the week. If you’re just looking for quantity and quality of berries, a weekday might be a better day to come.
Lowell: – 21:20 – Yeah. But it’s always a good time to go pick strawberries. Uh, things to think about in the field. A lot of people don’t like to walk very far. So typically the rows up closest to the stand are going to get picked harder. They’re going to be picked multiple times. So think about that. Consider walking almost as far away as you can.
Eldon: – 21:45 – Row ends often work well
Lowell: – 21:47 – Right people don’t like to walk all the way to the ends of the rows or I have seen it. Sometimes people work the row ends because they are easier to access, but they don’t work the middle of the rows. So just think about that and you can ask the stand people where they would suggest they often have a good idea of where to go and you’ll walk out into the field and you’re looking for a berry, that’s totally red. Some people try to get them a little bit on the green side assuming they’ll turn. Really a strawberry is never as good if it has green on it. You want to get a fully red strawberry. A nice bright red strawberry. If they have a dull look it could be one that got missed and uh, might be over the hill. But look for that nice bright red for optimal taste. And another thing people don’t do well is move the leaves around and look up in the middle of the row between the plants. A lot of people are just cruising the row looking on the edge, but you would be amazed at the number of really nice berries that hide up there under those leaves. So the plants, I mean, you want to handle them gently, but go ahead and move them around, they’re meant to be opened up and looked under. That’s the only way you’re gonna get back into there. If you look behind a good picker you can actually see that the plants have been kind of ruffled. They have a look about them and so yeah, make sure you do that. Please respect the plants and the plastic, you know, we try to have things nice for you when you come out. So we really don’t like people hopping over rows or stepping on rows to step over. Yeah. Just, you know…. Anyways, I’ve had gaps in a row where there was a gap in the plants and people I guess use it for a cross over, which I guess is okay as far as they weren’t damaging plants, but literally it got packed look a like a brick almost. So just, you know, think about those things. Uh, maybe one, one person, uh, you know, you stepping onto a row wouldn’t be some bad, but 30, 40 people behind you do it. So, yeah.
Eldon: – 24:27 – Very good. Yeah, those are all good tips. Uh, I just second the one about moving the leaves to the side, several times we’ll hear people say there’s no berries in the patch and if you walk out there and a move the leaves back, there’s generally still some in there.
Lowell: – 24:45 – A good picker can almost always find really nice berries on a patch if he or she knows what they’re doing.
Eldon: – 24:54 – Yep. For sure. So if you’re in the area, feel free to come out and pick here at the farm. And if you have questions, let one of the staff know and we can show you in the field, I guess if you need some more assistance.
Lowell: – 25:11 – Right? Yeah. You want to, I guess we didn’t actually say how you pick the bery you actually, grab it gently with your hand. Just gently pull it. And if it’s a nice and ripe it will often give a nice little pop as it releases from the stem. Put it carefully in your bucket and you don’t want to bruise them.
Eldon: – 25:33 – Strawberries are very a very fragile fruit
Lowell: – 25:36 – Right, then you’re carrying them back up to the stand and they will subtract the container weight. If you have your own bucket, they will have probably put that weight on it when you checked in. They subtract the container weight. You pay a dollar 99 for the goodness that is found in your bucket and you can take it home. Probably want to think about, you know, you don’t want them sitting in your hot car for several hours. You want to probably get them on home to a cool place. Uh, if we’re trying to keep berries for awhile or overnight, we’ll set them near a, an air conditioner vent. It keeps them nice and cool. Uh, you can refrigerate them if you want to keep them longer. That’s what I’d recommend. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them and when you’re ready to use them then you can wash them and cap them. But don’t do that ahead of time if you, you plan to store them for awhile. And there are tons of ways to use fresh berries.
Eldon: – 26:36 – Yeah, there are loads of ways. Anything else we should talk about?
Lowell: – 26:42 – Thats about it Eldon.
Eldon: – 26:42 – I’m about out of ideas.
Lowell: – 26:44 – I’m about out of too and I can think of four more things I need to do today. So, yeah.
Eldon: – 26:49 – All right. Well it is four 45 and there’s a couple of hours yet, so I guess you can hopefully get a few of those things knocked off your list. I have a few things too, including posting this podcast…
Lowell: – 27:03 – And with it being a rainy evening I’m hoping to get home before…
Eldon: – 27:06 – I think we’re actually planning to sit down and eat supper together if that works out. All right, well that is it for this podcast. We are going to try it to be back in two weeks with another episode. I’m not sure what we’ll talk about then, but we’ll probably be nearing the scattered picking stage of strawberry season
Lowell: – 27:28 – Maybe, I think we’ll probably go into the first part of June this year. There’s still green berries that will ripen over the next several weeks. There will be plenty to be had yet for a while.
Eldon: – 27:43 – Yeah, for sure.
Lowell: – 27:44 – And just like to say as always, we really appreciate everyone who’s come out and picked and those who are still planning to come out. We are just overwhelmed really with the support we get, we couldn’t do it without our good customers and friends for sure.
Eldon: – 28:02 – All right, well if you’re interested in receiving these podcast episodes in the future, feel free to subscribe to the Conversations with Yoders’ Farm podcast in whatever podcast app you like to use. If you’re in iTunes, we’d appreciate a review if you feel like it, or tell a friend about us or whatever. And if you want to listen to the podcast on the website, you can go to www.yodersfarm.com/podcast And you can find links there to all kinds of stuff podcast related. Thank you all for listening and we’ll see you again in two weeks.