Themes

Usually about this time of year I start thinking about seasons gone by and how they compare to the one I just experienced. While each year is similar in many ways — the trees bloom, fruit grows, it ripens, is harvested, then the leaves drop — they also have a unique theme. This year’s theme was the wonderful growing weather we’ve had. The season started out with an early bloom. And while we all waited for a frost or freeze to take our crops from us, neither came. The season was brilliantly sunny, at times excruciatingly hot, and provided just the right amount of rain throughout. Even yesterday was a brilliant day with temperatures around 80F, while today is warm and rainy (though we don’t need more rain right now, since there’s fruit that needs to be picked).

Last year, in contrast, was cool, rainy (way too much rain), and not such a great growing season overall. The crop was OK and next year, who knows?

My first year farming was 1984, a year I remember quite clearly. It was hot (very hot) and long. I worked 56 days straight, averaging about 14 hours a day, in one of the nation’s largest east coast peach orchards. It was the year that farming hooked me for good.

1993 was cool and rainy. We often sat around the farm kitchen wondering when we’d ever get back out side and whether the trees would even survive the weather. It was a crummy crop year, but we muddled through and made it to 1994, which, by contrast again, was as perfect a growing season as I have ever experienced. Everything was perfect and operations clicked brilliantly.

1998 was the year of the Spotted Tentiform Leafminer. We had tons of them and they practically defoliated the trees; fruit size and quality suffered, and I have since never looked at the critter the same again. I fear repeat infestations and keep an extra vigilant eye on what they’re doing in the orchard.

My first few years — in fact most of them — farming in the Hudson Valley were real difficult. Lots of rain. Frequent hail. Frost. It was a fruit growers nightmare year after year it seemed. Yet, I muddled along and actually did some pretty incredible things at an orchard that was decrepit in many ways and yet full of vitality and opportunity. Everything that happened, and that I experienced and learned, I bring with me to this day.

Yes, every year has its theme, there is no doubt. 2010’s theme is the phenomenal growing conditions we’ve expeienced. There’s one thing for sure….next year will be different. That’s what keeps things interesting. 2010 will always be remembered as the year I joined Red Jacket Orchards. What a way to kick things off!

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About Farmer Mike Biltonen

Mike Biltonen is lifelong farmer with a passion for great tasting, sustainably grown food. He also has an opinion and this blog is his soapbox. But mostly he just likes to farm. Enjoy!
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