Asparagus Updates and a Visit from Winter

None of us really thought we were through with winter, did we? Those beautiful warm spring days of last weekend were just a teaser–then reality hit with this week’s cold weather to remind us that we are still in Michigan, where spring is always a mystery and full of abrupt weather changes. Mother Nature once again played with our orchards, vineyards and vegetable crops–lured them out of their winter dormancy and then put them back on hold.

So when are we opening? Tentatively, May 1st. Please keep checking here or call us because it’ll be May 1st give or take a day, depending on asparagus. We know we need to open soon so you can get bedding plants in the garden!

Asparagus:  We had one picking of asparagus and we are now waiting for warm weather to resume picking, probably about a week from now. We are happy to take your orders and can call you when we can fill them. Asparagus will be $2.25 a pound or $2/pound for ten pounds or more. Call 269-244-5690 and leave your name, how many pounds you would like, and a phone number.

Other produce: We also have kale for sale from Becca’s garden that she overwintered. Kale can survive below freezing temperatures and after doing so becomes sweet and incredibly tender. $3/large bag, self-serve on the market while it lasts. We also have some spring onions available.

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Fresh kale!

We are getting the bakery ready! This week we installed another oven so we can bake more items. We can’t wait to start into some of the new cookies, brownies, muffins and breads we have planned.

Bedding plants: As soon as it gets warm enough to bring them onto the market, we will have all kinds of vegetables, flowers and and herbs for you to get for your own yards and gardens. We will keep bringing them in through the month of May. Becca will be doing a garden planning workshop. Sit tight for news on that!

Planting: We were able to get into the fields this week before the big rain, so the potatoes are planted along with most of the onions. If you drive by the onions planted on AL Jones Road in the black plastic, you will see they are not too happy with this harsh wind! But we expect a full recovery.

Grape Pruning: Hooray! We are finally finished with all of our winter work on the grape vineyards.  We have been at this since November and it feels good to have it done so new growth can begin.

From Becca: I’ve been seeding and transplanting at the schoolhouse all week. Should be harvesting lettuce within the next few weeks, as well as radishes and turnips.

In the hoophouse, I’ve been covering the tomato plants with baskets to keep them warm at night. In these times, I remember my grandpa and his commitment to planting tomatoes in the field in April – he (and every family member he could drag along) would go out on cold nights and cover every plant with a bushel, even shoveling dirt on top of each one on windy nights. And often, they lived! (Other times, he made us all go replant them.) There’s no wind in the hoophouse and it’s warmer to begin with, so hopefully they’re fine in the temperatures tonight. And hopefully this the last night I have to worry about it.

I’m harvesting the last of last year’s kale out of the yarden, which has been turned into a large herb garden for this year! I think it will be both nice to look at and a pleasant place to sit.

Tomatoes covered up in the hoophouse.

Tomatoes covered up in the hoophouse.

The beginning of our new, expanded herb garden.

The beginning of our new, expanded herb garden.

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Green, and the Long Spring To-Do List…

Straw for sale: We didn’t use all of our straw in the strawberry fields this year, so we are selling what is left if you need any. $6/bale, 4 bales/$20 dollars. Call us at 269-244-5690 and make an appointment.

Around the farm: We can smell the color green now here at the farm and you may be smelling it too. The smell of green is both intense and simple, a fresh combination of earth and sky. As we pull winter mulch off perennials and plantings, we can smell it before we even see those bright sprouts. The scent is so strong in the greenhouse now that when anyone walks in, it is the first thing they sense. The calendar page turning over to April has put us into a higher gear and we are into the long list of spring tasks.

Yes....we have baby tomatoes coming!

Yes….we have baby tomatoes coming!

Readying plants for us and you:  Just a reminder, you can get your garden and bedding plants here soon. While we know these sunny days has everyone ready to plant a garden, it really is too early to be planting most things with the chance of frost. We have seeded extra vegetables, tomatoes, flowers and herbs. Our onion sets arrived this week and we will sell those as well. Next week we will put out a list of what will be available as you work up your garden plans. Last year we had a wide variety of flowers and herbs, as well as cauliflower, kohlrabi, lettuce, kale, spinach, melons, peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables. This year should be similar.

Aunt Marie helping me open the onion bundles and lay them out to keep dry for planting.  Yes, this is what 45,000 onion sets looks like.

Aunt Marie helping me open the onion bundles and lay them out to keep dry for planting. Yes, this is what 45,000 onion sets looks like.

Mother’s Day:  Our greenhouse is bursting at the seams right now with everything we have planted to be ready for Mother’s Day. Once again, we will feature our lettuce bowls (seeded lettuce pots which can be picked and grows back for your weekly salads), specialty tomato plants for your patio (cherry, yellow-pear, tomato-berry, grape, and others) and basil plants. A combination of all three of these and some salad dressing and you have the perfect gift.

Tyler filling pots for the special tomato plants

Tyler filling pots for the special tomato plants

Cathy planting lettuce bowls in the greenhouse that will be ready by Mother's Day!

Cathy planting lettuce bowls in the greenhouse that will be ready by Mother’s Day!

Asparagus and Bakery Opening: When asked when we will open for the year, our answer is when asparagus is ready. The answer to that lies in the weather forecast for the next few weeks.  It is looking like the end of April. We are as anxious for this special spring vegetable as you are since it has been one long year since any of us had fresh asparagus on our plates. And, for those of you who have been awaiting a Corey Lake Orchard’s donut, pie, cookie or bread, the bakery will open when we officially open for the season.

David lightly disking the asparagus to loosen the soil.

David lightly disking the asparagus to loosen the soil.

From Becca: The hoop house construction is finally done. This has raised a new FAQ, “How is this structure different than the greenhouse you already have?”

1. We haven’t put a heater in and are depending on solar energy exclusively for heating.

2. We are planting straight into the ground, which will allow us to plant kale, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, bok choi, and more to harvest greens all winter long.

3. Since I’m managing this, there will be no use of synthetic chemicals (such as weed killers or fertilizers). We put it on an empty space we had between two vineyards and let the soil drain through the winter so the ground should be pretty ‘clean’ there. We’ll be closing up the doors and side walls whenever we spray the grapes (which on the one side are only about thirty feet away) in order to keep it chemical free in there.

As of right now, compost has been spread, beds have been formed, green beans have been seeded, and lettuce and tomatoes have been transplanted. Soon I’ll also put in peppers, basil, and some other herbs. Whew! A lot of work but it’s all paying off. It’s hard getting emotionally invested in a hoophouse because it is essentially a large tent that seems ready to blow away in any wind storm, but with the 45 mph gusts this past week it was okay so I’m feeling better.

Freshly delivered compost -- which gets shoveled into place

Freshly delivered compost — which gets shoveled into place

Beds formed in hoophouse pre-planting.

Beds formed in hoophouse pre-planting.

The Schoolhouse (still Becca): I spent every spare moment I had last week transplanting and seeding: lettuce, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, and leeks; spinach, turnips, carrots, peas, and radishes. As I haven’t put up the electric fence I’ve covered most beds with fabric for the time being (I’d prefer our customers eat the greens, as opposed to the rabbits and deer). Plenty more work remains over the next few weeks but it’s been nice getting into the swing of sowing and planting again.

My activity here at the corner has caused another FAQ, “Why are you planting here?” Answer: we haven’t farmed it in about ten years. It’s far enough away from both ground-sprayed crops on AL Jones and aerial-sprayed peaches on dCorey Lake Road that I don’t worry about it and it’s a really pretty, rustic location. Was the optimal spot to put a large chemical-free garden. I have no plans to get this plot certified organic because it would drive the cost of produce up but I am following all the guidelines. Some of you may notice I am using old grape posts for parts of the fence; as these have been outside and in use for more than five years they are approved for use by the National Organic Program.

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Ignore all the mud caked to my boot. Instead look at my lettuce transplants.

In the news: Yeah, this is stillBecca writing. You may have read in the paper that we were awarded a Value-Added Program Grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture. We have envisioned expanding operations at our winery and distillery for a while, and the grant should help us do that. I spent a lot of time this winter writing the proposal for it (in fact, anyone who saw me in December/January probably noticed I could have used a drink or two) and it’s surreal that we actually got it. With all the projects I already have going on, it’s hard to imagine how I’m going to take on more work…but then I look at the earth changing around me, sense the energy bursting through the ground and sky, feel the tide of spring wash over the farm, and I think, well, everything else is working hard right now. I guess I’ll go with it.

A final note from Beth: We remain grateful we are for the many hands which have been in motion on our farm in the past few weeks. John Heyward, an English writer from the early 1500′s has a famous quote that my parents used often: “Many hands make light work.” My Dad in particular was known for pressing any available hand into action. (If you came up the driveway–you might soon get put to work!)

So a huge thanks to: Aunt Marie and Cathy who made the job of separating 45,000 onion sets a doable task, to the group of high school students on spring break who helped us tie the remaining 30 acres of grapes, to everyone who helped us fill pots and plant in the greenhouse, especially six-year-old Tyler and to Cousin David whose hands touched every tractor and implement this week while getting them organized for the season.

A very special thank you goes to Becca, part of our next generation of family, for having the vision and motivation to bring new features to our family farm. Without her perseverance, we would not have a grant that will help us add new products. And we could not be prouder of the hoophouse that she designed and constructed with her own two hands.

John Heyward also said “Rome was not built in a day.” This farm has been 54 years in the making and we’re still trying to build it!

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Spring: Our Very Own March Madness!

The farm is waking up….and with that, we have our own version of March Madness going on as we shift into a higher gear with all that we have to get done. What a difference a few warm days have made, especially in melting the snow piles. And while we enjoy those “no-coat”days as much as the rest of you, we’re frankly a little relieved it has cooled back down. We are scrambling to finish tying the grape vines before they start budding out. We have a crew of seven people moving through the vineyards now that the snow has melted. The UPS man has become a daily regular dropping off seed orders. We are cleaning up orchards and picking up spring start up supplies and needs.

George bringing in the seed potatoes to plant

George bringing in the seed potatoes to plant

Getting dead cherry trees and pruned branches out of the orchard

Getting dead cherry trees and pruned branches out of the orchard

Our orchards are not ready to wake up yet.  You may be surprised to learn that fruit trees have a chilling requirement between 500 to 1500 hours depending on the type of tree.  The temperature required for them to “chill” has to be above freezing and ideally between 40 and 50 degrees. With the extreme cold in February, surprisingly that didn’t count towards their chilling needs….so these 40-ish degree days have been helping them finish up.

Anyone ready for strawberries yet?  Today we did our annual job of getting the straw on the strawberries–which we do because it helps protect the tender little crowns as the cool nights prevail.  But as important, it helps keep weeds from growing up right in the way of someone trying to pick berries (how annoying!) and provides a nice clean surface for the berry plants to grow over to keep the berries clean.

Blowing straw down on the strawberry rows.  We finished in one morning.

Blowing straw down on the strawberry rows. We finished in one morning.

Our version of "march madness" confetti!

Our version of March Madness confetti!

Denim does the  final inspection to make sure everything is covered well

Denim does the final inspection to make sure everything is covered well

One of our new acquisitions for our very small customers is a baby slide.  We hope this will help with the problem of those small toddlers who want to go down the really big slide and just aren’t quite ready!  We are planning a few more surprises for our small customers, but you’ll have to wait until we finish them.

We have more surprises like this coming for our small customers!

Tyler tries out our new baby slide to make sure it slides well (it does!)

The greenhouse is absolutely thriving–the plants are loving the sun (and we are loving that the furnaces have not had to run as much!).

The long cucumbers that everyone loves so much are up and we can transplant in a few weeks!

The long cucumbers that everyone loves so much are up and we can transplant in a few weeks!

New for  this year, we are growing bell peppers in the greenhouse!

New for this year, we are growing bell peppers in the greenhouse!

The tomatoes are blooming and we are about 60 days away from that first BLT!

The tomatoes are blooming and we are about 60 days away from that first BLT!

From Becca: My hoop house is progressing, but of course I would rather have it finished with lettuce and turnips already planted inside. With everyone else tied up in other projects, I’ve been working alone which has been slow, educational, tiring, and fun! Most of the materials for this project came used from a greenhouse that got taken down a few years ago (the farmers retired, nothing wrong with it structurally) and I’ve literally had no instructions whatsoever to follow.

Luckily I’ve had very good advice/resources, but of course, I ask the same question to five farmers and three greenhouse technicians and get eleven different answers each time. All I really want is for someone to promise the hoop house will not blow away. Which, no one can promise. On that note, perhaps I should go pour more cement… In any case, I should be done this week.

Young lettuce hardening off outside next to one of the remaining snow piles

Young lettuce hardening off outside next to one of the remaining snow piles

Finally beginning to look like a real hoop house

Finally beginning to look like a real hoop house, with some rafters yet to put up inside and end walls to build.

The bakery staff has been busy with planning for some new products which we hope you will love. We are in process of rearranging the bakery to fit in another oven so we can bake more items–especially bread!

Here’s wishing you a happy spring and hoping that your chosen basketball teams are doing well!

-Beth and everyone at Corey Lake Orchards

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Grandpa’s Greenhouse

Friends, family and loyal customers, as we worked in the greenhouse this week, the memory of Dayton Hubbard loomed large. Grandpa passed away one year ago this week and of course we all miss him terribly. Not a day goes by that we don’t run into someone who has another favorite story or memory of him. We love hearing these to add to our own memories. No matter what we are doing around the farm on a daily basis: ordering seeds or new apple varieties for the next year, fixing one of his tractors, tending to greenhouse tomatoes, planning where to plant the sweet corn, we round ourselves into a discussion on how he did things. We are grateful for his mentorship of all of us and for the legacy he left.

As we mentioned last week, the greenhouse is a thing that must be carefully tended. Tomatoes require that the air temperature stay above 40 degrees or they start to die, so we have two furnaces to keep it warm inside. On a sunny, calm day, the furnaces might not run. On a windy night, both furnaces run constantly. Last night I woke up around 2 a.m., checked the greenhouse temperature, and saw it was at 42 degrees. Not good.

Today the greenhouse temperature has stayed around 85 without any help from the furnaces!

Today the greenhouse temperature has stayed around 85 without any help from the furnaces!

Boots and coat on, guard dog at my side, I went out and found the temperature was actually below 45, closer to 40. The flame in the west furnace had gone out and the fan was blowing freezing air into the greenhouse while the furnace on the east end was blasting hot air trying to keep up.

I called Cousin David, who pulled in a few minutes later. We fiddled with the furnace for ten minutes and got it working. An easy fix…if only it weren’t 2:15 a.m. I stayed up until 3:30 watching the thermometer, making sure the air temperature made it into the 50s before I finally went to sleep. A restive night, but worth it in the pursuit of the year’s first BLT sandwich.

It’s more than tomatoes that we’re guarding – it’s weeks of time and labor and love that have already been spent on the tomato plants, and more weeks of labor to come. It’s the trays of leeks, basil, lettuce, kale, peppers, eggplant, and more I’ve seeded that will be kept in the greenhouse for just one short month more. Spring is coming…

My guard dog Odin helping George transplant tomatoes in a thankfully warm greenhouse.

Becca’s guard dog Odin helping employee George move tomatoes in a (thankfully) warm greenhouse.

Today, my leeks began sprouting.

Today, my leeks began sprouting.

Kale seedlings developing their first true leaves.

Kale seedlings developing their first true leaves.

This year, I’m dedicating all the beds in the yard to herbs: annual rows of parsley, cilantro, leaf dill, dill flowers, lemon balm, chamomile, and more. Perennial plots of mint, sage, rosemary, and chives. Several beds in my new schoolhouse plot and hoophouse will be dedicated to sweet basil. What herbs would you like to see in our garden? Give suggestions, and I’ll try to make sure I grow them!

Next week, I’ll be at the Michigan Farm Market Association conference learning about new ways to manage the market and connecting with farm market managers and growers like me. And shortly after that, Corey Lake Orchards farm will be back in the swing of the season – we’ve got the fields planned out, and with a partial thaw this next week I think we’ll get a few projects wrapped up (like the hoophouse) and perhaps even some seeds for early vegetables in the ground, ready to grow.

I can remember when my grandpa built the greenhouse. I can remember my grandma teaching me to pollinate each flower by hand, to identify the extra stems (“suckers”), and to prune the suckers off so that the plants would spend their energy growing fruit. And the feeling I get when I walk into the warm, humid greenhouse on a sunny day during the coldest time of the year is incomparable, a feeling that feels fresh year after year after year. Lee Hawkins, a dear friend of the farm, also passed away this year and I can remember many conversations with both him and my grandpa, conversations wrapped in the fragrance of soil and glow of green tomato plants.

Now that I’m back on the farm, it’s easy for me to compare taking care of his greenhouse with my memories of taking care of my grandfather as he got older. As we look to the future, we remember the past.

-Becca and all of us at Corey Lake Orchards

Dayton making his morning check of the greenhouse tomatoes, 3-30-13

Dayton making his morning check of the greenhouse tomatoes, 3-30-13.

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What’s keeping YOU up all night?

This past month I have had the true joy of taking care of my new granddaughter, Emma-Grace. It brings back memories of when I was caring for my own newborn: those sleepless nights, the unsolvable puzzle of why they are crying,  every sound from the baby monitor triggering a “better get up and go see” until of course, you begin to figure a few things out and relax as a new parent. It seems to me that Jay and Michaela got this figured out pretty quick and are blessed to have a newborn that sleeps through the night already. As most grandparents had told me, one of the many benefits of being a grandparent is you can get the few hours of cuddling in, the baby goes home and you don’t have the sleepless night part anymore.

Emma-Grace, the farm's 4th generation, arriving for Grandma time!

Emma-Grace, the farm’s 4th generation, happy and excited for Grandma time!

Any long term customer knows that this is the time of year around the farm where it feels like we have a newborn. A 3000 square foot newborn, full of thousands of “baby” tomato plants, with sleepless nights and constant worrying in tow.

We have Schram’s Nursery in Portage start our plants every year, and we decided this was the week to bring them to the farm. We picked Tuesday, which was supposed to be one of the warmest in the ten-day window.  It turned out to be pretty doggone cold, never getting above 22 degrees, with wicked windchill.  Add the bad weather to some Tuesday morning discoveries: frozen water lines to the greenhouse, fried thermostats, and a few other issues.

And yes, we plan and prepare every year and things STILL go wrong! We have discovered that when you go to start up something that hasn’t been touched in a year, expect there to be problems and rejoice when there is not. This is why problem solving and patience is a highly valued skill set here. Rest assured, through the teamwork we got it done.

First Becca picked up the flats from Schram’s, carrying trays on her lap, putting them under her feet, stacking them on the dashboard, and balancing them across cup holders to get them all here in one trip, with the heat on high pouring out of every vent.  While she was doing that, David and Jay were climbing in well pits, unfreezing pipes, plowing snow, and changing out thermostats. Tom and Nichol had worked all day to get the soil ready and setting up pots. Becca pulled the van as close to the greenhouse door as possible  and everyone available, ran the plants as fast as we could into the greenhouse to keep them warm. And they all lived! Today, each plant was transplanted to its own pot and watered, they look  beautiful.

The main concern through the next several weeks, especially with these below zero nights coming, will be to make sure the heat keeps going. We have layers of back up systems in place along with some sophisticated alarm systems which let us know when things go wrong, but at the end of the day, we still need someone to check the temperature several times a night and react if need be.  So, thank you to Becca who has got the “greenhouse” monitor by her bedside and is the first responder! The BLT timeline is on track and we hope to have our first tomato in about 75 days!

1000 tomato plants having arrived safely into their new home 2_23_25

1000 tomato plants having arrived safely into their new home on 2/24

The bone chilling days of late has also kept us up worrying about the fruit.  We simply don’t know yet, the weather person is predicting some more very cold nights before we will even think about making an assessment.

Denim and Beth walking and 'worrying' through the peach orchard

Denim and Beth walking and ‘worrying’ through the peach orchard

 

Denim did not seem to have any worries preferring to play in the snow!

Denim did not seem to have any worries preferring to play in the snow!

Maintenance is in full swing with every tractor, vehicle and implement coming in and out of the shop for an intimate “look-see” and fix. Cousin David Hubbard is in the shop daily pushing through this important work. As he provides information on what needs to be fixed and what may/may not make it through another season, it gives us something else to worry about at night!

It is not always easy to get everything into the shop for maintenance!

It is not always easy to get everything into the shop for maintenance!

We are grateful to have David helping us this winter on maintenance, he is Beth's cousin, 2nd farm generation

We are grateful to have David helping us this winter. He is 2nd farm generation (& my cousin)

What else have we been doing?

Michaela, Patti, and Becca all participated in A Chocolate Affair, a bake-off featuring fair-trade chocolate and local talent in downtown Three Rivers. In the true spirit of winter, there was a snowstorm complete with white-outs the morning of the event, so we appreciate everyone who made it down to World Fare to sample all the wonderful baked goods! Michaela and Patti made decorated Chocolate Coca Cola Cupcakes, while Becca made Brandy Brownies. Michaela and Patti won the Best Presentation award! A big congratulations to all of the other winners.

Patti and Michaela, put the finishing touches on their Coca-Cola cupcake display for the contest

Patti and Michaela put the finishing touches on their Chocolate Coca-Cola Cupcake display for the contest

We want to give a huge “THANK YOU” to everyone who participated in our 2015 customer survey. With feedback from over 200 people, we really feel like we got valuable information to improve our operation and your orchard experience! It’s an opportunity for us to hear both the good and the bad parts of your experiences here, anonymously. 2015 planning meetings are underway as we take to heart your feedback.  We wanted to share a few comments people made, just as a small sample of all the information we’re taking to heart.

“Love the orchard!”          “Love the updates on email & Facebook”          “The cinnamon bread is too dense and needs to be lighter.”          “The pies and fresh donuts are both delicious!”          “I have been looking for a cherry pie like yours since my grandmother passed away over three years ago– thank you!!!”          “Peach pies need more peach.” “The cut flowers are so nice, especially the sunflowers.”          “Please try to keep prices affordable for local customers.”

As we’ve said, this is really our opportunity to do better so that you enjoy your time here more. We feel our farm is one of the most heavenly places on earth and it’s a privilege to share it with you all.

With our greenhouse now open–providing us the chance to put our hands in real dirt while working in 80+ degree air–we can almost feel spring coming! We have yet to finish the hoophouse – we can’t put the bottom boards in until the snow melts back a little more. But there is a patch of grass showing in Becca’s front yard right now. All that stands between us and spring is the month of March. We’re going to make it, people!

We hope you are sleeping well!

-Beth, Becca, and everyone else at Corey Lake Orchards

Becca and Patti hanging out at the Chocolate affair

Becca and Patti hanging out at A Chocolate Affair. Patti made that hat!

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