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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Broken Heart…Healed Heart…Happy Valentine’s Day

I’ve spent about ten days of the past two weeks traveling, starting January 31st with a trip to to Nashville, TN for a one-week Agritourism conference. As I was leaving for the airport, I grabbed the local paper out of the box at the end of the driveway. I saw a thick insert inside it and realized it was the annual printing of the winners of the “Best of” local awards. I knew then and there that since we hadn’t been notified, we had not won in the category of “Best Place to Buy Fruit” in Three Rivers. I tore through the pages to find the winner, and when I saw that it was a big box chain store, my heart was broken. If we aren’t serving our local community, what is our purpose? I arrived in Nashville later that night with my spirits down.

The next day, eight buses of farmers like myself headed on the road where over five days, we visited some pretty amazing farms and had two days of classroom style learning. I met some really great folks, had some fantastic local food and drink, had some down time just  for me, and got a chance to think out loud with my peers. It was exactly what I needed.

Upon my return, I read the summary of the survey we invited you all to participate in–still on a positive high from my week away, I read the many wonderful comments from all of you. My heart was restored along with my energy and enthusiasm to give my all to this family farm–to make it not only the “Best Place to Buy Fruit,” but a one of a kind destination that gives people a happy and memorable experience. Your feedback will help guide some of the changes we hope to make this year, so we are grateful so many of you found the time to take the survey. If you haven’t taken it yet, you’re still welcome to do so – just click here. We’ll leave it up until 2/20/15.

Becca also took a work trip recently, but a little closer to home! She spent four days in Chicago at CiderCon, a national conference on all things hard cider. Though she commented she feels all February conferences should be held in New Orleans or possibly Hawaii, she came back ready to brew. So you may anticipate the addition of more hard ciders and fruit wines this season too.

For those of you in Three Rivers, please come celebrate Winterfest downtown on 2/14! Patti and Michaela will be entering World Fare‘s “Chocolate Affair” contest, and there’s plenty more to do in case eating chocolate desserts isn’t enough for you. We also want to give a shout out to our farm’s beekeeper (also Becca’s mom/Beth’s sister/farm helper) Charlotte Hubbard who discussed her love of bees in this week’s Three Rivers Commercial-News.

This is normally the week we start up the greenhouse, but we are waiting on this next cold snap to be finished so we can safely get the tomato plants from Schram’s greenhouse in Portage back to the farm.  We are still on track for the first BLT of the year in about 100 days!

Beth and Becca and everyone at Corey Lake Orchards, stay warm!!

Just a few of the hundreds of pictures Beth took while in Tennessee:

Enjoyed touring their gift shops, cider mill, winery, restaurant and bakery

Enjoyed touring their gift shops, cider mill, winery, restaurant and bakery

Southern hospitality and "good eatins" like these homemade fried apple pies and homemade ice cream was abundant

Southern hospitality and “good eatins” like these homemade fried apple pies and homemade ice cream was abundant

We made a side stop in Gatlinburg to visit the moonshine distilleries.  This blue flame 128 proof couldn't put a candle to my  Dad's original 120 proof apple brandy!

We made a side stop in Gatlinburg to visit the moonshine distilleries. This blue flame 128 proof couldn’t put a candle to my dad’s original 120 proof apple brandy!

Really enjoyed the great antiques displayed at so many of the farms we stopped at.

Really enjoyed the great antiques displayed at so many of the farms we stopped at.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Survey problems – we fixed it! Will you try again?

We apologize for the technical issues that those of you who tried to complete our survey. We would like to ask you to try it again. Unfortunately it looks like it won’t work correctly if we send it directly via the email list. However, you can take it by going directly to our website.

Simply click here to go to http://www.coreylakeorchards.com/survey-2/ and you’ll see the whole survey.

Some of you went directly to the blog entry on our website and put in your answers there which worked fine. We still have your answers and are all set, so you do not need to re-do it. If you are not sure, just go ahead and input your answers again.

We’ll stop sending you emails now and go back to working on the hoophouse, getting ready for our tomato plants (coming next week), trimming grapes and ordering seeds.

Thanks so much!!  Beth and everyone at Corey Lake Orchards

 

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