December 07, 2011

Pickin' Nuts and Christmas

"There's not enough room in the pickup to put all of these pecans!!" says Dad.  Dad, the bags can be stacked on top of each other - we can indeed fit them all in.  Oh, he says.  "But they're wet!  They need to dry some!"  Yep, but Dad, they're in "onion" sacks - lots of air flow.  They'll be fine.  Oh, OK, he says.

Dad was worried because Saturday was another official harvesting day.  We'd got another 400-500 lbs. off of 8 trees.  Sunday was processing (cracking, shelling, picking) because of rain.  Again.  (Second Sunday in a row, dang it.) 

As usual, I woke up Sunday so stiff & sore I could hardly move, but it's getting better.  Or it was - now it's going to get worse because we have something like 900 lbs. of pecans to get ready for market.

See, I'm the official "picker".  (Jeff and Dad help, too, but I'm the one who is spending hours at it.)  That means I scoop a few handsful of shelled nuts onto a tray in my lap.  I then carefully examine every single one to make sure it's perfect (or close to perfect).  Pecans get something called "black spot" - which leaves, well, a black spot on the nuts.  It doesn't hurt them or change the flavor or hurt people who eat them, but they're ugly.  They scare people, so we make sure there aren't any in the bags for sale.

If possible, I break off the part with the black spot and put the resulting good pieces in one pile.  The perfect nuts go into a baggie.  The bad nuts (the ones with too many black spots, or the ones that are just plain old ugly) and any shell pieces go into a bucket to be disposed of.  When I have a pound of perfect nuts, the baggie gets zipped up and tossed into a box.  When I have a pound of bits & pieces, ditto.

As you can guess, this takes hours and hours to do.  The whole time I'm sitting on my butt, listening to the TV (I'm getting rather fond of Judge Judy).  Or music.  No exercise - and that's a whole 'nother kind of stiff & sore!

Anyway, the decision to actually seal the newly-picked bags of nuts wasn't made quickly or easily.  Dad had been reading again.  He was very concerned about the moisture content of the nuts.  Although we had hashed out what was an appropriate content for selling at market versus freezing them later, the topic had to be revisited.  Dad had had a revelation.

See, the higher the moisture content the more the nut weighs so it takes fewer nuts to make up a pound.  (Did you follow that??)  That's a good thing.  So yesterday Dad had to come over and check the moisture content of the nuts we sealed up 10 days ago.  Yep, they're losing moisture even though they're in sealed baggies.  That's a mystery - the bags still weigh a pound, and there's no visible moisture in the bags...

THEN, he made me count how many nuts were in the "old" pound, versus how many nuts are in the pounds I'd just been processing - the ones we harvested last weekend.

Amazingly (not), there was very little difference because the nuts were only about 1% different in moisture content.  

Meanwhile, I'm not picking pecans.  I'm jawin' with Dad.  No work is getting done except that Doug was processing the shelled ones, bringing me buckets to pick through.

Grrrr.  Can you see the steam coming out of my ears yet?

Dad finally took his hygrometer (the thing that measures moisture content) and went to go run the cracker.

But not until after we'd had another conversation about selling.  See, after we found out that Memphis has a huge flea market the third weekend of every month, and the third weekend in December is the one before Christmas, and we have all these nuts, we decided to try to get a booth down there.  I called last Friday and the lady told me to call back Monday 'cuz the vendors get to reserve a spot for the next weekend if they want.  (The flea market bounces back & forth between Little Rock, Arkansas, and Memphis.)

I forgot to call her Monday.  Oops.  I called her yesterday and hooray!  She had a couple of spots left so we got one.  

Oh, not-hooray!.  That means we've got to take ALL of the nuts we've harvested, 'cuz it's a two-day flea market and hopefully we'll be able to sell everything we've got.

Guess who's now sitting on her butt all day every day?  I picked for 10 hours straight yesterday.  And I'll be doing that every day until all the nuts are done.  Hopefully before the flea market.

I'm cross-eyed.  By the end of this harvest I won't want to see a naked pecan ever again.  

And the worst part is, there's no time to decorate the house & yard for Christmas.  Yep, I'm one of THOSE people - can't have enough Christmas decorations.  We were going to put the bucket truck (not the bucket tractor) in the front yard, stick a plastic Santa in the bucket and raise it high.  During the day people would see the Santa; at night the scene would be transformed into a giant Christmas tree with a star by running strings of lights from the bucket to the ground.

Maybe next year.  Oh, and of course today it snowed.  It's so cold I had to put my mini horse in the barn (he ain't happy).  But it sure is pretty...

And yep, these are our bikes.  THEY look prettier without snow!

November 26, 2011

Black Friday Wasn't Black At All

This post is late - I'm sorry.  I wrote it the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but didn't have any pictures to put with it.  I was hoping to get some but we were sooo busy!

I got out of bed this Saturday morning and my feet said "Now, Lisa, you know we weren't built to carry 400 pounds!"

Then my back said, "Lisa, you weren't meant to work like a pair of mules for 10 hours straight!"  My legs said, "Lisa, you are most definitely not a marathon runner!"  My arms said "You are not a weight lifter!" get the idea, I'm sure.  I'm sore in places I didn't think I even had muscles.

I had a long conversation with the rest of my muscles and joints.  I finally convinced them to do their jobs. See, we harvested pecans again yesterday.  We had to cram in a lot of work because it's supposed to rain the rest of the weekend, and for once the local meteorologist got it right.  It's clouding up right now.  Thank heavens. I couldn't take another day like yesterday - I'd be stove up solid like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.

I didn't have it as bad as the guys, though.  They had to constantly lift/drag/push/pull 100 lb. sacks of pecans and stuff.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As you can tell from previous posts, our entire focus in life right now is harvesting pecans.  I'm to the point of dreaming about it at night.  Jeff keeps wanting to take time off from his day job to get it done.  My Dad keeps dashing around buying stuff he thinks will help.  (Some does, some doesn't.  Thank heavens the shopping channels and infomercials don't have things considered useful for nut growers!)  Doug is an accommodating, happy-go-lucky guy who works when we want him to and doesn't worry about it the rest of the time.

All week we'd been gearing up for a whole weekend of "official" nut-picking.  Official means we bring out the heavy equipment. (Hand-picking with the rollie thingies goes on all the time.)  We discussed the upcoming weekend's strategy on Monday; on Tuesday; and on Wednesday.  Jeff would have four days off - we could get a LOT of nuts harvested!  I don't talk much about Jeff in these posts but he's an absolutely essential part of this farming thing.  He's the youngest, the strongest, and the smartest of us all.  (And he's my soulmate.)

All week Doug, Dad and I had got out with the rollie thingies at various times and picked up nuts.  We'd had rain last weekend and Dad had discovered an article on the internet by a member of the Alabama Pecan Growers Association (we're not in 'bama, but close enough).  It talks about how pecans mold if left on wet ground.  I'm a bit suspicious of that because if it were true there wouldn't be little pecan tree saplings everywhere, but OK.

We'd picked up a bunch of 5-gallon buckets of wet pecans.  Now, how were we going to dry them?  (Dad had ordered a hygrometer, which is a little machine you put things into that measures the percentage of moisture in whatever you've put in it.  Pecans for storage need to be at around 4%.  I know, you probably don't care about that.)  Anyway, we don't have a commercial nut dryer.  Putting them in the clothes dryer was out of the question - it gets too hot (yes, we actually considered it).  Ditto oven-drying.  Hmmm.

So Dad came up with the idea of just spreading them out on the front porch of the big house.  Surely the sun would come out, and since there's a bit of breeze they'd dry OK anyway.  I was very unhappy with this method because about a thousand squirrels live in the eaves of the big house, and I pictured those pecans as a smorgasbord just laid out for the tree rats.  (Turns out they stayed out of them because my cats and Dad's dog kept lurking about.)  Anyway, the nuts dried but it took a couple of days.

One of the most-discussed topics this last week was "Where are we going to store all of the nuts so the mice and so forth don't get into them?"  (Notice "where", not "how"...)  Well, we could put them in the metal-clad room in the barn that used to be where we stored cattle/horse feed?  Nope - pesticides have been stored in there (phew!), plus the metal's rusted away in places.  What about the big freezer that doesn't work?  Nope, not big enough, though it's a good backup.  The garage?  Nope, not rodent-proof.  Aha!  The back of Dad's pickup - it has a canopy and he's done it before and never had mice get in.  Problem solved.  (Remember that...)

We all took Thanksgiving off except for thinking about harvesting and one (long as usual) discussion with Dad about what our first tasks would be on Friday and what time we would all get started.

See, Dad's one of those abnormal people who habitually gets up around 4 a.m.  He's never been a full-time farmer, so I don't know why that is.  And the worst part is he thinks everybody should get up at 4 a.m. just like he does.  He wanted us to get an "early start", which meant get up at oh-dark-thirty.  That way we'd all be working when the sun comes up.  I have never, ever been a morning person (Dad knows this) and never shall be (Dad keeps trying to change this), and Jeff can't really function until he's been up at least an hour, but we told him we'd get out as early as we could. (It turned out to be around 8 a.m., which is very early for us.)

My first task yesterday was to shovel the now-dry pecans on the front porch into buckets so they could be run through the cleaner when we fired it up later.

And we hadn't been happy with the performance of the harvester two weeks ago; it was sweeping up basically everything that didn't have deep roots.  So Jeff's first task was to adjust the height a bit higher.  He'd read about it in the literature Dad downloaded off the internet (if there's a manual for the harvester, Dad doesn't know where it is).

Dad's first task was to talk to us about our first tasks (again).

Doug's first task was, apparently, to sleep in because he'd inadvertently been left out of the decision to get a very early start on yesterday's harvesting.  Doug's a lucky guy.

Adjusting the harvester apparently required a screwdriver.  I'm certain there are dozens of screwdrivers on this farm, but it took a little time to locate one.  Then Dad (who hadn't read the literature recently) had to instruct Jeff how to adjust the height.  My husband is a polite man, but he's a grumpy bear first thing in the morning, especially when he hasn't had a pot of coffee yet.  He didn't snap at my Dad, I don't think, (remember, I was on the front porch shoveling pecans) but when I showed up his face was red and I swear I saw a bit of steam coming out of his ears.

When I finished shoveling pecans into buckets I went around to the harvester where Jeff was still trying to adjust it.  (That's when I noticed the steam coming out of his ears.)  Dad and I talked about how and where we should get started (again).  He told me the first thing I should do is get the pecans off the porch (again).  To which I responded, "Oh, I'm done with that."  Oh, Dad says.

Then followed a discussion about whether or not the ground was dry enough to run the mechanical harvester over it.  We're standing in the driveway, not the orchard, so it was sort of pointless except we agreed that the harvester shouldn't be run over wet ground.  (Again.  And I'd read the literature, too.).  As usual, I was rarin' to go and the standing around talking things to death got to me - I snapped at Dad.  I told him this is all well and good, yes, we all need to be on the same page, but none of the work is getting done while we're standing here talking about doing it.  Ouch.  I had to apologize - I was rude.

About this time we started talking about what we were going to put all the harvested nuts into.  (That's the "how" part of storing the nuts.)  In all the week's jawin' we hadn't got to that very important part.  We had burlap sacks and we had actual red mesh pecan bags (think the plastic ones onions come in) "somewhere in the barn".  Oh, goody - wonder how old those are?

Dad wanted to save the burlap sacks for the cleaned pecans; my point was - what are we going to put the dirty ones into??  Jeff disappeared, and came back with a bundle of fifty of the red plastic ones.  They actually even said "Pecans" on them!  So we compromised - we'd use some of the burlaps for dirty ones, some for clean ones, and the red ones for cleaned and/or finished nuts.

Meanwhile, Dad had to clean out the back of the farm pickup so we could put the bags in there.  Oh-my-gawd.  It was full to the top of the bed sides with stuff, including an ancient hand-seeder with an iron wheel and big wooden handles that Dad had bought as a yard ornament.  We had to discuss where that was going to be stored until it could be put on display.  (It will have to be anchored because somebody will steal it.)  And I was rude again - Dad is notorious for just putting things any-old-where, so I said, "OK, you're going to actually organize this stuff, right?  Not just dump it in a pile somewhere?"  Ouch again.  But Dad took it in good grace (I think).

Jeff and I went to get the rest of the red bags.  Of course quite a few were ruined because they'd been there for who-knows-how-long, but most were good.  We got sidetracked; they were stacked behind piles of absolutely fascinating junk.  Some of it was stuff we'd heard Dad say, "I've got one of those around here somewhere but I can't lay my hands on it right now."  Some were things we don't know whose they were (like the big aluminum kettle thing with a bail - ??)  Some was trash (including a huge cardboard box that looked like someone had been living in it), so we ended up bringing out not only the red bags but a pickup bed full of garbage.  Not on the day's agenda, but every little bit of work counts.

Dad hadn't got 1/4 of his truck cleaned out when we got back.

About that time Dad wanted to revisit the whole "Is the ground dry enough for the harvester?" question.  So we went to the orchard.  And looked at the ground.  And kicked around in the leaves.  And picked up a few nuts to see how wet they were.  Dad decided we'd "try it and see how it does."  (That's one of Dad's favorite phrases.  I like it because he's open-minded.  Sometimes.)

Then we walked around some more to decide how many and which trees to harvest.  I was all for doing 10 or 15 of them, but because of the rain coming in we settled on 7.  After much arguing about which trees had the most nuts and were, therefore, worthwhile to shake.  (I did the arguing.  I'm kinda hard-headed.)  In the middle of it Jeff got disgusted and went to check on Doug.  By this time Doug should have shown up because of the motor noises, it's just his habit, but he hadn't.  (He slept in...)

Dad and I then got into another argument.  This time he was doing the arguing.  He said the trees further down in the orchard didn't have any nuts.  I said they did.  Dad wanted to go get his binoculars so he could look; I said there's no need, I can see the darned things though yes, there were a few that appeared to be bare.  Another conversation that had absolutely nothing to do with that we were trying to accomplish that day, so we tabled it.

My second task, once the area to be harvested was settled on, was to take Trusty Rusty and the cart, and go pick up branches from the area we were going to harvest.  Pecan trees are very messy; they drop more pieces of themselves than they do nuts.  So Dad was going to "blow" the area with the mower.  He sets the blades too high to cut but low enough to blow leaves and such into piles, so the harvester picks up less junk.  We got started.  Finally.

When that part was done and Dad went off to get Big Daddy and the tree shaker, I decided to pick up branches a little further into the orchard than we planned to work.  I stopped and looked up at one of those bare trees.  Yep, Dad was right - there were hardly any nuts up there at all.  Then I looked down.  Ye Gods!  There weren't any nuts on the tree because they were on the ground under the tree.  I couldn't take another step without crunching pecans underfoot!

Of course I had to run ask Dad if we could harvest those trees too.  The ground under those trees hadn't been finish-mowed, so the grass was pretty tall.  Dad said no.  I said damn.  That's OK, I know where I'm going to pick up nuts with the rollie thingie this coming week!

Dad went back to shaking trees.  I went to get supplies (burlap bags, the can of ethanol-free gas, which won't gunk up our old motors, a toolkit.  And some Cokes.)  Somewhere the wires got crossed, because a couple of trees got shaken that had already been done once.  (This is what happens when the boss turns her back, even for a minute!)

And about the time Dad finished shaking the first couple of trees, Nancy and her husband showed up to pick up nuts on the thirds.  (They're special family friends; nobody else is being allowed to pick up as of yet.)  So Dad finished shaking trees and went to talk.  They chatted a while, and I went to (successfully - I thought) prod Dad into going back to cleaning out his pickup.  Jeff started running the harvester, and all went well.  For about twenty minutes.

Then the motor on the harvester quit.  And wouldn't start.  Then it started, ran for a couple minutes and quit again.  Then it started and ran rough, and quit again.  (Remember, Lisa - you can't get there from here...)

Jeff, who doesn't have much patience for that sort of thing, was cussin' and stomping around.  Doug was helping (mechanickin', not cussin' and stomping around).  Since I realize (ok, I lied - I've been told) that my mechanical abilities are limited to annoying the mechanic with dumb questions like "Does it have gas?", I stayed out of the harvester motor issue other than to make sure nobody gave up.  While they each took turns watching the others work on the motor and providing helpful hints which were received with varying quantities of good grace: "Yeah, I know!" or "I already checked that!".

About this time I took off to get Dad, who'd had a visitor pull in and was jawin' with the guy even though he doesn't like him and was busy cleaning out his pickup.  I was hoping to get the visitor to leave, then point Dad back towards the truck, not the harvester motor.  The harvester would just be my excuse to interrupt and get rid of the guy.  No luck.  The guy knows all about engines, so he had to come help.  Now we've got our usual Farm Confab - all work halted, four of us standing around while Jeff worked on the motor. Offering helpful input like "Does it have gas?".  That didn't come from me, no sir - I was assisting by handing Jeff tools like a scrub nurse.  He'd bark "10 mm!" and I'd hand him the socket.

Sometime in here I pointed out to Dad that he really ought to finish cleaning out his pickup.  I don't think he could make himself leave; all of the repair talk was too exciting.  I couldn't leave because they'd all get to jawin' and work would stop.  Can you see the steam coming out of my ears yet?

Long story short, the harvester motor was repaired and put back in service.  It had been set at the right height and Jeff was doing circles under the trees, grumpily trying to work around Bill and Nancy who have the uncanny ability of knowing exactly when we're going to shake trees so they always show up to pick up nuts within ten minutes of the first shaking.  Hmm, wonder if they're being tipped off?  I heartlessly told Jeff to just drive, that they'd get out of the way.  (Bill and Nancy are in their seventies I think.) Dad disappeared, to clean out his pickup (or so I thought).  Everything was ticking along.  Doug was rolling up any nuts the harvester missed so I was kind of at a loss.

Then I remembered that Dad had been wanting us to pick up the cultured walnuts from the 4 trees in the front yard.  So, casting a guilty glance over my shoulder to see if anybody was watching, I snuck off with a bucket to pick them up.  These aren't those pretty, reasonably-soft-shelled walnuts you get whole and have a nice time cracking and eating during the holidays.  These are crossed with black walnuts, which you have to take a hammer and a chisel to, to get to the meats.

Now, if you've never harvested walnuts, you probably don't know that the husk of the walnut (that's the soft outer shell) was used during colonial days to dye clothing, well, walnut brown. It's a beautiful color, but it's permanent.  I had gloves on so I thought, "I'm safe.  No black hands for me!".  Unh-unh.  The hulls were all squishy so I was squeezing the nuts out, leaving my gloves coated with pitch-black walnut sludge.  One of my gloves, unbeknownst to me, had blown out.  When I got done I had one brown hand (including under my fingernails), and one regular hand.  Oh, well.  It'll wear off.  By next summer.

Things went well for quite a while (several hours, actually); we had a system.  We also had our nut cleaner back from the guy we'd loaned it to (he finally found one for sale and bought it).  The sack on the harvester filled up, it was taken off and dumped into the cleaner hopper, and everybody but the harvester driver picked debris out of the nuts that the cleaner missed.   Until the cleaner motor wouldn't start. Oh, fer Pete's sake!  Dad must've heard the silence because he showed up in his (not-yet-empty) pickup.

While Jeff and the others had another stand-around trying to fix the thing, in the interests of getting work done I got on the harvester.  First time I'd driven the mower (a big orange thing that tows the harvester).  Dad must've not been feeling well because he just pointed me towards it instead of giving me the usual instructions. And about this time Nancy had showed back up with a piece of homemade coconut cake for me.  What a sweetheart!  She appeared to be fascinated with the cleaning process because she hung around for quite a while, jawin' and helping pick out debris.  (Doug told me later that her husband was watching the football game and she's not into football, so she probably just came back because she was bored.)

I only ran the harvester out of gas once.  But I kept forgetting to stop by the cleaner and have the full bag removed and replaced, so a couple of times I had to go back over the same ground because the harvester just picked the pecans up and dropped them right back on the ground when the sack was full..  Hey - at least the pecans were all in a neat row, stacked and ready to be picked up!

We got a lot of pecans harvested, considering it was another Keystone Cops day.  I'm guessing 600 pounds or so.  We sold some pecans this last week and we have pending orders from local candy makers and nut roasters.  Nancy has been spreading the word far and wide.

The weather ain't lookin' too good, though.  Rain for the next three days and Dad says maybe even snow for Tuesday night.  It won't hurt the pecans much, but it won't let us harvest, either.  Darn.  Guess I'll have to spend more time at my day job...

November 21, 2011

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go: Flea Market!

OK, maybe this weekend wasn't the best to take pecans to the flea market. It was the one weekend a month Memphis has their huge flea market. We didn't decide to start selling in time to get a booth there. But we figured maybe the country folk would want pecans for Thanksgiving pecan pies (wish mine were as pretty as the one in the pic), so we rented a booth at a year-round, rinky-dink little market on a major highway out in the boonies. We've been by there on the weekends and usually the place is packed. We figured we would be far enough away from the Memphis market.  (Turns out we weren't, but so what? This was a test run anyway.)

Although the idea had been kicked around for a couple of days, the decision wasn't made to actually go until Wednesday evening. Only two days before the sale. (I tried not to panic.)

But, as with everything here on the farm the decision to go to market wasn't reached quickly or easily. No, we had to have several Famous Farm Confabs about it. Anytime one of us had a new comment or idea, we'd call a meeting to discuss it. Which kind of booth - covered, with tables; uncovered, with tables; a bare piece of ground? (Covered, with tables. $20/day.) What quantity and stages of nuts should we take? (As many as we can - cracked and finished.) How much are we going to sell them for? (Finished go for $7.38 for 10 oz. at Walmart. And they're old - anywhere from 3-5 years in storage. And they taste like crap. Our finished halves are priced at $7.00 for 16-18 oz., bits & pieces at $6, cracked at $5, and whole in the shell for $4. We'd market them as pesticide-free, 2011 crop, heirloom trees "Stuart" variety, planted in 1960.)

Speaking of confabs, Dad panicked on Friday - he'd just realized we needed change. (I'm way ahead of you, Dad. Jeff and I are old hands at this selling stuff. We've been to numerous craft shows.) I told him Jeff was going to get the change when he got off work. "Oh, goodness, what if he has to work late?" Dad - I have my car, I can run to the bank, no problem. "Oh, good!" Then, "How are we going to handle the money??" Dad, I have a cash box. I carry part of the bank in an apron pocket to make change. The cash box stays hidden and locked up in the truck. "Oh, OK. But what if somebody wants a receipt??" Dad, I have a receipt book too. ", OK." (I think at that point he kinda gave up on micro-managing, since we seemed to have the business aspect under control.)

On Thursday we took inventory. Oh, no! We had almost no clean halves to sell. Let the mad scramble begin.

Pecans have to go through several steps to get to the pretty halves stage. There's cleaning up under the trees; shaking the trees; harvesting the fallen nuts (aka "picking up") which can be done with a mechanical harvester that leaves the nutshells REALLY dirty and picks up everything under the trees, or picking up by hand, which takes forever but allows us to skip using the cleaner because we're only picking up good nuts. See my previous farming posts).

Then comes running them through four different pieces of equipment: the cleaner, which does an excellent job at, well, cleaning - it gets rid of leaves, branches, "pops" (which are empty or very light pecans), dust and debris. We had two or three huge burlap sacks and 8 or 10 5-gallon buckets of whole nuts that were already clean either because they'd been run through the cleaner or picked up by hand. We decided not to worry about the 1-1/2 burlap sacks that need to be driven up to where our cleaner is temporarily out on loan. We decided we had enough nuts to sell. Check.

The whole nuts for selling had to go through the cracker, which is under a lean-to in the barnyard. I *love* this machine. The nuts go into a hopper on top and Ka-POW, pause, Ka-POW, nut at a time gets whacked on both ends without crushing the nut. (Like I said, it's magic - the nuts vary in size and I don't know how that machine can tell.) The nuts then fall into whatever container you've stuck under the machine. This one takes a while to process the nuts. Somebody has to stand there and watch to make sure nothing goes wrong 'cuz sometimes a nut will get stuck. The guys love this one - other than toting the nuts to and from the machine, there's very little work involved. Dad and Doug started on the cleaned nuts on Thursday. Remember, hubby Jeff has a day job.

Then there's the sheller. See the hopper on top? The squared-off-cone thingie, not the round thing.  I'm not sure exactly how the sheller works - that's all guy stuff.  The sheller magically removes almost all of the shell from the cracked nuts. All I really know about it is you dump the nuts into the hopper, and there's a special stick (I think it's a pecan branch) that you have to use to stir the nuts to keep them going through one at a time. Yep, one at a time - just like the cracker. Takes a while. The guys love this one too - other than poking the nuts with a stick (which to a guy is a fun thing to do), they get to stand there and watch. I haven't figured out yet why it takes two people to stand there and watch, but that seems to be the Southern way. Dad and Doug got a lot of nuts through the sheller on Thursday and Friday.

It and the picker table (oh, and a sorting machine that hasn't been used in about 10 years but should "fire right up!" Yeah, OK, Dad...) are in the barn. In what was a really filthy room - layers of dust, the room stank of farm chemicals stored in one corner, you don't want to know about the rest of the stuff that was in there. Blech. It had taken Jeff and Doug a whole day to clean up that room and sanitize the machines. After discussing it with me because apparently I'm the Queen Bee of Cleaning. (Not - my answer was "bleach-water everything!")

I guess you've figured out by now that my 86-year-old father hasn't done any selling for years. When he has a good crop, people come out of the woodwork and pick up on the halves. (Half for them, half for Dad.) Dad's huge commercial freezers are full of nuts from two years ago. And he gives away most of his share, or they sit in the freezer too long (over 2 years) and he throws them away. Waste, waste...

Finally, the nuts had to be picked. (Are you confused yet? "Picked up" is different from "picked".) On Thursday, Dad and Doug had run a bunch through the mechanical picker. Jeff and I spent 4 hours that night hand-picking finished pecan halves and bits & pieces out of the picked nuts. We got 19 lbs. of halves and pieces. Remember those numbers: 8 man-hours for 19 lbs...

It was now Friday afternoon and the remaining nuts had been cracked, but not picked. Jeff had to work late, Doug was having some health problems, and Dad just works too slowly. Jeff and I made the command decision to just bag up the cracked nuts and call it good. It took us about 6 hours to bag up 63 pounds of cracked nuts. Dad was horrified that we were sorting out the bits of shell and only bagging the cracked nuts. Apparently the way it's usually done is they're scooped out of a huge bag or bin and weighed - shell pieces and all. Well, that's not good enough for Lancaster Pecan Farm. (Yep, he's decided to change the farm name.) We want to give our customers the highest value for their money.

Saturday dawned sunny but cold and windy. We went to market. I'll bet you guessed that after all our hard work the flea market sales sucked. We sold $101.00 worth of pecans, but we found out something really valuable - people don't want to buy cracked nuts. Of course they want the finished halves or bits & pieces. We sold out of bits & pieces, and 9 pounds of finished halves, plus 5 pounds of cracked nuts. That's it. (sigh) 

The stuff on the left table is bath salts and other homemade things we brought to sell.

And I spent 'way more than our share of the sales at the flea market, but that's OK - I got a great Christmas gift for our triplet nieces who are turning 1 year old just before Christmas. (I won't say what it is because I think their Mom reads this blog.) And some pipe insulating wrap 'way cheaper than in the store. And a pretty beaded necklace w/earrings for $1. And we bought lunch. And I found some reference books I couldn't live without - how to run electrical wiring, basic woodworking, etc. And some more hot rocks for our hot rock kit. If you've never used hot rocks on sore muscles you should definitely try it! (sigh)

Dad popped in and out of the booth during the day, (Jeff and I were manning it - Doug had the day off) and in the early afternoon he had a brilliant idea: he has a small electric nut cracker and why couldn't we set it up and run pecans through it at the booth? Hmmm. Well, electricity costs extra, doesn't it? Dad toddled off to find the flea market guy, couldn't find him, and asked a vendor who was using power. $3.00 extra - no big deal. OK, well, there just aren't many people shopping here today, Dad, so - is it worth going home, getting it, setting it up...? It was to him so he said he'd bring it back after he ran some errands.

I guess he forgot, or ran too late with his errands, because he didn't bring it back. It would have been nice to have something to do while waiting for people to walk by, but I was afraid the other vendors would complain about the noise. (Ka-POW, pause...) We tried our best to stay out of the burlap bag of whole pecans we'd set out for visual appeal, but I caved. Towards the end of the afternoon I was just sitting there, cracking nuts by hand and eating them. They are SO good!

When Dad did finally come back, we had to talk about whether we wanted the booth for Sunday, too. Gee, Dad, they're saying it's going to rain. "Well, we could put up tarps along the sides." Yes, but, where are the tarps? "Oh. I can't think where they are off the top of my head. I could go buy some?" Well, if you really want to, but it's definitely going to rain. People don't shop open-air markets in the rain..."Yeah, that's true, they don't. Well, why don't we wait and see? I can call A.J. (the flea market guy) tomorrow morning and let him know." Good idea. We all agreed to wait.

But just in case we were going back on Sunday, we needed more finished nuts. The nuts that had been shelled on Friday needed to be picked. Dad felt strongly that we should use the mechanical picker to get ready for Day 2 at the flea market. We should have remembered how much we got finished Thursday (because the nuts had been run through the picker), because an argument could have been avoided. 

 We agreed that we could use the mechanical picker. It's a cool little number too. The nuts are vibrated to knock almost every bit of shell off. But it takes at least 2 people to operate because it's set on its highest speed. This is the "Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory" scenario. The guys hate this one because you really have to grab the nuts off the conveyor fast or you lose them...and that's too much like work. (Supposedly you can put a different widget on a whatchamacallit to slow the thing down, but nobody's had time to look it up.  Plus, Dad hasn't located the manual yet.)  In this pic, Doug is in the foreground and Jeff is in the background.  They don't have the picker turned on 'cuz I guess they can't keep up.  They've run a few nuts through, then turned off the machine so they can pick through them.  Hey, whatever works, right?

Anyway, for Day 2 of the market I was all for using the picker at first. But not because it's efficient (that's another story). The three of us dipsticks ganged up on Dad and said it was easier on our backs to just do the finish picking by hand until the picker table could be either raised or lowered for the two tall guys. It's at just the wrong height. And, one leg is about to go through the barn floor so it isn't level - we need to put plywood down.  That barn was built in the '20s.  Plus the picker runs FAST, so if we don't want to go through all the shells to find the nuts we missed on the conveyor belt, we've lost them.

Oh, the arguing! (Dad's really a "It's my way or the highway" kind of guy, though he's getting better.) Finally it was settled - Dad was overruled - we idiots would finish-pick by hand. (I wish I'd known what I was in for: My fingers hurt - those !#*A!? shells are sharp!)

By 6 p.m. Saturday night we'd sat down to pick the shelled nuts by hand. Nothing like waiting 'til the last possible minute, huh? It took three of us (and several beers for the guys) 6 hours to hand-pick 17 pounds of halves and bits & pieces out of a big plastic tote full of shelled pecans. Remember those numbers above? 8 man-hours for 19 pounds after the nuts have been through the mechanical picker. So let's see, Friday night was 18 man-hours for 17 lb. finished. Duh. Like I said, we're dipsticks.

Selling the finished halves at $7.00/lb. makes no economic sense whatsoever considering the expenses involved, but we look at it like this: what else do we have to do? Well, a lot  actually, but none of us are able to stand by and watch this bumper crop of pecans go to waste.  All the nuts I'm talking about here, and including several 5-gallon buckets people picked up on the thirds, came off of 4 (four!) trees.  4 down, 194 more to go... 

Oh, and here's what could be excellent news: Dad decided to go visit the big Memphis flea market on Sunday to check out any competition. He didn't find a single vendor selling pecans, but he found 4 (four!) companies who make things with pecans. They've been buying their pecans at Sam's Club or Costco, and they're not happy with the price or the quality. We might not have to go to flea markets and such - we may have some year-long customers lined up. I'm to call them today and arrange to take them samples. Then we'll haggle price. Awesome!

Meanwhile, hubby took the day off from his day job today (Monday). I put an ad on Craigslist yesterday morning and I've already had 3 responses to purchase pecans, and one lady who wants hers cracked and shelled.  Jeff and Doug are out in the barn right now, running those 60+ pounds of cracked pecans through the sheller and the picker. My job for the rest of today, tomorrow and probably Wednesday (because of rain): hand-pick and package finished nuts. It's OK, it's raining cats & dogs. The dishes and laundry can wait another day or two.

Then this coming weekend, if it dries up enough, we go back to harvesting.  Starting Friday.  Thursday we're smoking a couple of Cornish Game Hens and I'll be fixin' the trimmings.  Hey, all work and no play makes us really bitchy...

November 16, 2011

Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away - Home??

Ladybugs are what's called "beneficial insects".  To us farmers, anyway.  They're carnivores - they eat nasty, crop-destroying bugs called "aphids", among others.  (I think aphids are cute - they're bright springtime green, and really funny-looking, but...)  The more ladybugs around, the safer our crops will be.

See, we are going to be "all-natural".  In more ways than one, but that's another story.

That means organic fertilizers and no petrochemical pesticides.  We think we're going to have to plant double the amount of things others do, so the bugs can have some.  And the deer.  And the raccoons, possums, etc. Even though we're trying to figure out how to keep some special ducks that eat bugs but not the crop - we have HUGE red-tailed hawks here, plenty big enough to carry off a duck.  And duck poo is excellent fertilizer for the plants.

There are lots of critters around here that are good for our crops.  This last summer we were overloaded with toads.  You know, the cute brown ones with black spots?  They're good bug-eaters too.  They were everywhere, and ranged in size from your thumb to your hand.  But don't step on one! And by the way, toads aren't slimy like frogs are.

Anyway, ladybugs are apparently long-lived.  They hibernate in the winter.  In our bedroom. I have no idea how they're getting into the house.

This is only the beginning.  Later there will be hundreds of them, in a huge mass in that corner.

And here's another good sign:  they're starting to form a mass in our other bedroom (my office), too!

Before you say Ewwww! let me say that we'll put up with a lot in order to make a go at farming.  Although there's a very slight musky odor in the bedroom during their sleep, they don't bother us. Except the other night we found one in the bed, literally between the sheets. That one got totally lost!

They don't fall on us, or fly around, or crawl around except when they're getting ready to go to sleep.  It's kinda fun to lay in bed, watching them walk aimlessly around the ceiling.  They look a little like a Pac-Man game - they'll move along, then take a sharp 90 degree turn and head off in that direction. We counted 15 of them the other night.

Eventually they'll find the mass in the corner and nod off.  One day in springtime we'll wake up and they'll all be gone.  Every single one.

Isn't nature fascinating?

November 14, 2011

Harvesting Pecans!

I talked to my boss about needing time off because it's harvest time. Her reply?  "Go for it!".  I'm so lucky to have such a great boss, that's for sure.  Of course I'm going to have to give her some pecans, but that's OK. (Just kiddin'.  There was no bribery involved, and she's a terrific person - she can have all the pecans she wants!  And I ain't just saying that 'cuz she's my cousin, either...)

So last Monday I went out to help Dad and Doug get equipment ready.  I rode down to Doug's to get him but he wasn't there, and damned if my riding mower (aka my "ATV") didn't croak on me.  It ran fine, but it wouldn't move.  Trusty Rusty had let me down.  (That John Deere dump cart behind the mower is older than I am!)  And that's the front of the bucket tractor.  See the snaggle teeth? And that black thing is a grappler (or, as I like to call it, the "squeezing thing").

Oh, and that little weird brick building, well, nobody knows what it was originally intended to be.  It's built of "slave brick" like the chimneys and dates to the 1840s, like the house.  Dad says it's a cold frame for starting seeds, but I'm not so sure.  There are steps that go down about 2 feet to the floor inside.  Dad replaced the (missing) roof with solar panels back in the 70s but apparently that didn't work out. (That's another story.)

So, the mower broke down.  (Remember, Lisa, you can't get there from here.) I went back up to the house to find Dad, but he was gone too.  Damn.  We needed to get on this - servicing the equipment so we could harvest.  I had got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning anyway, so that bad old steam started to come out of my ears...

I went inside and did some work (even though I was technically on leave), and later Doug came in.  Dad had looked over the mower and discovered the drive belt was bad - it basically fell off into his hands.  He had gone and picked up another one so Doug and I went down to try to figure out how to put on the new belt.

Yeah, right.  You just can't get to the drive pulley to take it loose so we could get the belt on.  Even if we could, we'd need an impact gun to get that nut off, and we didn't know which way it turned (righty-tighty-lefty-loosey doesn't always apply to pulleys).  We couldn't figure out how the old belt had possibly fallen off!

We tried everything:  wrenching, beating parts with a hammer.  Even cursing at it didn't work.  I found the manual in my brother's old trailer and although there were great diagrams about how to change the mower blade belt, the manual said "to change the drive belt, take it to the dealer."  

Completely enraged, we decided to just give up for now.  One of us was going to put a shotgun slug through the motor if we didn't.  (Later, Dad's friend Mike who is a terrific handyman, a hard worker, and a good friend to Dad - but in my opinion a real asshole - came over and showed Doug how to fix it.  Turns out it was something simple and obvious we'd missed.  Of course.  Now Doug's a dipstick too.) 

My bad mood turned out to be the start of an episode of depression, so I lost the rest of last week.  Ugh. Doug and Dad did a lot of work on the equipment and got most of it ready, so that's a good thing.  And when the weekend arrived, I snapped out of my depression, and Woo Hoo!  It's harvest time!

In the past Dad had allowed people to pick up pecans on the halves.  (Half for them, half for Dad.)  This year we decided we had such a good crop that only special people were going to get any pecans for free, and only on thirds.  But Saturday a guy and his wife showed up, claiming they knew Dad, and wanted a couple of ice cream buckets of pecans.  Due to a miscommunication, we let them get away with free nuts.  Shit.  Well, it wasn't enough to hurt but Dad and I had a confab about how we were going to politely turn people away.  During this confab I found out that he'd decided Jeff and I were equal partners in the harvest!  With authority and everything!

First things first:  now that the ground had been cleaned up, shake the tree.  This is the coolest thing ever.  The whole tree sort of vibrates - it doesn't whip around.  I tried to get a pic of the nuts falling but my camera didn't do a good job.  If you look close, those black dots against the sky are flying pecans.  The tree does look a bit blurry because it's vibrating.  And you'd better not be anywhere near or under it because nuts rain down like, well, nut-sized hail.  Doug didn't get far enough away and got conked.  

Years ago Dad had wisely put a roof on the tractor (that's Big Daddy), so he was safe.  I knew how far away to stand, and my jaw dropped at how many pecans fell.  Get this - not all of them are ready, so we will have to shake twice to get them all.  (The tree shaker is monstrous - this is it squeezing the tree.  I can't begin to get my arms around that tree.)

It isn't a bumper crop but we have a LOT of pecans - we estimated about 50 lb. per tree (in a really good year we get about 100 lb. per tree).  Hmmm, 50 lb/tree x 200 trees = 10,000 lb. or around 5 tons.   In the shell, but still, that should work out to around 2-1/2 tons of finished nuts.  FIVE TONS.  Where the hell are we going to put them all???

Once the nuts are down, we rake them out from in front of the tractor tires so they don't get crushed.  (Yes, every single nut counts - that's money, honey.)  Then comes the second-coolest thing: the mechanical harvester (or nut-picker-upper as I call it).  There's a big burlap bag hanging off the front that catches the nuts.  Dad's towing it with his finish mower.  It doesn't need a tractor to pull it because it has its own motor.

In the back is a mat of chain that rotates, sweeping the nuts up into a hopper.  Then they go up the arm into the bag.  Doesn't my hubby have a cute tush? He's so camera-shy that this is just about the only kind of pic I ever get of him: a sneaky one.

This is the picker-upper in action.  Again, my camera wasn't up to the job - there's dust and leaves flying out the back.  It rakes the ground almost completely bare.  

Unfortunately that means leaves and the little branches we missed get picked up too, but we have a piece of equipment (called a "cleaner") that we'll run the nuts through and it will toss all that stuff out.  

I don't have a pic of it yet because Dad loaned it to a really nice family who have a few trees and wanted to see if it was worthwhile to buy one.  He's going to get it back this week.

Because the ground in the orchard isn't completely flat, the picker-upper misses some nuts.  So we have these nifty hand-picker-uppers we use to get the rest of them.  You can sort of see them in the pic; they're the long-handled things with wire cages that roll along the ground.  The nuts are pushed into the cage.  In fact, the harvest is going to be so good that I just ordered four more of those.  We're going to need help!

After shaking only two trees, here's eight 5-gallon buckets that we picked up by hand with the rolling thingies.  Each bucket holds about 20 lb. of nuts in the shell, or about 10 lb. of nut meats.  There are also two and a half big (I do mean big - see the pic above) burlap bags that came out from under those two trees too.  And that doesn't count the buckets that people picked up and took home...

Wait a minute.  I tried to pick up one of those burlap bags and I couldn't.  Now, I can lift 50 lbs. easy, so - we're getting way more than 50 lbs. per tree!!  It IS a bumper crop!

But we've got to really get our butts in gear.  What with getting the equipment set up, and people dropping by, and other minor crises that popped up, this and the burlap bags is all we got picked up all weekend.  Four of us were working at it!

In the past Dad has sold the nuts whole, in the shell.  This year they're going for between $1 and $2. Per pound.  I say "The Hell With That!".  Dad has the equipment to mechanically take those whole nuts and end up with perfect pecan halves (well, with some bits & pieces, too). 

So this week we're going to get that equipment functional, come hell or high water.  There's a cracker (which, um, cracks the shells), a sheller (which gets most of the shell off), and a picker.  The picker gets the rest of the shell pieces off, but "picker" is a misnomer - turns out people have to stand there and pick the nuts off a sort of conveyor belt, or they'll go right by and fall into the tub that holds the shell pieces.  Remember that "I Love Lucy" episode where she and Ethel are working in the chocolate factory and can't keep up with the candies going by?  Yeah, it's gonna be like that...And yes, there will be pictures.  

We had a confab last night (today is Tuesday, I don't know where yesterday went).  We're thinking that this weekend we'll bag up the nut meats we've got so far and take them to a local flea market.  Assuming we can get all of the equipment working.  Which is a big assumption considering you can't get there from here...

 We can probably get $7 a pound for the finished nuts, since they're this year's crop and they're "no spray" - which means no pesticides.  (Did you know that the pecans you buy at the grocery are anywhere from 3-5 years old?  No wonder they taste like, um, crap.)

Oh, I know where yesterday went!  I spent most of the day in & out of the house, politely running people off.  Word's out that Lancaster Farms has a crop this year, and anybody who's still alive and who's ever come and picked up on the halves is showing up.  And their friends, and their friends' friends...  Dad's nuts are the best!  (I mean his pecans, silly.)

And hey, we've got a Paypal account, so if you want to order some nuts, drop me an email.  I'm planning to set up a little storefront on the web to sell them anyway...

November 13, 2011

Breaking News and Harvest Time

A family friend, Thomas, saw me trying to disk our hard ground a couple of weeks ago.  He had come over to pick turnip greens from Dad's fall garden.  We planted lettuce and bok choy and spinach, but then Dad scatter-sowed the turnip greens and they choked our stuff out.   Scatter-sowed is just what it sounds like: you put the seed into this mechanical thingie, turn the handle, and seed goes EVERYWHERE (including your mouth, your eyes, and I even picked some out of my ears once.)

Anyway, even with the several hundred pounds of oak tree on the disks (see previous post), they just weren't cutting it (get it? "cutting" it? OK, bad pun).  So Thomas offered to sell us what's called a "breaking plow". 

This is yet another ancient, wicked-looking, solid iron implement that hangs off the back of a tractor.  The plow heads are shaped a lot like the grass cutter we had so much success with trying to dig a water line trench (that worked out well - not!) but there are two of those devil's tail-looking things and they're a LOT bigger.  Plus, they turn the sod over so the grass roots are exposed, killing the grass.

Thomas is tricky; when he told me he had one I said something to the effect of "Gee, that's nice."  He then went to Dad and said I had mentioned how nice it would be to have one and would Dad like to buy his?  Of course Dad did, because he's really gung-ho about us trying to raise crops, and the ground really needed to be broken, and so he practically stole the thing by giving Thomas $60 for it.  I promptly insisted that Dad take a check from me for it - I wanted that plow for myself; plus, it's going to be used for our business (we lease land from Dad for our plantings).

It's a perfectly good plow even though it's pre-WWII, and worth a lot more than $60, so I went behind Dad's back and gave Thomas an extra $100.  Hey - it's a tax write-off as well as being a necessary tool.  I swore Thomas to secrecy about the $100.  Dad gets upset when we spend money on farm stuff even though I've told him a dozen times it's a tax write-off.  He's a stubborn guy, my Dad.

That week Dad went and got the plow out of the brush at Thomas's place.  (He just lives around the corner, which equates to about half a mile one-way.)

Last Saturday dawned bright and clear.  As usual I was doing my Happy Dance, excited to learn how to plow.  But wait - the tractor wouldn't start.  It took three people twenty minutes to decide to check the battery and sure enough, it was almost dead.  (That's Thomas on the right.)  So it had to be jumped off.  Done!  Now the tractor's running, and I can go learn how to plow.

Um, no.  When I was pre-tripping the tractor (kinda like truck drivers do before they start their day), I noticed the hydraulic fluid was low.  That's not a good thing.  Hydraulic fluid is necessary to lots of things on tractors, and if you run out you're screwed - it messes up some stuff inside that takes a pro to fix.  I've never torn into the guts of a tractor and I hope I never have to.  I know there are things that require special tools, and great big heavy wrenches, and - it's just not my thing.

So anyway, it takes two people to add hydraulic  fluid; one to hold the almost-useless-wrong-tool-for-the-job funnel, and one to pour the fluid from a 5-gallon bucket.  This results in pouring about 3/4 of the fluid into the tractor, and the other 1/4 down the outside.  (Gotta remember to get a big transmission funnel!)  Thomas had come over to teach me to plow, so I roped him in to helping me (for once, Dad wasn't lurking about).  It took us fifteen minutes to try to get that thing filled.  We finally figured there was enough because we couldn't find the dipstick is to check the level.  It should have been marked, we thought, so maybe there isn't one. (Yeah there is, so we're the dipsticks!)

OK, now I've got hydraulic fluid.  Engine oil's fine, it has fuel - I'm ready to go!!  

Nope. I took a pass around the tractor, inspecting everything from tires to, well, everything else.  I noticed hydraulic fluid dripping from one of the hose connector plugs in the back.  And no, it wasn't from spillage.  See, the tractor has what's called a "PTO" which stands for power takeoff.  Things that hang off the back and need the tractor to power them have hydraulic hoses that plug in to the back.  To keep dirt out, we keep those plug-ins, well, plugged.  (Just FYI, if something on the back needs electrical power to operate, it has its own motor.  Which often doesn't work, but that's another story.)

I tried re-seating the leaking plug; no luck.  By the way, hydraulic fluid is yucky stuff, it's slimy and won't come off without GoJo.  I'm not a girlie girl but ewwww...I wiped my hands on my sweatpants and now that crap won't come out.  I guess I was too dumb to put on my work gloves first.  Hey - this farming thing is a learning experience! 

Thomas decided he was going to show me how to plow anyway, although we concluded that I couldn't do much more than learn until the leak was fixed.  Around this time Dad came out to see what we were doing.  He pointed out the dipstick for the hydraulic fluid to us dipsticks.  Which of course took a wrench to get it loose because it hadn't been checked in God knows how long.  I went and got the wrench, got it loose, and the hydraulic fluid was still low, so Thomas and I had to put more in.  Another 20 minutes gone.  (We didn't mention the drip.)

Then, since Thomas was going to make the first pass with the plow, Dad had to show him exactly where we were going to break the ground.  Even though Thomas was standing there last weekend when Dad and I worked it all out (again), Thomas had to be informed (again).   Dad stood at the end of the first row so Thomas would know exactly what to aim for.  (That little white dot under the trees down there is my Dad.)  You can see the dead grass where I disked last weekend.

Thomas ran the first row just fine, but when he turned to come back the tractor got stuck.  It shouldn't have.   

And look how deep that sucker goes!  Now THAT's what we need to break up our clay and aerate it.  (I went over that area 3 times with the disks, didn't even kill most of the darned grass.)

The tractor got stuck because of the hydraulic fluid.  It was pissing it out now instead of dripping, and we had to stop immediately.  Can you see the steam starting to come out of my ears?  I wouldn't be learning to plow that day.

So here we go with another one of our Famous Farm Confabs.  Dad called in Jeff and Doug.  Thomas was there too.  With me that makes five people scratching their heads and looking dumb.  The guys had to each take a turn at re-seating the plug and eventually confirmed what I'd found - it wouldn't seat properly.  In fact, by the time everybody was done playing with it hydraulic fluid wasn't pissing any more - it was gushing.  The tractor was out of commission. (Remember, Lisa, you can't get there from here...)

After twenty more minutes of discussion with some arguing thrown in, it was decided that Jeff would take the leaky plug loose and run to the tractor supply place to get another because the rubber seal was shot.  Dad argued that the plugs couldn't be bad - he'd just put them on about 10 years ago...Dad volunteered to go pick up the plug instead, so we gave him the leaky one with instructions to get one JUST LIKE IT - that's why he was taking it with him.  (By the way, the tractor only pissed fluid when it was running; once we shut it off there's no pressure in the system.)

We moved on to other things - Jeff was doing I-don't-know-what, and poor Doug went back to working on the water line.  I went out to take pix for this blog.  

After a while, Dad came back.  With the wrong plugs.  He hadn't showed the guy at the tractor supply place the one we sent with him.  Shit.  So Dad got on the phone with another parts store, told them what we needed (oh, no, bad idea).  The parts place was closing in 20 minutes but they'd charge Dad's farm account and hang it on the fence so we could pick it up later.  (That's the country way, folks.)

We were at a standstill as far as plowing.  Dad went in to nap.  Jeff and Doug and I had a confab to decide what to work on.  The biggest chainsaw had died and been taken to the shop, so working on the old oak was out.  We stood around picking our noses for a while and jawing.  (OK, we weren't really picking our noses, it's just an expression.)

Then I remembered something: while I was out taking pix, I had noticed a lot of pecans on the ground and it hit me: oh, shit!  It's harvest time!  Two hundred plus trees.  (Isn't that a pretty picture?  It only shows about 12 of the trees.  The working orchard goes waaay farther back, then hooks right.)

And around and behind the pond are another 200 or so trees...but they're not accessible due to 10 years' worth of undergrowth.  Damn.

I freaked.  We weren't ready.  None of the equipment had been serviced, the grass in the orchard hadn't been finish-mowed, the storage area for the harvest hadn't been prepared.  We thought we had at least a couple more weeks but the nuts came in early this year.  And it looked like we had a good crop of them, too.  Which is amazing considering Dad didn't put any pesticide or fertilizer out this year.

I went in to tell Dad it's harvest time.  He wasn't convinced, so we had to walk through the orchard.  He said he still wasn't sure.  (While pecans were crunching under our feet and I picked up a whole Walmart bag full without even trying.)

By the way, can you find the pecans in this picture?  There are three. That's why we need to finish-mow before we shake the trees - so we can see the darned things.

I guess Dad went out and looked at the trees again later in the day, because he conceded that yes, it might be harvest time.  But there were things he wanted to do to make sure. (Of course.)  

Meanwhile, while Dad was ruminating, Jeff and I decided we had to run to town to pick up something at Home Despot, so we'd get the plug off the fence at the parts place while we were at it.  Guess what?  They were the exact same plugs Dad had got from the tractor supply place, only these were red instead of black.  The wrong plugs.  Again.  Fortunately that tractor isn't used for harvesting, and Dad had to order the plugs from John Deere 'cuz that tractor's at least 50 years old.  Forget about that anyway, it's harvest time!

There was still a good bit of daylight when we got back, and Dad had vanished into the garden to pick peanuts.   (That's a pretty good pic of his butt...and no, he doesn't have a tail.  His pants fit funny.)

And here he is with a plant ready to pick the nuts off of.  My Dad's a "goofy hat" guy.  And, he wears a belt AND suspenders.  How tacky!

Did you know that peanuts grow on the roots, underground?  I didn't.  I swiped some from a bucket he had near the big house (his, ours is the little house).  Unfortunately they weren't dry enough and YUCK.  Freshly picked peanuts don't taste good at all.  That's what I get for "stealing".

While Dad was out picking peanuts, Jeff, Doug and I decided to install Doug's hot tub in Dad's back yard, next to the swimming pool.  As you can see, we had to clear out vines and stuff that had grown up through and on the pool deck before we could place the tub.  (I had to force my way in, on the pool deck, to take this pic.)  That's a corner of the deep end peeking through the vegetation.  It's a 20x40 in-ground concrete pool, and I spent a lot of my childhood in it.  Somebody once asked my mother why her daughter looked like a prune...

And we had to get power to the hot tub.  It's a little one, supposedly seats 4, but it's great.  And really, really nice of Doug to put it in our back yard instead of down by the trailer where he's staying.  This is Doug with his tricked out bike, that I'm extremely envious of.  Gosh he looks great on it!  He looks good for a 59 year old dude, doesn't he?

So Doug went for the bucket tractor and Jeff and I started pulling stuff by hand.  Yeah, OK  - that stuff was dug in good.  I gave up.  Then Doug hit the power line to the whatchamacallit light - the bright one that comes on automatically and is mounted in the black walnut to light up Dad's side door area because home invasions are becoming more common and he's an old guy and...anyway.  Fortunately the wire didn't break, it just pulled loose from the house.  Dad had gone off somewhere in the car so we had to wait til he got back to turn off the power to the light.  

When Dad got home he turned off the power and oh, by the way, since you're going to be up on the ladder, Doug, would you put the plastic cover over the vent?  Unh-unh.  Doug doesn't walk around on roofs, he's scared of climbing on & off it, and Jeff flat refuses to have anything to do with getting up on a roof. 

Guess who did it?  And I'm scared of ladders too!  But I learned while putting up Christmas lights one year that bare feet are the absolute best for walking around on steeply pitched asphalt shingles, so I got up there, crab-walked across the roof and covered the vent.  Then came the hard part - getting off the roof and onto the ladder (that's the scariest part for me).  Doug guided my foot and all was well.  I went in to change my britches from where I'd peed myself in fear.  (Just kiddin' but it was a close call, let me tell you.)

Doug fixed the wire to the light and went back to clearing the pool deck.  I couldn't do anything, plus I was exhausted, so I sat in a rocking chair cracking and eating pecans while watching the guys work at clearing.  What a luxury!  I was picking up the pecans around the big tree in the back yard and they are some kind of good.  (Poppy the beagle likes pecans, by the way.)

We got the tub installed after much discussion about its placement, and after Jeff suspiciously and carefully rewired the switch for the pool lights to make a 110 receptacle.  There was much shouting to and from the kitchen of the big house, where the breaker box is (and the ground wires, which the first time around Jeff missed installing.  Hey, he's not an electrician).  But he persevered, got it done, and we started filling the tub. Hopefully it would be ready tomorrow night.

We called it a day.  I had a pot of chili simmering on the stove and the three of us pigged out.

Sunday dawned beautiful and sunny.  I found Dad and, being my usual nutty self (OK, another bad pun, guess I'll just give up), I was hopping up and down with excitement.  I asked him what-all we needed to do to see if it really is harvest time.  (Yes, sometimes I act like a 4-year-old.  But a lot of this farming stuff is like Christmas morning is to a kid!)

He asked me to pick up the small limbs around 8 or 10 trees so he could finish-mow.  Then we'd see what was already on the ground.  (He'd already mowed with the Monster Mower that will chew up just about anything under the trees, but in the meantime more limbs had fallen.)

I hopped on my trusty riding mower with the cart, and made passes picking up limbs ahead of Dad on the mower.  At some point I'd misplaced my gloves, so I was working bare-handed, in shorts and a T-shirt.  Bad idea - every time we passed each other I got pelted with bits of tree coming out of the mower.  (And at some point I got into that creeper I'm so allergic to.  My arms look like they've been burnt and my God!  The itching!)

After I picked up the little limbs in the test area, Dad asked me to go pick up the big stuff in the rest of the working orchard (the 200 or so trees).  With the bucket tractor.  Woo hoo!  For once I could hop on a tractor and just go!  

I had a blast.  It was scary, too - that part of the orchard is hilly and a leaning tractor scares the crap out of me.  I figured out how to get to the dump site for the limbs without going crossways, though, so once I had that down I was flying.  I was pushing down big limbs that were stuck in the trees and hauling them to the rot pile.  (Gosh, I love destroying things with the tractor!)   Some of those limbs were the size of small trees - that's how old and huge our pecan trees are.  Dad planted them in 1960 or so.

I worked until almost dark, enjoying every minute although I didn't get finished cuz I got the tractor stuck in a little ditch that I didn't even see.  (Sheepishly I went to get Dad, who tried to use the backhoe to pull the thing out backwards.  No luck.  Oh, well, we'd tow it out tomorrow with Big Daddy.  I still felt like a complete idiot.)

After Dad got the test area mowed, and we'd tried to get the tractor out of the ditch, we decided to call it a day.  As I walked alongside Dad, he told me the story of three trees we were coming to.  They were the very first trees he planted.  (They're the ones on the right in the pic.)  They came from a very old orchard nearby and they're the first of the Stuart pecans he planted.  Stuarts are an heirloom variety; they've been around forever.  Most of our trees are Stuarts.

Those three old trees are gynormous.  And covered with nuts except there's a problem - the squirrels seem to prefer those nuts to the others.  I found a buttload of empty shells under the trees.  Time to put some squirrels in the stewpot!  (Hey, don't jump me about it - yes they're cute but they're eating our profit...and squirrels that have been eating pecans are yummy.)

Dad said he'd start servicing the harvesting equipment this week, and by the weekend we'd be ready to shake trees and pick up pecans.  (Oh, dear, I though to myself...)

That night, Jeff, Doug and I got in the hot tub.  Naked, 'cuz you don't want fabric fibers clogging up the filter.  The tub promptly overflowed.  No big deal, we thought.  We enjoyed ourselves, relaxing and jawing, but when Doug got out to go home, the water level dropped significantly.  Also, the water temperature had dropped because as the jets run, the water cools.  Jeff and I stayed in a bit longer but when we got out, the water level in the tub dropped to below the jets - half of the tub's water was gone!  Hmm, guess that tub's not meant for four (it's pretty small).  Although I do displace twice the amount of water that a normal person does...

Never mind.  It was a good weekend with a lot of hard work and a relaxing soak at the end.  I couldn't wait for the coming week - we were going to get ready to harvest (my) very first pecan crop!

If we can get there from here, y'know...

PS:  Here are the hidden pecans from the pic above: