1. Look in the hard-to-reach places, especially on the WOOF.
2. Follow your nose.
3. Get plenty of eggs-ercise in the days beforehand.
4. DO put all your eggs in one basket.
5. Enjoy the spoils! Happy Easter, everyone!
The bunny came to help us prepare for our Easter breakfast! He's been busy this week sweeping, frosting donuts, grilling up sausages, hiding eggs, filling goody bags, and of course, practicing his selfies. That fuzzy guy sure is good at hiding eggs, but let me tell you, he's not too great with a broom.
The Easter bunny will be hopping by for photos, a delicious breakfast, fun farm activities, and an egg hunt on Sunday, April 14 from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. We hope to see you there!
Ever wonder how strawberries grow? I did, so I asked Kyle. And he dropped a lot of berry knowledge on me.
We don't start our strawberries from seeds, but as plants: a little tiny crown, which is the growing part of the berry, and a root. We purchase this rootstock from a nursery in Massachusetts that specifically raises these little plants and sells them to farms. Kyle picked this nursery in particular because their climate and growing region is similar to Wisconsin's, which makes it easier for plants to adjust and flourish.
Sometime in mid-April, Kyle watches the forecast for a few days of good weather and then places an order from the nursery. They then take 15,000-20,000 small strawberry plants out of cold storage, package them up into bundles of 25, and ship them overnight on FedEx Freight to the farm. Once we get them, the real work begins for us, because in the next 2-3 days, all those little plants go in the ground. Kyle, his family, and our fantastic employees work shifts sunup to sundown to plant these little guys, working on a machine called the Transplanter, which can plant up to 1,000 plants per hour. If you want to check out how we plant these berries, check out our Behind the Berries blog!
For the first year, we don't interfere much with these little plants. They need this year to grow on their own. All during this time, these individual plants send out runner plants (called "daughter plants"), helping the plant grow and multiply and turning all these individual plants into multiple connected networks of vines. Oftentimes, the plants do fruit (grow berries) during this time, but we come through and pinch these berries off. We want the plant to put all its energy into growing and multiplying so it has a good base for fruiting in its second year.
During the first part of this growing year (in the fall), we do need to care for them. They need weed control and we go through and mechanically cultivate and till the soil. The runners like to go pretty wild, and they don't grow naturally into the neat rows we enjoy while picking berries. Therefore, we have to stop their expansion into places we don't want them to grow in by tilling the plants that are in those areas under and encouraging other runners to grow in rows. A lot of the maintenance that we do during that first year is to make things easier for the pickers - neat rows make it easy to get in an out of fields and give people more access to the berries that they love.
Over the winter, the plants will go dormant. After we've tilled, we spray a pre-emergent on the plants and cover them with straw. Although this is to protect them from the cold, it's mainly to help with the springtime growth. As soon as the sun comes out, the berries wake up and want to grow. The straw delays their growth, but in a good way: it slows down their "awakening" so they don't grow too soon or too quickly. The straw also helps suppress weeds and fills the gap between the fruit and the bare ground, therefore protecting the berries from fungal infections that come from the ground.
We watch the plants closely throughout the spring and into the summer, and if all goes well, in June we have a great picking season!
Once the picking is over, we mow everything off the top, fertilize the field, and do our best to control weeds. Even though there isn't anything aboveground after we mow, the root structure of the plant is still intact below, so the berries spend the rest of the summer and fall establishing new daughter plants and crowns for good fruit. Then we just repeat our process for the next 3-4 years until it's time to rotate fields, which you can read about here.
In the next couple of months, we'll feature more of our crops, including raspberries, pumpkins, and our giant pumpkins. Stay tuned!
Self-styled Donut Girl and Fry Gal, Ashley Cray has been working for us for years. She started making donuts during fall season, and although she still enjoys firing up the donut machine every now and then, she now helps us out with catering and food service, retail checkout during fall season, and is currently training to be a coordinator for our weddings and events.
Although she works late nights now with events, Ashley started with early mornings. When we only had one donut machine, we had to start super early in the morning to keep up with the donut demand throughout the day. She remembers slogging into the barn at 4 or 5 in the morning, working 10-hour days, and still feeling like they barely kept up with the donuts flying off the shelves. Now, we have two donut machines, so Ashley's days (thankfully) don't start as early as they used to.
Professional Photo by S. Kelly Photography.
Ashley's motto for life is that it's too short, so we need to make memories and cherish time with each other at every opportunity. This philosophy makes her work here at the farm very meaningful to her. She loves meeting people and helping them celebrate the big and small days of their lives, whether it's a family fun day on the farm or a wedding - to Ashley, each day is as important as the next, and each day is a treasure. Any time she leaves a shift, Ashley feels good about the impact she's made on others' lives, even if it's just in a small way, like a donut for a happy kid. And when she's making donuts, she has the best seat in the house:
"Probably my other favorite part of the farm is making donuts during fall season and seeing kids' noses smooshed up against the glass with their wide eyes and their caramel-apple fingers," she says. "It's fall season at its best."
Ashley's feel-good attitude towards the Farm and our purpose is exactly why we do what we do: we want everyone, even and especially our employees, to enjoy their time with family and friends on the farm.
Like most of our employees, the Farm is a second job for Ashley. By day, her professional title is a legal assistant for a law firm in Lancaster. But her personal nickname for her day-life is much different than all the hats she wears at either of her jobs. An avid hiker and biker, Ashely loves to get outdoors, and one of the ways she does this is to geocache, during which she goes by the moniker Backroads Ninja.
If you're wondering what geocaching is, don't worry - I had no clue either. But it's awesome! Geocaching is an outdoor scavenger hunt that uses GPS-enabled devices. Participants use GPS to locate items hidden in specific locations and logged by other geocachers. The app or the web-based site provides hints and descriptions to these hidden treasures, making it the perfect outdoor activity for someone who loves silly adventures - exactly our girl, Ashley.
So far, Ashley has found 84 caches. Her favorite find was a rubber duck trackable (similar to the Where's George? dollar bills). This duck had a little log and a code and had been all over the United States. But she's found other things, like kid's trinkets in a box or even sometimes pieces of trash. All these little treasures are stuck in dead tree stumps or in a fencepost or shoved into broken concrete - no matter what you find, Ashley says geocaching is always an adventure!
To us, this local farm girl is an absolute geocache treasure - we always love when she's on the schedule. She's an uplifting, happy-go-lucky friend to all she meets, and we couldn't be happier that she spends her time with us.
Fun on the farm...in blog form!