September 19, 2008

The hectic days of late have been filled with accomplishment. Between the various aspects of almond harvest and trying to keep up with fall planting, there has been little spare time. It’s gone something like this:

Sunday–spend morning and mid-afternoon cleaning house and sorting. I don’t mean dusting and vacuuming, but rather the never-ending task of sorting bins of produce–unusable fruit and vegetables go to the poultry. Bins are scrubbed clean and rinsed. Extra packaging is taken out. Items from the week’s use are returned to their places. Midafternoon, it’s out into the field. Sunday is the day that the regular crews have off, but it helps the overall mission if on Monday morning the two huge trailers can be full of nuts ready to haul to the processor. So I drive the tractor that shuttles the carts of almonds to the elevator while my partner drives the pickup machine. The pickup machine roars in a sea of dust, sucking up every almond in its path while dispelling sticks, leaves and other debris. Nuts to into the cart. When full, I pull my own cart behind the pickup machine and signal the driver to back up. Then a small elevator disgorges all the nuts into my cart. Then it’s racing off in 4th gear, trying to get the speed just right to avoid New Holland’s opinions. These tractors now come with annoying beeps for all occasions. Parking brake not on? BEEP BEEP BEEP. RPMs too low for what gear you’re in? BEEP BEEP BEEP. Whatever, sure is annoying. I seem to yell at it to SHUT UP a lot. Once I reach the elevator I drive the tractor over the loading area until the cart is snug against the elevator’s conveyor belt. I turn the elevator on, activate the belt, and the use the hydraulics on the tractor to dump the nuts onto the elevator belt quickly as possible without making a mess. Naturally none of the levers are labelled, and just to be helpful, one works when pulled up and the other works the opposite way. And they’re both sticky and touchy. Sometimes while the elevator is running, so many nuts are flowing into the tractor-trailers that the whole thing has to be stopped. Run off the tractor, run to the cab of the big truck, take off the air brake, hope the thing will roll forward just a few feet without having to bother putting it in gear, put the brake back on, and run back to the tractor. The object is to unload and get back to the pickup machine so that the pickup operator only has to stop activity to unload. It’s a nice theory, but when only 2 people are on the job, it’s miraculous that it works at all. Especially when one of the people, me, is struggling to remember what to do next and how to do it any any given moment. It seems like it should be easy, but there is a lot of learning curve. However I’ve become darn good at backing up the tractor and the cart. Around corners, down the rows, no problem. Sometimes I think I can do backwards better than forwards. Other times I drive the water truck. That job is easy except for, it’s hot and there is never a sense of accomplishment. Over and over fill the truck, turn on the engine that runs the water pumps, get in, drive, water the road, and do it all over again.

Monday–work at UC Davis and marvel that I actually wanted to give up a cushy job in a climate controlled building in order to work at farming.

Tuesday–spray several hundred feet of corn with organic work-killer in order to try to save crop from the evil corn earworms. Tuesday was further proof that when you really like what you’re doing, even drudgery is interesting. I’ve never spent much time in corn, and so the hours and hours of spraying the corn silks were just marvellous. The wind rattled the stalks that towered overhead. The sun illuminated through in such a way that I could see the pollen carried in the air, and see the fine barbs on the corn silk waiting to catch the pollen grains. The bees were in the tassels looking for pollen. Sometimes a wasp or a beetle would peep out from its hiding place. It’s not corn, it’s an ecosystem. And every so often, I’d have the satisfaction of seeing the worms looking ill and listless, presumably from their dose of gut wrenching bacteria ingested the week before. Somewhere in the background, rows were being rolled for me to be able to plant seed as soon as I have some time. There were thunderclouds with virgo high overhead, and a few drops of rain even made it to the ground. Tuesday night we visited neighbors we hoped to borrow/rent equipment from. While the men pondered ice chests and hunting trips, I visited with my gal-friend over a small split of muscat wine. She’s an amazing artist (one of those kinds where if you look at the painting you can’t tell right away that it’s not a photograph), and although we don’t see each other much, it’s fun to talk and catch up every so often. Since they were nice enough to loan us their equipment, we spent from then on until midnight preparing a workspace for our huge almond packaging project. We brought in the conveyor belt on a forklift, trucked it over, unloaded it. Then we had to clean and arrange tables, bins, ladders, buckets, boxes, scales, and all sorts of other minutiae. Not to mention sweeping that really messy floor.

Wednesday–CSA day had to start early on account of the almond packing. We started prepping at 8am, and CSAs were packed by noon. From 1pm onward, it was the trial almond packing shift. We did 850lbs. We found problems to be improved upon the next day. After the workers went home at 6, I stayed on to disinfect the equipment. Then it was time to go home at 7pm and finish with the CSA boxes. Lots of emails have to go out, and lots of emails come in!

Thursday–7 am is time to leave for deliveries. Made the rounds, came in for breakfast, and by 11am was back on the almond detail. We all worked until 4 pm that day, and then I disinfected. I like disinfecting. It restores order to chaos. This all sounds quite busy, but I do have a few sanity checks built into my schedule. One is morning coffee and paper. Every morning, I don’t care what else is going on, I’m going to find myself drinking coffee and reading the entire paper front to back. Don’t care if it takes 2 hours, I’m going to do it. Then the rest of the day can swirl into overdrive, but at least I know how rotten the economy is.

Friday–up and at the almond detail at 7:30 to check on the workers that have already been going since 6am. Help for 90 minutes and then go back for aforementioned coffee and paper. Spend rest of day doing onerous accounting, supply ordering, and coordination of almond delivery to Oregon. Something like 25 phone calls. Go to appointment in Davis. Come back. Disinfect almond packing area. More phone calls for delivery to Oregon. Go home, scrub greenhouse trays. Say "it’s Friday, and it’s time for a drink. I think I’ll write something on the blog."  Another advantage to farming….real lemons in the Lemon Drop martini! We work like slaves but we eat like kings…..

And so here we are! Till next time….