You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2011.

I attended my very first GROWSAFE course on Thursday. GROWSAFE is abut promoting safe, responsible and effective agrichemical use. And you need to be GROWSAFE certified to be approved by NZ GAP to apply agrichemicals in the orchard. Definitely looking forward to spend some peaceful time on the tractor in the coming days.

On another note, I have been banging my head against the monitor screen at work while having FileMaker Pro 10 running on the main window in a hopeful attempt that I will suddenly know all I need to know about this software and to manipulate it to my will. That did not happen. I find the whole interface ancient and too unsophisticated for someone sophisticated like me (hohoho!).

I took another crack at it today, yes, I worked on a Saturday, but I gave up after an hour, clocked out and came home. I will do what I do best, I will write my own program using PHP and MySQL and run it on WAMP server locally on the computer. Easy as twirling a pen around the fingers.

All I need is a database with one table to record the orchards blueprint, and a few other table to record the different types of cost input as well as crop production and revenue, along with a system to attribute these cost and revenue factors back to individual sub-blocks as well as overheads.

Its really simple and I can easily script it out with PHP after I design the MySQL database coupled with a system to import data directly from Excel files. Possibly one tenth the time required for me to learn how to use FileMaker Pro 10.

The goal, the end result, it to be able to be very specific at tracking cost-revenue factors for better decision making and problem identification.

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Running the orchard and vineyard is an immense task. On one hand you have to keep everything operational. On the other hand you have to remain compliant to everything that you have to comply with for the greater good of safe consumption for humanity as well as environmental sustainability. Then, on the third hand, you have to make sure the operation is economical sustainable.

God gave us two hands, where did the third hand come from? That’s me, the Assistant, the 2IC. No great journey is completed alone. You need a team, and preferably, one that creates synergy. Know the members of the team, their strengths and their weaknesses. When you have a 5mm hole, you plug it with a 5mm cork. When you have a tree to cut down, you get a chainsaw. Don’t use a 5mm cork to cut the tree down. In my honest opinion, I think that’s where one of my strength is. Whenever there’s a task that needs to be done, I instinctively know the suitable candidate for the task.

Both our Bonehill Vineyard and Okana Vineyard has completely been winter pruned. The job is done 18 days after the end of winter. The guys from Bleinheim are truly a bonus, already experienced in the job, which save us time in training them and getting them up to speed. Just some effort to get the quality of the job up to par. With that, we bid farewell to 6 of our casual staff at the conclusion of the most pressing job. We had a open, trusting relationship which makes them highly dependable, and the entire work environment pleasant. Once again, I say thank you!

Most of our cherries are now coming into bud burst, or popcorn, or white tips, whatever you call it in horticultural terms. Some trees have even commenced into early flowering stage! Pat has already started to put the nutrient-fungicide-pesticide cocktail on to them which our consultant Earsncy has planned for us. Fingers crossed we remain on top of our spray program this season and turn a reasonable crop.

I’ve thought of a tagline, “We do not export our First Grade fruits, they are for domestic consumption only!”. Seriously, I think the way forward for a sound country is to be self-sustainable. When you are growing peaches on your land, why are you importing them from another country when you can’t even sell everything that you have grown locally? C’mon, import some durians and rambutans instead, you can’t grow them here!

How do you eat an elephant? Cut it into small pieces and eat it one bite at a time.

Today I had to give the ultimatum, “if there’s any more row done as bad as this again, you will not be paid for the entire row”. Hint: never try to exploit the nicety of people, just because I am usually nice and kind does not mean I will allow my staff get away with mediocre quality.

I wonder what happens up in Bleinheim. With this new casual staffs coming from up there, I had to tie a ribbon on every vine that is not up to expectation, and the entire row lit up like Orchard Road (Singapore) in Christmas. All I know is that these staffs don’t get paid minimum wage up there and their piece rate is peanuts. There’s this saying, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys, and monkeys don’t really deliver in quality, they just work very fast to accumulate more peanuts to fill their tummy. In the end, it is up to us here in the valley to rehabilitate and retrain these staffs to focus on quality of the work being done.

Getting the job done well while you are slow might cost me x1.5 but getting the job poorly done and getting sent back to redo it will cost me x2. Quality and speed should go hand in hand instead of being an opportunity cost to each other.

Our Amredark in full bloom.

I’ve been studying on the job. That’s actually part of my job now. I’ve been drowning myself in the NZ GAP manual, and then the Health and Safety manual, and then a whole lot of other manuals. And then attending the Growsafe course as well as the forklift course. One of my responsibility now is to know how to run the entire orchard administratively and in compliance with all the standards required in order to quality our produce to be sold to consumers at a commercial level.

This is nothing new considering the industry that I came from and all the hoops that I have to somersault through. I’ll get the job done and it will be better than the last. It’s really interesting that these are truly all common sense documented in black and white to be executed, which signifies that generally people do not have much common sense at all.

Our Sweetheart and Lapin varieties are getting a head start ahead of the other cherries. In fact, they are already bursting out of their buds, which calls for Boron and Zinc as well as control for Brown Rot and Botrytis. Even the Southern Glo and Spring Crest peaches are coming into full bloom soon, which are are still frantically pruning. Our grapevines are now in the late swollen buds stage, luckily we have manage to complete all main pruning and following days, we’ll just go through for wrapping and cleaning up the whole job.

I would not be able to update that often nowadays because my Farmside Satellite Broadband has been nothing but a pain in the arse. 4 hours of downtime on Saturday, more than 2 hours of downtime on Sunday, and continuous intermittent downtime over the entire week, even the CEO Richie Smith will wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats after a nightmare of me hacking up the satellite dish eerily in front of his bed. I lodged a complain on Sunday and was promised an installer to come over to fix it with the understanding that such faults are urgent which led me to believe its the type where installer-will-call-you-next-business-day-to-come-out-and-fix-it urgent. Yeah, you read my mind there, every time the house creaks, I thought the phone rang. It never rang. No installer. Virtually unusable internet connection. A very pissed off customer.

Ok, let me check if I had the fleeting moment of internet connection before I click “Publish”. Yep! All clear!

The past 4 hours made me wonder why I paid a bomb to Farmside for their satellite broadband service in return for getting high blood pressure watching my connection dropping off every 1 minute upon re-connection for 240 minutes straight. It makes me think of mental phenology, the way my emotional state of mind transcended from zen-like to god’s-wrath to total surrender.

The 2011/12 season is picking up signaled with our spraying tractor being mobilized, the bee-man coming in with hives, and beautiful flowers start blossoming. Oh glorious flowers, each with a dollar sign imprinted on it that decides if we get to bring home the bread for our families. Spring frost, on the very first spring night, and the following night, and maybe tonight, shudders at the thought of our apricots and nectarines blossoms.

Grant and I have been studying the spray program that Earnscy put together for us. Timing is key, so I have decided to research on the phenological development stages of our summerfruit trees and identify the key timing stages. From this research, I will develop a spray calendar for dummies (dummies = me), so that we can stay on top of this whole spray thing. If you have seen the chart from Fruitfed, you will get what I mean, that’s where I draw the inspiration from.

  1. Dormant – that’s when the tree is hibernating. Control of bacterial blast ends from previous season.
  2. Swollen Bud (August) – I’ve decided to use this term instead of bud movement from my first hand experience to want to put on copper and oil as well as leaf curl spray just because the buds have moved a wee bit. In a swollen bud stage, the flower bud would have to swell to a point where the scales are separating (like big hammer on thumb swell), and according to Robert from Fruitfed, on cherries, you can feel the stickiness on the greenish end of the bud. Aphids control on peaches, nectarines and cherries.
  3. Bud Burst (August-September) – also known as popcorn, white tip (apricots and cherries) or pink tip (peaches and nectarines).  This can also be accompanied by first flowers and green tip. The brown rot and botrytis control starts from this point on until harvest. Boron now key for flower formation and pollen germination. Zinc now key for growth hormone metabolism.
  4. Full Bloom (September) – this is when more than 75% of flower buds are opened or about 25% petal fall. Scars left behind by petal falls are infection points. *imagines Aaron Kwok dancing to Para-para Sakura among the cherry trees*. Control of thrips on nectarines.
  5. Petal Fall (September) – That’s when almost 75%  petal fall. Boron for fruit setting.
  6. Shuck Fall/Fruit Set (October) – This is the point where the nutrition program goes into full swing focusing on fruit development.
  7. Hardening/Sizing (October-December) – Nutrition program NPK with strong focus on calcium for quality fruit development and cover sprays routine. Period for control of leafrollers. Monitor for aphids in October on cherries.
  8. Pre-Harvest (December – January) – This is most likely when the fruit starts maturing. Pre-harvest timing means 21 days or 3 weeks before harvest, and its definitely a good question to ask, “how would you know exactly which day to harvest?”. I don’t know but I will seek answers soon. Don’t think there’s a rocket science, but more of a guesstimate. Note to self, harvest ripeness is different from consumption ripeness. Monitor for mites as well as thrips on peaches and nectarines.
  9. Post-Harvest – More nutrition now but a different cocktail, stocking up supplies for hibernation. N, P (photosynthesis), K (water movement between cells and winter frost protection), Mg (photosynthesis), B, Zn.
  10. Leaf Fall – When leaf starts falling, scars left behind are also infection points. Control for bacterial blast at quarterly intervals starting from first sign of leaf fall till complete leaf fall.
I think that’s about it. I will make amendments as the season progress. I better hit the sack before the lake flies invade my dream!

Pardon me, I just realized today is the first day of spring, and we got hit by the polar blast!

We are behind on winter pruning on the grapevines and peaches! Despite that, we are taking the next best course of action to remedy the situation. Our guys are going through with their trusty loppers to prune out the vines while leaving all the wrapping and cleaning up for later on. Two schools of thought, one believe that doing the whole job at once is faster, another believe that breaking it down into smaller repetitive parts will get the job done faster (think industrialization). Whichever it is, the most important choice is one that fits the situation. Base on some estimation that I have done, we’ll get through the whole lot in 2 to 3 weeks time if weather permits, which is not that bad considering all the main cuts will be completed by next week.

Then, we’ve got the two year old and one year old peaches and nectarines to prune out and get into shape. The irrigation pipes to be laid out. The firewood to be picked up. And everything in between to prepare for the harvest. Not to mention, hiring some field hands to do the thinning work on the apricots, peaches, and nectarines as well as maintaining the grapevines with bud rubbing, wire lifting, lateral thinning, and all the yada-yada.

My laundry list of things to do include to save up enough money to buy a car, then obtain a NZ driving license, tattoo FileMake Pro 10 into the back of my hand and make beautiful art with it, familiarize with everything that will keep the orchard running smoothly (such as the ancient fruit grader), and yes, all the other yada-yada. Right now, I’m still waiting to receive the latest Novachem manual and online login from Stuart to work my magic on the spray database for the convenience of the orchard.

Sweet dreams little lambs!

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