Saturday, November 17, 2007

Early start

11/17/07 Saturday
This is one of those two in the morning entries. I am much sharper now and after putting wood on the fire am wide awake. Yesterday was pretty much a lost day with almost nothing getting done. I managed to run the sprinklers, watering some of the spots I put Rye seed on, and caulk part of the new window Bob Trimble and Jay put in for us. I still have more to do on it, mostly inside. And that is about it. It is real frustrating for me to have days like that.

But I’m awake and seem to be fairly cognizant now so figured I will take advantage of this moment of clarity and write. There is always so much to do. I downloaded the pictures we took in Lubbock at “Apple Country Orchards” the pick your own apple orchard we are researching. We learned so much there and the time we spent with Cal, the owner, was very encouraging. He started this business in 1981 if I remember right. We got there at 10:30 or so. Cal wasn’t in so we had plenty of time to look around till they served lunch at 11:00.

The gift shop is small and homey. Nice simple atmosphere with lots of items for sale that are somewhat related to apples or at least fit in with the whole theme. From a business standpoint I would call it a bare bones operation in that there are no expensive displays or equipment visible. Just an efficient low cost set up that gets the job done.

The most prominent display is this one that features a wide variety of canned fruits, jellies, and other confections. Everything carried the “Apple Country” label. I asked the lady who was cooking in the readily viewable kitchen if they canned this stuff on location. She said they used to but send it all out though much of it used their recipes. There was a little of everything you might imagine and probably some you couldn’t. All kinds of preserves including “Huckleberry”. I had to get that. Especially being a fan of Mark Twain and reading all the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn books in my youth. Besides, I have a great interest in growing the unusual berries and plants that can be found in this country. There were all kinds of salsas and not just apple butter (one of my favorites) but pumpkin, peach, apricot, strawberry, and a whole lot of others I don’t recall. Obviously these are not all items grown here so they are purchased and labeled “Apple Country Orchards”. Good marketing.

The lunch they served was fantastic. It was a buffet style lunch offering a chicken spaghetti dish we both loved. The kitchen has pretty old equipment that I am sure was picked up for a low price. The same holds true for the dining area with the drinks offered being tea and water, both poured from a small crock type container. It was a Styrofoam dish and plastic silverware meal but was great. These comments on the age of the equipment are not judgmental but observations of what I saw. Fact is keeping costs down are generally good business practices and with my liquidation company that was exactly what I provided for others. I would buy out companies and business equipment for pennies on the dollar and resell it for an attractive price.

This is where they have weddings. Another feature of Apple Country Orchards

Cal wouldn’t be in till later so we decided to go visit the Llano winery that was on our agenda. That was about a half hour away. After reading their website I had expected a much larger facility. I mean, they put out tens of thousands of bottles of wine every year. The wineries I’ve visited in Ohio are all older with that traditional feel. Llano isn’t more than a generation old I don’t think. The tour was very informative, giving us a great insight on what it takes to be a successful wine maker. They only have three acres of grapes on site though there are many more acres elsewhere. Plus they purchase grapes grown in other vineyards, most in Texas and some in New Mexico. That’s the motivation for us visiting, to investigate the possibility of growing grapes to sell to them and other wineries.

The gazebo is part of the wedding area

To that end they had their expert chemist, who probably has a title denoting his expertise in wine, come out and talk with us. He told us about growing grapes and will email us information on where to order grape stock that is formulated specifically for our soil and water conditions. That was cool to learn. They can actually graft certain types of vines into specific root stock that is designed to withstand the rigors of West Texas growing. It takes two years from when we order it to when it arrives ready to plant. Then another five years or so till the vines produce in a significant quantity to be viable as a cash crop. That falls right in place with the apple orchard and other fruit trees.

I love how they trained these apple trees to make a base for the bench

After the tour there was a wine tasting thing where we could sample many of the different wines. That was interesting and educational. Of course what we liked the best cost the most. I got to try Port wine for the first time ever, at least I think so but with the memory loss could well be wrong. Cherie’s taste and mine are very different regarding what wines we prefer but that is no surprise.

After all this we headed back to Apple Country Orchards. I called Cal’s cell phone to insure he was there. The fact that his employees even gave us that number speaks to the openness of Cal. But I guess that is not unusual out here in West Texas. Still something we are not used to for back in Toledo you guard your phone number carefully and protect your privacy.

Cal looked to be in his sixties but you never know. He could have been eighty for all I know. He is very knowledgeable regarding apples and the orchard business. In fact he spends a lot of time as a paid consultant to apple growers. We are grateful for his sharing some of this knowledge without charge. When I asked about the money involved with this business he was very careful, saying he didn’t want to mislead us. I had to work to pry any figures out of him.

In response to my question about revenue he said it could range anywhere between twenty thousand to two hundred thousand dollars for his place. I think he mentioned a cost of $8000.00 per acre to get started. But he also said this was his worst year because the late freeze this April totally wiped out his crop so he only made $60,000. Now he has a working relationship with other apple orchards so he was able to bring in apples to make up the crop loss. Whether his figures were gross revenue or profit after expenses I am not sure. One of the significant things Cal said was that the café and store ended up being a major source of income. He said this had surprised him. That is an important fact when it comes to our business plans.

Cal went out and showed us his trees. He demonstrated how to properly prune them, which I will immediately use on the nine trees we have now. I asked about the difference between dwarf and semi dwarf trees and was surprised to hear that it didn’t have as much to do with the height the trees grow but with the spacing between buds. Dwarfs have closer spacing which I suppose means more fruit per branch. I have lots to learn and perhaps later I can afford to buy the books that can provide that education. I can pick up some on the internet but much of what shows up on Google searches are the books for sale.

We talked of equipment needs. They are pretty basic. He suggested getting what is called an “Orchard tractor” which has a narrower wheelbase to better fit between the rows of trees. I’ll have to research that. Then there was a big pruner attached to his tractor that is important. Other than that he said we need a sprayer. He mentioned spraying hormones twice during the growing season. I wonder if that fits in with organic growing methods. I would prefer organic but mostly prefer having a profitable operation. Of course organic is a selling point and commands higher prices. Again there is lots to learn.

The sunset in Lubbock

We bought about forty bucks worth of stuff there. He has the preserves and canned stuff priced at $5.95 for the most part, which is not cheap but an indication of what things like this can be sold for. All in all we drove 330 miles and the trip cost us $150.00 including gas. We also stopped at Gander Mountain to purchase a dog crate (It was way better and cheaper than Walfart) and I got the small pocket knife I’ve been wanting. It’s one of the few personal niceties we determined to get out of the CRP check. It’s a Buck knife, which is a good quality knife that has good steel that keeps an edge and is made in the USA. I lost the little Case lock blade somewhere and had used it fairly regular so this is something that I needed and will use.

We need to get over to Steve and Janie’s now to do some cleaning. I will work on their garden, removing a Hibiscus that died and cleaning the porch. Cherie will do laundry for them along with house cleaning. We are grateful for the opportunity to earn a few bucks and need it now, especially after the trip to Lubbock. The weather predicted a hard freeze next week. I hope it doesn’t affect the Rye to bad but probably will. It’s a shame that we didn’t get the CRP check till the last day of October because we couldn’t afford to buy the seed or rent the tractor before then. It is hard to farm when the money isn’t available. I look forward to the time that will change and we are slowly getting there, one little step at a time. Next year is unsure right now. First thing is to get the tractor and I am confident things will fall into place for that. But getting irrigation set up and buying seed are the next hurdle.

The puppies decided to pose for this picture. Aren't they getting big? Janie says they are almost as big as they will get

Gotta go. I am doing very well, sharp and running an eight on the bob scale.


i beati said...

what a fantastic trip!!

Bob said...