Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Kiwi Experiment

This winter I found a sales outlet for my kiwis. For years we had eaten them, given them away, fed them to the chickens, fed them to the guests. Never had I thought to actually sell them for money until a really cool website came on the scene in our area allowing farmers to post their produce and buyers to shop with a credit card, all from the same site. It's the Internet meets the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and, it's about time.

From our one ancient kiwi vine/tree/plant we can put up anywhere from two to five 5 gallon buckets of fruit, depending on the chipmunk population during blossom set. These are the fuzzy brown skinned kiwis with the green flesh. We have the requisite female (hearty) and male (spindly - I baby him) plant growing up between our house and our workshop. By summer, when the leaves have grown thick, the vine provides absolute shade. In the winter when we prune it all back, there is welcomed light.

We harvest in fall before the first frost and then wait through the winter for the fruits to ripen. Each year I am challenged to protect my kiwis from rodents, and each year I change the location of my storage. Last year I crated the fruits and put them in the workshop; the year before in the storage room. This year, I decided to bring the kiwis into the house and stack them in our coldest room along with the onions and the garlic.

I counted them, setting aside any kiwis not presentable to the public. I had 360! I checked at the store. Kiwis were selling for $.79 at the top end and 2 for $1.00 at the low end. I did the math. Possibly $180 if there were buyers. I could cover the speeding ticket I got while driving to the co-op to check some of those prices, and still have a little left over. What was T.T. whatever his name, the motorcycle cop, doing hiding behind those bushes anyway. Couldn't he tell I was a hillbilly country girl without a care in the world and certainly not paying attention to the reduced speed sign?! Boy, did that guy ruin my day.

I decided on my price. I would sell a pound of kiwis for $1.50 because I thought they lacked in flavor. There were about 5-6 kiwis in a pound. I figured out how to list them online and waited to hear from the administrator of the site what to do next. The next morning I got a call. Was I planning on dropping off the 5 pounds of kiwis ordered in the last hours before the site had closed for the week? Ummm, what orders? Oops,there had been a mistake in notifications. Could I fill the orders or were my very first clients just going to be disappointed? I sent my daughter the 25 miles into town with the kiwis and did the math. $7.50 in sales. Expenses: one hour drive time (to town and back) at $10/hour; gas (25 miles @$.50/mile). It seemed I had just lost approximately $15. Things were not looking good.

I listed my kiwis for the next week and sold 8 pounds. This time I planned the drop with an already arranged trip to town for other reasons so no real cost here. Problem was, no sooner had I found a way to sell my kiwis than the mice decided to have a field(mice)day. When I went down to the room to package my orders, I discovered they had eaten at least a third of my dreams.

You know, if it isn't one thing, it's another. I gave the damaged fruit to the chickens and set mouse traps. The next week, I had lost another third of my remaining fruit. I put what was untouched into the fridge because there was little enough left that I actually had room.

One more week of sales and I was out of product. In all, I think I netted somewhere in the range of $40. Not a great example of marketing acumen but a good lesson in rodent destruction. No, no rodents died in my traps. They had a nimble way of springing them. One trap even mysteriously disappeared.

Will I try this again next year? Maybe, but with lessons learned:
-Store the fruit in the fridge (somehow)
-Charge $3.00/lb whatever the flavor
-Don't wait until the kiwis are all the way ripe (some loss was due to over-ripeness)
-If the time and effort aren't adding up, start feeding the kiwis to: family, friends, guests, and chickens (in that order). They were probably wondering what had happened to the kiwis anyway!

Photos: (top) 360 kiwis set up in their trays with Cisco looking on, (next) kiwis on the vine, (next) tray of kiwis, (bottom) close-up of our offering.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Who Needs a Wii When You Have a Farm!

Farmville and Wii are for sissies. We have the real farm and it's killing me! I think teenagers should own farms based on their endless strength and endurance, although their addiction to texting and iPods puts them down the totem pole for concentration and forethought. I don't feel old or slow until I try catching sheep. This is where a good sheep dog would come in handy. Our old dog, Patches, tries but, just like me, she's a little old in the tooth for this type of game.

We've had a few weeks of sheep herding for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with getting rid of them in one way or another. This involves making sheep go places they don't want to go. First we sold three lambs to a farm south of us who arranged a date with the butcher. Could we handle the delivery? She would pay. We decided we might as well send a couple more lambs in the truck since they would fit and our freezer was now empty of lamb.

Catching just a few lambs out of a group is actually harder than catching the entire flock at once. The boys were more easily cornered than the girls, though not sure why. The dog tried to help but what worked best was a 16' long hog panel that Annie and I used to crowd the lambs into a corner and tie off on the fence with our trusty baling twine. Then we dove into the group and grabbed our target lambs, pushing and shoving them out the gate, dragging them across the lawn, and 1-2-3 hoisting them into the back of the small pickup truck.

We repeated this with the girls and almost gave up in frustration until one of them made a mistake. The rest followed into our trap. We selected our lambs and lifted them into the truck to join their brothers for a last joy ride. Sounds kind of awful, doesn't it? The price of eating lamb. At least they had a happy-go-lucky 10 months on the farm.

The next week a buyer came down from Washington and bought the rest of our lambs. His business model was well thought out. He buys lambs and goats every winter in Oregon and Washington and rents them out for weed control. He has contracts with airports, municipalities, and power companies, all interested in using a more environmental way to control blackberries and invasive plants. I have heard this done for vineyards and Christmas tree farms wanting to go organic too. Graze the grass, fertilize as you go...and get paid for it. Not a bad plan.

At the end of a season, the lambs and kids that are now fattened up get sent to slaughter. The older sheep and goats, if they are good grazers, and not adept at leaving the premises, get to stay around for another year. The short story? I was pleased our lambs would have a little longer on this earth and maybe some even for the length of their natural life. At least, that's what the guy said. Check out his site:

Getting the lambs coordinated to load in his truck, though, took some strategy, cajoling, and the old dog. If we had waited, we could have used the guy's trained herding dog, but I wanted to have the lambs ready in the barn. We yelled. We shrieked. We waved our arms (this is starting to sound like some of my other blogs). We yelled at each other. The sheep looked at us as if we had lost our minds. Then they lost theirs and scampered into the stalls.

As if this wasn't enough sheep duty for one time, we decided we had become deft(er) at herding. Why not just catch all the ewes and worm them while we smelled bad? Then we could cross sheep duties off the list for awhile. Luckily many of our girls are ruled by their stomachs and an open door into the barn is an open invitation. Selecting them out of the crowd for tube worming is the actual work-out, but Annie and I alternated back and forth until the group was finished.

The flock is now reduced and the hay is all but gone in the barn. Next job is to buy a couple tons of first and second cut from our neighbor, load it on a trailer, and pack it into our hayloft. For this, we will hire some of the teenage talent up the road. No use breaking our backs on dried grass tied up with string.

Photos: (top) guest's daughter making herding look easy (I have used this photo before in another blog but it transforms the act of chasing sheep into something so idyllic I just couldn't resist!), (bottom) this is how you drench worm a sheep.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

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